Recap #213: Short & Shivery by Robert D. San Souci – Part One
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!
For my fairy tale theme, what makes a better fit than this collection of international folk tales and ghost stories? “Short & Shivery” has been a presence in my life since middle school, and I own all four volumes. Many of the stories had something of an impact on my writing, and recently I’ve been attempting to incorporate some of the creatures in these tales in my comic ideas.
Now I originally planned to recap all 30 stories in one post, but figuring this would take too long for me to do and for Wing to go through and comment I’ve decided to split it into 3 posts to cover all of the tales. Less frustration and anxiety trying to get it done. Enjoy these first ten tales.
[Wing: This is another set I’ve never read before, even though I love creepy short stories.]
1. THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM (The Brothers Grimm)
Once upon a time there was a miller who was rich as BALLS. He had everything a miller could want, including a beautiful daughter named Elsa. In fact, the miller was SO RICH he even owned a gold ring bearing the likeness of his mill engraved upon it.
Unfortunately, one evening a bunch of robbers broke into the miller’s home and stole most of his prized possessions, including his savings and the ring. The miller decided now was the time to marry Elsa off to somebody who could protect her and who also had money. Elsa protested if she was gonna marry anyone it’d be for love, but her dad didn’t care.
One suitor came to the mill dressed in the finest swag of all, and demanded Elsa becomes his wife. Entranced by the suitor’s swag, the miller agreed. Elsa, however, did not love her bridegroom nor did she trust him. Something about this guy made her skin crawl, but her dad didn’t care.
Elsa put it off for as long as she could, but her father and bridegroom demanded she come visit her future hubby at his digs deep in the woods. They (as in the miller and bridegroom, not Elsa) made plans for Elsa to visit on Sunday to see all the guests the bridegroom invited to meet her. The bridegroom even offered to leave out a trail of ashes for her to follow. [Wing: UMMMMMMM.] Elsa had no say in the matter.
Elsa left on Saturday since the trip would take an entire day. To be on the safe side, she filled her pockets with beans and peas, scattering them about every few steps to make it easier to return home. The bridegroom’s trail of ashes brought her to a dark, dismal looking abode. Upon reaching the front door, Elsa heard a voice warning her to run away. The voice belonged to a caged bird near one of the house’s windows. The bird pleaded for Elsa to flee, saying this was the home of a robber.
Inside the house, Elsa could hear a sad, beautiful voice singing a haunting melody. Following the voice, Elsa went into the basement and discovered the singer was an old blind woman, dressed in rags. When Elsa asked who the blind woman was, the blind woman explained she was the only servant of the house. Asking what someone like Elsa was doing here, Elsa responded she was supposed to meet her bridegroom in this house. The blind woman warned Elsa she was in terrible danger, because her bridegroom is a liar, a thief, and a murderer.
Many years ago, the blind woman was engaged to Elsa’s intended as well. But the bridegroom blinded the woman so she couldn’t escape, and has worked her like a slave for years. Since she’s grown older and tired, the bridegroom plans to murder the blind woman and make Elsa her replacement.
Elsa swore to bring the blind woman with her so they could escape together when they both heard footsteps above their heads. Fearing the bridegroom had returned, the blind woman ordered Elsa to head among the chests and barrels within the cellar. Elsa did as she was told, and could hear the bridegroom ordering the blind woman around. The bridegroom was super pissed Elsa supposedly didn’t show, and planned to make her suffer for jerking him around like this once he finally got his hands on her.
Elsa spent the entire day huddled in the cellar while the bridegroom and his fellow robbers ate, drank, and carried on. While hiding, Elsa noticed one of the chests was open and investigated its contents. She found several familiar trinkets, including her father’s favored ring, and realized this is the guy who robbed her house!
Hours later, the blind woman returned to the cellar. She said now they could flee as she’d spiked everyone’s drinks with a sleeping drug. Taking the ring with her, Elsa guided the blind woman through the woods using the peas and beans she left to mark the trail. The wind had blown away the flimsy ashes, clearly the bridegroom’s plan to make sure Elsa wouldn’t make it back on her own.
