Ch.17

The Hat

LEO'S POV

I spat and yowled a bit as I whirled around, clumsily aiming my fist to punch whomever my assailant was. I don't care who ever it was, even Aeris. Nobody has the right to bother you when you're going through a freaking epiphany!

The slightly satisfying and sadistic sound of my hand making contact never came, though. Before I could register who the person was, he/she caught my hand and twisted it behind my back. I cringed from the slight pain; whoever this guy was (and I know it's a he because I can break out of most arm-locks, except the ones from Aeris, but upon further consideration, I doubt that she would sneak up on me like that), he was strong.

"Woah, boy! Just what do ya think you're doing?" A slightly raspy and awkward voice spat. I recognized my assailant; Johnny Evilguy.

"Jesus Christ," I said, slightly high-pitched from my arm, "it's just you. What were you doing sneaking up on me like that anyway?"

He let go of me. I slowly turned around, rubbing my arm. Yep, it was Johnny Evilguy all right. He was in his traditional black cloak, though this one looked a bit thicker, probably due to the cold weather of winter. Well, cold-ER weather. A visible cloud of breath ominously puckered through the air at set intervals, indicating his steady breathing. The hood covered his eyes. I don't think I have ever seen them before; I imagine that they are either brown or red. His lower lip still boasted a bushy mustache, like it always has (can't remember what that's called; a goatee?), but now it looked like his upper-lip would grow a genuine mustache of its own soon enough. In his arms were a few small boxes, most likely his offbeat merchandise. He was grinning slightly, from all the confusion of the previous moment.

"Heh, sorry about all that. I thought you were someone else." He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck, even though he was still holding a box. I wondered who the hell looks like me from behind, and a faint sound that echoed like a bell seemed to break into my mind, but I quickly shoved the thought away. Johnny continued. "Anyway, I haven't seen you wander around out here in a while. What's the occasion?"

I smiled and shrugged. "Nothing special; Aeris just told me to met up with her here."

Johnny grimaced. "Ugh, the pink girl. How in God's name can you put up with her day after day?"

I laughed. Aeris has been treating Johnny like crap ever since the monkey paw incident. After I realized that there was no Duke Nukem Forever cartridge/disk inside of the game box, I shouted angrily up at the sky, yelling "Paaaaaawwwww!" I then threw the box away and started bitterly crying. I carried the life-sized hot dog all the way home, taking a bite off of it every now and again. By going home, I mean that I went to Aeris' house, to tell her what happened. I broke down in front of her, and she hugged me until I stopped. I then explained to her what happened, and she found Johnny and beat him up, even though it technically wasn't his fault. Johnny didn't speak to me for two days after that, until I finally tracked him down and apologized on Aeris' behalf. Since then, the two haven't seen eye to eye at all. That doesn't bother me too much though, since she doesn't like any of my friends.

"Ah, you get used to the beatings after a while," I said.

"Maybe you can," he said dismally. I laughed again.

"So what brings you out to the park anyway?" I asked.

"Just looking for more suckers- er, I mean CUSTOMERS. Here, take a look at my new stuff! I just updated my supply yesterday!" He placed the boxes on the ground and began to open up a few.

"Okay," I muttered, busily looking at Johnny's new crap.

Chocolate frogs, assorted jellybeans, poker cards, some Krusty-flavored frogurt (whatever the fuck that's supposed to be), a shovel, a small bottle, a hat, a carrot, a pack of cards, and weird purple pieces of paper.

"Um, wow. It kind of looks like you have stuff from Harry Potter," I said. He laughed at that, but I wasn't kidding.

"Are you interested in buying anything?" he asked.

"Sure, I have a bit of money. Let me examine some stuff."

I bent down to pick up a few things, while Johnny leaned on a tree I hadn't noticed before. Things were quiet for a moment before I said, "I'm surprised to not see you holding a bag on nuts in your hands, handling them with oh so delicate care." I giggled a bit; it was impossible to keep a straight face over something so ridiculous.

Johnny didn't seem offended in the slightest. He said calmly, "Got rid of the damn thing. I really wasn't thinking when I bought all those nuts, and a few days ago I finally decided to just threw it away. Besides, all the accumulated sweat and grease from them wears on your tongue after a while."

"Uh…too much information, Johnny." I could already feel the urge to burp; an early sign when you think you're going to puke.

He chuckled. "Heh, sorry."

I looked up at him, then back down to the merchandise. He was absentmindedly looking up at the sky. I was busy holding up the hat when Johnny asked me something.

