Izzie Crane was just this side of miserable. Tarrytown was a sleepy little place. She’d wanted some peace and quiet after divorcing Bob, sure, but this was ridiculous.
Oh well. Her contract at the school was only for a year, and there was no reason to expect that it would be renewed. As much as she disliked the town, so too did the town dislike her.
Well, maybe not all of them. Kat Van Tassel was good fun to hang around with – oh, and the tales that woman could spin!
They met for coffee every Thursday. Kat would give her the latest town gossip and a history lesson on the town that beat anything in Izzie’s textbooks. Sometimes Kat regaled her with recent history – dirt on the parents who seemed to live to make Izzie’s day a nightmare. Other times, the stories Kat told were practically ancient.
The Revolutionary War featured heavily in this area of the state and the way Kat told it, nearly every man that fell in that war had taken up residence in a forested hollow just outside Tarrytown. Izzie loved that spot, and she felt lucky that her small rented cottage was on the other side of it. Besides, the old covered bridge seemed like a lovely place for a romantic stroll, and she told Kat so.
“Sure, you say that now,” Kat laughed. “But just imagine walking home – after midnight, of course – and being stuck in that covered bridge, hemmed in by the restless dead. I haven’t even told you about the Headless Horseman, yet.”
Izzie rolled her eyes. “Kat, everyone has heard of the Headless Horseman. Wasn’t he some Hessian soldier who lost his head to a cannon ball?” She lowered her voice until it was just a whisper. “He roams the night looking for his head and woe to those who stand in his way!”
Kat laughed. “You tell a good story there, Ms. Crane, but I wouldn’t scoff at the undead. The Hessian still hasn’t found his head, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one he fancied.”
Izzie grinned. Kat wasn’t going to give it up, but was part of her charm. It certainly made for entertaining company every Thursday. And, her stories helped Izzie get into the spirit of the holidays.
Halloween was just around the corner. Kat and her boyfriend, Brom, were throwing a costume party, and in an effort to help the town accept Ms. Crane, Izzie was the guest of honor. It was Kat’s idea, of course. Brom had all-but spearheaded the effort to make Izzie’s year of teaching a misery. But, he was devoted to Kat, so when he answered the door to Izzie’s cloaked form, he plastered a smile on his face and let her in.
“Izzie – what are you wearing?”
“I found the horseman’s head,” Izzie said through the cloak she’d rigged to cover her head. She lifted the lid off the pumpkin and pulled out the bottle of wine she’d stored there. “For my hostess.”
Kat shook her head and grinned. “So much for me trying to show you off tonight, Izzie. No one can see you.”
“But think of it this way, Kat – maybe they’ll consider it an honor. Besides, I’m not looking for dates, just a good time.”
“Well, then we’ll have it. Come on, I think I heard the doorbell. Let’s relieve Brom on door duty. I think you should greet the guests.”
Several hours, and several glasses of wine later, the guests were starting to leave. Izzie had delighted Kat by participating in their ghostly tales and revelry. The only one who didn’t seem impressed was Brom, who was now glowering at her from the bar.
Izzie couldn’t decide if he was jealous of her friendship with Kat, or if he was just a bad-tempered grump who disliked outsiders. Regardless, she paid him no mind as she bid her hostess goodbye.
“Be careful, Izzie. Are you sure you won’t let me drive you home?”
“You have had far too many glasses for me to even consider letting you drive me home. Besides, I have the pumpkin. He’ll scare off any ghouls – human or otherwise.”
Kat giggled and waved her off.
The night was cool but Izzie was happy in her cloak. The pumpkin was starting to get heavy in her arms, but she wanted it for her cottage. Besides, it was a talisman of sorts, and as the bridge neared, she irrationally felt it might protect her. It was after midnight.
She was happily recounting the night in her head and didn’t hear the sound of hooves on the pavement until a waft of heated air lifted the hem of her cloak. Dead leaves swirled at her ankles.
Izzie turned and nearly dropped the pumpkin. The black horse snorted inches from her face. She slowly, reluctantly, allowed her eyes to rise to the horses’ rider. The rider was caped, like she, and headless, too. However, the rider was not holding himself still with terror, like she. The tilt of his shoulders seemed confused. He appeared to be regarding her, wondering.
Izzie lifted up the pumpkin.
“A head for you?” she asked. Her voice quavered.
The rider urged his horse forward a few steps. He leaned down. The stench of brimstone made Izzie wrinkle her nose. She closed her eyes tight. She couldn’t outrun a horse, certainly not one with a rider such as this.
The horseman lifted the pumpkin from her hands. She opened her eyes, surprised, and peered out of the gap in her cloak. She watched with fascinated horror as he settled the jack o’lantern on his headless neck and roll his shoulders, as if adjusting the fit. She nearly fainted when the pumpkin-head turned and looked down at her.
“My thanks. It will do for tonight. May I give you a ride home?”
Izzie stared at the hand reaching down, offering to help her onto the horse. She wondered what he would do if she refused. Hell, what would he do if she agreed? She did notice though, that the smell of sulfur was beginning to wane. And his manner had been nice enough. Maybe all the horseman needed was a head . . .
She took his hand. Hadn’t she been complaining to Kat just the other day that nothing exciting happened in Tarrytown?
“So, do you like ghost stories, Ms. Crane?”