Once was a place called Sleepy Hollow, a haunted region from where a contagion blew forth; an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land. A birder lived there. His name was Ichabod. He especially loved Cranes.
The chief bird of the region was known as the Spectre of Sleepy Hollow, a mighty hawk, which had been heard several times of late and who, it was said, spent the nights among the graves in the church-yard. Many sought to add it to their life lists; many failed.
Not far from the church, over a deep black part of the stream, was a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it, even in the daytime. This was the favorite haunt of the headless hawk and the place where he was most often sought by lonely birders.
On this witching night, Halloween, Ichabod the Birder pursued his way homeward. The hour was dismal and so was Ichabod whose lady love had rejected him that very afternoon. In the dead hush of midnight no signs of life appeared nearby except the occasional melancholy chirp of a cricket or perhaps the long, lonely hoot of an owl, far off in the trees.
As Ichabod wended his way, by swamp and stream and awful woodland, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of the whip-poor-will, a bird which is only heard at night, the boding cry of the tree-toad, that harbinger of storm; the dreary hooting of the screech-owl, or the sudden rustling in the thicket of birds frightened from their roost.
In the centre of the road stood an enormous tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled, and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air. . . .
As Ichabod approached this fearful tree, he felt a blast of miasmatic air sweeping sharply through the dry branches. . . . In the dark shadow he beheld something huge, misshapen, black and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.
What was to be done? To turn and fly was now too late; and besides, what chance was there of escaping ghost or goblin, if such it was, which could ride upon the wings of the wind?
Just then the shadowy object of alarm put itself in motion, and, though the night was dark and dismal, yet the form of the unknown might now in some degree be ascertained. He appeared to be a hawk of large dimensions.
On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure this bird in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck, on perceiving that the hawk was headless!
Groping for his binoculars, Ichabod failed to notice that the hawk was winging straight toward him. Ichabod’s horse noticed though and broke into a run. Away they dashed, Ichabod’s flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lanky body away over his horse’s head, in the eagerness of his flight. . . .
Just then he heard the beating of the hawk’s wings close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Now Ichabod cast a look behind and saw the hawk rising in the sky, as if to stoop down and strike. Too late Ichabod saw the tree branch which encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash—he was tumbled headlong into the dust.
The next morning Ichabod’s horse was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly cropping the grass. Pages of Ichabod’s life list were found in the church graveyard but he was never seen again.
Juan Liziola took the photograph of the tropical screech owl. I took the photo of the Headless Hawk which I swear has not been photoshopped in any way.
Poor Washington Irving. His work is long out of copyright thus subject to the mangling of bloggers. We thank him for his story and ask his pardon for the liberties taken with it.