We live in the Hudson Valley of New York, and my husband's family is from Sleepy Hollow... yup...the same village as in Washington Irving's famous Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Our children were born there as well, so I decided to take the folklore and legends that live in the very earth of our beautiful valley and bring them to life, while weaving true historic fact into the stories.
Hollow's End was released last Halloween, and the long awaited second book TIME TURNER is scheduled for release on November 30th, though it is available for preorder on kindle...
As a taste, here are the first two chapters of TIME TURNER:
Rowen?” A soft knock followed my mother’s voice outside my bedroom door. “Don’t you think it’s time you got up?”
I didn’t answer.
Rolling over, I took the covers with me, peering across the satin edge of my duvet at the clock on my nightstand.
Another knock let me know she didn’t appreciate my plan to sleep in the remaining weeks prior to the official start of my collegiate life, not when summer in the Hudson Valley was chock full of diversions, and that included the quaint river town of Sleepy Hollow. Our village may be best known for the Headless Horseman and Halloween fun, but in the summer the streets came alive with weekends full of history, music, and theater, including an annual jazz festival and large scale productions like Pirates on the Hudson, not to mention boasting the biggest farmers’ market in the county.
“Rowen? Gran is downstairs....”
I closed my eyes, muffling a whispered expletive. Clearly my mother had let me slide long enough.
My door opened a crack. “Are you ignoring me on purpose or is it your plan to spend the rest of this beautiful day in bed?”
“I heard you on your first knock. It’s summertime, Mother.” I rolled onto my back, my arm thrown over my brows to avoid eye contact and the unhappy set to her mouth. “And that means for the first time in ten months I get to sleep in, and after the last eight of those ten, I think I’m entitled.” I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture, so I kept my arm where it was.
Her exaggerated sigh told me she wasn’t having it. “Rowen, no one, least of all me, would dispute this year has been horrific, literally. However, you’ve become a recluse and I won’t allow it.”
“I spend time with Hunter.”
“Yes, but since he left to visit his father in California you’ve barely stepped foot out of your room, let alone out of the house. Thank God he’s on his way back.”
I jerked my arm down from my eyes. “When?”
Mom shrugged, bending to pick up my dirty clothes from the floor. “I talked to his mother this morning. Britt said Hunter and his dad quarreled about him not attending USC or something. Clearly his father wants him to stay out west, but Hunter wants no part of it. The boy called Britt to book him a flight home a.s.a.p.”
I sat up, covers dropping to my lap. “They must have argued after we face-timed last night.” I stared at nothing, chewing on my lower lip. “Did Britt say when he was getting in?” I asked, finally acknowledging my mother with a direct look.
“Tonight. I wrote his flight information on the notepad beside the kitchen phone, along with driving directions to the airport.” A knowing smile tweaked the corner of her mouth. “After a long flight and a fight with his dad, I thought he might like a happy surprise when he lands.”
A full grin, wide enough to match my mother’s, spread across my lips. I threw my legs over the side of my bed and hugged my middle. I missed Hunter so much. He left for the coast the day after we graduated. That was weeks ago. Three weeks to be exact, and one week since the memorial for Talia and Mike.
I glanced at my yearbook still open to the inside spread dedicated in their memory. Pain, fresh and as sharp as ever pierced my heart. Regardless of what anyone said, there was no escaping the guilt gnawing at my insides. They were both dead because of me.
My mother picked up my yearbook and closed the hardcover, stowing it in the top drawer of my nightstand. “Enough.” The word was both a directive and plea. She turned toward me still hugging my middle, but this time for a different reason. The pain in my chest made it hard to breathe.
She shook her head hard. “No, Rowen. It’s time you listen to me. You think I don’t know how hard the memorial was for you? Especially with Hunter away? Talia was one of your best friends. Since her murder you’ve clung to Hunter, and barely at that. You shut everyone out, your grandmother and I included.
