He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
- Emily Dickinson, A Book
Halloween in Arlen was always something to remember. The juniors and seniors would have their own costume parties held at the local high school, some bordering on legendary, while the children would shuffle from house to house, gathering candy from both older friends and adults. The only house left untouched during the holiday was, of course, the Keeny house. Everyone knew better than to beg for candy from Crazy Keeny, especially her great-grandson.
Ever since he could remember, Jonathan Crane had stayed inside during Halloween, knowing that somewhere in town kids were smiling, laughing, and eating more candy than he'd seen in his entire life. He would have tried to sneak out and join the fun, but now he knew exactly what Gran would do to him if he was caught. Besides, he probably wouldn't have met with a very friendly reception anyway.
At times, it was almost impossible to bear, especially when he came to school and heard the other children brag in front of their friends about how much candy they had gotten. Of course, to a high school freshman like himself the seniors' costume parties were little more than myth: somebody claimed that his older brother had been to one, or a girl occasionally tried to lie her way into one to report back what they were like, usually with little success. Jonathan didn't care about these stories. He didn't especially like parties anyway, and hanging around a pack of boozing, rowdy seniors was not his idea of a good time. Besides, Gran didn't approve of teenagers in general, and would be angry if Jonathan started trying to make friends with them.
"Godless, that's what they are," she told Jonathan once, not long before Halloween. She had caught him listening to a borrowed rock and roll CD in his room, smashed it, and gave the terrified boy an especially vicious scolding. "They dress like hussies, listen to godless music, and I will not tolerate your so much as going near them." Jonathan, to save his own skin, agreed, and she spared him the crows.
But, still, he couldn't help but be a little bit curious about the holiday. It looked fun, for one thing. More importantly, he had something of a sweet tooth from what candy he managed to eat in the past. Risking Gran's wrath would be a mistake, but maybe he could somehow get permission, just for one night. If he showed the other kids that he was like them, maybe Bo and his gang would stop their bullying and become his friends instead.
When he ventured outside of the Keeny house the day after Gran broke his CD, he made his way to the Arlen public library, one of the few places in town where he could expect some good treatment from adults. The librarians knew all about Jonathan Crane and his voracious appetite for reading. For someone so young, he had no reluctance to plunge right into the classics. Even now, fourteen years old, he read authors above his age's usual reading level more eagerly than anyone else in Arlen.
"Why, hello there, Jonathan," he heard an older woman say. They knew him well, even though he rarely spoke outside of questions. "And what will you have today?"
"Not sure yet," he replied, settling down in a corner in the literature section and fingering the books. His hand brushed a small, red book with the title written in fine gold print. He took it out to give it a closer look when it caught his eye, reading the title out loud.
"The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent." Curious, he opened it to get the author's name. "Washington Irving. Can't say I know much about him. Heard the name, though." He leaned back in the corner, trying to ignore the discomfort of his shoulders being wedged into such a small space. "Is he any good?"
"Oh, yes. Very good." The librarian sounded bored, but Jonathan knew that this was mostly because she was both busy and well used to his questions.
"Well, thanks for the advice." Jonathan gave a quick nod and hunched up in the corner with the book, trying not to be seen. It hurt his back, but he was already too involved to care. Even though the library was one of the few places where he didn't have to worry about being picked on or harassed by Bo's gang, hiding was a matter of instinct at this point. He didn't have much time, but he hoped to get at least some of the book finished before he had to check it out and leave.
He could feel a lump grow in his throat at the thought of confronting Gran about anything, but it was now or never. Halloween would be in a few days, and he would have to swallow his fear so that he could talk Gran into buying him a costume and letting him go out. Seeing neighborhood kids, many of whom were his peers and classmates, tramping around outside with flashlights and bags stuffed almost to bursting with candy was unbearable. Last Halloween, Jonathan could have sworn that he heard his stomach growl as he watched. Afterwards, he had to deal with people asking him why he never came outside to join the local trick-or-treaters, which of course he couldn't explain. How could he?
But that was the advantage of the library. Reading helped him forget about his problems - Gran, the other kids, his empty belly. Even now, he dove into The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. with the kind of attention that he always reserved for books. He thought with some satisfaction that the children who thought that he was stupid or lazy had obviously never seen him read.
