A Fit of Trembles!

Once upon a time there was a poor girl from a poor family, living in a very poor village at the edge of a vast barren plain. This girl was cursed from birth, it would seem, for, whenever the clock struck the hour of half-past-noon, her body would begin to shake and tremble, and jars of jelly would fly from the shelves, and pots of butter would crack, and the thatch of the roof would come cascading down, and plaster would peel from the walls.

“Oh, woe is me,” thought the girl to herself, “for I have been cursed to have a fit of trembles, every day, at half-past-noon; and so I will never marry, for if I grasped my husband at half-past-noon, I would tremble and shake, and break the bones in his precious body. Likewise, I can never have children, as at half-past-noon, just as I am to feed them their bottles, or spoon them their curds and whey, I will have another fit of trmebles, and shake the milk from the bottle, and splash and splosh the curds and whey all over the floor and ceiling!”

And with that, she began to cry, and soon she became so discosolate that her father implored her mother to do something.

“Alas,” said the mother. “There is nought that can be done, my husband. For, when I was pregnant, I went to the witch woman, for thou hast said I should bare a daughter, like as not, as I had, hitherto, borne only sons. And so I went to the woman and asked, ‘Oh, couldst thou not use thy sorceries to ensure I bare a daughter now, instead of the sons I have givern birth to hitherto?’
“And she replied, ‘Why, the thing is simplicity itself!’ And passing her wand over my belly, she spake an incantation, and throwing sea salt and baby’s breath into the air in a pinch, said, ‘It is accomplished!’ Then she said, ‘There is just one thing! Thou must needs leave one dram of goat’s milk and two of cream at thy doorr every night for a fortnight, six months after the babe is born. You must do this every night, and NEVER FORGET, lest ill-tidings fall upon thee!’ And with that, I knew that the thing had been accomplished, and so I left.

“Oh my husband, how I would delight in telling thee I did the thing she asked without fail! Alas, it was not to be! For, as the babe was born, and was our delightful daughter, I grew petty and forgetful, and likened the birth to something, anything but the incantations of the olde witch. I wanted so badly to forget that I had relied on her strange spells, that I soon was lax in leaving out the dram of milk and two of cream, and clean forget them several nights in a row.

“Well, I began to feel afraid, so I started putting them out again. And I thought, my husband, that this should be sufficient in mollifying the old witch. But, one day, while I was slaving for thee in the kicthen, a terrible gust of wind and a smelly smoke wafted up from nowhere; and, who should I see therein, but the terrible form of the old witch herself!

“Her face gleamed with a terrible rage, and she exclaimed, ‘Curses upon thee! thou wast instructed, as per our agreement, that thou shouldst leave for me one dram of milk and two of cream at thy door, every night, for a fortnight, as payment for the infant wench; and did I not, likewise warn thee, if thou shouldst fail to do so, a curse would fall upon thee, so that thou wouldst rend thy garb, and tear thy hair, and curse the day of thy birth?”

“And, fallimg to my knees, I implored her, with upraised, folded hands, as if to heaven, to forgive my impudence, and spare me her wrathe.

“Alas, she would have none of it. Instead, her eyes became blazing coals, and her face a hideous, death-like mask; and heaving to and fro, and smoke flying out her nostrils, she shrieked, ‘I curse thee, thou impudent old wretch, that thy newborn suckling shall have not a day of rest, nor a moment of peace, all the days of her life; instead, she shall tremble and quake ere the coming of midday, when the devil is let loose to walk with earthly feet!’

“And with that, oh my husband, she disappeared in a cloud of reeking smoke.
Well, I cursed my ignorance, and gnashed my teeth, and pulled my hair, and rent my garment fore certain; but, these things were to no avail. For, ever since the fateful day, our daughter has trembled and shaken so that the dishes fall from the shelves, the Bible flaps open like a huge brown bird, the boards of the house crack and creak, the floorboards moan and cry in pain, and the mouth of stove flies open like a snuffling iron snout. Oh, husband, whatever are we to do?”

Well, the husband was most disturbed by all of this. So he paced the floors for a few hours, pulling thoughtfully at his pipe, before exclaiming, “I shall have to take her away, deep, deep into the forest, and leave her for the animals.

For, we cannot very well have her here, where she causes the dishes to fly from the shelves and shatter, the Bible to flap like a bird, the plaster to chip and moan, the floorboards to groan, and the stove to shudder and frown! Come, now, and say your goodbyes!”

And the woman was beside herself with griwf. But, realizing that what the husband said was true, she quickly got hold of herself and, taking a kerchief from the cupboard, wrapped for her daughter some bread and cheese, and then told her, “I am sending all the luck I have in the world with you, though, as you cna see by looking around you, that isn’t much!”

And, weeping madly, she fell to her knees, beating her fists on the floor as the husband lead his poor daughter away to abandon her in the forest; where, he surely must know, she would never be eaten alive by the wolves.

