Two Different Worlds


by Glacier

 

1 It all happened so fast in one seemingly normal week. A brief, yet extraordinary, chain of events would soon turn a small isolated town upside down in an instant, all started with an eviction, a mother’s death, a marriage, a will and a pair of signatures…and finally, a resurrection that was twenty years in the making.

What Peter Van Garrett thought was going to be a quiet, albeit bumpy, carriage ride back home turned out to be just the opposite. The ride was so jolting, thus rendering it impossible for him to get any sleep. When he peered out the window on his right side, all thoughts of his signing his last will and testament – which, earlier tonight, had unfortunately led to an argument with his son and thus resulted in his servant signing in his place – were temporarily forgotten as he noticed a fearsome-looking scarecrow planted in the middle of a large, vacant cornfield. Its head was a huge jack-o-lantern, perched on its shoulders, with a sinister grin carved into its face. He was immediately transfixed by it; his brain ordered his head to turn away, but his head would not obey.

When the tall, lanky figure passed out of sight, Peter stared straight ahead again, focusing his thoughts back on the will and the desire to escape this barren atmosphere. He smacked the wall of the coach thrice rhythmically with his fist, attempting to signal to his son, Dirk, who was navigating the coach, to pick up speed. Dirk obliged and whipped the reins to urge on the two horses pulling the vehicle.

At that moment, a brief explosion of lightning lit up the sky like an enormous strobe light. Peter jerked his head towards the window again. Suddenly, the coach rocked violently sideways as a dark blur flew past on the right side of the road, followed by the loud, unpleasant screech of a horse – or at least a sound resembling it. Peter sat petrified as he then heard a sound like metal scraping against metal…and the sound of an object cutting swiftly through the night air, cutting through something. Afterwards, the rocking ceased.

What the hell? Peter thought as he frantically looked around his surroundings in a fit of panic, then leaned against the door of the coach and poked his head outside the open window, all while trying to center his weight so the door wouldn’t fly open. His jaw dropped and he froze in mortification at the sight that greeted him in return. Dirk remained in the driver’s seat, and he appeared all right…with the notable exception of the blank space above his shoulders where his head should have been. The carriage picked up even more speed as the horses, realizing that there was no one at the reins now, plowed out of control through the night.

Peter threw open the carriage door and, with surprisingly little effort for a man of sixty-eight years, leapt from the cabin and landed on the hard soil. The carriage rumbled into the darkness until the noise eventually faded away. Ignoring the pain from the impact, Peter scrambled to his feet and began blindly navigating the sea of six-foot-high cornstalks, forcing them aside, fighting through them as if he was pushing through an angry mob.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he made it to an open space, but what he saw erased any minuscule thoughts of safety that had entered his rattled mind. He craned his neck skyward and looked right into the imposing orange face of the scarecrow he had seen just minutes earlier. Peter stood frozen in shock as he stared up at the towering humanoid figure. He could feel sweat running down every inch of his face. The pumpkin-face’s evil smirk seemed to be leering at him, laughing at his predicament.

Suddenly, the metallic swoosh of a sword swiftly pulled from its scabbard was heard from behind, and, judging from the volume of the sound, was not very far away. All thoughts of the scarecrow exited Peter’s mind as he froze solid, even holding his breath. His heart thumped in his ears like a kettle drum as he gathered the gumption to slowly turn his head.

The last thing he saw was the flying blade, with the reflection of the full moon on its polished surface cutting a white line into the dark, heading straight toward his neck. Peter Van Garrett’s head disappeared in the cornstalks. The scarecrow’s orange head was stained crimson. A loud neighing pierced the cold night air like a needle.

 

2 Emily Winship sat stiffly by the roaring fireplace in a burgundy velvet chair, staring into space as tears slowly crawled down her face as if they were made of molasses. After crying for nearly six days straight, she now barely had the energy to muster a single sob. She picked up a book and tried to read, but she found it impossible to concentrate and let it drop from her hand to the floor. It had been a horribly traumatizing experience when her late husband, Paul Henderson, had been bludgeoned to death with a gardening spade following a fight over gambling debts outside the local tavern over two months ago. The killer was eventually found and hanged, but it did little to ease the pain. She was left a widow at twenty-seven, far too young. After his death, she ceased to be Emily Henderson, or even just Emily for that matter; people simply referred to her as the Widow Winship, since the first letters of each word were the same and because her maiden name simply rolled easier off the tongue.

Then, just last week, her newest lover of less than a year was dispatched in a far brutal fashion. This was too much for her to bear. Since then, she became a recluse, remaining bottled up in her small house, and refusing to answer the door or leave except to buy food and medical supplies. Then there was the matter of her pregnancy, seven and a half months, to be exact. She was now facing the terrifying situation of raising the child without a father.

Tonight marked the end of another long, lonely day, as heavy as the previous six, and she was more than ready to sleep it away. She went to her bedroom, pulled a big, heavy wool blanket off the king-sized four-poster, and dragged it back to the living room. Since the death of her second lover, she refused to sleep in, and sometimes even enter, her dark bedroom because she feared that both men would return as ghosts and haunt her, but the thin cotton blanket she had been using wasn’t going to cut it in these cold nights anymore. With as much energy as she could gather, she placed another pine log on the fire and stoked it, attempting to get it to catch. The baby she was carrying made this otherwise ordinary effort more arduous. After drawing the small chain-mail curtain, she lowered herself onto the divan on her back, pulled the wool blanket up to her chin and closed her eyes.

But she was asleep for no more than an hour when she was awakened by a creaking sound, which sounded like it came from near the front door. She then heard a slow, steady series of footsteps on the hardwood floor that were each accompanied by a light sound of clinking metal, and they seemed to grow louder with every step. She saw a strange black shape heading in her direction, barely illuminated by the moonlight beaming through the window, but she couldn’t make it out because her eyes were out of focus from sleep. After rubbing them, she saw that the shape was a silhouette of what appeared to be a tall man standing only inches from her. He was virtually a walking shadow, with ragged black cape flowing behind him…but with no head upon his shoulders. He also carried a single-edged axe in his right hand. She wondered if she was merely dreaming, but the foul stench that accompanied this stranger unfortunately suggested otherwise.

"Who are you?" the widow asked, her voice quavering with fright. As if to answer, the figure slowly raised the ax above his neck, which suddenly came hurtling down like a guillotine. Emily Winship never had the chance to scream as she felt the cold blade contact her neck.

Then, everything went black.

39;Richard Killian stirred out of a sound sleep, cradled his arm around his wife’s midsection and snuggled up against her warm body. As he began to drift back into sleep, he considered himself the luckiest man in the world. The manner in which they had met more than six years ago was perhaps also a product of luck. The youngest of three brothers, he was born into a working-class family in the spring of 1766. Raised by Bradford and Josephine Killian, a blacksmith and housewife, in Tarrytown, Richard had departed to nearby Sleepy Hollow at age twenty-three with $5 in his pocket, looking for smithing work after his father’s metalworking business had shut down following his death. He had a fair amount of schooling, but preferred working with his hands rather than his mind, plus he had wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps from day one. Allen, the middle child, opted for a successful law career in Boston. Thomas, the eldest, died in 1780 while serving in the Revolution.

His first night in the drowsy farming community was spent under a pile of hay, and the next morning he began his job search. Although his asking price was reasonably low, he was turned down multiple times. That night he sat at the bar of Sleepy Hollow’s lone tavern, nursing a tankard of ale, when two men sat beside him and started a conversation. He didn’t pay much attention to it as he sipped his drink, until his ears perked upon hearing one of the men say he was in need of a smith who could hammer horseshoes for carriage and delivery steeds out here and in neighboring counties, because the original employee unexpectedly packed up his wife and kids and disappeared one day, never to be seen again. As a result, some livery stable/barn combination and its many equine occupants, plus a tiny nearby house, were now unoccupied and left unattended.

Killian nearly choked on his drink in excitement and boldly declared to the man that he was the one for the job, explaining that he helped his father make shoes for carriage horses for a short time before the business closed up. To his delight, he was given a trial. The next morning after spending the night in the man’s house, he constructed four new, near-flawless shoes for one of the man’s own carriage horses. Upon seeing the impressive handiwork, the man employed him on the spot. The barn and farmhouse were his. Killian’s pay was not particularly high, just enough to purchase food and supplies, and to keep the stable maintained. On the other hand, he would be living rent-free in the little house.

One fortnight later, he was talking with his employer in the tavern, at the bar again. They were laughing and having a jovial time, when Killian’s left arm suddenly swung into his mug, sending its contents spilling all over a young woman who had just sat down next to him. A flood of sheepish apologies and attempts to wipe the beer off her clothes eventually evolved into a conversation, after Killian’s boss bought them each a drink from his own pocket and gave them their privacy. After Killian and the woman, who was Sleepy Hollow’s resident midwife and lifetime citizen of the little glen, chatted for over an hour, he invited her to spend the night at his "new" house, where he offered to wash her clothes and hang them near the fireplace to dry overnight. While she slept in his comfortable bed, he took a shabby little divan, left behind by the previous owner along with the rest of the furniture, in the living room. After a breakfast of eggs and tea, she bid him goodbye and left just before the break of daylight. They were married less than three months later, and she moved her business into the house. In October of 1793, they welcomed a son into the world, who was christened with the first name of his father’s deceased brother, and his middle was his mother’s maiden name.

The poor blacksmith’s employer was none other than Sleepy Hollow aristocrat Baltus Van Tassel. The young woman who later became the blacksmith’s bride was Elizabeth Killian. Their young son was Thomas Jameson Killian.

Just as he was about to drift back into sleep, an ominous ringing outside prevented him from doing so and at the same time awakened his wife. He disliked nothing more than waking up before his scheduled time, and especially on a Sunday, his only day off of the week. Not knowing whether he had been dreaming or not, he tossed and turned, and prayed that the ringing would go away. He seized his pillow and pressed it down atop his head to block out the sound.

"Where’s that coming from?" Beth asked, her speech slightly slurred. "Better yet, what’s the meaning of it?"

"It’s coming from outside. I’ll go see what it’s about." Killian sighed as he looked at a wall-mounted clock over the dresser; it was barely after seven-thirty. He rubbed his painful right shoulder as he pushed the large blanket aside and sat up, gritting his teeth as his bare feet contacted the ice-cold hardwood floor. He looked enviously at his wife, snug under the warm covers. She lay on her back and looked as stunningly beautiful as she did on the day they met, no matter what time of day it was. He leaned over to kiss her, but just as his lips began to touch her cheek, she suddenly rolled onto her left side, and he wound up with a mouthful of her copper hair. He dropped his pillow onto the floor and got up, the chill of the house reviving him a little. He staggered to the coat tree and blindly grabbed the first coat he saw off it, hastily struggled into it and buttoned three of its nine buttons, though he wasn’t sure which buttons he’d fastened. Unable to find his slippers, he trudged through the small living room barefoot to get to the front door, chewing his lip to keep from cursing after banging his big toe against the hard wooden leg of a chair. He instead groaned in disgust.

All the while, the tolling continued.

He pulled open the sticky front door with much effort and stepped out onto his small porch, the bitter cold bringing him back to his senses. He noticed several of the town’s citizens walking by like an army about to go off to war. At this point, the ringing finally stopped. In his tired state, he noticed three men passing by together like a miniature entourage. As he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, he saw that they were merely Glen Rivers and Theodore Edwards, friends and constant companions of the infamous Brom Van Brunt. (Whenever they were seen walking together, which was practically all the time, someone almost always felt the necessity to shout mockingly, "Aye, there goes Brom Bones and his gang!") Brom, when he wasn’t busy defending his perennial title as the biggest pain in the neck in Sleepy Hollow, worked as the town’s blacksmith. He didn’t make horseshoes like Killian did; instead he performed various other metalworking duties. Killian had recently hired him on an interim basis to hammer out shoes in his barn, paying him a small percentage of what he earned from Baltus. (He recently had a small forge installed in a newly added exterior wing of the barn to reduce his numerous trips to the town smithy.) Brom’s services had been requested because Killian had separated his hammering shoulder – his right – last week after falling off a horse, and he needed temporary help in smithing while he rehabilitated the injury. He disdained the hard-headed prankster sometimes, but he was willing to put his feelings aside because Brom was the only person in the whole town who had answered his request for a smith, even if the reason was simply because he liked the idea of making an extra income.

He yawned as he scrutinized Brom’s thuggish friends. They bore a striking resemblance to each other, except Glen had jug ears and a gap in his two front teeth, while Theodore had a slightly higher hairline and chose to shave about every other day.

"Morning, Richard…were you asleep or something?" Brom asked, smiling slyly as he bit his lip to keep from snickering at the stableman’s appearance. Glen and Theodore chortled behind him and chucked each other in the shoulder, as if Brom had just told a great joke.

Killian brushed his disheveled shoulder-length hair from his face. "No, Brom," he grumbled, paying no heed to the two clowns behind him, for he hardly had the energy to give them a piece of his mind. "My occupation requires such attire like this. And, that’s Mr. Killian to you, Bones."

"That’s Mr. Van Brunt to you," Brom retorted defiantly, and his friends snickered again as if on cue, despite the fact that Brom wasn’t attempting humor at all. "I don’t wish to be called by that name anymore, for I’m no longer a child."

"You still act like one sometimes," Killian muttered, but Brom elected to ignore his remark. Killian was sure that it was his sleepiness talking right now, and that he wouldn’t be sniping at Brom like this if he was fully alert. "I’m hardly in the mood to be mocked by you roughnecks this morning," he said while stifling a second yawn, his irritation growing like a volcano nearing eruption. Just as he was about to tell the trio to get lost, he remembered something he had meant to tell Brom the night before. "By the way, Brom, you still owe me for that pair of horseshoes you ruined over a week ago – which nearly ruined my account with Mr. Johnson – unless you want to end up cleaning the stalls for the next two weeks."

Brom’s mirth quickly dissolved as he sighed in exasperation. "Must you continue to mention that?" In a blind act of love-induced arrogance, he was guilty of twisting two of four horseshoes, which were supposed to go to a client in northern Tarrytown that same day, into a pair of licorice sticks in order to impress a young woman named Katrina Van Tassel. As her surname proved, she was the beautiful daughter of Baltus Van Tassel, and Brom, captivated by her beauty just like the other young men of Sleepy Hollow, courted her relentlessly. In his efforts, however, Brom’s eggs were sometimes not all in one basket. They were only one year apart in age, and as a result had attended school together – along with Glen and Theodore, which, to Katrina, made for a rather uncouth triumvirate – when they were barely in their teens. He tried to show off to her in extremely odd ways: once he smoked out the small schoolhouse by stopping up the chimney. On another occasion, with the help of his two friends, he broke into the building one night and turned the room upside down by overturning the desks and hanging the chairs from the ceiling to make it look as if the devil had possessed the vicinity, something their extremely superstitious teacher had no trouble believing. Around that time, he began referring to himself as Brom Bones, for unspecified reasons. It was no secret, however, that he despised his first name, Abraham, and started going by the shorter version of that name. His peers, however, were puzzled over what "Bones" represented. Some even theorized that it was a reference to those he had broken, which only served to enhance his brutish image over time.

"Why is everyone awake at this time? Is Will’s service early this morning?" Killian asked, choosing to change the subject.

"Steenwyck? Up at this hour? That’s rich," Brom snorted. "I don’t think it’s after noon yet. The man would sleep all day if he wanted, and he seems to forget that he’s the reverend of this mouse hole sometimes; he almost literally has to be pried out of his bed on Sunday mornings…or any morning, for that matter. However," he rambled on, "if the reason for this tolling is what I think it is, then he’s going to be up before the sunshine along with the rest of us."

Another death? "Wonderful," Killian replied sarcastically. He stepped off his porch, momentarily forgetting his bare feet, and closed the door behind him to keep the chill out of the house. He had been awakened a week ago in similar fashion and was eventually informed with the rest of the citizenry that Peter and Dirk Van Garrett had both been murdered, and he had a sinking feeling that lightning was about to strike twice. "I pray to God this is not what I think it is," he thought aloud.

Ten minutes later, Killian’s suspicions were confirmed as he saw the coffin cart rumble by with its cargo. He later learned from someone that the body was that of Emily Winship…and he remembered that she had been with child. He knew this because she had made a trip to the stable with Paul just two days before his death. Killian had heard her name mentioned on several occasions, and she had paid a visit to Beth at the house awhile back, but he had never actually met her in person (he always exited the house out of respect for the privacy of Beth’s clients). She asked about acquiring a horseshoe to place over the front door, the reason being that she hoped it would bring her good luck in giving birth to a healthy baby. Killian offered his congratulations and, after hammering out the shoe, he carved their last name into the arch with the hammer and a chisel. The only problem, however, was that he had accidentally misspelled the title, but the couple gladly accepted it anyway.

 

4 Shortly after eleven in the morning, the Widow Winship’s coffin sat in its plot in the hamlet’s small, yet somewhat overcrowded graveyard. (An old joke that ran through the town for many years was that, in Sleepy Hollow, the dead always outnumbered the living.) The funeral congregation disbanded and went their separate ways. John Van Ripper – a mammoth of a man who, like Brom, worked two jobs, both as a carriage driver and gravedigger for the mortician – and his assistant grabbed their spades and began to cover the casket with soil.

Reverend Will Steenwyck clapped his small leather-bound Bible shut and heaved a mighty sigh. He was tired of talking; after the usual Sunday morning service, he was informed at the last minute that had to do this funeral shortly afterward. Still, he enjoyed the religious influence he had over most of the hamlet’s population, as it served to boost his ego and the hope that he was converting more of Sleepy Hollow into loyal minions of God. When he became an ordained minister more than fifteen years ago, he was intent on marketing himself in bold black letters (while apparently forgetting about the sin of pride) on the whitewashed sign outside the picket fence surrounding the building: "Sleepy Hollow Church – Reverend William Cartwright Steenwyck." He kept that sign maintained more than any part of the church itself. The preacher wasn’t particularly pleased with being addressed with a shorter version of his first name, but he didn’t state his case badly enough to try and force anyone to stop.

"I always welcome a large crowd gathering to hear me talk, but hardly in this situation," he stated to Van Ripper after clearing his throat. "Three eulogies in one week. Goodness."

"Well, I’m not enjoying this any more than you are," Van Ripper replied. "You are not the one who has to bury these people."

"I don’t envy you," Steenwyck said flatly, pulling a flask from his coat pocket and draining it in one chug. The water inside was warm from being in the pocket of his heavy coat the whole time, but he didn’t care, because after talking for nearly thirty minutes straight, it washed away the hoarseness in his throat like spring rain after a lengthy drought. He didn’t drink alcohol; he instead considered it a product of the devil, and he always brought up Paul Henderson’s death outside the tavern to prove his point. He even lobbied to have the small tavern closed down, but to no avail. Steenwyck also felt it was his duty to constantly needle Samuel Philipse, the town magistrate, with this mantra. Philipse, grudgingly resisting the temptation to try and shut him up, bit his tongue and chose to ignore him every time.

 

5 Although the morale of the sleepy village was never upbeat to begin with, what little remained of its spirits came crashing down like the boulder of Sisyphus as everyone feared there was a mass murderer on the loose after three beheadings in two weeks. It was now at a point where the residents began isolating themselves from others, and keeping their doors and windows locked at all times. No one dared to set foot outside the instant the sunlight headed west and everything succumbed to darkness. It was as if they were Transylvanians running for shelter before Dracula began his nightly rounds for fresh blood. Sales of firearms quickly reached an all-time high, with many citizens buying used rifles from soldiers who had no use for them after the war ended sixteen years earlier and wanted to get rid of them.

In no time, Sleepy Hollow had transformed from a quiet farming village into a virtual war zone.

 

6 Baltus Van Tassel nearly snapped the stem of his fine-crystal wine glass as he set it down forcefully on a table. "What is going on in this town?" he rhetorically demanded.

"I personally don’t know, but nearly everyone seems to believe there’s a serial murderer on the loose," Killian answered. He, along with his family, and Brom with half his entourage, had dropped by the massive Van Tassel family mansion, which was perched on a short hill apart from the rest of the community, to discuss the crisis at hand.

"And, are you one of them, Mr. Killian?" Baltus asked without rancor.

Killian shrugged. "I can’t say for sure at this time. But…I mean, a father and son are killed in one night, then a helpless widow is dispatched one week later. They don’t seem to be connected in any way. I guess he’s just picking his spots for no particular reason. Either that, or he has something against families. If the latter is the case, Baltus, however, then I am a believer."

