“Hells’ Belle of Sleepy Hollow”
By Mitch Hyman
As the turning of time brings forth the autumn in the Hudson River Valley, and the cloaking of the numerous and various eldritch trees in a windswept river of flowing, rippling golds, oranges and reds, occur in a flash flood of life heralding death, comes the telling of tales such as the one you now behold dear reader. This is all a magic…a kind of magic in which you all drink of deeply like a rare wine to your thirsty souls.
I say magic because this area is the source and nexus of many kinds of magic. Of supernatural creatures and places.
The culminating event of all this sorcery happens near the thinning of the veil between life and death.
The coming of Samhain. All Hallows Eve. Or to most of you…Halloween.
This is the very nature of magic and the places where it dwells. This valley is like that and has been my home since I was brought here as a young man in the service of a very famous family. As any child raised and educated in the many schools of this land, the name of those whom I worked for is well-known. Well-known and hated. But more of this soon, I promise.
For now, the time I have to be with you will not be a long dalliance. I am about to step out from the precipice of the final act of my long-awaited task. The tale I tell you will be the last time it will ever be told by me in any event.
No, I am not dying.
I wish I could afford the coin to pay for such luxury. Unfortunately, that payment is more than the worth of the soul it would save. I tell this story to ease my heart and to quiet my fears which are well founded.
This tale has been told before, but not the true one. You, of course, know of a gentleman named Washington Irving and his creation, a Headless Hessian soldier. Mr. Irving was indeed a real person. As for the ghostly Hessian, no. Because even though there was a being that terrorized the neighborhood, it was no Hessian astride his dark steed ravaging the countryside and trading in skulls and bones. It was not even a man.
It was a woman. A woman whom I loved and it’s this love of her and her offspring which begins the tale that now follows.
Peggy Arnold was beside herself with fear. Her husband, Benedict, and her infant son, Edward, were about to be put on the chopping block of her family’s need for justice. And to gain this good justice then this too would require sacrifice of the dearest kind.
In the morning, her husband would ride forth and bring the blueprints of the young nation’s mightiest redoubt to its enemy. The fort was named for her husband and was given to him for his brilliance and loyalty.
General George Washington paid very cheap coin for this loyalty. Benedict had been wounded, chided, and ostracized by those he swore loyalty upon death. But, to Peggy, what good was all of this if all that will exist on the morrow will be the name and no longer the man to whom it was attributed? Washington and the self-serving Governor of Pennsylvania were preparing to doom Benedict to ignominy.
To Peggy, this would not happen to the man she would do anything for to protect and the father of her child. This decision was further made for her when a messenger arrived that evening announcing that General Washington and his entourage would be visiting in the morning. The very morning her husband was meeting on the shores of the Hudson with the spymaster, Andre.
Their plans were coming apart. Months of secret meetings and writings were about to unravel and the threads of which about to wrap about their throats and choke their lives out. She decided that Benedict must be saved and whether he agreed with her decision or not mattered little to the desperate woman.
Peggy made ready to ride out before the rebel general arrived and take a copy of the plans with her to a man that Andre said could be trusted if their plans were compromised. She had the invented cipher that she and her husband had developed for emergencies and the code for which was only in their heads for safe keeping. They would later, if all went to plan, and then teach this code to their new alliances.
As she was getting herself ready to journey, her maid beseeched her to re-think it all. Peggy listened to her maid’s concerns and admonitions. Even though Peggy was loathing agreeing, she knew she was needed the next morning if nothing else to distract Washington, while Benedict Arnold slipped away for his clandestine appointment.
Many histories speak of how Peggy Arnold, acting madly and wearing barely anything but a dressing gown, confused and embarrassed Washington by prancing around him and his men in this state, while Arnold made good his getaway that infamous morn.
So, now at the close of the day, the family maid, Theresa Cranebarry, a woman of no more than thirty years and of sickly pallor from years of exhausting servitude was now being entrusted with a mission that would later fall to me.
