Crane held on as his dad took a sharp right and skidded to a stop. He stared through the front windshield at the two twelve foot tall, wrought iron gates blocking their way. He heard his dad kill the engine and open his door. He Watched him jump out of the car and go straight for the gate latch. It opened.
“Dad, what are you doin’,” Crane yelled from the backseat, “thats a graveyard in there.” The sixteen-year-old opened his door but didn’t get out.
His dad was already inside the gate wandering around headstones looking for something or someone. Fisher, the six-year-old, was struggling with an obstinate seatbelt. Crane had already unbuckled so he reached over and clicked little brother free before easing out of the car. The Fish slid across the seat and hustled to catch up.
“This is not funny, Dad.” Crane shouted as he reached the gate, “we’re not scared.”
“I’m scared,” Fisher whispered from behind.
“Grab hold of my jacket, Fish, Dad’s just being weird.”
Their dad had stopped. He was squatting down before a headstone—ancient, weather-scarred—his fingers tracing across the lichen covered face.
“Guys,” he yelled, “Come over here—you need to see this.”
Crane slipped inside the gates with little brother glued on tight. He picked up his pace adding a touch of swagger as he approached his dad. They were almost on top of him when Ben looked up.
“Know what this is?” He said.
“Not just a grave.” Ben stood and tapped the headstone. “This is the grave of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.”
“Whoa!” Fisher jumped back two feet. “Headless Horseman!”
“Heard of him?” Ben said eyeing his eldest.
“Heck yeah!” Fisher cried, “heck yeah!” He was back on the path jumping up and down gyrating in circles. Crane stayed quiet holding on to his cool.
Ben continued to stare at his teenager. Had to be something left in there of that little boy who loved Halloween, he thought, had to be.
“What about you, Crane. You love ghost stories and this one’s special.”
“They say it’s true. It’s been passed around down here in the hollow for generations. Be good for you to learn some of the local folk lore. Might help you fit in.”
Crane glared at his dad—sore subject. He hadn’t ‘fit in’ at any school he’d ever attended. Pretty sure he wasn’t gonna fit in at this one. It wasn’t his dad’s fault. All the man ever wanted was a happy, well-rounded, high school experience for his son. The kind of football hero, prom king years he had enjoyed back in the day. But Crane wasn’t his dad and fitting in wasn’t his destiny—no matter where they moved. His dad needed to accept that fact. Crane certainly had.
“Daaad, the story.” The Fish was approaching hyper-drive whirling, arms rotating like windmills exerting more energy than a six-year-old should be allowed.
Ben moved over to a three-foot high, moss covered, stone wall just beyond the grave and sat down. Crane and Fisher plopped onto a grassy patch of ground in front. Fallen leaves, dead and dying, surrounded the trio. The sun had turned yellow-orange, spreading its golden glow across the land before bidding farewell. Long, ebony shadows thrust by ancient grave stones striped the lawn like prison bars. Ben couldn’t have ordered a more perfect venue. He smiled, preparing to mesmerize.
“Once upon a time—”
“Seriously, Dad—you’re going with that.”
Sarcasm had long been a family trait. Their mother, the ringleader, had encouraged the banter referring to it as classic English wit. She and the kids used to bat sarcastic quips back and forth across the eating table like helium filled balloons. But this surliness was new—teenager new. Ben was pretty sure he didn’t like it.
“Okay,” he said, “you’ve heard of the Revolutionary War, right.”
Crane may have nodded.
“Well during the Revolutionary War, minor skirmishes took place all over this part of New England. One of them right here where we’re sitting.
The Fish jerked his head left and right, then scootched up closer to his dad.
“Wasn’t a major battle but a truly bloody one. Lots of dead and wounded covered this very field. Somewhere over there,” Ben pointed to a clump of trees fifty feet away, “a soldier was discovered sitting against a half blown away tree stump. From a distance he appeared completely normal, hardly touched by the violent battle just ended. Well except for one small thing. You see his head wasn’t on his shoulders where it should have been, but cradled in his arms like he was holding a baby.”
“Was he dead?” Whispered Fisher.