"Why is it that three people are dead, and nobody has witnessed or bothered to report anything?" Baltus asked angrily. "They’re doing more harm than good by keeping quiet."

"With all due respect, the Van Garretts were murdered in the middle of a cornfield, and the widow died in her house. Both took place well after hours. Whatever this is, it’s got the whole citizenry running for cover, and, in the smaller scheme of things, it is affecting my business. Nobody’s bought anything from me all week. Those funds put food on my table every night."

"The crops’ll get ruined because some madman is running around cutting people’s heads off left and right," Glen, standing beside Brom like a bodyguard, interrupted brusquely, and soon all eyes were zeroed in on him. "What are we going to eat, for cryin’ out loud?"

Baltus’s brow furrowed. A killer was likely on the rampage in their town, and the only thing this dope was concerned about was his stomach? Brom glared at him as if he was speaking a foreign language. Glen tried to recover by asking, "Well, aren’t you guys talking about food?"

"I think you had best leave us," Brom said, and Glen exited without saying a word. After he exited, the strains of a conversation with Theodore were soon heard. When he heard the front door close, Brom turned his attention back to Baltus. "Glen, Theodore and I will volunteer to stand guard at night over the Hollow," he said. "I – we – are more than capable of bringing this criminal to justice."

"That’s generous of you, Brom…but, would you want to stand in the freezing cold night after night, for days, weeks…even months?" Killian said. "That, and you would be an open target for this person as well. I admire your bravery, Mr. Van Brunt, but I don’t believe it will work."

Brom slumped in his chair, defeated.

"Personally, I think having three simple-minded bullies guarding my village – we are all doomed." Baltus took a sip from his glass, letting the resulting silence further burn his comment into Brom’s brain. The fact that his superior had just said that helped to stifle Brom’s well-known anger. Had an ordinary man said what he had just heard, he would soon be picking his teeth up off the floor.

"Bodies found…heads stolen…hoofprints discovered…maybe the legend is true," the patriarch then muttered softly, yet loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Excuse me?" Killian and Brom said, nearly in unison.

"Nothing…I’m just thinking aloud." Baltus shifted uneasily in his high-backed chair. "I think…what I would like to do this Friday night, is host a party here, in an attempt to ease everyone’s nerves and bring the citizens of this community together again."

"A party?" Brom scoffed. "What is the purpose of that?"

"Mr. Van Brunt, you’re free to stay home if you want," Baltus replied.

"Sure, and he can spend the evening disinfecting the stables," Killian said with a sly grin, similar to the one Brom had flashed him this morning. He sometimes brought that up solely to see Brom’s reaction, and he got his wish as the roughneck folded his arms and growled in disgust. "I think a party is a splendid idea," he continued. "Beth will help with the food if you wish." He called for his wife, and seconds later she was at his side. "Where’s Thomas?" he asked.

"He is in the study, thumbing through some books," Beth replied.

"He’s a very sweet boy," Baltus said with a smile to Beth. "So young, yet you quite possibly have a future genius in the making there." She could only smile sheepishly in response to his flattery before diverting her attention back to her husband. "Is that what you called me for?"

"No, dear…Mr. Van Tassel will be holding a party here on Friday night, and I just wanted to find out if you and Mrs. Van Tassel would be willing to help with the food. Maybe you could serve your garlic roasted chicken again…there’s nothing like it in the world."

"My pleasure," she said, and they planted a quick kiss on each other’s lips. "In fact, we were just discussing recipe ideas in the kitchen."

"Can any of you carve some jack-o-lanterns for decorations?" Baltus asked.

"I can," Killian replied promptly. "And I know for a fact that both Mrs. Van Gund and Ms. Brant will want to help with decorations."

"All right, it’s all set, then," Baltus said, rising slowly from his chair, his muscles rigid from sitting still for so long. "Leave me now, for I must retire to the study for the time being. Good night, everyone."

As the Killian family and Brom departed, Baltus could not help smirking as he listened to Brom reprimand Glen for his stupidity and Killian do likewise to Brom about what sounded like ruined horseshoes. But the smile quickly disappeared as he retreated to his study, nearly tripped and fell on his face along the way over a thick atlas that little Thomas Killian had left on the floor, and sat down at the writing desk.

 

7 Nearly sixty miles south was the booming metropolis of New York City. If time had forgotten the tiny, huddled community up north, then it was focusing all its energy here instead. Also, unlike upstate, things certainly did not go quiet after dark, as the sounds of shoes and hooves on the gaslit cobblestone roads and the voices of merchants doing last-minute peddling of their wares before closing for the night could be heard. Smoke billowed from dozens of chimneys, blackening the cobalt blue sky and threatening to blot out the moon. Unfortunately, there was never a closing time for the criminal element either, and it kept the city’s police department on its toes constantly.

Suddenly, another loud ringing was heard, but unlike the tolling of the Sleepy Hollow town bell earlier this morning, this sound was shrill and rapid.

"Help here! Lend a hand here!" a young-sounding, slightly high-pitched male voice shouted over the din. In response, two men wearing long cloaks and high-crowned hats dashed from the street corner where they had been idling, while trying to distinguish the location of the voice.

"Help here! Anyone!" the man shouted again.

The two men pulled pistols from side holsters concealed beneath their cloaks, and made a beeline for the pier, where the continuous ringing was coming from. The few remaining passersby on the streets gave the men a wide berth upon seeing two guns out in the open.

When the pair reached the pier, they noticed the silhouette of someone kneeling on the old wooden deck, swinging a bell with his right hand while clenching the edge of a plank with his left to keep from falling into the frigid waters of the Hudson. The figure ceased the ringing and plunked the bell on the deck.

One of the men recognized the speaker right away just by his shape. "Constable Crane! Ichabod Crane, is that you?" Constable Anthony Green called.

"None other," Ichabod replied, setting his alarm bell down. "I need your help with this."

"What’s going on down there?" Green’s companion, Constable Clarence Witherspoon, asked as he first advanced toward the deck’s edge, shortly followed by Green.

"I have found something," Ichabod said, gingerly poking a long stick at a pale, bloated male corpse bobbing on the surface of the water like a buoy. "Something…which was lately a man." The two officers hovered over his shoulder to have a look for themselves.

 

8 The trio entered the massive watchhouse that stood on the corner of Stoppard and Irving streets, located in the thick of the city’s busiest district. The building was a combination of a police station, a courthouse, and a prison. Green pushed a wheelbarrow containing the body to the latter section located in the basement, while Witherspoon and Ichabod followed behind. Green parked the wheelbarrow in front of the balding, stiff-lipped High Constable like a fisherman showing off his catch.

"Burn it," were the only words out of the man’s mouth.

"Yes, sir," Green replied with a smile, as if this was something he had been looking forward to all night. He promptly pushed the wheelbarrow away, followed by Witherspoon.

"Just a moment, if I may, sir," Ichabod protested. "We do not yet know the cause of death."

"When you find someone dead in the river, the cause of death is drowning," the High Constable growled, so sure of himself.

"That is possible, if there is water in the lungs. But, with pathology we might be able to discern whether or not he was dead before I found him in the Hudson tonight."

"Pathology?" the High Constable replied as if Ichabod had spoken a dirty word. "Are we heathens?" While he raised his voice, his stern, stony expression remained the same. "Might I ask, Mr. Crane," he continued, suddenly narrowing his eyes into a sneer, "what would be the purpose of cutting him up?"

Before Ichabod could open his mouth to respond, he suddenly backed away as two other constables dragged in a beaten and bloodied man, who was barely standing on his own feet. The officers roughly hoisted him up onto his feet as the High Constable eyed them.

"What happened to him, Constable Perdue?" he asked, noticing the broken nose and bloody splotches on the beaten man’s face.

"Nothing, sir," Perdue replied, tightly clutching the man’s left arm. His long hair was disheveled from his struggles in bringing the man to headquarters. "Captured for burglary, and resisted arrest."

The High Constable’s only response was a simple cock of his head, and the two officers dragged the victim away. Ichabod watched in horror as they both dumped him headfirst in a cell built into the floor, and Perdue, with a sudden burst of energy, ferociously slammed the door with a loud crash that left Ichabod’s ears ringing like his alarm bell.

"Good work," the High Constable said, smugly twirling a ring of keys on his right index finger, and walked away. Meanwhile, Ichabod stood speechless.

 

9 "Gentlemen…in just a few months, we will be living in the nineteenth century. Yet our judicial system still relies on medieval devices of torture," Ichabod stated. This morning the small courthouse had been temporarily transformed into an exposition hall of sorts as the city’s dwellers had been invited to participate in an exhibition in which they were to present a new, innovative invention to aid in the fight against crime. The audience was quite massive: onlookers off the street sat in rows of seats behind the bar while the hopeful inventor presented his gadget to a group of magistrates and aldermen, plus the High Constable and the Burgomaster – an intimidating two-man jury in itself.

"Stand down!" the High Constable shouted.

"I stand up!" Ichabod retorted, unwavered. "For sense, and justice." He turned his back on his superiors in order to face the audience. "Our judicial system overflows with confessions worth no more than –"

"Constable Crane!" While Ichabod refused to be intimidated by the High Constable, the Burgomaster easily succeeded in quieting him instantly. He spun around to face the old man, and could feel the sweat beginning to form on his forehead. There were times when his pride seemed to do all the talking, and he hated it. This was one of those times.

"This is a song that we have heard from you more than once," the Burgomaster said. "Right now, there are two courses open to me…first, I can let you cool your heels in a cell until you learn respect and dignity for the office – "

"Forgive me, sir," Ichabod interrupted. "I only meant well. But, why am I the only one who sees that to solve crimes, to detect the guilty, we must use our brains and recognize vital clues…using up-to-date scientific techniques?"

"Which brings me to the second course, Constable." The Burgomaster, never flustered, calmly cleared his throat. "There is a town, upstate, two days’ journey to the north in the Hudson Highlands. It is a place called…Sleepy Hollow," he said, pausing for effect before speaking the town’s name. "Have you heard of it?"

For a moment, Ichabod thought he made out the ever so slightest of smiles on the grizzled man’s face, nearly invisible to the naked eye. "I have not," he said, swallowing.

"In that case, maybe you will want to read this." The Burgomaster waved a note in the air and handed it to a man standing nearby, who in turn handed it to Ichabod. "Read it aloud."

Ichabod unfolded the paper and read. " ‘October 1799. Sleepy Hollow, New York. To the New York City Constabulary: Three murders. Need help. Respond immediately. B. Van Tassel.’ " He refolded the note and looked up in confusion at the Burgomaster. "Pardon me, sir, but I might I ask who this Mr. Van Tassel is, and how this involves me?"

"That is the man who you will be answering to upon your arrival in this small, isolated, mainly Dutch farming community. Three persons have been murdered there, all within a fortnight…each one found with the head lopped off." He whisked his finger across his throat for emphasis.

"Lopped off?" Ichabod’s heart seemed to skip a beat upon hearing those words.

"Clean as dandelion heads, apparently. Now, these experimentations of yours, they have not been put to the test – "

"I have yet to be allowed to put them to the test."

"Very well. You will take these experimentations of yours to Sleepy Hollow, and there you will detect the murderer. Bring him here, to face our good justice." The Burgomaster shot a glance at the High Constable, who in turn leered at Ichabod. "Will you do this?"

Ichabod paused for a moment before nodding affirmatively. "I shall."

"Good." The Burgomaster slowly pointed a long index finger at the constable. "And, remember, it is you, Ichabod Crane…who is now put to the test."

 

10 The ride upstate had lasted just over 48 hours, but to Ichabod it felt more like 48 weeks. The carriage rumbled away, leaving him alone to face the road leading into the small town. Two stone pillars topped with carved-stone deer heads guarded the entrance like sentinels, and an old wooden sign on the right pillar read in carved letters: "Sleepy Hollow – est. 1683." And to think the Revolutionary War would end one century later, he thought. He cautiously stepped past the pillars and onto the soft dirt, walking slowly and constantly examining his environment like an explorer entering a new world. The rolling hills in the distance looked as if their sole purpose were to isolate this glen from the rest of civilization. Ichabod observed a small graveyard on the right side of the road, empty land on the left, and endless houses straight ahead. It was barely the beginning of dusk, and the town was all but abandoned. He entered an empty square, flanked by more houses and a white church, sometimes pausing to inspect his surroundings. As he passed more houses, he looked up and saw men and women closing their windows upon spotting the stranger wandering the streets below, as if he himself were the suspected murderer that had practically rendered them prisoners in their own homes.

As he passed a stable, a tavern and a general store, he spied something out of the corner of his eye, and he paused to observe a man and a small boy talking with each other while two other men with long-barreled rifles and wide-brimmed hats walked away from them. He could not make out what they were saying, but he saw the boy hand the man a cloth-wrapped package and a bottle. The man gave the boy an affectionate pat on the head and climbed a ladder to what appeared to be some sort of bunker as the youth watched anxiously.

Ichabod forced himself to continue his search for the Van Tassel mansion, which he found ten minutes later as he entered a curved path adorned with small haystacks, scarecrows and what seemed like a whole pumpkin patch’s worth of jack-o-lanterns. He paused to catch his breath after arriving at the front door, tapped the knocker three times, and looked to his right to see the writhing silhouettes of a couple making out in the dark. As he quickly turned away, the huge front door creaked as a young woman pulled it open to let him inside.

The environment in here was the exact opposite of the depressing gloominess outside. Adults stood about or sat in chairs drinking or talking with one another, while children chased each other throughout. A trio of fiddlers in the center of the room played a beautiful waltz. Ichabod tried to put all of these distractions out of his mind as he scanned the room, attempting to find Baltus Van Tassel.

As he neared the living room, his ears picked up what sounded like a girl’s voice, reciting an indistinct chant. He paid it no mind as he stopped a clean-cut older man to ask where Baltus might be found. He pointed in the direction of the kitchen across the room and disappeared into the crowd. As Ichabod headed in that direction, the strange chant grew louder.

 

11 "The Pickety Witch, the Pickety Witch…who’s got a kiss for the Pickety Witch?" A young woman, blindfolded and richly clad in an exquisite dress of the lightest yellow that matched the color of her hair, reached blindly at a group of men and boys after Brom rotated her in a circle, then joined the crowd himself as he and all the other men tried to evade her grasp. Girls stood to the side and giggled as would-be victims barely escaped being caught.

Beth and Richard Killian smiled broadly as they watched Thomas, who was participating in this round, step aside to avoid being nabbed by the groping arms. Then again, being captured would not necessarily be a negative, considering who was beneath the blindfold.

Suddenly, something caught the corner of Killian’s eye, and he turned to see a man, possibly in his early twenties, who was dressed all in black that made him stick out in the crowd. Carrying a suitcase in each hand, the man walked through the sitting room. He watched to see if the stranger knew where he was heading into, for anyone within the vicinity of the woman’s searching hands was fair game, whether they chose to play or not.

Sure enough, the unsuspecting stranger did not have the instinct to dodge like the others, and he was almost immediately caught, with the woman’s soft white hands planted onto his pale face. She held onto her prize with her left hand while inspecting it with her right. Killian spied Brom in the halted circle and stepped over to him. "Who is that person?" he asked.

"I don’t know," Brom growled, anger brewing in his voice. "But I have a feeling that he won’t last for long." He clenched his hands into fists.

"Is it Theodore?" the woman asked. This drew a few smiles and snickers from some of the onlookers.

"Your pardon, miss, I am only a stranger," the black-clad newcomer stammered, trying to find his tongue.

"Then have a kiss on account." She planted a quick kiss on his cheek, which curdled Brom’s blood like spoiled milk in an instant.

When the woman removed her blindfold, the stranger’s jaw gaped and he seemed to lose his senses momentarily, for she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. "I’m uh…looking for Baltus Van Tassel," was all he could say in his dumbstruck state.

"I am his daughter, Katrina Van Tassel," she replied in a welcoming tone.

"And who are you, friend? We haven’t heard your name yet," Brom interjected. Meanwhile, Killian was praying that a fight wouldn’t break out.

"I have not said it," the man said to Brom, then turned away. "Excuse me," he said to Katrina, and was about to walk off when he felt two huge hands clamp his shoulders. Brom then whipped him around and snarled, "You need some manners!"

"Brom!" Katrina admonished. He reluctantly removed his grip only upon hearing Baltus’s commanding voice as he and his wife made a grand entrance into the sitting room. "Come, come, we want no raised voices. It is only to raise spirits at this time that my dear wife and I are giving this little party." The patriarch scrutinized the man in black, and said, "Young man, you are most welcome…even if you are selling something." Everyone looked at the newcomer quizzically. Nearly all of them could tell that he came from somewhere far away, and definitely not from a farming community, judging by his pallid skin color and wiry frame.

Killian bit his lip to keep from smiling at Baltus’s comment, especially since he was standing next to the fuming Brom, who was all but ready to take the man’s head off right now.

"Thank you, sir." The stranger nervously reached into the inside pocket of his long black overcoat and pulled out a folded square of paper, which he handed to Baltus. "I am Constable Ichabod Crane, sent from New York with authority to investigate murder in Sleepy Hollow."

Killian automatically thought of the Widow Winship and the Van Garretts, yet he couldn’t help but think, What purpose would a constable from the big city serve here?

Brom snorted in annoyance. "Did your superiors want to be rid of you that badly that they sent you here?" he said.

"Then, Sleepy Hollow is grateful to you, Constable Crane," Lady Van Tassel replied while Baltus read the man’s credentials. "And we hope you will honor us by remaining in this house until – "

"Until you’ve made the arrest!" taunted Brom, never one to quit while he was ahead. Everyone in the room laughed except for the Killians (save for Thomas, who laughed simply upon hearing the others do the same), the Van Tassels and the constable. Glen and Theodore slapped each other on the back as if they had made the wisecrack themselves. Beth, not acting out of malice, swatted Brom on the shoulder, but he ignored it.

"Well, come, sir. We’ll get you settled," Baltus said with a nervous chuckle. "Play on!" he ordered the fiddlers, and they picked up where they left off. In the midst of the commotion, the partygoers had not noticed that the music had stopped. Killian, Katrina and Brom watched – two out of curiosity, one with anger – as Baltus led the newcomer up the stairs, presumably to his temporary quarters.

 

12 Jonathan Masbath lay on his stomach in a tiny, claustrophobic bunker raised ten feet off the ground, located just outside the residential area of the town. The long barrel of his rifle stuck out of the cutaway, which looked into the forest, like a telescope. His back ached from lying in the same position for so long, and now he was trying to fight off sleepiness. He’d been inside before the sun went down, and after literally hours of silence except for faint sounds of merriment emanating from the Van Tassel mansion, he was starting to become convinced that there was nothing to worry about.

The braying of a flock of sheep snapped him awake, and he peeked down below to see the flock passing by underneath him, resembling a freight train of wool. He thought little of it…until he spotted thick tendrils of ethereal fog rising – no, not rising, creeping – from the ground and wrapping themselves around four lit torches that sat a short distance from the outpost, and suffocating each flame in their ghostly grasps.

That was the only cue Masbath needed. He readied his rifle and pulled back the hammer. "Come out, devil," he growled, finger on the trigger. "Come…"

A moment later, a herd of deer charged out of the forest and through the fog, heading in different directions, followed by the ominous hooting of an owl. And then…the sound he feared the most, a steady, not to mention fast, galloping sound that grew louder by the second.

Masbath’s jaw gaped as soon as he got an eyeful of its source. A caped rider, sans head, and a snorting horse, both of midnight black, charged towards the bunker with amazing speed. Masbath aimed and fired. The shot echoed throughout the hamlet, but the bullet flew right through where the rider’s head was supposed to be.

There was no way in Hell he would be able to reload in time, so he scrambled from the bunker with frantic energy just as a huge battle ax came crashing through the cutaway window. Ignoring the makeshift ladder, he instead jumped the full ten feet from the bunker and landed awkwardly on the ground, silently thanking God he didn’t break his ankles or knees on impact. He struggled to his feet and took off into a grove of trees that led to the notorious Western Woods. He was well aware of its history but didn’t care about it at this point as he needed to escape the open field and find anything resembling a hiding place.

Adrenalin had been carrying him from the moment he escaped the bunker up till now, and he was a legitimately fast runner – he had once utilized this skill to chase down and tackle an escaping burglar who had broken into his house – but he soon felt himself beginning to tire. His legs began to feel rubbery, and it didn’t help that the hoofbeats behind him were getting closer. He tried to summon one last burst of energy, but he couldn’t. All the while, thoughts of his 14-year old son, his only child, ran through his mind.

