Fictionby Dustin Michael
EDUCATION IN THE AMERICAN COLONIAL PERIOD wasn't what it is today, certainly, but the Headless Horseman was no nincompoop. He picked up all kinds of useful skills and trades during his tour with the Hessian forces, before the fighting intensified and that whole dreadful head-blown-off incident happened. There were endless blue days of tying knots, digging holes, marching, sharpening weapons, setting fires, and carving designs into squashes during that last autumn in upstate New York, outside Westchester, when it got so cold one night all the pumpkins froze solid. It was his idea that frozen pumpkins would do just as much damage as big lead balls when fired from a cannon: Let's save the cannonballs for summer, he'd told the commander.
No surprise to find out it wasn't a cannonball that blew off his head as if it'd been foam on biergarten pilsner. He'd had a good idea, although his head still would have been blown off had it been a cannonball instead of a pumpkin. And no, his ingenuity hadn't won the war for the British or even that particular battle for the Hessians, but it had saved the Hessians some cannonballs, and besides, at least kids studying American history nowadays know what Hessians were. Maybe that's because there were more cannonballs to go around for use by Hessians of slightly later battles, ensuring they'd stick around long enough to earn footnote status in a ninth grade textbook. Who's to say? Not the Headless Horseman, because he has a pumpkin for a head and nobody can talk out of a carved pumpkin mouth.
About the only things one can do with a pumpkin mouth are scare people and play the fife. Both were things he got pretty good at during the war, even before his head was gone. His fifing drew crowds, not just of his comrades but of colonists, who'd stand in tight circles listening to his soaring trills, watching his nimble German fingers flutter finch-like over his instrument, which glittered in the soft orange light of their burning homes. He imagined them soothed by his music, a dab of sweet with the bitter. Had he been able to speak English with his real mouth, he might have thanked them for listening instead of settling on unsettling the settlers by pausing between concertos to hold two fingers in a V to his chapping lips and dart his tongue at their daughters.
Although he could make it happen by plugging the pumpkin's eye and nose holes and most of the jagged-toothed mouth hole with leather, the Headless Horseman hadn't fifed in a long time. He kind of gave it up after that business at Sleepy Hollow by the bridge with Ichabod Crane and Bram Bones. That was the O.J. Simpson ordeal of that time—huge mess, very confusing, especially after the media frenzy; it was enough to make the town crier hoarse. There was all this speculation, a bunch of theories and rumors. By the end, even the Headless Horseman wasn't sure if he'd killed the guy—but he remained high on the glee of replaying the scene, beginning right before the chase, just the way it was written in the story, only adding a lone fife whistling a slow Camille Saint Saens' La Danse Macabre to the creak of the trees, the owls. The moment's sheer perfection was his torment. He couldn't remember killing anybody (and, indeed, wasn't entirely convinced he had) because he'd been swept up in orgasmic ecstasy at another man's horror, and before he'd known, it was over. His steed was slowing to a trot, Bram Bones was galloping back to his party, Bram's pumpkin was smashed at the foot of the bridge. Like a guy in his early 20s who scored a blowjob from two chicks at once, the Headless Horseman had sat there, slouched, spent of suspense, a spirit trapped in eternity with nothing left to look forward to.
He was there, doing something that would have been called reliving—had he been alive while doing it—when a cherry red BMW coupe sped toward the spot where the pumpkin had smashed almost two centuries before. The Headless Horseman stood in repose as the car raced through the ancient woods and their whispering promises that anything not already old never would be. The passengers, four sorority girls heading home for fall break, were young, white, and voluptuous. They names were Mackenzie and Wendi and Bailey and Millie, and there was no remote chance of suspense. Watching the cloud of dust and leaves behind the car as it centipeded down the crumbling colonial road, the Headless Horseman knew, in that hollow Jack O' Lantern of his, that things were going to turn out poorly for these girls, and so did you, dear reader.
* * *
It was Mackenzie's idea to pick the guy up, and it had to be because of the spurs — the girl always had a thing for cowboys, ever since that time in Mazatlan on spring break when she rode the mechanical bull in her thong. She said she knew him—not like, knew him knew him, but knew him, because she used to work at Ichaburger Crane's in Tarrytown during tourist season, and all the historic re-enactors or historical anachronizers or whatever they call themselves would hang out there and hit on her during their breaks.
Did you sleep with him? Wendi asked as the bimmer came to a stop.
Maybe, Mackenzie said. Hard to tell. None of those guys would ever take off the pumpkin during.
So Millie stopped the car, Mackenzie got out, Bailey scooted over, the Horseman climbed in, and nobody thought any of that was weird at all, including Wendi, who sat in the passenger seat and sexily sipped her Diet Coke. The car rolled once more into the dusk and some of Wendi's frosted, strawberry blonde hair blew into her face so she, like, played with it.
You know, you're like, so lucky you were standing there when we came along, Mackenzie said. I mean like, not every car is full of girls as voluptuous as we are. She danced her fingers across the Horseman's knee and bit her bottom lip. Because he was riding bitch in the backseat of a bimmer, the Headless Horseman looked gi-normous, especially to Wendi and Millie, who peeked at him in the rearview mirror, completely filled with his hunkered shoulders and rotund pumpkin head. The road was dark. Millie turned on the headlights.