Poor Theresa was doomed to fail.
Peggy Arnold knew this, but it was Theresa who upon hearing that her mistress was going to take up the reins of this mission, volunteered to go in her stead. Courage, you say? Yes. But, courage born from the need to leave behind her own infant daughter in safety. A courage born from the fact that Theresa was dying from consumption and wanted her life to count for more than the odd spell or aide in birth that was the lot of the good wife. Courage that had saved her from the pyre of the witch in the small Canadian village she had escaped from into the strange lands of colonial America’s rolling hills. Her husband, also in the employ of the Arnold’s was a local Mohegan Native shaman named, Askuwhetean.
It was this shaman who found a shivering and starving Theresa wandering in the wilds of Connecticut after being abandoned by a fur trapper who kept her more as slave than mate. A fever that was the beginning of what would weaken her and bring forth the disease killing her, all these years later.
Askuwhetean looked deeply into her half-closed and near- death eyes and saw reflected in them a soul akin to his, and knew she must be preserved. He swept her into his tawny sinewy arms and traversed field and brook without pause or rest and brought her to his tribe assuring them that she was not one of the hated French. She was almost immediately accepted and revered for her being “touched” by the Great Spirit by her new tribe unlike the “good god fearing” villagers who would see her sizzle and suffer for her knowledge of nature and its workings. She was a wonderful mate, fellow mystic, and friend to Askuwhetean. She was a rare gift to all who knew her as well. It was this great gift that brought her family to the doors of the Arnold’s home. It was Theresa who was midwife to Peggy Arnold and the birth of her beloved Edward.
No wonder to you now, why the loyalty of these entwined families was something I hope you realize. It was why his heart and soul too were broken when she implored him to allow her this chance to do well by those who had treated both of them and their offspring like family.
Peggy dressed Theresa in a thick black cloak over a pair of black men’s leggings and a deep wine colored blouse. Her hat was a three-cornered affair that was to be for centuries the freedom symbol of the rebels of whom tonight she would betray. The riding boots of dark calfskin were ones made for her as a wedding gift from a dear friend of Peggy’s. The man that Theresa was to meet tonight. The man was the infamous Major Andre of King George’s secret service and chief spy to His Majesty’s highly decorated General Clinton.
Peggy stood back and looked at her maid and wept. Theresa’s husband had no tears left and so appreciated each one that rolled like hot fire down Peggy’s cheek. He left the room and went to cuddle their child who slept peaceful as the innocent are privileged to do so. Instead of saying farewell to his wife and part of his soul, he instead embraced his life and future dwelling within the fragile body of the babe. Revenge was not in his heart. Growth and love sprang forth in its stead.
This was the way of the mystic. A way he would teach her when she was ready.
She leaned in kissed Theresa and blessed her. The frail female with a resolve of steel smiled wanly and then climbed upon the back of her horse and spurred her smokey grey steed into the gloom and so into history untold she rode. She after a few hours found her contact only to have him betray her. He was an agent of the Governor of Pennsylvania. A man who had long hated Benedict Arnold and anyone associated with him. All it took was an offer of gold and lands to this unethical bastard and the deed was done.
The Colonialist militia that captured her, after beating her, then looked at the scroll she carried. And since of course they could not decode the brilliant cipher penned by the hand of Peggy Arnold, they decided something that would change the fate of the world. But, in their tiny consumed minds, there was no way they could conceive of this. They placed Theresa back upon her horse. They then with smirking faces tied a noose around her neck and the other end to the saddle itself. They fought over who got to slap the flanks of the horse and send this traitorous femme fatale to her hellish reward. The arguing went on till almost dawn when the woods around them exploded with war cries and gunfire.
