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The Haunted Hollow
The Haunted Hollow Gift Shop, located on the first floor of a big yellow house with white shutters, was completely dark when Mrs. McGregor parked the car in front of it.
"I thought Mrs. Vanderhoff was expecting us," Jessie Alden said, peering out the car window.
"She is," said Mrs. McGregor, the Aldens' housekeeper. "I'm not surprised the shop is dark, since it's closed at night, but the lights in the upstairs apartment should be on."
Ten-year-old Violet Alden rolled down the car window and leaned out. "I think there's someone standing on the porch. It looks like a man in a cape, but he's standing very still."
Their dog, Watch, perched on Jessie's lap, began to growl.
The youngest Alden, Benny, asked, "Can I see?" He stuck his head out and then jerked back in, bumping against Violet. "Roll up the window, quick! The man doesn't have a head. It's there on the ground!"
His older brother, Henry, took a flashlight out of the glove compartment. "It's probably some sort of Halloween decoration." He shone the light on the front of the shop. "It's a scarecrow. He's headless, all right, but the thing on the ground is just a carved pumpkin."
Benny moved closer to Jessie. "The town of Sleepy Hollow is already turning out to be spooky."
"There is something strange about that pumpkin head," Violet said. "It's all white."
"Is it a ghost pumpkin?" Benny asked.
"I've seen white pumpkins at farm stands," Jessie told him. "Some people like them because they're unusual."
"I think I like the orange ones better," Benny declared. "No ghost pumpkins for me."
"Are we sure this the right day?" Violet asked. "Maybe Mrs. Vanderhoff thought we were coming a different day."
"No, I just talked to Gretchen on Tuesday. I told her your fall break started this Friday," Mrs. McGregor said. The Aldens' grandfather was away on a business trip, so Mrs. McGregor had brought them to the Hudson River Valley to visit one of her old friends, Mrs. Vanderhoff. The children were excited to see how the town of Sleepy Hollow celebrated Halloween, and they were looking forward to going on one of the new ghost tours run by Mrs. Vanderhoff's daughter.
Henry Alden snapped on Watch's leash and got out of the car with the dog. "Why don't we ring the doorbell?"
The rest of them followed.
"The apartment door is on the side of the building," Mrs. Vanderhoff said.
Before they could ring the bell, a figure carrying a lantern came out of the shadows between the buildings. Violet, who was in front, let out a little squeak of surprise and took a step back.
"Don't be frightened," a woman's voice called. As she came forward, the lantern light showed a woman about Mrs. McGregor's age.
"Gretchen!" Mrs. McGregor exclaimed. "We were worried when we didn't see any lights. Children, this is my dear friend Mrs. Vanderhoff."
Mrs. Vanderhoff said, "I'm delighted to meet you. Now let me guess who is who. I've heard so much about you."
"Guess me first! Please!" Benny raised his hand.
"Hmmm ... well, I know Henry is fourteen years old. Are you Henry?" She smiled when she said this to Benny and the older children knew she was teasing.
"No." Benny laughed. "I'm only six."
"Then you must be Benny, and the taller boy must be Henry."
"You're right!" Benny said. "Can you guess the girls?"
Mrs. Vanderhoff smiled again. "The girls are easier to guess because I've heard Violet likes purple and I see one of you has on a purple sweater."
"I also know you're an artist," Mrs. Vanderhoff continued. "I hope you brought your paints! The Hudson River Valley is a famous spot for painting."
"I did bring them," Violet said. "I would like to try to paint some of the trees with their fall colors."
Mrs. Vanderhoff turned to Violet's sister. "So you must be Jessie," she said, shaking Jessie's hand. "And I'd recognize Watch anywhere." She patted the dog, and the terrier wagged his tail. "I'm sorry it's so dark, but the power is out," she explained.
"The dark made your porch look scary," Benny said.
"We thought the scarecrow was a headless man," Violet added.
