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 started the second half of the book and we’ve finally reached the story I’ve been excited about for ages. (Part One, Part Two, Part Three.) While I was already aware of some of the folktales collected in this series, my knowledge of one in particular originated from my comic book fandom and I never expected to find it here of all places. In this recap, we’ll be looking at an incredibly extreme form of parental abandonment and one of the oddest boogeyman characters in fiction.
Of course that doesn’t mean she isn’t fucking terrifying as well.
16. THE MONSTER OF BAYLOCK (Ireland)
Apparently, there’s a rumor going around that Ireland won’t be destroyed during Armageddon. No, it ain’t getting destroyed during all that fire and brimstone and Satan shitting out a horde of demons to ravage every living thing in sight. Ireland lucked out and it’ll be destroyed the day BEFORE the end of the world, where it’ll be devoured by a giant monster.
And hey, someone in Ireland will receive the privilege of giving birth to the aforementioned monstrosity! Some think it’s already been born, and just waiting for the cue to start eating everything.
Well, long ago before TVs, cellular telephones, and instagram, most of the people in Ireland lived in its valleys and plains. A very rare few chose to live in the mountains because it was rough terrain full of wild beasts and bushes that tended to invade farming fields.
In the Knockmealdowns, there was a childless farming couple who very, very much wanted a child of their own. The couple lived a very lonely life in the mountains, until finally they were able to conceive a baby boy and they were happy.
A few days later, they were NOT happy.
The mom came back into the hut after milking the cow to discover her infant child was growing bigger by the second. The baby outgrew its crib and was already starting to walk when it ambled over to the hearth and swallowed a burning hot oatcake like it was nothing.
The baby made absolutely NO sound as it kept growing and eating. Now the mom never heard of the “Giant Eating Ireland” legend, but she was freaking the fuck out. The baby grabbed the jug of fresh milk and drank it in about a second. As he grabbed every piece of food, the baby grew big enough that his head reached the ceiling of the hut.
That’s when the baby ate the pet cat.
Mom finally ran after her kid looked at her like she was a Hostess snack cake, and she just so happened to run into the path of a traveling wizard. The wizard saw the mom’s distress and asked what was wrong. As if on cue, the monster baby burst out of the hut and started devouring the farm animals.
Mom: DOES THAT ANSWER YOUR FUCKING QUESTION?!
The wizard immediately deduced this MUST be the the monster destined to eat Ireland the Day Before The Last Day.
No seriously they use that exact phrase throughout the story, “The Day Before The Last Day.” Where’s Dennis Quaid when you need him?
The wizard was afraid the giant would eat all of Ireland before its destined appointment. Now the mom asked the wizard to turn her baby back to normal, but that was beyond his power. The best the wizard could do was try to stop the giant before he ate everything and everyone. The woman started crying, knowing her beloved child had to be stopped and she’d never get him back.
Gathering sticks and stones to make symbols, the wizard began chanting a barrage of spells and enchantments to stop the giant. The giant sensed something was trying to stop him, so he attempted to grab the wizard and his former mom. However, the wizard’s spells repelled the creature. This went on until the monster stopped following the third attempt.
Thank Christ he was facing the other way.
Climbing up the mountainside behind the destroyed cottage, the giant was followed by his mom and the wizard. The wizard never stopped chanting, and it seemed to be having an affect as the giant moved slower, its footsteps made heavier from the spells weighing him down. It only made the monster angrier and hungrier, roaring like a hundred lions. The thudding of the giant’s heart in its chest was enough to shake the mountains. Its fur was as sharp as spearheads.
JESUS lady, did he get this from you or your husband?
Eventually the monster reached the lake called Baylock, but as soon as his feet touched the shoreline shit began to get real. The mountain winds began to shriek as all sorts of horrible creatures emerged the hills and valleys to slow the giant down. At the wizard’s command, every terrifying monster, creature and ghoul came forward to hold off the giant. Ghosts, goblins, vultures, witches, destroying demons, every foul thing possible, threw itself at the giant.
The old woman watched as the wizard conjured up a great windstorm while all the other creatures held onto her monster son. The giant was thrown off his feet, being picked up by the wind until it dropped him into the middle of the lake. As the giant sank beneath the water, the legion of creatures departed back to their homes and the wind died down.
Weeping at the loss of her son, the woman was told by the wizard the giant wasn’t gone for good. He’ll remain at the bottom of Baylock until it’s time for him to fulfill his function.