“We’re worried, sweetheart. We were there, too, just as involved as you in untangling the warnings behind your bloody visions. What happened was beyond anyone’s control. The root of that evil is gone now, and the collateral damage in its wake is something none of us will ever forget. You can’t bury yourself along with Talia and Mike. If you do, evil wins, and that I can’t allow.”
I didn’t reply. My mother was there when everything unraveled, yet she still didn’t understand. I never told her about the weird conversation I had at Talia’s gravesite with the cemetery caretaker or how he cocked his head, his milky eye color flashing to a candy blue for a split second. I never told anyone, not even Hunter.
The caretaker had called me that when his eyes changed. Itchy Witch was Tyler Cavanaugh’s pet name for me and only because he knew I hated anything attached to my family’s witch roots.
I sighed, lifting my head to the concern in my mother’s eyes. “I’m okay, Mom. Really. Except for Hunter, not one of my friends will ever understand the evil that touched us that night in the cemetery. I know I have to let everyone think Tyler murdered Talia and Mike in a drunken rage, that he assaulted Jenny, but you and I know that’s a lie. I have to listen to their gossip and innuendo when they haven’t a clue what happened.” A rough exhale replaced my sigh, my eyes searching my mother’s face. “You want to know the worst part?”
She looked at me, her expression heavy with care. “Rowen, don’t…”
I waved her off. “I can’t defend him, Mom.” I lifted a hand, letting it drop. “I can’t say a word about what truly occurred that night.”
She stepped toward the bed and laid her hand on my cheek. “I know, baby, but people like their truths in neat, explainable boxes. The alternative scares them too much. It’s much easier to believe Tyler is on the run than an evil entity possessed his body and soul.” Her eyes met mine, her regard soft. “It’s up to you if you want to pit your truth against theirs, but you’re the one who never wants to give Sleepy Hollow any more reason to hate us and our Wiccan ways.”
What if I hate myself?
I dropped my chin. “I know, but...”
Truth or not, images from last Halloween engulfed me. How could I forget the evil that showed its face and flexed its supernatural muscles to keep two hundred years of secrets and lies buried? How Hunter and I discovered the real truth behind the fate of the headless horseman and had finally set his soul to rest?
She slipped her fingers beneath my jaw, lifting my gaze to hers. “Don’t. I know you believe Tyler replaced the Hessian soldier as the wronged spirit in the Old Dutch burial ground. Gran and I have been canvasing every book we know, even making inquiries into some of the darker covens on ways to bring him back.” She shook her head. “Everyone says the same thing. Tyler was taken because blood called to blood and unless blood calls him back, it can’t be done. Even if we had the necessary sacrifice, the spell required is so dark and so inherently evil even Gran won’t touch it, despite her knowledge and control.”
I blinked, realizing I had wrapped myself in my own guilt and grief to the point I couldn’t help anyone, let alone myself. “Guess that makes us the Unwicked Witches of Westchester, huh?”
Mom laughed. “Now that sounds more like my girl.” She took my hand and pulled me from my perch on the end of my bed. “Get cleaned up.” A soft shove and a love tap on my butt directed me toward the bathroom. “When you’re dressed, come downstairs and have something to eat. Gran has an early birthday present for you.”
“Birthday? My birthday isn’t for two months. Unless she’s planning a world cruise or something to give me a break from her spell classes, I don’t want to know.”
My mother picked up my duvet and fluffed it, giving me her you know better than to question Gran expression. The look was so dead-on it was almost comical.
I snorted. “Last year her big surprise was telling me my aura was bleeding. Maybe this year she’ll tell me the stars have aligned and I’m destined to be Miss New York.”
She folded the downy coverlet and draped it over my footboard, surveying the rest of my messy room with a small frown. “Get moving, smarty pants. Ten minutes,” she instructed tapping her wrist.
Mom closed the door behind her and I stretched, one last yawn giving up the ghost on my last vestige of sleep. Gran was up to something. My birthday? I didn’t think so.