Well, the strange duo journeyed high and low. They walked by night, and rested by day. Soon, as they were deep in the forest, down a lonely trail, the man realized it was midday. He said, “Oh, we should not tarry here long, for, we are standing under an acorn tree, and thou art about to be taken with a fit of trembles!”

As if in reply, the unfortunate daughter suddenly began to shake and tremble so violently that the ground felt as if it were moving beneath them. The trees above them, heavy with acorns, suddenly began to rain them down, and the father exclaimed, as squirrels and birds began to fall from the trees,”Come, before we are pelted to death with acorns, or have chipmunks fall upon our brows!” And so they ran down the path, arm in arm, but, before long, they were met with the presence of Tom the Cotter.

Tom said, “Lo, I have traveled high and low, looking for a wife to bear my children and be my mate. And, just a few moments ago, as I traveled, I could feel the ground rumble beneath me, and the trees shake like fingers above me, and I know that I had received a sign from the Lord above!”

And with that, the girl’s father, suddenly realizing the opportunity he had been granted here, said, “Yes, indeed, “’tis a sign from above. Here, take my fine daughter to be the wife of your youth. For, is she not comely and young, prim and demure, and will she not bear thee stout children, and be a good woman and friend?”

And Tom the Cotter said, “Oh, indeed, she is a fine lass to behold! Why, I think she’ll do quite nicely!”

And so, without further ceremony, the young woman was lead off to be married to Tom the Cotter.

After the wedding, as the young woman was being placed in her new position as mistress of the house, Tom the Cotter was home from the fields one day, taking his lunch, when the clock struck noon.

He was amazed to see his wife begin to tremble uncontrollably, shaking violently, so that the dishes fell from the shelves above, the dog hid behind the bureau in terror, the windows cracked in their frames, the plaster fell from the walls, the boards fell from the ceiling, and Tom the Cotter fell from his chair!
“Alas!” he cried, “what deviltry is this?”

And, turning to her new husband shamefully, the woman implored him, “Oh, good my husband, thou hast been decieved most dreadfully. For, I am a woman suffering under the dreaded curse of an ancient witch, who has burdened me grievously! For an imagined slight she has made it so that, at noonday every day, I am took with a ‘fit of trembles,’ so that I shake with such violence that all standing anywhere near me are effected by it!”

Upon hearing this the new husband was wroth; but, straightway divining what he must do, he took the wife by the hand and, leading her out the door, went through the forest until, passing by the shop of Stuart the Smithy, stopped when he heard, “Ho! Who is it leads such a fair and comely maiden outside my door at noon of the clock?”

And to this Tom the Cotter replied, “Oh, ’tis but an errand I am on.” And, introducing his wife, the Cotter said, “Takest thou this woman for thy helpmeet? For, she is a lax and lazy dullard, and her I cannot abide!”

And upon saying this, Tom the Cotter quickly turned and fled back through the forest. (And, after so humiliating himself, he must have decided to move on to another hamlet, for he was never seen in those parts again.)

Well, seeing how beautiful and comely the fine but unfortunate trembling daughter was, he opened wide his door, and said, “Comest thou inside, and be mine helpmeet, oh daughter of Eve. For, I am a lonely smithy, and am wanton, and thus, must have a wife.”

And with that she entered. But, seeing as how it was midday, soon the terrible change began to come over her. Her body began to shake, and tremble, and soon the hammers and saws and instruments of iron began to rattle and shake on the walls.

The Smithy became outraged. “Oh thou miserable and tortured wretch! I cannot keep thee as my wife. Why, to do so would destroy everything in my shop, and ruin me, and would cause me to pull down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave! I’ll have to throw thee out of doors to wander, alone and disconsolate as Demeter looking for Persephone!”

And the Smithy began to move forward. But, before he could reach her to throw her out of doors, the trembling and shaking disloged a heavy iron hammer where it hung from the wall.

It came crashing down on the poor Smithy’s head, sending him reeling back into the fire of his own forge! His head exploded in a ball of flame!

Fearing for her life, Trembles ran screaming from the Smithy shop. She flew through the forest as fast as her legs could carry her, her arms flung above her head, until, stumbling over a craggy bit of rock, she went tumbling, head first, into a sodden bundle of old rags.

To her astonishment, the rags jumped up and yelled.

She sat back heavily on the ground. Getting up before her was the dirtiest, foulest-looking man she had ever seen. His hair was matted and filthy, his beard was long and scraggly, and his body was covered in smelly rags that looked as if they might badly itch. This was Vincent the Vagrant, the village idiot.

“Howdee doo, missy?” said Vernon, beating the dust from his trouser legs. As she looked up into his craggy, care-worn, sunblasted face, Trembles could see that the man had only a few teeth left in his head. His smile, nonetheless, was oddly infectious. She began to smile too.

“Missy, I see that you’re a feller down on his luck, just as am I. Come! We’ll sit on yonder wall together, facing the passersby. And we’ll hoot, and we’ll holler, and we’ll beg bread, and we’ll beg cheese, and they’ll throw tomatoes and raw eggs; and if they aren’t too rotten, we can eat our fill of those.”

