Title: Short & Shivery a.k.a. “The Wide World of Horror”
Author/Editor/Reteller: Robert D. San Souci
Illustrator: Katherine Coville
Summary: Everyone loves a spooky story. Don’t you?
Welcome to a chilling world of hair-raising tales! The thirty stories in this book were gathered from around the world, selected for their ghastly details and terrifying twists. Come inside and meet the young miller’s daughter in “The Robber Bridegroom,” who may have discovered too late that she has been betrothed to a madman; the dancing skeleton who returns from the dead to haunt the friend who betrayed him in life; the Golem, who tires of serving his greedy master and suddenly turns evil; and intriguing characters in stories from the Brothers Grimm, Washington Irving, and other world-famous authors. But before you settle down in your cozy reading chair, check behind you… and keep all the lights on!
Here’s the second of the three installments for the first “Short & Shivery” collection by Robert D. San Souci. Unfortunately Wing we still haven’t reached the werewolves yet, but we DO have a vampire story and one of my favorite monsters of all time, the Nuckelavee.
11. LADY ELEANORE’S MANTLE (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
[Wing: I did NOT expect to see a Hawthorne story in this.]
We’re entering into one of those “Woman gets killed because of vanity” bullshit things.
Lady Eleanore Rochcliffe was a proud, witty, educated, and beautiful young woman moving from England to live in the American colonies. Since her parents had died, she was now the ward of Governor Shute and his wife in Massachusetts.
Arriving to the colonies, Lady Eleanore brought with her a magnificent mantle (some type of cloak, apparently) adorned in blazing threads of red, gold, and silver. The mantle only served to heighten the beauty of its owner, making her appear like she was wreathed in flames. Truly, she was a phoenix, yet everyone was disappointed that her arrival was heralded by the local church bell rung for a nearby funeral. Foreshadowing? What’s that?
Just as Governor Shute and his wife were to welcome Lady Eleanore out of her carriage, a young man burst through the crowd and threw himself at her feet. It was as if the man wanted to be her footstool. The governor’s doctor knew this man was Gervase Helwyse. Gervase was poor but of sound mind until he became obsessed with Lady Eleanore. Of course the good lady had no problem using Gervase as a footstool, thinking it was hilarious someone wanted to throw his life away for her. The governor and his wife couldn’t believe someone like Gervase would think he had a chance with THEIR ward.
Okay five to one it turns out the mantle is alive and eats everyone.
A few days later the governor held a grand ball for Lady Eleanore’s arrival. All eyes were on her, and all talk was of her mantle. Rumor had it was sewn by a dying girl, whose last breath granted the fabric the power to bestow new grace and beauty on those who wore it. They even said the images of the birds and animals on the mantle were created by a mind delirious with death.
Lady Eleanore loved all this attention, but her mood was erratic. One moment she was the life of the party, the next she didn’t even have strength to speak and only nodded in agreement with her entourage. Yet somehow, Gervase Helwyse crashed the party and threw himself at Lady Eleanore’s side. As he did so, the young man begged Lady Eleanore to get rid of her mantle before it was too late. Lady Eleanore ordered Gervase to get away from her, but to also remember her as she was now. Gervase was dragged out of the mansion, but Lady Eleanore’s mood didn’t improve. In fact, the governor’s doctor seemed worried about something…
The strange conversation between Lady Eleanore and her stalker was forgotten until the smallpox outbreak began. And sure enough, the first to fall victim were those who attended the ball at the governor’s mansion. No one had seen Lady Eleanore since the party, and more rumors began to spread about her mantle. They say the girl who sewed the wretched thing had died of smallpox, and with her last breath infected the very threads of the mantle with her disease. Some said this was a punishment for Lady Eleanore’s pride and vanity.
Red flags were planted, marking every household gripped with smallpox. People would declare each new flag a grim triumph in Lady Eleanore’s name. At the height of the outbreak, most had fled the governor’s mansion which meant Gervase Helwyse entered unopposed. He searched for Lady Eleanore, but instead found a hideous, malformed wretch wrapped up in the lady’s mantle. The wretch declared SHE was Lady Eleanore, who wrapped herself in pride as if it were a mantle. Gervase laughed that Lady Eleanore’s final victim was none other than herself.
Gervase snatched the cursed mantle and fled to town. A procession carrying torches led a straw effigy, the mantle tied around it, to the town square where it was burned to ashes. Mysteriously, the smallpox outbreak diminished once the mantle was gone.
And all that remained of Lady Eleanore was a ghostly figure, said to haunt the former governor’s mansion, and hiding her face within a mantle of red, gold, and silver.