Before he knew it, a huge black blur, clearly visible in the dark, was right alongside him. He heard a loud, ugly snorting sound amidst the pounding of hooves, and he swore he felt hot breath on the back of his neck. But Jonathan Masbath saw no more shortly after hearing the sword whisked from the scabbard.

 

13 For the second time in three mornings, Killian was awakened early by some kind of noise from outside. This time, it wasn’t the tolling of the town bell, but instead someone simply knocking on the front door. He rolled to his right in order to get up, but didn’t realize that he was already close to the edge of the bed, and wound up on the wood floor with a loud thud.

That awakened Beth in an instant, and her eyes flew open with the speed of a rocket. "What was that?" she whispered loudly.

"Nothing," Killian muttered, rubbing his backside as he slowly rose to his feet. It took every restraint he had in his body to keep from screaming after landing tailbone-first on the hard surface. "I think someone’s…at the door."

"At this hour?" Beth rose and pulled on a robe. "Maybe it’s Brom finally coming to reimburse you for those horseshoes." She grinned.

Killian scoffed, yet found it impossible not to return that lovely smile. "I’ll believe it when I see it with my own eyes," he said. More knocking was heard.

"Go get the door, you grouch," Beth said. "I’ll make us some tea." After a kiss on the lips, they went their separate ways. As Killian turned to walk to the door, rubbing his throbbing rear, he promptly banged his toe on the same chair upon taking the first step.

In anger, he pounded his fist on the arched back of the chair. The injury immediately reminded him why he was up this early to begin with, and his attitude promptly soured again as he limped to the door and pulled it open. If this second streak of morning bad luck was any indication, it would be Brom and his knuckleheaded cohorts reporting another fatality and mocking his sleepiness once more.

"What do you w–" he began, but stopped when he saw the man whom Katrina had kissed during the Pickety Witch game the night before. He had on the same outfit as he wore last night, and carried a black medical-style bag in his hand. He looked somewhat like a mad scientist.

"Pardon my intrusion," the stranger said, "but, might you be Mr. Killian?"

Killian’s annoyance was quickly wiped away. "Yes, I am, sir. I saw you at Baltus’s party…but I didn’t catch your name," he confessed thoughtfully.

"Ichabod Crane…Constable Ichabod Crane," the man said, placing his satchel on the porch and extending his hand.

"Richard Killian." The stableman smiled and pumped the constable’s hand. "But, just call me Richard, or just Killian, if you wish."

"I was told by Mr. Van Tassel to come to your residence first thing in the morning," Ichabod said. "He said you could possibly lend me a horse."

"How odd; he never mentioned that to me last night, but it would be my pleasure," Killian said. He suddenly realized that they’d been conversing on the cold porch. "Would you like to come in, Mr. Crane? My wife is preparing some tea, if you’d care for some."

"Thank you very much." Ichabod picked up his satchel and entered. His eyes scanned the small living and dining rooms, and as he did so, he already began to miss the familiar trappings of city life. This was a far cry from the luxurious beauty of the Van Tassel mansion, and seemed little like a house that a small family could be comfortable in. Even his own flat in the city seemed larger than this. There were no exquisite Oriental rugs or furniture adorned with hand-carved designs and brass handles. A simple couch sat in front of the fireplace – which contained a newly started fire – with an undyed wool rug before it on the floor. The dining room was in plain sight from the front door, and was merely a plain pine table with four chairs. No candles, flower bouquets or anything to accent it at all. The house was very drafty, and he could only imagine how cold nights were, especially during the winter. He silently prayed that this house, or any other in Sleepy Hollow, for that matter, did not have any spiders, for he vehemently detested the arachnid creatures.

"Mr. Crane…come over here," Killian said, gesturing him to come into the kitchen. "You can leave your satchel by the front door."

Ichabod entered the small kitchen nook and saw a striking young woman placing two cups of tea on the table. He noticed a small boy kneeling in one of the chairs. When she looked at him, he was momentarily taken aback by her beauty, but the impact was hardly as strong as what he felt for Katrina last night.

"This is my wife, Beth," Killian said, smiling broadly. "Beth, this is Ichabod Crane. He’s from New York City, further south."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Crane," Beth said sweetly. All Ichabod could do was nod as he felt his cheeks reddening.

"Father…?" Killian turned and spotted Thomas, who was sipping a glass of milk at one end of the table.

"Goodness…I didn’t even see you there," Killian confessed. He took the boy in his arms. "Tom…I’d like you to meet Constable Ichabod Crane. Mr. Crane, this is my son, Thomas," he said proudly. Ichabod held out his hand, and Thomas seized three of his fingers in his little grasp and shook haphazardly. Ichabod thought they would soon be jerked out of their joints.

"What’s a constaple?" the little boy asked after letting go. Ichabod turned a healthy shade of pink when he heard Beth chuckle.

"A constable," Killian corrected, "is a law enforcement officer. He’s come here from the city." Killian put his son down, who climbed back into his chair, then addressed Ichabod. "Come, Mr. Crane, please have a seat."

 

14 "So, what brings you to Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Crane?" Beth asked.

"I am here to investigate three murders," he replied in an authoritative tone. "The victims were some of the town’s more prominent residents, I believe."

Killian’s brow furrowed. "Would the murdered party you are planning to investigate consist of Peter Van Garrett, Dirk Van Garrett and Emily Winship, by any chance?"

"Yes, sir."

Killian sighed and sat back, the chair creaking under his weight. "Did Baltus tell you about who – or what – is responsible for these killings?"

"Yes, he did, last night…and it sounds rather ludicrous."

"I’m sure you have been told plenty about the Horseman, I am certain."

"Yes, and I beg you…no more, please."

"Well, I, along with the other citizens of this town, have reason to believe it’s the headless ghost of the dead, sword-swinging Hessian. I don’t know of such a formidable weapon that could come from the confines of this community that could be utilized for these violent acts. Still…there are those who believe the Hessian isn’t responsible for these crimes."

"Good," Ichabod said in satisfaction, taking a sip of his tea.

"Some have said that it is the Witch of the Western Woods who has made a pact with Lucifer."

Ichabod’s satisfaction became exasperation. "Is everyone in this village in thrall to superstition?" Killian chose not to respond, taking a drink instead. He didn’t want to engage in an argument with his guest in front of his family. "I beg your pardon," Ichabod said, clearing his throat. "I didn’t mean to raise my voice like that."

"It’s quite all right," Killian said. "The past two weeks have taken a toll on everyone’s nerves." He looked out the window and noticed the sunrise. "Would you like to go over to the stable now? I have a horse waiting for you," he said, draining his cup.

"Terrific." Ichabod was eager to get started with his investigation. The sooner the better, he thought.

At that moment, there was knocking at the front door once again. "I’ll get it," Beth said, jumping up from her seat. "I’m expecting company this morning. Mrs. Sherry," she explained to the men.

"Thank you for telling me in advance," he said to his wife, covering up with his robe. "Excuse me for a moment while I get dressed," Killian said to Ichabod, and disappeared into the bedroom. Ten minutes later he returned, ready to face the day in nearly all green – calf-high boots, breeches, white dress shirt and green vest, and a heavy forest green coat with brown sleeves. His long hair was pulled back in a ponytail save for a bunch of jaw-length strands that hung down each side and over his temples like the floppy ears of a Basset hound. He looked in the kitchen and saw his wife talking with a woman, but he didn’t want to eavesdrop on their conversation. Instead, he called for Thomas, who obediently climbed off his chair and made a beeline for his father.

After Killian helped him into his coat, the trio went outside to the large barn/stable combination located to the left of the house and opposite the nearby covered bridge. Thomas was the first to arrive, and he undid the latch, barely able to reach it by standing on his toes. Killian swung each door open and went inside. Meanwhile, Ichabod remained outside in the cold, and listened in amusement to what sounded like baby talk – to the horses, no doubt – coming from inside the barn.

"Would you like to come in?" Killian said in the doorway moments later. "I just have to feed them first or they’ll eat me alive."

Ichabod chuckled lightly but politely refused the invitation, and his host went back inside. He heard the man explaining to his son that the horses wouldn’t eat his hand when he fed them apples, alfalfa and sugar cubes. He strained his ears as he heard what sounded like a stall being opened and a horse grunting, perhaps in displeasure at having to face the chilly environment outdoors. Most likely a steed had been chosen for him right now and was on its way out. He wondered what it looked like; perhaps a Sevillian, a Palomino, or…

Or, a small, droopy, broken-down nag, which Killian led out of the barn into the open field. He showed off the animal to its new master as if it were a trophy. "His name’s Gunpowder," he said, smiling proudly.

Is he serious? "A brave name," Ichabod said, suppressing his displeasure, "but have you something a little younger? Taller?"

"You mean, something faster?" Killian said.

"Yes."

"A horse to cut a dash."

"Yes."

"No, I haven’t."

"Oh." Ichabod’s eagerness deflated.

"Not at the price."

Spoken like a New Yorker, indeed. "He’ll do just fine," Ichabod said, giving the horse a pat on the flank, raising a cloud of dust. "Thank you very much, Mr. Killian. How much do I owe you?"

"Nothing now. Pay me on the day of your departure." Ichabod nodded in acknowledgment. "Good luck, sir. If you need any help, just call my name." He returned to the barn to finish feeding the horses.

"Much appreciated," Ichabod said. Gunpowder jerked his head and lightly butted him in the face. Ichabod shot the beast an indignant glare, as if expecting him to express guilt for his actions.

Meanwhile, Beth and the pregnant woman emerged from a back door that led into the kitchen. Posted next to the door was a sign that read: "Elizabeth Killian, Midwife – Knock before entering." It had been carved and hung the day after the wedding. After leading the woman outside, Beth handed her a small bunch of herb plants. "Mind you rub them well in the breech, Mrs. Sherry…it’ll be as easy as shelling peas," she said. The woman smiled and nodded, and walked away.

Beth then turned towards the barn and hollered, "Thomas! Inside!"

The little boy quickly fed what remained of a handful of alfalfa to another horse and gleefully ran towards the house. Killian intercepted him and scooped him up.

"Go on off for your breakfast!" he said, kissing him on the cheek. "Kiss your mother once for you and twice for me." He lowered Thomas to the ground and the kid headed energetically for the house. The boy waved to Ichabod on the way, and Ichabod tentatively waved back. For a moment he wished he was in Killian’s place, leaving behind the stress and strain of fighting for justice to raise a young family of his own.

"My absolute pride and joy," Killian said upon noticing Ichabod’s wistful expression.

"He’s a delight," Ichabod replied. While this family had been more than accommodating to him so far, his situation and the reason he was here to begin with made him feel more out of place in this environment. He attempted to change the subject to what brought him to this out-of-the-way neck of the woods in the first place. "Um, Mr. Killian, I was wondering, about the old widow—"

"Old widow?"

"Yes…Widow Winship."

"Who told you she was old?" Killian asked, releasing a chuckle. "She was comely. Widowed far too young…and dead before the bloom was off her."

Suddenly, a loud gunshot broke the silence of the morning. Both constable and stableman turned and saw a portly man on a horse far away, waving his rifle in the air.

Killian recognized the man right away. "It’s Van Ripper…what on earth happened?"

As if to respond, the man shouted, "Murder! The Horseman’s killed again!"

Killian ran back into the barn while Ichabod prepared to mount Gunpowder, but found it rather difficult trying to mount a confused nag while holding his satchel. The horse began to walk off in the other direction just as Ichabod’s foot was barely in the stirrup. Meanwhile, Killian urgently led another horse out of the barn, expertly mounted it then took off through the covered bridge and towards the direction of the forest.

When Ichabod made it all the way on top of Gunpowder, he saw Brom galloping by on a beautiful black steed, followed by two other men seconds later. Embarrassed, he yanked the reins in an attempt to turn the old horse around. It took several tries before he succeeded, and the best he could manage was a slow canter through the bridge and out of town.

 

15 A small army was gathered in a section of the Western Woods: Baltus and Brom – with, as usual, the latter accompanied by Glen and Theodore – along with Magistrate Philipse, Reverend Steenwyck, Van Ripper, and Dr. Thomas Lancaster, the town’s lone physician. The huge number of people present made the scene resemble a funeral procession. All had grim expressions plastered on their faces as Lancaster attended to the decapitated body of Jonathan Masbath.

Moments later Killian and Ichabod arrived. Killian had slowed down along the way so Ichabod could catch up. He dismounted and slung his rifle off his shoulder, and wrinkled his brow as he got an eyeful of the body that lay a few feet away in the endless ocean of leaves.

"It’s all right, I’m here now," Ichabod announced as he clumsily climbed down off Gunpowder. Everyone, even Killian, looked at him as if he was from another planet. Did this man think he was some kind of savior? As the constable tentatively approached the body, satchel in hand, the crowd parted like a curtain to let him through.

"A fine looking animal, Crane," Brom jeered, but Ichabod paid him no heed. Killian’s first instinct was to remind him where the horse came from, but knew this was not the right time to do so.

Dr. Lancaster stood up and brushed dirt off his hands. "The fourth victim, Jonathan Masbath," he said to Ichabod, and backed away. Everyone stood silent with curiosity as they watched the newcomer assume his duty. As they watched him search for clues and make deductions, some fought to swallow laughter. Others merely rolled their eyes, yet some stood transfixed out of curiosity and listened to every word the officer said. Ichabod theorized on how the attacker killed Masbath and stole his head, judging by the pattern of huge hoofprints in the soil (accented by his own strange imitation of the assailant galloping through the dirt). He voiced his surprise at the lack of blood found on the scene, after the use of an odd green powder sprinkled on the patch of leaves right near the neck wound, and finally his gut-wrenching discovery after examining the wound up close.

"The wound…was cauterized in the very instant," he announced, rising to his feet quickly. His voice quavered slightly while his stomach continued to do flip-flops as if it were bounding off a trampoline. "It’s as if the blade was red-hot…yet no blistering, no scorched flesh."

"The devil’s fire…" Philipse whispered loudly enough for everyone to hear, as he gripped something tightly in his bear paw of a hand. Nobody else knew what to make of this, and they spoke not a word. Instead, they all looked at the constable, since he seemed to have all the answers.

 

16 Ichabod stirred in his small bed, trying to sleep off the chain of events he’d experienced during the past 36 hours. He could still feel the spiders crawling up his spine as he inspected the servant’s grotesque, headless body while eight pairs of skeptical eyes bored holes into him. Afterwards, he, along with a goodly portion of the town’s citizens, attended the funeral. It was there that he met with the victim’s crestfallen young son, Jonathan Masbath III, who simply became known, in honor of his family name, as Young Masbath. (The boy later explained that Jonathan had also been his grandfather’s name, and he had died before he was born. Several months ago the second Jonathan Masbath had dropped the "Junior" from his surname upon turning forty, as he felt that part of his name no longer suited "a man of my age.") Ichabod initially turned down the youngster’s offer to become his assistant, but later rescinded his statement upon being informed cryptically by Philipse that the second-generation Masbath was not the fourth victim, "but the fifth: five bodies…in four graves."

Just after six-thirty in the morning, while the rest of the population was still asleep, John Van Ripper and his assistant dug up four coffins: those of the Van Garretts, Jonathan Masbath and Emily Winship, while Young Masbath stood by with a lantern. The boy was barely taller than most of the tombstones. Killian stood by to pry open each one with a hammer and crowbar. He found this act of exhuming the dead quite disturbing, but he was willing to help out in such a manner if it meant catching the perpetrator.

But while he was not alone in his feeling, his latter philosophy was definitely not shared. The whole time, Steenwyck sat atop his horse like an overseer, watching everything with the usual disapproving frown frozen on his white, pudgy face. He was more than ready to cause a scene. "This is sacrilege!" he snarled at Ichabod.

"I cannot proceed without examining the previous victims," Ichabod explained. "It is the only way I hope to make any progress whatsoever on this case."

Unsure of how to respond to that, Steenwyck turned his attention to Killian. "Richard…why are you helping this scoundrel?" was all he could come up with.

"For the same reason as Mr. Crane’s, Will," was Killian’s simple reply. His back turned to the reverend, he began to drive the thin edge of the crowbar beneath the lid of the fourth coffin with the hammer. "I’m sure you want these killings stopped as much as he does," he continued, "as we all do."

"I will not allow this. I will not!" Steenwyck’s voice boomed at Ichabod, yet he did nothing to stop the constable in any way. Instead, he remained perched on his steed, as if waiting for God to intervene and attempt to stop the officer. The only part of his body that moved was his mouth.

"Protest to my superiors then, if you wish," the constable responded coolly.

"Your superiors are two days away!"

"Then you should have left two days ago, because I have men here who are willing to help me today." Van Ripper paused in his digging to proudly lean on his shovel and stare at Steenwyck as if Ichabod were speaking about someone of great importance.

"May God punish you for your sins, Crane." Steenwyck pointed a long index finger at the constable as if it were a pistol. Defeated, he kicked his horse and rode away.

"I suggest that Reverend Steenwyck climb the tallest ladder he can find," Ichabod said annoyingly after the preacher was gone. He was secretly relieved that Steenwyck had not spotted Young Masbath, fearing his reaction upon spotting the boy among the throng of men and open coffins. "That is the closest he will ever get to God."

This remark drew a round of chuckles from the group, but all heads turned to Van Ripper as he let out some snorting sound that allegedly resembled a laugh. He stopped upon seeing three pairs of eyes glaring at him as if earthworms were crawling from his ears. "What’s the matter?" he asked innocently, but no one responded, and eventually all four men resumed their duty.

The last coffin to be unearthed and pried open was the Widow Winship’s, and Ichabod had noticed a horizontal stab wound, nearly an inch and a half long, in her stomach just below the navel. He kept his handkerchief tightly clamped over his nose and mouth as he lowered onto his knees besides her corpse. He wasn’t sure what would happen first: either the lack of oxygen from the handkerchief mask or his usual nervous stomach would win the fainting-constable sweepstakes. Thankfully, neither one made it to the finish line.

Killian and Van Ripper, at Ichabod’s request, barged into the medical office later this morning with the widow’s coffin, scaring the wits out of the always on-edge Dr. Lancaster. Ignoring the doctor’s exasperation, Ichabod and Killian both peered intensely at the stab wound in the morning light. Young Masbath stood nearby while the doctor felt it necessary to bluntly verbalize his suspicions. After removing some of his personally created instruments from his satchel, Ichabod shooed everyone out of the office.

Twenty minutes later, he emerged from the confines of the office; the burlap apron he wore was covered in blood. The five town elders’ jaws hit the dirt, while Killian ducked out of the nearby smithy and rejoined the party to see what the commotion was about.

"I am finished," Ichabod said uneasily.

"What in God’s name have you done to her?" Steenwyck demanded angrily.

"We are dealing…with a madman," Ichabod announced, so disturbed by his discovery that he ignored the preacher’s question.

"And he is standing right here, addressing us where we stand." Steenwyck’s persecution of Ichabod seemed to know no bounds. "Magistrate Philipse, you are the word of law here. Put him in irons!" he spat.

"Whattya find out, Constable?" Philipse, suffering from a nasty hangover but ever-present flask in hand nonetheless, drawled. The pounding in his head seemed to have blotted out Steenwyck’s demand.

"The Widow Winship…was with child," Ichabod declared.

Nobody spoke a word after that, not even the blustery reverend.

This was followed later in the evening by his adventurous, to say the least, nighttime ride through town in which he had been assaulted with a flaming jack-o’-lantern, courtesy of none other than Brom Van Brunt. He could still hear him and his cohorts laughing at his situation, their voices magnified in the spacious forest.

"Don’t venture outside after dark, Mr. Crane. It’s not very safe," Brom had said in a caustic manner as he towered over Ichabod on his black horse before galloping out of sight, the horse kicking dirt all over the constable in the process. After sneezing out some dust, Ichabod faded into unconsciousness, and woke up in his room at the Van Tassels’, not sure how he got there. After being startled awake by one of many vivid nightmares involving the death of his loving mother at the hands of his father, a cruel religious fanatic, he rose just before the break of dawn to find Katrina in the sewing room reading one of her late mother’s romance novels. As light broke through the dingy blanket of clouds, she had taken him to the burned-out husk of the cottage she and her then-poverty-stricken family had resided in before eventually achieving their current financial status.

