I’ve been wanting to do a story combining the ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ with the current headless state of Apple for some time. It wasn’t easy. No matter how I tried, it was hard to imagine Steve Jobs as the cowering Ichabod Crane. As for Billy Bones Brom… well, you must decide for yourself.
If this story seems unduly pessimistic, chock it up the the fact that the last new Mac just left town. The ‘Store Within a Store’ is all very well if a CompUSA happens to be located in your neck of the woods. But here, in our own little backwoods prairie of 150,000 some souls, it’s now Pentium II or bust.
Looks like Topeka has been abandoned to the Pumpkins. Have you?
Old Ichabod shifted his long legs and broke a couple more sticks for the fire. The children gathered close, hugging cups of hot sweet cider to warm their hands.
The air was chilly and the apple harvest well under way. A full moon was rising before the children had finished their share of the day’s work and were ready to settle round the fire. Time now for one of Old Ichabod’s marvelous tales.
“Tell us the one about the Headless Apple,” they cried, the ripe moon overhead begging for monsters afoot.
“Tis a scary tale and true,” warned Old Ich. “Might well frighten the little ones.” The very breath of autumn smelled of apples that night.
“Tell us! Tell us!” cried the little ones, snuggling closer to their big brothers and sisters. “We’re no scaredy-daredy apple heads.”
“Well then”, sighed the old schoolmaster. “It was this way.”
Down in a valley, not far from here, but a long, long time ago, before even you biggest ones were born, there was a beautiful girl named Katrina Van Silica. And in relentless pursuit of her favor, were two very different, but equally smitten, young men. For Katrina was not only beautiful, her father owned most of the land and half of the orchards east of the Silicon River. Whoever won Dear Katrina’s hand would someday be the richest man in the Hollow.
Now Billy ‘Bones’ Brom was a well-built dandy with a modest fortune and a way with the ladies. His prowess in all things material was excelled only by his boasting. His tales of his own brave deeds had thrilled the hearts of many a young lady, though none had touched his heart but the winsome Katrina.
The second contender had, to be honest, little in the way of brawn and less in the way of fortune. And, indeed, he was not over-endowed with bravery. But he had an excellent brain, a good grasp of things musical and, most important to young Katrina, a delicate understanding of the niceties of society.
His name? Oh, it’s been long forgot. And anyway, everyone just called him Master AppleHead for his nose was as large and as red as a ruddy McIntosh.
(“Hush!” scolded one of the older girls as the naughty ones fell into giggles of ‘Apple-head! Apple-head! Who’s a scaredy apple-head?’ At this point, Old Ichabod would often wipe his brow with his handkerchief, letting it fall carelessly across his face. In a somewhat muffled voice, he continued.)
Now Poor AppleHead, and poor he was and daily growing poorer due to the machinations of his rival Billy Bones, went nightly to Katrina’s for he was instructing her in the ways of gentle society in exchange for a bit of food and the chance to gaze soulfully into her eyes.
Billy Bones swore an oath to himself that he would bring about an end to these sappy entertainments and win Katrina, not with manners and musicals, but with manliness and a good helping of muscle.
There were those that professed there was something of the Devil’s own about young Brom, his temper and his penchant for malicious jokes not helping his reputation in polite company. Though in fact, it was a reputation Brom, himself, quite savored and he had no desire to soften its effect. Especially on his tremulous rival.
Our AppleHead had become accustomed to being made the butt of Brom’s many jokes, but found it harder to forgive his propensity to snatch up the best of Ap’s wit in song and poetry twisting each new tidbit into some discordant offering of his own. Dearest Katrina was easily amused by Ap’s accomplishments, but, somehow, the words always seemed to fall best from Brom’s double-dealing lips.
For all that folks spoke of young Brom as the Devil’s own, they were no easier in their minds about young Ap. He was said to be haunted by spirits that caused him to break out into mumbles or snatches of song at the oddest of moments. Being a hardworking, superstitious lot, they did not recognize the Muse of Creativity as the only spirit that ever possessed young Ap. For tales of ghosts and demons were as native to the soils of the Silicon Hollow as the fruits of their bountiful orchards.
