T. E. Hieatt



My plump teacher held out a bowl of candy for the fourth grade students as they thrashed their way into the classroom. I walked past the bowl pretending not to notice, trying to hide in my seat, while the slithering kids spazzed out over the pagan confectioneries, and the crinkling wrappers drove a nail into my forehead. The teacher made a logical choice for the English portion of class by reading a children's adaption of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I realized part way in this story that it was something Dad would not approve of. I listened anyway, and the moving images galloped in my mind with the life and beat of a thousand demon soldiers cresting their wake against my heart like a battle drum.

I looked around at the other incarnates. Some shifted endlessly, some stared around, some half-listened, some doodled, and I could not understand why they were so inattentive. I was in awe of a headless horseman with a flaming pumpkin. And the more she read, the more it was real, and I was there standing at that bridge, a biting wind across my face and the sounds of bare branches rubbing and leaves twisting against each other. A creak on the planks of the bridge and nothing in sight but everything to feel. The horseman was after me. A demon dybbuk looking for a young vessel.

When she concluded, the rest of the holiday party time began. I thought about what would be done as done every yearómake decorations, eat candy, trade cartoon Halloween cardsóbut I had explicit instructions not to partake in these rituals of culture unless it was simply "autumn-themed" as Dad had instructed.

"No masks, witches, monsters, or anything like that. It's demonism. You make those things, it invites demons to influence you. You can make things with leaves, trees, things like that. If there's a party, you ask yourself to be excused. Any problems, you have them call me."

Out came the big box of craft supplies and our teacher cheerfully asked everyone to come up and get supplies to make decorations. The little spazzes ran up in an apish commotion, sounding off squeaks of shoes, chairs, desks, giggles and rustles, again driving another nail through my head. I sat quietly looking out the window waiting for the swarm of them to break up so I could see what the crafts were, and when the great sea parted, there they were, ghosts and ghouls, witches and jack-o-lanterns. A moment of panic hit me, but I got up anyway to face the teacher, while the heap of kids scuttled about.

"Mrs. Loren? I'm not allowed to make these things. It is against my religion."

She looked at me with a look that said I was annoying her yet again with my singular weirdness.

"What can't you make?"

"I can't make anything like witches. Just fall things."

She looked in the box at the pre-printed figures for children to cut out and crayon in, but didn't find anything suitable for me. She suggested I cut out construction paper in the shapes of leaves.

"Ok. What are we doing after we are done?"

"We'll post them around the room while everyone tells about their character."

Panic again, and I realized I just wanted to leave the room now and go to the library. What was I supposed to say about a leaf? Here is my leaf. It came from a forest. The end.

"May I go the library instead. I don't think I am allowed to do that."

So I embellished a bit to get out of there. I had learned to turn a religious excuse to my advantage to get out of these situations where I knew I'd be the fool explaining the story of my character, the leaf, as I stood in front of the room while the other children snickered about me.

My teacher's annoyance turned into a glare and with a sigh she reached for a pass and wrote a note on it. She knew enough from past experience not to fight it since Dad would just raise hell anyway.

"You are to go to the library for the remainder of the period and read. Take your things with you."

I hurried back to get my stuff while the other kids were already scrambling around in groups looking at what everyone was making, jabbering away, dropping crayons all over the place, slobbering glue from their bottles. The worst was almost over, now I just had to get out before I was noticed, but that never happened.

"You sick? You going to the nurse?"

"Yeah."

"Hope you feel better!"

And with that, I was out the door into the freedom and peace of the empty hallway with only a janitor in his blue uniform carrying a toolbox down the end of the impossibly long passage. Each series of steps brought me past a new classroom, where merry-making and loud festivities had a cross-action Doppler effect on me. And then the double doors with the jutting, horizontal "LRC" sign came into view. I stood on my tiptoes to peek through the safety glass windows, the kind with chicken wire in them to keep the glass from shattering in some kid's eyeball. Empty. Good.

I walked in and gave the librarian my note. She knew me enough to know why I was there, and gave me a sweet smile stamped into a i-feel-sorry-for-you face, before looking back at her cataloging.

