The next morning was my first day on the job. I thought I’d gotten there early, but minutes after I arrived, kids started pouring in like a tsunami. I was shocked at the number of them. I wonder what it was like for Ichabod, I thought, Having to deal with all these kids. I shook the thoughts away and began teaching. About an hour in, the kids were dead silent, concentrating hard on their work. And that's when I’d heard it, whistling.
I was frozen in place, not a single muscle moved half an inch. Then kids started whistling along, as if they knew the song from somewhere. Suddenly, a realization hit me like a wave. If that truly is Ichabod’s ghost, and the kids know the song, then Ichabod must’ve taught the students this song. I don’t know why, but I had a strong feeling this song meant something more, and that's how I found myself having breakfast with Hans, Ida and Ichabod’s other close friends.
We were sitting in a huge, oval shaped building. It was several yards long and about 12 feet wide. A rectangle shaped table with white cloth draped over the top stretched across most of the building. I sat near the entrance with Ida, Hans, Brouwer and Jansen, and we discussed or theories on what happened to Ichabod.
“Yesterday,” I started, “I heard whistling, while I was teaching.”
“Pure coincidence,” Jansen responded.
“But I’ve never heard the song! All the kids chimed in like it was sung at every event they’ve ever been too!”
“Ichabod had many songs up his sleeves, unknown ones.” Hans stated, “His taste in music was very different. Not very classical, though not very upbeat. Empowering, maybe? Yes, empowering it was.” The table nodded, agreeing with Hans. “Favorite song. Ah, what was it? Something about, trees. Hanging trees, yes. The Hanging Tree. Ichabod wanted that song to passed down, generation to generation. Sad thing he never had kids. Might actually do it, though.”
I nodded, “Man needs to be remembered.” I looked around the table at them,
“Know how it goes?” And that's when someone started singing.
Are you, are you,
coming to the tree?
They strung up a man,
they say who murdered three.
Strange things have happened here,
no stranger would it be,
If we met,
in the Hanging Tree.
The singing came from a beautiful woman with long, wavy red hair. Her dress touched the ground, with a black shawl draped on her shoulders.
“The song goes on and on, beautiful, but would take me forever to sing.” She chuckled, “3 or so minutes, to be precise.”
“Your singing voice is beautiful,” I commented.
“Taught from the best,” She responded.
Her smiled turned into a wide grin, tattooed across her face, “Ichabod.” My eyes must’ve been the size of a head, and my jaw had to be hugging the floor because everyone around started to laugh. “I’ve been listening to your conversation, I think I can help!” Katrina gulped, she was dead serious.
“Help? How?” I asked suspiciously.
“I’ve been doing some thinking myself, to be honest. Ichabod was, uh, very interested in witchcraft. He conducted his own theories and such. He believed there was a way to summon witches, yet without all the supplies.” She looked at all of us before she continued, staring deep into our black, hatred filled souls. Almost judging them for the crimes they’ve forced our human bodies to commit. Though her soul wasn’t so pure either. “Ichabod believed simply singing a witch's favorite song was enough to summon her. Seemed foolish and far too vapid at the time, but perhaps if we sing the Hanging Tree at the scene of his death, he’ll recognize the tune and the method and find us.” She paused one more time before saying, “His ghost, that is.”
“No one knows what happened to him,” The woman in front of me said. Ida, was her name. “He just disappeared.”
Jensen had started talking, “A search led to the bridge, but all that was found was a smashed pumpkin and Ichabod's hat.” A shiver crawled up my spine like a spider, it was terrifying, the story. Brom Bones chuckled and got up, leaving the table. I saw a smile form on Knickerbocker’s face. A strange man he was.
Music danced all around us, few human beings dancing with it.
“It’s said that when dawn comes, and all is quiet, you can only barely hear Ichabod whistling, near the schoolhouse!” Hans looked at me as he said this, I was scared out of my own body.
Knickerbocker looked at all of us and spoke, loud and clear, “You know what I think? I think Brom Bones knows a lot more than he chooses to tell.” He smiled, “Murder is an easy way to get rid of someone.”
“What if it wasn’t murder?” I asked. “We don’t know what happened to him, he could still be alive.” Everyone looked at me, the schoolmaster, and pondered this sudden question that no one had thought of ever before.
“You’re a smart women, you,” Knickerbocker said, “A smart, smart woman.”
I smiled and chuckled, “Well I’d have to be! I’m a schoolmaster, after all.”