They say once every year, when the winds are especially harsh through the Knockmealdowns, the waters of Baylock churn and a deep voice asks “Is it the Day Before The Last Day yet?” With no response, the giant keeps waiting.
Meanwhile, there’s no mention of what happened when the dad came back and probably had to say “What the FUCK?!” [Wing: Surprise, your kid heralds the end of the world! And also is a giant! And also is at the bottom of a lake! And also I’m childfree now, husband.]
Where I’ve Heard It Before: Baylock was the last name of the evil nanny from The Omen.
17. THE NEW MOTHER (England)
Long ago in a seaside village, there were two sisters. It’s been so long no one remembers their real names anymore, but they were called “Blue-Eyes” and “Red-Skirts” because one had strikingly blue eyes and the other liked to wear red dresses. The sisters lived with their mom in a cottage while their dad was a sailor, working in faraway lands.
Even though their mom always warned them not to talk to strangers, one day Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts encountered a strange old woman in the village square. She wore a black bonnet and black skirts that rustled like tissue paper. The old woman had stiff white gloves on her hands, her cheeks were covered in ghostly white face powder, and she had thick, smoky glasses on.
The old woman beckoned to the girls (her voice sounded like pages being turned in a old book), [Wing: I really want to hear someone with a voice like that.] but when they didn’t come the woman took out a large music box from her black silk purse. The sisters watched the old woman stiffly turn a key in the back of the pearwood box, when the box opened to reveal two dancing figurines. One figurine was made to look like a sad little boy, while the other looked like a girl with a bead teardrop under each eye.
The sisters were delighted by the music box and asked the old lady if they could have it. Well, the old woman explained this is a very special music box and the girls could have it if they were very, very naughty. Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts were told to go home and be as absolutely wicked as they could. The next day, if the old woman thought they behaved badly enough she’d give them the music box.
Then she told the girls to give her a kiss before going home.
STRANGER DANGER, WING. [Wing: I think we’re well beyond that at this point.]
The sisters each kissed the old woman on the cheek, noting her face powder tasted like dust.
The following evening the two sisters acted like absolute brats, screaming and throwing food and writing on the walls. Their mom had no idea what came over them, and they lied about not speaking to anyone at the village square. Well, the mom had this to say on their behavior.
“If you keep on being naughty, I will have to go away and leave you in the care of a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail.”
…I mean, you could just give them a time out. [Wing: Send them on the path of the giant.]
The girls weren’t worried about any “new mother” and kept thinking about getting their hands on that swanky music box.
The next day the girls met the old woman again in the village square, she played the music box and asked for a recount of their vile deeds. Too bad because the old lady’s got high standards for naughtiness, and doesn’t think the sisters’ misbehavior qualifies them to have the music box. No, they gotta be MUCH worse than that. [Wing: You could give them some damn examples of what you want, you old grump.]
Also she must have arthritis or something because the old lady sounds like a door creaking when she leans forward, that can’t be healthy.
Again the girls were expected to give the old woman a kiss on the cheek before leaving. This time her cheeks smelled like a polished table.
Back home, Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts acted abominably, breaking china and tearing up clothes and wrecking the front garden. The mom asked them again if they spoke to anyone to instigate this behavior, and they said no.
“Children, you must not be so naughty. If you do not stop, I shall have to go away, and then you will have a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail.”
Y’know, Wing, when I was little my asshole cousin used to threaten to take my lips off with one of those hole puncher things if I misbehaved. This brings back memories. [Wing: Honestly, I’d take the glass-eyed, wooden-tailed mother over my lips being removed, damn.]
The sisters still think their mom’s full of hot air and only cared about the music box. Girls for Christ’s sake it’s a box with two toys inside and it does ONE THING. AND ONLY ONE THING. If you count playing music and the figurines dancing separate things whatever, but STILL. You’d be bored with it after a single day.
Well for a third time the girls went back to the old woman the next day. However, the old lady’s not smiling and when the sisters kissed her cheeks, they felt cold and hard. The woman didn’t even take out the music box this time, demanding to know if the girls were naughty enough. For a third time, the old woman told them to act naughtier.
So Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts proceeded to act their absolute WORST. At home they broke whatever they could get their hands on. They even hurt their dog and pinched their mom. [Wing: DROWN THEM WITH THE GIANT, GODDAMN.] For a third time, their mom warned them to cut the shit out or else…
“Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts, you have been so naughty that I will surely have to go away and leave you in the care of a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail.”
