Title:When The Clock Strikes
It had started with a dream.
A dream of faces and smells and the blowing of leaves-so many leaves-there always had been so many-
--she could not sweep them all as they blew in-not then-
--and certainly not now.
"Wait, Griffin! I can't catch up---I can't run any faster-" the breath flew from her in a trail of frost, followed by the tenebrous strands of hair that had escaped her dark braid as she ran after her brother, the trees a speckled blur of orange and the absence of such colour where the leaves had already fallen and left bare white bones of branches.
Griffin's laughter rang back at her-bouncing and echoing-hollow sounding.
And when she reached him he cocked a brow and laughed again, playfully rumpling her hair.
As if the wind had not done enough.
And then they were climbing-or rather-- she was climbing up up and up high in the branches of the great tree she had not realized she was climbing at all.
Griffin had already reached the top, and stood on the platform, his hands resting firmly on the half-built rail. "Come on…" he said, and he lifted her up.
She with her blue skirts and curious eyes.
"Come and look Susana…"
At the rail's edge, high up in the tree, upon that small smooth wooden platform they had built-or rather he had built-
(Girls don't play in forts and lookouts, what kind of sister are you, Sannen?)
--at the edge of the rail was where vision leapt forth and blurred and righted itself again-
only she could see far past the hollow-
--she could see the ends of the earth-steeples and trees and pyramids-twisted spires and rocky cliffs-even a vast expanse of desert-
"Look-there's India…Griffin….do you see it, too?"
His arm about her waist, he smiled. "Yes. I can smell the air-it's full of spices-" And he turned her to face him---suddenly seated in her world of remembrance---
--- hammering at the rail as if to finish it.
**He never did finish that rail-before--**
The thought flew from her mind as she watched him slip-careless and curious-driving the iron point straight through his palm.
"Oh, no. No." she whispered, shaking her head. Her voice was terribly calm as the wind picked up and she stared at the spreading crimson stain in her brother's palm. "You'll die a martyr."
She was standing now and looking over the rail as Griffin climbed down-faster than humanly possible-shrinking from her view as he vanished-hundreds and hundreds of feet below.
"Griffin! Don't leave me here. I-"
But he was already gone and nothing more than a whisper on the wind-a droplet of wet sound-
It was raining now-though the drops seemed too slow-and a voice-disjointed-singing out within the confines of her mind.
**I'm sorry Sannen…I have to go…it's time for tea and I don't know where I'm buried…** ***************************
She had woken instantly.
It was raining.
Through a small hole in the crack-stone roof she felt it strike her cheek-a small slick slap.
She was awake, her brother was dead and there was a great expanse of sky where half the manor should have stood.
**It's all the same, then.**
But it wasn't.
Not at all. *******************************
It had once been a place of pride, this house-this great expanse of stone-hard won by agile hands and a craftsman's scattered genius mind.
For three generations they had made them-of all shapes and sizes-and young Susan had been brought up from swaddling clothes to the ticking-gentle and random-here and there and everywhere throughout.
Granny Tess, her father's mother had taken ill-which was what had brought the Hawkes to the Hollow-all the way across the North Atlantic-from Surrey.
It rained less here.
So it was in Sleepy Hollow that William and Elizabeth Hawke had come, and built a great manse in which they ushered their grieving kin-Granny Tess-or more correctly, Tess Ashlund-whose only real illness was a broken heart-for her husband had died that winter-and she'd not ventured out of his little bookshop since-and shown interest in anything besides her singing.
It had been Peter Van Garrett who had written to William-and the family had spared no time to rush to the woman's aid.
Sometimes, family is loyal.
Granny Tess was an odd woman-sang to herself quite often. Never spoke a word after her Archibald had died.
Not-at least-to anyone but Susan.
And that was far after. Far, far after.
The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg in the kitchens and the ticking of the little clock-the smooth cherrywood clock-as Susan stepped from the manor and into the woods-determined to venture out on her own.
**I'm not a ninny…** she had thought, biting her lip in remembrance of her brother's taunt.
It had been so much easier for Griffin to make friends-to earn acceptance-he was twelve and she was barely seven-and though they'd been in the Hollow two years she had nought but her books and her father's clocks to keep her company.
She was a solitary thing-inquisitive but never social-experiencing none of her mother's longing for the gaieties of the city-something Susan could hardly recall having left behind.
Griffin had loved her fiercely-more than most brothers could ever have loved a sister-but like brothers do-he had wont of friends his own age-and had left his sister to fend off boredom by herself this day.
