Do You Have a Head I Could Borrow?
PART V (of VII)
by Sara Dobie Bauer
Jonathan dragged her inside, where the whole family rapidly began to appear at the sound of uninvited guests. Angie noticed there were only four of them in total: the one called Aunt Marie; a well-dressed man with a moustache, probably in his mid-fifties; a forty-something lady with Jonathan’s bright blue eyes; and finally, a petite lady with white hair, glasses, and a frown, who had to be the Crane matriarch.
“What on earth were you doing outside?” The little old lady moved faster than any old lady rightly should.
“It’s my fault, Ellis.” Marie stepped forward. “I helped him sneak out.”
“Sneak out? On Halloween?”
“Baby.” The blond moved past grandma and lifted her hands to her cheeks. “Are you covered in blood?”
“Right. Can Angie use the bathroom? I’ll explain.”
“I think I should probably be here when you explain.”
Jonathan glanced down at Angie, holding her massive, leather book of spells. “Right. Well, this is Angie, and I snuck out to see her, and um … well, the Horseman, he’s real, and he’s trying to kill us, but Angie’s a witch, and …”
“Jonathan. You’re doing a shit job.” Angie addressed this family of strangers, all of whom looked practically murderous. “Look, the Headless Horseman from a fictional short story is actually real, and he’s down in Tarrytown killing people trying to get to Jonathan. So please tell me you have a protective spell on your house, because if you don’t, I’m a witch, and I need to get started right now.”
Surprisingly, it was the intimidating grandmother who stepped forward, took Angie’s blood-soaked arm, and gently said, “Come along, dear, let’s wash you up.”
Angie looked over her shoulder at a blood-soaked Jonathan and was surprised to find he still looked attractive, despite what might have been a piece of another man’s skin under his right eye. She then allowed herself to be coached through the house, past expensive-looking antique heirlooms and a room full of deer heads—which gave her the creeps.
Then, there was a long hallway of paintings. Angie recognized the elder woman by her side, Ellis Crane, among them, but then, she recognized someone else.
“Hey.” She stopped. “Is that …” She pointed at a particularly striking young man.
“But … he looks just like … or Jonathan looks just like …”
“Yes, the resemblance is quite significant, but he does have his mother’s eyes.” Ellis led her on, as if the creepy similarity between a long dead ancestor and a very living college student was run of the mill.
Finally, they found a bathroom bigger than Angie’s entire apartment. Ellis took the book from Angie’s hands and set it on a decorative, marble table. She then pulled a washcloth from beneath the sink and began to wash Angie’s face.
“I’m certainly glad Jonathan snuck out to meet you, honey. I was beginning to think he was a homosexual.”
Angie bit her lip to stifle a smirk.
“And a witch, no less.” Ellis glanced at the rather sizeable square of leather on the nearby tabletop. “Quite a big spell book for someone so young.”
“It was my mother’s.”
“Ah.” Ellis put her hand on Angie’s head and smiled. “What a lovely girl.” Then, she leaned forward and whispered, “And yes, the house is protected by many spells, but I do hate scaring the younger ones. Most people aren’t as comfortable around witches as I am.” With no further warning, Ellis put the washcloth down on the sink and left Angie quite alone.
Jonathan paced the living room, hands on his hips. He jumped at every noise, while the rest of his family merely watched him walk around. Grandma Ellis came back, followed closely by Angie, who was no longer covered in blood but who still hugged her spell book as if it in itself would save all their lives.
Jonathan watched his uncle approach the little witch. “I’m Rupert, by the way, Jonathan’s uncle. Marie is my wife.” He gestured to Jonathan’s aunt, who waved politely from a plush white chair in the corner.
“Sorry. Introductions.” Jonathan put his hand on his mother’s shoulder where she sat on a pink paisley couch. “Ange, this is my mother, Bernadette.” He watched his mother stand up and clasp Angie’s hand.
“Very nice to meet you. Sorry about the circumstances.”
“Me, too,” Angie replied.
“I’m surprised we haven’t had any calls from the police.” The room turned to face Ellis, who was peering beyond the curtains and out into the front yard.
Jonathan looked toward Angie, who’d suddenly gone a couple shades paler than usual.
“I have to call her. Tell her to stay inside.” She shamelessly reached between her breasts and pulled out a tiny black cellular phone before she disappeared back toward the bathroom.
By now, Rupert, too, stood at the front window. “Ah,” he said, “We have company.”
Jonathan heard the horse hooves before he reached the window, followed of course by a house-shaking burst of thunder. When he pulled back the shade, he was more than horrified to see the Hessian with about a half dozen decapitated heads attached to his black saddle.
Jonathan promptly threw up in a nearby potted plant. When he was finished, he glanced back at his family. “Let’s not tell Angie about that.” He gestured to the sad looking fern.
“We won’t, dear, but you might want to wipe the blood off your face.”
Rupert offered him a handkerchief, which he accepted, gladly.
“What’s going on?”