Returning home, Elsa explained to her dad all she found out and showed his ring as proof. They staged a trap of their own for the bridegroom, preparing a big meal with help from the blind woman and inviting everyone they knew to join them. While the blind woman hid, the bridegroom and his men showed up. They were more than happy to partake in the feast since their slave-I MEAN servant ran out on them and thus they had little to eat today.
During the meal, the miller proposed everyone share a story. The bridegroom insisted Elsa get in on the fun so no one would think “His wife had a dull mind.” Elsa regaled everyone with a curious dream she had, about a house in the woods and a blind woman. The bridegroom quickly lost his enthusiasm, interrupting several times while Elsa sweetly assured him this was only a dream she had. Elsa went on talking about a den of thieves and a chest of trinkets when the bridegroom pulled a knife on her. At that point, Elsa finished her story by saying her dream ended as she found her father’s stolen ring. The stolen ring she pulls out for all to see.
The bridegroom nearly shits himself realizing he’s been found out and tries to escape. But the guests subdued the bridegroom and his cohorts, turning them over to the king’s soldiers to be executed for their crimes.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: I’ve seen two other versions of this story. One in an issue of “Grimm Fairy Tales” where it was used as a cautionary tale to warn two sisters not to wreck their bond over some guy. There was another variant of it used in “Gothic Tales of Haunted Love,” a graphic novel anthology inspired by 1970s gothic romance comics like “Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love.”
2. JACK FROST (Russia)
A woman had a stepdaughter named Maria and a daughter named Yagishna. Gee I wonder which one’s the evil daughter, he said like he was an idiot. Maria was hated by her stepmother, who called her lazy and foolish no matter how hard Maria worked. Conversely, Yagishna was praised for everything she did, even though she was lazy and rude.
Maria was worked like a dog in her own home, but nothing she did ever made her stepmother happy. Finally, the stepmother couldn’t stand to have Maria in her house any longer. The stepmother ordered her oldest servant to abandon Maria in the woods, figuring she’d freeze to death since it was the middle of winter. The servant begged not to do this, but feared losing his job as his family’s only means of income. He tried to sneak a blanket to bring with Maria, but Yagishna caught him and threatened to tell her mother if he did it again.
Left in the woods to die, Maria was shocked by the arrival of a strange little man. The man was dressed in silver and white furs, his cheeks and nose red as apples, with a ribbon adorned with tiny bells sewn on his coat. This stranger declared he was Jack Frost, the one who brings winter. Maria praised Jack Frost for creating such a beautiful winter that sparkled like diamonds and silver, but regretted she couldn’t enjoy it for much longer since she figured he was here to kill her.
Jack Frost was taken aback by Maria’s sincerity and sad eyes, and instead gave her a fur coat to protect her from the cold. He then departed and returned moments later. Maria was sure now Jack would kill her, but instead he revealed a chest filled with extravagant furs, clothes, and bedding. The young girl was delighted as Jack Frost danced around her when he left once more. Appearing a third time, Jack Frost presented Maria with a gorgeous cloak adorned with silver and diamonds and danced as Maria sang.
Later that day, Maria’s stepmother ordered her servant to fetch her stepdaughter, figuring by now Maria would be dead. While fixing dinner for herself and Yagishna, Maria’s stepmother was shocked when the servant returned with a still living Maria, dressed like a duchess. The stepmother pretended to feel horrible for what she did and begged Maria’s forgiveness, preparing her stepdaughter a great meal while Yagishna whined and moaned about it.
While Maria slept that night, Yagishna was woken by her mother. She figured Yagishna might snag some treasure out of Jack Frost too, but Yagishna complained they could simply steal Maria’s. The mother asked why they should settle for one treasure when they could have two.