12. THE SOLDIER AND THE VAMPIRE (RUSSIA)
Back in the old days when the czars ruled Russia, instead of Vladimir Putin, a soldier was on his way back to his home village to attend his sister’s wedding. Near day’s end the solider stopped by a mill a couple of hours away from his home that was owned by an old friend. The soldier’s friend gave him some food and stuff to drink, and they caught up on old times. However, the miller had some grim news to share with the soldier. He claimed it was no longer safe to travel the forest at night. It seems an old wizard recently died, but he wasn’t through bedeviling the villagers. This wizard has the power to rise from his grave as a vampire every night, seeking to drain the life out of unsuspecting victims to prolong his horrible existence. The soldier believed war had shown him plenty to be horrified of, so he wasn’t too scared of this vampire/wizard, or vizard, if you will. The miller couldn’t stop the soldier from returning to his journey.
The soldier was in for another dose of grim news when he returned him, for his sister was a victim of the dastardly vizard! His parents explained the vizard had drained her life force, yet for now she was in a death like sleep. Once the vizard uses the energy he drained from her the next time he arises, she’ll be dead for real. The soldier demanded to know why no one had stopped the vizard yet, but apparently no one could find where he sleeps during the day. At night, he’s still powerful.
But nobody fucks with his little sister, so the soldier went off to find the vizard. [Wing: I can’t stop singing “Off to see the vizard.” Thanks for that.]
Searching through the woods, it wasn’t long before the soldier realized someone was following him. The soldier did his best to keep his stride and, utilizing a few things he learned on his other journeys, demonstrated a hand signal to identify himself as a fellow wizard. Seemingly convinced, the vizard hailed the soldier as a comrade, and the soldier proclaimed he wished to learn the secrets of life-in-death. The vizard recalled his victimization of a young woman, not knowing he’s talking to his victim’s brother. During the next sunset, the woman will die so he may live again.
The vizard brought the soldier to a mound in a clearing and took out a flask of blood. He explained the flask contained the girl’s blood, which he must consume before sunrise to complete the spell. When asked if there was some way to restore the girl, the vizard answered he must be completely and utterly destroyed so not one ounce of his soul remained. But now’s not the time to talk. Now the vizard is gonna tear the soldier apart, having seen through his ruse from the start and wishing to lull him into a false sense of security!
Realizing he’d been played, the soldier nevertheless swore in God’s name to destroy the vizard and unleashed his sword. The sight of cold steel and hearing God’s name enraged the vizard and lunged at him like a wolf. The soldier and vizard fought to a standstill until the vizard got lucky and managed to disarm the soldier. Struggling to free himself the vizard, luck turned back to the soldier when dawn broke and the vizard lapsed back into lifelessness since he never drank the sister’s blood.
Taking the flask of blood, the soldier proceeded to build up a funeral pyre of branches and tossed the vizard’s body onto the flames. However, as a last defense the body turned into a swarm of insects and crawling creatures like lizards and snakes to try and get to safety. The soldier struggled to destroy every last bug that tried to escape to make absolutely sure the vizard was gone for good.
The soldier returned home and restored his sister by pouring her blood back into the wounds from which it was drained. The wedding was held the next day.
[Wing: Well that is a take on vampires I’ve never heard before. Nice!]
13. THE SKELETON’S DANCE (JAPAN)
Taro and Jiro were best friends who lived in a small Japanese village. One day, the two friends left the village to make new lives for themselves in a distant city. Taro proved to be a very hard worker and made a nice living for himself, while Jiro fell in with… THE WRONG CROWD.
And suddenly Jiro didn’t have time for Taro. No, instead of playing together or pretending they were kittens like they used to, Jiro would gamble his money away, drink himself into a stupor, and get into fights.
Taro thought the best thing to do was to get Jiro out of the city and back to their village. Away from all those corruptible influences, Taro hoped his friend would remember the person he used to be. But was Jiro appreciative of Taro’s attempt to help? Yes, if by “Yes,” you mean “Rob him, kill him, and leave his body out in the woods.” He’d only gone with Jiro because loan sharks were after him for all the money he borrowed.
Jiro returned to the village telling everyone the poor story of his dear friend Taro, how Taro had fallen in with… THE WRONG CROWD. All the villagers could do were shake their heads in disappointment at how Taro wasted his life on gambling, drinking, and fighting, not knowing Jiro was full of shit.