And so, starving as she was, she decided to join Vincent atop the wall. All day long they wailed like banshees, and clucked like chickens, and barked like dogs, and crowed like roosters, and grunted like pigs, and generally, played the daft fools so well that disgusted travelers, when passing by, would,

indeed, throw eggs and acorns, tomatoes and old, rotten fruit. Occasionally, too, children passed in little gangs to tease and throw rocks.

Whenever food was thrown, in between throwees, Vincent would climb down from the wall and collect the boiled eggs and old raspberries, and acorns, and half-rotted tomatoes, and gather them in his apron, and then the two of them would eat. But, thought Trembles, it is, none of it, very good.

All the same, she was happy enough to have it.

Well, everything was going along swimmingly until the next day, when noontime came. Then, Trembles began to shake and tremble as always, and the wall that her and Vincent the Vagrant sat on began to crumble and sway.

“Oh my!” exclaimed Vincent. “Young lady, this is no good. No good at all! Why are you doing that? You must quit doing that!”

But it was too late, for the wall soon came tumbling down, dashed into smithereens. Clouds of dust flew upward, and Trembles coughed to clear it from her throat.

When the dust had finally settled, she was amazed to see a little knot of villagers gathered around.

“Look!” one of them exclaimed, pointing, “Vincent the Vagrant! Why, HE’S DEAD!”
A little tow-headed boy with snot dribbling from his chin stepped forward and excaimed, pointing, “She did it! She killed him! I saw it all!”

“It’s Trembles,” excalimed another. “She’s cursed!”

“She starts to tremble and shake, and things fly all over the place, as if there is an earthquake.”

And, so, not knowing exactly how best to deal with trembles, the mob of villagers quickly bound her head and foot, and the Burgomaster, a rather fat, pompous and stupid fellow, exclaimed, “Come! We’ll imprison her in the old stone tower in the middle of the cursed, thorny vines! Then, if she is guilty, she will be eaten by the ogre.”

And one man peeped out, “What if she is innocent?”

The Burgomaster considered a moment, putting his fat finger to his wobbly chin, and then said, “Then, surely, she will not be eaten. Instead, she may jump down from the tower window, and thus find the mercy she was denied in life.”
And another villager said,’But…but if she jumps she’ll be killed!”
To which the Burgomaster replied, “That, my friend, is no business of mine!”
And so they carted Trembles off to the stone tower, which rose great and grey and grim in the center of a huge forest of thorny bushes and vines. (How, precisely, they got her to the tower, and inside, without having to pass through the forest of murderous thorns, we are not told. Rest assured, however, the thing was accomplished.)

Trembles sat in the uppermost room of the tower, weeping. She was cold and hungry and alone, and knew that she would, most assuredly, die here, alone and unloved. Soon, she heard heavy steps outside, and the heavy wooden door suddenly flew open.

Standing there, horrible beyond horrible, with bald, peeling head, red eyes, blazing lips, huge, tusk-like teeth, filthy beard, ragged clothes, and hobnailed boots, was the Ogre, who lived in the tower, having been banished here by magic spells, many years ago.

“You!” he growled, pointing one filthy, scaly, crooked, claw-like fingernail at her. “Don’t go thinking you’re gonna sit around here all day weeping and wailing and not doing any work! No! Thou shalt earn thy keep by the sweat of thy brow! Seest thou that spinning wheel, yonder?”

And, spittle flying out his mouth, the Ogre pointed his crooked, filthy, claw-like finger at the wheel; which, as it was really the only other item in the room, was rather hard to miss.

Trembles nodded tearfully. Beside the wheel was a huge pile of flax.

“Thou shalt toil day and night, spinning this magic wheel, spinning this flax into gold! And thou durst not ever cease, for I’ll be coming up here to make certain thou art working most dilligently. And if thou shirkest thy toil, I shall grind thy bones to powder, and thy flesh to clay, and eat thee for dinner that night!”

And with that the foul, reeking Ogre blew out the door. Weeping bitterly at her sorry lot in life, Trembles sat at the spinning wheel and began to spin the flax, which she was amazed to see actually did turn to long, ropy strands of gold as she worked.

“Oh, wailings and lamentations! MIsery and hardship seem to be my lot in life! Whatever shall I do? For, if I work ceaselessy spinning flax into gold, I shall surely drop dead from exhaustion, hunger or thirst! Bit, if I stop, the Ogre will find out, and he’ll grind my bones, and drink my blood, and bake me in an oven, and turn me into stew!”

And she began to weep loudly and long,. And she wept all the night through.
That morning, just before dawn, a young nobleman came riding by on his noble steed, when he heard the tears and imprecations of the so-distressed damsel.
“Hark!” he exclaimed, cupping his hand with his ear. “Methinks me hears the sorrowful tears of some distressed damsel, some unmerry maiden who requires the immediate attention of a strapping young palladin to come to her aid in her hour of distress?”

