Death and the Purple Hat
I hate conspiracy theories. Especially theories that a famous figure isn’t really dead. I mean, the whole Elvis lives thing, it’s totally ridiculous.
Sometimes I get so annoyed at the mad comments online that I can’t help but add an angry response: “I know for a fact that Elvis died on 16 August 1977, because I’ve checked the entry in the Book of the Dead, and it’s signed in Death’s own handwriting,” I'll say, and it's true. I know that nobody believes me, but it feels really good to get it off my chest.
I was just responding a debate on the Daily Mail website about the late great Ted Moult, who had allegedly been seen selling cheese on Peckham market, when Death appeared in the room. I quickly closed the webpage, as He doesn’t like me to use the internet during work time. He shouldn’t mind as He can manipulate time ("AN INFERIOR DIMENSION") and I’ve been known to work 200 hour days before now.
“I didn’t expect to see you today,” I said. He had a busy schedule.
He mumbled an embarrassed reply.
“I FOUND A HAT,” he said, removing a woolly, purple hat from his pocket.
“Where did you find it?”
“IN MY POCKET,” He admitted reluctantly. “I DON’T KNOW HOW IT GOT THERE.”
The reason for Death’s embarrassment was that it was impossible for the hat to be there. He makes no actual contact with the mortal realm, it is the souls he seeks out and only with these that he speaks, He touches neither earth nor air, so it’s simply impossible for a dead soul to place a hat about Death’s person. Although many of the dead try to persuade Death to let them take a treasured belonging with them, He is simply not allowed.
“Shall I put it with the others?” I asked. Although it’s impossible, nonetheless it happens all the time and an entire wing of Death’s domain is used a lost property office.
“IF YOU’D BE SO KIND.”
“I’ll need you to fill in an Inventory of Impossible Things Form.”
Death completed the form and I marked the hat with the relevant Inventory number and placed it in the lost property wing.
Death returned to work and the next few hours passed uneventfully, until just after my late-morning Kit Kat, when I was interrupted by a phone call.
That sentence may have seemed unremarkable to you, but you have to remember that my office is in Death’s domain and there is no phone line. It’s simply impossible for anyone to call in. Go on try --- see, no chance. Even gods have to visit in person if they want to see Him. I keep the phone for decorative purposes, to make it feel more like a normal office.
I picked the phone up cautiously and answered in my most professional voice.
“Hello, Death’s domain, how may I help you?”
“Hello, I was wondering if anyone had handed in a hat?”
“I think you’ve got a wrong number my dear, this is the realm of Death in the sixth dimension, not the St Pancreas lost property office.”
“No, no, this is the number I wanted. It’s my purple hat, I gave it to Death to look after.”
As Death’s PA nothing can take me by surprise, I have seen and heard it all. Or so I thought.
“We may have had a hat handed in. Could you describe it?”
“Yes, it’s a purple woolly hat and I left it in Death’s pocket.”
“I see,” I said, completely bemused, “well if you would like to come and collect it.” I said this as a test, as of course no mortal can enter Death’s world without his explicit instruction.
“I can’t come and collect it, you know that. I was wondering if you could deliver it to me. I know it’s cheeky to ask, but that hat meant so much to me, it was the first present my husband ever bought me. So many memories.”
“I suppose I could bend the rules and pop the hat in the post.”
“Oh no, no mail gets here. You’ll have to bring it.”
“That’s out of the question, I’m afraid. I don’t even know where you live.”
“You don’t? You don’t know where you live either?”
“No, I don’t live. I’m dead. That’s why I gave Death the hat, so that I could take it to the other side”
“Where exactly are you on the other side?”
“I’m not allowed to say. Sorry, but the living cannot know what lies beyond.”
“I can’t possibly get it to you if you can’t say where you are.”
“The Ferryman will take you to the Shores of the Dead. If you leave the hat on the shore I will come when you’re gone.”
How could I refuse?
I left work early to visit the Ferryman on the bank of the river Styx, a visit you yourself will make one day, when it is your time.
“Hello again" I said. "Do you know why I’m here?”
“I always know,” he said, “You are here to take your soul across the river Styx to the Shores of the Dead, a land where the living may never tread, to deliver a purple hat to one who has crossed this way already and shall not be coming back.”
“That’s not how I’ve have put it, but yes, that’s the gist of it.”
For the second time in my life I climbed inside the Ferryman’s boat. One day I will travel in it for the third and final time.
We traveled further than we had on my last journey and after what could have been ten minutes or an eternity, we saw a speck of land on the horizon. The Ferryman pushed on until the speck had become a great continent.
As he rested his craft against the shore he warned me “You must not get out. If you step on to this shore you may never leave.” I shuddered.
“It seems undignified to just toss a hat onto the sand.”
“Just throw it high, high into the air, and it will be caught – as long as you close your eyes.”
I did as instructed, closed my eyes and tossed the hat high into the air. I didn’t see where it landed, because it never landed. Somehow, something, somebody, some soul had reclaimed their hat.
We sailed back in silence and I said farewell to the Ferryman with nothing more than a nod of the head. I began to understand his method of communication, in a realm where words are an intrusion.
When I die, when I finally make a legitimate journey across the Styx, the first thing I shall do is seek out the soul of this woman, to find out the full story of her husband’s gift and why she went to so much trouble to get it back. It should be easy to track her down, she’ll be the only soul in heaven in a purple hat.