Why, he'd never seen Bo or Brad or any of those muscle-heads so much as pick up a book, let alone read one. And they had the nerve to call him the stupid one! For once sure of his own superiority, Jonathan immersed himself in his element, fishing out a dictionary to help him learn unfamiliar words. He may have been a loser and a failure at everything else he tried, but he knew he was smart, and he knew that he could read better than any of his enemies. Not that his intelligence was useful anywhere outside of the classroom or the library.
Most of Irving was fairly easy going for someone as experienced as him, and Jonathan quickly finished off a good part of the book before he had to go. It was getting late. However much he dreaded it, he would have to go home. Gran didn't like it when he read books other than her old black Bible or one of her yellow hymn-books, but he had smuggled his own books past her before and would again. His favorite hiding spot was a place under his bed, covered by a dirty brown blanket. He'd used it ever since he learned to read and hadn't been caught yet.
The librarian didn't look up as he came to her counter, checked out the Irving, and carefully slipped it into his satchel. Gran usually didn't bother to look there, making it another ideal place to hide things that he didn't want seen. Part of him hated having to trick her, but it was the only way he could smuggle books into the house, and he was prepared to do almost anything if it meant staying out of the chapel.
"Bye," he said with a wave to the librarian, rushing it, and strode out the door. As soon as he was outside, he broke into a run, careful not to slip on the sidewalk. It would be a bad start to the afternoon if he skinned his knee like he had the week before. He didn't see anyone coming, but held the satchel close to his side anyway. If he could only make it home without encountering any bullies or damaging the book, he might have a decent day.
When Jonathan slowed down for a moment to catch his breath, he heard a familiar voice and an even more familiar nickname. He whipped round, trying to hide his satchel. He had been hoping that this wouldn't happen, but apparently his hopes would go unfulfilled.
"Afternoon, Scarecrow. How ya doin'?" Bo Griggs, cocky as ever, emerged from behind a fencepost, but he wasn't with a member of his gang this time. As he turned to run, Jonathan saw to his surprise that there was a girl with him, roughly their age, her hair and eyes dark brown. She was holding Bo's hand. "Don't worry. I'm not here to mess with you. I just want you to meet my new girlfriend, Sherry Squires."
Sherry Squires. The name was vaguely familiar. She was a cheerleader at Arlen High - Jonathan saw her in the school paper once, with her friend Charlene Connors, both in uniform and celebrating the fact that the Chickenhawks had won the state football championship that year.
"H-h-hello," Jonathan said, not in the least encouraged when he saw Sherry smirk. He came closer to get a closer look at her. She wasn't a bad-looking girl. In fact, she was very pretty, and he had to admit that Bo had picked a nice girlfriend for himself. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Squires, uh, Sherry..."
Bo ushered Sherry forward with a smile, and Jonathan felt his face flush with warmth. He had never been introduced to anyone before, let alone a girl, and had no idea of what to do to avoid looking stupid or rude. "Sherry, Scarecrow Crane. Scarecrow, Sherry."
Jonathan offered a hand in an attempt to be polite, but Sherry only stared at him like he was vermin. What she said next made him feel even worse.
"So, you're Jonathan Crane. I haven't seen you around town much, but Bo says you're weird. You look weird, too. You really are like a scarecrow. He wasn't kidding."
Jonathan's hand fell limp to his side while he tried not to seem too hurt by her remark. Of course she would think he was weird if all she knew about him was whatever garbage Bo spouted about the creepy Keeny boy. She didn't really know him as a person, only as a mess of rumors. Why, if she saw him for what he really was, she might just accept him one day. No, more than just accept him. Like him. Once she liked him, the rest of Arlen might just follow: Brad and Jason and all the kids, even Bo. And then...
"Hey! Hey, Scarecrow! What're you smiling about?" Bo's yelling snapped Crane out of his reverie, and he immediately staggered back with surprise and fright. He hadn't meant to cause trouble, and was barely aware of his own thoughts, but Bo looked extremely angry. Even Sherry, although this may have been wishful thinking on Jonathan's part, seemed a little put off by her boyfriend's outburst.
"What?" he asked, genuinely confused.
Bo clearly wasn't amused by Crane's confusion, or else thought that he was faking it. "Listen up, Crane. Sherry's my girl. Not yours. If I ever see you so much as look at her strange, I'm gonna kick your skinny butt from here to Latham. Got that?"
Jonathan nodded quickly, seeing Bo drape a protective arm around Sherry as if to dare the other boy to try hitting on her again. There wasn't any need. Crane got the point, and he certainly didn't want to pick a fight. When Bo threatened to hit Crane, he meant it. Jonathan, realizing how close a call he had, replied with a sigh. "Got it. She's your girl. Not mine." He would have to be more careful next time, at least while Bo was around to hear. Getting hurt over a girl was not his idea of a good lead-up to Halloween.
