Even More Short & Shivery Cover
Even More Short & Shivery Cover

Title: Even More Short & Shivery

Author/Editor/Reteller: Robert D. San Souci

Illustrator: Jacqueline Roberts

Tagline: Thirty Spine-Tingling Tales

Summary: Thirty spine-chilling stories from around the world provide plenty of shivers in this spooky collection. Curl up with old friends like Washington Irving’s “Guests from Gibbet Island” or Charles Dickens’s “Chips.” Or make the acquaintance of “The Skull That Spoke” and “The Monster of Baylock” – but beware of spectral visitors like “The Blood Drawing Ghost.” This exciting mixture of classic and contemporary tales from Mexico, China, Poland, Nigeria, and other lands near and far is perfect for hair-raising reading!

Initial Thoughts

Okay so I skipped the second book, sue me!

Ever since the pandemic started and shit’s been going on, my focus on the recaps and my writing’s been all over the place. I discussed it with Wing and maybe my first book theme would be better suited for 2021. I’m having an easier time putting my energy into discussing my faves over following a theme.

Now keep in mind I do intend to recap the second Short & Shivery collection as well, but I went for the third collection because I’m really fond of Jacqueline Roberts’s art AND I’ll get to discuss a short story I’ve been dying to review.

Instead of splitting the recaps into three parts with ten short stories each, I’ve decided to break it down further into six parts with five stories each. Less for me and Wing to take care, and at least one for each month.

[Wing: I love story collections, but there’s always the potential in collections like this for the stories to spin toward racism and/or culture appropriation.]

Recap

1. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA (Persia)

Apparently Death liked to shop in the bazaars of Persia, and she’d take the form of a tall woman dressed in a black hood. [Wing: And I immediately have a crush on Death.] Most people didn’t recognize her right away, but those that did would shudder and shun Death from their stalls. That’s not a good way to run a business, people.

Rakush was a servant who worked for the wealthiest merchant in Baghdad. One day he was shopping to prepare for a banquet his master was planning, when Rakush saw Death. When Death saw Rakush, she pointed at him and tried to speak.

Rakush freaked out, thinking Death was threatening him and ran all the way back to his master’s home. Terrified, Rakush told his master how Death threatened him. He thought his only recourse was to flee to Samarra and stay with his cousin so he could avoid Death’s clutches.

Appointment in Samarra Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts
Appointment in Samarra Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts

[Wing: I really like that illustration. I don’t know enough about art to adequately explain why, but I think it has something to do with the feeling of movement captured.]

Rakush’s master is a pretty nice guy, and he not only lends Rakush one of his horses for the journey, he goes to the marketplace to have a chat with Death. The master was a righteous man who held firm to his beliefs in the mercy of Allah, so he wasn’t afraid of Death. He beckoned Death towards him and calmly asked why she threatened his servant.

Death explained she didn’t threaten Rakush, she was only surprised to see him before their appointment in Samarra later tonight.

Whomp-whomp

Where I’ve Heard It Before: This is yet another story that had a variant in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.

[Wing: I’ve heard this set in a lot of places, though the first time was probably in Scary Stories.]

2. DEER WOMAN (United States – Ponca Tribe)

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska once had to deal with a demon known only as Deer Woman.

The night of a celebratory dance following a successful buffalo hunt, a young man named Gray Hawk saw a beautiful woman standing off to the side. He was mesmerized by her dark, black eyes, and while everyone else danced and sang and had fun, Gray Hawk fell deeper into the woman’s gaze. The woman took Gray Hawk’s hand and led him away.

Gray Hawk’s younger brother Many Arrows saw what was happening and felt uneasy. He didn’t recognize the woman from their tribe so he decided to follow his brother. Well it seems he either took too long or the woman may have redefined the concept of a “quickie” because Many Arrows soon found Gray Hawk dead. His brother’s body seemed to have been trampled by hooves sharp as knives. The body was surrounded by deer tracks and only one set of moccasin prints in the dirt.