From out of nowhere leapt Mohegan Indians, their faces painted in horrible ways. They were called upon to act by the plea of Theresa’s beloved. And so a native chief, who was like a brother to Askuwhetean and wearing a French colonel’s coat from the past French and British conflicts, led them. Between his sword taken from the colonel who had once owned the coat on his back, as well as his men’s tomahawks whistling through the chilled night like bloody comets of destruction the militia troops were massacred leaving one survivor who had fought well, but was now backed up against a large tree right by Theresa. Before the warriors could react to save the suffering woman, the lone militia survivor hit the horse in the buttocks and off it sped with its mistress barely hanging on. The Chief himself stepped forward and with one clean sweep of arm and weapon beheaded the offender and kicked his offending cranium into a nearby brook.
Now with a noose around her neck and the terrified beast beneath her galloping madly this way and that, she screams out blasphemies against man and God…all the time swearing her vengeance. As she railed to the spirits above and to the demons below, which was more spells than oath, she was knocked off her saddle by a tree branch and she was dragged by her throat through the surrounding countryside behind the horse.
It harms me too much to this day to describe the journey, but know that her pain becomes just flashes of red and white light exploding behind her weeping eyes.
Tears of blood and water mixing in the alchemy of hate. Eventually, her feet catch on the trunk of a tree near a bridge, which leads to a churchyard, and she is beheaded. The horse stops at the bridge and it drops dead from the night’s efforts and sudden chill.
So the villagers, still wiping the dust of sleep from their eyes, come out into the dawn from their bucolic dreams and witnesses a scene from a nightmare. Not sure of what to do or what was the cause of all this and not wanting to incur the wrath of nearby British and Hessian Troops, the townspeople declare her body is deemed too evil to bury there and is instead buried outside of the churchyard at the base of the covered bridge. Her head afterward hanging from its eaves as a warning to all traitors and blasphemers. She is damned, so they think, to spend eternity to never enter but to look upon the peace of the graveyard just beyond her reach. She was not a soul who needed the grace of their god or priests and so she went unto the Great Spirit and was welcomed with love and respect.
But, the angry dead can only rest so long and they renew their strength and resolve to return and settle all. One night, the head was stolen and where it is to this day is a mystery. But soon after this, Theresa is rumored to have returned, to roam the countryside between where she was first tied up and the bridge she was interred by. Chillingly and with the anger reserved for the restless dead, looking for her head on the anniversary of the day it all took place…All Hallows Eve.
A year later, like the wraith that was known to haunt the area, Sleepy Hollow’s new schoolmistress, Isabella Crane arrived. And she did not arrive alone.
The first ones to notice the woman, who appeared like a zephyr out of the early morning mists and astride a dappled mare of indeterminate age and upon whose undulating flanks rode a raven of no small size, was a hunting party led by the oldest and most boisterous son of the house of Van Brunt. He was Abraham Van Brunt, known to most by his nickname, Brom Bones.
He had gotten this appellation because of his large stature and a hardness of body and character that was not uncommon among those of males issuing from sturdy Dutch descent. Brom stood well over six feet tall and had shoulders so broad that it was said that he could carry two calves on them, and had such physical strength that it was also said that he would barely notice they were there.
His hunting companions, which to the townspeople were more like a band of “rogues”, were the sons of other local merchants and landowners. They were privileged and spoiled. They drank, hunted, and jested among themselves and would openly brawl in the streets with one another when the jests turned to insults. The two taverns the town supported dreaded the harsh winter days when there were no animals or fowl to be had by blunderbuss, arrow, or net.
This was when the opportunity arose for this band of village scions to inflict cruel pranks on those they perceived as weaker or just because the boredom of inactivity set heavily upon them like the leaden grey skies of winter above. The townsfolk avoided them when they were in their cups and for good reason. A farmer could be sitting one minute drinking his beer and then find himself swarmed by this mob and then stripped to his undergarments and hanging by the neck of them from a tree twisting in the cold cruel wind and snow while Brom and his crew threw stones at him, taking bets about the size of the welt one of them could inflict on the hapless Ploughman.