"Good. I wouldn't want to start a fight in front of Sherry." Bo hugged Sherry, who, after a moment, hugged him back in a way that Jonathan found positively disgusting. They were so sickeningly physical that it seemed almost fake.
When they kissed, Jonathan rolled his eyes. The 'knight in shining armor' act would have sounded a lot better if Bo hadn't threatened to beat up Jonathan for just looking at Sherry. However, he wouldn't say what he wanted to tell the bigger boy for fear of ending up on the pavement with a foot in his pants and a broken nose. It was also in his interest to avoid a scuffle, although in his case the reasons were purely practical. He only wanted to make it home unhurt and with the Irving still in one piece.
Since he reasoned that attempting to improve his relationship with Sherry Squires wasn't worth, as Bo so delicately put it, getting his butt kicked, Jonathan chose to make himself scarce. He looked back for a moment at her, searching for sympathy in her eyes. There wasn't any. She looked at him as if he was something small and dirty, like a rat or a grease stain. He should have known that he didn't have a chance with her. Why would she want a scrawny, gawky scarecrow when she had Bo Griggs as a boyfriend? But her disgust made him feel as low and dirty as she probably thought he was, and like a rat he wanted nothing more than to get away.
While relationships in high school were often brief, superficial affairs, as much about reputation and social class as love, Jonathan knew that he and Sherry were most likely a bad match from the start. She probably wanted someone more like Bo or Brad Simmons, now star quarterback for the Arlen High Chickenhawks. Jonathan hadn't even tried out for the team. The Chickenhawks' team captain, Jackson Grey, told him not to bother in as many words, and much less delicately. Even if he got in by some miracle, he would never survive being charged at by a full team of football players in full gear. He was enough of a loser without failing at sports, too.
No one, least of all Sherry Squires, would want a loser for a boyfriend. Not when there were so many better catches available: Bo, Brad, Jason Bludhorn, and most of the football team for starters.
"Well," Jonathan finally said, trying to seem braver and stronger than he felt, "excuse me for being polite." He turned around, very intentionally sticking up his nose at them, and left Bo and Sherry alone. He tried to convince himself that he didn't give a darn what she thought he was, but this rang hollow even to himself. He didn't know why he cared what Sherry thought of him, but he did.
Girls, he thought bitterly as he made his way up the path to the Keeny manor. At least now he had an excuse to crack open the Sketch Book. He wanted to get Sherry Squires and her hateful, pretty eyes out of his head.
Jonathan, for once, was lucky. Even Granny Keeny had to leave the old manor every once in a while and go into town to stock up on food and other supplies. When she did, Jonathan more-or-less became master of the house. He already learned how to exploit this to some degree. He knew practically every inch of the old house, and had crawled into every hole and crevice there was to hide in.
Only one place remained untouched - an enclosed room on the second floor of the house. The door was always closed, and he had never seen what was inside. Ever since he was a toddler, Gran had warned Jonathan not to go there. Part of him wanted to visit, if only to satisfy his curiosity, but fear restrained him. For now, he didn't want to risk her anger and the old chapel. If not for those two things, he would have defied her order long ago. If there was one thing he loved as much as reading, it was exploring. Although part of it was to hide from his enemies at school, he genuinely liked learning new things, wriggling into holes, and seeing new places.
The door was unlocked when he turned the knob, and he quietly crept inside, just in case she wasn't out after all. He didn't see her or hear the creaking of her rocking chair. He sighed in relief, slinging his satchel across his shoulder before making his way upstairs to his room. Even though Jason Bludhorn had cheated him out of lunch and Sherry Squires made him feel like vermin, this would make up for it. Reading always helped him feel better.
Jonathan Crane's room was on the top floor of the old mansion, and once belonged to Marion when she was a girl. Jonathan, digging through dark corners and cabinets with thick enough dust to make him cough, had taken many of her old things for himself, reasoning that he needed them more than Marion did. Even though he knew very little about his grandmother, he knew that she had grown up and moved out long ago. Gran didn't buy him many toys to play with, and he didn't consider it stealing. Marion wouldn't mind.