LADY. ACTUALLY PUNISH YOUR KIDS AND SHOW THEM THEIR IMMEDIATE ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES.
Still, the thick-headed sisters thought once they get the music box they’ll go back to being good kids.
The next day the sisters were in for a surprise when they told the old lady of how naughty they’d been. The woman clapped her hands in delight, making a sound like sticks being hit together. She declared Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts have indeed been naughty. Very, VERY naughty. So naughty their mom has surely left them to go be with their dad, and now they’ll not only get the music box but a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail! [Wing: Wait, she was leaving them to go be with their dad? That seems like a strange twist, but okay.]
Now the girls are scared and don’t care about the music box anymore. They ran back home, but their mom wasn’t in the house or the garden. She was gone.
Hoping their mom went out shopping, the sisters busied themselves by cleaning up the house and preparing the kettle for their mom’s afternoon tea. Surely she’d understand how good they are now.
Suddenly the girls heard a knock at the door. It’s their mom and she forgot her house key! Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts opened the door…
And in walked the old woman, so tall her head almost reached the ceiling rafters. The old woman was immense and she seemed to get bigger by the second. What was that noise they heard underneath her dress?
“Because you were so naughty, your old mother had to go away,” said the woman. “I am your new mother.”
The sister tried to run away from the monstrous woman, when the New Mother’s wooden tail shot out from underneath the black dress and knocked them down. Taking off her glasses, the light shining from the New Mother’s glass eyes blinded Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts until all they could see was the opening of her giant black purse.
One day, two little boys saw a strange old woman in the village square. They watched as the woman took out a pearwood music box. The box opened up, and the boys watched as two figurines began to dance. One had two blue beads for eyes. The other wore a red dress.
The boys asked if they could have the music box.
The old woman asked how naughty they could be.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: I’ve known about this story for years in its original form from Lucy Clifford’s Anyhow Stories: Moral or Otherwise. Anyhow Stories was a collection of fairy tales created for older children, and potentially adults as well. The one other story I’m quite familiar with from that collection is “The Imitation Fish,” about a toy fish that’s put in the sea by a young boy who thinks it’ll be happier with real fish. Unfortunately, the Imitation Fish is rejected by the actual sea life. Circumstances however lead the toy fish back to the mother of the young boy, but after the young boy’s implied to have died.
Clifford’s stories are pretty fucked up shit.
In the original “New Mother,” the two children are nicknamed “Blue-Eyes” and “The Turkey.” Instead of a music box, the device is a pear drum with two mechanical figures that dance as the drum is played. However, in this version, the tempter character and the New Mother aren’t the same person. The New Mother exists as a separate entity hanging over the children, while the girl with the drum ultimately never gives it to them. The story ends with the children being forced to live in the wilderness outside their home, while their New Mother lurks within the house. It’s said they can sometimes catch glimpse of light reflecting off her glass eyes, or hear her wooden tail being dragged along the floor.
So even though the New Mother carries a malevolent air in Clifford’s version, she doesn’t actively harm or manipulate the children into being naughty so she can kidnap them like she does in Souci’s version.
There’s a variant of this in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, where it’s simply called “The Drum.” In that version, the kids have a baby brother who disappears alongside the mom when she leaves them. Unfortunately, the tempter character is referred to as a g%p$y girl.
The place where I first learned of this story, and Anyhow Stories in general, was Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol comics. Morrison created a group of villains called the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., a bizarre government agency hypocritically trying to destroy all weirdness to better control the world. After all, a boring world’s a predictable one.
N.O.W.H.E.R.E. creates its agents by harvesting the husks of the newly dead and turning them into soldiers. But to do that, the husks have to be psychologically destroyed so they can be molded at N.O.W.H.E.R.E.’s whims.
These dead husks have childlike intellects, so they’re read to from Lucy Clifford’s Anyhow Stories which is apparently the only thing terrifying enough to destroy whatever willpower the dead have left. One issue of Doom Patrol, which was even titled “Anyhow Stories,” features a woman reading the last part of “The New Mother” to a group of husks wailing in agony. There are snippets of Clifford’s stories mentioned throughout the entire N.O.W.H.E.R.E. arc and its prologue.
[Wing: I’ve never run into this story before, and it is creepy as hell, damn. Love that tropey ending with them becoming the tempting toy.]