Katrina had inquired about the series of evenly-spaced pinhole-sized scars on his hands, but Ichabod professed that he could not remember – or perhaps he was trying not to remember – where they had come from. After they entered through the charred front door frame, he stood over her as she crouched down over what remained of the hearth, placed a blue wildflower in her hair, picked up a twig and began doodling in a pile of ashes as she explained something about her mother being her drawing instructor. Ichabod suddenly felt as if he had the leg strength of a five-month-old and he had to grip the charred remains of a window frame for support. Upon the two of them spotting a cardinal perched on a branch above and Katrina expressing her love for cardinals, he had demonstrated a spinning disk toy with a picture of a cardinal printed on one side and an empty cage on the other. Katrina watched, impressed, as the two pictures blurred together, creating the illusion that the bird was inside the cage.

The light outside was rapidly giving way to darkness. Ichabod was trying to ease his stressed mind by taking a quick nap, but his mind was too full to permit him any rest. He picked up a small hardbound book, blue with gold script on the cover, up off the nightstand and skimmed through a few pages. It was a book Katrina had given to him this morning, titled A Compendium of Spells, Charms and Devices of the Spirit World.

He had resisted the gift at first. "Are you so certain of everything?" she had asked him, causing him to surrender and accept it. He was surprised to discover the little book had once belonged to her late mother, upon seeing her name written on a blank endpaper. "It is your sure protection against harm," she told him.

"Are you so certain of everything?" was Ichabod’s sly comeback, drawing a warm smile from Katrina in response.

After Ichabod’s mind worked its way back to the present, he put the book aside and decided to go outside to get some fresh air. After pulling on his coat and sticking the book in his inside pocket, he stepped outside onto the lawn, when he thought he heard what resembled shouting. It seemed to be coming from a short distance away. His walk turned into a jog as he approached the source of the voice, or voices.

Instead of one loud voice, there was four. And the house was none other than Philipse’s. Ichabod peeked inconspicuously into the window and saw the magistrate packing a suitcase while the reverend, doctor and notary argued, but Ichabod couldn’t make out what they were yelling. He ducked away when Steenwyck, always suspicious of everything, came to look out the window.

Several minutes later, Ichabod intercepted Philipse as the big man was leading an overburdened pack horse through the main road that ran through an empty field littered with haystacks and scarecrows, and led out of the town limits.

"Where are you going, Magistrate Philipse?" Ichabod asked, quickly dismounting Gunpowder.

"Damn you, Crane!" Philipse growled. "You frightened me."

"And you had a mind to help me. What I want to know is, how did you know the Widow Winship was expecting a child?" he asked, getting right to the point.

"She told me," was all the big man had to say.

"Then I deduce that you are the father!" Ichabod declared.

"I hope that your powers of deduction serve you better in your contest against the Hessian. I am not the father." As Philipse spoke, he absentmindedly fingered a strange key-shaped trinket that hung from a cord around his neck.

This sight was not lost on Ichabod. "What is that thing?" he asked scornfully, snatching the object from Philipse’s grasp to inspect it closely.

"My talisman; it protects me from the Horseman," the chunky magistrate replied, taking the object back and gripping it with both hands as if to protect it from danger.

"You, a magistrate, and your head full of such nonsense!" Ichabod scolded. "Now, I demand you tell me the name of the—"

A loud thunderclap exploded like a cannon shot and an army of sheep, braying loudly, ran through the field, weaving around the haystacks. An owl hooted in the distance. Meanwhile, Philipse glanced nervously into the forest opening that was not very far away. Suddenly, another sound caused Philipse to tremble with fright. He wanted to turn and run, but it was as if his legs were stuck in mud.

The sounds – the neighing of a horse and the galloping of hooves – grew louder, and a black blur suddenly shot out of the forest into the open field. The figure passed by so fast that it knocked Ichabod off his feet. He landed hard and sprawled into the hay. At that moment Philipse’s legs finally got the message that it was time to try and make a run for it up an incline. But the magistrate didn’t get very far. As the figure closed in on him, Philipse turned around to face the monster, talisman held high, and released a gasp as he saw a sword being drawn.

As Ichabod recovered and tried to get to his feet, he noticed what looked like a white sphere rolling swiftly down the incline. He fell back onto his rear and desperately tried to scoot back to avoid the thing, but it parked itself between his legs. Ichabod became paralyzed with fright as he looked into Philipse’s dead, open eyes. He saw the Headless Horseman hold his sword high in the air while Daredevil, the ghost horse, reared continuously, his mane flopping around, and the rational man found himself staring at this…thing in total amazement.

But his fortune got worse as the Horseman suddenly took off towards him like a speeding bullet. All Ichabod could do was stare slack-jawed at the headless demon as it charged in his direction, while he waited to die. He saw the sword plunge into the ground inches away from him, and then it rose again with Philipse’s head stuck at the tip of the blade, like a marshmallow about to be plunged into a campfire. The Horseman then rode off into the depths of the Western Woods with his prize, leaving Ichabod unharmed.

The constable’s eyes rolled up and he lost consciousness.

 

17 After hearing the pounding hoofbeats and the rolling thunder, Killian dropped the book he was engulfed in and leapt on his horse, in hopes of finding where the Horseman had struck next, if that was indeed the case. He didn’t have to go very far, for when he started down the road leading out of town, he noticed two dark shapes to his left lying on an incline. He reined in and climbed off to investigate, and felt sick upon discovering that the shapes were two bodies, with one missing a head. The headless corpse was that of Magistrate Philipse, and Killian put the back of his hand to his mouth and turned away. The second was that of Ichabod Crane, which the stableman decided to approach first. He could spot no visible signs of injury, but successfully checked for a pulse.

After pulling his horse in closer, Killian gently lifted the man’s inert body and draped him over the rear of his horse, for he had no other way of getting him back into town. He rode slowly to the Van Tassels’, and as he informed Baltus of Philipse’s murder, Ichabod was taken upstairs and placed in his bed, with the covers pulled up to his chin. As Baltus and several other men hurried out the door to retrieve the magistrate’s body, Killian watched over the constable for awhile before Lady Van Tassel entered to replace him, then he retired for the night.

The detective woke up in hysterics the next morning upon being paid a visit by Baltus, Katrina and Young Masbath. "It was a Headless Horseman!" he had repeatedly insisted while Baltus resorted to condescension in an attempt to calm him down. However, the trio could only watch helplessly as Ichabod could plead his case no longer and he quickly blacked out again, this time collapsing in the corner of his bed.

They stood silent, watching the poor fool until Young Masbath said solemnly, "I guess it’s back to the city, then." Katrina shot a glance at the boy, hoping he was just talking off the top of his head.

Midmorning, Baltus was joined by Reverend Steenwyck, Notary Hardenbrook, Killian, and Dr. Lancaster. The five men stood like a row of statues, each carrying a drink in his hand – with the exception of Steenwyck, of course – that was delivered to them by Sarah Gellerson, a young woman who labored as the Van Tassels’ live-in servant for the past two years. Meanwhile, Katrina and Lady Van Tassel stood a distance from the pack, watching the congregation. Neither of the men did much sipping, and the reason was not because of the time of day. "All right. This time I’ll go to New York myself, and I won’t be fobbed off with an amateur deductor," an openly frustrated Baltus declared.

"Detector," Hardenbrook corrected in a cragged voice, staring into his cup with his one good eye.

"Deductive," said Lancaster, glaring at the old man.

"Desecrator seems more appropriate," Steenwyck said. "That young buck had the nerve to dig up four graves yesterday morning, and he carried a dead body into the doctor’s office, where he proceeded to perform a sacrilegious act – namely performing unnecessary surgery on her!" He pointed a paring knife-length index finger at Killian. "And you assisted him in his efforts!"

"I merely told Crane my services were available if he needed them, and I simply kept my word, no matter what duty he had in mind," Killian replied. "I was not enthusiastic at all in helping him unearth those caskets, but I was willing to do whatever it took to hasten the solving of his case. You seem to believe that he was disrespecting the widow by doing what he did to her yesterday, but understand, Reverend, that while the body lies in the grave, the soul has already ascended into heaven."

Killian expected Steenwyck to explode at his speech, but the doughy minister simply released a disbelieving snort and turned away.

"With all due respect," Killian pressed, "how would you react if you saw the Headless Horseman up close, like Crane did?"

"That is why I requested the services of the New York constabulary to begin with," Baltus replied in place of the reverend. "But how was I to know that they would send this weak-kneed greenhorn my way? Now, as a result of his actions – or lack thereof – our magistrate now lies in a grave and our ‘savior’ cowers under his blanket upstairs. This time I will hire someone far more experienced."

"And do you think that ‘someone’ down south would do a better job of apprehending a ghost?" Killian asked.

"Well, he certainly would not do any worse," Baltus replied, shooting a glance at the closed door of Ichabod’s room to emphasize his statement. "Why, when I and these three men here" – he gestured to Steenwyck, Hardenbrook and Lancaster – "along with Philipse, explained the legend to him his first night here, he immediately disregarded it all as if to mock us, and insisted the murders were committed by the hand of a mortal man!" He heaved a sigh of exhaustion, and continued. "I can’t afford to have everyone chased out of town by this beast plus have my financial sources reduced to ruins…which means all of us, even you, who are fortunate enough to avoid this monster’s wrath are in dire straits. Like you, I have mouths to feed as well."

"I agree with you on the latter statement," Killian replied, "and I don’t mean to contradict you on the former, but why are you surprised? That officer is a man of science, not superstition. I honestly doubt his superiors informed him that the ghost of a twenty years’ dead Hessian soldier was responsible for these murders. You would probably be making a mistake by giving up on him so quickly, but it seems that you have already made up your mind. I mean, if I arrived here from out of town and a group of people immediately told me that my prime suspect was a ghost, I’d have a hard time believing it also."

"You have spoken your piece, Mr. Killian," Baltus said, "and now I suggest you bite your tongue." He turned to face the three elders. "First thing tomorrow morning, I shall depart to—"

Killian continued to press the issue, despite the fact the reaction he knew he would receive from the aristocrat would likely not be a pleasant one. "I insist you let Mr. Crane stay," he interrupted calmly. "He’s probably the only one in his constabulary suited for doing this type of work. His cohorts and their thuggish attitudes wouldn’t last five minutes on this case. They’d be gone before sundown."

"That’ll be quite enough, Mr. Killian," Baltus said in an equally calm manner, but Killian had no trouble noticing that he was trying to subdue his anger. "Since it seems you are on a first-name basis with this man and are so familiar with his mannerisms pertaining to his line of work, then perhaps you might be interested in assisting him in his quest of putting an end to the killings."

"Is that a request, Baltus…or a demand?"

"Perhaps," was Baltus’s indefinite answer. "Picture it: for today, you are the second man I’ve summoned from the New York constabulary. Shall I give you the formal introduction and fill you in on the legend like I did to Crane the night before?"

Killian couldn’t tell whether Baltus was serious or sarcastic. His first instinct was to strongly refuse anyway, but now that Baltus had raised the subject, he felt strangely interested in accompanying Ichabod on his dangerous assignment to search for the murderer. The constable’s interesting art of deductive reasoning had unexpectedly piqued his interest during the Masbath investigation yesterday morning. However, he kept thinking of his family. Was he putting his own life in jeopardy? It’s just for one day, he thought, trying to justify his feelings. Two minds would work better than one.

"That won’t be necessary, Baltus," Killian replied, not looking him in the eyes. At that moment he became aware of the three elders staring at him and Baltus while they argued. He glared icily at all of them until they turned away and began muttering among themselves.

Suddenly, a door flew open and out popped Ichabod, fully dressed, with Young Masbath hugging his satchel behind him. "Gentlemen!" he said with renewed energy, a far cry from the maniac hiding under the sheets hours earlier. Everyone downstairs craned their necks to look at him. "I need able men to go with me into the Western Woods."

Katrina’s face lit up like the kitchen hearth when she spotted the handsome man in black, happy that he had regained his senses. It was as if she was back at the party and she had just met him for the first time.

"You?" Baltus said in genuine amazement. "We thought you’d shot your bolt."

"I have faced my fears and come out determined to locate the Horseman’s grave. In short…to pit myself against a murdering ghost."

Lady Van Tassel put her hands on Katrina’s shoulders as if to shelter her from harm.

Ichabod defiantly crossed his arms. "Who’s with me?"

No one answered, and the room was pin-drop silent until two voices spoke the word "Me" in unison: those of Killian and Young Masbath.

 

18 Killian, followed by the junior Masbath, whom the stableman had invited to his house for the night, pushed open the sticky door, leaned his rifle near it, and let his green overcoat simply drop to the floor in a heap. Beth came over to meet him and the two embraced passionately. Little Thomas dashed over and clutched his father’s knees in a bearhug. Young Masbath could only stand and watch and think of his late parents as he managed with much effort to hold back tears.

After a long kiss, Beth asked, "Where were you today? I thought you’d died and gone to heaven."

"Well, emotionally, I almost did," Killian replied.

"Where’s Ichabod? I thought he was with you."

"He rode back with Katrina to the Van Tassels’." He deeply sniffed the air. "What’s cooking?"

"Roast beef…one of your favorites," she replied. "What happened on your great adventure? I beg you to tell me."

"In good time." Killian smiled. "We have plenty to tell. In the meantime, I would like you to meet my friend, Jonathan Masbath III. You’ll have to set a fourth place at the table tonight."

"My deepest sympathies regarding your father, Mr. Masbath," Beth said, gently shaking the young man’s hand. "It’s an honor to have you as our guest."

"Thank you, Mrs. Killian," Young Masbath said with a smile that was a mixture of shyness and sadness.

"Please, call me Beth."

The boy nodded, then struggled out of his coat. "Where should I put this?"

"Just put it on the floor on top of Richard’s. Come with me," she said, leading him to the kitchen. "I hope you like roast beef."

Beth listened intently to the men’s long story about their travel into the Western Woods, where they visited a witch’s cave, and how Katrina had made an unexpected appearance and joined them for the remainder of their journey. Killian described in detail the horrific Tree of the Dead, which was a supposed "gateway between two worlds," while leaving out details of what was stored in the trunk for Young Masbath’s sake, and not to mention keeping the story discreet enough in hopes of not killing anyone’s appetite. They explained Ichabod’s digging up of the Horseman’s grave, his discovery that the skull was missing from the rest of the skeleton, and the detective explaining, "That is why the Horseman returns from the grave, to take heads…until his own is restored to him."

 

19 Ichabod sat at the small desk in his room, still dressed in his black pants, white shirt and black vest. He doodled on a blank page in his ledger as his mind wandered. He had filled two pages with notes as he reflected on his strange foray into the Western Woods with Killian, Katrina and Young Masbath. He remembered the look of horror on their faces as he hacked away at the Tree of the Dead’s overgrown roots, blood splattering on his face and coat in the process. He had pulled away a huge section of bark to reveal a cache of human heads stored inside the trunk. Katrina had turned Young Masbath away and taken him into her arms to shield him from the gruesome sight. All Killian could do was point his rifle at the tree, standing frozen in shock as he watched Ichabod examine the tree, until the constable came upon the Horseman’s old, rusted sword, that now served as a grave marker. After discovering that someone else had dug up the grave recently, he did likewise and saw that the Horseman’s skull was gone. This sent many hypotheses swirling in his brain like a whirlpool. Unfortunately, the low, angry rumbling sound coming from inside the tree and the small earthquake afterward had caused he and his band to make a hasty exit from the Western Woods. He would have to return again, whether it was by himself or with his party.

Moments later, he heard a distant rumbling again. He didn’t think much of it until he heard what sounded like the neighing of a horse. He dropped his pen, hurried down the stairs and went outside into the cold night air, all while forgetting that he had left his overcoat behind.

Lightning flashes lit up the dark sky. Sure enough, as he expected, the Horseman shot into the open, and headed towards the covered bridge. He obviously has another victim in mind…but where is he headed? Ichabod thought, thinking hard. He soon got a sinking feeling in his stomach, and took off in the fastest run he could muster after the Horseman.

Some distance away, Brom, Glen and Theodore stopped their horses in the center of the square near the church. They were aware of the Horseman’s presence and were about to set out to find him. They sat in silence for a few seconds until they heard an unmistakable neighing sound.

"Split up. Glen, you take the right side. Theodore, the left," Brom instructed. The two men urged their horses and rode off while Brom stayed put, straining his ears for any other suspicious sounds, but all was silent.

Back at the Killian residence, Beth stood up to clear plates as she stared with slight annoyance at her husband leaning back in his chair and picking his teeth with a silver-handled pocketknife. Thomas climbed off his chair, stood on the tips of his toes to reach a tallow wick off the fireplace mantel, then lit it and carried it to his room. Young Masbath stayed at the table to chat with Killian during pauses in the stableman’s dental work.

Thomas entered his room and to a small lantern that sat on an equally undersized table. He opened a small hatch and lit three separate candles inside the lantern. He blew the wick out and closed the tiny door, then slowly spun the lantern’s outer frame, which was adorned with multiple carvings of monsters, sea beasts, and arch-backed cats. The candlelight inside reflected these distorted silhouettes in bright light on the log walls. The boy sat cross-legged on the floor and watched with delight.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Young Masbath could not help smiling as Beth reprimanded her husband’s lack of table manners. "Don’t pick your teeth. You teach Thomas bad habits."

"I am a bad habit!" Killian said, pulling his wife playfully onto his lap, temporarily forgetting that his guest was sitting nearby. "There’s nothing for it."

"Oh, isn’t there?" she replied, and she kissed him on the lips before getting up to clear the rest of the dinner dishes. Upon seeing the light from Thomas’ lantern, she put everything down on the counter and went to his room. Young Masbath stood up, pushed his chair in and looked up at the sky from the kitchen window. It was a rare clear night, and stars dotted and sparkled in the indigo sky like diamonds scattered on black velvet. This reminded him of many nights in the past when he and his father would sit on the porch together and try to distinguish the constellations amidst the mass of twinkling lights. This was the first cloudless night since his father’s death, and he wanted to continue this ritual nonetheless.

"Excuse me for a moment, but I am going to step outside for a few minutes," was all he said to Killian, for nearly any mention of his father caused him to choke up and his voice to waver. His bravery in assisting Ichabod in his case thus far had served as therapy of sorts, because it kept him so occupied that he rarely had the chance to think about it. But in a quiet, serene moment like this, it all came back in his mind like a recurring nightmare. Nighttime had been the worst for him, and while he was grateful for the opportunity to sleep at the Van Tassel mansion, deep inside he wondered if he could ever sleep alone again.

"Go, go, but don’t stay outside too long, because we’re going to turn in soon," Killian said gently, and Young Masbath left the house. He walked a short distance to get out from under the trees surrounding the front yard. He walked until finding a beaten wooden bench only a few feet from the covered bridge, and listened to the flowing river passing beneath it. That helped to soothe his nerves a little.

Back inside, a fire roared in the kitchen hearth to warm up the rapidly chilling house. Killian picked up an apple from a plate on the table and was about to cut it in half with his knife when the ground shook, causing the table to creak and several other apples to roll around on the plate. He put down the knife and looked toward his son’s room, but could see nothing out of the ordinary.

Then, the rumbling stopped, and the house was quiet. A look of trepidation was on his face as he listened for anything unusual. Suddenly, the room exploded into a brilliant shade of white, and he whipped around to see the fire in the hearth behind him expand and seemed to resemble a series of eerie, menacing faces. A split second later, the nearby back door that led to the barn exploded inward, and in stormed the Headless Horseman, with a battle ax clutched tightly in each hand. Killian shot to his feet and hurled his chair at the monster, who simply knocked it aside with a swift swipe of his arm. The chair broke into pieces on the floor.

"Beth, run!" he shouted with all his might. He seized a fireplace poker and immediately used it to block a swing of one of the Horseman’s axes.

Beth leaped to her feet and slammed Thomas’s bedroom door. She frantically tried to figure out an escape route, but she remembered the trap door located in a corner of the room, concealed under a throw rug. She listened to the sounds of struggle in the kitchen as she scooped her son up with one arm and pulled open the door with the other. Thomas dropped inside.

"Be nice and quiet," she instructed him, voice trembling, and shut the door, then tried to cover the door with the rug, but her shaking hands made the job considerably more difficult.

Meanwhile, Killian was able to consistently avoid every bit of offense the monster threw at him. But after a short time he found himself beginning to tire from blocking the Horseman’s axe blows, which came with such velocity that he was pushed back every time they clashed with the poker, but he continued to fight bravely as he tried to conjure an escape plan. Amidst the swashbuckling, he managed to get in a good blow to the ribs that staggered the Hessian a little. He used this opportunity to plunge the poker deep into the Horseman’s stomach until the tip jutted out through his back.