Eighteen. It didn’t seem possible, but there it was looming right along with the college dorm shopping I had yet to start. To the casual observer, my future seemed bright. Except for the little hiccup of having two friends die and another ostensibly trapped in a purgatorial no man’s land, I had a lot going for me.
In spite of my heavy grief, I managed to earn a decent scholarship to a good school…and of course, there was Hunter.
A derisive snort left my mouth. Defying evil and setting old wrongs to right while nearly dying in the process makes for quite a bonding experience, either you end up marrow deep in love, or psychotic. Considering the residual nightmares that played behind my lids each time I closed my eyes and my self-imposed seclusion, crazy was still on the table. Mom was right. Holed up in here, I was half way to being Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations.
I stripped and turned on the shower, stepping into the spray, trying not to think about my mother’s ten minute mark. Not that she would hold me to it, but Gran would. Something was up for her to be here on a weekday afternoon, birthday gift or not. Then again, Gran had reasons for everything she did.
I washed my long, dark hair, giving my curly locks an extra shot of conditioner in the lather, rinse, and repeat. July was no one’s friend when it came to frizz. Finishing up, I slicked a quick layer of baby oil gel over my wet skin before reaching for a towel.
I avoided the sink as much as possible these days, choosing instead to brush my teeth in the shower. Most of my friends thought it weird or gross, but they never had visions of blood pouring from their bathroom tap.
After wrapping my hair in a towel, I shrugged on a three-quarter sports bra and a pair of terrycloth shorts before wiping a hand through the steam gathered on my mirror. Condensation dripped in small rivulets down the glass. I peered at myself, running my fingers over my high cheekbones in the streaky reflection. My face was thinner, but with all the sleep I’d forced on myself lately, at least my dark circles were gone.
I took my makeup bag from the drawer, but put it to the side. It was just lunch with Gran, so no need to primp. I’d save the effort for later and towel dried my hair instead, smiling in anticipation of Hunter’s face when he saw me waiting at the end of the gateway.
Dropping the damp towel on the vanity, I lifted my head and pushed the tangled mess from my eyes. A wide toothed comb made fast work of the snarls in my hair as I decided what to do next. I wound my rapidly curling hair and held it with one hand while I searched for my clip.
A tinkle of wind chimes jerked my attention from my narcissism. I had one hand on my head holding my hair and the other flat against the wide midriff band on my top. My stomach flip-flopped because I knew the sound didn’t belong in my bathroom. I pushed the door open and checked my bedroom windows hoping for my own neat, little box of truth. Nope. Both windows were shut tightly and the telltale hum from the central air the only discernable sound.
My hands shook and my stomach clenched against the familiar spike in adrenaline. I pressed my lips together. Collateral damage? Try post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of my life…
Annoyed, I let out a rough exhale through my teeth, dismissing the sound as imagined and turned back to the task of taming my hair.
The wind chimes tinkled again, only this time the sound was accompanied by the scent of smoke. Not a fire and brimstone stench, but a pleasant campfire aroma thick with a sense of peace and woodland solitude. I closed my eyes, ignoring what I knew was not a hallucination.
Whispers called my name, the voices as subtle as a summer breeze.
From the visions that hit months ago, I knew God had nothing to do with it, and I cringed. The lilt from the chimes became frenetic, their pitch increasing in volume and speed. The air around me whipped and blew in a torrent. I covered my ears, my hair dropping to my back as my shoulder muscles bunched against the blasts sending my curls flying around my face, the still wet ends stinging my cheeks.
My back was to the mirror, and I knew whatever or whoever caused this used the reflective glass as its portal.
“Enough! You’ve got my attention, now what do you want?” I shouted, my voice lost to the squall.
The wind stopped and the chimes resumed their fairylike serenade. Whoever or whatever heard me despite its tantrum in a tempest. I turned, swallowing hard against my rising fear.
I thought about Gran. She heeded the cosmos, acknowledging the supernatural play by a different set of rules, yet never discounted her own power and strength of will. I was from the same unbroken line, and the universe needed to remember that as much as I did.