I rounded the counter over to the couches in front of the wall of windows facing a tiny courtyard harboring a few small trees. I plopped my belongings down on the way over and stood looking out at a single tree that was maybe twice my height, observing the colors of the leaves still attached and scanning the grassy area with the ones that had fallen. Their colors vibrant even on a cloudy day due to the rain that had come down not too much earlier.

I turned away and went over to the section with international themed books and picked out one with a cover of an African boy running through the Sahara, then read the first few pages before walking to the other side of the LRC where the non-fiction was and sat at a corner desk by another set of windows. This time the bleak and boring expanse of the field and street in front of the school was before me. Empty for now, but would fill with the traffic of parents and the running of kids going home soon. A few parents began to arrive already, getting first in line to get out first. I thought of Ramona the Pest, "the baddest witch in the world" strutting in the Halloween parade, her rubber boots sloshing through those puddles out there, and wished she was here with me now.

Yes, the girl who sat in the library by herself. Scouring the shelves, memorizing the Dewey Decimal System, while the rest of the school carried on in fun and festivities. Thanks, Dad. I feel safer now the demons are all out there and not here in the library. Ah, but they were. The angels too. The witches and the scarecrows decorated the walls, and there was the jointed, foldable cardboard banner that said, "Happy Halloween!" I got up and clutched my African book, from which I just learned jambo means "hello" in Swahili, and I stood and stared at the comically demonic, frozen faces on the decorations. I remembered a very recent Saturday in church.

"Halloweeeen, is a siiinful celebraaaation, with pagan roots!"

The visiting pastor regurgitated his headquarters church training to the sheepened crowd that hearkened his verbal violence. I looked over and up at my dad who was nodding along with the occasional whispered, "that's right." I looked around at the backs of heads sitting silently and straight in their chairs, while listening to this Saturday's sermon in a rented-out hall about the upcoming worldly holiday. I looked down at my stupid white dress and black patent mary janes, feeling like a doll creation out of place with myself and the season.

In the car ride home, I looked out the window at the scattering leaves wondering if a witch or monster would run across the road causing the car to crash. I was fascinated with the otherworlds and since I began to see spirits on my own, without having partaken of the syncretic, Pagan-Christian traditions, how is it that these spirits appeared to me? Dad's answer would be that it was Satan tempting me to believe I had powers that only God could have. I didn't dare tell him I saw these things. It would mean in his mind he was right and somehow I had sinned to cause it.

I decided to look for Sleepy Hollow and found a copy of the original. I scanned through the pages noticing how different it was from the version Mrs. Loren had read. "Though he had seen many spectres in this time, and been many more than beset by Satan...." I snapped the book shut and took it to the counter to check out. The librarian smiling again at me, curiously this time, stamped the due date card and handed it back to me.

"No masks, witches, monsters, or anything like that. It's demonism. You make those things, it invites demons to influence you."

I repeated Dad's voice in my head while zoning out at the call numbers on the spines of books, and I realized I had made my way to the folklore non-fiction section. Pretty tame compared to the public library Mom would take me to visit. These weren't the adult-level books I liked, full of historical detail and truths, instead, the children's condensed versions full of pictures and large print and easy sentences. I picked out Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols and looked around to see if anyone saw. I feared the spirit of Dad was looking at me, omnipotent like God, watching and tallying every sinful action I would have to repent for in the final resurrection, but it'd be too late.

I didn't think anyone would see me under a desk, so I walked back over to the field windows and crawled under the heavy wood desk. I noticed bits of dust and crumbs the vacuum couldn't reach, making a perfect line along the wall to a series of cobwebs and dust balls softly moving in the corner from the radiant heater. I opened the book and flipped the pages, stopping at page 32 with an illustration of a witch attached to a pole and fire underneath her. I thought of Dad telling me about the Lake of Fire and how those who don't repent will burn there for all time. Final resurrection. My eyes widened on her and wondered if this is what he meant. I flipped to the front and landed on a full-page illustration of witch revelry. Naked people in masks dancing around a cauldron fire. The adjacent page described them: "As they danced, the witches chanted. Before long, the rhythmic movements, the rhythmic sounds, and the feeling of being at one with their horned god gave them the sense of ecstasy."