It wasn’t long before Jiro’s bad habits carried over from city life. He decided to head back to the city under a new name, where he could make money by stealing from the rich. Travelling the same path on which he killed Taro, that night Jiro began to hear a voice calling his name. A familiar voice. At first assuming he was hearing things, Jiro wanted to find out who was trying to trick him, and was horrified when he was approached by a living skeleton!
The skeleton asked Jiro if he was incapable of recognizing his old friend, Taro, whom he killed and robbed. Jiro tried to flee, but Taro’s skeleton grabbed him and calmly asked what his friend had been up to lately. Hearing Jiro hadn’t changed at all, Taro figured the moron would get himself killed trying to rob others and proposed a better idea. He will help Jiro make money by dancing for people while Jiro plays an instrument! They’ll make a fortune! Jiro and His Dancing Skeleton!
Jiro warily asked why Taro would want to help his murderer. Taro explained because Jiro killed him, he was bound to Jiro.
Accepting Taro’s offer, Jiro purchased a flute and a fine teakwood box to carry Taro’s bones around in for their performances. Jiro made a ton of money as Taro did his bone dance. They became famous and soon they were booked to perform for the lord of their province.
But come the time of their show for the lord, Taro’s bones remained in a pile as Jiro tried to play his flute. Jiro became more and more enraged when Taro finally stood up, but he didn’t dance. No, he approached the province lord to tell his story of how Jiro murdered him. Taro set all this up, convinced Jiro to let him perform for people, so they would become famous enough he could be brought to the highest power in the land and reveal how Jiro robbed and killed him. The lord was disgusted at Jiro’s shameful actions, and ordered the greedy man to be locked away for trial. At which point Taro’s bones became lifeless again, having officially avenged his own death.
Jiro was sentenced to death three days later.
You got any cookies, Wing?
14. SCARED TO DEATH (U.S.A.)
A decade or so after the end of the Civil War, the Charleston manor called Roseway was all decked out for Miss Sally Heyward’s 18th birthday. Her widowed father spared no expense to give his darling Sally the swankiest party of the South.
Dressed in her pale yellow skirts, a single red rose pinned to her bodice to compliment her pale skin and jet black hair, Sally quickly grew bored out of the festivities and herded her entourage of male suitors and female companions to the foot of Roseway’s grand staircase so they might chat and gossip. Although Sally’s look drew more than a few pairs of eyes to her direction, she was only focused on Peter Beaufort… while pointedly trying to ignore Peter’s fiancee, Alice Cardross.
Breathlessly, Alice informed the little cluster of friends, “When our carriage passed the graveyard tonight, both horses reared up. I declare, I was so frightened, I almost lost my wits.”
“I’m sure nothing serious was at risk,” said Sally, with a wicked little smile.
[Wing: LEGIT LAUGH OUT LOUD. Oh, Sally.]
Peter came to Alice’s defense, asserting the nearby graveyard’s not only spooky enough, but is believed to be haunted too. Sally, rather bored by the conversation, asked if anyone here’s seen a real ghost. It’s not like she believes in them, as only simpletons would think ghosts are real ALICE. Peter explains his manservant once saw the ghost of Daniel Payson, dead four years, lingering by his tilted headstone one night. Sally doesn’t believe Peter, but Alice asserts she’d never go into a cemetery after dark.
Sally continued to focus on Peter while asking Alice what she has to be scared of. Peter, annoyed both by Alice’s clinging and Sally’s bragging, finally called Sally’s bluff saying she’d never go into a cemetery at night and she knows it. Forgetting her infatuation with another woman’s lover, Sally cried she’s not a fool like SOME people. Having had enough of Sally’s bullshit too, Alice dared Sally to go into the graveyard by herself this very night. Accepting the challenge, she extended her hand so Peter could escort her to the entrance but he refused. For that matter, none of the other guys would go with Sally. They didn’t want to tempt fate at what may or may not be lurking in the boneyard.
Frustrated by being surrounded by morons, Sally grabs her evening cloak and loudly declares she’ll probably find better company among the dead. Before Sally leaves, Alice hands her Peter’s cane, the one tipped with a gold handle shaped like a goblin’s head, to prove she was in the cemetery. Sally has to jam the stick in the ground near Daniel Payson’s grave, which she’s all the more happy to do and promises Alice will find in the morning when she’s not so much of a chickenshit coward. [Wing: Oh, right, I know this one.]
Sally stomped and muttered all the way to the graveyard, cursing Alice and cursing Peter for not taking her side like she hoped. An entire evening of flirting, and for nothing. Happy fucking birthday, Sally. In the darkness of night, Sally had only the faint glow of the moon offering dim illumination. The silent darkness of the graveyard started to unnerve Sally as she searched for the tilted grave, but she received a burst of determination when remembering how much Peter and Alice pissed her off. Finally she was able to discern the outline of a crooked grave and thrust the goblin head cane into the ground.
