Recap #275: Even More Short & Shivery by Robert D. San Souchi – Part 3
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!
We’ve reached the midway point of these recaps and we’ll largely be getting a break from the U.S. and Britain (except for one story). (Part One. Part Two.)
For this round of five chilling tales of international terror, we’ll be exploring a haunted house I think Wing may enjoy, an early variation of an infamous creepypasta, a bittersweet Hans Christian Anderson story, and we’ll also meet a witch who saves the day via the power of looking FINE.
11. THE HAUNTED HOUSE (CHINA)
In the city of Canton there was a house that stood empty for many, many years. The place had gone to seed and many strange tales floated around about the horrors which supposedly lurked inside its walls. The most common tale involved those who ventured inside the house never being seen again.
In comes Chao Yen, a rather cocky, inquisitive young man who got curious and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. One early evening he headed to the gates of the house armed with a lantern, and found himself amused by the sign above the gate leading to the overgrown bamboo garden.
The path and the bamboo lead one to the place of mystery.
Chao Yen thought this was cute, figuring the house’s original builder had their own dramatic flair well before the house’s sordid history was born.
Through the front door, Chao Yen found old, rotted furniture and hanging scrolls left indecipherable after years of dampness. Chao Yen examined the dustiness of the room when he thought he heard something, but no one was there. To really set the scene, rain began to fall and lightning pierced the sky. The halls were briefly illuminated in those flashes when Chao Yen entered the drawing room. [Wing: I love this delightful storm. Always useful when exploring creepy places.]
On a teakwood desk, Chao Yen found a surviving piece of parchment featuring an incomplete poem obviously left behind by the house’s last owner.
Daily I wander pleasantly in my garden,
There is a gate, but it is always closed.
In my empty rooms I enjoy the leisurely idle hours,
Shut away from the clamoring beyond the walls.
But it is getting dark, and the lovely day is vanishing.
Shadows fill my garden, flood my empty rooms.
Sighing wind in the bamboo, plashing water in the fountain,
Carry warnings of his approach.
Hark! In the stillness, I hear
And that’s all they wrote. [Wing: SHUT AWAY FROM THE CLAMORING BEYOND THE WALLS. Well damn, that’s a lot just on its own.]
The unfinished poem left Chao Yen with a feeling of dread suspense, but he began to laugh. Like geez, it’s just a poem. It didn’t even rhyme! Like a silly poem’s gonna scare away Chao-at that point, a gust of wind blew out the lantern’s light.
Chao Yen thought he was alone in the darkness, until another lightning bolt proved otherwise.
Beyond the vivid grillwork, he saw a huge head-a man’s head-on the body of a black dog. The creature was so big, it seemed to fill the window from side to side.
The room went black and silent once more after the lightning faded, the only sound Chao Yen’s terrified breathing and the beating of the rain. He stood frozen in place, too terrified to move. It was then the room filled with the sound of inhuman breathing.
The monster was in the room!
Darkness again, and Chao Yen slowly backed up against the wall listening to the creature’s breathing to figure out where it was. However, Chao Yen fell back through the flimsy paper wall and landed in another room.
The secret room was filled with chewed up, splintered bones and human skulls as the monster entered through the hole. The moment it placed a hideous paw on Chao Yen’s shoulder, the supposedly fearless man died of fright. [Wing: It’s not that I think I’ll actually get face-eating in this book, but wow was this the perfect time for a face-eating dog monster to, you know, eat a face.]
12. “Never Far From You” (England)
In a little church graveyard in the English countryside, there’s a stone that reads:
In memory of the beloved bride and mistress of the family honor and estates, who was taken away by a sudden and untimely fate at the very time of her marriage celebration.
Raise your hand if you can already figure out where you heard THIS particular tale before.
Anyway, meet Alice and Owen, a handsome couple who married for love. The two were often seen taking long walks in the meadow, wistfully gazing into each other’s eyes.
Owen’s parents recently died so he came into a lot of money as the new lord of the manor. For the wedding, Alice and Owen exchanged rings containing the same inscription.
I will never be far from you, my love – be never far from me
Oh, aside from being totally devoted to each other, Alice and Owen loved games. Their wedding reception was packed to the brim with those old standbys like charades, cribbage, casino, and my personal favorite, whist. It was like being on the set of “Girls Gone Wild: Buckingham Palace.”
Alice announced the last game of the evening would be hide-and-seek. One group hides while the other seeks. Alice got to be one of the hiders while Owen was a seeker. After all the hiders were found, they’d get to eat cake. Ugh holding perfectly good wedding cake hostage for a game of hide-and-seek, how low can one sink?