“Ah yes,” whispered the Hollow. “There’s a strong smell of witchery about young Master Ap.” How could anyone as plain, as purely spud-ugly as AppleHead, win even an occasional favor from the fair Katrina. Was it Witchcraft? Love potions? Voodoo? Folks finally settled on something they referred to, behind closed doors, as a Reality Distortion Field. And although no one, least of all young Ap, had the foggiest notion what it meant, it seemed to sum things up pretty well.
It was roundabout this time of year, when the apples were safely gathered and the first frosts had touched the pumpkins, that Billy Bones decided to put both his plans for Katrina and for that addlepated, apple-headed schoolmaster into place.
“A contest!”, he decreed. “A treasure hunt and a race between two stout teams to find the largest Apple overlooked in the harvest.” It was an old Hollow tradition. But just to add a little spice, this hunt would be held at midnight on the path that ran past the old churchyard, where, if legend were truth, more than one luckless apple-picker had met his end at the hands of the Headless Horseman.
Just who this Headless Horseman might be, and why he chose to haunt the mist-shrouded paths of Silicon Hollow, none knew. Nor were anxious to find out. The mere thought of such an encounter brought a wild tremble to young Ap’s knees. But then, imagination was always his undoing.
As for Brom, well no one had ever accused him of such a thing as an excess of imagination. No. His best ideas were born secondhand.
And yet… was it the Fates, the Devil or Brom’s own imaginative powers that brought forth the Night of the Headless Apple, a night that talemakers still tell up and down the Silicon River?
(At this point, Old Ich always wiped his brow again and pulled his coat up snug around his neck. He drew the smallest child onto his lap before continuing the story, though whether for her comfort or his own, who could say.)
Katrina and her father held a great gala on the evening of the Hunt. The ladies were always glad of a chance to exchange their drab day dress for the pretty frocks and the long gloves that hid their scratched arms and roughened hands.
But tonight it was the men that shone the brightest. Brom’s brawny, well-to-do followers looked dashing in rich red hunting attire. The lesser men of the village did the best they could with aging finery. Only Ap had to make do with giving his Sunday frock coat and britches an extra brushing.
And the horses. The stables were emptied of even the most aged, least able hacks. And if Ap’s hired pony seemed unusually frisky-nay even flighty-that night, it must have been the full moon and the rich smell of apple in the air.
Ap would gladly have spent the hours until dawn by the warmth of Katrina’s fire, but as the hour before witching struck, the men were summoned to draw straws for the night’s event. But, however long the straws that Ap and the village men drew, Brom’s chums, in their fine red coats, drew longer ones. It was later said that broom straw had been seen tucked into many a red coat sleeve that evening.
When the straws were matched up, Ap found himself at the head of a ragtag bunch riding ragtag animals. And both animals and men would far rather have been safely in bed before the church tower bell struck twelve. Just getting Ap’s team on the road was going to be a night’s work.
But, though Ap was frightened of many things, hard work was not among them. And Katrina was watching.
Brom’s men dashed to their mounts and headed west across the bridge to scour the fields for that last prized Apple. Or maybe not. Oh, they were a devious lot. Ap’s men dithered about, grumbling and shouting at each other, their sway-backed ponies ambling off to pull at the dry grass by the road. Brom’s men were long out of sight before Ap’s team was even mounted.
Now Master AppleHead knew all about fancy words and fine manners, but he knew nothing about people. He was determined to win that race and Katrina in the bargain. The Devil take his trembling legs and that whole bickering bunch. He would win this race if he had to haul them in kit and caboodle all by himself. Katrina was watching.
Master Gilio was finally chosen Head of the Hunt by the ragtag band (well, even they had more sense than to choose the irascible Ap) and eventually the little band was mounted and headed roughly in the same direction. But when they came to the first crossroads, it was déjà vu all over again.
