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Horseman

Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. She had recurring nightmares about the Headless Horseman as a child, and Sleepy Hollow was far too close for comfort. Nowadays, you can find her on Facebook, or get updates and other info here: carpelibris.wordpress.com.
It was a nightmare come to life.
Seriously. One I'd had ever since a misguided kindergarten teacher insisted on reading "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" to a roomful of impressionable tots. An illustrated version. Our young minds just weren't ready for The Headless Horseman.
So: the nightmare. Darkness. Running. My pounding heart, and those relentless hoofbeats behind me. Gallop... gallop... gallop....
And now it was real. I had a rock in my shoe. I could smell the dead leaves being crushed underfoot. And underhoof. Gallop, gallop, gallop....
He was going to catch me. And then...
And then... I was a forty-eight year-old woman, for crying out loud! Enough was enough. I turned and faced my galloping terror.
The black horse reared, hooves flailing inches from my face. The dreaded apparition's head fell to the ground and rolled away. The rest of the dreaded apparition dismounted....
...and crawled about on his hands and knees, feeling blindly for his lost head and sobbing.
"Er, sorry," I said. "Let me give you a hand."
The empty shoulders turned in my direction. "Just the head, Danke," my erstwhile pursuer said. "Well, actually it is a pumpkin. But I feel quite naked without it."
He had a surprisingly pleasant voice. But there was daylight now, enough to see clearly, and hearing a voice while seeing a complete Absence of Head was too unnerving. I busied myself with searching for the lost pumpkinhead instead. Now that I wasn't stumbling around in darkness, I soon found the orange gourd, carved with a Jack-O'-Lantern face. Up close, it showed not a terrifying grimace, but a broad grin. I swear, the thing lit up from inside when he settled it on his neck.
"Ah, that's better! I must thank you for your help! And Schnuki, here-- I must take him home and get him properly rubbed down. Excuse me." He had one foot in the stirrup, as though he wanted to get out of there as fast as he'd come.
"Just a minute, Buster! You don't go chasing me through hither and yon, and nearly giving me a heart attack, then just ride off without an explanation."
"You.... You are not the truant officer?"
"Truant officer? No. I'm a librarian."
"Librarian. Books. I see. Herr Irving has caused me no end of trouble. But I will make amends. Please come with me. My wife has been baking cookies."
My brain stalled. "Cookies? But how... and how are you even talking to me?"
He froze with one foot in the stirrup, and there was a long, long silence.
"Um, Mr. Horseman?"
He shook himself. "Please, call me Heinrich. My librarian friend, do you know the story of the centipede? Someone once asked him which leg he moved first when he walked. Once he tried to think about it, he could not stir a step. Some things it is better not to ask."
He offered to let me ride behind him on Schnuki. I walked alongside instead.
The Headless Horseman's house had a picket fence. And a lilac bush. And a fluffy brown dog barking in the yard. A fluffy, brown, headless dog. I didn't ask how it could be barking.
He led me into the kitchen, which smelled like gingersnaps. The figure bending down to check the oven looked like a perfectly ordinary woman until she straightened up.
Nope, no head. The girl and boy who bounded into the room demanding cookies, and the cat trying in vain to head-butt my ankle, had no heads either.
"Oh!" Mrs. Headless exclaimed. "Heinrich, if I'd known you were bringing home company, I would have picked a fresh pumpkin. This one has wrinkles."
I assured her that I didn't mind.
"My wife, Rose," said the Horseman with obvious pride. And our children, Christian and Caroline. Please, have a cookie."
The gingersnaps were delicious. The kids inhaled about half a dozen each. Possibly literally. The plate emptied every time I turned my back, anyhow.
The kids had a million questions. About everything.
"Have you ever sneezed?"
"What's a booger?"
"Did you ever go to school?"
"Stop bothering our guest, you two!" said their mother, in a tone cheerful enough to brighten a sealed mausoleum. "Go. Outside. Work off some of those cookies."
They went. To play with the dog, it sounded like.
"They want so much to go to school," said my headless host. "And the law says they must. But how to explain...? Even my friends in the army would not look at me, once I lost my head.
"And so Heinrich chases away anyone who might take the children, and the world goes on without us," said Rose.
I munched a cookie and thought. "Maybe I could bring the kids books. Or hook you up with a computer. Or... OH!"
"What's wrong? Are the cookies too hot? Did you burn yourself?"
"No, no... My library has something I really, really want to show you."
Gallop... gallop... gallop....
The Headless Horseman rode through the night. Schnuki's hooves pounded the village street. He was following my minivan.
Heinrich hitched Schnuki to the Library's bike rack, I unlocked the back door, and the whole family (wearing fresh pumpkins for the occasion) followed me inside.
"So many books!" Rose whispered.
"Yes, but this machine here is what's going to change everything. Heinrich, you won't have to chase people off your property anymore." I pointed and grinned. "It's called a 3D printer."
Hard to believe that was ten years ago already. Caroline just graduated from high school last week. Top of her class. With a smiling new head she'd printed just for the occasion.
It was a dream come true.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 16th, 2017


I got over my fear of the Headless Horseman when I had a dream that was basically the first part of this story. (It started with galloping and ended with the headless cat trying to head-butt my leg.) When Esther Friesner heard about it, she commanded me to write the story. How could I refuse? Thank you, Esther!

- Melissa Mead

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