And, following the sound of her weeping, and the plop-plop of her copious tears on the stones below her window, the young nobleman used his sharpest dirk to cut a path through the thorny brambles; although, to be honest, it was damn hard work, he was stuck more than once, bled all over his sharp, expensive leather jerkin, and carefully avoided looking at the hanging skeletons of men who had braved the thorny jungle before and had not survived. Finally, dripping with sweat, sore and bleeding, the young nobleman stood beneath the high window of Trembles.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Why weepest thou so, oh sweet and bounteous young maiden? Dost thou not know that in Spring the roses bloom, and the trees grow full, the snow melts and the weather brightens? Happiness waxes and weariness wanes.

Wealth increases, and merriment reigns?”

But, alas, the poor maiden could not halt the flow of her tears. She exclaimed, choking on her sobs, “Oh, my Lord! I am a poor unfortunate girl held captive here for a crime she did not commit. Now I am doomed to spend the rest of my days spinning flax into gold, lest the ogre of this foul tower keep come and gobble me up straigtways. Og, coudst thou not see fit, oh brave and noble man, to climb up this golden spun flax, as if it were a sort of rope, and rescue a maiden sore beset in this cruel world, plagued by one terrible tragedy after another!”

And, upon saying this, Trmebles threw down a knotted rope of spun gold, affixing the other end to a hook in the wall opposite. (The hook was, most likely, used to chain up prisoners in the terror in years gone by.)
She then went back to the window and called down.

“There my Lord! It is really quite strong and secure. I think that thou shalt surely not fall and tumble to thy death if thou dost climb to my rescue. But, do hurry! The hour grows late, and something tells me the ogre comes!”

And, never having seen a maiden quite so lovely as Trembles, the handsome young nobleman grabbed onto the golden rope, and slowly and carefully began to make his ascent. He huffed and he puffed, and he was already quite tired from having to have had to cut his way through the thorny brambles.

“Oh, my Lord! Dost thou come?” asked Trembles, cautiously. The young nobleman answered in the affirmative, exclaiming, “Never fear thou miserable maid! I shall be there in one, two, three shakes of a horse’s tail!”

Finally, sweating and heaving, and scratched and bleeding from head to foot, the young nobleman climbed up to the window, seated himself on the ledge, and finally entered the tower room in a bleeding, filthy heap.

“Oh!” exclaimed Trembles in exultation. “Oh my handsome, brave and bold savior! Come to me! I want to throw my arms around you and smother you in kisses!”
But, before she could do this, the door of the tower room blew open; and, standing there, smoke blowing from his nostrils and his eyes blazing in fire, was the Ogre!

He pointed his clawed fingers at the two, and yelled, “You think to escape me, is that it? You shall not, I swear. leave this tower alive!”

The vicious Ogre flew forward, his teeth bared and his claws gripping a heavy hammer with which to crush his enemies. The young nobleman was prepared for this , though, and, with a speed and strength that Trembles could not have believed he posssessed, he drew his sword and, with a magnificent swing, chopped the charging Ogre into two bloody, horrible halves (so that one half of him fell one way, and one half the other).

Trembles, who had been holding her breath in terror, said, ‘Oh, my, thou hast slain the most terrible Ogre, oh my Lord! I did not think, truly, that the thing were possible! But, come, let us now leave this terrible, terrible stone tower, and be away!”

“Yes,” said the young nobleman. “I shall make thee my wife, and thou shalt bear me a son, an heir to my fortune and lands. We both shall live ever after–happily. Now, come, it is almost midday…”

But, at hearing that it was almost midday, the unfortunate Trmebles suddenly remembered her curse. Her heart caught in her throat as her body began to shake horribly. Suddenly, the force of her shaking was so powerful that the stones of the tower began to fall from the ceiling and wall, and the tower bgan to wobble first one way, then another.
The shaking and trembling then brought the tower crashing down, killing the two young romantics within, before they even had a chance to truly be in love.
The end.
***
“Oh my!” cried Sue. “That was terrible! Terrible! Terrible ! You’re a horrible, horrible person, Peter Sampson, and I hope your life is like one long winter which never finds Spring!”
And she folded her arms across her chest, puffing her bottom lip out in defiance. Peter laughed, shrugged, and looked far, far below them.
“Sorry if my story upset you, Sue. But, hey, look, it’s out house! Down below! And Bub Drubb, bailing hay!”
***

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Ewan’s Bloody Shirt


Ewan looked in befuddled amazement as the old washerwoman held up a stick with a wet tangle of bloody tunics dripping from it.

“Here, lots of shirts from strapping young men, what’s been killed in the battle. My, look at this one! Why, isn’t this one yours?”

Ewan felt his blood go icy in his veins. He knew this, suddenly, to be a “Woman of the Night,” a ghost or Shee, bringing an omen of impending doom to himself.

Suddenly, the old woman came forward, her face squinting into a cruel mask.