They got away with events like this because no one could stop them easily. Because simply, they were the town constables. Their fathers, the ones who insisted on their election to this position, thought that this might mellow them from having responsibility. To their chagrin, all it did was make them even bigger brats and threats. But still, their families did nothing to stop their antics, figuring their youthful exuberance would one day mature them into the roles society had ordained for them as gentlemen. Their fathers might as well have wished for the moon and stars to fall from the sky at their command too.
But to be honest and to tell this tale, and what is to follow, correctly is to let you know, that there was one other person in Sleepy Hollow who could deal with Brom and company. That person was the daughter of the man who truly was the leader of this community… Old Baltus Van Tassel. Van Tassel owned most of the lands in the area and was the prime lender of money to those who had lands he did not own. He also possessed the one shining object of desire in the eye of Brom Bones. This being the golden-tressed and comely visage of, Katrina Van Tassel.
To Brom and most of the other young stalwarts of the valley, she was the rain so badly looked for on a parched summer day. The smell of wild rose in the spring obscuring nature’s entire nosegay. The always smiling and sweetest voiced singer in the town choir on Sundays. And of course, the most lusted for backside that Brom and company had ever observed while its owner was bent over drawing water from the town well.
All that was Katrina’s…until this day when Isabella Crane, schoolmistress, and witch came to town.
To say that the Isabella was striking was to be foolishly obvious and be likened for one to state that the sun was bright. Her long dark hairs were worn in a long plait that she displayed wantonly with no proper cap to cover it. Her long dress of rich purple and swirls of intense blue looked fit for royalty and not just some person who had come to press knowledge and the sophistication of book and pen into the heads of the town’s tiny country bumpkins.
To her observers, she was a dark princess come from the fairy realm.
The race to greet her caused Bones and companions to jockey for position. During this whole galloping blur of beast and man the action was accented by blows from one to the other in hopes to unhorse their fellow rabble approaching Isabella and be the first to incur her favor. And because they were typical of whom they were, the noise not only indeed did garner Isabella’s attention, but caused a smirk of satisfaction to play upon her lips.
Here they come thought she.
As was foretold to her, the instruments of her darkest desires and chief among them, was he who would bless and curse the day he ever fought to meet her. I merely observed all this and waited. Difficult it was for me as I knew that the wheels of fate now turned and were the conveyance of a terror the likes of which would soon be and will never again be known afterward hereabouts. Resigned to my role more than my fate, I looked darkly and with trepidation to the night to come.
Brom was, of course, the first to reach Isabella and with a smugness born of overconfidence, he rode around her in circle whilst posted high above his saddle in the manner of the ancient Tartar horsemen from the tales he loved as a child.
Isabella knew just how to play to this and began applauding him, even as he almost plunged head first into the trunk of an ancient walnut tree. She smiled in her mind that he almost ruined all her pleasure that was to come, but the drunken angel that watched over him at the last minute must have made him aware of the oncoming disaster and he swerved and only landed on his buttocks from being thrown to the left of the horse. She dismounted herself and rushed to his side to ensure that he was indeed whole and hale. Brom jumped to his feet, ignoring his sore posterior and swept her hand to his lips. Isabella giggled and observed that a lady should first be introduced to her gallant before he takes privileges with her honor. The bile in my crop rose at hearing this. But, I could do nothing as the die was cast.
The following half hour was filled with braggadocio issuing in a relentless stream from Brom as he and his now- frustrated entourage rode along beside her and entered into the town proper. Knowing that my presence would raise suspicion from any wise folk inhabiting the village, I made scarce of myself. From my new point of observation, I watched as the town bell was rung to herald the new schoolmistress’ long-expected arrival and the local ladies league issued forth from the meeting house and brought her sweets and dainty offerings as befitting her. Isabella accepted these graciously and with compliment as to both the offerings and to her meeting those reluctant to come forward from behind their mothers’ voluminous skirts, those youngsters who would soon be her charges.
In this whirlwind of activity came the three Van Tassels like the gift they had ordered from some arcane catalog had arrived with fanfare and great promise. Baltus almost fell over from his ardent bowing and scraping directed at Isabella. It was like he was under a spell of toadying…which he was.