Mrs. Vanderhoff looked puzzled. "The scarecrow isn't supposed to be scary. My daughter Annika carved a happy face on the pumpkin head."
"The pumpkin head is on the ground," Jessie said. Henry shone the flashlight so Mrs. Vanderhoff could see it.
"Oh, that's too bad. The pumpkin must have fallen off the scarecrow frame. Annika wouldn't make a headless scarecrow. She doesn't like scary Halloween decorations. We'll fix the scarecrow tomorrow. Now, if you want to bring your suitcases around back, I do have a nice fire going in the fire pit. I also have some hot cider for everyone. My other daughter Margot made some crullers today too. I think you will like those."
"I don't know what crullers are, but they sound good!" Benny said. "I'm hungry."
Mrs. Vanderhoff laughed. "Crullers are a special kind of doughnut dipped in sugar. The recipe has been in my family for generations, ever since the first Dutch settlers came to this area of New York."
"We can't wait to try them," Jessie said as she helped Henry get the suitcases out of the car.
Henry paused to look around. "The power isn't out anywhere else," he said. "That restaurant next door has all its lights on."
Mrs. Vanderhoff sighed. "The restaurant is the reason we don't have electricity. They are doing some repair work. Somehow the power to my property was cut off. It's supposed to be fixed in the morning, but until then, we'll have to rely on flashlights and candles."
A paved path led to a fenced-in backyard. Torches in the ground lit a stone patio with a fire pit in the center. The fire in it blazed away. Jessie thought it looked very cozy, like a little island of light in the dark yard.
"Take a seat," Mrs. Vanderhoff said, motioning to the benches placed around the fire. They all sat down except Watch, who stood next to Henry. The dog sniffed the air and then whined.
"Settle down, Watch," Henry said. He patted the dog, who sat down but continued to look around, his ears alert.
"Who would like hot cider?" Mrs. Vanderhoff asked.
"I would!" Benny said.
"I think we all would," Mrs. McGregor added.
Mrs. Vanderhoff went over to a small table that held a thermos, mugs, a large platter covered with foil, and a cookie jar. As she poured, she explained, "Annika will be back with her ghost-tour guests very soon. They walk most of the way, but then a friend of hers picks them up in an old wagon and brings them back here. When they arrive, everyone sits around the fire for snacks and one last story."
"How is the ghost-tour business going?" Mrs. McGregor asked.
Mrs. Vanderhoff handed a mug of cider to Benny. "Annika is just starting out so it's been a little slow. Her tours are unusual. She's calling them family-friendly ghost walks. So many young children think some parts of Halloween are too scary. She tells interesting stories and shows them some beautiful places in the woods."
"That's a good idea," Violet said. "Sometimes I'm scared of the dark. My friends like Halloween haunted houses, but I don't."
"Annika is hoping some of the people who take the tours will tell their friends," Mrs. Vanderhoff said. "Every little bit of money helps. My poor old house needs so many repairs. We fix one thing just when something else breaks."
"If you have some tools I can use," Henry said, "I'll be happy to fix what I can. I like to fix things."
"Thank you, Henry. I have several small jobs you could do. At least the apartment over the garage where you'll be staying is in good shape, except it doesn't have any power at the moment. If you are too frightened to stay out there, we can all stay inside the main house."
"We'll be fine," Jessie said. "We're used to staying in places without electricity. Our boxcar in the woods didn't have any power."
After their parents died, the Alden children had run away. They had never met their grandfather, but they were afraid of him because they'd heard he was mean. The children had found an abandoned boxcar in the woods and made it their home. When their grandfather found them, they realized he wasn't mean at all. He brought them to his home to live with him and Mrs. MacGregor. He even had the boxcar moved to his backyard.
Mrs. Vanderhoff's cell phone rang. She answered and a serious look appeared on her face. "Oh dear. Margot isn't home, but I'll be there right away." Putting the phone away, she said, "That was Annika. Her friend Isiah didn't show up with the wagon and she can't reach him. I need to go pick up the tour group and bring them back here."