An elderly woman in their tribe told Many Arrows his brother’s killer was Deer Woman. She warned him it’s useless to try and stop the demon from coming and going, and the only way to avoid her wrath is to not look into her hypnotic gaze. If you look down, you’ll see she’s got hooves for feet.

Many Arrows still wanted revenge for his brother’s death so he tried to stage a trap. Before the next gathering, Many Arrows requested the tribe set up a wall of brush and logs around the dance ring. Once the gathering started and everyone was inside, the entrance would be sealed by two guards.

Deer Woman Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts
Deer Woman Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts

When the gathering started, the women of the tribe got together while Many Arrows ordered the men not to look at their faces. The dance seemed to last forever until Many Arrows finally spotted a pair of hooves mixed among the moccasins. Many Arrows lunged at the now revealed Deer Woman, who shed her beautiful human appearance  and transformed into her animal namesake. Deer Woman slashed at Many Arrows with her razor hooves before escaping over the seven-foot wall.

By the time the rest of the men had their weapons ready, Deer Woman escaped across the grassland. They attempted to search for her, but by morning she was gone. Although she never returned to blight the Ponca Tribe, they heard stories of slashed-up dead bodies found in other villages.

Where I’ve Heard It Before: John Landis (yes THAT John Landis) directed an episode of Masters of Horror about a police detective trying to stop Deer Woman.

[Wing: I wonder if anyone has done an analysis of why so many cultures have stories about hoofed people, particularly those on the evil or dangerous spectrum.]

3. THE MAGGOT (British Isles – England)

Yorkshire was once plagued by a nasty little creature that existed solely to spread misery. No, this was before Margaret Thatcher was born.

One evening, postman Ian Thwaite saw something strange in the graveyard on his way home. Through the gate, he spotted something oozing out of a grave. The blob of ooze bubbled and glowed as it got bigger, until it took on the form of a big insect. It was like a mix between a giant maggot and glowworm, [Wing: Gross.] yet its eyes not only seemed human but glowed with an evil intensity.

Ian watched from a distance as the maggot moved around the graveyard before pushing through the gates. Careful to stay behind the creature, Ian followed the maggot’s slimy trail and avoided touching any part of the road coated in slime. Seems the maggot wanted to visit the vicar’s house, and it forced its way in underneath the front door.

Ian couldn’t comprehend what he’d just seen, felt faint and blacked out for a few moments. When he awoke, the vicar’s house was just as quiet as before so he assumed he’d imagined the whole thing. Ian hurried home where his night was plagued by dreams of maggoty things.

The next day at dinner, Ian and his wife Edna were joined by their friend William West. Edna and William both noticed something was bothering Ian. He told them about the maggot and expected them to laugh, but Edna and William both think Ian experienced something supernatural.

Maggot Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts
Maggot Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts

[Wing: Good lord, that thing is disturbing. It’s the face, I think.]

Because Edna and William are both supportive and awesome, they go with Ian to the graveyard to see if the maggot reappears. It does, much to their horror, and goes right back to the vicar’s house. Edna doesn’t hesitate to bang on the door to warn the vicar, but the vicar only seems annoyed by such a late night visitation. He doesn’t seem scared and he isn’t raving about a giant bug. The three adults told the vicar about the maggot, but upon inspecting his house he found nothing.

The following day, while Ian and Edna had tea William joined them with some grim news. The vicar and the vicar’s family were all dead! They’d apparently grown sick the night before and died earlier in the afternoon. The village doctor thinks they died from food poisoning. Yeh right.

The three friends went back to the graveyard and followed after the maggot to the local blacksmith. They tried to warn the man about the monstrous insect that had invaded his home, but he thought they were nuts and told them to beat it. He was dead the next day. Again the doctor thought it was food poisoning.

The maggot’s next trip literally hit too close to home, because it went to Ian and Edna’s house! The three searched every inch of every single room, but the maggot was nowhere to be found. Still frightened, Ian and William kept watch the entire night while Edna had her’s and Ian’s son sleep in their bed.