Right when Isabella was thinking all was too easily done, she felt a prickling in her stomach and almost, as I had earlier, disgorged the contents of her innards. Sweating and feeling faint, she was grabbed by two lovely hands that prevented her fall from “Grace”. When Isabella looked up, it was right into the concerned visage of Katrina. Most would have seen concern, but Isabella knew better. The fire of jealousy was embedded in those big blue eyes like embers would have been when flung from a firepot. It was Mrs. Van Tassel who quickly suspected something awry and took Isabella to the waiting carriage that would take her to the family home. Baltus and Katrina remained behind as did I.
What followed was an embarrassment to Brom. He stood there like a golem with no purpose and endured being berated by his fiancée. Her father and the rest of the men gathered, including the sniggering hunting party, retired to the local tavern, ordered Beer and watched in merriment to the scene still being played outside. The women appalled by the behavior of the town leader’s child, left the uncomfortable tableau to go about their daily chores. Of course they would gather and gossip of it later that night at the annual Harvest Ball which was by no coincidence being held at the Van Tassel estate. It was an annual event and all looked forward to with great anticipation as the full moon of the month opened the gates to the celebration of the culmination of months of agricultural toil.
That night was one of the darkest and coldest on record. The rows of Jack O’ Lanterns which lined the drive to the estate had their glowing carved faces sweating from the cold and the effect of the heat coming from the guttering candles implanted in their empty heads. Inside the warm confines of the great house, the revelers resting from their dancing and games were now gathered in a large circle to enjoy an unexpected treat. The new schoolmistress had produced a purple velveteen bag and was now emptying the contents onto a large oaken table. The onlookers gasped as one when the various stones and bones from the bag clattered forth. Isabella then gathered these up and then announced to the throng that she was going to read fortunes for all who were courageous to see beyond the mortal coil.
Even though “games” like these had always been tradition and a welcome part of this holiday, at first there were murmurings of witchcraft and deviltry. This protest was due mostly to this game being played upon them by a stranger they barely knew. Who was she to tell those she knew not what the future holds was the core of it?
As the voices rose in protest, it was Katrina who stepped forward to the surprise of all there. In her best and lilting voice she proclaimed that while under her family’s roof no harm from a simple parlor game would come, and they should welcome the newcomer who was assured of being a part of their community by choice and by contract no less. Baltus raising his mug of mulled cider shouted a hearty “Hear, hear!” as if to second this. To further prove this, Katrina gathered her skirts and sat down in a chair opposite Isabella and looking directly at Isabella entreated her to read her fortune.
The smell of cloves, liquor, tobacco, and the ladies perfumes created a heady ambiance along with the lowering of lights and the anticipation of the unknown. Isabella handed Katrina the various objects of the bag and told her to ask the powers that be her question. Katrina, of course, asked about her upcoming nuptials to Brom and tossed the “runes” almost defiantly at the table in front of Isabella. The schoolmistress closed her eyes as if in a trance, opened them, looked at no one in particular and then gave answer. She said that the wedding would be one that was talked about for many years to come, that the town would be better for the union of the two families. Katrina seemed surprised and for an instant glowered but then comported herself and gaily grinned while saying to the crowd she was well pleased by this. Those under the eaves of Van Tassel applauded and all were now anxious to have their fortunes told as well. But, Katrina was not going to yield the floor as yet. She then beckoned Brom to come forward and participate. Brom muttered something about his love and fealty needed no such affirmation, but if it was pleasing to his fiancée and the others he would do as asked.