"Have you ever seen red snow falling from the sky?"

I looked up again. "Huh? Red snow?"

Johnny nodded. "Yeah, man. Sometimes I see snow fall from the sky, and instead of being white, I swear that it is red. It's only happened to me a few times in my life, but I still see it sometimes. The last time I saw it was a few days ago. I think December 17, it was."

I looked at him as if he were crazy. December 17 was the day I got hit by that truck. "Uh…No. No, I've never seen snow do that before. Are you sure your mind isn't playing tricks on you?"

He shrugged. "I honestly don't know. Trust me when I say that I'd rather be imagining it than anything else. Red snow…feels unnatural, somehow."

I continued to stare at him for a while. He cocked his head to face me and said, "So, did you find something you like?"

Back to reality. I quickly said, "No, just give me a few more minutes."

He said okay. I went back to the hat. It was a typical top hat, nothing too special. There was kind of a weird indention on the face of it. Lines seemed to form kind of a star shape inside of a circle. I didn't think much of it. That was probably just its design, as bizarre as it is. Looking at the carrot and the shovel, I thought that Aeris and I could make a snowman. So I pulled those from the pile and put them off to the side.

I then picked up the small bottle. I shook it; it sounded like there were pills in it. I looked at the label. It said, "Miracle in a jar! Feeling down, depressed, or suicidal? Do you hate your best friend but at the same time love him/her? Then you need Smoraphol! Smoraphol relieves depression symptoms and stress by releasing a series of endorphins into your system! Feel better immediately! It's just like Ecstasy, only legal! Side effects include off and on ignorance-is-bliss syndrome, thinking that U2 is a good band, and the unquenchable desire to buy everything at Johnny Evilguy's Little Knick Knack Shop." Homebrew medicine, most likely from Johnny Evilguy. No way in Hell was I going to buy this. The idea that it could make me happy did sound tempting, but I didn't want to get rid of my problems artificially. No, I would have to face my demons head on. So I put the pill bottle down.

"Alright, I got everything I want." I stood up.

Johnny walked over to see my choices. "So you're going to make a snowman with the pink girl, is that right?"

"Yeah. We haven't made one in years. I think this would do a good job of making us both cheer up." I smiled at some really fond memories. It was almost dizzying, seeing as how all my thought escalated to nostalgia in the blink of an eye.

"Hm? 'Make you both cheer up'? Are you both not happy right now?"

There's that damn concern again.

I immediately felt downcast. Great, now I'm going to have to talk to him about it. But instead of saying anything like that, I smiled nervously and said, "Uh, no. That's not what I meant. I just mean that making a snowman would make us both happy. You know, let us think of the good times we have had over the years."

Johnny shrugged. "Yeah, I guess, kid. Anyway, the total for all that snowman stuff is $17."

"What luck!" I said excitedly. "That's just the exact same amount that I have!"

He grinned and held out his hand. "Awesome, son."

I reached in my pocket and pulled out my wallet. I took out 3 fives and 2 ones, and the job was done. He packed all of his supplies up, except for all the stuff I paid for and the purple papers.

"Here take these as well," Johnny said, holding the purple papers out to me. I took them interestingly.

"They are what you call 'Bison dollars'."

I looked at him in disbelief. "Bison dollars? You mean M. Bison from Street Fighter?"

"The very same. He made some of those dollars. He always used to say he would make them the currency of England, just as soon as he could kidnap their queen. It wasn't any of my business, but I managed to get my hands on those. They're pretty rare."

I felt happy as a clam. M. Bison is one of my favorite fucking video game villains, and to hold actual bills that he actually made, was something special indeed. Too bad Johnny didn't tell me at the time that they were worthless. That was a little lesson I learned later that day, actually.

"And you're just giving them to me?"

"Balls yeah, I am. I have no use for them."

"Wow, thanks man."

He smiled. "It's least I could do. You're a regular costumer, after all."

I smiled back at him. We were good friends, he and I.

"So where you heading off to now?" I said.

He rubbed his chin. "Probably downtown. Most people down there buy anything that someone shakes in front of them. I better be off. Ta-ta, Leo."

He took a few steps before a thought occurred to me. "Hey, wait up a sec!" I ran over to him.

"What?"

"Um…has Pantsman made contact with you in a while? Like in the last few days? If he has, has he asked you to do some… stuff?"

Johnny looked at me strangely. "No…no, he hasn't. Why? Is something up with him?"