18. ROKURO-KUBI (Japan)
Centuries ago there was a samurai named Kwairyo who eventually retired and became a traveling Buddhist priest. Even though Kwairyo gave up the way of violence he still maintained his bravery, and was willing to go anywhere to spread the teachings of the Buddha no matter how perilous.
While crossing the mountains one evening, Kwairyo came upon a man chopping up some logs with an ax. The woodcutter greeted Kwairyo and asked if the man had anywhere to stay for the night. Kwairyo didn’t really have a problem sleeping under the stars (lonely places make for good meditation), but the woodcutter warned there are some dangerous things lurking in the night. The woodcutter invited Kwairyo to spend the evening in his hut with his family. They didn’t really have any food to offer, just a place to sleep.
Kwairyo accepted the invitation and followed the woodcutter through the forest path. The two approached a cottage adorned with paper lanterns, and the woodcutter showed Kwairyo a nearby shed with bamboo pipes connected to a nearby river. After washing their feet (a sign of politeness before entering a home), Kwairyo entered the cottage and met the woodcutter’s family (two other men and women). The group chatted for a bit before it was time to turn in for the night.
While the family slept, Kwairyo read sutras to himself in a little side room. Feeling thirsty, the priest got up to get a drink from the shed when he noticed something amiss in the main cottage room. The woodcutter’s sleeping family were all missing their heads!
Kwairyo thought murder had been committed, until he realized none of the headless bodies were bloody. The spaces on their necks where the heads should’ve been were bare. It was as if the heads had simply detached themselves from their necks.
Immediately Kwairyo realized he was in the den of demons known as Rokruo-Kubi, with the power to separate their heads from their bodies to hunt for food. Kwairyo figured they left the cottage through the smoke hole in the roof. He knew these types of creatures could devour anything, and were a threat to every living thing around them. However, they can’t separate from their bodies for very long. Kwairyo made an effort to drag the headless bodies out of the hut and hid them in a bamboo thicket.
In a nearby grove of cedar trees, Kwairyo heard voices. Hidden in the bushes, Kwairyo watched the five disembodied heads floating in the air. While they ate worms from the ground as an appetizer, the Rokruo-Kubi discussed having Kwairyo as the main course. The fact that Kwairyo was praying earlier as he read the sutras is why none of them already tried to eat him. The young woman head flew back to the cabin to check on the priest, then returned in a panic stating the priest AND their bodies were gone.
Now enraged, the woodcutter’s head exclaimed they’d rip Kwairyo apart if they fou-THERE HE IS!
Armed with a tree branch, Kwairyo swatted the demon heads away whenever they tried to approach him. Again and again the Rokruo-Kubi tried to attack, gnashing and clicking their knife-like teeth. Eventually, two of the demon heads gnawed away at the branch while the other three went after the priest. Kwairyo fought them off with his hands, but each them a little bit of flesh was bitten off.
Kwairyo eventually retreated back to the cottage, punching the woodcutter’s head in the face as he fled. He barred the cottage door and closed the smoke hole. That didn’t deter the demon heads for long when Kwairyo heard them gnashing and chewing at the outside of the hut.
Looking for a weapon, Kwairyo found a small hole stuffed with articles left behind from past victims. Including, luckily enough, a sword and suit of armor. Kwairyo made quick work of most of the Rokuro-Kubi, leaving the woodcutter for last. The woodcutter lasted longer than the others, managing several bites as he dodged Kwairyo’s blade. Though in tremendous pain, Kwairyo fought on. Kwairyo finally waited for the woodcutter to get close enough when he sliced the top of the creature’s head off.
The lower half continued to bite Kwairyo’s sleeve, Kwairyo ripped off the clothing and wrapped the head in a bundle. Throwing the head inside a wooden chest, Kwairyo locked it and then set the hut on fire. As the hut burned, Kwairyo said a prayer hoping it’d make sure the Rokuro-Kubi’s spirits stayed dead.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: Legion of Super-Heroes briefly had a minor character named Konk as a member of the rival hero team the Uncanny Amazers. She could detach her head from her body for like an hour at a time.
19. DICEY AND ORPUS (U.S.A – African American)
Oh boy, a trip to the American south and more plantations! Fun!
No it’s not it’s awful.