Rather than crumple to the ground, the Horseman only continued to fight with the same vigor. He backhanded an off-guard Killian with the broadside of one of his axes. Killian tumbled backward, hitting his head on a rough hearthstone. His head wracked with pain, he slumped to the floor. A red streak marked the gray stone. The Horseman yanked the poker out of his body, threw it aside, and then pulled Killian to his feet by his hair. He readied the ax in his left hand, and swung.

20 After what seemed an eternity, Beth managed to conceal the trap door with the rug. It was then that she became aware of sudden silence, followed by what sounded like rapid footsteps approaching the room. She gasped in desperation as she looked for some sort of weapon, but all she saw was the magic lantern. The footsteps grew louder as she seized the object, poising to hurl it while being careful not to burn her hand.

She heard her heart pounding in her ears while she held her breath, as the clumping footsteps stopped outside the room. Suddenly, the door swung open and she hurled the lantern with all her might.

"Beth!" Killian screamed as he dove to the floor to avoid the flaming projectile. "My God!" Fortunately, her shot was wide as the lantern smashed against the door frame, and pieces of metal and burning wax fell on the floor. He scrambled to his feet and stamped out the remains of the candles. As he turned around to slam the door, Beth noticed part of his long ponytail was gone, and a red splotch was clearly visible in the center of the back of his head.

"Richard!" Beth cried. "What’s going on out there?"

"We have to get out of here now," Killian replied. His head rung from the blow at times, but he ignored it as he crossed the room, seized a wooden stool, and used the legs to break the window located above Thomas’s bed. Flipping it around, he used the seat to pound out the wooden window frame with all his might and knock away any remaining shards of glass. Beth kicked aside the rug again and yanked open the door. "Come here!" she said, extending her hand, and Thomas climbed out with as much strength as his little body would allow.

However, Killian realized the window was pretty high up. He was six feet tall and standing on the bed, and the window was chest-level. He wondered whether the boy could make a seven-foot drop to the hard ground below. "I don’t know if he’ll make it!" he said to his wife, growing more nervous every second as he waited for the Horseman to break into the room. "This drop is awfully high."

"Let him go! I’ll catch him!" a voice called outside. Killian looked out of the window and strained a peek downward. There was Young Masbath standing below, arms extended.

Killian carefully led the boy through the open space, and Young Masbath carried him the rest of the way down. After helping Beth through, he barely managed to struggle headfirst through the window himself. He landed hands-first on the cold ground, but managed to perform a somersault to absorb the shock of the landing. He grimaced and rubbed his hands as he got to his feet. It was then that he realized that the Hessian hadn’t broken into the room at all. The family had been given ample time to escape.

The quartet dashed away from the window and Beth led the male contingent around to the front of the house en route past the barn and further inside the center of town, towards the safety of the business and residential areas. They would be sitting ducks if they headed towards the other end of the bridge, which contained only two dark farmhouses and eventually led to the forest. As they turned the corner, the Horseman suddenly intercepted them, forcing them to all ground to a halt. Before anyone had time to react, the Hessian’s blade flashed through them like a sudden gust of wind.

Young Masbath stumbled and fell onto his backside as he stepped back to avoid the blade, and Killian did the same with Thomas clutched in his arms, and he was flat on his back while the boy lay on his chest. Beth, however, dropped to her knees, fell forward and landed face-first on the hard ground. A pool of blood began to creep outward from her midsection.

"Mother?" Thomas’s anxious voice broke the frightening silence when he saw her lying facedown in the dirt. He wriggled off his father’s chest and began to approach her. Killian sat up and, after immediately spying the blood, quickly pulled his son back.

"Beth…?" Killian said urgently, his voice shaking. He did not get up, for he was too frightened to move and he feared his legs would not support him. The Hessian’s sword had nearly cut her in half. To his shock, he noticed she was still breathing, although it was labored. Tears began to run down Killian’s cheeks like rainwater sheeting down a window. "God, no!" he pleaded, absentmindedly releasing his grip on his son.

"Mother?" Thomas said again, this time with enough fear and concern to equal his father’s. He began to panic upon seeing her state, and would have run after her had Young Masbath not grabbed him and turned him away from the horrible sight.

"Let me go!" Thomas began thrashing his little arms and legs, attempting to break free from the older boy’s grasp, but he was no match for his strength. Upon turning his head, Masbath spotted the Horseman hovering over the barely moving Beth, sword raised above his shoulders like a samurai poised for attack.

That set off a spark in Killian, who charged with all his might and plowed headfirst into the Horseman’s midsection, knocking him back…but the ghost remained on his feet. This feat of bravery did nothing more than leave the stableman open for attack. The Horseman, standing only millimeters from his target, whipped his sword above his head again.

Before Killian could move out of the way, the blade came flying down.

 

21 Killian clamped his eyes tightly shut, gritted his teeth and waited for the fatal strike. His son would now become an orphan, as his father would die here along with his mother in front of his eyes. Oh, God…

Suddenly a shot rang out, echoing in the night. The Horseman was thrown to the ground and on top of Killian. Smoke rose from a wound in the dead center of his back. Young Masbath, still hugging Thomas, and Killian spotted Brom mounted on his horse, clutching his ever-present rifle. Killian struggled to push the Horseman’s heavy body off his own. He rose to his knees, spitting dirt and wiping it off his face.

"Get out of there!" Brom shouted. At the same time, the Horseman began to sit up, much to everyone’s horror. The ghostly rider rose to his feet, determined to finish the job. Brom took his feet out of the stirrups and urged his horse into a gallop towards the Horseman. When he was within range, he suddenly flew off and tackled the monster as Killian rolled away from the altercation. Brom and the Horseman went sprawling into the dirt.

"Brom!" Killian shouted.

"Someone’s going to stop this bastard once and for all tonight, and it’s going to be me," he declared. The Horseman was beginning to get up again. "Go!" he cried.

Killian carried Beth in his arms, and with Young Masbath’s help, gently lowered her into a nearby wheelbarrow, which was thankfully already lined with an oversized horse blanket. Masbath used the excess overhanging fabric to cover and apply pressure to the wound, and the group passed by the house and sought cover in the barn, with Thomas following at his father’s side. They gave the Horseman a wide berth en route to the barn in hopes that they would avoid being spotted.

Brom swung his rifle at the Horseman, but the Horseman expertly blocked it with his sword. After blocking another blow, the Hessian backhanded Brom in the face and turned toward the barn.

"Damn it!" Brom cursed in frustration, shaking off the blow. He pulled a knife from an ankle sheath and hurled it with all his might, submerging it to the hilt in the Hessian’s back. The Horseman, who felt absolutely no pain, pulled the blade out, turned around and hurled it back at his attacker, sinking it into his thigh. Brom gritted his teeth tightly to prevent himself from screaming. The ghostly figure resumed his journey to the barn. Sweat stood out on Brom’s face as he pulled the knife out of his leg. He desperately scanned his surroundings, searching for some sort of weapon, when he noticed a large, intimidating ax stuck in a tree stump. No sooner had he yanked it out of the stump that he had became aware of someone – or something – clamping their hands on his shoulders. He whipped around, brandishing the ax, and discovered he was looking at Ichabod.

Ichabod grabbed the section of the handle near the ax head. "Wait! Don’t you understand? He’s not after you!"

"Yeah, but he is after Killian and his family," Brom replied, gasping for breath, forgetting that he and Ichabod were enemies. "I have to buy them some time." He wrenched the ax from Ichabod’s grasp and ran after the Horseman. He once again failed to catch the Horseman off guard as his initial swing was blocked by the ghost’s own ax. Sparks were thrown as the two metal heads clashed. Ichabod soon pulled a scythe out of a hay bale and joined the fray, and the air sang with the loud ringing of axe heads clanging against each other and the curved blade.

Suddenly, in the middle of the tumult Brom noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Glen and Theodore, watching the fight from nearly fifty feet away. They shot each other a glance, then to Brom’s horror, they turned their horses and fled. He wanted to yell to them, but his current situation rendered it impossible.

When Killian and Masbath had reached the barn, Killian laid Beth down gently on a pile of hay. Young Masbath lit a lantern, grabbed another horse blanket and tossed it to Killian, who folded it in half, covered Beth’s midsection and applied pressure to the wound, but it was rapidly becoming a losing battle due to the size and severity of the cut. He could see her fading away before his eyes. Several horses nearby grunted their dissatisfaction at having their slumber interrupted.

Young Masbath peeked outside upon hearing the commotion. His jaw dropped upon seeing his partner fighting the Horseman.

"Ichabod!" he suddenly cried, and was about to take off towards the fight when Killian spoke. "You stay here, boy! Going down there is suicide!" he ordered. But in all truthfulness, Killian knew he’d be down there right now himself if his wife was not in this terrible state. Both sides were mentally pulling his arms; he did not want Ichabod or Brom killed by the Hessian ghost, yet at the same time he most definitely did not want to abandon his wife. Rather than make a decision, all he could do was weep quietly as he felt her life slipping away.

Awhile later, their ears perked upon noticing the ringing had ceased. They heard footsteps crunching unevenly in the hard soil. Young Masbath leapt to his feet and seized a rifle that hung on one of the walls. He cocked the hammer and pointed it at the doorway. As the footsteps grew louder, what sounded like heavy breathing was heard, and a moonlit shadow staggered toward the door.

Two expressions of fear soon turned to shock. There was Ichabod, standing in the doorway, panting from exhaustion. Masbath, quickly lowering the rifle, noticed blood slowly leaking through a wound in his shoulder. Something far more serious, however, caused him to let the rifle drop through suddenly numb fingers to the ground. Killian’s mouth fell open…but no sound came out. In Ichabod’s arms was the tiny body of Thomas Killian, dead from a stab wound to the chest. He and Brom had both fatally discovered the wrath of the Horseman. Neither Killian nor Masbath had noticed the boy’s disappearance; he had been at their sides during their escape to the barn.

Killian’s thoughts were as jumbled as a bag of jacks when he turned to see Beth struggling in an attempt to speak. He leaned close to her until they were nearly nose-to-nose. "What is it?" he asked, wiping tears and trying futilely to keep his voice from cracking.

"One…last…kiss," she painfully whispered. "Just as…on the… night we were wed."

Their tears mingled as their lips met passionately, and they maintained the kiss until Beth Killian’s body went limp in her husband’s arms. He gently laid her back down on the hay and covered her up to her chin with the blanket, then gestured to Ichabod with much effort, as if his arm had bones of iron. Young Masbath stepped aside as Ichabod gently lowered Thomas’s body beside that of his mother and covered him under the same blanket.

After a moment of anxious silence, Richard Killian could contain himself no longer. He turned away and wept openly for the first time, burying his face in his hands. Ichabod Crane and Jonathan Masbath III joined him at his side, and the trio engaged in a tight group embrace.

 

 

22 After Will Steenwyck concluded his eulogy and tossed his customary handful of dirt into the open grave the next morning, like he had done with Jonathan Masbath three days ago, the large procession disbanded and he wiped his brow with a handkerchief. Only Ichabod and Young Masbath stayed behind as Killian stared blankly into the grave.

"I’m terribly sorry, Richard," was all Steenwyck had to say, but Killian did not respond. Steenwyck sighed. He quietly closed his Bible and walked down the hill. Ichabod and Young Masbath stepped back as they watched Killian approach the edge of the deep hole and lower onto his knees. He then pulled a knife out of his pocket, which Young Masbath recognized as the knife that he had picked his teeth with last night. Ichabod felt his heartbeat suddenly pick up speed as he wondered if he was about to watch the man commit suicide on the spot.

But he didn’t. Killian instead seized his haggard ponytail, and cut it off with several strokes as if he was sawing through a tree branch. He did likewise to the long hanging sideburns, then tossed the tufts into the grave, where they slowly drifted downward like fall leaves and landed atop the casket. He kissed the blade of the knife and tossed it in as well, then began softly reciting something, which Ichabod could not, nor did he wish to, make out. Ichabod absentmindedly rubbed his left shoulder, which Dr. Lancaster sewed the night before. He quickly withdrew his hand and grunted in pain.

"Leave me," Killian grumbled, and Ichabod and Young Masbath obliged. Neither of them spoke on the way back to the mansion.

An hour later Ichabod sat at the desk, writing endlessly in his ledger while Young Masbath dozed off in a high-backed chair in the bedroom upstairs. The last things Ichabod remembered before losing consciousness in the large sitting room last night were making his way back to the mansion, kicking the front door several times and seeing the look of shock on several strange faces, along with the Van Tassels. They listened as something resembling an announcement of the deaths of Brom Van Brunt, Thomas and Beth Killian, plus his injury to his shoulder at the hands of the Headless Horseman, struggled past his lips. When he finished, he dropped to his knees and passed out on the floor, hand pressed against his wound. The blood had continued to run from his shoulder like a slow leak in a water bucket.

He had snapped awake some time later, only to find Dr. Lancaster and Baltus looming overhead like vultures. The first strained word he spoke was Katrina’s name, and as she later tried to give him a potion that would put him back to sleep, he desperately explained how the Horseman did not kill at will, but rather at the command of a separate party, the same party that had confiscated his skull. To his dismay, neither Lancaster nor Baltus and even Katrina paid his words much heed as she held the glass to his lips, and he took a drink. But it would not be long before he was haunted by nightmares of his childhood once again. He rocketed up from his pillow into Katrina’s arms as if he had been shot out of a cannon, and she remained with him for a long time, soothing his troubled mind.

 

23 Masbath was soon awakened as he heard Ichabod running off the names of the four elders one by one. For Ichabod, just getting out of bed after the battle with the Horseman had been a major trial, but now he was filled with renewed fervor. Masbath and Killian had shared the second guest quarters downstairs last night, for both had been too frightened to sleep alone, and Killian even refused to return to his house, except to gather a few belongings, after the Horseman had struck the night before. Masbath remembered being awakened earlier this morning by Ichabod, and had obediently followed him upstairs, where he sat in a dusty chair. It wasn’t long before he had dozed off again.

Now he opened his eyes to find an ocean of papers on the floor, and watched as Ichabod grabbed several sheets and arranged them in a special manner while listening to the constable begin his theory about the possibility of a conspiracy involving the elders. The subject of old Van Garrett and his will, which had been temporarily ignored as of late, was brought up, thus opening a bunch of new doors. Ichabod swiftly swept a stack of papers off the Van Tassel family Bible and threw open the cover to the family tree on the first page. After staring at it intently for several moments, he suddenly clapped the cover shut, raising a cloud of dust.

"Come with me," Ichabod said as he snatched several papers and thrust them into a trunk, then reached for his coat.

"Where are we going?" Masbath asked.

"To Notary Hardenbrook’s."

"Have you thought of something?"

"Yes…I have."

As soon as Ichabod finished, there was a knock at the door. "Come in," he said, his back turned as he picked more papers up off the floor and stacked them on the desk. The door creaked open and Killian entered, looking grim. Ichabod and Masbath stood in silence, for neither of them knew what to say to break the ice, but Killian saved them the trouble as he spoke first.

"Ichabod…" he began, which made the constable stop what he was doing to turn around to look at him. Nobody, save for Katrina, had ever addressed him by his first name for many years. Both men stared at each other in silence like gunfighters about to face off in a duel.

"What can I do for you…Mr. Killian?" Ichabod asked tentatively. The stableman was barely recognizable due to his short hair, but he was still dressed in the stained clothes from last night, the blood now dried into a dark brown.

Killian, hardly experienced in delivering a speech, spoke. "I would like to assist you as well in solving the case, like…young Mr. Masbath here, because Lord knows that I will never get a good night’s sleep again, or set foot in my own house again, until the Horseman is disposed of. Three minds will definitely work better than two in penetrating this mystery. However, if my services are not required as a fellow deductor, then let me at least be your protector, for it would be an honor to watch over you both if you choose to investigate the Western Woods or any other part of Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, I realize that you, Constable, are not on good terms with most of the townspeople, but no harm will come to you as long as they know I am with you. Will you accept my offer?"

Ichabod looked at Young Masbath, and their eyes met for several moments as if communicating telepathically, then their glances shifted to Killian. "I shall, indeed," he said.

"You have my utmost appreciation, Mr. Crane," Killian said gratefully.

"As a matter of fact, we are on our way out the door right this moment, if you wish to accompany us."

"Where are you going?"

"To the notary. I need to gather some information," was all Ichabod had to say as he straightened out his coat. "Shall we go?" The trio exited the room and Killian closed the door behind them.

24 The center of town was in near chaos. Ichabod, Killian and Young Masbath, riding abreast, watched as men and women carried packages from various stores and loaded them on horse-drawn carts. Other home and business owners began boarding up windows. Those who chose not to escape the Hollow instead attempted to find refuge in the church.

"Sanctuary," Ichabod muttered. "Or, so they hope."

"What’s going on up there?" Killian asked, pointing to the church. Ichabod looked with dismay at Reverend Steenwyck addressing a large crowd while standing on an empty apple crate to make himself seen as well as heard. The last thing he wanted was to be spotted by that mob, especially since Steenwyck had easily been his most outspoken critic since his arrival in Sleepy Hollow. They’d surely be on him in seconds, like a pack of wolves on a piece of meat.

When they reached the notary office, they dismounted and hitched their horses. Before Ichabod could grasp the door handle, Steenwyck’s voice rang out, loud and clear. "There he is! The desecrator of Christian burial! Twice he has met the Horseman…and kept his head! How is it so? The devil protects his own!"

A rock then came flying from the crowd, no doubt intended for Ichabod. The projectile hit Killian in the shoulder instead, but he didn’t even flinch; instead he turned towards the pack outside the church. This was the very reason he chose to bring his rifle along. He wanted to pick up the rock and throw it back, but thought better of it as he hustled Young Masbath inside and pulled the door shut.

They were greeted by endless stacks of papers and documents, located in nearly every inch of the dusty room, but old Hardenbrook was nowhere to be found. Had he tried to escape as well? Neither had any idea as where to start looking first. The amount of dust and mildew and the smell of old ink in the room caused Young Masbath and Killian to sneeze several times.

Neither Ichabod nor Masbath had any clue as where to begin their search. Killian stood guard at the door, occasionally watching Steenwyck’s mob out of the corner of his eye.

The search was barely ten seconds underway when Masbath suddenly broke the quiet by exclaiming, "My father’s satchel! Why is it here?" He went over to retrieve it. At the same time, Ichabod was pulling open the door to a tall closet. His heart nearly popped out of his chest as he yelped and jumped back. In the blink of an eye, Killian’s rifle was cocked and aimed at the closet, but was quickly lowered upon seeing old Hardenbrook slowly stepping out.

Ichabod ignored the old man’s despair as he intensely grilled the emaciated notary about Peter Van Garrett’s will, which had been discovered in the satchel along with a marriage certificate. Killian’s brow furrowed in a combination of surprise and anger upon hearing Ichabod’s declaration of his possible suspect.

 

25 "Baltus? That’s impossible!" Killian said loudly, causing several heads to turn and look at him. The trio sat at a corner table at the tavern, because Killian still refused to go inside his house and they decided that privacy was out of the question at the Van Tassel residence. "All these murders, including that of my wife and child, just so Baltus can inherit more damned land and property?" he said incredulously, then took a swallow of ale as if to wash out the impunity of those words.

"Precisely. Men murder for profit." Ichabod took a swig from his water glass. Besides his infamous inquisitive mind, his abstinence from alcohol was another element that set him apart from his fellow constables. "Possibly you don’t know New York?"

"No, I do not, but keep in mind, Constable, that this is Sleepy Hollow, not New York City," Killian retorted. "I’ve known Baltus for over six years. He was responsible for everything that you saw – my house and my stable – when you came over the morning after your arrival. I find it hard to believe that he would control the Horseman."

"Old Van Garrett made a new will before he died, leaving everything to the Widow Winship and her unborn child," stated Ichabod. "The Horseman’s sword pierced its small heart exactly as an archer hits the bull’s eye."

Masbath nearly choked on his own water glass.