Which is when IT happened.
A sigh, then a loud moan, came from the blackness just beyond the tombstone. A sudden gust of wind, chill and smelling of damp and mold, rushed past her. She was certain that she could hear something coming toward her – something that moved stiffly and wetly and never drew a mortal breath.
Sally tried not to scream as she attempted to flee, but something had hold of her! She tried to break free of the thing’s grasp as the moaning continued. Now she could smell something like an open grave. Sally couldn’t break free of her captor, was so scared she couldn’t scream, and then she felt something choking her! She made one last attempt to throw herself forward to escape but was pulled back in the direction of the grave. Something burst inside her head and everything went black.
When Sally took too long to return, Peter and Alice led a search party into the graveyard. They quickly found Sally by Daniel Payson’s grave. The 18 year old woman was dead, her eyes open wide and her mouth frozen in a silent scream that never escaped her throat. Peter found his cane stuck in the ground…
And impaling Sally’s cloak.
The stupid moron couldn’t leave because she jammed the cane through her cloak and it got stuck in the ground. The choking feeling around her neck was the clasp of her cloak digging into her skin. She scared herself to death!
Now people say TWO ghosts haunt the cemetery.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: I encountered a variation of this story in an episode of the Sci-Fi channel’s “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction,” the anthology show hosted by Jonathan Frakes. It was a modern retelling involving a girl who had to stab a knife in the ground by an executed serial killer’s grave.
Fact? Or Fiction?
15. SWALLOWED ALIVE (Britain)
Dorothy Mately was a widow who worked in an iron mine in the 1660s. She was a large, rude, ill-mannered woman who got on the bad side of nearly everyone she knew. Believed to be both a liar and a thief, whenever someone accused her of a crime she would loudly declare the same thing:
“Let God open the earth and have it swallow me, if what I tell you isn’t the truth.”
Oh wow so she’s a single working woman who’s also considered homely, ill-tempered and a lying brute. NICE CHOICES THERE, STORYTELLER.
One day, as Dorothy washed some ore in a stream near the mine, another young miner stopped to clean himself off further down the same stream. When he emerged from the water, he discovered all his clothes strewn about the forest floor and he was missing several gold coins. That was all the guy had until his next payday. Spotting Dorothy nearby and being unable to locate his money, he deduced she robbed him and accused her of theft.
Dorothy mouthed off her usual spiel about the Earth swallowing her whole, when a man from the nearby village heard the arguing. He knew of their respective reputations and attempted to mediate the situation when Dorothy threatened the miner with her hammer. The miner fled, so the newcomer confronted Dorothy and told her to make amends. She knew of this man, who had a high reputation as a God-fearing man and was of some import to their village, so she didn’t threaten him. She still proclaimed her innocence and that God could have the Earth swallow her if she was lying.
The minute the man turned to leave guess what happened.
He heard Dorothy scream, and turned to see her caught in what looked like a whirlpool in the solid ground. She spun round and round, until finally she was trapped up to her waist in the Earth. The man tried to save her, using his coat to pull her out and telling her to ask God to forgive her sins. Again Dorothy denied any wrongdoing, and the whirlpool started up again and began to envelop her deeper into the ground. The man feared no one would ever see her again.
[Wing: Some days I wish it was literal. Some days.]
As Dorothy struggled to free herself from the whirlpool, rocks and stones were let loose in the ground and a large boulder struck Dorothy’s head. Knocked unconscious, she was consumed with no resistance.
Workers from the mine were able to dig up Dorothy’s body from the spot where the Earth swallowed her up, and discovered the miner’s coins in her apron pocket.
16. THE DEACON’S GHOST (Iceland)
In a small village in Iceland there lived a young deacon who fell in love with a beautiful farm owner named Gudrun. They were happily engaged to be married the following spring, but alas, tragedy struck the winter before.
The deacon rode his horse named Shadow to visit Gudrun at her farm on the other side of the valley across the river. It was a few days before Christmas and the deacon wished to invite Gudrun to the Christmas Eve celebration at the church. Gudrun was delighted and the two spent time together, making plans, chatting, enjoying one another’s company.
What they didn’t know at the time was an unseasonable thaw had struck and melted the frozen lake the deacon used to travel across the valley. A flood began and most of the ice broke up. When the deacon left Gudrun’s home he was shocked when he approached the river and discovered the state it was in. He managed to find one stretch of ice further down the river, but once he and Shadow were halfway across the bridge broke apart and they were swept away in the water.