She'd been shy-it was merely shyness that had kept her from speaking-acknowledging the two young boys that came to meet her brother that afternoon. She wasn't frightened.
And she wasn't a ninny.
Footsteps crashing through the leaves as she trailed careless and directionless through the wood-and her father shut up in his study with his books and his clockpieces.
Why, by the age of six she could almost dismantle and reassemble a timepiece completely.
How it should have been so with time itself.
It was very quiet when she finally took notice of where she was, so quiet that it almost seemed that time had frozen here-where the air hung suspended like a broken branch-hinged by raw green threads-but quite unable to fall.
It was the darkest, tallest, largest tree she had ever seen.
And there were no birds in it.
There were no birds-in sight.
It was so very tall-the tree-that it seemed to eclipse all that surrounded it-all that stood in its wake.
Suddenly she felt very small.
"Well, I am very small." She whispered aloud, breaking the silence.
A tight little knot in her stomach mirrored by a tight little knot in her throat and a hitch in her breath.
Three more steps and she was at its base, craning her small white neck back so awkwardly to gaze up at it that she thought she might tip over.
The knot tightened.
**Is this fear?**
It must have been.
It was, quite possibly, the first and last time she had ever felt fear-standing there in the shadowcast of the dark tree-
--not knowing what it was, yet somehow not liking it.
It was why she remained.
It was the fear that held her there-unable to move-to run-as she'd thought for a moment she might.
The heart of the fear enveloped her like a stifling blanket of moldering leaves and held her rooted in the soil as firmly as the massive not-so-living plant.
"There is no such thing as fear." She whispered, half to herself, and crept a pace closer, sinking down amidst the roots to sit.
Basking in the feel of it-the fear.
She'd never felt it before, and though she did not like it, she was curious-this new sensation-this hammering of her little heart.
For nearly an hour she remained still, having closed her eyes-the hard trunk cold against her head-a few tendrils of her hair catching and holding fast-trying to snare her as she pulled back.
The sound of hoofbeats and a whinny-a shiver-pitched whinny and the clank-clack-clank of boots-
She opened one eye.
She hoped they didn't fall.
**Please, not upon my head.**
Another blue eye opened , and the fear had passed, completely.
No branches fell upon her head.
The sounds had vanished as quickly as they'd come, and out of the corner of her eye-a flash of dull-bright vine enshrewed metal-
---there-thrust in the earth---
A breath and a swallow.
A few crawling paces to the left-and there-within reach-
---was a sword.
It was fierce and intricate, entwined by vines and leaves-and in between the gaping jaws of the dragon-pommel cobwebs trailed.
The earth was barren here-no grass grew beneath-it was as if-
**Someone's buried here.**
And had been forgotten for quite some time. Years at least.
"How sad." She breathed, her chest sick and heavy as she clambered over the patch of earth, reaching out her small hand toward the blade and stopping just shy of it.
She pondered awhile how long this unknown soul might have lingered here---forgotten---neglected by all save time and earth and erosion---and curiously enough found her eyes shining with tears.
They threatened to spill forth but did not, and she stood a moment longer.
Even at such a young age she knew more than most-that graves should be attended. The dead were not to be forgotten.
"Have you no family that remembers you?" she asked, softly before sinking again to the earth, over the barren soil. She received no answer, but she had not expected one.
"I don't have any flowers to leave…but I can tell you a story."
**The dead have ears. They can still hear the living. Must be awfully terribly lonely all buried in the earth and forgotten.**
She paused, biting her lip again, her heart half sick with sorrow and half filled with delight.
"Once," she began, in a tone very serious for such a small child, "there was a great horse…grey and majestic…with fire in his nostrils and speed like wind….so great was this creature that he could not be tamed…not by any man…or woman…so tall and fierce and….did I say that the horse was grey? No…no…he was pitch dark….black as black could be…"
And she had spun on until it grew dark.
A nod of farewell and she returned home, quite sure of the way.
And sneaking inside she was caught by her mother-breathless and worried-admonished for being out in the wood in the twilight-for it wasn't safe it just wasn't safe---
Susan stared up at her mother, cocking her head to the side and asking, very slowly and starkly, "Why isn't it safe?"
She received no answer-and no further admonishment---for Griffin came bounding in and up the stairs and scooped her up into his arms, telling her tales of his adventures in the town-and of the great house of the Van Garretts---and a glimpse of a golden haired girl-a bit older than himself-not a Van Garrett but of another family-
--and she listened. With all her heart she listened and drank in his adventures.
But she never spoke about the grave. Not to anyone.
