Top Hat

by DJ Tyrer

Roseate Skies
(publishing Dec. 3rd)
Over Maudlin Street
(publishing Dec. 4th)
For Others
(publishing Dec. 5th)

Roseate Skies

Dawn had given the skies a rosy glow that matched the end of Robert Loxley’s cigarette. Ash fell from it and disintegrated against the steering wheel.

Jazz it up with Top Hat Records, came the jingle on the radio; another lousy advert.

Robert reached out and punched buttons, found another station. It had been better back when radios had dials – the music was better and you could find the channels that lurked in the spaces in between.

Where did they lurk now?

He pulled into the parking lot of the Apple Blossom Motel and switched off the engine.

The name was surely a joke; he doubted there was ever any apple blossom in the entire county, perhaps even the entire state, it was so damn dry. But, Julianne paid him a good wage to come in, once a month, and exterminate the rats and roaches that called it home.

There were three other vehicles in the lot besides his pickup, but nobody in sight. He didn’t blame them. This early in the morning, he’d rather be in bed, but Julianne liked the job over and done with early, before customers arrived. If any did. Some days, the place was dead.

Robert headed for the reception. No sign of her.

He dinged the bell on the desk and waited.

Dinged it again.

“Hey, Julianne, you there?”

She’d probably had a bad chilli.

He scribbled a note on the pad by the phone, grabbed the keys off the board and headed off to bug bomb the rooms that were empty, whistling tunelessly as he prepared his ordnance.

There was still no sign of Julianne when he returned the keys to their places on the board.

“Hey, Julianne, you back there?”

Robert went through her office to the door of the private washroom; it was ajar.

“Knock, knock! I’m coming in.”



There was something written on the mirror above the basin in lipstick.

He hoped it was lipstick…


What the hell did that mean?

It kind of looked like Spanish, but not any word he’d ever heard, and he’d heard some pretty wild ones.

Where was Julianne? Something was screwy…

He looked at the word one more time, then went back out into the lobby. The whole place was too damn quiet.

Three keys missing from the board. Three cars in the lot.

Three guests, maybe more.

By now, there should’ve been movement, sounds, but the cars were still there and the place was still as a crypt. Nobody came here for a honeymoon. No honeymoon was that quiet. Something was off.

Robert headed for the first room. The door was ajar.

“Housekeeping,” he called as he slipped inside.

Nobody. An open case on the bed, a scatter of clothes, but nobody, no reply.

He went into the bathroom.

He’d half-expected it, but it still made him shiver despite the heat: Red letters on the mirror glass.


What was that supposed to mean? A name? A place?

He ran to the next room, stared at the mirror.


The third and final room.


It was the only word he knew and it still meant nothing to him.

It was like a scene out of some crazy horror flick.

He ran back to his pickup and pulled out of the lot, sped down the endless desert road.

The skies overhead were blue, now, a vibrant azure, clear and perfect.

Sand kicked up as he raced away, the radio screaming at him, his mind murky and fractured, the smell of the bug bombs lingering on his jacket.

The roaches watched him go.

They knew.

Over Maudlin Street

The last train of the day from Cambridge into Liverpool Street was late and Osric Child was practically jogging as he headed out of the station and sought a cab.

“Maudlin Street,” he told the driver as he sank down into the lumpy seat. “Number 42.”

“Right you are, guv.”

Osric hated London.

They passed the tiny church of St. Erkenwald and pulled up outside his sister’s house. It always struck him as odd that the church was named for some obscure Saxon saint when the street itself was clearly named after Mary Magdalene. Where was her church?

“Keep the change.”

The sky overhead was grey and cloudy as he stepped out onto the pavement.

He knocked on the door and his sister opened it.

They were twins, but in no sense identical. Where he was fair and tall, she was short and dark.

She was still in black in memory of her late husband.

Osric hadn’t liked the man, but he couldn’t fault her for her devotion.

“Come in.” She directed him into the study.