“If thy darling wife should offer thee bread and cheese from her own hand, thou shalt avert thine own terrible doom. Otherwise, I shall be washing the blood from thy clothes…”
***

“Ewan of the Little Head” was the son of the Fifth Laird of Lochbuie (Iain Og), and was prompted by his termagant wife, known to history as the “Black Swan” (But, the reader will ask him or herself, “What is in a name?”) to press his father for his rightful portion as a Chief of the MacLaines. (As you might have guessed, we’re in Scotland.)

This was premature, and Lain Og refused him, enraging his son and causing him to erupt in a tirade of petty vengeance. Lain Og, to his credit, was having none of it, and told his insolent, petty brat that if he should like to meet his own army on the field of battle, well, then, by all means…

The whole thing started as a result of the dissatisfaction of the Swan to her husband’s paltry, uncomfortable estate. Where it would end was destruction and bloodshed.

To wit:

The morning of the battle, Ewan MacLaine arose before dawn, going out to the court where he was met by a strange washerwoman.

A bent-over old crone, with a warty nose and green complexion, we might imagine. She was washing bloody clothes. He then recognized his own shirt in the tub. He felt his blood go icy, for he now knew this to be an omen of impending doom. He was told by the Shee, the supernatural washerwoman, that, should his young wife, the “Swan,” offer him bread and cheese by her own hand, he might live. Otherwise–

Returning home, he was dismayed to find that he was offered no such morning repast.
***

His horse galloped past the great outcropping of rock. Ewan, despite the dire vision of hours earlier, was elated that his men seemed to be winning the battle. He brought his horse to halt for a moment, letting the animal catch its breath. It was then he heard a scuffling above him.

“Aieee!” came a terrible cry, as the shadow of a headsman’s axe fell across Ewan’s forehead. He reached instinctively for his sword, but it was too late.
His head was carried home by victorious soldiers atop a pike.
***
A black mare gallops past the doomed, crumbling walls of Duart castle. The peasant gardener feels his blood grow chill to see it, as it disappears into a roiling, mysterious cloud of foggy haze. Tall and lean, dressed entirely in black, the phantom rider bodes ill, he knows, for the Chief of the MacLaines–as it always has. It is “Ewan of the Little Head”; or, rather his ghost, come round to haunt the grounds of this ancient dwelling, and foretell of an impending doom come to the family, as a curse. But, the peasant reflects, this name of the “Little Head” was intriguing–maybe even comical. For, you see, the phantom rider hadn’t any head at all!

Lord Krishna’s Mouth

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There is a story told of Lord Krishna. When he was a toddler at Brindavan, he liked to steal butter and cream. He was roundly scorned for this, and his mother told him he should take care never to do it again.

So, the next time the little Lord set about playing at the homes of his young friends, instead of making off with the butter, he grabbed a baby fistful of mud, ramming it into his mouth. His young friends, seeing what the baby had done, were offended, and went to tell his mother, Yashoda.

When he returned home, Lord Krishna’s mother said to him, “You awful, unthinking child! I will teach you never to put filthy mud into your mouth again!”

And she started to enact his punishment. Perhaps she was going to make him suck on a sour lemon, or even a cake of soap. We are not told. Whatever the case, though, when Lord Krishna opened his mouth, his mother was treated to an astounding sight:

She saw hills and valleys, trees and fields, rushing rivers, and vast craggy peaks. She saw mountainous rises and shallow dips, the twinkling, starlit array of diamonds in the black, vaulted firmament of heaven. She saw the planets, each with its own life, and the suns burning brightly in wonder, and the forgotten depths of the ocean floors, and even the raging waters of other worlds.

She, indeed, beheld the universe in the suckling infant’s mouth.

Lord Krishna’s mother fell to weeping, as she realized that Vishnu had come to earth in the form of her son.

(We imagine that, after that, he was treated to all the butter and cream he liked.)

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The Miracle of Self-Trepanation

There is a legend about a movie, called Heartbeat in the Brain. The movie was made by a grad student in London, in the sixties, who was deeply involved in the occult.

It was featured in the book Apocalypse Culture. At any rate, this grad student, a woman, actually made a film of her trepanation–that is, she drilled a hole in the top of her head, so she could see God.

They say the film doesn’t exist anymore. They say all copies disappeared after it was screened to shocked audiences at a film festival. I don’t know. I’ve only seen purported bits and pieces of it.

Anyway, the story I have to tell is about someone who drilled a hole in their head, clean through to their brain. Because they swore they heard a heartbeat–a tell-tale heart, pounding away in their skull. And that it was driving them mad.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A woman that was dying of cancer heard about a new treatment, south of the border. Something that wasn’t legal in the US. In desperation, she went down there, and was unenthused when she realized she’d stumbled into the filthy hacienda of a psychic surgeon–a person who, reportedly, could heal terminal illness with psychic powers and rusty scissors.

She was dubious about the whole thing, bit, deciding she had come too far to turn back, she let the man do his stuff.

