by Cyrus Cromwell
The following "Sleep Hollow Errata" is from Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales, now available in our bookstore and on Amazon.
“Useless gulleyfuff,” the lanky figure taunted, flanked by the effervescent glow of his companions’ lanterns.
“Looks like Papa bought you a new horse,” he continued. “Too bad that horse is now broken. Expect he’ll have to be put down. Maybe you will too.”
Ichabod took a moment to stare intently at the pumpkin-covered face of the man in the mud.
“I had an idea you’d be after me tonight,” Ichabod said as he crouched at the knees, not more than a few feet from the head of his would-be pursuer. “But you made a mistake. Aside from this ridiculous pumpkin façade I mean.”
Ichabod picked a nearby branch and started peeling chunks of pumpkin away from his pursuer’s face.
“You see, there are two types of people in this world. There are people like you who grow up privileged, with everything handed to them at the wave of a hand. Servants, stable boys, and a steady diet of fairy tales that are so unlike the real world. You start believing that the power you have was somehow due to you by talent and bloodline, not by luck. So you start believing you know the business of reality more so than those of us who have to work hard, and work the struggle day after day. As a commoner, if I walk the markets, I have to watch for pickpockets. If I want to walk an alley from the pub to my meager home, I have to watch for cut-throats. And I have fought many a time for my life, my gold, and my dignity. You, on the other hand, have never had to fight for anything.”
Ichabod stood up and looked at his two companions. One was his age, the other much older. Their faces were grim with the seriousness of the moment. They had sprung the trap. The ropes raised after Ichabod had rode past. His pursuer’s horse had caught the rope just below the knee, and both horse and rider were now badly broken on the ground before them.
Ichabod continued his sermon from a standing position. “If there’s one thing a commoner has over a would-be prince, it is common sense. And one need not think very hard to deduce that if a commoner and a man of privilege desire the love of the same woman, that the commoner will have to work harder, while the man of privilege will exercise every aspect of his advantage, assuming that he has greater claim. Again, not for anything he did, but simply by the luck of his situation.”
Ichabod walked over to the suffering horse. “I am not a man without pity. This horse here suffers on account of your folly. Look at you, dressed up like a bad character in a children’s play, with a pumpkin on your head for God’s sake. Yet this horse is innocent, a victim of your scheme, just as you meant me to be.”
Ichabod pulled out a long knife from underneath his jacket, and with quick strokes through the neck, ended the life of the horse.
“There you have it. Mercy, for a beautiful creature injured and sacrificed for the foolish desires of a noble.”
Ichabod walked back over by his companions. “And foolish is the word to describe you, my privileged pursuer. Only a fool pursues a fight of life and death by choice, and only a worse fool does so alone. You are betrayed in yet more ways than one by too many fictional tales. Perhaps if you had grown up on an actual school yard and in the alleys of town, you would know, never enter a fight alone.”
Ichabod pointed to his left. “This is my cousin.” Ichabod pointed to his right. “This is my father.”
Ichabod paused and stroked his chin. “Where are your defenders, oh pumpkin rider?”
Ichabod scraped away the last of the pumpkin from the bloodied face of his pursuer. “Out here, there are no second chances, there is no mercy card played by status, there is the simple fact of who thought it out better. For you see, my would-be-prince, in stepping so silently and carefully away from the party to pursue me, nobody knows where you are or when you left. So when we push your body and the body of your horse into the river, laden with stones, many questions will be raised, but never answered.”
The body of Ichabod’s pursuer moved scarcely with a slight groan.
“Tonight is Halloween,” said Ichabod. “They say that the doorway between this world and the spirit world is open. Consider that as we help you find your way.”
“Ichabod,” whispered his cousin, “we should take care of the rope and the horse first. Get it out of the roadway.”
Ichabod pursed his lips. “Rightly so. Let’s carry this one over to those bushes then we’ll take care of the horse.”
The other men nodded and the three of them picked up the pumpkin-anointed rider and carried him behind a fallen tree surrounded by overgrown shrubbery.
“You watch him, we’ll take care of the rest of the mess,” suggested Ichabod’s father.
“You are too kind,” replied Ichabod as he took a seat near the groaning body.
