Continuing with this week’s theme, I thought I would check in with Gage from the Asylum Tales. Since we’re getting closer to Halloween, I thought I would do a holiday-themed short story about Gage and life in Low Town.
How I Met the Headless Horseman
I generally think the world is a scary enough without needing to embellish stories, particularly those aimed to scare. Isn’t it enough that we’ve got vampires, shapeshifters, and trolls, all of whom can shred a human in the blink of an eye? Do we really need to invent more horrors? Of course, when it comes to Halloween, I guess anything goes.
It was All Hallow’s Eve a few years back and I was sitting in the Cock’s Crow, watching a rugby match on the television while nursing a beer. The bar was quiet as it was near closing and most people had already left for another bar or a costume party. I had no plans was enjoying the quiet after the chaos earlier in the evening.
Dolan stood behind the bar, chatting with some regular while drying some glasses. The minotaur looked relieved that the night was nearly over and the bar was still in one piece. Catching his eye, I held up my empty beer bottle and gave it a little shake. He nodded and dropped the towel he had been holding before reaching into the cooler to get me a fresh beer. I slid to my feet and crossed the short distance to the bar where I set down my empty bottle and picked up the fresh.
“Last call,” he said as he tossed out the empty.
“Sounds good,” I replied. Reaching into my back pocket, I handed Dolan my debit card. “Close out my tab. It’s time to head home.”
Dolan snorted, turning to ring up my three beers. “Yeah. Be careful driving. All the lunatics are out.”
My laughter was trapped in my throat as the front door was thrown open and a large headless man walked in dressed in black with a head tucked under his right arm.
“Hey Lester,” Dolan called as he turned back to hand me my card and receipt. “It’s last call.”
The head sighed and his shoulders slumped as he walked over to the bar. “That’s fine. I just need a quick one before heading home. Give me a single-barrel on the rocks.”
The headless body approached an empty stool a couple down from me at the bar and set the head down on the shining surface before dropping heavily on the stool.
“Damn it, Lester! Head off the bar! I just wiped everything down,” Dolan growled as he turned around with the drink. He slammed it down and picked up his cleaning rag.
The body grabbed the head and placed it on the neck with a practiced ease. The accompanying sucking noise was something I could have done without hearing, but then I had seen and heard worse.
Lester picked up his drink and downed half of it while I focused my attention on my new beer. He sighed again with relief and reached into his pocket, pulling out a ten dollar bill to throw on the bar for Dolan.
The minotaur snatched up the ten and went back to wiping down the counter. “You know, you should talk to Gage,” Dolan drawled, jerking one large horn in my direction as he spoke to the former headless man. “He’s pretty good with them tattoos and potions. I bet he could get your head to stay on.”
The stranger slowly turned his glass with his blunted fingertips and he looked at me. His eyes were brown and surrounded by a web of lines and wrinkles that were accompanied by threads of gray through his brown hair.
“Human?” I asked.
He snorted, straightening on his stool. “Of course! You think I’m some pixie?”
“You’re the first human I’ve ever seen who could remove his head.”
“Yeah,” he grumbled, deflating before my eyes. “Doubt there is too many like me around.”
Lester grabbed his drink and downed the last of it with a small wince. “Yeah, not that I did anything to deserve it. Story is that my great-great-grandfather – or something like that – pissed off a witch. Probably killed her cat. Anyway, she cursed him so that his head would fall off every Halloween. Of course, the curse is hereditary – follows down the line to every first-born son. The curse will leave me and pass on to my son in ten years when he reaches eighteen.”
I nodded, shoving my debit card and receipt in my wallet, while pulling out a business card. My first thought was that he should be grateful the witch didn’t make his other head fall off every Halloween.
“I can’t get rid of the curse, but I think I’ve got a potion and tattoo that could lock your head to your neck,” I said, sliding the Asylum business card across the bar to Lester.
He picked it up and frowned. “Well, I don’t know about getting a tattoo. That’s kind of dangerous, right?”
“No more than you losing your head,” I said as I stood.
“I’ll think about it,” he said and I knew his answer was already “no.”
I shook my head as I pushed away from the bar. With a wave to Dolan, I walked for the door. “At least be sure to tell your son he’s got that option when the time comes.” I called before walking out of the bar.
Lester wasn’t going to come see me because he had found a way to make the curse work for me. Judging by the black attire, he was probably renting himself out for Halloween parties and fake haunted houses. As long as the curse was helping pad his wallet, he didn’t feel the need to have his head permanently affixed to his body.
I just hoped he didn’t lose his head as he made his money.