He made her lie down on a table, and, making some strange passes over her, and uttering weird incantation-like phrases in Spanish, he put his fingers on her forehead, and, seeming to dig into her very scalp, began to retrieve the tumor.

She could feel a cold, wet feeling, like pouring blood and fluid course down her cheeks. But, there was no pain. Finally, the surgeon stepped back from the table, and held up a dripping lump of grey matter that looked like a little slab of beef liver.

“Here is your tumor,” he said simply. “Now, you will live.”

He stepped forward, his fingers going to her forehead again, to “seal up” the wound, and then she was directed to get up. She did so, carefully cleaning the blood (which she secretly thought might actually be chicken’s blood) off of her forehead with a rag.

She left Mexico, and, upon returning Stateside, waste no time in seeking out a doctor to see if, indeed, her tumor was really gone. To her shock and amazement, the doctor gave her a clean bill of health, adding that it must have been a miracle.

The woman, overjoyed at the news (for she had been told she had only a short time to live) wept tears of gratitude,a nd vowed never to doubt the powers of the occult again.

But, unfortunately for this woman, her story most decidedly did NOT have a happy ending.

You’ve heard of the “hum”, right? That sound that some people claim they can hear, that nobody else can hear. I haven’t actually heard anyone talk about it for years, but scientists theorized it had something to do with Ultra Low Frequency tests caried out by the US military. Skeptics predictably claimed it was all hokum. At any rate, the woman began to hear a weird, thumping sound. It was tiny at first, like the ticking of a clock.

“It’s like the beating of a baby’s heart. In my head,” she told her husband. It seemed to make the top of her head throb. Soon, she could hear it all the time.

It grew louder and louder.

She tried taking painkillers for the headache–it only helped a little. She tried stuffing cotton in her ears, wrapping wet towels around her head, and tying pillows to her–but the beat-beat-beating of the hear persisted.

She started drinking. Her eyes became red, bleary; she was always pale, and she thought she might be losing her mind.

That was when she started clawing at the thumping drumbeat in the top of her head. At first with her fingers, ripping out chunks of her hair. Then, with a pick. Finally, with a pair of scissors.

One day her husband came in and found her crouched ina corner, sobbing and clawing at her bloody, barren scalp, screaming and gnashing her teeth and ripping at the flesh of her head. Chunks of skin and locks of hair clung to her bloody fingers, as she cried, “It’s in there! Oh, dear God help me, it’s in there! It’s beating, clawing, desperate to get out! To be BORN!”

He called an ambulance. She was heavily sedated. It was only a matter of time before she was confined to a sanitarium, in a padded cell, where she continued to pound her head, insensible, tortured, driven to agony, her eyes twin pits of suffering, her mouth hanging open, dripping saliva and blood where she bit her tongue and gnashed her teeth.

Exploratory surgery found nothing that could account for it.

Finally, the woman died. An autopsy revealed a hitherto undiscovered mass. It was of an unusual nature. Doctors swore it seemed to be made of fetal tissue.

It was shaped like a tiny, sleeping infant.

Like Pallas Athena was born from the cranium of Zeus, was this IT waiting to be born from the woman’s head? How will we ever know?

Her body was cremated. The incident was swept under the rug, forgotten, by all but a few.

Sewing the Devil’s Shroud

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Once, there was an old woman much given to boasting and gossip. She sat all day in the market, trying to sell her wares to passersby, for she was a seamstress. She had many takers, too, for she was, indeed, very good at what she did, when she was not busy wagging her tongue.

One fine day, a tall, handsome stranger happened by, and, seeing the old woman at her place in the market, approached her, saying, “I have heard it said, here and about, that you are the finest seamstress in all the land, and that you can do any job anyone sees fit to hire you for. Is there any truth to this?”

And the old woman, full of pride and not a little foolhardy bravery, said, “Oh indeed, sir! I am the finest seamstress in all the land! Why, there is none finer than me! I work diligently, sunup to sunset, and the clothes and curtains and other fine things I turn out always fetch top price! Why, I fancy I could please the Devil himself, if given half the chance!”

At this the man laughed gleefully, his strange, dark eyes turning black inside his pale, skull-like face. He said, “Well, it appears you are going to get the chance to prove what you’ve just said! You see: I’m the Devil.”

And at this, the entire market place was shrouded in shadow, and the old woman, suddenly not so brave, took to a fit of trembling. She stammered “But, what dost thou want from ME, oh Son of Iniquity? I am but a poor, humble seamstress in a small market town!”

And the Devil laughed again, nodding his head, saying, “A seamstress thou art. But, humble? Methinks not. Ah well, Madam Seamstress, we have a little chore for you, to test the truth of your own boastful claims. If you succeed, riches and a long life are ahead of you. BUT, if you fail…I shall take your immortal soul.”

And the old woman, confused as to what to do, and not a little awestruck by her famous visitor, said, “What, oh Prince of Evil, wilt thou ask of me?”

At this the Devil said, “Ah, it is simplicity itself. I want you to sew for me a shroud, a burial shroud. And it must be the most excellent burial shrould ever conceived. Sound like a bargain?”