The next day Shadow was found galloping through a nearby meadow, while a search party discovered the deacon’s corpse washed up on the riverbank. The force of the water had ripped away all the skin on the back of his head, showing pure bone. Gudrun had no way of knowing this because the state the river was in made it impossible for anyone on the other side to reach her farm. She still expected to attend the Christmas Eve party with her lover…
And sure enough, come Christmas Eve there he was on her doorstep. At first someone knocked on Gudrun’s front door, but her maid opened it to find no one there. A second knock came, and Gudrun saw Shadow and the deacon standing in the distance. Gudrun hurried to join her love, and he silently helped her atop Shadow. The temperature had dropped again so most of the river was once more frozen. The closer they got to the other side, Gudrun saw the deacon’s hat slip from his head and could make out the bare patch of skull on the back of his head. Horrified, she asked what happened and he promised to show her in a little bit…
The deacon didn’t bring Gudrun to the church, but instead directed Shadow to the nearby cemetery. Gudrun was led through the snow covered tombstones to an open grave, and was asked to lay beside the deacon under the ground!
Gudrun broke free from her dead lover’s grasp and ran to the church screaming for help. The people at the celebration heard her shouting and came to her rescue, just as the deacon hopped into the grave and pulled the dirt in with him.
But he didn’t stop harassing Gudrun, returning night after night to try and entice her to join his side among the dead. The villagers tried a local priest, and then a spellcaster from further up the island, in order to exorcise whatever was inhabiting the deacon’s body. Once the demon was removed, Gudrun was never bothered again.
17. NUCKELAVEE (Orkney Islands)
Off the coast of Scotland, the people of the Orkney Islands told tales of a devil that brought blight and disease to their land. Called the Nuckelavee, from a distance unsuspecting victims would first assume they were looking at a man riding a horse. But as the wretched monster drew closer, they would be horrified to discover man and horse were part of the same creature! [Wing: There’s porn about centaurs, people. Embrace your monster devil thing.]
Oh but if only that was the worst the Nuckelavee had to offer.
His human-looking head was ten times the size of a normal man’s, while the horselike head had an enormous mouth that jutted out like a pig’s. Most horrible of all, he seemed to have no skin, so those who came near and lived to tell of it, swore that you could see black blood flowing through his veins, and every movement of his white muscles.
Jesus Christ that is amazing. I am forever pissed this didn’t have an illustration.
[Wing: …never mind about that embracing.]
The Nuckelavee would crawl out of the sea and spread pestilence with its foul, poisonous breath. Crops withered, and livestock would grow sick or throw themselves off the cliffs into the sea just to get away from this fiend. Its only weakness was fresh water, which is why it avoided rivers and streams and never came on land when it rained.
A man named Thomas encountered the Nuckelavee one night while walking along a dangerous ridge overlooking the sea. That same ridge was located next to a freshwater lake. Thomas realized something was coming near him from the opposite side of the road, and whatever it was, it wasn’t good. He couldn’t head into the river, nor go off the ridge, and if he turned his back on whatever was approaching him he was surely good and dead. His one option was to face his opponent head on. Too bad his opponent was the Nuckelavee.
Thomas could see quite clearly that the lower part of this terrible monster was indeed like a horse, with flippers extending from his legs. The mouth seemed large as a whale’s mouth, gleaming with sharp teeth in the starlight and giving off breath that poured out like steam from a giant teakettle. The horsehead had a single eye, glowing red as a coal.
Out of the back grew what seemed to be the upper half of a man, with a head as big as barrel and arms that reached nearly to the ground. The whole creature seemed sculpted from red, raw flesh, in which Thomas saw blood black as tar, running in yellow veins, and great white sinews twisting, stretching, and contracting as the monster moved.
I love you, Nuckelavee.
The only thing that scared Thomas more than the sight of this monster was the thought of what it might do if he tried to run away. Remembering the Nuckelavee hates fresh water, he positioned himself closer to the side of the lake. Inches from the creature’s horse head, as the arms began to reach towards him, Thomas made a quick dash past it and splashed some water on the monster’s legs. The Nuckelavee let out a roar sounding like a tidal wave but backed away from the lake while Thomas ran.
Thomas didn’t bother to look behind him as he heard the Nuckelavee’s horrible roar and the sound of the monsters’s hooves chase after him. At the last second, Thomas made a jump over a stream connected to the lake just as the Nuckelavee snatched his coat and hat off. The monster let out another frustrated roar, but dared not go any further.