Jonathan didn’t want to tell her, but he didn’t really have a choice. While wiping his face, he turned to Angie and said, “Is everyone okay?”
“They’re drunk, but they’re fine. Why are you all standing by the front window?”
“Well, because there’s an angry horseman outside, dear.” Ellis dropped the curtain and sighed. “I think it’s time we told them the truth.”
“Ellis,” Marie hissed.
His grandmother approached him and put her hands on his upper arms. “How about a drink?”
As a collective, they followed her to the library, where rows of books were challenged by rows of multi-colored liquor bottles. She chose a scotch—one of Jonathan’s favorites—and poured an inch of gold in each glass. Jonathan took his back like a shot, and when he lowered the glass, he realized Angie must have, too, because the entire family stared at them. Ellis poured them a second round and gestured to the leather furniture around the room.
Angie didn’t ask before she lit up a clove. Jonathan gave her a sidelong glance, knowing she’d left her purse at her own apartment. When she noticed him watching, she pulled a second clove from between her cleavage and extended her hand to him.
“What else are you hiding down there?”
“A lighter.” Which she presented and used to light up. No one complained.
“Well. Jonathan. Darling. We’ve never told you the truth about your great-great-great-grandfather. It was just too soon, and you were too young. It’s a secret to be shared by adults.”
“This doesn’t sound good.” His shoulders were tense, and Angie lit his cigarette before he could even ask. In fact, when he looked around the library, he noticed everyone was tense … and avoiding eye contact.
“Ichabod Crane was, well, like you, very handsome. He was a travelling teacher of sorts in Sleepy Hollow, and he caught the eye of a local girl by the name of Katrina Van Tassel.”
“Van Tassel? Like from the story?”
“Yes, dear.” Ellis nodded at Angie. “But you see Katrina was already engaged to a local boy, Brom Bones. When Ichabod tried to woo her nonetheless, it was quite a scandal, but woo her he did, and well …” His grandmother’s eyes looked up to the gold-encrusted ceiling. “Well, it started kind of a feud between Brom and Ichabod. So Ichabod cut off Brom’s head.”
“What?” Jonathan felt the sudden urge to stand.
“Yes, well, it would seem that Washington Irving and your great-great-great-grandfather were good friends, so they made up a story as a joke and told everyone in town that Brom had left in a huff, never to be seen again.”
“You’re telling me … Ichabod Crane murdered someone, and now, that someone is outside, headless.”
Angie stood up, too. “What happened to Katrina?”
“Oh, she married Ichabod. She’s Jonathan’s great-great-great-grandmother. This house was known as the Van Tassel Estate before they got married. Now, it’s called Crane Manor.”
Angie fell back down on the couch. “What an f-ed up family.”
“So if I’m to understand correctly, Brom Bones is the Headless Horseman. Not some Hessian soldier from the Revolutionary War.”
Ellis waved her hand. “Oh, that was just part of the story.”
“Right. The story written to cover up a murder.”
“Precisely.” His grandmother sipped daintily on her scotch.
“So …” Jonathan pointed toward the front entrance. “What does he want?”
“Your head. Probably.”
“Well, it is an unfortunate coincidence that you look so much like Ichabod.”
Jonathan finished his second glass of scotch and put it down heavily on the table. “This hiding out every Halloween in the house, you were doing that because of me?”
“Well, you and every male direct descendant of the Crane line. As you know, it’s your responsibility to keep the family line alive, and you inherit the fortune. Can’t be too careful.” She laughed, softly, until the expression on Jonathan’s face made her stop.
He looked toward his mother. “Mom? He wants my head?”
“Well, there are other options.”
“I think he would also accept the sacrifice of the woman you love.”
Jonathan glanced at Angie, who pointed her finger and said, “I will hex the hell out of you.”
He rolled his eyes. “What’s our other option?”
“We could always give him back his skull.”
Now, both Jonathan and Angie’s mouths hung open. “You still have the skull?”
“It’s buried in the backyard,” Ellis replied.
“Sick.” Angie stubbed out her cigarette in her empty glass of scotch.
“I’m not sure it would work, but it’s worth a try.”
“How are we going to get to it? He’s outside.” Jonathan held his hand out and waved at the front door.
Angie blew out a loud breath of air. “Distraction. I’m a great distraction.”
As she stood up, book in hand, he held onto her shoulders. “You’re not going outside.”
“I don’t have to go outside. You have windows.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Shoot sparks and shit. It’s what I do.”
“She is a witch,” Rupert whispered into his drink.
Angie pointed. “Hey, don’t judge me, moustache.”
“They burned people like you for a reason, sweet girl.”
Jonathan literally had to get between Angie and his uncle to keep an all out brawl from breaking out, and frankly, he was surprised at the small girl’s strength. “Enough! I’m going to get the skull.”
Well. That managed to stop all discussion.
“Jonathan.” Bernadette stood up.
“Mom, I have to do this.”