Unfortunately, the boy died the next day. The notions of food poisoning weren’t so easily swallowed since only one member of the household died while the rest for fine.

Having reached their breaking point, Ian, Edna, and William went back to the graveyard to put an end to the maggot. They dug up the grave the maggot always rose from, belonging to one Malcolm Sharpe. Sharpe was a nasty man who hated everyone and often made false accusations against his neighbors. He especially hated the vicar and blacksmith. When Ian and William opened the coffin, they saw Sharpe’s body was unchanged. However, the corpse’s eyes were wide open and glowed with a familiar evil intensity. Even worse, ooze began to bubble from Sharpe’s grinning lips.

Ian and William quickly closed the coffin and doused it in kerosene. After burning the coffin and its contents to cinders, Edna doused the remains with holy water from the nearby church. The three stayed until dawn, just to be sure the maggot was gone.

The three friends regretted how long they took to get rid of the creature, and Ian and Edna mourned their son’s death, but at least they’d gotten rid of the maggot for good. [Wing: I’m very confused as to why the kid died. If Edna, Ian, and William are the threat, go for them. The maggot clearly has some sort of brain and understanding to it.]

4. WITCH WOMAN (United States – African American)

A young man got lost while traveling through a dreary swamp. As night approached, he happened to come upon a lonely cabin. The young man knocked on the cabin door and was greeted by an old woman. Despite her wrinkled visage, her skin had a sheen like hand-rubbed leather and she moved with the grace of a cat.

The young man offered what little money he had for something to eat, but the woman did him one better. In exchange for a meal and a place to sleep, the woman told the guy he could do some chores for her the next day. The man was offered a substantial meal and told he could sleep in the nearby wood shack, but the woman asked to be left alone so she could rest. Cuz, you know, she’s old.

The man tried to sleep but felt uncomfortable and restless. He looked outside and noticed a light shining in the cabin window. Figuring the old woman was still up, the man thought they could chat for a bit. The words died in his throat when he looked in the window and saw what the old woman was up to.

The old woman danced around the cabin, a “juba” dance, [Wing: Oh boy.] before taking a large gridiron off the wall. She placed a bunch of hot coals on the gridiron, then SAT DOWN ON IT as the coals burned her backside.

Witch Woman Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts
Witch Woman Illustration by Jacqueline Roberts

While her skin heated up, the woman pulled forward a spinning wheel. The man watched in horror as the woman pinched the skin of her chin and slowly started to unravel it like thread from her body.

Spin and turn,

Burn, coal, burn,

Turn and spin

Come off, skin

The old woman spun the skin off her body, revealing a form like a giant cat. Pushing the heap of skin under her bed, the cat-woman ordered the skin to stay there while she did her nightly business.

Oh, and she also mentions once the young man does her chores she’ll eat him for dinner tomorrow, because she’s a bad guy and bad guys always narrate their plans out loud when they’re alone.

The man hid as the cat-woman left the cabin and went off into the swamp to vex some poor bastards. Fearing what would happen if the cat-woman returned, the man had an idea. He went in the cabin, found salt and pepper, and sprinkled both over the pile of skin-thread.

Returning to the shack, the man waited for hours to see what would happen. He finally heard screams of anger and pain when the cat-woman, half-transformed, burst out of the cabin. Tugging at her human skin in agony, the cat-woman screamed at the man and tried to kill him. The man scrambled up the pile of logs in the shack, which then tumbled forward onto the cat-woman. She tried to follow the man, but the pain from her salted skin became too much and she yanked it all off.

Sucks to be her, because the woman’s cat form is the sort of thing meant for the night. By the time the sun began to rise, the light of dawn burned the woman dead.

The man ran back into the swamp and never looked back.

Geez, I mean, she gives him dinner and a place to sleep and this is how he repays her. Unbelievable.

