The Tale of THE HEADLESS HUNTSMAN by Lizzie Hockin. It was Halloween night.
THE HEADLESS HUNTSMAN
by Lizzie Hockin
Jimmy tossed and turned in the itchy, uncomfortable bed, grunting and groaning. The bobbly covering scratched his skin, and made him itch even more. It didn’t help that stifling hot air from the chimney breast seeped through cracks and snaked its way under the blanket to Jimmy, giving a headache and making him sweat.
In the end, he could take it no more. He thrust off the duvet and climbed out of bed. Slightly drowsy, he picked his way across the creaky, ancient floorboards to the two twin wood-panelled windows on the opposite side of the room. He fiddled with the latch, then threw them open, the icy Autumn night air a shock against his sweaty face. He gasped in the cool air, his eyes closed.
He was about to pad back to bed when a sight that made his blood run cold and his heart turn to ice met his eyes. Cold fear gripped his clammy body as he saw the figure at the edge of the woods outside. It wore ripped and dirty seventeenth-century clothes, it rode a ghostly-looking black horse and it had no head. Instead, sitting on top of his neck was a leery, grinning pumpkin with a candle flickering inside.
It waved a mouldy hand at Jimmy, its frilly white shirt sleeve poking out from underneath his coat sleeve. It made a gesture, pretending to pull off its pumpkin head and then pointing at Jimmy. Jimmy was so terrified that his heart stopped. He tried to scream, but his mouth and throat were completely dry, and he felt like his tongue had been tied down so he couldn’t move it. He head to face the facts. His new home he and his family had just moved into, Mayfield Manor, was haunted.
After that, he fainted of fright.
In the morning, Jimmy woke to find himself lying on his back underneath his bedroom window, a painful bump on his head. Groaning with pain, he struggled to his feet. Looking out the window, he remembered last night’s happenings, and why he lay here instead of in his bed. He shuddered, his skin crawling.
But, Jimmy was the kind of boy who liked a good mystery. He vowed there and then to gather as many clues as possible, piece them together, and solve the mystery of Mayfield Manor.
Later on, at noon, Jimmy was outside near the edge of the woods, clue-hunting. His hunt was completely fruitless. But, a flame of hope was kindled when Percy, the most Senior and Elderly gardener, ambled into view. If anyone knows about something like this, it’s Percy! though Jimmy.
‘Percy, Percy! Can I talk to you for a second?’
‘What, what is it, boy? I’ve got petunias to tend, if you don’t mind!’
‘Well, I was wondering, could you maybe shed some light on the mystery of a ghost-phantom thingy who comes here at night who only has a pumpkin for a head?’
Percy looked blank for a second, and then sighed. Sitting down on an upturned bucket, he said ‘Let me tell you a story, boy…….
‘Many years ago, in the 1700s, there lived an ambitious and big-headed young man named Richard Mayfield, who came from an ordinary middle class family. But, Richard was not content with being middle class. He wanted to make Mayfield a big name that people respected, and so, at the tender age of eighteen, he left home.
‘He made money selling game he shot while hunting in the wild forests of the countryside, as he had always had a very good aim. Eventually, after many years, he finally had enough money to be called ‘wealthy’.
The first thing he did when he became wealthy was select a lovely rural spot right next to a game-filled woods, where he erected his stately but slightly small home, Mayfield Manor.
‘He became renowned for his hunting skills and the amount of game in his woods. Men from all over the country came to hunt in his woods, but he couldn’t have them all coming at random times, so every year on All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), he invited all the men for a big hunt in which they would try and kill as much game as possible, it didn’t matter, Richard could buy some more game in the spring.
‘But, behind the scenes, the weight of feeding, raising, maintaining and protecting from poachers all the hundreds of game animals in the woods rested on the shoulders of the Gamekeeper, named Sebastian. Sebastian had a wife and many children, but they were extremely poor, almost literally penniless. Sebastian always worked so hard in front of Richard that when he went home at twilight, he was laid up in bed because every bone, muscle and fibre in his body felt strained, weak and achy. And he worked this hard so Richard would increase his pay, but when Richard always ignored him, no matter how hard he worked, it began to anger Sebastian……
‘Another thing Richard was renowned for were his handsome looks. He had long, curly golden locks, turquoise-blue eyes, skin of just the right shade and a rosebud mouth. He could immediately get what he wanted by simply showing his face!
‘One night on the annual Halloween Hunt, though, Richard and his horse decided to stray away from the others, and catch some game by himself to show off. But, as he rode further and further into the dark, misty woods, a yellow moon the only light, he began to feel as if he wasn’t alone, as if someone was following him, so he stopped his horse slowed right down to a snail pace.
‘Sebastian sneaked in front of Richard and hid behind a tree, axe clutched to his chest.
As Richard rode past the tree, Sebastian swung the axe, and with a ‘THWACK!’, Richard’s head was cut cleanly off. The other men hunting heard Richard’s final scream, and galloped over to find him. Sebastian dropped the axe and ran, on and on. After that night, he and his family were never seen at Mayfield Manor again.
‘Unfortunately, the hunters were too late. All that was left of Richard was a headless body lying in a ditch, and his horse had collapsed of fright. His beautiful head had rolled away somewhere and had disappeared. It was never found.
‘Exactly a year later, on Halloween, a handsome young gardener was tending plants at the edge of the woods, when he heard the muffled sound of hooves. He looked up and saw a great black horse, and sitting astride the horse was a figure in grand clothes with a leery pumpkin for a head. The gardener was traumatized, as the figure made a gesture, pretending to pull off its pumpkin head, and then pointing at him. It closed its hands around the gardener’s neck, and started pulling hard. But, the gardener had enough sense to scream, but by the time the others came, the ghostly figure and its horse were gone.
‘So, they say, every All Hallow’s Eve, dead Richard appears on his dead horse, seeking the handsome and gesturing to them that he wants their head for himself! Just hope it doesn’t happen to you….’ chuckled Percy.
Jimmy felt faint. The ghost had made the deathly gesture at him. It was after his head…..
Fortunately, Jimmy survived, because he searched and found Richard’s skull buried deep in a bog in the woods. He left it out as an offering the following Halloween. No one knows exactly what happened that night, but they do know that in the morning the skull was gone, replaced by a mouldy, ancient pumpkin, and the ghost of Richard Mayfield was never seen again.