I quickly flipped again to another page in the back where the word "horse" caught my gaze, printed in the middle of a drawing of dancing witches.

Horse and hattock,
Horse and go,
Horse and pellatis
Ho, Ho!

I read the lyrical lines over and over again. I thought back to earlier in class during the Headless Horseman story, when I was feeling each and every one of the students' energy. Their headless bodies and their psychic imprints. I felt them all in me at once. I felt my teacher. I felt the grass outside. I moved a tree branch with my mind. Heads rolled off of ignorant innocence, cut off by the Horseman, thumping to the floor and collecting around my desk. The heads stacked themselves by rolling vertically on top of each other until I could no longer see the shiny trails of blood and cerebral fluid they had made on their way over, but I could still hear my teacher's voice. I also lost my head, and my whole body too. I was bigger than any of it, hovering above in third person omnipotence, gazing at the scene of the teacher sitting in a tall chair in front of a mass of headless, spazzing vessels.

I looked back down to the book feeling sick inside. I shouldn't be reading this. I shouldn't have listened to the story. I should have just stayed home today. But I was interrupted from my dissonance by the school's hell bells, marking the end of the period and the end of the school day. Commotion started up out in the hallway. Some kids started into the LRC and I quickly put the books back, got my things and walked fast out of the building into the freedom of that face-tightening fall air. I lived 0.9 miles away from school, which meant I had to walk, since buses only picked up students 1 mile or more away. Mom was at work and Dad was sleeping since he worked 2nd shift, so that meant I always walked.

Once I crossed the field and the main street into the neighborhood, I often took detours on the way home if I thought I could get away with it. I usually had to sprint after my sight-seeing to make up for the time walking around, and was always loaded with a handy excuse once I got to my babysitting neighbor's house, like saying I had to stay after to look for a book in the library.

"No masks, witches, monsters, or anything like that. It's demonism. You make those things, it invites demons to influence you."

I looked up at a house with unadorned tree branches obscuring its front, before a large and horrific snarling face glaring out at me from the picture window came into view as I walked past. I couldn't see what was holding it up so it seemed to float there against the dark inside. Somehow, seeing the curtains pulled back all the way in condensed vertical strips at the window's edges made it all the more frightening. The pit of hell was in there and a demon was alive in a paper cutout. Its eyes followed me as I kept walking down the edge of the quiet, sidewalk-less street.

"No masks, witches, monsters, or anything like that. It's demonism. You make those things, it invites demons to influence you."

Eventually I had to head for home, and began my sprint. Whirring around me I heard in person all the sounds from the Sleepy Hollow story, but no bridge or horseman was anywhere. The spirits breezed through the houses and the streets, while cotton spider webs, corn stalks, pumpkins, witches, brooms, black cats, and free-hanging ghostly effigies chased me with their gaze as I ran. Dad could not say it was the story that did it to me, for I had always sensed the spirits, but the story was a confirmation of the spirit of autumn, the brisk pagan harvest breeze of All Hallows' Eve in me coming alive. Verified existence through the medium of book, and it was this the pastors tried to keep the children from hearingóthe truth of tradition passed down at least a thousand years pulsing a beat in my blood. I'd rather be a martyr burned at the stake, like the drawing in the book, having felt and known this, than die everyday in fear.

***

When my mom came home I rushed over to greet her, making a full leap across the creek, nearly sliding down the wet grass of the bank into the yellow-green water, only to catch myself roughly in a crouched stance rubbing a large grass stain across my knee. With my homework done, I did my chores in lightning speed before escaping back outside again in another sprint to the back of our acre of property at dusk. I looked back at the house. Black inside the windows with no lights on. Mom was alone in that dark and it terrified me to think what else was in there with her. I ran off to the garden and looked at the edges of the yard to the woods that stood with tree nymphs hanging on them. Shadowy figures watching me zoom around the dried-stands of harvested corn, running nowhere but circles, leaping in the air as I tried to fly.

