Westchester Haunts: Time Runs Away With Her,
Dobbs Ferry, and Sleepy Hollow
Dobbs Ferry, and Sleepy Hollow
I grew up in Dobbs Ferry, NY, listening to my parents’ friends in the local historical society try to scare me with tales about the ghostly White Lady in her diaphanous gown, drifting down the hill from The Master’s School. I really wanted to see her, and I never did. She was supposed to be translucent. “Translucent” was my favorite word when I was in fifth grade. I imagined the expression on her pale, see-through face: solemn, tragic. It would have been so cool to see The White Lady just once!
Maybe that’s why I had to write a YA novel set in a village on the banks of the Hudson River in the year 1970. Time Runs Away With Her has a ghost fifty times as heartbroken as The White Lady—and there’s time travel in the mix, too!
Westchester was seriously spooky in the 1960’s and 70’s—not like the Johnny-come-lately hocus-pocus on Sleepy Hollow. Look, Sleepy Hollow’s fun, but coming up in a river town back in the day, you took creepy old houses and ghosts for granted. They weren’t something you TiVo’d and binge-watched. They were simply what you walked by on your way to school, past Victorian houses and Prohibition-era brick storefronts. Everything was haunted.
Each Sunday, my parents deposited me at an Episcopal church that was built sometime around the year 1830. Washington Irving was one of the original vestrymen there, by the way, speaking of Sleepy Hollow! I sang in the children’s choir, and wore a heavy purple choir robe with a starched white collar. The robe probably dated back to the 1920’s. It itched, and smelled like dust. There was a very old lady in the congregation who looked a bit like Queen Victoria, which was fitting because she also was very British and could certainly remember Her Majesty. Her name was Grandma Thomas, and she would pour me a cup full of warm milk with about a tablespoon of actual tea in it: a suitable drink for an eleven-year-old.
When the pacifist-priest-who-could-talk-to-the-young came to town, and the guys in my junior high classes started growing their hair out until it “got good in the back,” some things changed—and some things didn’t. Minding Father N’s children in the church rectory was still terrifying because everyone knew the place was filled with angry ghosts. Things happened there. This was one baby-sitting job where you were glad if the kids wouldn’t go to sleep. But like I said, it was the lower Hudson River Valley. The late 60’s. Everything really was haunted.
And away from our spooky old mansions-turned-to-private schools and our big, bare trees whistling in the winter wind, the whole world was turning on its head. Restless spirits in the night? The thing that really scared us river rats was The Bomb. Or, as we got further into high school, The Vietnam War. Vietnam wasn’t the Good War our fathers had fought in. It seemed pointless. Hopeless. And some of us would get drafted and killed.
Welcome to my heroine Bean Donohue’s world. Things are still pretty…analog. Vinyl LP’s are cutting edge technology, not retro fun. Phones plug into the wall. There’s The Pill--and concerts at The Fillmore East and a hip, going-to-be-an artist boyfriend. But Westchester’s ghostly past keeps coming back for Bean when she least expects it. And it really does “run away with her.” She has to be very careful who she tells that to. Copping to being a time traveler isn’t like telling someone that you speak a little French—or that you play guitar.
C’mon up and visit us in the lower Hudson Valley if you want to see what’s left of Time Runs Away With Her’s setting. Did you know The Ramones shot the video for Pet Sematary in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery? And that Leona Helmsley is buried there as well as Washington Irving? No spoilers here, but you have to see that Helmsley monument!
And if you can’t see Bean’s (and my) stomping ground in person, here’s an even better alternative: your imagination. Let Time Runs Away With Her run away with you.
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Time Runs Away with Her
Time Travel Romantic Suspense, 74k
Time Travel Romantic Suspense, 74k
It’s not easy being Bean. Bean Donohue lives for her guitar, but her mom threw her out of the house during a snowstorm for singing. No way she’s going to get permission to go see The Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East.
Zak, her almost-boyfriend, will get drafted if he doesn’t get into art school, pot makes Bean paranoid, and her best friend can’t stop talking about sex. 1970’s not for wimps—but neither was 1885...or 1945. So why does Bean keep sliding backwards in time?
…Suzanne’s black turtleneck was pulled all the way up to her nose, and her shoulders were hunched. She was memorizing French vocabulary words and twirling a strand of her stick-straight, chestnut-colored hair around a finger. Bean began to fold the corner of a loose-leaf page back and forth so that she could tear it off without making any noise: a note.
That’s when the library’s double doors banged open hard enough to bounce on the wall behind them. Bean heard Miss Webber draw her breath in––not quite a gasp, but almost––all the way across the room.
It was Zak. Bean put a hand over her mouth to hide an instant grin. Miss Webber, maybe a little embarrassed at being startled, set down the paperwork she had been doing and looked over her gold-rimmed glasses at him.
On Zak’s head was an old-fashioned fedora, an index card with the word PRESS handwritten in big letters in its hatband: a press pass, like a black and white movie’s newspaper reporter. His long hair looked silly and wonderful underneath it.
“Mr. Grant,” said Miss Webber. “Do you have a pass?” That’s when the laughing started. Not hard, nasty laughter, like when a dumb teacher gets taken in by a prank, but happy laughter. Kids liked Miss Webber, even though she was so old that no one could guess her real age. She wore a bun at the back of her neck the way you’d expect a librarian to. Her hair was a brownish, grayish no-color. But Bean bet it went all the way down her back when she brushed it out at night.
