I was eight the first time I dreamed of The Man in the Black Hat.
He haunted my dreams for months.
I would lie awake at night, dreading the moment I fell asleep and I’d be thrust once more into his nightmare world. But eventually, sleep would come. And then it would begin.
I had been playing with the neighbourhood children when we saw him coming. He was further up the street, just coming out of one of the houses, on his way to the next. The Man in the Black Hat.
The Man in the Black Hat was a monster. A serial killer. He was feared across the entire country, and the police couldn’t do anything to stop him. He dressed all in black. Shiny, black shoes. Black trousers. A black shirt and tie. And a long, formal, black jacket. And on his head, a hat. A strange, tall black hat that sat atop his black hair and made him look even taller than he already was.
And he was tall. Tall and thin and terrifying.
He travelled from place to place, starting at the top of the street and slowly working his way from house to house. And when he entered a house, he killed everyone inside. No preamble. No talking. Just death, delivered swiftly at the end of a blade. Men, women, children, pets… Everyone died when he came to a neighbourhood.
And he was in ours.
We ran inside and found my parents. “Mum! Dad! The Man in the Black Hat is here!”
But they didn’t believe us.
We tried and tried, but they told us to stop making up stories. We begged them to call the police, but they wouldn’t. They just kept doing what they were doing, and told us to go outside and play. So outside we went.
And The Man in the Black Hat was just coming out of the house next door.
We fled back into the house, and down into the basement. Maybe we could hide. Maybe he wouldn’t find us.
I squeezed myself into a small cupboard and pulled the door closed behind me. I could just see a sliver of the room through the crack between the doors. And I held my breath, and I waited.
I didn’t have to wait for long.
Footsteps on the stairs.
Slow. Measured. There was no rush.
And The Man in the Black Hat came into view, his tall top hat, the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. He had a blade in his hand. It was coated in the blood of my parents.
He went out of sight, then. Searing the basement. One by one, I heard him kill my friends. Some of them screamed. Some of them begged. All of them died.
Then he killed my siblings.
Was he leaving?
The door of my hiding place opened.
The Man in the Black Hat smiled at me, bloody knife in hand. And then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me towards him.
At the moment the blade touched my throat…
..I woke up. Drenched in sweat. Sobbing and cowering and barely able to breathe. The shadow on my curtain looked like a face, and I hid under the blankets.
Eventually, dawn came.
But the dream wasn’t done.
The Man in the Black Hat came to me three or four times a week for months. Every time, it was the same. I’d listen to my friends being murdered in front of me, and then he’d come for me. I cried myself to sleep most nights.
I was eight years old.
And then, a turning point. I told my brother about The Man in the Black Hat. And he looked at me, all earnestness, and he said, “Haven’t you heard of The Man in the White Hat?”
“No,” I said. Naive. Hopeful.
“The Man in the White Hat dresses all in white,” my little brother said. “He has a tall, white hat. And he’s hunting down The Man in the Black Hat.”
And then he went back to playing with his Transformers.
That night, The Man in the Black Hat came for me, just like always.
I saw him coming. I told my parents. They didn’t believe me. I hid in a cupboard in the basement. I heard my friends killed. I heard my siblings killed. The door of my hiding place opened. The Man in the Black Hat smiled at me, bloody knife in hand. And then he grabbed me by the hair and pulled me towards him.
And a voice came from the top of the stairs. “Let go of that girl!”
It was The Man in the White Hat. He wore shiny, white shoes. White trousers. A white shirt and tie. And a long, formal, white jacket. And on his head, a tall white hat that sat atop his blonde hair. In his hand, he carried a white cane.
He came down the stairs. The Man in the Black Hat let go of me, and turned to face him.
Then The Man in the White Hat drew a sword from his cane, and chopped off The Man in the Black Hat’s head. Then he winked at me.
I woke up.
And I never dreamed of The Man in the Black Hat again.
He was dead. But he wasn’t gone.
To this day, he lurks in the back of my head. He’s the prototype for every nightmare monster, every evil character in every story I tell, and the bearer of every moment of panic or fear. He whispers to me sometimes.
“You can’t do this.”
“You’re going to die one day.”
“Everybody hates you.”
“I will make the worst thing you can imagine come true.”
But he’s locked in the prison of my mind, and every now and then, The Man in the White Hat shows up and puts him in his place.
I don’t talk about him. I rarely think about him.
And I’m not afraid of him anymore.
Or, I wasn’t.
“Mummy,” six-year-old Big Brother said. “I had a strange vision of a man.”
“He was tall and skinny and really scary. And he was wearing black. A black shirt and a funny, long black jacket. And a really strange hat. I think he’s a bad guy.”
I froze. The bad guys in movies always wear black. It’s just a coincidence.
But what if it isn’t. “What type of hat?” I asked.
He frowned. Remembering.
“A tall, scary black one.”
My blood ran cold.
This story is entirely true. Have you had something spooky happen to you?