I quickly shook my head. Turns out Pantsman, Ternaldo, and Krug weren't serious after all, or at least they weren't including everyone. Now, I didn't feel so left out.

"No, not as far as I know. I was just curious, that's all." Johnny nodded in understanding.

"Well, I gotta go. You gotta spend money to make money, or so they say." With that, he left to go out of the park. I picked the stuff up and turned around. I walked deeper into the park, hoping to find a bench to sit in.

If only I had known that as soon as Johnny left me, he broke out into a panicked run.

So I kept walking with all the stuff in hand. It wasn't too heavy. I had put the purple bills in my wallet, to make up for the lost money. Everything else, I carried in my two arms.

Not two minutes later did I find a small bench, where I could wait for Aeris. I was in a pretty open area, so she could find me pretty easily. So I sat down and set all my stuff next to me. I got out my I-Pod to start listening to music. I started to listen to The Beatles. Weird, huh? I honestly didn't know why I had them on my I-Pod, since I'm not their biggest fan. Aeris sure is, but I'm not. Oh wait, that's actually why I have them on it.

See, Aeris bought me my I-Pod on one of my many birthdays; can't remember which one. But she said if she ever lost her I-Pod, or it got stolen, or I accidentally destroyed it, then I should give her mine. Thankfully, she still has her own, so I still have mine.

I started up 'With a Little Help from my Friends', and found that I was actually in the mood to listen to it. So I sat back on the bench with my hands behind my head for a few moments. I then looked down at the stuff next to me. I smirked at the hat; it might make me look like my freaking Dad. Imagine him seeing me in a top hat. He'd either be extremely proud, or mortified.

I laughed aloud and reached down to the hat. I set it atop my head and then sat back, still listening to the same song.

After a few seconds, I remembered how much I fucking hate The Beatles. Again, not sure why, but I just do. Some weird feeling seemed to come over me; I felt more in the mood for heavy metal right at this moment. I scrolled through my I-Pod listings and eventually found what I was looking for: Nine Inch Nails, and the album Pretty Hate Machine.

"Head like a hole! Black as your soul! I'd rather die, than give you control! Head like a hole! Black as your soul! I'd rather die, than give you control! Bow down before the one you serve; you're going to get what you deserve! Bow down before the one you serve; you're going to get what you deserve!" I said rather loudly. No one would be around to hear me, but even if they were, fuck them. They didn't know real music. This was epic, man.

Fuck yes, this was epic shit.

AERIS' POV

I grabbed my purple jacket on the way out of the front door. After locking it, I went to the park. It was a pretty easy walk. I only had to walk a few blocks and cross one road. Surprisingly, the park was devoid of all noise when I first got there. Not a single kitten or puppy screaming their heads off while throwing snowballs at each other. That's odd. Maybe the little kids aren't off of school yet. I wouldn't know, since I'm not in Middle School anymore. Thank God.

I was just thinking of how lucky Leo and I were when I saw him sitting on a bench a little further off. Glad I really didn't have to hunt him down. The park is pretty small, and it has a lot of open areas. There are quite a few trees to use for cover during snowball fights, but the park is far from crowded.

So I approached him. As I got closer, I suddenly saw how…ridiculous, Leo was looking right now. He was wearing a top hat, which didn't suit him, to be honest. The top hat also looked funny. It seemed…crooked. Not from the position it was in while being on Leo's head, but the shape of the hat itself seemed distorted. Not only that, but he was bobbing his head up and down like crazy! It was hilarious. That must be one hell of a song he was listening to (I could see the ear bud wires).

But wait. Why did Leo have a top hat? A few more steps answered my question. There was a shovel and a carrot next to him on the bench. I smiled; that was awfully considerate of him, bringing stuff to make a snowman with. Making snowmen was always my favorite thing to do when we went out to play in the snow when we were little tykes.

So I went right next to him and sat down. The bench was pretty wide; wider than I ever remember it being. Leo didn't notice. He was still moving as if he was having a seizure. After a while, I got tired of waiting. So, I gently tapped Leo on the shoulder. He didn't seem to feel it. I lightly shook his shoulder. Still, nothing. I nudged him with my elbow. Again, nothing. Finally, I slapped him across the face out of frustration, narrowly missing the hat. He let out a sharp yelp before looking to me. I smirked.

He took out the ear buds and said angrily, "What the fuck was that for, Aeris?"

I let out a bit of air from my nose. "I was just trying to get your attention."

He rubbed his face. "Do you think next time you could not hurt me? Dear God…"

"Oh come on! I didn't hit you that hard."