The next day Yagishna was brought to the same spot in the woods where Maria had been left. Once Jack Frost appeared before Yagishna, she demanded he hand over a treasure of diamonds and silver just as he had given her stepsister. Yagishna griped about how ugly and uncomfortable she thought winter was and felt Jack Frost looked foolish, prancing around like that. Finally, Jack Frost decided to give Yagishna her diamonds and silver…
Yagishna’s mother made the servant go and fetch her daughter from the woods. Sometime later, the servant returned with Yagishna bundled up beneath several cloaks and furs. The mother demanded her daughter get up before she got a good look at Yagishna’s “Treasure.” On her frozen eyelids rested silver snowflakes, across her frozen lips was ice that sparkled like diamonds. Yagishna’s mother died of shock upon seeing the icy corpse her daughter had become.
Free of her abusive stepfamily, Maria was now the mistress of her home where she faithfully kept the old servant in her employ for many years.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: Jack Frost is a common character in folk tales but this is the first and only time I’ve come across this specific interpretation of him.
[Wing: This feels like Cinderella meets Jack Frost, and I kind of love it.]
3. THE WATERFALL OF GHOSTS (Japan)
No one in the village was entirely sure how the Waterfall of Ghosts first acquired its nickname. Many figured it was because the cascade’s mists sometimes resembled ghostly figures, while others thought they heard otherworldly voices coming from the roar of the falls.
One winter evening, a bunch of women at the nearby fabric factory were discussing the Waterfall. At the height of the tall tales, one young weaver girl asked what it would be like to visit the Waterfall tonight, all alone. Soon most of the weavers were declaring they’d give all the hemp they spun today to whoever was brave enough to go to the Waterfall this very night. That caught the attention of O-Katsu, the one weaver who hadn’t joined into the talk of ghosts. She asked if they were for real-real about the hemp and offered to visit the Waterfall. The oldest weaver, nicknamed “Grandmother,” proposed O-Katsu should bring back the offering box in the small hut near the falls as proof of her visit.
O-Katsu set out towards the Waterfall of Ghosts despite how cold and dark it was. Holding her robe tightly closed, she quickly made her way to the mysterious falls and the small hut where the offering box resided. But the moment O-Katsu reached towards the box, she heard the roar of the falls become cries of “Oh! Wicked woman!”
Momentarily distracted, O-Katsu was sure she imagined those cries and snatched the box before she lost her nerve. I’m sure those weird shapes appearing in the mists at the base of the falls was nothing to worry about. And she was obviously imagining things as O-Katsu ran back to the factory, hearing cries of “Wicked woman!” from behind her all the way.
Oh but before she ventured back inside the factory, O-Katsu helped herself to some coins from the offering box and hid them within her robe. Among her co-workers, O-Katsu was showered with hemp upon hemp for her brave deed. No one noticed the offering box was noticeably lighter than it should have been. O-Katsu neglected to tell her friends about the chorus of voices which seemed to have followed her.
When all of the women left for their respective homes, O-Katsu felt it was safe to count her pilfered coins. Suddenly, the offering box began to rock and shake when its top exploded off. A white mist poured from the box, taking the shape of malformed men and women with bent, twisted limbs. O-Katsu watched and listened in horror as familiar voices called her “Wicked woman” over and over again.
Panicking, O-Katsu quickly grabbed the stolen coins and tossed them back inside the offering box. Immediately, the mist poured back inside the box and left O-Katsu alone. But just to be on the safe side, while she returned the offering box she decided to donate all the money she’d make from selling her newly acquired hemp.
4. THE GHOST’S CAP (Russia)
There was a girl named Anya, and the only thing she was good at was being a lazy jerk. No matter how many times her parents asked for help with the cooking and cleaning, Anya made excuses to go hang out with her equally lazy, obnoxious friends. They’d often sit by the riverbank, gossiping and boasting about shit they never did.
One day, Anya declared she wasn’t scared of anything so her friends called her on her bluff. They told her to go to the cemetery at midnight to find the ghost who supposedly sits atop a tombstone until the sun rises. They wanted to see if Anya could learn the ghost’s name. The boy who’d heard of this got the information from his dad and uncle, and Anya knew they were both hard drunks so she figured this was an easy win. She started getting each of her friends to put up something valuable, like Ivan’s silver coat buttons and some lengths of lace. Before the afternoon was over, Anya had set up a veritable jackpot for herself.