"And, the four town elders – Steenwyck secretly wed the couple," the constable continued, now addressing both of his charges. "Lancaster attended her during her pregnancy, Philipse gave her protection of the law, and Hardenbrook" – he paused to take a sip of water as if to dramatize his statement – "concealed the official documents. Plus, I’m afraid this whole situation involved both your father and your wife from the start. Whoever is controlling the Horseman is doing everything in his or her power to get their hands on Van Garrett’s estate. It pains me to say it, Young Masbath, but your father became a target upon placing his signature on the bottom, in the younger Van Garrett’s place. He essentially signed his death warrant that night, as the Horseman soon came for him." All Masbath could do was look down at the table, and Ichabod felt a stab of sadness at the sight.

"I believe Beth, as the town’s midwife," he said to Killian, "was paid a visit by the Widow Winship at one time or another. She might have leaked something pertaining to the will. As a result, Beth, too, had to…die." It took Ichabod a bit of effort to speak that last word. "But, if you knew about the visit, why didn’t he try to dispatch you as well last night?"

"I didn’t," Killian replied, which made Ichabod’s eyebrows rise thoughtfully. Just then a thought popped into his mind, and he suddenly smacked his fist on the old wooden table, not forcefully but enough to make Young Masbath jump and dribble water down his shirt. "Oh, God…but I do remember the day Emily came to the house," he said. "I was on my way out because I was going to pick up some finished horseshoes from Brom at the smithy. That was the day he had ruined two of the shoes. I remember a pregnant woman coming to the door as I was leaving, asking for Beth, and that was it."

"Did you recognize her?"

"I didn’t know who she was…and I didn’t stay long enough to find out. I invited her in and then I left. But I had no idea in advance that Beth was expecting company. She was rather absentminded in telling me whenever she had a guest coming."

"Of course…she probably had to keep it secret."

"And, besides, it is none of my business what matter she has with her patrons."

"Why? Did she forbid you to be in the vicinity whenever her patients were in your home?"

"No, it was just my way of respecting their privacy."

"That might explain why the Horseman only killed your wife and not you," Young Masbath piped up. "I don’t think he was after Thomas; he, like Brom, was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"The Horseman does not kill at will, but he will attack when angered," Ichabod stated, "which is why Brom was murdered, despite the fact that he certainly had nothing to do whatsoever with the signing of the will." It pained Ichabod to speak the name of the man whom the Horseman had cleanly disemboweled, with a swift swipe of his sword right in front of his eyes, while he lay wounded on the hard ground. "That is why the Hessian was about to add you to his list after you charged him, but obviously it didn’t happen due to Brom’s interference. I truly believe Baltus is the one who has the motive and stands to profit from these murders."

"Why are you so hard-pressed to pin these crimes on Baltus?" Killian asked. "Better yet, why would he try to murder my family? Baltus and I have known each other far too long."

"In any relationship, longevity is not always a positive," Ichabod replied. "Please believe me, Mr. Killian, the loss of your family deeply pains us as it does you. I’m just trying to do my job. That is why I was sent up here in the first place. I must find out why Baltus’s four friends conspired to conceal—"

Suddenly Killian thumped his empty tankard hard on the table, quieting Ichabod in an instant and causing Masbath to nearly jump out of his chair. He had heard enough. "What makes you think you can just come to this town from the big city and start accusing people of murder? There is obviously error in your reasoning, but you’re too engulfed in your own damn pride to realize that." He stood, grabbed his coat and stalked out the door.

Ichabod didn’t say a word, instead burying his face in his hands, while Young Masbath placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

 

26 From that moment on, it seemed everything was plummeting in a downward spiral for Ichabod: his case, his few friendships, his hope and his sanity, among others.

Upon returning to the house from the tavern with Young Masbath, carrying documents in hand, he headed straight upstairs. He threw open the door to his room and walked right in on Katrina, who was sitting at his desk, reading his ledger. His heart sank upon realizing he’d left it open to the page with randomly written words that formed the inadvertent sentence "The secret conspiracy points to Baltus." Embarrassed, he clapped it shut and hustled her out of the room, then stuffed the legal papers into the desk drawer.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a huge black spider on the floor. With a girlish yelp, he hopped on a chair and begged Young Masbath to kill the creature, which skittered under the bed. What they discovered underneath upon the kid moving the bed made their blood run cold: a pentagram drawn in pink chalk, adorned with various symbols and a crudely illustrated eye in the center.

"The Evil Eye," Young Masbath gasped. "It is someone casting spells against you!" Ichabod’s fear of spiders was temporarily forgotten as his eyes were fixed on the strange drawing.

As night fell, Ichabod jotted notes in his ledger as his brain worked overtime. Meanwhile, Masbath dozed in a chair. A hollow thump broke his reverie. He dropped his pen, gently shook the boy awake, and the pair decided to investigate its source: a cloaked figure carrying a lantern. They followed the figure deep into the Western Woods. At one point Ichabod bade Masbath stay behind near a big tree while he continued on. He unholstered his pistol as the faint groaning sound became louder. He reached the end of a short cliff, and came upon a couple engaged in sexual intercourse in the dirt below. The man, who was on top, moved down the woman’s body, revealing her face: that of Lady Van Tassel. The sight sickened Ichabod immediately, and he fought to keep his stomach down. Her life was in danger if Baltus were to know of this.

Lady Van Tassel’s hand snaked out and wrapped itself around a knife, which she raised over her partner’s back. Ichabod’s heart jumped, and he raised his pistol, attempting to draw a bead on the knife and hit a near-impossible target. But, she did not plunge the knife into the man’s back, instead dragging the blade through the palm of her hand. Ichabod lowered the gun and gripped a branch tightly for support as Lady Van Tassel rubbed her hand across her partner’s back, leaving a broad red trail in its wake. By that time, Ichabod had seen more than enough. After sneaking away and rejoining Young Masbath, the boy promptly asked upon seeing his master’s queasy expression, "What is it? What did you see?"

Ichabod wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "Something I wish I had not seen. A beast with two backs."

"A beast with…what’s next in these haunted woods?" But Young Masbath didn’t speak another word on the way back to the mansion, which seemed to take longer than their departure.

After returning to his temporary quarters, Ichabod was dealt another blow when, out of pure suspicion, he opened the desk drawer. Sure enough, the Van Garrett/Winship documents were gone. The next morning he met Katrina in the empty husk of the cottage, and demanded an explanation. He got it. He had taken a verbal pounding from Baltus Van Tassel’s friend last night, but that was nothing compared to facing the wrath of his daughter. Katrina threw much harsher parting words at Ichabod before mounting her horse and riding away: "I curse the day you came to Sleepy Hollow!"

 

27 "She will not see you," Lady Van Tassel said plainly to Ichabod while focusing her energy on carrying a heavy pot of boiling water from the cauldron in the kitchen hearth, an effort that required a double grip on the metal handle.

"Did she say anything?" the constable replied.

Lady Van Tassel sighed, as if he had the audacity to ask such a question. "Only that she will not come down."

"I see. Thank you." He turned to exit the kitchen, but her voice stopped him cold. "Constable…you have not asked me how I hurt my hand since yesterday, which would have been polite. In fact, you’ve been careful not to look at it, as not to mention it." As the matriarch spoke, she slowly unwrapped a cloth bandage, and then menacingly placed her hand close to his face. Ichabod felt cold spiders in his spine as he winced at the grotesque wound on her palm.

Lady Van Tassel gripped Ichabod’s arm with her other hand. "I know you saw me," she hissed. I know you followed last night, and you must promise not to tell my husband what you saw. Promise me!" She spoke the last words in a harsh whisper as she tightened her grip on his arm. Ichabod broke out in a cold sweat. He would gladly give her his arm if it permitted the rest of his body to leave the room.

Suddenly, Baltus burst into the kitchen, causing the door to bang into the wall. Lady Van Tassel let go of Ichabod and the odd couple whipped around.

"The town is in ferment!" he cried. "Horror piled on tragedy – Hardenbrook is dead!"

"Oh, no!" Lady Van Tassel gasped. "That harmless old man?"

"Hanged himself in the night!"

"Hanged himself!" Ichabod repeated, studying Baltus’s hands as the man poured himself a drink. Baltus’s long fingers could have easily wrapped around the diameter of the jug. Stop being ridiculous, he told himself. Baltus didn’t look the type who was capable of going on a killing spree…or did he?

"Reverend Steenwyck is calling a meeting in the church tonight! Every man, woman and child is going to speak out against you." Baltus pointed a long, imposing finger at Ichabod. "If you are wise, you will leave this place!"

 

28 The church bell tolled ominously, its tone echoing in the night. It seemed as if the entire population of Sleepy Hollow was squeezing into the safety of the church, attempting to seek shelter from the Horseman. Ichabod and Young Masbath watched from the covered bridge as several men carrying rifles flanked the crowd on the way inside.

The pounding of hoofbeats was soon heard. Ichabod’s heart leaped. Was it the Horseman? Then again…the Horseman usually didn’t announce his presence by shouting his own name.

"The Horseman!" a voice cried. "The Horseman – save me!" Ichabod recognized the man as Baltus, who was riding frantically to the church gate, calling for his daughter. He dismounted in a hurry, nearly falling off in the process, and clutched Katrina’s arms tightly. "He killed her! The Horseman killed your stepmother!" Speechless, Katrina could only gasp.

The sound of thundering hooves was soon heard again and, this time, it was undeniably the real thing. The few townspeople remaining outside turned on their heels and dashed inside.

"Oh, God!" Baltus gasped, seizing Katrina’s arm. Both father and daughter forced their way inside and disappeared into the throng. At the same time, Ichabod and Young Masbath noticed the ghostly rider beginning to emerge from the always-present blanket of fog, and, realizing they were easily sitting ducks in their current hiding place, made a desperate run for the church. After they safely made it inside, two riflemen fired at their target before running inside and pulling the doors shut.

It was no more peaceful inside. Men began loading rifles and stationing themselves near the windows while women and children headed for the cellar. Ichabod spied Baltus pushing his way through a sea of people when Steenwyck stopped him in his tracks. "You’ll kill us all!" the preacher spat, seizing Baltus tightly by his coat lapels as if to choke him to death on the spot. "You’re the one the Horseman wants!"

Katrina, meanwhile, had been separated from her father in the swarming mob. The sight of Baltus and Steenwyck was not lost on her, however, and she knelt to the ground, closing her eyes.

Ichabod watched the Horseman trying to lead his faithful steed Daredevil through the gate, but with no success at all. The constable watched, awestruck, as the Horseman uncharacteristically tossed his ax gently over the church fence. The instant it hit the ground, it immediately disintegrated like snow in the sunshine.

"He cannot enter…" he whispered to himself, then began to push through the crowd himself to get to Baltus and Steenwyck, who were still quarreling.

"Why should we die for you? Get out!" Steenwyck demanded, his grip tightening on Baltus, ready to throw him out. Just then, Ichabod appeared at his side.

"The Horseman cannot enter! He cannot cross the gate!" Ichabod pleaded. "Let go of him!"

"We have to save ourselves!" Steenwyck replied through gritted teeth.

It all happened in one fast motion. Baltus’s hand darted out, snatched Ichabod’s pistol from his holster and shoved him roughly onto a pew, then brandished the gun at Steenwyck and Dr. Lancaster, who instantly backed away. "The next person to lay a hand on me will get a bullet!" he shouted, pulling back the flintlock with both shaking thumbs. Steenwyck and Lancaster stood petrified, in no hurry to take him up on his threat.

A cacophony of gunshots rang out, and Ichabod noticed the riflemen smashing windows with their muskets to shoot at the Horseman. His eyes widened as he watched Killian and Young Masbath assist in their efforts. But what was the point of shooting at the Horseman when bullets could not kill him, as Brom soon would find out?

"He’s coming around!" one rifleman shouted.

Meanwhile, a nervous Baltus continued to hold the town elders at gunpoint. "Enough have died already…it is time to confess our sins," Dr. Lancaster said, his voice quaking slightly with anxiety.

"Be quiet, Doctor…" Steenwyck growled menacingly.

"What is it that you know, Lancaster?" Baltus said, looking the shorter man in the eye and taking a step closer to him, yet still keeping the weapon aimed at the pair.

"Your four friends have played you false," the doctor replied. "We were devilishly possessed by—"

Lancaster got no further as a huge wooden cross administered a fatal blow to his head, courtesy of Steenwyck. All rational thoughts quickly exited Baltus’s mind as he pulled the trigger. Those standing nearby screamed and moved away as the minister dropped the cross and dropped like a weight to the wooden floor, eyes frozen in a deathly stare.

Killian, who had paused to reload his rifle, heard the shot and saw the hulking figure of the reverend fall like a lead weight. He suddenly dropped his powder horn and began fighting through the crowd to get his hands on the fool who had gunned him down. But Killian instead saw Baltus toss a smoking gun aside before he looked down at Steenwyck’s body. The reverend lay facedown, and a crimson pool slowly began crawling outward from his midsection.

"What in God’s name hap—" he started to say to Baltus, but stopped when he saw him threatening the men standing near him with a short-barreled rifle he had seized from a man standing nearby, and was using it to keep the pack at bay, his face petrified with fear.

"Christ, Baltus…what’s going on?" Killian asked desperately, ignoring the fact that he’d taken the Lord’s name in vain inside a church. He had never seen Baltus in this state before. As he tried to approach Baltus, the aristocrat pointed the gun right at Killian’s face, as he did to any man who dared approach him, and the stableman backed off. Killian could not help but think that Ichabod might have been correct in his suspicions all along.

"Get away from me!" Baltus shouted, and Killian stepped back into the throng. He might as well have been speaking to a stranger. With that, Baltus, who was like a man possessed, began walking backwards up the stairs leading to the pulpit, while waving the weapon and ordering repeatedly, "Stay back!"

At that moment Katrina rose to her feet and began walking slowly in her father’s direction. When Baltus reached the top, he bellowed, "There is a conspiracy here – and I will seek it out!"

As soon as the last word left his lips, an explosion of shattering glass was heard. Those who hadn’t ducked down instinctively behind the pews at this point watched, with jaws dropped in horror, as what was formerly an immaculately white fence post shot with bomb-like precision into Baltus’ back. The tip of the post jutted through his chest. Blood dripped eerily from the harpoon-shaped tip like maple syrup.

Katrina was the first to scream. She headed for the pulpit, pushing through a forest of taller men and reaching the stairs, trailed by Ichabod and Killian. No one else had the courage to follow. But before she began her ascent, the rope attached to the post suddenly jerked taut, pulling Baltus through the window. After a hard twenty-foot drop into the churchyard, he was dragged until he crashed headfirst and was wedged in the white picket fence.

Ichabod and Killian, both flanking Katrina like a pair of bodyguards, could only watch helplessly as the Horseman dropped the rope and drew his sword, the magnified ringing of the blade almost laughing mockingly at them.

With the little remaining life he had left, Baltus watched the Horseman’s actions through blurry eyes, while praying silently. Just as he finished, his head was swiftly separated from his shoulders.

Katrina did not scream again, nor did she break down and cry. Instead, her eyes closed and she fainted, dropping so quickly that neither Ichabod nor Killian had a chance to catch her. The church was deathly silent. Many people who had ducked behind the rows of pews for safety were just now starting to resurface and take stock of the situation.

"What is this?" Killian asked softly, picking up a pink object that had fallen from Katrina’s hand. He knew what it was, but had no idea why she was carrying it. Ichabod, however, simultaneously spied the pink chalk in the man’s hand…and the Evil Eye in the dead center of the aisle between the pews.

Killian let the chalk fall back to the floor, where it promptly broke in half, and sat on the steps. Ichabod felt the tears welling in his eyes as he stared down at Katrina’s inert form. "It was you," he said in a whisper, which suddenly became a cry of, "Oh, God…forgive her!" as he looked to the heavens.

29 Ichabod stood in front of and stared blankly into the sitting room hearth, where a strong fire roared. The tall, leaping flames seemed to form ethereal images of Katrina, and he rubbed his eyes. He literally had not slept a wink last night, because every time he closed his eyes, no one but she had inundated his thoughts.

He opened his ledger and flipped through the pages. Upon turning to the page where he had written his unintentional accusation of Baltus, a chill went up his spine. In a huff he tore out the page, crumpled it and pitched it into the flames. It only served to remind him of the failure he was as a detective. The only notable impact he’d made following his arrival, besides raising Steenwyck’s blood pressure, involved the swift rise of the body count, which included the father, wife and child of his two closest companions. That alone was a cross he was more than unwilling to bear for the rest of his life.

He flipped some more until he came to a two-page spread of sketches and doodles – all of Katrina. An exquisite portrait took up a full page on the right, while the left contained a clutter of smaller drawings and repeated writings of Katrina’s name in different styles and sizes. He heaved a heavy sigh, clapped the book shut and forced his unwilling hand to drop it into the fire. Many years of his work went up in smoke instantly, like the case he was about to abandon now.

Ichabod was now caught between the Scylla of facing the pressure of those he had let down – especially Young Masbath, who had looked up to him as a hero – and the Charybdis of the dreaded return to the constabulary with the inevitable facing of the haughty High Constable and the Burgomaster. His explanation to his superiors would essentially be along the lines of "The Headless Horseman ate my homework." He would easily be laughed at and ridiculed out of work, out of the city, out of the state. He had succeeded in becoming a laughing stock in two different worlds.

He reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out A Compendium of Spells, Charms and Devices of the Spirit World, a present from Katrina he had received on the night after his arrival to Sleepy Hollow. He was about to toss this in the fire as well when he heard the rumbling of Van Ripper’s coach outside. After repocketing the book, he quietly retrieved his bags and closed the front door behind him, knowing that Katrina, Killian and Young Masbath were all still in deep slumber, heavily traumatized by the last few days’ chain of events. He was secretly relieved that he wouldn’t have to endure any long goodbyes. After Van Ripper loaded his luggage inside the cabin, Ichabod climbed in and quietly shut the door. The big man whipped the horses and the coach began the long, agonizing journey back to the city.

30 Ichabod had been unaware of it, but Katrina had been watching him from her bedroom window the minute he set foot outside the house. After he had departed, she trudged on heavy feet downstairs to the sitting room, and plunked down into a tall chair near the fireplace, staring into space as tears crawled down her cheeks. A myriad of thoughts constantly replayed in her mind: the Horseman, the frenzy inside the church, the pentagram she had drawn under Ichabod’s bed, her father’s murder of Steenwyck, and his own horrible death. She was an orphan now, like Young Masbath, now that her father and stepmother had perished at the hands of the murderous ghost.

However, Ichabod was a different can of worms altogether. She didn’t know whether to be upset or pleased at his departure. He had accused her father of controlling the Horseman. He had pointed fingers at her flesh and blood. And it eventually led to his demise and a permanent residence in a wooden box. Damn it all, indeed…

Yet, at the same time, she found it impossible to take her mind off him.

The creaking of floorboards broke Katrina out of her reverie. Though she remained sitting still, her ears perked as the noise grew louder, but she didn’t bother trying to identify the source.

"Dearest stepdaughter…" A voice broke the lengthy silence.

As if struck by lightning, Katrina’s eyes flew open like a pair of window shades. She whipped her head to the left and saw…

Lady Van Tassel.

No.

It wasn’t possible.

The Horseman had killed her yesterday. Baltus had informed her so.

Katrina jumped out of the chair, jaw agape at the sight. Lady Van Tassel was clad in a black-and-white cobweb-style dress, and she carried a rifle by the barrel against her shoulder like a miner’s pick ax.

"You look as if you’ve seen a ghost," she said calmly.

That did it. Katrina’s eyes rolled up and she fainted.

 

31 Killian awoke from a sound sleep. Had it not been for sheer exhaustion from the events of the past 48 hours, slumber for him would have been impossible. He stirred his big frame on the divan that had been carried into the ground level guest quarters (Young Masbath had taken the bed). The length of the divan was not a problem for his six-foot height, but it was barely wide enough to accommodate his size, which made him wonder how he made it through the night without falling off.

He rolled with much effort onto his back, but it was considerably difficult for him to get comfortable this way. After tossing and turning momentarily, he gave up and rose to a sitting position, and wrapped his blanket over his shoulders to ward off the early morning chill. He reached under his pillow and withdrew a horseshoe, the one he and Beth had hung over the front door frame on the day they had purchased the house. It was the only thing he had bothered to retrieve the night before, on the way to the mansion following Baltus’ death. He stuffed it in his pocket following several attempts marred by drowsiness. It was six-thirty in the morning, and he suspected he was the only one awake. He, Young Masbath, Katrina and several servants were the only ones present in the house. Dawn was beginning to break on another usual overcast day, rendering the environment a rather unpleasant shade of gunmetal gray. He noticed several dark marks on the end of the couch where he’d put his feet up. It was then he realized he was so knocked out that he had fallen asleep with his boots on, and as a result left several dried mud stains on the surface.