His cousin and father went to recover the rope and then proceeded with cutting the horse into pieces. “It’ll be raining later,” observed the cousin, “reckon this blood will be gone by the morning.”
Ichabod’s father grunted as they continued with their work.
Ichabod reached into his coat pocket and pulled forth a pipe. He struck a match and lit it.
“You might rightly be wondering how I knew you’d be coming after me tonight.” Ichabod inhaled of his pipe deeply. “Well, there are two types of people in this world. Those who let the world just have its way with them, and those who take steps to ensure that they come out on top. Now, mind you, I don’t worry about things I can’t control. A big flood could sweep through here this very second and carry us both off to our graves. Whether that be God’s judgement or just a random occurrence, one can’t worry about that.”
Ichabod took another puff and observed the pumpkin fiend.
“One need not be the smartest, or the most handsome, or the most well off, but one can be the most prepared. And that doesn’t even take money, it just takes a knowledge of human nature, and understanding how the world is, not how one wishes it to be to suit their fancy. Now you on the other hand, I would guess, by the extent of that pumpkin, that you are very prone to flights of fancy featuring no reality at all.”
The pumpkin rider groaned again.
“Which returns me to my point of origin,” continued Ichabod. “Do you know how many of your servants and stable workers and hired hands have school-age children?”
Ichabod exhaled a curl of smoke.
“Don’t answer that,” continued Ichabod. “I know you have no clue. But I do. I didn’t even have to pay anyone for information, I just offered to spend extra time tutoring their kids. And some of them even offered to do it for free, just because they hate you. Of course, you being you, you have your own rat in the staff, but everyone knows it. Do you know he was accidentally locked in a store room earlier this evening? Oh yes, he won’t be found till daybreak. He’ll be fine, just not of any use to you. Of course, you’ll be dead, so no one will be of particular use to you, which is a perfect turning of the tables because you’ve been useless for your entire life. Which, I should note, is shortly to be ending. Do you know why we haven’t tossed you in the river yet?”
Ichabod looked up at the moon, passing from behind the clouds once again.
“Physics,” said Ichabod with a sigh. “Turns out, even your accursed body will float if we just toss you in. And we don’t want that. I’d like to take this opportunity to quote Newton—a dead body floating in the river tends to stay floating in the river. Or something to that effect.”
Ichabod emptied the bowl of his pipe into his handkerchief and tucked both carefully back into his coat.
“No need to leave clues lying around, you understand. I will say though, it ought to be fascinating when they find you with a few pumpkin pieces oddly attached. Not sure anyone will know what to make of that. Unless the fish get to you first. But truly, such a strange notion. When my informants told me that you were experimenting with a throwable explosive pumpkin mask, I really had to convince myself that they hadn’t gone completely bonkers. Strange that the powder didn’t go off when you hit the ground. Probably damp from your sweat. Not for the first time tonight, you have been tripped up by simple physics. Well, no worries. It will make for a good story I reckon. I may have to write it myself. Hapless, innocent schoolteacher pursued by an evil ghost with a flaming pumpkin head. Maybe I’ll change the profession or something, but it does have a rather nice ring to it.”
Ichabod looked askance at the pumpkin rider. “Consider that a bright spot in tonight’s turn of events for you. While you will assuredly die tonight, your story may live on in a delightfully spun tale, and thus, in your own way, you may become immortal.”
Ichabod’s father and cousin walked up with the rope and a heavy bulky cloth sack.
“Got the rocks,” his cousin said. “And the horse is gone.”
“Let’s get him bound and wound,” Ichabod replied, “and send him out to the sea.”
The other two men nodded and in a quick few minutes they had the would-be pumpkin pursuer wrapped with rope that also held the rocks close to his body.
“Should we take the pumpkin off of him?” his cousin asked.
“Nah,” replied Ichabod. “When he walks up to the gate for judgement, I want him wearing that silly thing.”
With that, the men shuttered their lanterns, and under the watchful eye of the nearby bridge, the soon to be immortal remains of the pumpkin rider were escorted to the next world.
Many more stories await in Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales.
Cyrus has a deep and abiding love for the way fantasy fiction delivers both author and reader to the depths of their imagination. The forthcoming Dragons of Aeronoth is his debut novel in the genre and the first in the Shadow Dragons Trilogy.
You can visit him at www.cyruscromwell.com.