So if you haven’t already figured out what this is based on the name alone, once upon a time there was a girl named Dicey and a traveling fiddle player named Jim Orpus. Dicey grew up on a plantation, while Orpus roamed the country playing his fiddle. Some people said Orpus was the greatest fiddle player alive long before that punk ass bitch Johnny showed up.
And God knows he was better than Spawn.
And he even makes the Robot Devil look like a chump!
Whenever Orpus played, rabbits danced and mules would stop in the middle of fields to bray alongside him as if they were singing. Hell, Orpus could use his fiddle playing to fish. As soon as he played his bow, the fish would simply jump into his boat.
Dicey and Orpus were practically made for one another. Orpus wooed Dicey slowly, but whenever he played his fiddle Dicey would sing along. She’d automatically know the words to whatever he played, even if it was a song she never heard before. Dicey didn’t need to say how much she loved Orpus, she’d sing it. It was like they were living in a Disney movie.
And then Dicey got hit by a train.
See apparently Dicey made the BRILLIANT decision to wait for Orpus one day near the newly built railroad. Specifically, she sat ON the tracks waiting for him, having no idea what a train was. What she thought was the sound of Orpus’s fiddle playing was actual the sound of the tra-SPLAT.
WELL DICEY AIN’T LOOKING PRETTY NO MORE. [Wing: How, exactly, does one mistake the sound of a train with the sound of a fiddle? Further, why sit on the damn tracks in the first place? Dicey, you make no sense.]
Orpus naturally was heartbroken, and he spent days playing the saddest, most depressing music you’d ever have the misfortune to hear. People from miles around fell into despair as if their own hearts were broken once they heard a snippet of Orpus’s fiddling.
Then Orpus got angry. Really angry. Have you ever seen angry fiddle playing, Wing? [Wing: Actually, yes.] Orpus fiddled so hard and so angry he shook mountains and splintered trees in half. The very ground opened up beneath Orpus’s feet and he went tumbling down, down into the dark. Orpus could only make out a speck of light in the distance. Well apparently, Orpus fell so far beneath the Earth he found himself at the gate to the Land of the Golden Slipper where all good people go when they die.
Or he might have a concussion, I dunno.
An angel blocked Orpus’s entrance to Slippertown, saying it’s reserved for the dead and Orpus is still alive and kicking. Now Orpus got mad again and demanded he go past the angel so he could be with Dicey. Or if he can’t go to where Dicey is, Orpus demanded Dicey come back to him. The angel wouldn’t acknowledge Orpus’s whining until Orpus took out his fiddle and started playing again. Orpus played a powerful melody, sweet and bitter and heartwrenching until the angel started weeping. The angel finally conceded defeat and told Orpus to stop playing that fucking discount violin, Dicey can go back up with him.
Dicey will follow Orpus back to the world of the living, however Orpus CANNOT look behind him until the two lovers are both under the sun. This is Orpus’s ONE and ONLY chance. If Orpus EVER looks back, that’s it and Dicey’s going back to Slippertown. [Wing: Oh, it’s that kind of retelling.]
The angel went and got Dicey. Orpus didn’t turn around, but he heard Dicey’s voice so he set on his path to the land above. Dicey had cried and hollered with joy at being reunited with Orpus, and that was enough for him… for a while. The further Orpus travelled, the more he played his fiddle and Dicey sang along as she did in life. Orpus needed all his strength to remember not to look behind him when they were just at the entrance of the land of the living AND THEN
He turned around.
Orpus’s excitement got the best of him and he turned around.
He saw Dicey for just a moment, enough to see her joy turn into despair as she faded away in the dark.
Lost in the dark, Orpus couldn’t see the light signifying the Land of the Golden Slipper and he couldn’t find the entrance to the land of the living again. All he could do was play his fiddle.
No one ever saw Jim Orpus again, but they say if you ever pass by a cemetery exclusive for Black people you might hear Orpus’s fiddle playing as he searches for Dicey and the Land of the Golden Slipper.
Where I’ve Heard It Before: This is essentially an African American version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice from Greek mythology. Orpheus was a balladeer who played a lyre, a type of handheld harp, and married Eurydice. Eurydice died when she was fleeing the unwanted advances of Arisateus, when she got bit by a viper. Orpheus travelled into the Underworld and tried to plea with Hades and Persephone to let him have Eurydice back. His lyre playing was so powerful it drove the Furies themselves to tears. Orpheus was allowed to have Eurydice back so long as he didn’t turn around until both were back in the land of the living. Of course Orpheus looked back.