Since Alice was used to the manor, she headed directly for a special hiding spot she’d picked out while planning the wedding. To show all of you cheaters don’t prosper, Alice’s smug thoughts about getting the last laugh were the last thoughts she had before she received that blow to the head in the darkness. She was left all alone, save for a faint “click” sound.
The rest of the game went on with no realizing Alice was missing. Owen wasn’t too concerned since he figured Alice must’ve picked a good hiding spot, but she never showed up even after the rest of the party was found. Evening turned to night and everyone searched the manor for Alice, even in the dustiest, oldest rooms no one had set foot in for years. The attic, the cellar, the closets, the cupboards, the gardens, the woods, the meadow, Alice was nowhere.
In the years that rolled by after Alice’s disappearance, people came up with wild and ridiculous stories about where she could’ve gone. Some think she joined a convent, others think she ran off with another man and others suspected she’d been kidnapped by a roving band of poachers. [Wing: Poachers of the most dangerous game?] Owen never remarried, and was often seen staring at his wedding ring while whispering the words engraved on the metal band.
The only person who visited Owen after Alice’s disappearance was Alice’s dad, the local parson, but after he died Owen remained alone. Owen spent his days roaming the manor, searching over and over again for a sign of Alice’s whereabouts. Now an old man, one rainy day Owen was in the attic thinking he could die happy if he only knew Alice’s love was true.
That’s when Owen noticed the minuscule piece of fabric sticking out of a trunk half hidden by a bunch of old boxes. Was it… it looked like white lace.
Owen fumbled with the lock on the trunk and opened it to discover the truth behind Alice’s disappearance. Alice chose to hide inside the trunk during the wedding party, when the lid fell down and hit her on the head. She was not only knocked out, but trapped inside the chest where she most likely suffocated or died of starvation. All that was left was a human skeleton in a moldy yellow wedding dress.
Seeing the ring on Alice’s finger and realizing his love had been near him all this time, Owen died right there, falling into Alice’s withered, dead arms.
The moral of the story: Don’t play hide-and-seek unless an adult is present. [Wing: How did no one ever see that bit of lace prior to this moment? I know he had no visitors, but if a bunch of people thoroughly searched the manor, surely someone would have noticed the lace. Or at the very least, looked inside anything large enough to hold a human body.]
Where I’ve Heard It Before: This is essentially an early version of one of the most widely known creepypastas to date. [Wing: I honestly have no idea what creepypasta is meant here.]
13. THE ROSE ELF (HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON)
At the far edge of the garden where people didn’t normally venture, there was a rose tree and inside one of the blood red roses lived a tiny, winged elf. The Rose Elf spent each day flying around in the sunshine from rose to rose, dancing with butterflies, and just living their best life.
One day, the little elf overheard the voices of a human man and woman. The two were lovers basking in the shade of the rose tree and discussing their engagement plans. The elf could see the couple deeply loved each other, from the way they would simply gaze into each other’s eyes without needing to say a single word.
Well it seems the woman’s brother didn’t approve of her boyfriend, and the brother was planning to have the guy sent off for business-related purposes. While the woman didn’t want him to leave, her brother promised this was a chance for him to earn enough money so the two could start their new life together. If her brother didn’t approve, that’s his problem.
The woman plucked the very rose the elf was living in and pinned it to her lover’s chest, bidding her lover farewell. The elf could hear the man’s heartbeat when suddenly, the woman’s brother revealed himself as soon as she was gone. The brother then stabbed his sister’s boyfriend before cutting his head off with his dagger! Like what the fuck, dude?!
The brother smugly boasted his sister’s lover will be quickly forgotten, and he’ll tell his sister men like him are fickle and can’t be trusted. Well it seems SOMEONE has a sister complex.
The brother put the remains and his dagger in a grave he dug and filled, before he scattered dried leaves over it to hide his crime. He really thought he was going to get away with the murder. The brother didn’t know the Rose Elf was now hiding on a tiny leaf that had fallen onto his hat while he dug the grave. For such a little creature, the elf was PISSED. OFF.
The evil brother returned home and found his sister asleep, talking about her lover in her dreams. Because he’s a special kind of dick, the brother shook his hat at his sister as if trying to wave away her pleasant thoughts. By doing so, the dried leaf containing the Rose Elf fell from the hat and landed near the bedside window.
After the brother left, the Rose Elf flew towards the sister’s ear and spoke to her in her sleep. The elf recounted every horrible thing her brother did and explained she would find her lover’s body buried under the linden tree. As proof, the elf told her she’d find a dried linden leaf on her bed.
The woman woke up, found the leaf, and remembered what she heard in her sleep. She hurried to the linden tree, uncovered the fresh grave, and sobbed over her lover’s remains. The Rose Elf silently watched the woman’s grief from her hair.