“Touché, Madame,” said Zak. Then, without speaking, he took the fedora off his head, and set it before her on the desk. He pointed at the hand-lettered PRESS card in the hatband, and pantomimed taking pictures of Miss Webber with an imaginary camera. Miss Webber laughed, which was not something that happened incredibly often.
“A hall pass, Mr. Grant,” she said. He pulled a small pink piece of paper out of his army jacket. She examined it. She still looked amused. She stretched her arm out before her, the hall pass between two fingers, and Zak retrieved it, bowing deeply. Instead of putting it back in his jacket, he tucked it into his hatband with the PRESS pass, and put the hat back on his head, adjusting its brim low on his forehead.
He spun around dramatically and scanned the library. Bean put her head down and stared at her book to protect herself from disappointment if she was wrong, but she suspected he was looking for her. She held her breath for a minute, looked up, and Zak was halfway to her table.
“Grant,” said someone in a low voice as he walked by. Zak ignored it and dropped into the chair next to Bean. Suzanne snuck a quick glance at Bean over the top of her French book. Zak’s army jacket smelled like the outdoors: winter air and fireplace smoke.
“Hi,” he whispered to Bean.
“Hi,” she whispered back. She wanted to giggle so much that her face hurt. She turned a few pages, looking for another Scarlet Letter quotation. When she’d finished writing one down, she peeked back at Zak. His Algebra Two book was in front of him, and he was unfolding a piece of paper. He produced a Rapidograph, used it to jot down an equation, and began to solve it.
Bean felt giddy. She reread what she’d just written in her notebook, but then a shadow fell across the page: Zak’s arm.
“Was stuff at home okay?” he wrote on the page across from her English notes. He began to doodle a shining sun face wearing a fedora next to what he had written.
“Sort of,” wrote Bean. “My mother is a...”
“Big Mamma!” wrote Zak, and drew a plump woman in a bikini reclining under the sun face. Bean’s mom wasn’t especially fat, but the picture was funny. Bean laughed silently and glanced up at Zak, not meaning to stare straight into his eyes. How had she not noticed the color of his eyes before? They were steely blue. Suzanne closed her French book to watch. Bean felt herself blush, and tried to go back to The Scarlet Letter.
A few minutes later, Bean heard more fine-point pen scratching. She pretended not to notice. On the back of his algebra homework, Zak had dashed off a sketch of a girl (Bean? Hard to say) with a guitar (Okay, so maybe it was Bean).
He showed Bean the sketch, and flipped the page back over. Then, he was scribbling numbers again, quickly enough that it surprised her. At the edge of her vision, the light over the river brightened, and the water sparkled. Bean looked up.
That’s when she saw the dinosaurs. Brontosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus rex. What were the names of the others? Was that a steg ... a stegosaurus, maybe? She couldn’t remember.
The dinosaurs were huge, at least life-sized, and on a barge in the river, being towed by a tugboat. The playground of the elementary school next door to Stormkill High was filling with children in double rows, walking toward the riverbank, led by their teachers.
Bean remembered her third grade teacher’s explanation: “The dinosaur models are for the Sinclair Oil Exhibit, at the World’s Fair they’re building in The City. The whole school’s going outside to watch the dinosaurs sail down the River.”
Bean stared out the library window. She remembered how she’d put on her itchy blue mohair sweater and lined up with her class. She hadn’t wanted to be Alice Turton’s partner, but she’d had to hold someone’s hand when they walked outside the building together: the buddy rule. The hall had been echoing with the sound of everyone in it all at once and then they were out on the playground.
Eleventh-grade Bean got up from the table, leaned her arms on the windowsill, and looked down. Outside, the elementary school classes walked toward the Hudson. And there: there was a little girl toward the front of one line of children with a blue sweater and long, red hair.
What Bean saw was herself, in the past, and so she pushed the window up and leaned out. The dinosaur barge was right in the middle of the mercury-colored river...
...And then it wasn’t. It had blinked out––gone. There was nothing, nothing but the glitter of sun on water and the rough cliffs on the other side of the Hudson. The playground next door was empty, unless you counted a couple of squirrels and a few canvas-seat swings, moving in the wind. Bean pulled her head back inside. Zak was at her side, looking either concerned or amused. She couldn’t tell. Mrs. Webber was on her way across the room.
“Heavens! You’ll freeze all of us, Rebecca! Next time, just tell me if you’re too warm!” Mrs. Webber said, as soon as she got close enough so she didn’t have to raise her voice. Kids from the tables near Bean stared. There was a little laughter, a buzz of whispered conversations. She managed to shrug her shoulders, and heard Zak chuckle.
The pages of Bean’s open notebook were moving in the cold breeze, but then Mrs. Webber closed the window and they were still. There was a bit more laughter, then it was quiet again.
Christine Potter lives in a small town not far from the setting of Time Runs Away With Her, near the mighty Hudson River, in a very old (1740) house with two ghosts. According to a local ghost investigator, the ghosts are harmless, “just very old spirits who don’t want to leave.” She doesn’t want them to.
Christine’s house contains two pipe organs (her husband is a choir director/organist), two spoiled tom cats, and too many books. She’s also a poet, and the author of two collections of verse, Zero Degrees at First Light, and Sheltering in Place. Christine taught English and Creative Writing for years in the Clarkstown Schools. She DJ’s free form rock and roll weekly on Area24radio.com, and plays guitar, dulcimer, and tower chimes.
Facebook book page for Time Runs Away: * https://www.facebook.com/beanstravels?fref=ts
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