Hi all, and welcome to another bit of free fiction. Today’s tale concerns the Headless Horseman and takes place under the FASHIONABLE MONSTERS banner. What is “Fashionable Monsters,” you ask? It takes the classic monsters of yesteryear and places them in the present where they attempt – by all accounts – to live normal lives. I have stories about Frankensten (“Frankenstein’s Neighbor”) and Dracula (Dracula’s Biggest Fan) coming up in BENTO BOX, but it’s an expansive universe and there are plenty of tales to tell of monsters we know in settings unfamiliar.
This first story I’ll post (and I will not, of course, post the BENTO stories here, or these stories there) concerns the Headless Horseman. Enjoy!
THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN’S GIRLFRIEND
Created, Written, and Copyright by Mark Bousquet
What makes a monster?
Washington Irving believed monsters were crafted through sleight of hand. In “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” he demonstrates how a skilled, devious hand could combine theatrics and local legends to pray on the weak of mind and win the girl. Abraham Van Brunt was just such a hand, and he scared poor Ichabod Crane out of town and won the hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
Proving once again, I suppose, that romance is for suckers.
Just over two centuries after the setting of Irving’s tale, the Headless Horseman was found deep in the northern Maine woods by a four year old girl named Leann Darby.
Little Leann was on vacation with her mother and father, and it must be said they were horrible parents. Desirous of time alone for carnal relations, they zipped Leann and the family mutt inside their tent and left to fornicate among the firs. When they returned, they found the tent door open and both Leann and Hercules missing.
The Darbys searched frantically for their missing child. Horrible parents though they were, Cody and Tina were not completely heartless. They searched until dark. When it became obvious they needed help, Tina went to find it in the nearest town, while Cody continued his quest straight through until dawn. The local fire and police departments (five men, one woman) were on the search by 8 AM. Locals joined them throughout the day.
Cody Darby’s body was found before his daughter’s.
His head was found the following morning.
Distraught, Tina was brought to town and stayed overnight in the small doctor’s office. Two cops guarded the door.
None of them saw the dawn. When back-up arrived, they found two cops with broken necks. Then they went inside and found Tina Darby sitting in her hospital bed, holding her own severed head in her lap.
It was on fire.
Leann and Hercules were found, unharmed, during lunch that day when they wandered into Central Command, looking for food. Everyone wanted to know where she had been, of course, but all she would say is that the “good man is dead.” The state psychologist examined her multiple times over the following weeks, and Leann gave all of her answers as a sing-song reply: “The good man is dead. The good man has no head. Because the good man is dead.”
When he asked Leann to draw a picture of the “good man,” Leann took some crayons out of a box and drew a headless man lying on the ground in the woods, an image that the state psychologist took to mean that Leann must have stumbled across her father’s decapitated body.
The social services worker wasn’t so certain of that fact, given the preponderance of evidence that Leann had been physically abused on multiple occasions over her four years of life. It was the social worker that ordered Leann remanded into custody of the state instead of going to Cody’s parents, and it was the social worker who placed the child into a foster home in western Illinois.
The Cantellas were good parents and Leann adjusted quickly to her new life. For the next year and a half, nothing unusual or negative happened. Cara and Ken had allowed her to keep Hercules, and they were almost as devastated as Leann when Honey, a vicious neighborhood dog, escaped its yard, forced its way through a loose board in their wooden fence, and tore Hercules to pieces.
Two nights later, Honey was found with her neck broken, each of her legs pulled off, and her intestines draped across the driveway. Her killer was never found, but truth be told, the cops did not put much effort into the search.
They liked Hercules and Leann, too.
When Leann was seven, some older girls began to pick on her at school. They teased her and embarrassed her and when that failed to get a rise out of Leann, they knocked her into a bank of lockers hard enough to cut her forehead. Leann’s parents were justifiably furious and demanded the school take action, but the Principal informed them that until Leann identified who did it, they were powerless.
The beatings continued.
Leann never named her assailants, a fact that the Cantellas attributed to the near certainty that one of the girls was the niece of the school’s Vice Principal. When her tearful mother begged Leann to tell her why she wouldn’t say who was hitting, Leann replied simply and sweetly, “The Good Man will take care of them, mummy.”
“The good man?” Cara asked, looking to a picture of Jesus they had hung in their adopted child’s bedroom. “Do you mean Jesus, baby?”
“Don’t be silly, mommy,” Leann smiled sweetly. “Jesus can’t help me. Only the Good Man can help me. The Good Man always helps me.”
“Who’s the good man, baby?”
“The Good Man is dead,” she sang in a low voice. “The Good Man has no head. Because the Good Man is dead.”