That evening, Anya got to work on her favorite coat in anticipation for her buttons and lace. Her parents repeatedly asked her to help with dinner, but she was lost in her own little world. During nightfall, Anya snuck out of the house to go the graveyard. She planned to tell her friends the “Ghost” was an old neighbor who died the previous year. When she reached the cemetery, there was indeed a figure sitting atop one of the tombstones. Anya didn’t believe it was a ghost and deduced one of her friends (Ivan most likely) had dressed up for the occasion.
Anya snatched [INSERT TITLE HERE] and fled the cemetery. She was disgusted by how moldy and dirty the cap was, but didn’t think too much of it. Nor did she really believe it was a ghost repeatedly shouting outside her window “Give me back my cap!”
The next day, Anya collected her ill-gotten loot from her friends and asked if Ivan wanted his cap back. Ivan swore that cap wasn’t his, but Anya believed he was full of shit. On her way back home, she threw the cap into the river and figured that was the end of it…
But the ghost returned to her home demanding his cap back. Anya’s parents were frightened and begged her to give the cap to its rightful owner. The girl still believed it was Ivan playing a trick, and revealed she disposed of the cap anyway.
Now understandably scared for her wellbeing, Anya’s parents got in touch with the local priest. He told them to bring her to church the next day, and they did (though she whined and moaned the entire way). The priest held a special service, but near the end a great gust of wind shook the building and knocked everyone to the ground. Anya especially was thrown by a great amount of force and screamed in terror. When everyone stood up, Anya was gone.
All that remained of her was a silver button and a braid of hair. Yikes.
She’s dead, Wing.
[Wing: She’s been whisked off to live with the ghosts in unending torment. 😀 😀 😀]
5. THE WITCH CAT (United States)
A widowed farmer named Tom Morgan bought a nice parcel of land near a small pond so he and his young daughter Effie could start over after the death of his wife. The people in the nearby town tried to talk Tom out of buying that particular piece of property, citing the last family had left the area due to a string of strange misfortunes. But since Tom is a white Dad in a horror story, there was no convincing him to change his mind.
Tom and Effie went about their days minding the chickens and cows, and Tom liked to spend his free time fishing in the pond. Life was content, though some of the neighbors felt a man like Tom should find a new wife so his little girl had a mom…
One late afternoon, Tom saw a small skiff making its way from the opposite end of the pond. Tom had never ventured over, never met the people who lived on that side of the pond, but that was about to change. On the small boat was a beautiful, delicate looking woman named Eleanor Faye. She wanted to finally meet her new neighbors, and Tom is glad to make her acquaintance. Effie, not so much. Tom’s daughter seemed very scared of Eleanor, but Eleanor took it in stride and figured they’d become good friends in no time.
Eleanor continued to make trips to visit Tom, bringing gifts and chatting with him. Each time Effie would try to hide from her dad’s new paramour, which upset Tom because he was falling in love with Eleanor. Eleanor patiently excused Effie’s standoffish behavior, but Tom could tell it was bothering her. When Tom privately asked why Effie didn’t like Eleanor, all she would say is “I don’t know, I just don’t.”
And although Eleanor was eager to visit Tom, she made excuses for why she couldn’t have him over to her place, like she had too much work to do or something like that. Because he was infatuated with Eleanor, Tom always bought her flimsy reasons.
As if dealing with Effie’s rudeness wasn’t enough, Tom was having trouble with a late night visitor who kept sneaking onto his property. While trying to sleep, Tom would wake up to the sounds of angry cat and frightened chickens. Once he went outside to discover at least one or two chickens were missing, although they’d left behind a number of feathers. Effie started having nightmares about a big cat sneaking into her room and waiting for her to sleep so it could suck the life out of her. One morning Tom discovered she was barely breathing, and there was an indent on her bed as if a small animal had been resting there.