We totally are voluptuous, Bailey said, and big-chested. Which was true. The girls were stacked to the gills. Bailey adjusted her breasts with a few tight shakes and wiggles. The pumpkin's scowling face swiveled toward her and the two squash-sized smudge marks on the side window where she'd put them on the glass for a trucker back on the interstate. She shivered, as if a chill had skipped up her back. She giggled tee hee.
So you're from around here, I take it, Mackenzie asked. Of course you are, I mean, like, duh! Do you know Chad?
The carved countenance on the Headless Horseman's bulbous orange orb coldly realigned with the front of the car.
Are you Chad? Mackenzie beamed. You're Chad!
Hi Chad! everybody sang.
Chad, do you remember me? I'm Mackenzie, said Mackenzie. Remember? From Derek's party that one night when Ty fell off the roof? She smiled and bit her bottom lip again, nudged him with her hip. You remember, stud.
I'm Bailey, said Bailey.
I'm Millie, said Millie.
I'm Wendi, said Wendi.
The Headless Horseman made a sound from the hollow of his pumpkin, a deep, despairing sound, less like the sound of wind in a cave and more like the sound an obo would make if its owner kicked it into the bowels of hell from the top of a cliff.
Does it smell too girly in here for you, Chad? Millie inquired. All I can smell is herbal shampoo and conditioner, and vanilla body wash, and Victoria's Secret perfume, and the lotion Wendi, Mackenzie, and Bailey rubbed all up and down my thighs before we left the sorority house, and that's just me. I can put down a window, unless you want to smell me. Do you?
I smell pretty too, Chad. Mackenzie growled, leaning over to brush her head against the pumpkin's nose hole. Here, smell this.
Back off of Chad's pumpkin, Mackenzie! Bailey shouted. The two of them had a cute little fight in the flickering glow of the Headless Horseman's horrifying Jack O' Lantern features. While they smacked at each other in front of him, he reached into his shadowy garments and produced a little flute and a few wads of leather, which he used to plug up his pumpkin holes. Bailey and Mackenzie stopped fighting, the first time they'd resolved their differences in a way that didn't result in them kissing and feeling each other up in many, many moons.
What's Chad doing? Millie whispered, looking in the rearview.
I think he's going to do tricks! Wendi exclaimed.
Yay! they all cheered and clapped.
They were passing the place where the Sleepy Hollow story was set—the creepy woods of the big chase scene. Millie switched to her parking lights and slowed to the pace at which little Ichabod Crane's horse must have crept; it reminded Wendi of Christmas, driving through one of those lights displays. Camille Saint Saens' La Danse Macabre drifted out of the flute. Owls screamed. Dark branches lunged down and raked the car roof. Mackenzie's cell phone rang — Britney Spear's Toxic ringtone.
Hello? Omigod … OMIGOD! I haven't talked to you in like, so long!
Millie flicked on the headlights and sped back up; the Headless Horseman brought the flute away from his pumpkin mouth, slowly. In the rearview, his pumpkin head looked smaller, deflated.
What? No! No, like, whatever, Mackenzie's voice rose. NO! Omigod. Who's over there? Whitney? What's she doing there? Whatever … what-EVER! With who … what … with KYLE? Shut UP! Omigod.
In the passenger seat, Wendi heard a faint ruffling sound she knew had come from Bailey's soft little hand sliding across the thick dark thighs of the Horseman. Mackenzie told whomever she'd call back later.
So, like, that was a really cool song, Chad, Mackenzie cooed, and Wendi heard another sound that could only have been Mackenzie's auburn head nuzzling itself against the ribbed vegetable surface of a very large orange squash.
Chad, your intensely scary flute song like, did something to me, Bailey said.
Me too, said Mackenzie.
Me too, said Millie. Somebody else drive.
Holding her Diet Coke with trembling hands, Wendi was ready to rock. There was something about the way the Headless Horseman didn't seem to want it that made her want to give it to him. Bad. The Horseman tucked away the flute, reached up, and unclogged his facial holes. The hellfire glow lit the bimmer's interior like a candlelit dinner. Tongues of yellow flame darted where fistfuls of seeds and stringy orange goop once have been. Wendi's sorority girl heart thundered like charging horses. Her Diet Coke spilled.
I'm gonna turn that frown upside down, you, she breathed.
Oh, I'm so pulling over, Millie quivered as Wendi unbuckled, spun, and dove over the center console. Mackenzie and Bailey were already down.
* * *
Opinions vary as to what occurred on the old carriage road through Sleepy Hollow that night. Some say an ancient spell was broken. Others say a local tour guide and historic anachronist named Chad did what most historic anachronists only rub off about. For certain, four voluptuous sorority girls returned to their families for a fall break they would long describe as ''so-so,'' one that reinforced for each of them the idea that there is ''like, no freaking way'' any of them could ever live at home again. Chad quit his tour guide job and gave up historic anachronizing entirely, although some attribute both decisions to his long-awaited purchase of a PlayStation II. No one ever reported any strange sightings in Sleepy Hollow from thence forth, and no trace of the Headless Horseman's departure was ever found other than, lying on the ground among the dead brown leaves, four elastic ponytail holders in a pool of what some insist was Diet Coke.