I think the story of Lot in the bible had a similar thing, when Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back to see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I know of at least three explicit versions of Orpheus from other media by memory.
In the animated tie-in series Disney created for the Hercules movie, Orpheus was reimagined as a teen heartthrob musician. He has a role in at least one episode, while in another Hercules and his friend Icarus try to get tickets to Orpheus’s latest concert. It involves them reweaving the Tapestry of Fate itself and circumstances escalate to Hades taking advantage of their alterations to switch places with Zeus in Olympus. By the end of the episode, Hercules and Icarus get the tickets as thanks from the Fates… and then find out Orpheus had to cancel because of a sore throat. That’s what happens when you fuck with fate.
BTW, it was the “Never Look Back” tour.
In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, Orpheus is the son of Dream of the Endless (in his form as Oneiros, the God of Dreams) and the muse Calliope. All of the Endless appear in forms corresponding to their interpretations in Greek myth, and Eurydice dies on her wedding night. Orpheus receives help from his uncle Destruction and aunt Death to reach the Underworld, where his lyre playing brings the Underworld to a standstill. Persephone ominously says Orpheus making the Furies cry is something they’ll never forgive him for.
(There’s at least some humor in Orpheus freaking out when he enters Death’s realm, only to find it looks like a modern day apartment with lights, a fish bowl, and her panty hose strewn on the bed)
Orpheus has a falling out with Dream for not helping him get Eurydice back, and because Orpheus is basically immortal as a half-Endless he’s reduced to a severed head when torn apart by the followers of Dionysus. The next few hundred years Orpheus acts as an oracular head protected by a small sect in ancient Greece, until the day Dream returns asking for Orpheus’s help to locate Destruction. In doing so, Dream has to repay Orpheus a boon and Orpheus asks to finally die for real.
The act of mercy killing Orpheus sets up the end of Dream’s arc by giving the Furies a valid excuse to kill him. Even though they hated Orpheus for making them cry, since he was killed by his blood father, the Furies get to inflict vengeance on Dream as the Kindly Ones.
The third version was a minor appearance in the cartoon Class of the Titans, where Orpheus appears in the Elysium Fields and briefly mistakes main character Theresa as Eurydice. This was the first time I ever heard “Eurydice” spoken out loud, and it was pronounced “Yu-rid-a-see” instead of “Yur-E-Dice.”
DC Comics did a variant of the “Orpheus Rule” in JLA: Classified, in a story arc featuring most of the members of Justice League International. While temporarily stuck in hell, the former JLI members (nicknamed the Superbuddies) discover the soul of their fallen teammate Ice stuck in a daze among the damned. Guy Gardner and Fire both want to bring Ice back with them, with the demon Etrigan employing the whole Orpheus scenario while smugly knowing someone’s gonna look back. Because guess what? They always look back.
Heartbreakingly enough, it’s Fire who ends up turning around just to be sure Ice is still with them. Ice ruefully comments with total clarity that Fire “always did care too much” before vanishing to her rightful place in the afterlife. Thankfully, because Ice’s death was often considered one of the worst cases of Women In Refrigerators (Mark Waid even admitted killing Ice was a mistake he regretted) she was brought back properly by none other than Gail Simone herself in Birds Of Prey a few years later.
If you think about it, Eurydice’s probably one of the earliest, prototypical examples of Women In Refrigerators since the myth’s always about Orpheus first.
20. CHIPS (Britian – Charles Dickens)
Okay. So. Imagine if you will a family with two very weird traditions.
First, all the guys are named “Chips.” Chips was named after his dad, who was named HIS dad, WHO WAS NAMED AFTER HIS DAD, and so on.
Each and every one of these Chipses sold their souls to the Devil for the exact same set of things: an iron pot, a bushel of tenpenny nails, a half ton of copper, and a talking rat.
Oh they were also shipwrights but that’s not the weird tradition, depending on how you feel about shipwrights.
We come to the latest in the long line of Chipses working alone in a ship when heard a voice in the dark.
A lemon has pips,
And a yard has ships,
And I’ll have Chips!
The Devil finally arrived to make the same bargain he made with Chips’s dad, granddad, and the rest. Chips saw the iron pot and nails and copper, but he didn’t want the rat. When the rat asked what Chips was doing, Chips explained he was putting in new planks to replace the ones the rat and his kind had gnawed away at.
The rat had this to say.