"Will everyone fit in your car?" Mrs. McGregor asked. "I can take my car too."
"Thank you. I was going to have to take two trips," Mrs. Vanderhoff said. "You children will be fine here by yourselves for a little while, won't you?"
"I guess so. You'll be back soon, right?" Benny asked. "It is very dark even with the fire."
Jessie put her arm around him. "We'll be fine," she assured him. But she looked around at the trees with their twisted branches looming over the yard and hoped they wouldn't have to stay alone for too long.
"Have a cruller or a cookie while you're waiting." Mrs. Vanderhoff motioned to the covered platter and the cookie jar. "There are plenty."
After Mrs. Vanderhoff and Mrs. McGregor left, Jessie finished pouring the cider for everyone and asked, "Which do you want, cookies or crullers?" She tried to sound cheerful so the others wouldn't realize she was already getting a little spooked about being in such a dark, strange place.
"I think we should try something new, so I vote for the crullers," Henry said.
Jessie passed them out. "I like the shape of these. They look like someone braided pieces of dough."
"These are yummy," Violet said, biting into hers. "They're so much crunchier that regular doughnuts."
"I like the sugar that's all over them!" Benny said.
"Maybe I can get the recipe from Mrs. Vanderhoff," Jessie said. "I can try to make them."
The wind picked up and the branches of the trees rustled. Most of them had already lost their leaves, but a few fell from a big oak tree and blew onto the patio. Watch leaped up and tried to catch some.
"I'm glad we have a fire." Jessie shivered, buttoning the top button of her coat. "It's chilly." The moving branches of the trees threw shadows on the ground, and they looked like broken skeletons dancing in the circle of light from the fire.
Just then Violet jumped, spilling some of her drink on the ground.
Henry was so startled, he almost dropped his drink too. "Violet! What's wrong?"
"Did you hear that noise?"
A Headless Horseman
Henry said, "I don't hear anything but the wind." He listened and for a moment though he heard a low rumble of thunder coming from down the street. It stopped, and he decided his ears must have been playing tricks on him.
"I don't hear anything either," Jessie said.
Violet was quiet for a moment and then asked, "You didn't hear anything that sounded sort of like an animal snorting, did you?"
Benny made pig noises and then asked, "You mean like that?" Henry and Jessie laughed.
"No, not like that," Violet said. "It's hard to explain. Listen again."
They all sat quietly again, but there were no noises except the wind and the leaves blowing across the patio. Watch had stopped chasing them. He sat next to Henry with his ears alert.
"I still don't hear anything," Jessie said.
"Me neither." Benny took another bite of his cruller.
"I guess I imagined it." Violet scooted her bench closer to the fire.
Watch got up and walked toward the edge of the patio. He pulled on the end of the leash in Henry's hands.
"I think you can let go of his leash," Jessie said. "He can't get outside the fence." As soon as Henry let go, Watch slunk down on his belly. He crept over to the side of the yard growling softly.
"That's the direction I heard the noise," Violet whispered.
"Watch, what do you see?" Henry got up and walked over to the fence. He shined the flashlight into the area behind the café next door. "I don't see anything. Silly Watch. It's just the wind." He listened for the thunder sound, and for an instant he thought he heard it again. It stopped, so he came back and sat down. They all huddled around the fire, which no longer seemed as bright.
Soon after, they heard the sound of cars, and then voices as a group of people came into the back yard.
Jessie was relieved to hear Mrs. Vanderhoff's voice. "The tour group is back!" Jessie told the others.
A young woman wearing a red velvet cape and carrying a lantern led the group to the patio. "Welcome to our house," she said. Even though she was smiling, her voice was a little shaky. Her wavy blond hair was falling out of the bun on top of her head.
She smiled at the Aldens, said hello, and told her group, "These are friends of the family. Why don't you all sit down and I'll serve you some treats." There were two sets of parents and three children in the group, but none of them looked like they were having fun.