A moth was butting against the light above his head.

“How was Berlin?”

She raised an eyebrow. “How do you think? A real mess. One day, they’ll draw a map which shows just who owns what, save visitors a fortune in bribes and headache pills. Oh, sit down, sit down.”

He did. “You know why I’m here?”


He shook his head. “Well?”

“So, the worm turns and commences to devour itself?”

“Just give me what’s mine.” He held out his hand.

With a soft huff, she unlocked her desk drawer and took out the Leaden Seal, held it reverently in her hands.

“This should’ve been mine…”

Osric shrugged. “Dad wanted me to have it.”

“Dad never understood what it represents, what it can do. I had it in Berlin. I saw Verethan.”

Sniffing, he shrugged and said,” I leave the truth of it for others to surmise.”

That elicited a hollow laugh.

“You sounded just like Dad, then; he was always using that line.”

He shrugged again. “Can I have it?”

“Fine.” She thrust it into his hand. “But, it will come to bite you, you know that.”

“I don’t know what I know, any more.”

She frowned just a little. “You’ll see. You will see. The Seal shows you things, reshapes your dreams. Sooner or later, you’ll wish you’d left it with me.”

Osric closed his eyes; his head hurt, and, for a moment, he thought he saw a desert road stretching out to infinity before him.

He stood and stumbled for the front door.

The moth watched him go.

It knew.

For Others

Tales of Verethan by Donald Tulloch,” said Harry Bull, pipe flaring as he laid aside the book. “Very rare.”

Julianne steepled her fingers, tried to ignore the stuffed marmoset that was gazing down at her with glassy eyes from a high shelf.

“But, that’s not why you came here, is it?”

He produced another book.

A kitten skipped playfully about her feet.

Songs of the Singing Stone by Georgiana Fay.”

She leant forward, body tense, eyes predatory.

He almost expected her to lick her lips.

She didn’t, but she did nod.

“I located it in a used bookstore in Berlin. To be honest, I can’t quite see the appeal of it.”

Harry looked down at the kitten, which had commenced playing with the lace of one of his shoes and nudged it away with his toe.

“Please, Jezin, not now.”

It yowled up at him in displeasure and he shook his head.

“A rather dull book of rhymes for children.”

“It’s what I want,” she said.

He shrugged and removed the pipe from his mouth and tapped it out upon the head of a stuffed dodo that stood upon the floor beside his seat.

“Well, if you’re sure…”

“I am.” She smiled. “I am.”

“Then, it’s yours; if you have what I want.”

“I have.”

“The real thing?”

“As real as anything in this room.”

He smiled. “Quite.”

“Trust,” she said, slowly, “is a virtue seldom afforded to those such as we, but, on this occasion, I believe we can trust one another.”

Julianne lifted a tall hat box from the floor and place it upon his desk; he slid the book across to her. Jezin the kitten continued to dance about their feet, while ash trickled slowly down onto the dodo’s beak.

Picking up the book with reverent grace, Julianne studied its cover, which showed a lonely standing stone upon an area of grassy moorland. It was just as she remembered from her childhood, or possibly dreams of a life she had yet to live.

Harry opened the hat box and took out a top hat and span it in his fingers, examining its sheen.

“Yes,” he breathed, “this is the one.”

He placed it upon his head.

“You should read the story in there of Mr Top Hat,” he said, steepling his fingers and smiling a wide and predatory smile.

But, Julianne wasn’t listening.

She was staring at the book, the standing stone seeming the stretch off into infinity like the dark surface of a road beneath a clear and perfect azure sky, a motel at its side.

It was strange how it seemed so real…

“Are you jolly?” Harry asked and reached out towards her with long and slender fingers.

“No,” she said, “but, Mr Jolly should be here, soon.”

She looked up at him and smiled.

“I like your top hat.”

He smiled back, but he wasn’t Harry any longer.

The dodo watched him go.

It knew.



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