At the crime scene of Ichabod's death lay nothing but a smashed pumpkin and Ichabod’s hat, soundlessly sleeping near the slithering river.
“They didn’t take this with them?” I asked, “That’s dumb, they could’ve at least tried to start an investigation.”
Katrina stared at the pumpkin and answered, “The sheriffs here are lazier than rocks.”
“They are boulders and they do what boulders do,” I muttered to myself, angry at the sherrif’s and sorrowful for Ichabod, “They are boulders and boulders do not move.” Katrina smiled.
“Well then, should I start?” She sniffled, I hadn’t even realized she’d been crying, but I nodded my approval instead of trying to comfort her. After she told the story of how she’d declined Ichabods marriage proposal, I couldn’t help but slightly blame her for Ichabods death. After all, we don’t know how Ichabod died. Had she been responsible for Ichabod’s death? No, she couldn’t have been. I shook the thoughts from my head as Katrina started to sing. But after she finished, nothing happened. The sound of a horse's feet punching the ground roared in the distance.
“Wonder what manic is riding out this late,” Katrina mumbled, but chuckling at the same time. But then a frown, followed by worried face spread across her head. It was almost like someone was holding a lantern in front of her face, but then the fire was put out. “Have you heard of the Headless Horseman theory?” Katrina asked.
“Have you at least heard of the Headless Horseman?”
“Well, many say the Headless Horseman was responsible for Ichabod’s death.”
I chuckled, “Yeah right.”
“I don’t believe it either, but who’s to say someone didn’t dress up as him?”
I stiffened, “Where are you going with this?”
“Well, the day after Ichabod's death, all the kids were gathered up on steps to the schoolhouse, when Brouwer waddled up and asked the kids where Ichabod was, Gunpowder had wandered home without him. But the kids said they had no clue. One of the kids joked that the crazy man had locked himself up in the schoolhouse. Another kid knew how to pick a lock, for some reason. So he picked the lock, low and behold, when he opened up the door, I didn’t want his head, just revenge was scribbled on the chalkboard.”
“So people started rumors that it was the Headless Horseman, huh?”
“You remember that Knickerbocker guy?”
“Remember when he said Brom Bones had more to tell about the incident? Something like that.”
“Are you saying what I think you are?”
“Yesterday, before we met at the diner, I was searching Brom Bones closet. He had a Headless Horseman costume!”
“Jesus Christ, Katrina!”
“I dunno who made it for him, but the morning of the day we got married, I heard him mumbling something about not wanting the head!”
“My god, that’s horrible! Brom Bones killed Ichabod!” I was so engulfed in the conversation I hadn’t even realized the sound of the horse getting louder. It whined, and I looked at Katrina with worried eyes. We sat there for many moments, listening for the horse's footsteps, but they had vanished. Nothing, the silence was eerie. It was hardly pitch-black out, but still dark enough that I didn’t see the Headless Horse jump off his horse and grab Katrina. I heard her bloodcurdling scream.
“Katrina?” I shouted, “Katrina!” My eyes slowly adjusted, and I looked up into the moon just in time to see, not only a Headless Horseman, but a headless man with wings. I could see Katrina’s arm flailing wildly, I had no clue what to do! I was terrified, but I couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing. Her arms continued to have millions of seizures. But that's when I realized what she was doing. I started to run down the very edge of the river, but I hadn’t even moved an inch before I tripped and fell in.
The cold water grasped me, dragging me down into the wet abyss. I could feel everything, everywhere laughing at me for tripping. And for some reason, I started to burn with embarrassment, but the water suddenly put the fire out. And now, a lightbulb clicked in my head that electrocuted my entire body. I hadn’t tripped, I had been pulled down and I knew exactly by who, Ichabod. I looked down and there he was, his pale skin and expressionless face seemed to be god-like in the moonlight. He began swimming, up, up, up into the moonlight, and I followed.
We reached the top and crawled like snails onto the dirt. It was wet and muddy, my clothes dirtied as fast as a coyote could run. The cold air hit me like a hard slap against my face, I was freezing. Gasp, after gasp, after gasp, my breath slowly creeped back into my lungs. I begged for more air, for I still couldn’t breath. My lungs arms leaped out of my chest and rapidly began grasping all the air they could get. But then I remembered Katrina. I looked up, and a sudden gunshot rang through the air.
The shot was deafening, I fell back into the river. I let the water pull me down further. I closed my eyes without a single attempt to open them. I slowly sank down, down, down, down, into the deep, deep, deep cold abyss, and it was strangely peaceful.