The oldest child was a girl about Benny's age and she was wearing a pretty princess costume, but Violet thought the girl was the most unhappy-looking princess she had ever seen. A little boy about two or three years old was dressed as a dragon. As the group walked to the patio, the boy grabbed hold of his father's leg and hid his face.
"We can help," Violet said, jumping up. Mrs. Vanderhoff handed her the cookie jar. Violet pulled the lid off and offered the jar to the third child, a little girl dressed like a mouse, who had sat down in the spot next to Violet's.
The girl reached her hand in and then jerked it back out. She screamed, "Gross! It's full of something yucky. I think there are worms and dirt in there."
Violet peered into the cookie jar. "It does have something in it besides cookies," she said. She sniffed it. "It doesn't smell like dirt though."
Jessie came over. "Can I look?" Violet held it out to her and Jessie looked inside. "It smells like chocolate and some sort of fruit smell." She reached her hand in and pulled out something sticky. "This isn't really a worm. It's gummy candy meant to look like a worm. And I think the dirt is just crushed up chocolate cookies. We had treats like this at school last year for Halloween."
She looked at Mrs. Vanderhoff, who looked at Annika.
Annika said, "I don't know how those got in there. I filled the jar up with cookies myself."
"I guess it's a joke," Henry said.
"It's not a funny joke," the little girl's mother said as she took her daughter's hand. "This ghost tour is not turning out the way we expected."
"I'm sorry," Annika said. "I don't know who would play a trick like that."
A shriek rang out from the alley. It sounded like an angry scream.
Everyone stood up. A horse neighed, and they could hear hooves pounding. Watch began to bark. The boy dressed as a dragon cried out and his father picked him up. The Aldens and Annika ran to the fence at the back of the yard. The rest of the group but the scared toddler and his father followed them. They saw a big black horse come rushing down the alley. The horse's rider wore a black cape that billowed out in the wind.
"There's something not right about the rider," Violet said.
Henry shone the flashlight at the person on the horse.
"The rider doesn't have a head!" Benny cried. They all jumped back in surprise.
As the horse passed by the fence, the rider took something from inside the cape and held it up.
It resembled a head with glowing teeth and eyes. The rider heaved the head toward the group.
They all dodged away, bumping into one another. It landed with a thud in front of them. It split open, spraying them all with thick red liquid.
All three of the children from the tour group begin to sob.
"Don't cry," Jessie said. "It was just a pumpkin ..."
One of the mothers held out her hands, which were speckled with red. "It looks like blood!"
Violet held out one of the pieces of the pumpkin. It was coated on the inside with the red liquid. "That's not blood. It's paint. I can smell it." She turned it over. "And look at this on the outside that looks like an eye. It's glow-in-the-dark paint."
The woman said to Annika, "Young lady, that was a terrible trick. You advertise this as a ghost tour for families, but look at all the children crying. This was far too frightening. They'll have nightmares tonight."
"I'm so sorry," Annika said. "That horseman was not part of the tour. I don't know who it was, or why he would do something like that."
The woman took hold of her children's hands. "I don't believe some headless horseman from a story just happened to show up to throw a pumpkin at us. I will not be recommending this tour to any of our friends. In fact, I'm going to post a review online. People should know this is not for families. Let's go, everyone."
After the group left, Annika looked like she was going to cry. Mrs. Vanderhoff put her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "I'm sorry about the awful trick."
Henry picked up another piece of the pumpkin. "This is another one of those strange pumpkins. It's white, just like the ones in front."
"I use white pumpkins for the logo of my ghost-tour business," Annika said. "Whoever played this trick must have used a white pumpkin on purpose. They aren't easy to find."
Excerpted from "The Sleepy Hollow Mystery"
Copyright © 2015 Albert Whitman & Company.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Sleepy Hollow,
2. A Headless Horseman,
3. The First Clue,
4. The Lost Scarecrow,
6. Costumes and More Clues,
7. The Horseman Strikes Again,
9. Mystery in the Woods,
10. Help from a Horse,
About the Author,
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