The Apple Hunters came to a halt. Master Gilio beckoned the band South. But Ap, bouncing up and down a few times in his saddle, beckoned them North. “He’s a fool!” cried Ap. “The Apple’s this way. I can smell it!” And such was his reputation for second sight-or was it simply that Reality Distortion Field doing its thing – that the men followed Ap down a dark ravine.
All but Master Gilio who quit on the spot and went home to his wife, more than happy to sit by the fire and let the young fools have at it.
The Apple Hunters, now leaderless, looked to Ap for guidance. Alas, running the show improved neither his temper nor his diplomacy. And by the time they had dragged themselves through the dark ravine, waded their reluctant ponies across an icy brook and then urged them back up the stony hillside, mutiny was rampant.
‘You there!” Ap shouted at one or more of the men named John. “Get on with it or get out!” They got. Gladly. And before long every Tom, Dick and Harry, yea even to the last Marcus, Greg and Sandy, had been tossed off the team. Or simply decided life was too short to spend freezing in poor company.
Suddenly alone, Ap too would have happily quit. Until he remembered Katrina. He gave his knees a wallop, to quiet their trembles, and put his nose to the wind.
There! He could smell it! The Apple of Apples lay just across the next field. His long nose quivered as he picked up the scent, just as Brom had known he would. Ap smacked the horse with his boots for the dash across Pumpkin Acres, a place no Apple Man would care to be found. Pumpkins need a sunny spot and the upstart farmers with their pole bean and pumpkin patches were steadily encroaching on the orchard lands.
“Down with the old orchards”, they cried. “They eat the sun and drink the water. Apples are obsolete. Pumpkins are the way of the future.” Nothing like it would be seen again until cattle met sheep in another time.
(The children huddled closer at the mention of the enemy. Even now, they knew that their mothers fretted for the future of apple dumplings and their fathers for their daily bread should the orchards be lost.)
Ap could hardly keep hold of the reins as he flew across the fields that night. The moon was full and gave just enough light that every bush was a demon reaching, every branch a beckoning arm toward Hell. His mount stumbled and galloped wildly apace as if she had prickles beneath her saddle. As perhaps she did.
Led mostly by his nose, and a strange lover’s instinct, Ap almost forgot the headless horseman in his quest. Suddenly, in full view, bathed in moonlight, was the largest Apple that Ap, or any man, had ever seen. It was atop a vat of steaming cider, near where orchard met field, which might account for Ap’s quivering nostrils. But how to account for his pure apple-headedness. Would this, could this, prize have been missed by Brom and his men?
Heedless, Ap scooped up the Apple and headed back. But, back where? Suddenly, he realized that he was very much alone. And very much lost. And very much afraid. And, off in the distance, he heard the church bells striking twelve.
Every shadow, every night bird, every whisper in his own head told Ap to flee. And flee he did, with only the dying peal of the bells to lead him home. A shower of ghostly dry leaves skittered down his neck and he pulled his head deep into his cloak, trusting to his mount to find their way back across the fields.
But all the while, he clutched that Apple tight beneath his arm. He, Master AppleHead, would win the race and claim the prize. In his heart, that prize was a kiss from Katrina, though she would have been amazed to hear of it.
Ap was nearing the bridge by the old church gate with its moldering bone yard, when he heard hoof beats closing in on him. He shot one fearful look from under his cloak and … there it was! Dressed all in black and not a head in sight!
Terrified, Ap gouged that poor pony in the ribs and the two of them shot across the bridge, straight on through town and plumb out the other side. For all that Ap hollered and whoa’d and dug his heels in the dirt, that pony just kept a-pounding. And fast behind them, a black shadow in the moonlight, came the second rider.
That poor nag didn’t begin to slow until they were well past civilization and any chance of human aid. Then she stopped dead just short of a dark ravine, throwing Ap and his prize headlong into the gully. Ap peered up between the thorns to see his nemesis standing monstrous before him.