While on a trip to the nearby village, Tom’s other neighbors tried to warn him about Eleanor Faye. They said she was a witch who killed her previous husband, and lived near the pond because the site was sacred to the Indians who previously lived on the land. [Wing: Oh, cool, this is one of those kinds of horror stories.] Tom didn’t believe them, but as Effie’s health worsened Tom grew desperate and sought out the local “Conjure Man” Zeke Franklin. Zeke knew a thing or two about white magic, and while he didn’t know who was troubling Effie, Zeke could help protect her. He put a little of this and that in a bottle and gave it to Tom, but then Zeke instructed him to sharpen his hunting knife and keep it under his pillow.
Eleanor lost her shit when she saw Tom’s bottle charm, declaring she had no patience for such nonsense and rowed back to her house across the pond. At the very least the charm improved Effie’s health and she was back to her old self. But that night something tore up most of Tom’s chickens out of pure spite, and that was his breaking point. Sending Effie to spend the night with one of their neighbors, Tom brought the rest of the chickens into the barn and readied his knife. He was gonna put a stop to this once and for all.
That night a storm hit and, mixed in with the thunder and lightning Tom could hear something big and angry pounding on the barn doors. Just then an enormous black cat burst through one of the windows, and it attacked Tom. As the cat repeatedly slashed up Tom with its claws, Tom managed to swing his sharpened knife and hacked off one of the paws. Gravelly wounded, the cat fled from the barn. Still bleeding, Tom followed the trail of blood and saw it ended by the pond near a mark indicating a small boat was nearby. Noticing the outline of a skiff on the water, Tom struggled to get in his own boat and followed it.
The next morning, the neighbors who watched Effie discovered the signs of struggle and followed the trail of blood to the other side of the pond. They found Tom dead and clutching the severed cat’s paw in his hand. They later found Eleanor Faye dead, having bled out from the stump where her hand was cut off.
They’re dead, Wing.
[Wing: I love cat’s paw stories, though I’ve never heard one where the person cutting off the hand died, too. Of course, I’ve never heard one where that person followed the giant cat, either. This is an interesting version. (One note: if the cat is that big, why did it look like a small animal was sitting on the kid, huh? HUH?)]
6. THE GREEN MIST (England)
Long ago, people believed the coming of spring was heralded by a green mist that blanketed the cold, snow covered ground. The Green Mist supposedly brought to life all the sleeping plants and trees and welcomed the sun’s warm glow.
There was one family eagerly expecting the Green Mist’s return for their daughter’s sake. She was a fair and beautiful maiden who withered away during the gloomy days of winter. Her parents feared she would die soon, but the daughter believed if spring came she’d get better. But spring was taking forever to arrive, and one the day the daughter begged she’d be happy if she could live just as long as the cowslips that grew by their door. The girl’s mother begged her not to say such things, because she knew there were bogeys and goblins who loved to grant poorly thought out wishes as a means to bedevil and cause mischief. The woman was sure she heard thin laughter coming from outside…
Finally the Green Mist came, and as the girl basked in the warm spring sunlight it was as if she’d been reborn. Every day she got stronger and lovelier, and she spent as much time outside as possible. Rarely, if it was cloudy and gray the girl would suddenly grow weak. But the weather was consistently lovely so no one noticed a connection. They DID notice she was obsessed with the cowslips growing by the door of her house. She watered them, sang to them, even danced for them. Sometimes she’d just sit and stare at them for hours. The girl panicked when her mother tried to pick just one flower, saying it’d feel like a bit of her soul was being plucked along with the plant.
As the girl grew more beautiful, she attracted many admirers. One handsome fellow came to court her at her house. They spent time outside, walking and relaxing when the girl fell asleep under a tree. Seeing the cowslips by her door, the man picked them and bundled them into a wreath for her head. The girl woke up and felt the flowers on her head, at first touched by the gift…
And then she saw they were the cowslips by her door.
The girl freaked out and ran inside, her male friend not knowing what was wrong and asking her to come outside so they can talk. Eventually, the man gave up and left. When the girl’s parents returned home, they found her near death, clutching the cowslips to her chest. The next morning she was dead, as pale and weathered as the dried flowers in her hands.