I exhaled the breath caught in my throat.
“Look at me, child…”
I opened my eyes to find a pale blue pair staring back at me from the mirror. My stomach clenched again, but at least I didn’t flinch. I refused to allow myself to be an otherworldly pawn…again.
The eyes were clear but the face obscured, as if peering through smoke or fog. Wisps blurred most of the features, yet I caught a glimpse of steel gray hair poking out from beneath soot-smudged white lace giving the impression my visitor was female. Her eyes crinkled and I knew they did so in an acknowledged smile.
“It is time…”
Layered whispers formed the words and the woman in the mirror turned, her hand beckoning me from the glass, but the vision went dark before I could respond. Different set of rules, remember?
Outside, my mother’s footsteps took the stairs two at a time, and I heard Gran’s voice yelling after her from the kitchen.
“Rowen! Are you all right?” She shoved my bedroom door open and found me standing with my hands clutched over my stomach. She sniffed the air, her eyes scanning me completely before shifting to the mirror. “What happened?”
“I…I don’t know exactly. I think it was a spirit of some kind.”
She stepped in front of me, holding her hand over the mirror. Her gaze narrowing as her fingers closed into her palm.
“Do you smell that?”
I nodded. “There was smoke in the vision.”
Mom frowned. “Downstairs. Now.”
I swallowed. It was clear Mom wanted Gran to weigh in on what she sensed from the glass and a feeling of foreboding crawled over my chest.
Gran scrutinized me, reaching out to push my hair behind my ears. “Tell me exactly what you saw.”
I knew her touch held a dual purpose. She smoothed my fears but at the same time tried to get a bead on whom or what came through. I told her everything, leaving nothing to chance. Sins of omission were never a good idea when dealing with the supernatural, especially with entities strong enough to punch a hole between worlds.
“The spirit beckoned you, and that’s all?”
I nodded, knowing Gran didn’t need me to elaborate. She was simply mulling over the facts, weighing possibilities and probabilities.
She glanced at my mother and then at the calendar on the wall. “Well, Litha is this weekend, but I can’t see how that would help manipulate the veil. It’s not that kind of a sabbat.”
“Litha? I don’t know who is worse, you or Mom. Can’t you just say the summer solstice like everyone else?”
Gran eyed me, but didn’t reply. I had slowly accepted my place as the newest addition to our family’s practitioners of the white arts, but right now I didn’t need another reminder. The visions were enough.
“Whoever came through didn’t give us much to go on.” Gran made a face. “I hate it when they’re cryptic.” She blew out a breath, her complaint more for herself than me or Mom. She eyed me again. “This spirit, did she try to reach through the glass or touch you?”
I shook my head.
Chewing the side of her cheek, Gran repeatedly unfolded and refolded her paper napkin. In her quick, clipped movements I could see the likelihoods examined and discarded. She stopped, lifting her preoccupied gaze from the table. “The spirit called you by name, and all she said was ‘it is time’…and you’re sure there was no underlying sense of menace?”
I paused to run the scene through my head again. “Yes. I’m sure.”
She picked up her iced tea and took a sip. “Perhaps this was nothing more than an awakening. It certainly sounds like one, yet…” She didn’t finish the sentence. Instead she glanced at my mother.
“An awakening?” I echoed, bringing Gran back to the point.
I shifted in my seat, fidgeting with my placemat, uncomfortable with the fact Gran had let her words trail off. The woman was nothing if not definitive, and her passing hesitation left me uneasy.
She nodded. “A metaphysical welcome to the club courtesy of a long line of charmed ancestors.”
A smirk pushed one side of Gran’s mouth up. “Ask your mother.” That smirk turned full on grin and Gran lifted her chin toward my mother’s not so happy expression.
I couldn’t help it, I laughed too. Mom, on the other hand, clearly didn’t appreciate our shared humor and pursed her lips, shooting Gran a dirty look.
“Your mother fell out of bed when your great-great-grandmother Ivy dropped by unexpectedly for an early morning chat.”
