The Vapor, the Hot Hat, & the Witches’ Potion

Once upon a time in a prosperous land, a rumor swept across the kingdom that there was an invisible vapor floating through the air. Many vapors had come before, but this one was so extraordinary, it called for an extraordinary response.

This vapor, the town criers cried, could kill you at any time, anywhere. You could get it by talking, breathing, or singing. You could get it by standing or walking too closely to someone. You could even get it by playing. And the scariest thing of all—you could get it and not even know you had it.

The only way to escape was to hide indoors, keep away from people, and rub your hands with a clear jelly every time you touched something. Merchants stopped trading, apprentices stopped learning, and people stopped seeing people.

Every day, the town criers yelled out the number of people who had caught the vapor, although most didn’t know it since they felt the same as usual—just a lot more scared. They only learned they had it because of a certain spell a sorcerer had written down before the vapor came. The sorcerer had said it wasn’t supposed to be cast for vapors and couldn’t tell people if they had caught a vapor or not. But the sorcerer had died, and the king’s counselors decided to cast the spell, anyway, and that is how people found out they had the vapor.

The town criers shouted the latest death tolls so often their voices grew hoarse. Almost every one who died was very, very old or very, very sick or very, very fat. Hardly anyone else died, and at the end of the year, it would turn out about the same number had died as had in other years.

Still, it was a very scary vapor, and the entire kingdom had to change for the good of the public. The land was no longer prosperous, but the king just minted more coins and tossed them out to his subjects so they wouldn’t notice right away.

Eventually, people were told they could come out of hiding and the marketplace could open back up if everyone followed a few rules. They had to wear a hot, scratchy hat that covered their ears and eyes so the vapor couldn’t get into their earholes or eyeholes. They had to hop five times forward and five times backward if they accidentally got too close to another person. And, of course, they had to rub their hands with jelly after touching anything.

Some people thought the hats looked silly and were even a little dangerous since they made it hard for them to hear and see and made them sweat in the summer. The hopping took so much time, people weren’t able to get much done. When those people didn’t wear the hats or hop around, the rest of the people got very, very angry and said it was their fault people were dying and getting sick and couldn’t live the way they used to live. Some even took to wearing two or more hats for extra protection against the anti-hatters and anti-hoppers.

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