Not even Griffin.
It was her secret, from that day forth.
And as often as she could-nearly every day she brought flowers and stories, some from books and others from her own head---
--for the dead man-and she was almost sure it was a man---because of the sword, you see---and whoever he was-he deserved better than to be forgotten.
No, the dead should never be forgotten.
The years that followed would see no great change in her belief.
Scarcely three days after her twelfth birthday she had woken to find a crimson stain upon her sheets-a red, red flower spreading and unfolding-and very briefly she wondered if she might have been dying.
Her mother had not spoken to her of such things-but she had read them in books-scientific books-forbidden dusty musty old books that Granny Tess had stored each upon the other in great forsaken piles, about the power and blood mysteries-and what it meant to become a-
"Woman. You're a woman now." Griffin said, as he helped her from her scarlet-spattered nightdress and into a fresh one.
She had remained silent a moment, staring back at him with his own eyes, only darker. "Is that what it means to be a woman, then? To bleed?"
Of course, Griffin had died that very day.
It was spring, and flowers had thrust themselves up from the ground-speckling the countryside-washing it with watercoloured hues and fragrant bloom.
It was unnatural that he would have died then.
But, as she had learned at an early age-things are often not natural. Or explicable.
Catch-me-if-you can had led to a tussel in the leaves, and she had laughed, even though her sides and back ached from that morning's initiation into the Mysteries of Womanhood and Blood.
She laughed, gazing up at him from a pile of summer-leaves-her pitch dark hair fanning out around her like a pool of ink-her eyes two saturnine jewels set in a pale oval of a face, and at the turn of her head-the flash of a birthmark next to her right eye.
It was nearly heart shaped---no---it was heart shaped, and perched there today just as it had any other day-and every other day.
Only today she would dwell on it---in its curious imperfection---as she lay in the leaves and gazed up at her brother-him seventeen and graceful as a cat.
"At the fort, tonight? After supper?" she queried, lazily trailing her hands through the grassy bed.
"Of course, madam. I must make haste." A wink and a smile.
"Archaic!" she called out after him. "You're a relic Grif!"
He never returned.
Her mother had given birth just three months earlier to a baby girl-Tess-the infant was called---and Susan had ruminated on the fact that not only had they named the child carelessly-but it was practically a flying in the jaws of fate to name the girl after a living relative of flesh and bone and heart and blood---and if she were superstitious at all she might have thought it had almost begged for Granny Tess' death-but the old woman lived on, even though, in her odd manner-which grew even stranger with Griffin gone missing-she sang without warning. But softly.
The townsfolk were conciliatory, and even saddened at such a turn of events, but Susan would have none of it.
Her brother, you see-had been the victim of rumour. It was his manner-his walk and graceful gesture-his flashing smile and clear-eyed faintly feminine gaze that had prompted many a maid to turn his way-
--even the fair-haired, bright daughter of Baltus Van Tassel.
But she was Brom's girl-even then-and though she'd meant him no harm there was harm in stolen glances.
And Brom was not the only one to take offense.
The rumours had started as a vicious, childish joke---that Griffin Hawke was not just effeminate in his gaze-but in his affections---more crudely, that he was a lover of boys.
And Griffin had been struck hard by such accusations, though he'd done his best to put on a brave face.
They were, in fact, unmistakably true-though the accusers couldn't have known. Not really.
It was Griffin's silent secret---and though he'd never spoken to his sister---somehow Susan had guessed---
---keepers of secrets have a way of recognizing such traits in one another.
But if Griffin had ever suspected of her secrets-of where she-in the middle of the night-and oftentimes in the day-had stolen off to with her books and her basket-he'd never made mention of it.
She would have two graves to tend, now.
Or would have-had his body been found.
Some of his clothing-soiled and bloodied in a manner that spoke of death-and a rope hanging from a twisted tree where he'd been lynched by an unknown number of village boys.
And a few others, perhaps.
Susan had scanned their faces, that sad, sunny day in the spring when nothing more than a few scraps of clothing had been buried in the earth-in the churchyard.
Katrina Van Tassel had caught her eye from across the crowd and offered a small, sympathetic sorrowful smile.
It was a black period from which Susan never truly recovered.
**How ridiculous---to bury his clothing as if it were a corpse-I'll not attend this grave.**
And she didn't.
For a year every headstone and marker in the churchyard was graced with flowers from Susan's basket-save that one.
But dead he was. That she knew.
From the day he went missing she could hear him-plain as day inside her head.
Oh, he was dead alright.