Where I’ve Heard It Before: I’ve read about the Soucouyant, a similar creature as the Witch Woman, in Micheline Hess’s Anansi Kids Club comic. The Soucouyant strips off their skin and turns into a ball of fire or a flaming, winged creature. The titular club also salts the Soucouyant’s skin to stop it.

5. THE BERBALANGS (Philippines)

Andrew Simmons was a British man visiting the island of Cagayan Sulu in the Sulu Seas. Because he’s a white man with no sense of self preservation, Simmons was interested in stories he’d heard of a village of “Berbalangs.” The Berbalangs were supposedly human-like cannibals with eyes resembling cats. When the Berbalangs were especially hungry for human flesh, they’d go into a trance and send out their winged spirits to hunt for victims while their bodies remained hidden.

The people of Cagayan Sulu warned Simmons a Berbalang was near if you heard a loud moaning coming from a distance. If the moaning quieted down to silence the closer it got, that’s how you know you’re dealing with a Berbalang. The only two ways to protect yourself are with a coconut pearl (a stone sometimes found in coconuts) or by taking a knife and rubbing the blade with lime juice.

Oh, but you can’t just BUY a coconut pearl. The protective magic only works if you find one for yourself.

Simmons figured he knew better and was determined to find out the truth about the Berbalangs. Only one villager, Matali, was willing to accompany Simmons as a guide to locate the hidden village.

The following day, when the two were within distance of the village, Matali refused to go further. Simmons had seen the village, wasn’t that enough? Of course not, so while Matali smeared his knife with lime juice Simmons went forward. The village was deserted, yet there were signs of people living there. One hut had a pot filled with still-warm rice, implying the occupants recently left.

Upon being told of the emptiness of the huts, Matali warned Simmons the Berbalangs were probably out hunting. The sun began to set as the two went on their return journey. As it grew darker, the forest became unnaturally silent.

That’s when they heard the loud moaning.

Matali immediately hid in the tall grass, warning Simmons to seek cover lest the Berbalangs get them. The moaning grew quieter until Simmons heard the sound of wings. A swarm of red lights manifested over the grass. When the lights passed on, Matali grabbed Simmons by the arm and ran. The moaning grew loud again as Matali and Simmons kept to the shadows.

They were almost near the village when the moaning grew fainter again. Simmons and Matali passed an isolated house, and while Simmons thought they should help the people inside Matali claimed he knew the owner and they had a coconut pearl. They were safe.

The next day, Simmons couldn’t believe he’d let Matali’s superstition and a “bunch of fireflies” scare him. Oh, and it turns Matali’s friend Hassan didn’t have a coconut pearl after all. Matali said that to get Simmons away from the house. Seems Hassan’s a scholar who recently arrived to study the island’s culture and also thought the Berbalangs were bullshit too.

Simmons decided to pay Hassan a visit so they could chat about what morons the islanders are…

Only to find the house was ransacked, and Hassan’s body had been torn to shreds.

All Simmons could hear was faint moaning.

Well now he’s about to have something else in common with Hassan.

Final Thoughts

Okay, we’re off to a good start so far. My fave of this round is “The Maggot” due to Edna and William quickly believing Ian’s story about the insect, while my least fave is “The Berbalangs” since it didn’t have an illustration.

Join me for our next round where we’ll be dealing with dancing ghosts, bloody porridge, and Washington Irving.

2 thoughts on “Recap #265: Even More Short & Shivery by Robert D. San Soucci – Part One

  1. Wing: I’m very confused as to why the kid died. If Edna, Ian, and William are the threat, go for them. The maggot clearly has some sort of brain and understanding to it.

    Maybe it had something to do with them not being in the house when the maggot did whatever it did? Or he went after the kid specifically to fuck with them. Or maybe it wasn’t going after them because they were threats and the maggot went in their house just because. If Sharpe really was that bad in life, he probably didn’t need a reason why he picked Edna and Ian’s house.

    I’m just guessing, mind you.

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