Picking up her lover’s head, the woman kissed him one final time before deciding to keep him near her always. The woman took the head, her brother’s dagger, the rose she’d given to her lover earlier, and returned home. The woman planted the rose inside a large pot filled with dirt, the dagger, and her lover’s head.
Unfortunately, despite how fucked up her brother was (I mean at this point this family’s a bubbling cauldron of neurosis), the woman couldn’t bring herself to turn him in to the local hangman (most likely thanks to years of emotional abuse).
As the woman slumbered near the flower pot, the Rose Elf used a bit of magic to make the single rose grow into a bush of blood-red flowers. Because apparently it has the power to do that but not murder someone.
Every day the woman cried over the roses, while her brother grew angrier and colder towards her. He figured she was obsessing over her “missing” lover, and she’d give him absolutely no attention so the brother avoided her whenever he could.
The woman spent her days cradling the flower pot, sometimes speaking to her lover and thinking he was talking back. While she slept, the Rose Elf tried to offer her comfort by whispering sweet dreams to her. But the more this went on, the more the woman faded from life until she finally died.
She lost the will to live.
Her brother wanted nothing to do with his sister’s burial after the way she snubbed him, and let his servants do the planning. He figured he could get something out of this and claimed the potted roses for himself. Seeing an opening, the Rose Elf jabbed the brother’s hand with a sharp thorn and he dropped the pot in front of several witnesses. The pot shattered and everyone saw both the white skull and the brother’s dagger. BUSTED!
The brother got hanged, the two lovers were buried next to one another, and the rose bush was planted on top of their graves. No one realized the roses hid the person who exposed the brother’s crimes.
…I mean, at least no one got turned into sea foam sooooo yay?
14. THE WIND RIDER (Poland)
In a small Polish village there was this nasty magician who didn’t even get a name he was so nasty. The magician lusted after this woman named Krystyna, but Krystyna was in a happy, monogamous relationship with Andrusz the farmer. None of the magician’s promises of wealth and power could make Krystyna even consider the idea of leaving Andrusz.
Instead of taking Krystyna’s repeated rejections like an adult and moving on with his life, the magician decided the best thing to do was to ruin Andrusz’s. Especially after Andrusz ordered the guy off his land for hassling Krystyna on a daily basis.
One day while Andrusz was working in a nearby meadow, the magician went to Andrusz’s hut and placed a new, sharp as shit knife under Andrusz’s doorstep. As he did, the magician bellowed the following command:
I cut this fellow’s bond with the earth and curse him to ride the storm wind forever.
By the end of the command, a whirlwind formed in the meadow where Andrusz worked. Despite his struggling, Andrusz was swept up into the wind and left twirling around and around, high in the sky. Andrusz shouted and screamed until his voice was raw, but no one heard him.
Andrusz spent days trapped in the sky, growing hungrier and thirstier by the day as the wind and sun ravaged his body. He drifted in all directions but was always brought back to the sky above the village. Daily the magician returned to Andrusz’s hut to call upwards and mock his rival in love.
You will fly over this village forever. You will go on suffering, but never die. Such is my wrath.
Sometimes Andrusz floated over Krystyna’s home, watching her fold laundry or gathering eggs from the hen house. Krystyna was clearly distraught at Andrusz’s disappearance, but still she rejected the magician every time he came to offer “his condolences.”
Finally, Andrusz got the idea to drop a coin from his pocket as he watched Krystyna gathering cabbages from her garden. The coin landed in front of Krystyna, who started looking around trying to figure out where the coin came from. As Krystyna looked up, Andrusz used whatever strength he had left to flail around hoping she might notice.
Andrusz feared Krystyna didn’t see him, until she stood up and waved back! Krystyna started running down the road, and Andrusz strained himself to see where she was headed. Well, it looked like Krystyna was dashing to the home of Zofia the local witch. Everyone knew Zofia and the asshat magician loathed one another, like the fact she got named by the writer and he didn’t.
Krystyna brought Zofia to the spot where she found the coin, and pointed upwards to Andrusz. Andrusz barely had any energy to wave when he saw Zofia wave back. The witch made several motions with her arms, as if she was reeling in a fishing net or kite. Andrusz suddenly felt an invisible cord wrap around him, and slowly he was pulled down to the ground!
The lovers were overjoyed at their reunion, but Krystyna wept at Andrusz’s state from being trapped in the sky. Unfortunately, Zofia had to be a bit of a killjoy. Yeah, her wind magic’s strong as balls, but the magician’s got knife magic backing him up. And even if she successfully undoes the spell permanently, it’ll take time and the magician could cast a stronger curse. Now they had to plan.