Upon finding her body, her mother heard the same thin laughter from the day when the girl said she wanted to live as long as the cowslips…
She’s dead, Wing.
[Wing: … yes? I’m not getting this reference, clearly.]
7. THE CEGUA (Costa Rica)
A man was venturing to the ranch of his close friend, and he knew it’d be a long journey so he stopped at a roadside cantina to freshen up. While ordering a mug of beer, the man told the owner about his travel plans. The owner warned him it’s not really safe to travel the roads this late at night and offered to rent the man a room. The man insisted he had to get to his friend’s place, so the cantina owner felt he needed to warn the man about the Cegua.
The Cegua, the owner said, was a demoness that haunted the roads waiting for unsuspecting travelers to give her a ride. At first she appears to be a beautiful woman, but once a traveler places her on their horse she’ll reveal her true appearance. Depending on where she’s seated on the horse, she will try to make her victim look at her. Her face will turn into a horse’s skull, her teeth like fangs and her eyes like coals, while her hands become claws as they dig into the rider’s shoulders. The change is always heralded by the poor horse realizing something’s wrong and will panic. Oh but she doesn’t kill the riders, she just drives them insane.
The man doesn’t believe the cantina owner and, after paying for his beer, continued on his journey. Oh well, the owner tried.
While on horseback, the man stopped a few miles from the cantina upon seeing a beautiful woman standing by the side of the road. The woman begged the man to help, saying she had to travel to a nearby town to get to her ill mother. But she’s so tired, so very, very tired…
The man offered to give her a ride, saying the town she’s trying to reach is near his friend’s ranch and she can spend the night. The woman thanks him for his kindness and climbs unto the horse behind him. Continuing on the journey, the man repeatedly tried to make conversation with his companion, but she remained quiet. Figuring she was just tired, he didn’t think much of it. Yet suddenly, the horse began to gallop and the woman clung to the man tighter, her nails digging into his skin. The man didn’t want to be rude but once the horse picked up the pace, as if it was being chased, the man felt something bite the back of his neck!
Thankfully the collar of the man’s coat protected his skin, but then he heard an inhuman shriek like no sound he ever heard before. Tying the horse’s reins around one hand, the man struggled to free the woman’s tight grip from his shoulders. In-between glimpses of moonlight, the man saw the woman’s fingers were as white as pure bone! Smelling some foul creature’s breath and hearing another horrible cry, the man was bitten again and this time blood was drawn.
In the distance the man could see his friend’s ranch was nearby and noticed lights were coming towards him, the horse, and their unholy companion. At the last second the horse reared up on its hind legs, and the man heard one final screech before both were thrown onto the ground.
The man came to, feeling the blood on his neck as his friend inspected him. As the man tried to say something about the awful Cegua, his friend laughed. That’s just a story they tell in cantinas over beer and liquor.
Still, the man caught the scent of sulfur faintly on the air…
Where I’ve Heard It Before: The idea of a hitchhiking ghoul’s been done plenty of times, but J.B. Stamper did an adaption of this particular tale in one of her “Tales for the Midnight Hour” collections, only the monster was called “Skin-And-Bones” and the rider came out of it with the creature’s severed hand. That said, the horse-faced Cegua is another well known monster and has appeared outside of this book.
[Wing: I don’t know why I’ve never considered a pre-automobile hitchhiking ghost story, but I haven’t. This is great and inspiring.]
8. THE GHOSTLY LITTLE GIRL (U.S.A.)
Near the start of the 20th Century, by the coast of California, there lived a fisherman named Richard Colter and his young daughter Maria. They resided in a tin shack on stilts outside the town of Monterey, and Richard worked hard as a fisherman so Maria could attend the local Catholic school. Maria’s classmates loved her, though their parents frowned upon her lower class status. Nevertheless, Maria’s best friends were Annie Kelly, Susan Cooke, and Catherine Hopper.