It’s disappointing this story is so short yet the Nuckelavee is so visually horrifying and amazing. A poor waste of an awesome monster.
18. THE ADVENTURES OF THE GERMAN STUDENT (Washington Irving)
Gottfried Wolfgang was a young German man who was essentially a prototype Goth kid. He was a good student from a fine family, but spent so much time studying about ghosts and demons it took a toil on him physically and emotionally. He became obsessed and paranoid about a demon that was supposedly after his soul, and in his exhaustion he became thin and gloomy.
His friends figured Gottfried needed to get out of the house for a change and arranged for him to finish his studies in gay Paree. But they just HAD to schedule his transfer right as the French Revolution began.
Seeing all the beheadings and public executions made Gottfried further disgusted with humanity, and his seclusion only intensified. He kept to himself in an apartment complex frequented by many students, but rarely ventured outside except to attend classes. In his loneliness, Gottfried began to imagine his ideal woman, thinking about her and dreaming about her until she was practically the only thing on his mind.
One stormy night, as Gottfried was making his way back to the apartment and tried to hurry before he got completely drenched. Unfortunately, he tripped and lost his footing, finding himself right in front of the podium featuring the dreaded guillotine. Gottfried tried to leave when a bolt of lightning illuminated a cowering figure on the bottom step of the platform. It was a young woman, dressed in black. Gottfried figured she might’ve been a relative of someone recently executed, because why else would she be hanging around the guillotine so late at night.
But wait! As he got closer to the young woman he was shocked to see her features were identical to the woman he so often dreamed about!
Gottfried asked why she was here so late at night and urged her to return home to her family, or at the very least he offered to escort her to where her friends were lodging. The woman pointed to the guillotine and said she had no friends.
“But you must have a home,” said Wolfgang.
“Yes – in the grave!”
Gottfried felt so bad for this young woman, he made an open offer of hospitality right then and there. He granted the woman the right to use his apartment, and if possible, become her friend. Having no friends in Paris, he thought he understood how she felt.
Surely this will end well…
Gottfried brought the woman back to his apartment and let her dry herself off by his fireplace. By the light of the hearth, Gottfried got a better look at her features and was astonished by the similarities between the woman and his dream companion. He attempted to be a gentleman and declared his intent to share an apartment with one of the other students, yet he didn’t really want to go. He was mesmerized by her looks. The woman spoke little, didn’t even mention the guillotine, when Gottfried lost all control and declared his love for her.
“From the first, I was drawn to you by a power I cannot account for either.”
You’ve known her for like an hour.
“You have no home or family. Let me be everything to you – or, rather, let us be everything to one another. Marry me – here is my hand,” and he grabbed her delicate hand in how own, distressed to feel how cold it still was. “I pledge myself to you forever!” he said, in the heat of his own passion, “upon my very soul!”
“Forever? Upon your soul?” said the stranger solemnly.
“Forever!” repeated Wolfgang. “My heart and soul are yours!”
The woman took Gottfried’s hands and declared yes, she’ll be his. And he’ll be hers.
She then asked to be brought to bed, for she was very tired. Gottfried carried her to the bed and she instantly fell asleep. He spent the night dreaming of their life together, and the next morning Gottfried went to look for a bigger apartment for his bride. Sadly, the young man returned home to discover his lover still in bed.
She was dead!
Gottfried’s panicked horror caught the attention of all the other students in the building, until a nearby officer of the law heard the commotion and investigated. He recognized the young woman in Gottfried’s bed and was shocked, asking how she got here when just yesterday she was executed! The officer moved forward and undid the black band around the woman’s neck…
At which point her head rolled onto the floor.
Gottfried began screaming the demon he believed was following him all this time had finally claimed his heart and soul. The other students tried to calm him, but believing he pledged himself to an evil spirit, Gottfried fled the apartment and was never seen again. It was years later people heard rumors Gottfried was back in Germany, having lost his mind and now rotting away in some asylum thinking he was possessed.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: Not this particular story, but the twist at the end involving the neck band and the severed head is something I’ve seen in a couple of other stories. Mainly, J.B. Stamper included a variant of this in the first “Tales For The Midnight Hour” collection, and it was a twist used in the 1997 horror film “Campfire Tales.” Hell, a decade ago I wrote a Legion of Super-Heroes fan fic based on this concept inspired directly from Stamper’s take on it. We also saw a version in the Graveyard School short story “Twins.”
[Wing: I’ve seen the ribbon holding on the neck in a lot of stories (many of them probably inspired by this one), but this is the only version with that whole one hour insta love thing that I’ve read.]