My mother’s lips parted, her eyebrows knotted in a dubious frown. “Morning chat? It was three a.m., and I was fast asleep. What did you think would happen? The woman hovered over me like some kind of reaper!” A piqued grumble left her mouth and she rubbed her bare arms. “You could have warned me, you know. I was only sixteen.”
With a laugh Gran reached over and patted my mother’s forearm. “What, and miss the awed panic on your face the next morning?”
“Anne Dederick Ekert, you really are an evil, old woman.”
Gran burst out laughing, giving my mother’s arm a decisive squeeze. “And where would we be if I weren’t? White witches hardly ever get to play in the dark as much as we have this year, and it certainly keeps things interesting.” She turned, her pointed gaze finding me still fidgeting. “Which brings us back to you.”
She nodded, leaning over to reach into an oversized bag on the floor beside her chair. A soft thud followed an aged volume landing in front of her on the kitchen table.
“Like any reflective surface, mirrors are a portal.”
Huh? Mirrors? I blinked at Gran’s seemingly random statement, trying not to look as confused as I felt. “So you’ve said.”
Her raised eyebrow was in direct correlation to my tone, and the single glance sobered my sarcasm.
“Of course, I’ve said it, and it’s something you’ve heard many times, though never paid much heed to until now. You mentioned something wispy, either smoke or fog obscuring the face in the mirror.”
I nodded, not wanting to venture another verbal wrist slap.
“Did you know fire can also be used as a portal? Water vapor is too delicate to hold a vision, but smoke and flame are a different story. Only the most accomplished of us master the art of fire. In fact, it’s how the pious first got the idea to burn witches at the stake.”
Pressure on my knee courtesy of my mother’s slender fingers told me to stop fidgeting, but I couldn’t help it. I wanted to scream for Gran to land her damn plane already and get to the point. When it came to unwelcome visions, my track record proved they came in multiples and that meant another loomed somewhere in my near future.
“Historically, the hearth was the center of every home,” she continued. “Fire was used for everything—warmth, cooking, cleaning—making the use of flame the least suspicious way to apply the art of summoning.”
My ears perked up. Maybe we were getting somewhere after all. “Summoning? I thought fire was used primarily for scrying?”
I earned myself a closed lipped smile of approval. “Very good, Rowen. Certain gifted practitioners found the dancing flames could coax the sight and induce trances, thus giving them power over what they searched for in the physical world, as well as in the ethereal. Constant practice fed their skill, ultimately leading to the ability to breach worlds. It’s a rare talent.”
“So what has this got to do with me?”
With an eager expression on her face, Gran raised one finger. “This is what it has to do with you.” She reached into her bag then withdrew her hand. In her palm was a tiny silver dagger attached to a black chord embroidered with silver thread, its beveled blade the length of my pinky finger.
I had to laugh. The pendulum looked like a prop right out of the Harry Potter series. “Professor McGonagall, unless that blade magically grows another foot, it’s not going to afford much protection in the dark forest.”
“Rowen!” My mother’s soft admonishment left me mumbling an apology. Gran was never random, and guilt washed over me at being my usual bratty self.
Gran winked at my mother and then let the pendulum’s blade drop from her lifted fingers. Its silvered edge suspended just above the bible. “Open the cover to the inside flyleaf,” she instructed.
Sparing a glance for my mother, I turned the fragile book around to face me and carefully lifted the cover. Inside were sheets of vellum, hand stitched into the book’s spine.
Familiae nostrae sanguinem. I sounded out the words. “That sounds like Latin.” I recognized two words: family and blood.
Gran nodded. “The title is a broad reference to our maternal bloodline, yet orchestrated so as not to arouse suspicion. Back in the day, a family such as ours needed to be beyond reproach. This record could have damned our line to dangle from the end of a rope or bound wrist and ankle to a pyre. It lists every powerful female in our family straight up to your mother and me.”