"Have you ever slapped yourself? Jesus Christ, it's like getting hit by a giant fly-swatter."

I shrugged. "Don't know my own strength, I guess."

He unceremoniously pointed at his ribs and glared at me. "You got that right…"

I stared at him. I didn't feel good when he kept bringing up his goddam ribs. "Um…right."

His gaze didn't soften. "So…we came here to talk, right?"

I nodded slowly. "Yeah."

He sighed and sat back on the bench, staring at the cloudy sky. "I told you to stop caring so much about me, and you told me that you couldn't do that and not act as if nothing had happened. Now, I'm not sure if either of those suggestions were good ideas." He looked up at me. "Are you happy where we stand right now, because I'm not. All this tension has been killing me, and there's no reason for it. Every time we meet up with each other, we talk about the same shit that happened again and again. We need to just drop the whole thing and have everything go back to the way it was."

"But we can't," I said. "It's hard to forget something when we are constantly reminded of it. Like your ribs. Every time you feel pain, don't you think of what happened?"

"You don't need to worry about what I feel and what I don't," he said coldly.

"Yes, I do!" I exclaimed. "You're my best friend! Why can't I show concern for you? What can't I-" He interrupted me.

"Because I don't need your help. Your concern…" He grit his teeth. "…Just makes the pain worse. What you don't seem to realize was that the whole thing was my fault, and to constantly feel pity just drives me bat-shit nuts. The talk we had on the phone was the same shit as this."

I didn't know what to say. I had no idea how much I was hurting him, AGAIN. I didn't mention how he seemed much more distant and angry right now than when we talked on the phone, but looking back, I probably should have.

He reached his arms towards me and pulled me closer to him, in a semi-hug. I hugged him back right away.

"Now's right about the time you would push me away and punch me…"

I looked at him. Our faces were mere inches apart once more. His face was completely relaxed and handsome. I felt the desire to lick my lips, but I didn't. The hat seemed to loom over his face like a dark idol. I pulled my arms of him and scooted back just a bit. I placed my hands on the hat.

"What are you doing?" He asked me, clearly alarmed.

I pulled the hat off of him. I was surprised the feel that the hat was latched onto him, like a bug. But I thought nothing of it. I was too focused on his face.

As soon as his naked ears were exposed to the cold air, he snapped his gaze straight ahead. He drew in a quick breath and held it for a few seconds before he closed his eyes and let it out. I watched with fascination before looking down at the hat in my hands. I suddenly didn't feel like making a snowman. This hat seemed to be bad news. I was just noticing the indent on the face of it when Leo reached down and held my hands, forcing me to release the hat. It fell to our feet.

He smiled at me. He looked much happier than he had one moment ago. He moved my left hand over his right cheek. He then started purring, of all things.

"Uh…wh-what are you doing?" I asked him.

He let go, but he continued to smile. "Nothing. I've just been thinking about things."

I gave him a strange look. "What things?"

Not…romantic things, right? Right?

He shook his head. "Just how stupid this has been, arguing about everything that has happened these last few days. I really don't want to talk anymore, and I don't think you do either."

"That sounds like a damn fine idea," I said. This whole thing was just getting exhausting.

"Alright, then it's settled. So do you want to build a snowman?" He stood up.

"Actually, no…" I said slowly, looking up at him.

"What? What do you mean you don't want to build a snowman? You use to love making them."

"Yeah, but-"

He looked sad. "Okay, that's fine. I just thought that this would be fun for us to do. Something you would actually be interested in doing with me. You know, for nostalgia's sake. But, I guess not."

I felt bad. "Wait! I, uh…I mean we can still make one…"

He brightened immediately. "Great! Hey, can you grab the shovel and the carrot for me?" He picked up the hat and ran off ahead of me.

"Hey, wait up!" I called.

He laughed as I tried catching up to him.

"Slow down, you bastard!" I shouted.

That only made him run faster and laugh harder. I couldn't help but smile. These really were like old times. Though I still felt like our issues weren't completely resolved, I didn't feel the need to kick the dead horse. Leo had already moved on. Actually, how did he do that? One moment, he's as depressed as shit, then he's as jumpy and crazy as he ever was. It all seemed to come back to the hat. I still didn't feel too excited about making the snowman, because I really did fell like something bad was going to happen.

What's wrong with you, Aeris? What the fuck can be so dangerous about a fucking hat? Surely, Leo's change in behavior is just a coincidence. Besides, you know him to be like that. Just build the damn snowman to make him happy.