Back at her hut, Zofia whipped up a potion to revitalize Andrusz’s body and energy. Zofia instructed Krystyna to bait the magician by pretending she was now in love with him, like she finally gave in to his stalking. While Krystyna distracted the magician, Zofia and Andrusz returned to Andrusz’s hut. After locating the magician’s knife, Zofia explained turnabout was fair play and they had to put the knife under the magician’s doorstep. Now the spell will be cast on the magician!
At the magician’s abode of bad lovin’, Andrusz hid the knife under the jerk’s doorstep before banging on his front door. The magician was in for a shock as Andrusz slugged the guy while Krystyna ran to her boyfriend’s side. The magician planned to curse them both when Zofia went to work. Undoing the scarf around her neck and stroking her long, long hair, Zofia started chanting a counterspell.
The skies grew dark and the wind began to howl as Zofia stroked her majestic hair faster and faster. As Zofia stroked her hair faster, the magician was hoisted up higher and higher into the dark storm clouds until he vanished.
Readjusting her scarf, the voluminously haired Zofia swore he wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
And on the day Andrusz and Krystyna got married, the magician howled and raged high, high up in the sky where no one could hear him scream.
This is exactly why I grow my hair long, because I can use it to curse people who’re dicks. [Wing: I have clearly been missing out on this hair cursing.]
15. THE SKULL THAT SPOKE (NIGERIA)
Once again we’ve got another talking skeleton story, only this one’s Nigerian while the previous one was Japanese.
So there’s this guy named Kigbo, who’s very clever but also very, very lazy. He never did any work for himself, and he survived by sweet talking his neighbors into giving him food or money. Kigbo spent his days dreaming of owning lots of land, lots of cattle, and lots of wives, while trying to figure out how he could do that easily. Clever, lazy, and greedy is always a surefire way to get yourself killed in these stories.
Also fuck you Kigbo and fuck you storyteller for contributing to the negative stereotypes about what polyamorous relationships can be like. It’s not normally just some guy trying to get as many wives as he can because he’s greedy and lazy.
So Kigbo the Fuckwad surprisingly had enough energy to go for a walk in the woods when he stumbled upon a half-buried human skull. Kigbo cursed the “foolish” skull and knocked it loose from the ground with his staff. The skull asked why Kigbo thinks he’s foolish. Kigbo mocked the skull, stating if he was half-buried in a forest road with no indication of who he was, the skull obviously had no friends, no family, no wives, no money, and no importance.
The skull calmly asked if Kigbo had any of those things, to which Kigbo boasted he’ll get them all by being clever. Well, the skull warned Kigbo being too clever is dangerous. If one can die of foolishness, one can also die of cleverness.
Kigbo continued on his walk, but thought he could use the skull to make his dreams come true. Heading for the king’s house in the village, Kigbo claimed the talking skull was a marvel, a miracle, a gift from the gods.
(It’s actually mentioned at this point the king has a number of advisors AND wives of his own, so maybe Souci wasn’t unintentionally feeding into the idea of polyamory being wrong so much as Kigbo considering “wives = property” represents Kigbo being an asshole. [Wing: Yeah, I think it’s pretty much Kigo being a dick, not a takedown of polyamory.] )
The king coldly asked if Kigbo was trying to make a fool of him, but Kigbo swore on his life *oh boy* the skull could talk.
Going back to the forest (not entirely sure why he didn’t go back for the skull the first time), Kigbo found the skull who again warned him about being too clever. Ignoring the warning, Kigbo returned to the king’s house and showed off the skull.
It didn’t talk.
Angered, the king immediately signaled for his bodyguard to get rid of Kigbo. Kigbo was so busy trying to make the skull talk, he never saw the ax coming.
As Kigbo’s head, body, and the skull were tossed into the woods, Kigbo whined before the skull smugly replied “Told ‘ya!”
Where I’ve Heard It Before: This is almost a straight rehash of “The Dancing Skeleton” from the first volume, only we cut to the chase and have a skeleton (minus its body) getting the best of a lazy guy. [Wing: If we accept the premise that these stories come from different locations, it’s not really a rehash. There’s a commonality to storytelling across cultures.]
Out of these five tales, “The Haunted House” has been my favorite because of the atmosphere and the true sense of foreboding from that poem. However, “The Rose Elf” and “The Wind Rider” were both more influences on my AU ideas for the Legion of Super-Heroes to the point I modeled versions of Legionnaires Shrinking Violet and Nightwind after the stories.
However, for next month’s Halloween Extravaganza we’ve reached the section I’m most excited about. Our next slew of five tales will include Ireland’s plan for doomsday, floating heads, an African American retelling of a Greek myth, a really bizarre Charles Dickens tale I feel I’ve been living through for the past several months, and finally, a tale about a very weird boogeywoman and one of the most extreme cases of parental abandonment you will EVER find.
Enjoying this recap, Rose Elf and Never Too Far were the real highlights for me when I read it