**And not buried. I'm not buried, Sannen…not with my head at least…it's not quite time for tea…but I don't know where I am. Be careful, Sannen…my neck stretched and hurt and strained and I couldn't breathe but it didn't snap right away. A quick death is always better.**
A quick death is always better.
"And you….was it quick?" she asked, kneeling above the Hessian's grave, perched like a scarlet bird, her skirts fanning and folding and rustling in random rushes of red.
By now she had at least heard snippets of gossip-though she rarely paid heed to such ramblings-of a tale as old-and older still than she-of a Hessian mercenary with a love of carnage and black murder in his heart.
But her trips were no less frequent, and in her reclusive mourning she had withdrawn even further into her mind-and into the world she created there.
Or the one she thought she had.
**Did I imagine the rustling and the cracking and the whinnying-o it was so long ago I can't remember but I don't think I did--**
"What then? A premonition?"
She wasn't sure if she believed in them.
And she sat upon the earth, amidst a sea of red silk, with a great book in her lap and began to speak. "In the tradition of young girls and windows, the young girl looks out of this one. It is difficult to see anything. The panes of the window are heavily leaded, and secured by a lattice of iron. The stained glass of lizard-green and storm-purple is several inches thick. There is no red glass in the window. The colour red is forbidden in the castle. Even the sun, behind the glass, is a storm sun, a green lizard sun."
The book, of course, was as blank as it was heavy.
The story was of entirely her own creation.
Her imagination had grown wild--and her intellect was as sharp as her features-though she was very beautiful in a cool and unforgiving way.
Sharp and cold and angular-rather like steel.
She had kissed a boy once-during a party at the Van Tassel's she'd been forced to attend-tired of the worry her parents spent-
(You really must spend time away from this wrenching solitude---with others your own age---)
---it was a curious kiss-cool and detached-and she'd spun away from Theodore, laughing before she ran off into the night-through the Western wood and back towards her home.
**Don't go there**
The voice came without warning, and she started.
Her brother's voice was gone the instant that the shadow of the tree fell upon her. It had always been like that. Here-in this place-all was still-save her own voice.
And though she loved Griffin still with almost all her heart it was a comfort-this silence.
She frowned as she advanced upon the grave, at the memory of Theodore's warm lips grazing her cheek-and then her throat-and finally-seeking her own lips-before she'd laughed.
"I'll have none of it." she said, standing quite still. "Do you think that those boys-that Theodore---"
**Killed my brother?**
"How silly---a kiss. I've no heart for it."
She had always been more at home with the dead than the living.
And without thinking-leaning down and forward, she pressed her lips to the blade-the thorny vines grazing them and tearing the tender, painted flesh. The copper-taste caused her eyes to flutter open-and she realized that blood and dull metal tasted quite the same.
Talk of dowries and possible marriage-contracts had filled her with dread.
**I might as well marry Theodore…** she spat silently, closing her eyes again.
And then they flew open with a shock and a rush of breath as she pulled back from the cool steel.
"If I pledge myself to you, then I can't marry…I can say that I am promised to another and I won't truly be lying---for I can't abide lies-lies are different than secrets, my dead friend-and I may bide myself some time---perhaps I could take up the family trade---for father has stopped making clocks since Griffin-"
Stepping back just slightly, she twisted the ring from her small finger-Granny Tess' ring-its old knotwork and branches entwining to form a sort of a heart-words amidst the leaves-with an inscription hidden and worn away upon the inside so much that had she not seen it years ago and memorized it-she would not know it now.
Place me as a signet upon thine heart,
As a signet upon thine arm,
For Love is as strong as Death.
**Yes, yes of course.**
A half-laugh in half-light as she dropped the ring upon the soil, whispering against the blade, her eyes dark and blue and open wide, "We are grown and gathered and bound, and the binding is well."
"We are fixed at the hip and the hand, and the head and the heel. We are planted beneath the land, forever to wheel,"
"… as the earth and the sun are wound on a golden reel, and the ripening grasses stand and pale and fall,"
She turned, then, only slightly to find that an owl had come to land upon a branch of a fringing bare tree-its yellow eyes blinking and bright.
"Oh. Well, I'd needed a witness…and you'll do…if you agree."
**Can an owl agree?**
"Why else would you come? I suppose just out of an owl's curiosity-though I'd never thought owls particularly curious…nevertheless…"
Her eyes back to the blade, and the sickness in her stomach passing as the thoughts of dowries and contracts flew from her mind as the words flew from her bloodied lips.