And the old woman, who had sewed many a burial shroud in her time (and who, at any rate, was so full of herself she couldn’t possibly refuse a challenge) said, “Why, all I have to do is sew a burial shroud, and I might attain all the riches I want, and a long life to boot? Why, I think you have yourself a bargain, oh Dark Prince of the Underworld!”

And the Devil smiled, put out his long, talon-like fingers (his nails were razor-sharp), and shook the old woman’s hand. Then, pulling at his beard and laughing to himself, he said, “There is, however, just one catch. This burial shroud, you see, is to be the biggest, grandest, most incredible burial shroud ever sewn together by human hands. It will be long enough to bury everyone ever killed in any war or famine! So you must sew, without ceasing, every day, and every night, for forty days and nights!”

And the old woman, now realizing just what she had agreed to, threw up her hands in horror, and implored, “Oh, Fallen One, I beseech thee, release me from this unworthy task. For, it is not in my meager power to accomplish it!”

But the Devil would not relent, and, stamping one foot in the dirt, said, “Quiet, thou fool! A bargain is a bargain! I will return in forty days time, and, if thou hast not woven for me the most magnificent of all burial shrouds, I will take thy soul with me to Hell, forever and ever!”

And then the Devil disappeared, in a puff of smoke and a strong whiff of rotten eggs. The old woman was left weeping and moaning in despair, but, seeing no way out of her predicament, went immediately to her little hovel and began to sew. And sew. And sew.

It was not long, however, before she began to feel very sleepy. Of course, she knew she could not stop sewing the Devil’s shroud, so she kept going, keeping her eyelids open with toothpicks.

Suddenly, she conceived of an idea.

“I know! I shall get one of the neighbor children to come in, and sew for me, and I will use the time to get some rest and sleep. And, when I awake, I will be able to begin sewing where I have left off!”

So, with both of her hands still busy, she leaned her old, grey head out the window, and, seeing a fat little boy walking across the weed-choked yard for a shortcut, she called, “Oh! Little boy, little boy! Come and help your old Mama sew this immense burial shroud. For, if you do so, there is surely a klopin in it for you!”

And upon hearing this, and imagining all the candy he could buy with his single klopin, the little boy came inside the hovel, and straightway began to sew the shroud in the old woman’s place. And the old woman was so tired she fell immediately to sleep. And the poor little boy was tasked to weave, day and night, and not stop, while the old woman slept.

The old woman had warned the boy, “You must sew and sew this shroud, while I get some sleep! And you must not stop for anything, lest the Devil come and take thy soul to Hell!”

And the little boy, suddenly terrified, did as he was told.

Soon though, tired and in tears, the little boy summoned his courage, and roused the old woman from her deep slumber. In a torrent of tears, he exclaimed, “Oh Missus, I am so tired, and my little fingers are so sore! Couldst thou not rouse thyself from thy slumber, and take my place here, sewing and sewing this accursed burial shroud?”

At hearing this, and being roused, the old woman grew exceedingly wroth, and, without thinking, smote the little child upon the head; whereupon, he fell into the great folds of the shroud.

The old woman was horrified, but, not for a moment daring to cease the sewing of the shroud, straightway sewed the corpse of the little boy into the folds of the shroud–like a fly caught in the web of a great spider. And she began again to sew.

Soon, she was again very tired, though, but she thought to herself, “I know! I shall get one of the neighbor children to come in and help sew, while I rest! I have done it before, and I can do so again!”

And so she did. And, while the unlucky little chap sewed and sewed furiously, she slept. But, first, this time she laid out a plan so as to allow her to sleep the rest of the forty days and nights until the Devil came.

She baked three blueberry pies, and laid them, one after the other, upon her porch. Soon, the delicious aroma of the pie drew a fat little boy to her porch, investigating what it was that smelled so good.

“Oh, Missus, pray tell what is it that smells so delicious?” asked the little boy.

“Methinks it is this delicious pie, my little friend.”

And to this, the child asked, “May I not have a taste of this delicious pie, Missus?”

And to that, the old woman replied, “You may. But first, you must come inside and visit me awhile, my little friend.”

To which the child replied, “Okay, I will come inside and visit thee awhile, Missus, and then you will give me a taste of your delicious pie!”

And so the rosy-cheeked little chap went inside, and the old woman fell upon him, and, grabbing him about the throat, exclaimed, “Now you must sew, and sew, and sew this shroud! And you must not stop, or else the Devil will appear and take thy soul to Hell!”

And so, weeping, the little boy began to sew the shroud; and the old woman slept. And, when she awoke, the little boy, frantically begging her to come and take his place, so infuriated the mad old woman that she smote him on the head, just as she had done to the one before him.

He fell over, stone dead. She was not at all concerned this time, however, for she simply began to sew him into the shroud, as she had done previously, and in no time, his little body was hidden in the massive folds.