Maria was absent from school for about a week, and her friends were worried. The teachers said Richard and Maria were last seen sailing out of Monterey Bay [Wing: BEST AQUARIUM.] a few days before, but hadn’t seen his boat since. Annie swore she saw Maria from across the street, but then she ran as Annie waved to her like she hadn’t even seen Annie. The trio of girls hypothesized on what could’ve happened to Maria, like maybe she was taking care of her sick dad or vice versa. They eventually decided to visit Maria’s house, which they normally didn’t do because it was such a long walk.
Near the end of the day, the girls arrived to the tin shack owned by Richard Colter. As a evening fog rolled in the girls began to lose their nerve since it didn’t seem like anyone was home on account of the windows were dark. Catherine insisted they check the house out after already coming this far, and to make sure Maria’s okay.
As they reached the front door, the girls briefly saw an empty pier behind the house implying Richard’s boat isn’t here after all. Catherine stopped her friends from leaving after they got spooked by a seagull and the fog, knocking on the door to no avail. Susan suggested opening a window and sneaking in, but as they looked inside they saw a faint glow coming from underneath one of the doors in the house. Suddenly, Maria Colter emerged as if sleepwalking, heading across the room. The girls could hear the front door unlocking and opening, but as they did Maria was nowhere to be found.
The girls were starting to think Maria was messing with their heads, calling they just want to know if she’s okay. Suddenly the salt watery stench of the sea intensified within the house and the roar of the ocean drowned every other sound out. The girls watched in horror as water began to seep out from the closed door, and the house rocked as if hit by a large wave. As water continued to leak from the door, the girls heard Maria’s voice coming from the other side. But she sounded so far away, almost as if she was underwater. Maria cried she was so happy her friends came for her and said she’d be out in a minute. The girls were terrified as a small hand, white as a fish belly, began to emerge from the puddle of water on the floor.
The three girls ran all the way back to their own neighborhood wondering how and why Maria accomplished such a fright. It was Catherine’s father, when told about the bizarre events in the Colter house, who revealed to them Richard’s boat sank some days ago. They just found his body, but Maria’s is still missing.
They’re dead, Wing.
9. THE MIDNIGHT MASS OF THE DEAD (NORSE)
A devout widow named Juliana attended mass almost every day, and had done so for years with her best friend Berta before she died. Juliana planned to attend the early morning mass on Christmas Day (like as in after 12 or so at night or something; the exact time’s never mentioned) because fewer people attended at this hour and she wanted to sit closer to the Christ Child on this holy day. So she set her alarm and left some coffee to simmer in order to get up, but the alarm didn’t wake her up. Thankfully she woke up on her own, but she wasn’t sure what time it was given it was still dark out.
Drinking her coffee quickly and putting on her pink coat with the rabbit fur trim, Juliana headed for the church. The streets were totally empty, which Juliana thought odd since there were usually SOME people heading to church for this mass even if it WAS so early. She did see people already in the pews once she reached the building, but thought they looked odd. One woman had deep circles under her eyes like she’d been sick a long time, another guy had such skinny fingers they looked like bones. Juliana couldn’t recognize any of her friends or neighbors, yet there was something familiar about these people…
The pastor who delivered the sermon seemed slightly familiar too, but his words disturbed Juliana. She was expecting some messages about hope and rebirth on this holy night, but instead the pastor preached about those long dead under the winter snows awaiting their resurrection. While listening to the pastor’s morbid words, Juliana realized all the other people were deathly silent. She didn’t even hear any coughing or anything. And she realized the baggy-eyed woman and the bony-fingered man were staring at her.
The pastor then led the congregation in a rather dark hymn.
Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers wither at the northwind’s breath,
And stars to set-but all
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, O Death!
Short & Shivery, Page 55
Juliana was so freaked out by the words she could barely sing, when the person behind her warned Juliana she had to leave now! Throw your coat over your shoulders and get away as fast as you can, because you’re among the dead Juliana! Terrified, Juliana turned around as she recognized the voice. It was her dear friend Berta, who, even as a corpse was looking out for her. That’s when Juliana realized she recognized these people because she’d known them many years ago before they died.