Billy Brom threw back his cape and roared down at Poor Ap cowering among the raspberry bushes. And his words, such as they were, have reverberated in the Hollows ever since:
All Doom and Dread
Wet his Bed and Away he fled
Lost his Head and Thought he was dead
Scaredy, Daredy AppleHead
Well, no one ever said that Billy Brom had an original way with words. Though, to be truthful, Ap was feeling uncomfortably wet. But insult and injury were not enough for Billy Boy. His plan called for total humiliation. “Hey, you down there!” Brom snickered. “What’s that lump you’re cradling in your arms?”
Slowly, Ap stared down at the prize clutched to his chest. Its life’s blood was oozing crimson all across his Sunday shirt. The thing was big. It was round. It was red. It was sticky! It was a… a… a painted pumpkin?
Ap leaped from the shrubbery, damp trousers and all, to dash the offending pumpkin against Brom’s saddle. Where it stuck, much like a lost head awaiting its horseman. Brom roared once more with laughter and rode back into town to add his own choice bits to the story of headless demons racing through the village street. And to steal a kiss or two from the feckless Katrina.
Poor Ap. His clothes were soaked and not only with dew. His horse was long gone, though his saddle lay trampled in the mud where it had fallen. Ap pulled off the red-stained rags which were all that remained of his Sunday best and let them fall by the path. Then, wrapped only in his cloak, he struggled to find a way out of the hollow.
Folks were of two minds about Ap’s disappearance. While it was more shivery to think he was carried off by demons, witness the broken saddle and tattered rags, it was more likely that, knowing Ap, he simply turned tail and fled, a story that was widely spread by Bill and his friends to keep Sweet Katrina from useless grieving. Though Ap was all but forgotten in the excitement of the wedding.
Billy and Katrina were married beneath the apple blossoms that spring. Soon after, Billy began to buy up orchard after orchard, only to rip out the ancient apple trees and fill the fields with pumpkins.The old Hollow was never the same again and there are those who have no regrets for the leaving.
(Here, Old Ich often had to stop and wipe his eyes, but whether for the loss of the apples or the loss of his youth, none knew. Perhaps it was simply the rheumy eyes of age. For a new age was, indeed, upon the hollows and the valleys of the Silicon River. It might fairly be called ‘The Age of The Pumpkin’.)
Field folks across the river said it was the modern way. That bigger was better. That Apples were dead and the backward folks of the Silicon backwaters were just too thick to notice.
Already the world outside had Pumpkin Pie for the holidays. And Pumpkin Breads for brunch. At harvest, few still made the old fashioned Apple Dolls from dried fruit and straw. And on autumn evenings the children shuddered to see fat, fierce Pumpkins with ghoulish faces burning by the farmyard gates.
Whatever next? Carmeled Pumpkins at the Fair? Pumpkin Juice for breakfast? Pumpkin Sauce for lunch and Pumpkin Tarts for supper? If Billy had his way the whole world would soon be nothing but an enormous, barren Pumpkin Patch.
Someday, the children feared, they might open their dinner pails to find not good bread, cheese and apples, but bread, cheese and pumpkin heads. Yech! How would small hands manage? The weight. The bloat. The incredible lack of taste.
But Old Ichabod was not quite done. He had a final word as he damped down the fire. “A dark age is upon us,” he said, his voice husky. “And I fear it may grow darker still. But Children, what do we do when the dark days loom?”
“We sing a happy tune!” They cried. And they gathered up the little ones for a rousing chorus of that timeless cheer:
‘Apples Too Forever’Apple Puddin’
You’re the Apple of my Eye
Broiled or Baked
Fresh or Fried
Just can’t Hide that Apple Pride
‘S Apple Pie! Now and For-Ever!
And with that, the children scampered cheerfully through the orchards on their way back home toward a bit of Apple Cobbler before bedtime.
“But Oh … My Dear, Dear Children,” the Old AppleHead whispered as he sent them off singing. “You might be wise to develop some small taste for Pumpkin.”
Susan Howerter (firstname.lastname@example.org)