She tapped the page, flashing a proud smile. “I brought this today because after this past year, I think we can safely add your name to the list.”
I snorted. “Facing unseen evil should guarantee a fast pass to the head of the line.”
Mom glanced at Gran and the two shared a moment before my mother’s eyes found mine. “Everyone on that list had to face some sort of challenge, Rowen. Whether it was conquering prejudice or some supernatural menace. In many instances both proved to be just as insidious and evil. Besides skill, it’s a question of courage and resolve that gets your name in the book.”
Gran nodded. “Your mother is right, and yes, you’ve more than demonstrated those qualities despite your teenage bullishness, but you must remember the white arts will not work for you without a humble heart and pure objective. You must keep that covenant, always.” She covered my hand with hers. “Congratulations, sweetheart, you’re the newest hope of our future and possibly most important link to our past this family has seen in many generations.”
Giving my hand one more pat, she turned her attention to the book. “This list dates to our family’s origins in the sixteenth century. Of course, this isn’t the original bible. The first one came from Germany, migrating with our ancestors to the New World early in the eighteenth century. The names have been transcribed over the centuries, with more vellum sewed in as needed. This particular bible dates to the late 1800s.” A single arthritic finger caressed the spine. “Now, let’s see which witch decided to pay you a visit this morning.”
She dangled the pendulum over the thin pages, mindful of how fragile and old their condition. The blade swung in a circular motion, ‘round and ‘round, picking up speed as she moved it slowly down the first page. The names registered in my head as Gran went through the list, but the varied ancestries left me with more questions than answers.
“The names are mixed.”
Mom moved to Gran’s side so she could see as well, her eyes scanning the looping script. “What do you mean? The dates are in perfect order.”
I shook my head, the tip of my index finger tapping the edge of the list. “I don’t mean the names are out of order. I’m referring to the nationalities represented; I knew we were German and Dutch, but this says English, Irish, and even a little Native American.” Impressed, I raised a teasing eyebrow. “Kind of gives us a mixed bag of tricks, huh?”
Mom laughed. “I suppose so.”
“Our ancestors were clever about not staying in one place long enough for anyone to accuse them of witchcraft. In fact, they avoided the hysteria like the plague. As bad as it was here in the late 1600s, it was worse in Europe,” Gran added.
“But our family has been in Sleepy Hollow for generations. There are Ekerts buried in the Old Dutch cemetery and those grave markers have got to be two hundred years old at least.”
The dangling blade hanging from Gran’s hand stopped short, its sharp edges quivering over a single name. Of its own volition, the silver tip jerked downward, sinking point first into the fragile vellum.
Gran’s lips curved into a knowing smile. “You’re right, Rowen, and the reason we’ve been able to make our home here and not been too bothered by the pious populace lies with one woman.” Nimble fingers underscored the impaled name and Gran tapped the vellum for me to read the one word written in faded black ink.
When I looked up, both she and my mother chuckled at the lingering doubt on my face.
“Hulda? As in the Witch of Sleepy Hollow? The same woman the Friends of the Old Dutch Church have listed on their tour?”
The two nodded in unison.
“Oh, she’s very real.” Gran shrugged. “Her story is not well known, even to people who live in Sleepy Hollow. Hulda died on Battle Hill, leading a group of British redcoats away from a contingent of American militia. The exact year is a little hazy, but historians have the date narrowed to somewhere between 1777 and 1780.”
“I thought Battle Hill occurred in White Plains, not Sleepy Hollow.”
“At that time, the Hudson Valley was rampant with combat. The Battle of White Plains is the most famous because Washington lost the city to the British. Small skirmishes were commonplace, especially with each side raiding the other.”
I grinned. “Cowboys and skinners, right? Cowboys being the redcoats who helped themselves to our cattle and skinners being the Americans who stole back what they took.”
“Very good, Rowen. At least they taught you something at that high school.”
I rolled my eyes. “Gee, thanks, Mom.”