She sat back down but would not look at who she still considered her little boy.
“Gram, where is the damn thing?”
“In the family plot, of course. Beneath Ichabod’s tombstone.”
“That is so twisted. Do you have a flashlight?”
“Yes, honey, on the back porch.”
Jonathan looked down at Angie, who he still held tightly in hand.
“Are you sure?” she whispered.
“Do we have a choice?”
“No.” She glanced around the room. “Do we have time for a quickie?”
He smiled and pressed his forehead against hers. “I’ll come back.”
“And I’ll distract.” She dropped her precious book and put her hands on the back of his neck, pulling him into a long, wet kiss that almost made his knees buckle.
When she finally let him go, he shook his head. “I swear you put a spell on me.”
“Well, I didn’t put a spell on myself, so I think it’s just animal instinct.”
The sound of an angry horse huffing and puffing pulled them out of their flirtations and back into a world where a headless maniac wanted people dead.
“Okay. Let’s do this.”
“You kind of sounded like Bruce Willis just then, and I think Bruce Willis is really hot.”
Ellis cleared her throat behind them before Tonsil Hockey, Round 2.
Angie tossed the book on the couch by the front window and opened the curtains. Jonathan watched her turn pages until she found what she was looking for, but it was Russian to him. Obviously, it was the language she’d spoken earlier in the woods, but it was private—a Duncan … er … Good family secret, most likely.
She looked up at him. “Gimme five minutes. And then go.”
Jonathan glanced at his watch. “Five minutes.”
He turned to leave, and she grabbed his arm. “If you don’t come back safe, I’ll kill that mother trucker with my bare hands.”
He nodded and headed for the back exit, his family close behind. As he walked, he could hear his mother’s voice, begging, pleading, but there was no turning back. They were out of options, and if Angie could keep the ghost of Brom Bones distracted, Jonathan could be gone and back quick as a hippie on cocaine. From the back porch, he grabbed the flashlight and a small shovel. Looking at his watch, he had two minutes to go. He took a deep breath. The scotch felt warm and comforting in his stomach, and he could still taste the clove cigarette on his breath.
“Good luck, boy.” Rupert’s thin fingers on his shoulder did not incite confidence.
Jonathan took one glance back at his mother before shooting into the night. The wind whipped against his ears, and the cold air pulled at his skin. He knew the way to the family cemetery, not far beyond the house. There were the wrought iron gates, illuminated by the flashlight beam that shook in his hand. He pressed forward, and of course, the damn gate creaked.
Ichabod’s grave was famous in the family—the only one immortalized in a short story. Also the only cold blooded killer, Jonathan now knew. He slid to his knees at the base of the memorial and started digging. Shovel after shovel, dirt flew up around him in a cloud until finally, he hit something … but that something was not solid. He found an empty piece of cloth where a skull should have been.
And at the sound of Angie’s screams, from somewhere far away, Jonathan knew he was in trouble.
“Shit.” He scrambled to his feet, leaving the flashlight and shovel behind. He was a daily runner—had been all his life—and yet in some nightmare scenario, he felt he could not move fast enough. From his position, he could see his family, waving for him to come closer, faster, now! When he saw Angie shoving them out of the way, he knew Brom Bones was coming.
He heard the horse before he saw it, turning the corner at the back of Crane Manor.
“Shit. Shit.” Jonathan dug in deep to the very bottom of his endurance, but the horse was faster. He saw the glint of sword in the night light, and he did a diving roll in an effort to keep his head. Unfortunately, he didn’t get up fast enough, though, giving the horseman time to swing his sword back and cut a deep gash across the center of Jonathan’s chest. He screamed in pain but then felt a positive presence over him: Angie, with her pale hand in the air.
In his injured, bloody haze, Jonathan now recognized the words from the forest earlier, and again, the Headless Horseman was trapped in a green-glowing web that made him back away in momentary defeat.
He felt Angie’s small hands under his arms, pulling him back inside the house. He also felt his shirt soaking with too much blood. His breath came hard and ragged down his throat, but he didn’t feel pain. Jonathan took that as a bad sign.
Once he felt carpet beneath his back, he heard Angie’s voice, commanding, “Back up! Give me some goddamn space!”
His eyes found her, kneeling above him. She tore his flannel shirt open and paused.
“Damn, you have a great body.”
He found the strength to say, “Angie, what the hell?”
“Sorry, sorry.” She ripped the locket from around her neck, took it in the palm of her hand, and pressed it directly into the wound that spread from pec to pec.
Her touch felt like fire, and he yelled out again, over the sound of her voice chanting, chanting, something he couldn’t understand what with the searing pain that ripped through his ribs and down his spine. He thought she was killing him until the pain began to subside. As the pain subsided, though, he noticed Angie weave above him. She suddenly fell, face first, against his healed chest, completely limp.
(Have a happy weekend, everyone! Watch out for headless men on horseback! We’ll finish up parts VI and VII next week. Thanks for reading!)