Killian swallowed a yawn when he suddenly heard a thumping sound. It seemed to emanate from somewhere nearby. A lengthy scraping of something across the wood floor soon followed this. He tossed his blanket aside and stood up, listening for possibly another follow-up noise. None came. He cautiously opened the door and peeked into the sitting room, and spied what appeared to be a pair of feet – but he was too far away to confirm this – being dragged through another door located across the vacant space, which then closed.

"Katrina?" he said, but no one answered. He called her name because she was the only one who had spent the night in the sitting room, in a big chair in front of the hearth. After closing the guest quarters door gently behind him so as not to disturb Young Masbath, he quietly strode to the suspected door and pushed it open. The room inside was no better in terms of visibility.

"Katr—" he started to say, and his world abruptly became a flash of extremely painful white light, then darkness. His legs gave out and he hit the floor face first, drawing blood from his nose. He felt his arms rising like the great wings of a hawk, and himself gliding across the floor before he blacked out.

 

32 Ichabod didn’t bother bracing himself against the numerous potholes, probably the same ones he had hit on the way here. Out of habit, he began to play with the spinning disk toy, his lone material memory of his late mother. After amusing himself for a couple minutes, he put it away and took out the book of spells, his lone material memory of Katrina. He flipped idly through the pages when some illustration caught his eye, and he thumbed back and forth through the text to try and retrieve it.

In the midst of his search, the coach passed by the mortician’s, where two men were lifting a headless body off a coffin cart. The body’s left arm swung loosely like a section of heavy rope, and Ichabod noticed a deep gash in its palm. Lady Van Tassel, he thought grimly. He quickly turned away, overcome by grief. The sooner I am out of here, the better. He continued to flip through the small book until he finally found the object of his hunt. It looked fairly interesting; it was a pentagram, adorned with various symbols. The headline read in bold letters: "For The Protection of a Loved One Against Evil Spirits." He brought the page closer to his eyes to examine the design intently. It bore a striking resemblance to…the same drawing that was under his bed…and in the church. Both from the hand of Katrina. The same Katrina he had accused of controlling the Horseman.

He had to act immediately. He craned his neck outside the window and hollered, "Van Ripper, turn the coach!"

"What?" the human grizzly bear yelled back.

"Turn around now!" Ichabod ordered louder this time.

"Why, where are you going?" Van Ripper asked, failing to grip Ichabod’s sense of urgency.

"Back to the Van Tassel mansion. Go, for God’s sake!"

Van Ripper obliged after finding a section of road wide enough to safely make a U-turn. He took it a little too fast, however, causing Ichabod to bump roughly into the coach door. The coach returned to the center of town ten minutes later. The area gradually became more alight despite the ever-present depressing shroud of clouds. This allowed Van Ripper to navigate the horses faster through the town limits.

As soon as Van Ripper pulled up to the front, Ichabod leaped out before the carriage came to a full stop. He burst through the heavy front doors with such force that they banged into the walls, like Baltus had upon entering the kitchen while barging in on him and Lady Van Tassel.

"Katrina!" he hollered, but no reply. "Richard?" he then tried, hoping that Killian would respond more readily to his first name, but that also yielded no positive results. There was one more try. "Young Masbath?" Ichabod cried, the desperation rising in his voice. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the boy emerged from the guest quarters clutching a hardback book.

Ichabod tried to regain his composure. "Mr. Masbath…have you seen Katrina at all this morning?"

"No, sir…I think she left the house before I got up," the boy replied. "Mr. Killian’s gone, as well."

"Mr. K—" Ichabod stopped in his tracks, and his mind began to swim as if it were lost at sea. Perhaps one Richard Killian had been behind the Horseman’s evil deeds. He walked over to the nearest chair and sat, resting his chin on his hands.

"Sir?" Masbath asked, but the constable waved him off and continued to think, and Masbath trudged away and sat in Katrina’s chair. Judging by this unexpected chain of events, Ichabod thought, it seemed to make sense once he put the pieces together: Killian, overtaken by greed, is tired of living in that drafty ramshackle house and scraping for every cent, his not having to pay any rent for the house notwithstanding. So, he hatches a plan to get those desired riches all to himself by any means possible. He begins by resuscitating the Headless Horseman from the grave to dispatch the quartet of Peter and Dirk Van Garrett, Emily Winship and Jonathan Masbath, four key elements of the elder Van Garrett’s last will and testament. Next, he tries to mask his motive by having his wife and child murdered, then volunteering to join the constable and the boy in the investigation. His next targets: the Van Tassels, hence the violence in the church, and his supposed refusals to go back to his house, which was perhaps nothing more than an attempt to further infiltrate the mansion. And, this morning, both he and Katrina had vanished.

Ichabod stamped his foot on the floor in disgust. He wasn’t sure he could trust anyone, not even his friends, anymore after this blasted case was over. He stalked towards the kitchen to fetch himself a cold glass of water, or possibly to dump one over his head. When he entered through the swinging door, his sharp eyes picked up something on the floor. He lowered onto his knees for a closer look, and his brow furrowed upon realizing it was a smear of blood, not particularly large but formidable nonetheless, and in the process of browning. Not very far away were what appeared to be clusters or smudges of dirt or mud on the light-colored surface. He jumped to his feet and exited the kitchen, searching for more of these marks. His heart began to pick up speed as he spied more of the dirt while he walked in a straight line…towards the guest quarters, where they continued until they stopped in an odd location: the end of a divan. There were several brown stains on the black-and-white striped surface. A blanket lay in a heap on the floor.

He tore out of the quarters only to find Young Masbath hovering around the area near the fireplace and the chair. Ichabod watched the boy squat down and run his fingers over a section of a floorboard, and he strode over to him. "What have you got down there?" he was about to ask, but quickly got an eyeful of the subject of Masbath’s attention: two long scratches that began in front of the oversized chair, parallel to each other and about a foot apart. Young Masbath crawled on his hands and knees along the trail, with Ichabod looming overhead. He was back onto his feet as they followed the trail – while careful to avoid stepping in the blood – back through the kitchen, where they ran through the dirt mess and ended at a shorter door in the rear of the room. It was rather short, only roughly five and a half feet tall, and was so well concealed in the woodwork, that the shape of the frame, dugout handle and keyhole were visible only after close inspection. Ichabod pulled the handle; not surprisingly, it was locked. It could be latched with a key from both sides.

"Young Masbath," Ichabod asked, breaking the lengthy silence, "you said Mr. Killian shared the guest quarters with you last night?"

"Yes, sir," was the expected reply.

Ichabod looked from the scratches to the dirt, then observed, "Something definitely is wrong. It’s possible that both Katrina and Mr. Killian may have been abducted in some manner. Katrina never bothered taking her shoes off or changing her clothes after coming home last night. She spent the entire night in that chair. The heels of her shoes made the grooves in the floor next to and away from the chair. She must have been knocked unconscious. Then she was likely dragged through the kitchen. If she was awake at the time, these marks would easily be disarrayed."

Young Masbath opened his mouth to speak, but Ichabod beat him to it. "As for Mr. Killian," the constable continued, "he must’ve heard her body hit the floor, thus he left the quarters to investigate, hence these dirty stains leading from there"– he pushed open the swinging kitchen door and pointed to the guest quarters – "to here. After he entered, he was likely attacked, and he fell to the floor face first. That is likely the explanation for the blood," he finished, pointing at the drying spot.

"If someone was taking Katrina elsewhere, how could he or she capture Mr. Killian as well?" Young Masbath asked. "He is definitely not a small individual. Someone would have unquestionably heard his or her struggles. Many servants were sleeping upstairs last night…and still are, apparently," he could not resist adding sarcastically. The house was presently quiet as a mouse save for the two of them.

"True," Ichabod answered. "But it is pretty obvious he or she had help; there are multiple pairs of footprints on the floor. Lack of room was not a problem, for the kitchen is spacious enough to accommodate a great number of people. Not particularly smart enough, though, to cover their tracks." He cradled his chin in his hand for a moment, then said, "Bring me a knife. Preferably one with a short, narrow blade." Young Masbath retrieved a paring knife from a cutlery drawer and handed it to Ichabod, who used it to easily pick the lock of the secret door he’d discovered, as if it were something he did all the time. The door was swollen from past rainy weather, and upon forcing it open, Ichabod stepped out and noticed that it led to an area overgrown with tall grass and weeds somewhere in the back of the house. This particular exterior of the house was spotted green with moss. The doorway was roughly two hundred feet from the Western Woods, which were clearly visible even while the morning light continued to fight through the clouds.

Ichabod grudgingly ducked back inside. "Secret door," he announced grimly. "Out from here they went. The Western Woods are not very far." Young Masbath joined him at his side to have a look for himself. The thought of Katrina at the mercy of these thugs in that horrible environment was too much for Ichabod to bear, not to mention the realization that he may have been wrong for the third time in naming his suspect. Who in the world would he accuse next, Brom? It was enough to give him a headache.

"If this person – or persons – abducted Katrina and Killian, then they wouldn’t keep them out in the open," Young Masbath surmised. "They would want to conceal them somewhere. Not even the density of the forest could conceal someone’s evil deeds. Where would they be hidden?"

Ichabod could feel his heart skip a beat as one foreboding location crept into his mind. "Perhaps we should try the old crone’s cave home first," he said, trying to keep his voice from quavering just at the memory of that forsaken place. "If they’re not there, then we will investigate the windmill. The party most likely hasn’t gone very far due to carrying two bodies heavy from inertia, especially a man of Killian’s size."

Just then Ichabod remembered something. The body at Lancaster’s. He had completely forgotten about it in his panic to get back to the Van Tassel mansion and Katrina. "Come with me," he said abruptly.

"Where?" Young Masbath asked.

"To Dr. Lancaster’s. There is something I must investigate."

Masbath dropped his book and the pair exited as quickly as Ichabod had entered. There was one problem they ran into once outside: the coach was gone. "Damn!" Ichabod cursed. He didn’t use that word very often, but he was incensed upon realizing his mistake of neglecting to tell Van Ripper to stay put while he was inside.

"Looks like we’re walking," he said. The two of them took off in a run and didn’t stop until they reached Lancaster’s office. After taking only a few seconds to catch his breath, the constable pounded on the door. It was answered by a tearful Lady Lancaster, now a widow following her husband’s death at Steenwyck’s hands during the massacre in the church.

"Pardon my intrusion…" Ichabod barged inside, followed by Masbath, and they headed straight to the examination room. There was no malice in his actions; he had to inspect the body of Lady Van Tassel immediately. Two caskets awaited him inside. He threw off the first lid and discovered Baltus’s body. Lady Van Tassel’s corpse was inside the second box, and Ichabod lifted its arm to scrutinize the cut on its palm.

"No bleeding…no clotting…no healing," Ichabod mused aloud, somberly replacing the arm. "When this cut was made, this woman was already dead." This discovery swiftly eliminated Killian as his number one suspect, something Young Masbath had no trouble sensing in the man’s facial expression. Both now knew very well who their new target was. The constable replaced both lids and looked at his young charge.

Not wasting a minute more, Ichabod and Young Masbath bolted out of the office and took off toward the Western Woods.

 

33 Katrina and Killian both lay unconscious in an unfriendly stone cave somewhere in the Western Woods. A gloved hand reached for a handful of Katrina’s golden hair, which she sheared off with a pair of scissors. At that time, only the girl stirred awake and was greeted by a horrible smell. Her vision was too blurred to distinguish her surroundings right away, but she heard a female voice reciting some strange incantation. The only words she was able to make out: "Horseman" and "Katrina." That snapped her to her senses quickly, and she felt herself break out into a cold sweat. She knew that the Horseman had been sent after her just by those two words alone, and she was essentially helpless.

Katrina slowly propped herself up on her left elbow, which seemed to take all her strength. "Awake at last?" Lady Van Tassel asked, looming over her. "Did you think it was all a nasty dream?"

"Father saw the Horseman kill you," Katrina said softly.

"Baltus saw the Horseman come toward me with his sword unsheathed," Lady Van Tassel replied. "Foolish man, he did not stay and watch."

Katrina couldn’t believe her ears. "Who are you?"

"My family name," the imposter said, pausing for effect, "was Archer."

Archer. Then it hit Katrina. The carving in the back of the fireplace, the same carving she’d shown Ichabod his first morning in Sleepy Hollow. She felt as if she’d been struck by one of its arrows.

The sounds of movement were heard on Katrina’s right. Killian was starting to come to as well. He pried open eyelids as heavy as vault doors, and his eyes flitted wildly around the environment.

"Ah, he wakes," Lady Van Tassel said calmly, in sarcastic joy. "Finally."

Killian weakly sat up and he suddenly felt as if a cacophony of bells went off inside his skull, particularly the left side. He tentatively touched that part of his head and came upon a nasty knot, from being struck on that side of his head with a particularly hard object. His left temple was completely purple down to the curve of his cheekbone. He then touched his upper lip and felt the unpleasant texture of dried blood. Thankfully, his nose had not broken in his fall, but the bridge was also a nice shade of purple, and the slightest pressure on it brought on a sensation he wished not to experience again. A bad smell that lingered somewhere inside here didn’t make his stay any more comfortable. He attempted to get to his knees, but a strike to the back dropped him down again. He strained for a look at his assailant…and wished he hadn’t.

Posted behind him and Katrina, and armed with rifles, were Glen and Theodore.

"Glen…?" Killian asked weakly. "What are you—"

"Keep quiet!" Glen snarled, and poked Killian roughly in the ribs with the barrel as if it were a cattle prod, forcing him to turn around again. "What have you done to them?" he demanded of Lady Van Tassel.

"Well," she replied matter-of-factly, and accenting certain words, "I needed some assistance in getting you here, along with her." She pointed to Katrina as if she were pointing to a dead rat. "Funny how the promise of money is enough to motivate someone. Don’t you agree?" She chuckled.

"She controls the Horseman," Katrina said emotionlessly, taking her cue from the last line of Lady Van Tassel’s little speech.

Everything came back to Killian upon hearing those words, and his fury boiled like a pot of water on a hot stove. In the blink of an eye, he began to get up to try and go after Lady Van Tassel.

"You killed my family, you bast—" He was quickly cut off as he was struck hard in the back again by Glen, and he landed on his stomach. Glen then forced Killian away from Lady Van Tassel and back into a sitting position.

"And, eventually, father will make three," Lady Van Tassel retorted, casually strolling over to the stableman, where she met him face to face. "Just for that reason alone, maybe I’ll kill you first before the Horseman takes care of her. Or, should it be the other way around? Should I make you witness her death before taking care of you myself? What do you prefer?"

Killian’s only response was to spit into Lady Van Tassel’s face. The only reaction she offered was an arrogant laugh after calmly wiping away the salivic projectile, then her face suddenly turned serious. "Perhaps I should explain to you why you’re here," she said to her captives, who remained silent.

"I lived with my mother and sister in a cottage not far from here," she began, as if they’d happily agreed to listen to her life story. As she progressed, her tone quickly lost its conceited playfulness that she had teased Killian and Katrina with earlier.

 

34 Ichabod and Young Masbath pushed through and ducked under the usual canopy of dead trees stuck in the usual carpet of dead leaves. Neither remembered where the crone’s cave was; they had discovered it by accident their first time early in the investigation. It made more sense for the kidnappers to hide out here; the windmill, perched high on a hill, would have been far too conspicuous to serve as an effective hideout.

The numerous, distant screeches and cries from the forest’s bestial inhabitants was enough to make Ichabod want to turn and leave immediately, but he fought to steady his nerves as he reminded himself why he was back in here in the first place. He and Young Masbath had been in here for what seemed like an eternity as they searched in vain for the cave. They would have had an easier time searching for sunken treasure in the Atlantic.

Suddenly, Ichabod jumped as Young Masbath grabbed his sleeve. "Look! There it is!" he said jubilantly, pointing to a huge rock a short distance away. Ichabod clamped his hand over the boy’s mouth and the two of them ducked down behind a thick trunk. He peeked out from behind the trunk to get a better look. Sure enough, there it was, with the gaping mouth of the doorway almost begging them to come inside. He quickly turned away and leaned against the trunk, breathing hard, with cold sweat fresh on his forehead. He now had to devise a plan to save Katrina and Killian without getting them, himself and the boy killed. He’d never done anything this outrageous during his tenure in the constabulary.

Then again, there was a first time for everything.

"I think our best bet is to cause some kind of distraction," Ichabod said to Masbath after several minutes of silence, minutes Young Masbath knew Ichabod spent putting his swift brain into action. "Something that will draw Lady Van Tassel or her cohorts out of the cave." He drew his pistol and fingered his pocket for a small amount of extra bullets, and checked the contents of a small powder horn hanging off his belt on a rawhide loop. He had grabbed all this from his room upstairs before rushing to Lancaster’s office, knowing he would be going straight to the Western Woods afterward.

After explaining his plan in its entirety to Young Masbath, they abandoned the safety of the tree trunk and crept toward the cave, giving it a wide berth in order to stay out of the long, treeless path of the doorway.

 

35 "You killed your own sister?" a horrified Katrina asked.

Lady Van Tassel walked over to a table and pulled off a blanket, revealing the crone’s headless body, which sat in a chair, slumped over the table. Blood continued to run slowly from the clotting wound. Killian gasped at the sight. Katrina’s eyes were as big as dinner plates. That was the cause of the nauseating odor, which seemed to increase by over a hundred percent upon revelation of its source. Neither one of them had noticed the body because they had not taken their eyes off Lady Van Tassel the whole time they were in the cave.

"How could you do such a thing?" Katrina pressed, her astonishment hiding an ever-growing panic. The Horseman was still coming for her. She feared she was trapped, whether she escaped from the cave or stayed inside. She didn’t know what she would witness first: Killian’s death, or her own. She wanted neither.

Lady Van Tassel replaced the blanket. "She brought it on herself…by helping you and your master!" she yelled, spitting the last half of the sentence in Killian’s face. At that very moment, a loud crack was heard outside. All five heads whipped toward the entrance.

"What was that?" Theodore asked.

"Get out there and find out!" Lady Van Tassel demanded. As the thugs exited, she grabbed the rifle she had carried earlier when Katrina had fainted back at the mansion, and used it to keep her prisoners at bay.

Glen and Theodore stepped out of the cave, rifles cocked and ready to fire, when suddenly two figures jumped off the roof of the cave and crashed down on top of them, causing them to hit the ground and drop their weapons while successfully knocking them away from the doorway. Ichabod grabbed Glen’s rifle and used the butt to whack him on the head, sending him tumbling into the leaves. Young Masbath swung Theodore’s equally long rifle by the barrel with surprising accuracy and hit the bigger man in the gut. Theodore doubled over and let out a loud groan of pain. Ichabod finished him off with a strike to the back of the head. Theodore dropped senseless to the ground. Incredibly, this was all accomplished out of the doorway’s range, where Ichabod knew Katrina’s alleged stepmother was still hiding.

Back inside, Lady Van Tassel continued to keep her own rifle pointed at her quarry, alternating occasionally between the two of them. She heard the altercation loud and clear, but in less than two minutes everything was quiet again. However, Glen and Theodore had not returned. She paid it all no heed; she would soon have a much more formidable ally on her side pretty soon.

Seconds after the fracas outside gave way to silence, a horrible, loud retching sound emanated from Katrina’s mouth, followed by a louder, equally repulsive sound afterward. As Lady Van Tassel was about to forcefully try and silence her, Killian, thinking fast, seized the long barrel of the rifle with his right hand. He then pivoted on his left hip and swung his right leg out, kicking Lady Van Tassel’s feet out from under her and sending her sprawling onto her back. Full of adrenalin, he and Katrina scrambled to their feet and darted out of the cave, where they ran into Ichabod and Young Masbath.

"Katrina! Thank God!" Ichabod gasped, grasping Katrina tightly, while Killian did likewise with Young Masbath, but their happy reunion was not to last long. A loud neigh pierced the foggy morning air. It was then the quartet realized they had no way of defending themselves. Glen and Theodore were gone; most likely the cowards had fled after regaining consciousness, just like they had done upon witnessing Brom fighting the Horseman two nights ago. The galloping grew louder, then slowed before stopping altogether. They all had a feeling the ghost had just dismounted and was now heading straight for them. In one fast motion, Ichabod began to reload his pistol while trying to keep his nervous hands from trembling.