19. BILLY MOSBY’S NIGHT RIDE (U.S.A.)
After his parents died, Billy Mosby moved in with his grandparents Enoch and Anne in a small farming town in New York. [Wing: Random Wing fact, I used “Enoch” by Robert Bloch in a competition once. It’s a great, creepy little story.] The only thing interesting about this boring town and Billy’s new life was the mysterious Francis Woolcott. Woolcott was a neighbor of the Mosbys, an elderly man whom most of their neighbors feared. They believed Woolcott was a witch, and often gave him whatever he needed to avoided getting on his bad said.
Enoch and Anne didn’t believe the rumors about Francis Woolcott, that he could make horses stop dead in their tracks or make a man think he’s a chicken. People even said, on certain nights, Woolcott could conjure up thirteen demons straight from Hell to go out and bedevil those who annoyed him. However, Woolcott never bothered the Mosbys because they were always polite to him on the odd chance they encountered one another.
Just because his grandparents didn’t believe the stories about Francis Woolcott didn’t mean Billy lacked an interest. One night, Billy sneaked out while his grandparents were asleep and headed over to Woolcott’s decrepit old cabin to see what the man was capable of. He arrived just in time to see Woolcott leave the cabin with a bunch of straw bundles in his arms.
Keeping his distance, Billy followed Woolcott into an empty clearing deep in the woods. Woolcott placed the straw bundles, thirteen in total, in a ring around him. The old man spread his arms wide and mumbled words Billy couldn’t make out, when he began to turn around faster and faster. Billy watched in fascination as the straw bundles began to grow and expand. They were taking the forms of black horses!
A cloud rolled over the almost full moon, and when it departed, Billy could see each horse now had an identically dressed rider on their backs. They wore black cloaks and black, broad brimmed hats that obscured their faces. Billy tried to take a closer step when he snapped a twig and gave away his presence. Woolcott was immediately on Billy and kept his grip on the boy’s shoulder with a strength that belied his appearance.
Woolcott was amused by Billy promising not to tell anyone what the old man was doing. He began to wonder aloud about making a curious young man like Billy into his apprentice. And what better time to start learning than tonight?
Billy was forced to join one of Woolcott’s Night Riders as it journeyed through the woods on its demonic steed. He couldn’t make out the Rider’s face, and neither Rider or horse made a single sound as it galloped through the forest. All Billy could hear was the wind.
Nothing stood in the way of the Night Rider as it finally reached someone’s farm. Billy listened as the Rider cast an incantation:
“Tangle the horses’ tails this night;
Let the hogs all sing and dance upright.”
A shrill scream emerged and Billy watched as two horses burst through the barn doors, their tails tangled in a knot. The pigs in the nearby pen began standing upright and squealed in agony, as if they were trying to dance and sing. The Night Rider led the horse away from the farm as its occupants awoke.
As the moon was just about to set and night ended, Billy’s Rider disappeared and the horse turned back into straw. He was all set to bring the bundle back to show his grandparents, but realized they’d never believe him. The following day he did ask them what an apprentice was. They explained it’s someone who works under someone else to learn their trade, and asked if Billy wanted to be someone’s apprentice. He said no, but couldn’t stop thinking about Francis Woolcott’s powers and how amazing it might be to develop abilities like him.
After that night, people barely saw Francis Woolcott out of his cabin. Some people said he finally died and the devil claimed his soul. Billy didn’t believe it, and his curiosity over what Woolcott could do got the best of him. One day, Billy headed over to Woolcott’s cabin and found the old man in bed. Billy said he wanted to take up Woolcott’s offer of apprenticeship, but it seems Woolcott had a change of heart. Why? Because guess what, Billy. There’s a price you have to pay for the power to do such terrible things, and Woolcott’s about to pay it…
Suddenly, a storm began to rage outside the cabin and Woolcott especially was horrified. He grabbed Billy’s arm and claimed someone was coming when they heard the sound of galloping hooves. The galloping stopped just outside the cabin when the door flew open. It was a Night Rider, but one far more horrifying than the ones summoned by Francis Woolcott.
There was a violet flash of lightning; for an instant Billy caught a glimpse of the rider’s face. He saw horns, skin the color of raw beef, and eyes that burned like coals. The room smelled of sulfur, and the sound of rain on the roof was deafening.
YOU DONE FUCKED UP NOW, OLD MAN.
Billy watched in horror as the rider picked up Francis Woolcott like a bundle of straw and slammed the door behind him.