We’ll eat the planking, old and new,
We’ll let in water to drown the crew,
And when we do, we’ll eat them too.
No wonder Chips didn’t want the rat. Unfortunately the Devil’s not in a haggling mood. Chips can’t have the metal and nails and pot if he doesn’t take the rat, too. Begrudgingly Chips sold his soul for all this shit and used it to make a fortune for himself building ships.
Chips tried his best to get rid of the talking rat, but the damned thing followed Chips wherever he went. He tried to sell the iron pot but folks got disgusted whenever they saw the rat inside. Chips tossed the pot and rat into the ocean; they’d both float back to shore. The rat’s presence even ruined Chips’s relationship with the corn chandler’s daughter.
I-I have no idea if that’s a thing, but whatever.
Desperate, Chips once took advantage of the rat’s napping by filling the iron pot with scalding pitch. Again no idea, but even as the pitch cooled and hardened and the pot itself melted away inside a hot oven Chips watched in horror as the rat scampered out completely unharmed.
The rat said the following.
A lemon has pips,
And a yard his ships,
And I’ll have Chips!
The rat scurried off and Chips thought he was free. He repaired his relationship with Miss Corn Chandler and they were gonna get married. Then the rats appeared. Not the talking rat, but there were rats aplenty wherever Chips went. In his hat. In his pockets. Inside the sewing box he made for his corn girlfriend.
Because he was now a magnet for rats, Chips lost his girl, lost his job, everything. All he had were rats. Lots of rats.
One night Chips dove into the ocean and tried to swim as far away as he could to get away from the rats. He made way to a ship heading for the West Indies and offered to work aboard to earn his passage. Well it seemed Chips finally got a break as the rats stopped appearing around him.
And then the night came when Chips was ordered to scrape shit off the ship’s figurehead when he found the hole the rats gnawed through.
The talking rat winked at Chips, and this is what it said.
We’ve eaten all the timbers through,
We’ll let in water and drown the crew,
And when we do, we’ll eat them too.
Chips completely lost it then and started screaming about rats destroying the ship.
“The rats! They’re nibbling us away! We’re doomed, unless we make for the nearest port! There is dust and hollowness where solid oak should be! A rat is nibbling a grave for every man on board!”
The captain threw Chips in the hold and had him chained to the wall.
Around midnight the rats started chewing through the hold.
And then the water started pouring in.
What was left of Chips floated to shore, with a large, laughing rat sitting on the remains before it dived into the sea and swam away.
Apparently, if you dry and burn thirteen bits of the seaweed that clung to Chips’s dead body you’ll hear this in the fire.
A lemon has pips,
And a yard has ships,
And I’ve got Chips!
…Wing, I am not even gonna BEGIN to guess what the fuck was going on here. Other than I have been living with the sounds of squirrels scrambling around behind my walls for I don’t know how long and it escalated to them making at least TWO holes in my bedroom ceiling. The holes have been repaired but I still hear them and I feel them gnawing away at the edges of my mind. [Wing: We had squirrels in the crawl space beneath the roof recently, and I ended up shouting at them for interrupting my reading so often they finally went to another part of the space to run if they could hear me in my studio.]
As you can tell, “The New Mother” was the story I was most excited to talk about but I ended up providing a bit more info on “Dicey and Orpus” as another version of “Orpheus.”
“The New Mother” intrigues me as a sort of extreme cautionary tale to children about what’ll happen if they keep misbehaving, but think about it. You’d tell this story to kids as a warning to behave, but the circumstances of the girls in the story itself is somewhat convoluted. Their mother doesn’t do anything to punish them until after she’s warned them three times, and it’s the most extreme, most disproportionate response she could give. The mom simply lets the girls keep misbehaving. Blue-Eyes and Red-Skirts are never forced to clean up their messes, they aren’t sent to bed without supper, and they’re still allowed to go to the village square whenever they want. How much of what happens in this story is because of the New Mother herself tempting the girls, the girls narrow-mindedly giving into the temptation, or the failure of the original mother to teach her children how to behave before finally abandoning them as a lost cause?
So is “The New Mother” a story warning kids to behave, or is it a story warning parents about how to discipline their kids?
Well that’s it for this entry. In November we’ll be looking at yet another skeleton story, the most annoying lullaby ever, a hypochondriac, a strangely patriotic banshee, and what happens when you take “Beauty” out of “Beauty and the Beast.”