I ducked back in the wide stand of trees and dense brush marking the boundary between our property and the farmer's soybean fields behind us. Leftover from a decade ago inside a tiny five foot clearing that opened all the way to the sky was a pit in the ground with a coffee can fitting in it that my brother had made for whatever he was doing back here. I pulled the matches, paper, and cigarette butts stolen from Mom's ashtray out of my pocket. With my back toward the house to hide the glow, I lit a cigarette and smoked the remaining puffs before throwing it into the can with the paper. As I smoked end after end, I tossed dry leaves and sticks in the can, watching the burning and smelling it against the air around me.

Horse and hattock,
Horse and go,
Horse and pellatis
Ho, Ho!

I thought of the book's rhyme again, and the words charged through me like the night that had settled in. I burned no more since the firelight could be seen now and let the embers smolder at the bottom. The quickening cold sank in and the nocturnal creatures rustled about, their sounds making the new night alive with hidden vitality.

I stood up and took off my coat followed by the rest of my clothes. I had always hated them and Mom could never keep them on me when I was younger. I was born naked and wanted to stay that way. I grabbed a stick and while standing astride where I had been sitting, thrust it to the sky that was framed by the brush and trees into a circular portal where I could funnel my thoughts and visions up to.

Horse and hattock,
Horse and go,

I heard Mom call for me from the house.

Horse and pellatis
Ho, Ho!

I heard the creaking of wood and the clip-clop of hooves.

Horse and hattock,
Horse and go,
Horse and pellatis
Ho, Ho!

I looked around and a green hue was everywhere. I lowered my stick. Mom had given up and gone back in like she always does, but a vigorous wind took her voice's place and shook the brush around me. Its cold, biting teeth cutting my skin. I hurried up and put my clothes back on, putting the matches back in my pocket when the sound of forced breath stopped me dead.

Snort, snort. Stamp, stamp.

I realized they were the hoof beats of a horse that was close by. I was afraid to leave the brush for the noise I would make, exposing where I was. Somewhere out in that soybean field with only a veil of roughage separating us was the Horseman. Somehow he had heard me dreaming of him in class, reading the rhyme in the book, chanting it in my head out here.

I dropped down to my knees and began to crawl through a rabbit tunnel that opened up to our yard. At the end, I leapt up and made my final sprint of the day back to the house. When I made it to the other side of the acre, I stopped at the catalpa tree and pressed my back into the side facing the house, softening my heavy breathing for fear of being heard. I could see light in the house now. Mom with a frustrated look on her face, milling around the kitchen. All was quiet but I felt a presence larger than the acre behind me. I was afraid to move from where I was hidden. Afraid if I did, the Horseman would overtake me on the horse, reach down and grab my long hair, ripping my shredded head away, leaving a spurting corpse for my mom to find. I had to go in though. Mom would come out again soon yelling for me and I didn't want her beheaded too. I turned 360∫ in place and put my hands on the bark. Holding on as if I might fall, I very carefully looked around the edge to the back of the property, and as I did, the orange eyes of the Horseman floated by his side atop the horse, standing motionless in front of the rabbit tunnel I had bolted out of, before fading away back to the night.

I turned quicker than anything and ran to the back door. Galloping hoof beats behind me in sync with the beat in my heart, driving a pagan rhythm, the wind licking the cold sweat off of me until I made it inside, shutting the door and crouching down against it, frozen, staring out at the window above me in the darkened mud room, waiting for the Horseman to appear.

#

T. E. Hieatt loves conquering limitations by kicking at the walls between her writing, art, music, and entrepreneurship. She's chasing more degrees in history and graphic information technology, and is quite fond of drinking craft beer in taverns with good food.

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The views and opinions expressed throughout belong to the individual artists and may or may not coincide with those of the other artists (or editors) represented within the magazine. Hobo Camp Review supports a free-for-all atmosphere of artistic expression, so enjoy the poetry, fiction, opinions, and artwork within, read with an open mind, and comment wisely. Thanks for stopping by the Camp!