Juliana wasn’t sure if she’d be able to move, but Berta gave her a reassuring squeeze on her shoulder and she found the strength. Quickly throwing her coat over her shoulders, Juliana hunched low and tried to leave the pews when suddenly the baggy-eyed woman started to screech!
The congregation of the dead (minus Berta) realized a living human was among them and they tried to ambush Juliana! Juliana felt their hands grab at her coat, shaking free of the garment and fleeing out of the church back to her house.
Upon getting inside her home, Juliana heard a clock chime one and she went about turning every light on. She was so terrified she didn’t fall asleep for hours. The next morning, she was sure it was all a bad dream and attended the usual Christmas mass. Once it was over, Juliana was about to leave when Pastor Sovold stopped her. He said he found something he thought belonged to Juliana because he remembered seeing her wear it.
In the pastor’s hands were the remains of her rabbit fur coat, ripped to shreds.
10. TAILYPO (U.S.A.)
We open on a hunter who is so inconsequential he doesn’t even get a name. All you have to know is he lives in a cabin with his three hunting dogs, and is pissed off he wasn’t able to find any game to eat for dinner. Muttering about his measly meal of beans, the hunter was shocked to discover some weird animal got into his house through a small hole in the wall. And it was the strangest creature he’d ever seen.
It had jaws like a weasel, ears like a fox, piercing yellow eyes like an owl, a monkey’s body, and was covered in bright red fur. But mainly it had a huge, long tail that coiled around and around it, the way a rattler coils on itself before it strikes.
Short & Shivery, Page 58
The man had no idea how or when the creature got in, but he wanted it got out. Taking a carving knife off the table, the man lunged at the creature. It hissed and tried to get away through the hole in the wall, but it wasn’t fast enough to avoid getting its tail cut off.
Left alone with the tail, the man couldn’t believe how long it was and figuring it’d go to waste anyway he cooked and ate it right there. It tasted like rabbit, too. He later patched up the hole where the animal got inside.
But it was late at night while trying to sleep when the hunter heard a scratching at the door, and a voice that went:
“Tailypo, tailypo; just give me my tailypo.”
Short & Shivery, Page 59
The man sicced his three dogs to chase the creature back into the woods, but only two of them came back. The man got super pissed off but figured he couldn’t do anything about it now and went back to sleep. When he heard the creature repeating the question, he sent his dogs off after it again and only one dog returned.
The hunter decided to have the last dog sleep inside by his bed, when he heard a scratching at the window.
“Tailypo, tailypo; I’ve got to have my tailypo.”
Short & Shivery, Page 61
The man sent his last dog after the creature and it never came back. Terrified, the man didn’t fall asleep for hours until it was nearly morning. But then he heard a scratching sound and saw the hole in the wall was uncovered…
And the creature is on top of his bed!
The creature demands to have its tailypo back, but the hunter babbled he didn’t have it. The creature disagreed.
No one knows if the creature got its tailypo back, and no one ever saw that hunter or his dogs again.
They’re dead, Wing.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: This is the first time I ever read this story, and I’d see it again in one of J.B. Stamper’s “Tales for the Midnight Hour” collections AND in a ghost story issue of Boom Studios’ “Lumberjanes.” That said, the Tailypo creature is apparently a well known monster in American folklore and there appear to be picture books about it too.
[Wing: I think there’s a version in one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books, though it might not be the tail but another body part that was eaten. Also, I refuse to believe those poor dogs were killed. They’re living the good, feral life out in the woods.]
Here ends our first round of “Short & Shivery.” Are you short? Or are you shivery?
The one story in this collection that used to scare me was “Tailypo,” on account of I’d lie awake at night imagining a creepy whisper asking for its tailypo back.
Next time we’ll get to meet Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving, as well as one of the most grotesque monsters out there.
The whole “They’re dead, Wing” was me making a Star Trek reference by paraphrasing “He’s dead, Jim”
[…] Where I’ve Heard It Before: The immediate story that comes to mind is Tailypo, which I covered in the first Short & Shivery collection. […]