Brom wiped the beer from his mouth with the sleeve of his coat and smiling wolfishly stepped to the table, kissed Katrina on the cheek and took the chair she was now vacating. He looked at Isabella with defiance and slammed the back of his hand with palm open on the table. Isabella smiled broadly, tipped her head in his direction and told him to state his want to the “Bones” and remarked that it will be humorous to see bones speaking to “Bones”. A tittering of laughter swept through the crowd at the jest. Brom, being Brom, took this as if they were laughing at and not with him. His anger clouded his mien and he shook the bones violently and shouted for the cursed objects to tell him what lay truly within his heart. Isabella was inwardly pleased that her ploy had worked and this gave her the opportunity she had wished for. Well, more like cast a spell for. Brom did not ask a question. Rather he made a statement of such blasphemy that the foundations of heaven trembled.
He demanded that the Bones and whomever controlled them prove that his love for Katrina was not of the purest intent and woven of the truest cloth.
What happened next is still spoken of in whispers amongst the descendants of those gathered at that final Harvest Ball. It is said at the next moment and the time before dawn that night, the very pits of Hell opened and hordes of evil spirits took up a hunt for souls to fill Satan’s quotas.
Five of the town’s young maidens stepped forward as if they had no control of themselves and all began to speak of dalliances with Brom and spoke of such heated sexual encounters that more than one of them began to run hands over themselves as if living the delights of these at this very moment. The rushing forward of fathers, brothers, and mothers almost caused several of these poor girls to be crushed in the onslaught of relatives wanting to silence them and protect family honors. One woman, before her pleading mother could reach her, began to recount a tale of being the night’s entertainment on one summer night’s hunt for not only Brom, but most of his band of friends.
Isabella stood up and with no emotion on her face, walked towards the doors of the hall. Her first work here was done. She would now use the confusion she had purposely caused to get herself to where her true evening’s work lay.
I too left and went to meet her at the appointed place.
All the time I was making my way out of the hall, the cacophony of anguished voices decrying betrayal and harm of the innocent rang from rafter to rafter. The whole time, poor old Baltus yelled for order and calm. He was eventually drowned out not by voices but was being pummeled by fist and stick by impassioned fathers and brothers for allowing such a travesty to take place after being promised the protection of the rules of hospitality. A blow to his head from one of the Van Brunt clan silenced him and all in the hall as well when it was realized that the town leader was dead. And was dead by their own blood-stained hands. Their shock lasted long enough for Isabella to escape into the night, run to the barn, bypassing the drunk and passed out stable boy to leap upon the back of her waiting horse.
Up at the house a fire had now broken out as one desolate maiden, her life ruined, picked up a Jack o’ Lantern from its place as the grinning Bacchus on the main victuals table and threw it and its flaming contents at an old and very dry tapestry. The blaze rose quickly filled the hall like a holocaust. The screams and terror swept too through the place turning it truly to the Hades of ancient legend. The next days were filled by the night’s survivors pulling and identifying the remains of those less fortunate. The Van Tassels in all were consumed along with their ancestral home. Later they were struck from all records in the region as if to have never existed and the Van Brunt’s acquired all the Van Tassel lands by right of recompense for the insult and harm caused that night by their negligence. But, two members of the families survived the conflagration, and this is the main meat of the final stanza of my tale.
Isabella was determined to reach the bridge before any realized as to where she was going.
Tonight she would avenge her family and destroy the cursed town of Sleepy Hollow and forever wipe it from the face of the Earth. This town had falsified records and gave no succor or proper burial to her dying mother. Instead these idiotic bumpkins created in her a monster used to make them look pious and righteous. They made a villain of Theresa Craneberry and this very night Isabella, her long suffering daughter, would raise her and have her finish the job she had been accused of in tales told to frighten late homecoming drunkards and children.
I too, would play my part in this and was gladdened by the coming peace and rest to my poor Theresa it would bring. Isabella was my daughter and though I was no longer fit as a human and so broken of spirit that I had to let it fall to her to make all things right. My powers were those of being an animus and shapeshifter as was common among my people. This was not the kind of magic needed here. This was witchy work and Isabella was the sworn and blessed handmaiden to Nature’s mother and father and of all their children. I was her father and helper. I was her companion in wing and beak all these years. I was the raven and because of my inability to protect and help my family, I was cursed to be in this form and one other too terrible to mention yet not to be human again till all scores were paid.