Just as he yanked the short ramrod from the barrel, Lady Van Tassel emerged from the cave, rifle aimed at the group. Ichabod noticed a velvet bag hanging from her arm. He knew the Hessian’s skull had to be inside.

"Still alive?" she asked mockingly, to no one in particular.

We have to get that skull from her somehow. "Run, Katrina!" were the first words from the constable’s lips.

"Yes, do run, and jump…and skip!" She raised the rifle, drew a bead on the running Katrina, and pulled the hammer. Meanwhile, Killian and Young Masbath anxiously watched, not daring to move, as Ichabod slowly inched toward her in his mission to steal the bag. Lady Van Tassel quickly became aware of this, however, and turned the gun toward the constable. As she began to press the trigger to stop the man dead in his tracks, Killian suddenly bowled forcefully into Ichabod, pushing him aside just as she fired.

Ichabod bumped into Young Masbath in the process, and both fell to ground like a toppled row of dominoes. They watched in horror as Lady Van Tassel’s bullet hit Killian in the side of his right thigh, only inches below the hip joint. The abrupt change of targets caused her shot to be low, because she had unknowingly lowered the unwieldy rifle slightly in the process. He crumpled to the ground.

"No!" Young Masbath yelled, rushing to his side. The shot caused Katrina to stop and turn around. She noticed one of her companions lying in the leaves, barely moving. She had to go back, even though the Horseman would be upon them sooner than later.

Lady Van Tassel and her intended target briefly exchanged shocked glances. Without warning, she then swung the rifle at Ichabod maniacally as if it were a club. Ichabod successfully blocked a shot to his midsection, but was felled instantly when the butt of the weapon intensely contacted his forehead. He staggered backward and dropped to his knees, trying to shake off the impact and the floaters from his eyes. Lady Van Tassel intercepted the returning Katrina by pointing the rifle at her.

"Hold it right there!" she said, and Katrina froze, not realizing the gun was empty. Lady Van Tassel extended a thin arm and seized her tightly by the hair. She tossed the rifle aside and used her now-free hand to pin one of the girl’s arms behind her back. The Horseman’s ghostly black form began to emerge from the morning fog as if he were appearing out of thin air. "Take her!" she screamed. "She’s yours!" Katrina struggled in vain to free herself while the Hessian approached her as if he had all the time in the world.

At the same time, Killian slowly sat up, automatically trying to move his legs. To his amazement, the one that was shot, although it ached madly as if it were being pricked by a thousand porcupine quills with every movement, was still functional. "Sir…" Young Masbath, who had bravely stayed with him the entire time, gasped. "You’re all right!"

"For now," Killian replied, not wanting to tempt fate. He had no time to celebrate his luck, for he saw the Horseman pass right by him en route to Katrina, who was being held captive by Lady Van Tassel. "Stay here," he ordered the boy as he climbed rigidly to his feet, crept stealthily out of the open space and into the thicket of lifeless trees, all while enduring the discomfort that occurred with any pressure he put on his leg. Katrina immediately saw him on her left, and her first instinct was to look at him and yell for help, but she resisted and forced herself to keep her eyes straight ahead on the Horseman. As much as she didn’t want to look at the dastardly figure, she didn’t want to give Killian away either. She instead kept watch on him through peripheral vision until he disappeared from her line of sight.

"How does it feel to look death in the eyes?" Lady Van Tassel growled in Katrina’s ear as she tightened her grip on her hair and her arm. "Think about it: after one swing disconnects your pretty little head from your shoulders, everything close to you will be mine. How does it feel?"

"Like this!" she heard a voice shout behind her, and she felt a kick to the back of one of her knees, then a pair of arms clamped around her waist like a vise. Completely taken by surprise, she had the breath knocked from her upon spinning and dropping violently to the ground. The velvet bag flew loose, and the Hessian’s coveted skull rolled out. Killian scampered on his hands and knees as quickly as he could until his large hands closed around the object.

"Ichabod!" he hollered, drawing his powerful arm back to throw the skull. He managed to project it far enough, but he was falling forward as he pitched it, and as it left his fingers he plopped onto his stomach. Unfortunately, as a result, his throw was wide, and it flew in the direction of the trees, where the canopy of leaves was much worse than in the open space. He didn’t care about accuracy at this point; he had managed to get the skull away from Katrina and Lady Van Tassel’s vicinity. He hoped the skull hadn’t gotten buried in there. If his plan worked, Ichabod would try and summon the Horseman himself with the skull, and in the process draw him away from Katrina.

Just then Lady Van Tassel pounced upon Killian like a jungle cat, landing on his back, and he wound up with a mouthful of leaves. He was physically stronger than the murderess, but she quickly gained the upper hand by catching him off guard and pounding on his injured leg with his fist, compensating for her lack of individual strength by taking advantage of her enemy’s possible weaknesses. The pounding stopped, but then the woman cupped her hands beneath his chin and interlocked her fingers. She then grasped the lower half of his face in a chinlock, focused her weight on the small of his back, and began to pull back with all her strength, attempting to break his back. Killian, his hollers muffled, thrashed his legs, attempting to throw her off, but Lady Van Tassel held on good and tight, like a cowboy trying to stay atop a frantically bucking bull. He felt his world beginning to spin as he grew lightheaded. While she was unsuccessful so far in trying to cripple him, she was succeeding in cutting off his circulation and his breathing, despite his being stuck in this position for less than two minutes. He no longer had the strength to yell. Any second now, he felt that he would surely pass out.

In the midst of his struggles to free himself, Killian felt a hard jolt near the middle of his back. He immediately thought it had broken somewhere in that area, yet he did not feel any pain. Instead, the stronghold on his face slackened and broke altogether. Lady Van Tassel suddenly fell limp, covering Killian like a bearskin rug. He pushed her motionless body away and saw Young Masbath looming overhead, his small hands gripping a thick tree branch.

Meanwhile, the Horseman grabbed Katrina, who had moved away during the altercation, and roughly spun her around, forcing her to face him, and drew his sword. Just as he raised it to decapitate her, Ichabod’s voice was heard: "Horseman!" The constable held the skull high. The Hessian immediately released Katrina by pushing her aside. He stood his ground, however, gesturing for the skull rather than coming to take it from him. Ichabod hurled it at the Horseman with an awkward shot-put motion. The ghost caught it single-handedly, dropped his sword, clutched the skull in both gloved hands and gently returned it to its proper place. He suddenly began writhing and spasming in agony as, in an amazing display, bone became nerve, nerve became muscle, and muscle became living flesh as the Horseman’s intimidating visage regenerated in front of everyone’s eyes. While this was happening, the quartet quickly regrouped, yet continued to watch with morbid fascination.

After the transformation was complete, the Hessian glared intently at the band huddling together not very far away. In an act of desperation, Ichabod suddenly placed Katrina in front of him like a human shield, but the ghostly marauder was uninterested in all of them. Instead, his piercing, arctic-blue eyes zeroed in on the woman lying unconscious in the leaves that stirred like sand in a windstorm.

Just then Daredevil, the demonic steed, galloped into view and to his side, like an obedient dog approaching his master. The Hessian lovingly stroked the muzzle of perhaps his only true friend from both his past life and afterlife. He mounted, rode over to the witch’s still form and effortlessly lifted and draped her across the saddle as if she was a piece of paper. Releasing a loud battle cry like the many he had loosed while fighting Americans on behalf of the British in the Revolution two decades earlier, the ghostly rider headed off into the depths of the Western Woods. Just as he disappeared out of sight, several loud screams from the despicable woman responsible for the deaths of Elizabeth and Thomas Killian, Jonathan Masbath and Baltus Van Tassel were heard until they gradually faded away.

All was quiet after that. Ichabod reached out a hand and helped Killian to his feet, but as he did so, his eyes caught something. Killian followed his glance downward until his eyes stopped at his pocket. He reached inside and gingerly pulled out the horseshoe he had stuck in there earlier this morning. Lady Van Tassel’s bullet surely would have crippled him had it not struck the peak of the arch and ricocheted away. He looked in amazement at a half-inch concave groove that now scarred the surface. "Guess those things are good for something, after all," Young Masbath quipped.

No sooner had the four of them embraced than they heard the sound of rifles cocking somewhere behind them. They broke apart, turned slowly and saw Glen and Theodore. They had not fled the scene after all; instead the two of them had waited it out for their golden opportunity, which they felt had improved dramatically now that Lady Van Tassel was out of the picture.

"Don’t make any sudden movements," Glen ordered. "You are covered."

"What’s the meaning of this?" Ichabod demanded.

"Simple," Glen answered, brandishing his rifle. "The witch may be gone, but our payment surely isn’t going with her, because it’s a given the little lady here knows its location. Then, after we get the money, we’re going to leave town. But first, we’ll kill the four of you, so no word gets around."

"Turn around and get going!" Theodore barked. In spite of their situation, Ichabod could not help but mentally roll his eyes. It was so like a simpleton such as Glen to release so much information. It was akin to a bank robber telling his victims where his hideout was after taking the money.

But before anyone could take a step, two shots rang out from nowhere. Katrina yelped as Glen and Theodore suddenly dropped to the ground like a pair of anchors, both dead instantly from a bullet in the back of the head. All fought to steady their hearts while the sharpshooter emerged from the low-hanging fog. Upon the revelation of his identity, Ichabod and the rest of the group would have blacked out were it not for the unfiltered shock that struck them like a bolt of lightning. Clutching two smoking pistols, Brom slowly approached the quartet, an ominous expression on his pale face. All stood dumbfounded, with the men gripping the shoulders of their two younger companions, ready to protect them from danger. Were they about to be accosted by another ghost? The two men lying dead in front of them, plus the fact that Brom was still dressed in the bloodstained outfit that he’d worn while fighting the Horseman – save for a long, brown wool knee-length coat – seemed to disprove this assumption. The gash fluttered in the morning breeze, resembling an oddly shaped pair of puckering cloth lips.

The foursome quickly moved away from the bodies. For a moment Ichabod wondered if Brom would kill them all as well. His heart thumped in his chest as if attempting to break free, and he forced open his mouth like a rusty trap. "B-Brom?" he stuttered. "I…I thought you were…"

"Dead?" Brom finished. "Obviously not." He separated the fabric mouth to reveal a grotesque, foot-long line of stitches across his midsection, which sent shivers up the constable’s spine, then covered the wound up again. "Following our battle, apparently no one bothered to notice that my body had somehow disappeared following my supposed death. For all I know, they could’ve held my funeral already—"

"They did, as a matter of fact," Ichabod said, gradually regaining his composure and his ability to speak in complete sentences again. "Steenwyck actually claimed that you had been taken away to the ghost’s lair."

"But, thankfully, my cut was not very deep," Brom continued, as if Ichabod hadn’t said a thing. He ran his hand through his disheveled brown hair. "Apparently the Horseman thought he’d struck me fatally, but he was wrong." While Brom spoke, Ichabod noticed that he showed no remorse, in his expression or the tone of his voice, from fatally shooting his long-time companions.

"So…where were you the entire time leading up to now?"

"In Tarrytown, courtesy of that dullard Van Ripper. He was the first one to spot me in my injured state, staggering back into the village. Before I could say a word I was hustled into his coach and he drove the horses through the night. He kept insisting he had a brother up there who would fix me up ‘real good.’ Thus, further north was where I was dropped off. I guess he was too stupid to realize that we have a doctor right here in town. Still, as you can see, I indeed had my wounds tended…and this coat loaned to me."

"We had a doctor here in town," Ichabod said. "Dr. Lancaster perished several nights ago, along with Baltus and Reverend Steenwyck."

"God…" Brom’s expression was grave. His eyes shot from Ichabod to Katrina and then to Killian. "What about you, Rich?" he asked tentatively. "Were you able to…save Beth?"

Killian’s silence quickly answered his question. "I’m terribly sorry," Brom said. "I really am. Deep inside, I feel responsible, due to the fact that I still live."

Killian forced back oncoming tears. "Shut up," he said. "It wasn’t your fault. Don’t you dare think of blaming yourself."

"What are you doing here in the Western Woods?" Katrina asked, knowing that neither one of them, herself included, wanted to dwell on the subject of losing loved ones. Meanwhile, Ichabod could not help but observe that she had not been particularly ecstatic about his return. Was it because she was uncertain about what to make of his somewhat ethereal reappearance…or, another far more obvious reason?

"After everything that has happened, resuming my life in Sleepy Hollow would be impossible," Brom replied. "This town has been spooked by a ghost for too long; the people don’t need to face that burden for a second time."

It was Young Masbath’s turn to speak. "Then how come you didn’t just stay in Tarrytown and put everything behind you? Why bother coming back here?"

"Forgive me, but because I have lay awake the past few nights with thoughts of all of you, even…Mr. Crane, coursing through my mind," Brom answered, speaking the constable’s name with hesitation. "I knew I wouldn’t rest easy until I came here and discovered the outcome of your ongoing battle with the Horseman, whether you all perished or survived. I now know that it was thankfully the latter, and I can rest easy, especially now that the Horseman has returned to Hell and out of your lives. I also borrowed these" – he held up the two pistols, and the smell of gunpowder tickled their noses – "and left before dawn this morning. Daylight had broken when I came upon the Western Woods, and it wasn’t too long before I heard the pounding of hooves and a woman’s voice screaming. You can imagine my relief upon discovering it was not Katrina astride the Hessian’s saddle."

"But, what about…" Ichabod began, pointing to the pair of bodies.

Brom shot a glance downward and looked at his former companions’ grotesque cranial wounds. "Nobody will threaten those I am close to, as these mongrels found out the hard way," was all he had – or chose – to say. He replaced the pistols into a pair of holsters and sighed. Even though these were his friends, perhaps now even including the constable after everything that had happened, he had the feeling that they were regarding him as they would a complete stranger. "I guess I’d better be going," he said.

"Where are you headed?" Killian asked.

"Back where I just came from. I’m going to try to put everything behind me and start a new life. Are you going to stay in Sleepy Hollow?"

"I don’t know. I never really thought about it, I suppose."

After a moment of silence, the two of them engaged in a strong, quick embrace, knowing they would likely not see each other again. "Stay out of trouble, you hear?" Killian said in jest in an attempt at levity. "Because you never know when you’ll bump into another person who separates his shoulder and suddenly needs a hired hand."

"Does this mean you’re firing me?" Brom joked.

"Yes."

"Well, you’re one to talk about staying out of trouble, what with those bruises all over your face."

After they broke up, Brom said to Young Masbath, "You keep this big lug in line, all right?" Masbath smiled and nodded.

Brom then turned to Ichabod, and what he said next caught the constable off guard: "I hope you and Katrina are happy together." His tone was blunt; yet he sounded as if he actually meant it. "In the meantime, I have a parting gift for you." With that, his fist connected with Ichabod’s jaw, dropping him onto his backside. Ichabod put his hand to his cheek and looked wide-eyed up at the brute. Brom then pulled the dazed officer to his feet. "You take good care of her now," he said firmly, and Ichabod nodded weakly, his head swimming from the blow.

And, with that goodbye present, Brom turned and walked away, departing back into the fog as eerily as he had arrived. Nobody spoke a word as everyone instead looked at each other, wondering if everything that just happened was real, or merely a figment of their exhausted, burned-out minds. The amazing events stuffed into a few short hours finally registered into Ichabod’s mind, and before he knew it, his legs gave out and he faded into unconsciousness again.

Then the truly unexpected happened: less than a minute later, Killian joined him.

 

36 "Peter Van Garrett was her landlord?" Ichabod asked incredulously.

"Yes," Katrina replied. She was relaying the details of the story she and Killian had been told while held prisoner in the cave. "According to Archer’s side of the story, she and her family were evicted by him after her mother had been accused of witchcraft. As a result, they were forced to live as recluses in the Western Woods. Her first step towards revenge was to pose as my mother’s sick nurse in order to infiltrate our home, but little did I know that she was the one who was responsible for putting my mother in the grave by way of poisoned medicine." She paused momentarily before continuing. "That way, after my father remarried, she now had access to our family will.

"Then she needed help in exacting her revenge on those who dared cross her in her youth. She said she had witnessed the Horseman’s death two decades ago, and right there at his burial site, offered her soul to the devil if he would raise him from the grave to avenge her. The Van Garretts and the Widow Winship were her first victims. Those three individuals would ultimately draw in Jonathan Masbath, Elizabeth Killian…and my own father." Katrina felt a little more at ease speaking about the murders now that the mystery had been solved and the killer was now facing her own hellish justice.

"What I don’t understand," Young Masbath began, looking at Ichabod, "is why the Horseman was never sent after you. Wouldn’t you think that Lady Van Tassel would eventually try to add you to the body count as you tried to solve the mystery, and especially once you were on to her?"

"Because," Ichabod replied, "I served a finer purpose alive. Nothing would have pleased her more than my returning to New York with my tail between my legs and trying to explain to my superiors about how the murderer was a galloping ghost of a twenty-years-dead Hessian soldier."

"But what of the four town elders?" Young Masbath continued.

"Reverend Steenwyck was done in by lust," Katrina answered. "It drew him into her power like a ship into a whirlpool." Ichabod remembered their lewd, unsightly fornication in the Western Woods. At least Katrina had been spared the horror of witnessing it in person. "Fear also forced Notary Hardenbrook and Magistrate Philipse to do Archer’s bidding," she continued, speaking the latter surname in an attempt to disassociate her family name with the murderess. "And," she concluded, "Dr. Lancaster’s silence was exchanged for her silence involving his ‘secret’ fornication with Sarah."

"Then that must have been her body that was in Dr. Lancaster’s office when I went to inspect the corpse of Lady Van Tassel," Ichabod observed.

"It was," Katrina confirmed.

"Then, she murdered her own sister, because she assisted you, me and Masbath," Killian said to Ichabod. Then he looked at Katrina. "That was how we found the Tree of the Dead," he explained. A slight grin appeared on his face. "I must know, Katrina…what of those horrible noises you sounded back in the cave?"

"Why, don’t you recognize a decoy when you hear it?" Her porcelain doll-like face smiled back at him.

"Silly me, I guess I should have known better. Then again, it’s not a sound I want to hear everyday."

All was quiet after that. But while they were lingering on such a grim subject, deep down inside three of the four riding in a coach departing from Sleepy Hollow back to the city for the past half hour felt a spark of excitement that gradually grew like a constantly fueled fire. They were giddy with anticipation as they wondered what awaited them in the new world they were headed to, the big city that the constable had described to them as they were preparing to leave, where bigger and better opportunities surely awaited them. Just then the coach hit a particularly nasty pothole, sending bodies colliding into one another and eliciting groans from Killian, who, after only getting whacked in the side of the head and falling on his nose (which left his face a nice patchwork pattern of purple and pink flesh), plus getting shot in the leg and having his neck stretched the wrong way, felt as if he had been run over by a herd of wild horses. Right now all he felt like doing was sleeping for about 24 hours, but he knew he wasn’t going to accomplish that anytime soon in this bumpy, wooden cubbyhole on wheels. He earned a bunch of sympathetic smiles, which he returned.

"I know, I’m a big baby," he said. Young Masbath even rubbed his thick shoulders with as strong a grip as his small hands would allow.

They rode through the night and reached New York City just after eleven the next morning. The coach stopped in the middle of a packed street. Ichabod was the first one out. After he assisted Katrina in disembarking, Killian and Masbath eagerly hopped out and instantly began marveling at the tall buildings, most notably the gleaming white marble of the Federal Hall on the right side of the road. Killian’s past misery was suddenly nonexistent as he looked up at a light snow that was beginning to fall from the overcast sky.

"Cobblestone streets!" Katrina enthused.

"Yes, New York…New York! Just in time for a new century. It’s the modern age, Katrina!" Ichabod gushed.

"It’s always the modern age, Ichabod," Katrina said, entwining her arm in the crook of his elbow. "But the ancient ones always endure."

Ichabod watched Killian help the boy with an unwieldy suitcase, all while they continued to admire their new environment. "You’ll soon get your bearings, Young Masbath," he said with a smile, something his three cohorts saw for the very first time since they had all met, as the makeshift family started down the street. "The Bronx is up, the Battery’s down…and home is this way."

Ichabod Crane and Richard Killian, the big-city constable and the small-farm country stableman, persevered through numerous trials and tribulations together in their quest to solve the Sleepy Hollow murders. Their lives – along with those of the deceased patriarch’s daughter and the late manservant’s humble son – would never be the same after waging battle in the realm of the supernatural and emerging victorious.

They were heroes from two different worlds.

 

 

Tales of Romance
Sleepy Hollow