Headless

A Halloween Tale

By Cass Weldon

5
13 min.
114

Indigo dismounted her motorcycle with carefully unhurried speed. The moon overhead was bright and silvery, and the noise coming from the house was happy—chattering voices and scattered laughter pouring out from golden glowing windows. The autumn night was chilly, but the windows were open, and she had a moment of dread that had nothing to do with her objective—it was going to be stifling in there with all those bodies, all that chatter, even with the windows open.

She fixed a smile on her face—best she blend in, looked like she belonged with the contented partygoers—and adjusted her leather jacket. Then she sauntered up to the open front door.

“Indigo Crane! You’re late!” boomed her host. He was a nice enough man, if a little bit extroverted for her tastes. She had room for exactly one extrovert in her life, even if he hadn’t been himself lately, and old man Tassel was not welcome to take up the position.

She smiled an ingratiating smile, feeling the corners of her face creak with the effort. He was a nice man, but could he be the one she was looking for? “Baltus Tassel, you know very well how hard it is for me to get away from papers and tests and after-school clubs.”

“It’s eight o’clock on a Saturday!” he roared. He never spoke in any softer volume. He clapped her on her thin shoulder, peering up at her from a good head shorter. He smiled, and it lit up his round, jolly face. “But we’re glad you’re here! Come, come, I want you to meet some people.”

This was taking time she didn’t have, time she couldn’t possibly spare, but she let Baltus lead her deeper into the house. She consoled herself—maybe one of these people he wanted her to meet could expound on her lead. Maybe one of them had what she was looking for.

“And this is Katrina, my daughter,” Baltus bellowed. “She’s following in your footsteps, eh? Wants to be a teacher. Isn’t that something?”

Katrina was pretty and charming. Indigo wondered if she really wanted to be a teacher, or if that was just the vocation that could keep her close to her father’s wealth and home. Indigo didn’t blame her—if she’d had the luxury of, well, luxury, she wouldn’t have strayed far either.

And perhaps she was being unjust. She could only base her guesses on what she had heard around town—from her students and from other faculty at the high school. Baltus Tassel was well-respected, and Katrina was very sought-after, and perhaps that bred some resentment.

“It’s nice to meet you, Katrina,” Indigo said, trying to inject some genuine warmth into her smile. “We can always use more good teachers in the world.”

“I’ve got a year left, getting my certificate,” the girl said. She was positively radiating with pride. “Then I’m going to go abroad, I think, teach English for a while.” She leaned in close, whispering conspiratorially, “I can’t wait to get out of this town. It’s beautiful, but I grew up here, and I need some adventuring before I settle down.”

Well. “That’s awesome,” Indigo said, and this time she didn’t have to fake her enthusiasm. Good for Katrina. “I hope everything goes well for you.”

“Thank you!” Katrina said, her smile glittering. Perhaps she was more like her father than people gave her credit for—it wasn’t her fault she was beautiful, but at least she seemed nice, and had Baltus’ good spirits.

But Baltus had more guests he wanted Indigo to network with, so he dragged her away from his daughter and deeper into the house. Was it Indigo’s imagination, or was the mood getting more somber as they left the fringes of the party?

She began listening harder, listening for snatches of conversations that might clue her in as to what was occupying everyone. What she overheard didn’t come as a surprise.

“…found him last night, by the old covered bridge…”

“…dragged out of his car…”

“…motorcycle tracks…”

“…no head. Severed completely, blood everywhere…”

They left the president of the PTA and Baltus leaned in, glancing around the room. His voice was the softest Indigo had ever heard it. “It’s terrible, these murders going on,” he said. “I was lucky anyone wanted to come out this year at all, but this fundraiser is important for the school. I’m sure you understand.”

The Tassels’ annual Harvest Party was indeed an important fundraiser. Indigo had heard all about it since she started teaching last spring. She had been surprised, when the killings started, that Baltus was going ahead with it.

“Of course,” she said. “I think it’s very brave, for everyone to have come out,” she added. Perhaps Baltus knew more than he thought he did. Perhaps a man so central to the town could tell her some of its secrets.

“Well, you know. Us small town-folk, we rally when things get tough. It’s just so horrible what happened to Mike Smith the other night.”

She must not have been hiding her expression very well, because he flinched. “Oh, my dear. I’m so sorry. Have you heard anything about your Boone?”

She shook her head. The lie was so practiced, she didn’t even think about it. “No word from the detectives. I’m not sure they’ve turned anything up since he went missing.”

“That’s terrible. Do they think…do they think the killer—”

“I don’t know,” she said, cutting him off. In a way, the killer had gotten him. “I don’t know much of anything.”

Baltus smiled kindly at her. Too kindly? What did he know? “It’s terrible, my dear, but I hope they find him. I hope they find anything at all.”

Oh, they had. It had been Detective Morales that told her they’d found hex marks at the site of the accident Boone had vanished from. He didn’t know what they were, but Indigo had recognized them eventually. She had become quite an expert in the occult in the last six weeks. Since Boone had…disappeared.

Hex marks in a small town? That meant witch. And where better to suss out a witch than a harvest party under a full moon?

Indigo put on a brave face, and Baltus relaxed a little, slipping back into host mode. “Come, Indigo, let’s enjoy the night while we have it, eh?”

“Of course, Baltus,” she agreed.

He left her some time later, having discharged his duty to introduce her to everyone important at the party. And finally she had her chance.

Indigo watched the partygoers with a keen eye. She watched the PTA president for signs of casting, and she smelled the Lions’ Club members for burnt sage and black salt. But she found nothing. None of the guests were the person she was looking for—and all she wanted was to ask a few questions. What had the witch seen? Was the witch trying to save him, or hurt him when they hexed Boone?