When Billy finally felt brave enough to move, he was shocked to see outside was as dry and sunny as when he first reached the cabin. Back home, his grandparents said there was never a storm anywhere in the vicinity.
No one ever saw Francis Woolcott again, and Billy lost interest in being an apprentice to ANYONE.
[Wing: Eh, I don’t know, depends on how many things I can do with that power before the Rider comes for me.]
20. THE HUNTER IN THE HAUNTED FOREST (U.S.A. – TETON TRIBE)
[Wing: Oh lord, here we go.]
A hunter in the Teton tribe decided to venture into a forest reputed to be haunted. He had a wife and two children to feed, and he wasn’t having much luck hunting to provide for them. With winter on the way he feared his family would starve to death. He was gonna try his luck in the haunted forest because the game was supposedly plentiful. The hunter’s cousin offered to share half his food but the hunter turned him down. He didn’t want to be responsible for his cousin’s family going hungry as well.
Taking with him some wasna (a type of grease mixed with wild cherries and buffalo meat) and some tobacco, the hunter entered the haunted woods. After two days traveling the man reached the clearing of the woods, when the Thunder Beings unleashed a great storm. Thus forced to enter the woods to find shelter, the hunter came across a tepee. He was about to ask the occupants for shelter, when he heard arguing voices. The people inside the tepee knew the hunter was near. Thinking he couldn’t hear them, the voices decided to offer him hospitality. Then they’ll kill him and use his ghost to make their way to the spirit’s road, a.k.a. the Milky Way.
The hunter quickly fled realizing these were ghosts who couldn’t find the spirit’s road because in life they committed dark, horrible deeds. He ran until the rain stopped and he could make out the sun beginning to set. He tried to sleep under a fallen tree but kept hearing sounds like voices in the wind.
The next morning the hunter tried to resume his search for game, but while he could find signs of animals nearby he couldn’t find any of the actual creatures. Night returned and the hunter made a fire, disappointed and fearing he’d fail his family. While eating some wasna and smoking some tobacco, the hunter saw an old man enter the clearing. The stranger made a sign of peace so the hunter offered him a place by the fire.
The old man only asked to smoke some of the hunter’s tobacco, but as he reached for the pipe the light from the fire revealed the old man’s arm had no skin. His robes fell from his body, and the hunter saw the old man was a bare skeleton below his neck. He watched as the old man used the pipe and let the smoke exit his rib cage.
Standing, the skeleton man declared now he and the hunter must fight one another if he wishes to find game for his family. If the hunter wins, he’ll find more than enough animals to hunt so his family will be able to eat during the winter. If the spirit wins, the hunter and his family will starve to death.
The hunter realized he had no choice but to agree. He put more kindling on the fire and kept some kindling nearby before he started.
The spirit lunged at the hunter, and despite his lack of muscles the ghost was surprisingly strong. The two struggled to throw the other to the ground when the hunter discovered an advantage. Every time they got closer to the fire, the ghost got weaker. Unfortunately, the fire was beginning to dim so the ghost started to overpower his opponent. It was only when thinking of his family that the hunter found the strength to win. With a burst of strength he broke his leg free to kick the rest of the kindling into the fire, making it blaze up. The ghost screamed in agony by the amount of light and crumbled to dust.
As it turned out, the ghost spoke true. By defeating the spirit, the hunter was able to find all the game he needed to make sure his family would have enough to eat for the winter.
So what’d everyone think of this round of short and shivery horror tales? I’m just sorry I couldn’t provide all the illustrations for this post.
I didn’t mention this during the recap, but I did have a commission I wanted to share pertaining to “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle.”
This is a redesign I commissioned from LadyNorthstar of Infectious Lass, a character owned by DC Comics, based on “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle.”
Infectious Lass, or Drura Sehpt of the planet Somahtur, is a living disease colony like everyone else on her planet. She wanted to join the Legion of Super-Heroes but only succeeded in giving Star Boy a stomach virus. Still, Drura settled for joining the Legion of Substitute-Heroes.
On an alternate Earth setting, Earth-27B, I’ve been constructing a Legion counterpart called the Vanguard of Tomorrow with many of its member styled after figures of folklore. It seemed to make sense to design a version of Infectious Lass inspired from the Lady Eleanore story given they’re both disease carriers. Plus Marvel already has a “Typhoid Mary.”
I’m still disappointed the Nuckelavee didn’t have a genuine story since it’s got such an amazing design. Oh but don’t worry Wing, next time we’ll get to the werewolf.
[Wing: FINALLY. Though I really enjoyed a couple of the stories in this one.]