Embosomed in the gentle forests and river valleys that grace the eastern seaboard of our nation there lies, sequestered in a remote glen, a quiescent and somnolent hamlet still known to its superannuated denizens by the appellation “Patriarch Hollow.” In despite of their inexorable, diurnal confrontations with the exigencies of sublunary affairs, the inhabitants of this isolated and nearly derelict village continue to place their faith in sundry forms of hobgoblinism and preternatural mischief, holding that a baleful contagion of sorts plagues their territory like the effluvium of a malicious spirit.
It so happened that, naught but a few years back, an enterprising but impecunious young scholar accepted domiciliation in this unprepossessing locale for to repay the debts she had incurred to her government as a consequence of her extended formal tutelage. This semi-itinerant pedagogue did essay to instill in the urchins entrusted to her charge a modicum of erudition. True to her cognomen, Chickabod Crane cut a gangly, nigh skeletal figure, belying the fact that her heart dilated whenever she did cogitate upon the prospect of ingesting sweetmeats, for which she suffered an inveterate penchant.
One autumnal eventide, when nature had betasseled herself in the effulgent livery of gold and scarlet, our valiant heroine accepted an invitation to sup at the grand residence of a prominent townsman, availing herself of an opportunity to disport with her pupils’ parents and imbibe the convivial atmosphere. Upon concluding the lusty and illecebrous repast, the coterie of guests repaired forthwith to the parlor, whereupon they did recount with elegiac sentiment the tragical tale of their erstwhile presiding authority. It would seem that in former times (or so it was obtestated to the young Chickabod), their village had been governed by a benevolent but authoritarian patriarch, who, while passing through the churchyard one winter’s evening, had been unexpectedly assailed by a dissolute band of fiendish varlets who savagely deruncinated his head. Much to their collective consternation, the worthy old patriarch did not meet a prompt demise, but instead metamorposed into the image of a chicken and continued to run about headless. It was said that on foreboding moonlit nights, particularly in the vicinity of the old churchyard, one might encounter the Headless Chicken Patriarch still, betaking himself about the village in a wraithlike and ghoulish manner, apparently incognizant of the matter of his absent cranium.
Suspecting some brand of ill-conceived chicanery, our indomitable heroine scoffed openly at her hosts’ capacious credulity, dubitable that a patriarch might transmogrify into a species of fowl and querying how long even a chicken could stumble about headless before finally succumbing to defunction. Stoutly resisting her magniloquent remonstrations, the townspeople assured her of the veracity of their tale and adverted to the parlousness of riding alone after dark, but the worthy pedagogue remained obdurately undeterred.
Shortly thereafter, finding herself somewhat fatigated by the evening’s proceedings, Chickabod bestrode her tremulous mount and endeavored to wend her way back to her makeshift abode adjacent the village’s ramshackle schoolhouse. As she rounded the bend in the road and the old churchyard came into view, the decayed, frangible gravestones casting ghostly shadows in the moonlight, her steed suddenly expectorated a bone-chilling screech, whereupon she did espy the dread poultrical apparition: an oversized, headless chicken of Herculean proportions sallying toward her on a sable mount.
The following morning the townspeople discovered the hapless schoolteacher’s horse blithely cropping the verdure sprouting at the stream’s edge, wherein still floated his mistress’s hat. Although rumors were bruited about that Chickabod Crane was later descried picketing establishments indulging in discriminatory hiring practices, she was never seen near that churchyard again. They say, in those parts, that she learned her lesson well: while he may not preside, neither does the Headless Chicken Patriarch relinquish his right to presiding, haunting the infelicitous village autochthons with the specter of undead headless patriarchy; in the end, Patriarch Hollow is only partially hollow.
- 31 October 2008