When he was nine, he carried out a systematic, thorough exploration of his room, prying into every nook and cranny of it while taking out anything remotely in usable condition. Marion's old phonograph, a couple of records under the bed, a wooden rocking-horse with its left ear slightly cracked, a toy train with most of its paint gone, and several children's books were all brought out of the darkness, dutifully cleaned and restored to the best of Jonathan's ability, and adopted for his own use. He was especially proud of his fixing the phonograph. It took him more than a week to repair all of the broken parts and clean out its inner workings, making it usable again.
However, in his opinion, his best find was a teddy bear bigger than himself at that age, slouched in the back of Marion's closet and gathering dirt. Struggling with its weight, he pulled it out and placed it in the corner before cleaning it up. It was a fine old toy, too, in good condition, fur still soft and the colors on its clothes only a little bit dulled by age and being put away for so long. Whenever Jonathan felt upset, he would hug the filthy old thing and let it soak up his tears.
He grabbed a blue cushion from his bed, placed it between the bear's feet, and pushed himself back in his usual spot against its stomach. It was still warm and comfortable after years of being cramped up in Marion's closet. As he managed a slight smile, he opened his satchel and took out The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. It was still in good shape, making him pleased that he'd kept his temper in check and avoided picking a fight with Bo. From now on, he would try and stay away from Sherry Squires, especially given how possessive Bo was of her.
You're only thinking that because you can't have her, he heard himself say in the back of his head. Sour grapes.
Forcing himself to smile, Jonathan opened the book and picked up where he left off, at the beginning of a story he was unfamiliar with. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the black print read. Jonathan listened one last time for the sound of footsteps - he didn't want Gran to catch him with the book, especially since it was from the library and he didn't have the money to pay any fines - and was relieved when the only sound he heard was his own breathing. He was close enough to the bed that he could shove it under in time if he noticed her come home.
It was quite a good story, all things considered. Jonathan had always liked long words and rich descriptions, quickly finding himself completely absorbed in the world of eighteenth-century New England.
At first he found The Legend of Sleepy Hollow entertaining enough, a straightforward but humorous story that made fun of city folk so that country folk, either in Sleepy Hollow or Arlen, could feel smarter. The first thing that jerked him out of the story was the name of the story's protagonist. Ichabod Crane, schoolmaster of Sleepy Hollow, a fellow whose gawky frame and bookish ways reminded Jonathan vaguely and uncomfortably of himself. It didn't help that the two shared a surname.
"Well," he told himself with a nervous laugh, "there are plenty of people called Crane." If it had only been the name, he would have been able to dismiss it as a coincidence, but the number of similarities between the flesh-and-blood boy and the fictitious teacher were enough that it turned downright eerie.
Nevertheless, Jonathan couldn't turn away. As far as he could see, the main difference between them that he had noticed so far was the nature of their fearfulness. Ichabod was afraid of imaginary things like ghosts and goblins. Jonathan's fears were very real. He had the scabs and bruises to prove it. He felt superior to Irving's creation in that much. When he got to the part of the book where the schoolmaster was compared to a scarecrow, Jonathan almost shut it on the spot, half-intending to put it back in the satchel and take it back to the library, well and truly shaken.
He managed to plow through, swallowing his increasing sense of discomfort. Instead of disappearing, however, it curdled in his belly, making him sick all throughout the story. Unlike Jonathan Crane, however, Ichabod was sly enough to win people over to his side, with the exception of Brom Bones, the town daredevil. Of course. There was even a pretty woman that the two were fighting over, Katrina van Tassel.
"Clearly people haven't learned very much since then," said Jonathan, all the while backing up into the bear's comforting body. He couldn't help but cheer for the schoolmaster, if only because the two of them had so many things in common. He could even sympathize with Ichabod's plan to marry for money. After all, he wouldn't be above the same thing. If he had the slightest chance to move up the Arlen pecking order, he'd sink his teeth into it and refuse to let go. Reading about his literary counterpart's efforts, in fact, inspired him to hatch a new, sneakier, plan.
Sherry Squires was the Katrina van Tassel of Arlen, Georgia. She was popular enough that one of the best players on the football team could court her, her family was well off, and any boy who got her permanent attentions would be set for life. If Jonathan could convince her that Bo was the wrong person for her and win her over at the same time, no one would ever make fun of him again.
Jonathan's smile turned into a toothy grin as he imagined it: Jackie Grey and the Chickenhawks completely at a loss, Bo Griggs in his football gear begging forgiveness at Crane's feet, and Sherry Squires at his side. He would be able to walk the streets of Arlen and see admiration in his schoolmates' eyes instead of disgust. Since her family was rich, she would be able to give him all kinds of tasty morsels to eat. Jonathan almost drooled at the thought. Above all, thanks to Sherry's money he would have a future outside of Arlen.