She had no mind of the weight of her words-or that they came from not only her mind-but were contained in a hide-bound gilt-faded volume under the small gold-glass clock in Granny Tess' rooms-
"Drawn from my hand, these words run blood."
The owl blinked silently.
"Or wine, not ink. Thy lip to woo;"
**Have I offended you? I hope not---I just want to set my heart at ease…**
"… so may they spend my heart's sweet flood-bidding thee drink the love I brew."
A hoot and a flutter and the owl had left her in suspended silence.
She leaned very close, almost kissing the blade again, but instead rising and returning home to a house filled with the song of dementia and heartbreak, ticking clocks, and mourning-grief.
The ring sank within the soil-a thin sheet of steam rising from it.
Three weeks later she would truly have no cause for the pressures of a marriage contract.
Catching fire in the small library on the east side of the house-a careless servant's candle sent the whole manse ablaze within moments-leaving a wake of charred corpses in its searing embrace.
Susan's parents and infant sister among them.
No-no dowries to be had here.
It was curious that the East wing had burned down-while the West-traditionally, if you will---the direction associated with death-stood fast and cold and grey-rising out of the burned shell skeleton of a house like a phoenix made entirely of stone and glass.
The clock in the east wing-the smooth cherrywood clock that Susan had liked so much stood untouched-still ticking---its glass-front only covered with a sheet of steam as the men came-Doctor Lancaster---Reverend Steenwyck---
**Do you think there's confusion as to the cause of death, sir?**
She had almost laughed, then, but she held silent, and said no words throughout their consolation.
She had slept through the half of it-dreams of temple incense and the chantings of thousands brought to bright, blazing, searing life as she was wakened by the shouts of townsmen.
Granny Tess had started singing as the charred remains of her kith and kin were dredged from the muck of the fire-for later interment in the churchyard, next to Griffin's grave-the empty one---giving Susana six more more graves to tend in all, counting the servants---
(and you always count the servants)
---a dirge that was hauntingly familiar, though Susan could not last remember where she'd heard it.
That was the night that Granny Tess had began to talk.
Through her-at her---the voice reverberating across the not-quite-walls and back again---gibberish half of its breath and charm and spell the next.
It had not surprised the girl in the least, that the woman was a witch---or of the sort one would associate with such notions.
For three months the old woman sang out her spells like a broken automata doll-lost and stuck in the same tracing, repeating pattern of wakeful dementia---whilst the clock ticked on and and on.
The books, in the West library were full of magic and dust-old Grimoires-some Latin-some entirely different altogether---were all that Susan could recall of those few months-when she had woken in the night to find her rooms full of crows---or a stray wild dog curled at her feet---
--or once, only once, the yellow, watchful eye of the owl.
An occasional basket of food and the trail of flaxen hair-a wisp of a grey cloak as the Van Tassel daughter had tried to slip away from her offering, unnoticed.
It was kind-and a few others did the same---even Van Garrett once had stopped to make an offer of shelter to she and her fragile, elder, mad rambling Grandmother.
But she had refused-preferring her hollow blackened fragment of a manor to the company of others-she refused politely-and graciously.
Only a few attempts were made to dissuade her from such lunacy before they reckoned her sadly-but obviously-mad.
The baskets of food still came though-and in winter they were welcome-
Susan gathering firewood in the dead-cold, her lips faint violet-kissed and her limbs shaking as she set the hearth ablaze.
Fire never quite settled her anymore-and she turned from its baleful bright stare-conscious only of the kiss of warmth upon her pale cheek.
One morning she had woken to laughter-high pitched horsey-laugh---an old whinny-and she had risen from her coverlets, pausing at the doorway of her rooms to trace the inscription upon her door-and inscription she had carved in dreams but woke to find quite real.
Who comes to me I keep,
Who goes from me I free,
Yet against all I stand who carry not my key.
She whispered the words again in her mind as she made her way down the hall, to find that Granny Tess had very suddenly died---that it had been she who had imitated the horses just before expiring.
Susan sat at the foot of the woman's bed, unblinking, unmoving for nearly an hour before she braved the cold and the wood and the streets and the stares to find the Reverend Steenwyck.
Of course, he was false-cordial-and though he seemed to be very sorry that he could not lay the corpse in hallowed ground, he offered no alternative to the dilemma. His eye wandered away and must have thought of things of greater importance than God-because he was staring at her braid.
Susan fixed him with a dark adaptive eye.
"If you're so very sorry, then why do you continue in such course of actions?" she had asked, just before she turned and stepped into the cold again, raising her cloaks about her and hurrying back as best she could.