I love my inner deity's logic. Of course there was nothing to be afraid of. I was just going to have some fun.

Finally, Leo slowed down. He was wheezing by this time. Me, I was panting, but not completely out of breath. Leo was in far worse shape than I was. I looked around to where he led us. Another part of the park, but slightly more open than where we were.

"So, this is where we will build it." I said. Leo only nodded.

"Okay, after you stop acting like a 300-pound old man, take the shovel and start preparing a huge boulder of a snowball. That'll be the lowest part of our snowman. I'll be working on the mid-section and the head."

Leo had caught his breath. He nodded to my commands and I handed him the shovel. He handed me the hat. I held it uneasily for a second, before throwing it as far away from myself as I could. Luckily, Leo was faced away from me, so he didn't see that. I tossed the carrot right next to the hat.

And so the work began. When I was halfway done with the mid-section Leo said to me, "Do you think if we sing the Frost the Snowman song, he'll come to life?"

I laughed scornfully. "You use to always want to try doing that with all the snowmen we used to build, but it never worked."

"Yeah, but this could be the one!"

I looked over at him. He wasn't even close to finishing the abdomen of the snowman. He had his old goofy grin on his face. A grin I had missed for days now.

"I think that hat was sucking away at your brain. Poor thing must have been starving."

"Oh, screw you. I'm singing it anyway," he said without reprimanding.

I went back to my work. "Suit yourself."

So blah, blah, blah, many a minute passed before we were finished. Leo had apparently messed up while making the abdomen twice, so while I was finished and collecting stones to made the mouth and eyes, he was still screwing up.

Finally, he made a sturdy enough ball of snow. So we rolled all three balls together in a line. I picked up the mid-section and placed it onto the abdomen. Leo started to sing. I'll admit, he wasn't a half bad singer.

"Frosty the Snowman, is a fairytale, they say." He looked over at me and smirked. I rolled my eyes.

"He was made of snow, but the children know…" He put the head on and put the rocks into formation.

"How he came to life one day." He stuck the carrot into the head. Then he held the hat in two hands and set it in place.

Nothing happened. The snowman was just a snowman. We waited, or actually Leo waited…And waited…And waited…

"I told you so," I said.

Suddenly, the snowman started shining.

"Ha! I told YOU so!" He said triumphantly. I was amazed. There was no way this could actually be happening. Huh, those cartoons must have all been documentaries.

The snowman started to bounce u and down a bit. The stones that made up his eyes turned out to be his pupils, as small circles of snow appeared to represent his eyes. The stones making up his mouth stuck closely together in a centipede-like shape, before all of them broke in made and opened, revealing a black hole with white pearly snow teeth and a bright red tongue. Long bands of snow bubbled out from either side of him and began to tumble into the shape of arms.

He looked down at us, as jolly as old Saint Nick himself. Leo was crying tears of joy. I was gaping like a retard.

He was just about to say something, when something terrible happened. His jolly grin twisted into a snarl of agony. He reached his arms up in front of his face. The hat on his head seemed to be shuffling around. The indention suddenly lit up a glowing blood-red. It was in the shape of a pentagram. Blood began seeping out of his eyes, like when fucking Itachi used his Sharingan powers on Sasuke during their big fight in the anime Naruto.

Leo was no longer cheerful, but instead he looked horrified. I myself was beginning to feel a little ill. Frosty continued to wheeze and try to cease the pain, when his eyes stopped bleeding. A red coloring spread through them, so now they were completely coated in a crimson filter. His pearly white teeth inside his mouth began yellow and ragged, as if they were not made of snow. Hell, for all I knew, they probably were real. He reached his arms up to the sky and let out a devastating roar. I covered my ears. His roar was the sound of earthquakes raging, volcanoes erupting, tornados screaming, and tsunamis crashing. Every natural disaster rolled into one.

When he was done, he lowered his arms and looked down at us. His red tongue, no a mushy gray color licked his teeth in oozing appetite.

Leo muttered, "Holy shit…"

Author's Note: Sorry for the long wait, ya'll. I've been both busy and lazy, which makes for a dangerous combo when you want to write. This is far from the greatest chapter ever. It's kind of slow at first, but it does pick up in pace at the end there. Aeris' POV probably needs a LOT of work, but I can't see any way to really improve it without messing up the rest of the chapter. It's hard to explain. It's not the shittiest chapter ever, and we're finally moving along in the story (which is what I've wanted to happen for a long time now), so I'm pretty happy. Hope the wait was worth it, and it's not horrible, because this is kind of a long chapter.