Gran waved us both off. “Hulda was a sharpshooter, and history tells how she picked off a good many redcoats before leading them on a wild goose chase. Of course, the British commander at the time wouldn’t accept a woman singe-handedly menacing his troops, so he made it his business to put an end to it and her.”
She turned to the back of the bible, drawing out what looked to be an old newspaper editorial, and from the tight margins and close type, the article was nineteenth century if a day.
“This is a clipping from 1897, shortly after our latest bible was transcribed. All across the continental U.S., papers ran stories celebrating our country’s history. Since Sleepy Hollow was a hot bed at the time of the revolution, one New York paper decided to run stories on the unsung heroes of the war for independence.”
The edges were yellowed and creased, and Gran held the paper out to me with care. My eyes skimmed the document, squinting against the small, aged type.
Those who have navigated the waters of the mighty Hudson or traversed its banks may tell of whispers, echoes from the past haunting this serene landscape once scarred and pitted by revolutionary cannon-fire and blood
The world is loath to find a single voice impotent to raise the founding fathers to his lips, but what of our fledgling nation’s unsung heroes? Those whose names and deeds were lost to time and circumstance?
These lesser known ghosts prowl hail and hearty in the crisp night, and one story sparks fertile in this reporter’s imagination and that is the story of the Witch of Sleepy Hollow.
An unassuming Bohemian, who the townsfolk named Hulda, settled in the hollows of Tarrytown. She arrived without kith or kin in the blood-soaked years of the revolution. Villagers held fast to tenets of the day and gazed upon the stranger with suspicion, ripe for spurious rumor.
The woman lived a solitary existence, gathering herbs and simples in the mill woods, and it was said her cottage rung sweet with the odor of plants a-drying, curatives for ailments and the unsophisticated aches of simple folk.
The Dominee of the Dutch Church labeled the poor wretch a witch, accused of a devilish consortium, her brews a means to harry the poor townsfolk to hell. Yet, in the midst of their prejudice, circumstance rained down the worst of the war. Crime was committed in the name of the king and congress alike, until a dejected people sat in their stripped fields and depleted stores, facing starvation and sickness.
Still, an unobserved hand ministered where want and pain had settled, and though the villagers knew well the identity of their benefactress, fear yet lurked in their hearts.
In the days that passed, men patrolled the highways against thieves set to plunder what remained of their poor stock. Ravaged and suffering, the number of able bodied men dwindled, forcing townswomen to take their place with flint-lock and powder-horn.
Musket in hand, the witch presented herself for this service, but no one would abide her companionship.
Soon after a British troop landed from one of the transports sailing up the Hudson and commenced a march by means of the King’s Highway to the rear of Putnam’s position at Peekskill, New York. As they advanced in daunting array, a volley of gunfire greeted them from behind walls and tree trunks.
Not to be refused, the woman rushed to aide her neighbors, using her musket to great effect. With forces too great to withstand, she drew fire and focus, baiting the British into the forests of Sleepy Hollow. Her bravery gave the militia time to restock munitions and men, yet she was overtaken, her life extinguished in the woods not far from her poor lodge.
When they discovered her crumpled form, the townsmen yet prevaricated, too afraid to approach the body of the witch. At length, guilt and the simple need for human succor trumped their fear and they carried the wretch to her hovel. While there, the men discovered Hulda’s last will, secreted between pages of her bible, her words telling of a small store of gold and possessions to be distributed among the widows whose husbands had fallen in defense of their country.
Newborn respect animated those who saw her fight, avowing that witch or no, the woman earned a right to a Christian burial, despite adamant refusal from the church. The pent up goodwill of the citizenship poured forth changing the reluctant heart of church leaders, and Hulda, the Witch of Sleepy Hollow, is buried close-by the north wall of the old church in a nameless plot.
Nothing is left of her humble solitary habitation but a few stones in the side of an alder covered bank, and a trace path leading to a walled spring, but her deeds, on and off the battlefield, live on in the minds of every man, woman, and child in Sleepy Hollow.