By the time all was in full chaos back at the estate, Isabella galloped across the town’s covered bridge and then dismounting, she snapped a branch off the dead tree that marked her mother’s gave and began to draw the holy circle of resurrection around the damp ground interring her mother’s body. This now done she pulled the last thing needed to bring forth the avenging spirit. She placed the skull of her mother, that I had reclaimed years before and kept till now, in the circle and began to chant. I watched from my perch in the tree above and sworn to protect that which was to come next made ready to stop the two riders fast approaching.
Brom Bones closely followed by Katrina Van Tassel had blood on their minds. The blood of Isabella Crane in particular was what they really wanted. The first one to thunder across the bridge was Brom. I took a father’s glee in swooping down on his horse, maddening the creature he rode to then rear and throw him down. Katrina was a good horsewoman and was possessed of determination that when Brom fell, she had her mount leap across his supine form, dodged the crazed beast attempting to escape and then stopped in perfect equestrian fashion in front of the chanting Isabella.
Isabella looked up and laughed maniacally at her foil. She demanded that Katrina reveal her true nature and battle her fairly as witches do. Katrina, for all perceived goodness and fair countenance, was a practitioner of a dark and arcane magic. The Van Tassels had a long history of hiding in their clans, Mystics who posed as doctors, good wives and soothsayers who eventually became the ones who goaded and bribed the hated cotton mathers, he of the Salem trials, to accuse and kill those who would reveal the secret of the true members of their kind. America was claimed by witches and mages when the first Pilgrims hiding among their numbers set foot upon the rocks of Plymouth and to this very modern day still do.
The two combatants squared off and both cast and invoked with all they had.
First to rise from this was my beloved Theresa. She began as shadow in moonlight and then coalesced looking like a charcoal rubbing of her like a memory of her in life. She then became fully formed, looking as beautiful as she did the night she rode from Ft. Arnold. Looking not terrible and monstrous, but of a beauty so heartbreaking that one would weep not from fear, but from sorrow of what she had become. An unfairly murdered and glorious icon of truth and justice who should have been its champion instead of an unknown martyr for a cause that was doomed to fail.
She looked first to our daughter and then rode with haste towards the town’s graveyard. There she stopped framed in the light of the gibbous moon, and called forth the dead to rally to her cause. The graves both ancient and newly mounded cracked open with thunderous clap from above and below spewing forth both prince and peasant, old and young, warrior and pacifist. All had one thing in common though. They had been forgotten and languished in obscurity due to time and the loss or indifference of the family and friends that remembered or tended them. Tonight they would be remembered for good or ill.
As this army of spirits shook off their torpor and began to shamble towards the bridge and so to cross and be led to destroying Sleepy Hollow and its smug and fleshy inhabitants, Katrina unleashed her forces in the form of dozens of scarecrows with caricatures and grotesques carved into the flaming pumpkins resting upon their shoulders. These beings of darkness held pitchforks, scythes and common implements meant for field and farm and now urged by their creator to not harvest crops but rather harvest the mortal and reeking remains of the dead coming their way.
The first melee found a clash that caused some of the dead to burst aflame when the instruments thrust and being swiped at them caused the dead to go aflame. Even dead babes who crawled upon the ground became fodder for this act of horror. The ones who could still move after a fashion then set the nearby woods on fire as they broke and ran. Isabella was straining mightily to control them. Katrina was not as strong as Isabella, but she didn’t need to be. Isabella had made a huge mistake in using mortal returned flesh in hopes that she could bring ease to them and given them chance to revenge themselves. This mortality and sense of right was the undoing of the noble thinking Isabella. Katrina was more bitch than witch and cared not for anything except saving what she could of her family’s power and wealth for her own purposes. Each Scarecrow was the embodiment of her wanton lust for power and position. While the world blazed about her, she knew she had won and won handily.