He was eager to see if Ichabod's plan would work, but was bitterly disappointed to find that the schoolmaster's wariness was his undoing, exploited by his rival in an way that was admittedly clever. Jonathan was not surprised at all that the dreaded Headless Horseman was only a prank. In Ichabod's absence, Brom and the girl were married, and the thin man assumed dead, no one even very concerned. He snorted. Reading the story, at least, had taught him what not to do! When courting his Katrina, he would be much more careful.
Frustrated, Crane was about to throw The Sketch-Book to the floor when he heard the familiar halting step of Gran coming up the stairs to his room. In an instant he shoved the book under his bed, in a dark corner where even he could barely see it, and covered it with a small plaid blanket. When she came in, with a bag of vegetables from town, Jonathan quickly smiled to cover up his fear.
Jonathan was lucky again. She didn't see the book or bother looking for it, instead ordering him downstairs for supper. Meals at the Keeny manor were always dreary. Gran sat opposite Jonathan, her narrow, suspicious eyes boring into him. The food was tasteless and stringy in Jonathan's mouth, difficult to chew, and he could feel it pile up in his gut. Discomfort grew into a stomachache. He didn't know if it was the food or the environment of the meal that ruined it for him.
"Gran," he said after swallowing a lump of lettuce, "I'd like to visit town for a bit after dinner. There's a place I want to go." He tried to sound brave, although his voice quivered a little.
"And what place is this, Jonathan?" she replied, glaring. He struggled to keep his nerve. "You don't want to go to those disgusting movies, do you?"
Jonathan shook his head. "Of course not. I just want to sit under the tree in the yard for a bit. Have a little rest. I had a long day." He yawned, trying his best to make it look convincing.
Gran, judging from her expression, wasn't fooled, and Jonathan's hopes sank. "As long as you come back before dark," she said, "and are just as you left. I will know if you lie to me."
"I will be, Gran," he said, bowing his head slightly. He would do as she said... mostly. As soon as he finished off his dinner, trying to lick the taste out of his mouth, he waited and watched her hobble into the living room to rest in her rocking chair. As soon as she was asleep, Jonathan moved, creeping upstairs and putting the Irving back in its satchel. He would hand it in first thing when he got to the library, check out a new book, and make it home before Gran woke up.
Thankfully, it was only a little dark when he made it outside, and he quickly found the apple tree where he had first met Bo Griggs. He stopped for a moment to pick an apple for a snack, biting into it and savoring the cool juice. When he was finished, he tossed aside the core for any animal lucky enough to find it. Now he felt much better. He knew that he should have washed it, but he was too hungry to care.
The Arlen Public Library was open late, so he felt confident that he would make it in time. All he needed to do was borrow another book. He was in the mood for something more challenging than Irving had been, something more mature. He wanted to drive out the worry that Sleepy Hollow had left him with. At the very least, he told himself, it would take more than a pumpkin to scare this Crane.
His plan was the perfect revenge. First he would take Bo's girlfriend, and then he'd take his popularity. Bo would be the cringing, despised one while Scarecrow Crane would walk in pride, seen by all of Arlen for what he was. It would be a real pleasure to see the Chickenhawks groveling at his feet, Jackie begging him to join their team. More than that - resigning so that Crane could be team captain! Not that he'd accept, of course. Sports weren't his thing, but the thought of those big football jocks taking orders from him cheered him up considerably.
Everything he wanted was within his grasp, if he played his cards just right and was careful around Bo. Getting his butt kicked would set his plan back considerably. He would have to be cunning about it.
He slunk in the library, checking the clock. It would close in half an hour. He had some time to look around.
"So," the librarian asked, "did you like the book?"
"It was fine," Jonathan replied as he handed the book over. "My favorite story was that Sleepy Hollow one."
That done, Jonathan withdrew into the literature section, scanning the titles for the book he wanted to read next. He ran his hand along their covers as he had before until it caught on one. Without thinking, he pulled it out, smiling. It was a fine book, a sturdy hardback with a handsome light brown cover. From the looks of it, it must have been quite old. A scan of the first few pages proved promising.
Putting it down, he opened it for a moment so that he could get the title. It wasn't a book he recognized, but he knew who the author was. He felt a thrill of delight and utter terror tingle up his spine. Oh, Gran would skin him alive for reading this one.
It was Ulysses, by James Joyce.