Mrs. Cantella was puzzled and troubled by Leann’s words. Her husband told her not to worry and reminded his wife what Leann had been through before she came to live with them.
Several days later the beatings of Leann stopped when the bodies of three eight year old girls were found stuffed into the trunk of the Vice Principal’s Corolla. Their heads were discovered later that night at the Principal’s house when they were thrown through a side window.
The heads were, of course, on fire.
The heinous act caught the attention of the Illinois State Police and the media, and after several weeks of few returns by the former and wild accusations by the latter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the matter. Six months of tracking every lead came up empty, and when the media had finally run out of suspects to blame and names to drag through the mud, it was as if everyone agreed that they had better things to do and the case was filed as cold.
Leann seemed oblivious, except for the one night, during the news, when she looked up from her math homework and said, “Sillies. They’ll never find the Good Man.”
Time rolled on. Nobody in town picked on her. Three years later she passed her tenth birthday, and two years after that the world celebrated the turning of the millennium. News of the existence of monsters people had previously believed were fictive beings caused a stir, but only one woman thought to connect any of them with Leann. Her superiors at Quantico did not want to hear it and the matter was buried.
In 2005, Leann graduated high school, and then left western Illinois to attend the University of Oregon. Neither Cara nor Ken had ever heard her mention “the good man” again, and Ken, who had actually never heard it at all, was hopeful his wife would finally let it go. Leann had grown up to be an attractive, but aloof young woman, majoring in biology. In the summer between her second and third years, a male professor gave her a B- instead of her justly earned A. Leann was unfazed. Over vegan lasagna, her roommate demanded Leann file a complaint, but Leann demurred, and heard herself say, “The Good Man will take care of it.” She was as clueless as her roommate as to what that actually meant.
But the Good Man did take care of it. Within days the grade was changed. The Professor never told Leann why, and when a young agent from the FBI arrived several weeks later to question him about the change, the shaken professor said only, “I had made a mistake.”
Leann graduated a year early and enrolled immediately in graduate school. As a gift for earning her Ph.D., her parents paid for her to spend three months hiking and camping in the North Cascades National Park in northern Washington state. She traveled alone, eating lots of dried fruit, meat jerky, and fresh fish, and was completely at peace. Reflecting on her life, Leann began to remember details she hadn’t realized she’d forgotten. Her once peaceful dreams became restless and she began to feel a paranoia creep in during the day, convinced someone was watching her. The gun her father had insisted she take came out of her backpack and took up a permanent residence in her coat pocket.
After a string of rainy days, Leann caught a fever and fell asleep without properly stowing her food. She was awoken by a bear rifling through camp and instead of playing still or backing away, her fevered-mind panicked and she fired her gun at the large, brown beast. The bear, who had been content with the turkey jerky, turned its attention to her. She fired until the clip was empty. The bear growled and roared, its face inches from her own.
Panic caused her mind to shut down …
And she remembered what happened back when she was four and had different parents and needed to let Hercules out of the tent to pee and he ran off and she followed him into a cave and saw the large man in a dark coat who didn’t have a head. She remembered screaming and slipping on wet rock and falling and crying and how the scary man turned out to not be so scary, how he gave her fish and played with Hercules and let her sleep in his coat at night and how he always seemed sad when his body turned in the direction of a saddle in need of a horse and how he wrote his name in the mud with a stick.
His name was ABRAHAM.
Leann remembered she felt safe then and knew, somehow, he would always keep her that way.
She remembered the bear and her head came back to the living world, but there was no bear in her face. There was only him … the Good Man, the Headless Man, the Headless Horseman in need of a horse. She felt safe, and knew she would never forget this “guardian monster” ever again.
Leann was thanking him through her sobs and tears when the bullet pierced her heart.
At least, that’s how I like to think it all happened. I had not expected the Horseman to pick Leann up and walk her out of the forest, and I had not expected her to survive. She is in a coma now, and so not a threat, but the beast I created through sorcery and science has outed himself and put my plans at risk. He has returned to hiding, fleeing into the dark, deep Canadian woods, but now people know.
The report of what happened finally reached the desk of an FBI agent who had never let Leann fully leave her radar, and now she tracks my monster alone, using vacation time to hunt Abraham on her own.
It is only a matter of time before I kill her.
Failure in this task would make a fool of me.
And Ichabod Crane will never be anyone’s fool again.
When he’s not giving you fiction for free, Mark Bousquet is also trying to get you to pay for it. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including The Haunting of Kraken Moor (horror), Gunfighter Gothic (weird western), Stuffed Animals for Hire (children lit), Dreamer’s Syndrome (urban fantasy), Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches (cosmic pulp), and Adventures of the Five (children lit). He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.