Her victory was short lived though. At the height of her revelry, the spirit of Theresa riding pell-mell towards her on horseback grabbed her from behind to the Van Tassel witch’s surprise and literally yanked her head right off her shoulders. In an instant, the scarecrow army returned to the ether from which they had come. They winked out of existence like stars obscured by the night’s scudding clouds.
The dead now freed from all caution began to move with a speed one would not associate with such as them. Like a grey and smoky flood they swarmed across the bridge and in minutes the screams of their hapless victims rang from cove to copse. This night all was an apocalypse not imagined or foretold in any book or tale.
As I was about to take wing and see firsthand the payment owed me and Isabella all these years, I caught from the corner of my avian eyes Brom Bones on his feet, sword in hand almost upon Theresa! Damn my foolishness for not doing what I should have done earlier to ensure her safety. Throwing all personal caution and want to the roaring and raging hot winds, I changed to my final form of this night. The one I loved and loathed. The form of the Wolf my people derived of the Algonquin were known for. I became the dire beast and leaped at the now horrified face of Brom Bones and tore his throat out so fast, he never was able to make cry, just a sickly gurgling noise as he collapsed in a heap on the fetid ground.
I was now doomed to pay the price for this. My daughter saw me in true form and recognized what she never had in my Raven. She had always thought that her father died too the night her mother vanished. I had been cautious even when my old friend the chief of her foster family of Mohegans began her training in the arcane arts and when she was ready, given the ‘gift’ of the head of her mother, the true story of what transpired and her familiar…a raven. Now there, she was seeing the eyes of her father staring at her from the lupine face. She then did what I thought at first was a faint. Rather, to my regret and horror I realized that the strains of the evening’s work and that she had the same weak heart her mother was cursed with killed her. And I was the final nail in her coffin. I howled long and loud to the Great Spirit and soon found myself a man once more. A man who carried the body of his daughter and the bones of his long dead wife to the same horse that brought Isabella here and upon whose flanks I rode on and spurred the poor beast on into the darkness.
I buried them in ground sacred to my people and till recently they were in no danger of being disturbed.
All these years I have wandered through the Valleys of New York. I met the young Washington Irving and for the price of drink, I told him the tale he was in the area researching. Better he got it from me, then one of the surviving heathens of the old Sleepy Hollow.
I watched cities rise, wars be fought, lives begin and end. I drank and labored like any common man and always known and protected by at least one in my tribe for what I was. Doomed to walk until there was no more of us to remember and protect our way of life.
Then, last year in this supposed modern age, my people gave in to pressure from greedy developers and a government that worries more for those across the seas and their corporations and oil-rich lands then their own native people sold this last land to them. I took the dust and bones of my family and placed them in a bag I wear around my neck. I will now die like any mortal man because my mission and curse ends soon.
I await the meeting I set up in these woods with the man who is also a controlling member of a certain wealthy developer’s family who now not runs but seeks to ruin all in his egotistical bid to become a modern age Caesar. I will pass the curse to him and he will then suffer as I have, to never know peace until the harm he has done is repaid to those he offended.
He should be quite a while in this. New York is a big city now, but not big enough to hide him. His father now ensconced in the city that was to be the crucible of freedom and justice is merely a usurper and a king who sits upon it on an island surrounded by a sea of blood. He will fall from his seat and be carried off by the waves of change and time like despots always are. Not for much longer will his money, holdings, TV and social media braggadocio keep him from the Great Spirit who will judge him finally.
And like his name born of the immigrant parents who vomited him forth upon this world, I plan to “Trump” his progeny in an ironic homage to their family name. Truly, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” now will come. And the blood he will spill amongst his own as he is invited into their inner business and social circles will pay for the blood his father caused among the innocent and destitute. He will become as his name a curse upon this world and to say his last name will always mean to take advantage and harm.
As to becoming the truth of a name, I too will truly become what my name means in my own tongue.
And that is, Askuwhetean; he who watches.
Watches and waits.
Story: ©Mitch Hyman, Art: ©Ada Zarate