Gran lifted one hand, modeling the large moonstone on her left index finger. Like the emerald on her other hand, the ornate stone was one of her trademarks.
“This ring belonged to Hulda. I’m not entirely sure how our family kept possession of the stone considering its value and the witch’s history, but it has been passed from generation to generation as far back as anyone can remember.”
Awe and curiosity must have warred on my face, because the next thing I knew Gran slid the silver clawed setting from her finger and held the ring out to me. “The heirloom will go to your mother first, but there’s no harm in letting you trying it on.”
With a nod from my mom, I put the clipping down and took the ring from Gran’s hand and held it up to the light. The ornate stone winked in the afternoon sun and imagination or not, I swear one of the silver claws caressed the stone’s smooth surface.
“That’s funny, for a second it looked like…” My sight blurred and indistinct images swam in front of my eyes. I dropped the ring, the metallic clink thick and distant in my ears as its heavy setting clattered to the kitchen table.
Heat sluiced up my arms and chest and sweat formed between my breasts. A loud buzzing deafened my ears, and I cried out, my hands covering either side of my head.
I knew my mother was up in a flash, but Gran’s voice was what came through. “Sea salt and water! Now!”
The buzzing stopped and I was no longer in the kitchen. My mother and grandmother barely shadows on the periphery of my mind.
My sight cleared and I blinked against the rain pelting my face. A light wind blew curls of smoke into the raw chilled air, the white wisps rising from chimneys dotting the far landscape. Dark clouds obscured any trace of sun, and I shivered. This place was devoid of warmth, and my stomach clenched, knowing the bleak feeling came from more than just the foul weather.
Dirty water pooled on either side of the pitted, muddy road where I stood, each wind gust giving rise to the stench of barnyards and chamber pots. My head jerked sideways, pulled by the sound of shouting from a single rough cottage set back from the thoroughfare.
A woman stumbled backward out the cottage threshold, her coarse clothing sullied and torn and her fichu and cap askew on her head and shoulders as though manhandled.
“Please! NO!” she begged, slipping in the uneven sludge and falling to her knees.
A large man in a sweat stained shirt and dark breeches loomed inside the doorway. His ruddy face pinched in anger and his long hair fell in strands on either side of his face, free of the ribbon still tied at the nape of his neck.
“Begone, witch! Murderer! You killed my brother! Away w’ye!”
On her knees, the woman clasped her hands beseeching, “Please, Lars…I’m innocent, I pray!”
His eyes flew wide and his fists clenched at his side. “Pray?” He spat on the stone step. “Satan’s whore! Spin yer lies elsewhere!” He yanked a small bundle from the frightened servant cowering at his side and flung the parcel into the mud. “Take yer yarbs and yer devil’s tools w’ye and go before I’m want of care and call the Dominee to have ye burnt!”
“Mama! NO!” A young girl slipped beneath the man’s arm, her tearstained face puffy as she reached for the woman in the mud, her abject fear and sorrow the antithesis to the happy daisy-chain gracing her fair head “Mama! Please!”
“For the love of God, child! Avert yer eyes lest ye be lost, too! Wife, take her!” He shoved the wailing child behind him into the house, pausing only to rip the moonstone pendant from her small throat.
“No! Genève! Please, Lars! She’s my child! Please… I beg of you…” The woman’s choked sobs rose as she sunk farther into the mud.
My heart clenched and the pain in my chest made it hard to breathe. The woman’s heart was breaking and with each ragged gasp, every ounce of her despair was mine as well.
“Get thyself up and take yer darkness from my door. Yer love for the child spared ye the pyre, but my brother’s child has suffered enough from yer evil!” He hurled the necklace at her suppliant figure, one single daisy caught in the silver clasp. The pendant’s weight landed in the muck with a muted plop. “And keep yer devil’s talisman! Genève will bide a good Christian life even if it’s at the mercy of my fist!”
The door slammed and the woman fell prostrate, her hands clawing the mud in her despair, her cries lost to the rain.