From “The Red Cap”
A bright red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap glowed in the light of the morning sun as James rummaged through cardboard boxes to find a clean t-shirt, pair of jeans, and socks. His dad had bought the cap for him on the family’s last trip to Busch Stadium before the big move to North Carolina a week ago. After James got dressed, he smoothed his blonde hair and fitted the hat on his head. It made his ears stick out, but he wore it all the same.
He walked downstairs and faced the towers of cardboard boxes and plastic bins that cluttered the living room.
“Dad!” James called. His mother’s head popped over a stack of boxes labeled OFFICE.
“Good morning, love,” she said.
“Hi, Mom.” James looked around. “Where’s Dad?”
“Again?” James groaned. “It’s Saturday. He’s worked every day since we’ve moved, and he promised he would take me to the park today to get some extra practice in before school starts on Monday.”
His mother’s eyebrows rose. “James, Dad did not make that promise. All he said was ‘We’ll see.’ We’ve told you several times his new job would make him work on the weekends sometimes. Why don’t you go outside? The front yard’s plenty big. Take your ball and bat and practice your swinging.”
“It would be better if Dad was here,” James muttered.
“James!” his mother’s voice was rising. “I’m sorry your father has to work today and can’t take you to the park. Things are not going to be like they were in St. Louis. Now, please, go outside or you can help me unpack. Your choice.”
They glared at each other for a moment. “Fine,” James huffed. He put on his sneakers and jacket and opened the front door, not bothering to take his ball and bat.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and stalked across the yard toward the oak tree next to the gravel driveway. The branches spread across the driveway, creating a canopy that barely reached the woods on the other side. The moss swayed in the cool breeze, and acorns crunched under James’s feet as he approached the tree. He slumped down at the base and tossed his hat on the ground in front of him. He picked up several acorns and lobbed them across the driveway into the trees on the other side. The acorns smacked the leaves of the low-hanging branches.
Through a gap in the branches, something moved. “Dumb squirrels,” James mumbled. He hurled a single acorn into the branches. They shuddered, and two human eyes stared back at him.
James blinked, startled. Then, the wind howled and whirled dirt, moss, and twigs around him. It lifted the red hat and carried it toward the woods. James reached for it, but the wind picked up and he had to shield his face with his arms. The wind and debris whipped around him for a few seconds, then stopped. James lifted his head to see his hat disappear into the woods beyond the driveway. The eyes in the tree had vanished.
He sprang up and dashed toward the spot where his hat had disappeared. He crashed through the branches and stood facing the forest. The trees grew thick and tall, and James could barely see the forest beyond or the sky above. He walked through the dense woods, the twigs and leaves snapping and crunching beneath him. As he continued to walk, the forest began to change. The trees resembled wrinkly faces, which scowled at James, and he had to maneuver his way around their low bony branches. The sound of his footsteps seemed to echo among the thick, gnarled trees. He walked for several minutes until he came to space amongst the trees where a fallen elm lay. As James scanned the elm tree, he saw his hat emerge from the other side of the trunk—and so did the thing holding it.
James stepped back and gasped. A small man with a gruesome face surrounded by a thick mane of dark crimson hair stood and flexed his sturdy, hunched back. He wore a dirty, tattered traveling cloak, jerkin, and breeches, and held a walking staff with a pewter point at the end. It stared at James with unblinking blood-shot eyes. . . .
Creepy! What the heck is this thing that has stolen James’s hat? Discover the secret July 15! Lantern Hollow Press is releasing a revised edition of its short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!