It was drawing close to midnight when she decided to give it up. She was tired, and she had a bit of a ride home. The party showed no signs of winding down, but she needed space to think and plan and figure things out.

She tried to find Baltus, to thank him for a lovely evening, but he was busy elsewhere. So she told Katrina instead, wishing again wishing her good luck with her studies. Katrina smiled and wished her good night, and more seriously, told her to be safe on the roads. It was a layered farewell, and Indigo suppressed a shudder at the implied warning.

Don’t get dragged off your motorcycle and beheaded.

Once she was free of the party, she breathed a little easier. She hadn’t found what she was looking for, but at least she was no longer stuck in the crush. She let the roar of her bike drown out everything else, let the wind blow away her fears and her disappointment and the crushing despair that threatened to overwhelm her. It was just her and the night, rumbling along the road, giving her a moment’s peace to consider what to do next.

A sound pricked at her ears, quiet under the engine of her motorcycle. It sounded almost like…but no, that was impossible. She slowed down, glanced back over her shoulder, and there was a soft glow on the road behind her. A shadowy figure on a motorcycle, limned with moonlight.

It appeared to have no head.

Indigo wasted no time. She urged her bike forward, relieved when she saw the old covered bridge ahead. Mike Smith hadn’t made it, had been caught in his car on the near side, but so far, the killer hadn’t crossed that line. If she could just make it to the bridge…

The bike behind her was gaining, the roar of its engine louder and louder as it drew closer. But the bridge was close—she just had to make it to the other side—she was going over, bumping along on the old road—she heard the thunder of an engine close behind—and there, she was on the other side.

A pale figure reared up in front of her, bathed in the hard glow of her headlight. Indigo swerved, braking hard, her bike threatening to go down but staying upright. She skidded along the road for several yards before coming to a stop.

She knew it was foolish, but she had to check on the idiot out there standing in the road in the middle of the night when a killer was on the loose. She hurried back to the place she had seen the person, shining her phone’s flashlight on the road.

She heard a low chanting just before her light shone on the mysterious figure. She heard it, and she recognized some of the words from her research. She knew it meant nothing good.

And there, standing in the white light of her phone’s flashlight, was Katrina Tassel. She wore all white, her blonde hair streaming loose around her shoulders. She had a bundle in her arms and she crooned over it, murmuring the words of the chant.

“What the hell.” Indigo couldn’t help the words that escaped her lips. Baltus, kind old Baltus’s nice daughter, the architect of Indigo’s personal despair? Her life had been miserable these last six weeks, her life without Boone, her life knowing he was out here somewhere, running amok, searching for the head that had been ripped from his shoulders, the head that was probably right here, in Katrina’s arms, the head that she was using to control him.

“Indigo,” Katrina said, not unpleasantly. “I’m sorry about all this. It’s nothing personal, you know. Boone was a friend of the family’s, you see, and I thought he would like being useful.”

“Useful how?” Indigo managed through gritted teeth. She tried not to fixate on Katrina’s use of the past tense.

“Oh, you know,” Katrina said, waving her hand absently. “Nothing too dramatic. Protecting my father’s interests, really, ensuring I have something to come home to when I get back from my time abroad. I’ve got a position in Romania if I want it, and poor father is nice and everything, but he doesn’t have much of a head for business. The family fortune isn’t what it was, you see, and I am not interested in losing what we have left.”

“So you murdered and enchanted my boyfriend?”

Katrina shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t know you yet, and you seem nice enough, but I needed someone who already trusted me a bit so I could stage the accident.”

“Well thank you for sharing all this with me.” Indigo said bitterly. “I’m sure the police will be very interested to know what you have to say.”

Katrina laughed. “Oh, you think dear old Detective Morales is going to do anything about witchcraft? The poor man’s feet are firmly in this world, without any thought of another. What are you going to tell him, that I ‘murdered and enchanted’ your boyfriend? Good luck with that.”

Katrina had seemed nice enough at the party, but now Indigo was seeing another side. A shrewd, conniving side that had little room for mercy and no patience for fools.

But she hadn’t beaten Indigo yet. Indigo had a last shred of hope, a tender thread from her research. She lunged at Katrina, tackling her to the ground, hard, and after smashing the screaming girl’s head against the pavement a few times, wrestled the bundle away from her. She sprinted back across the bridge, ignoring the shiver of fear as she heard the cursed motorcycle roar to life, the sickly pale headlight blinding her as the poor rider prepared to run her down.

“Stop!” she shouted. “I have what you want!”

She didn’t know if he could understand her, but apparently there was enough of him left because the bike slowed, the engine idling as Boone’s body considered her.

She started a chant of her own, the words coming from a deep place inside her. She wasn’t a witch herself, but she had read what to do. She had read it as a last hope, a last resort in case the impossible happened, and she found him and she found his head.

And tonight it had. She slowly walked toward him, unwrapping the bundle, holding it aloft as she approached the murderous corpse. She settled the head on the shoulders, finishing her chant. A bolt of lightning flashed out of the clear sky, and a rolling peal of thunder that shook her deep in her core.

And there, in the moonlight, was Boone, straddling a motorcycle, blinking at her in awe.

“Indigo?”

His voice was hoarse, but he had a voice, and she shrieked with joy and threw her arms around him.

“Indigo, what the hell just happened?”

She heard screaming from the other side of the bridge, Katrina’s voice calling out curses—literal and metaphorical—and Indigo straddled the bike behind her long-lost lover.

“There’s no time to explain. We have to escape a witch and maybe go on the run? But you’re back,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. She squeezed hard. “You’re back and we can figure the rest of it out as we go.”

“Am I going to have to wear a turtleneck for the rest of my life?” he asked, as he kicked the bike to life.

She laughed, and held on tight, and together they sped into the darkness.

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