She smiled to herself (a hideous sight to behold) and, carefully laid out the other two pies, in no time attracting more children to put to work sewing the shroud. Soon, she had little slaves working day and night as they wept, and she was able to lie down and get her much-needed “beauty sleep” (not that it would have helped her looks very much).

Well, forty days and nights passed rather more quickly than what she expected, and the shroud grew and grew until it spilled out of doorways, and across the yard, and into the woods, and down the hill…until there was hardly any room to move.

Noting that it was now the fortieth day, the old woman busily went about preparing for the Devil’s visit. She took a great rolling pin, and, sneaking up behind each of her little slaves, forthwith pounded them on top of their noggins, until each fell bleeding into the shroud. Then, she sewed up their bodies in the immense cloth, and busily sewing up the last few stitches, then sat herself down to wait.

Well, it was a matter of only a few minutes before the dogs in the neighborhood began to howl dismally, and the room grew colder, as the wind outside grew hot, and a curious smell of rotten eggs pervaded the room. Suddenly, in a flash of light and a puff of smoke, the Devil appeared, dressed in his long, flowing black cloak and cap.

“Well, have you done as I instructed, and sewed for forty days and forty nights, unceasing, and made for me the finest and largest burial shroud that the world has ever seen?”

And at this the old woman smiled, and folding her hands under her chin as if in prayer, she said, “Oh yes, Prince of evil, I most certainly have! Why, just look and see for yourself how enormous this shroud is, how it spills forth from every doorway, and out the house and across the garden, and down the hill, and all the way to town!”

And at hearing this, the Devil smiled, and said, “Very well! it appears as if you have done exactly what I asked. For such devotion and loyalty, riches and a long life shall certainly be yours!”

And the Devil began to take up the folds of his great shroud when, suddenly, a weird, whimpering cry could be heard from within the cloth.

it was one of the children! The old woman had thought she had brained them all, but she was mistaken. One was till alive, and had woken up, sewed tight into the shroud.

it took only a bare minute for the Devil to realize what she had done. He howled in a terrific rage, his face growing dark, “Accursed fool! You tried to trick me into thinking YOU had sewn the shroud by yourself, when, in reality, you kept these children your prisoner, and made THEM do it for you. And then, MURDERED them to boot!”

And, though the old woman tried to deny it, she knew she was done for.

“Fool! Do you know that you can NOT TRICK THE DEVIL?” He raged, and stamped his foot, and, outside, the dogs sent up a torrent of howls, and birds dropped dead from the sky, and huge blast of rotten egg stink blew in with the wind.

He then calmed himself, and said, “For your cowardly, dishonest act, you shall pay with your immortal soul. And worse! Now, prepare thyself for unending PAIN!”

And with that, he took immense sewing needles and jammed them in the old woman’s eyes, and jammed more into her fingers. He then produced two iron boots, red hot, and put them on her feet, so that the pain was incredible.

Then, gathering up his shroud and his captive, he set the old woman’s hut alight with a snap of his fingers, and disappeared back to Hell, where he and the old woman are down to present times.

And the moral of this story? Could be, “Watch out what you boast about,” or “Put your money where your mouth is.” Or, if you want to consider it from the viewpoint of the children, lured by the promise of a klopin and blueberry pie, it might be, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” or “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Or, taken from the perspective of the Devil, it might be “Never trust a braggart,” or, “Always be wary when people make fantastic claims about themselves.”

Or YOU might think of another moral for our little tale. We simply wanted to tell the tale. Really, can YOU think of what it all might really mean?

The Murder Kit

The woman was headed to her class reunion. She was dolled up prettily, and not looking any the worse for wear despite the twenty-five years of time that had elapsed. “Besides,” she reminded herself, “half of the people who show up are going to be old, fat, and fifty. On the whole, I think I’ve made out okay. Whaddya say, toots?”

She smiled at herself in the rearview. She, indeed, was not too bad a looker for her age. Still had all of her teeth, a full head of lustrous, black hair, and not many lines or wrinkles around the eyes. Yet.

“It’s because I use an exfoliating gel scrub,” she reminded herself. She turned into the filling station and decided he needed a quick jolt of something for the drive ahead.

“Just go for a Diet Coke. That’s the ticket,” she said to herself, parking at the double glass doors, rummaging through her purse, and preparing to exit her vehicle. It was just then that she realized there was a rather handsome young man holding a brief case and standing just a few feet from her car.

He had an infectious grin, was well-dressed. Otherwise, she thought he might be some young drifter.

Neither of them spoke, then, each started to speak at the same time. The boy laughed. She thought, My! He really is quite good-looking!

“Hi, my name is Chris. I’m, well, my car is in the shop, and I really need to get to an…appointment. Mind if I?”

At first she didn’t know how to respond, or even realize what he was asking her. Then she said, “Well, I’m on my way to a class reunion, but…”

He suddenly burst into a radiant, relieved grin. He threw up his arms, and exclaimed, “Wow! You know, so am I! Wow, what are the odds we’d both be headed to the same place? Wow. Say, mind If I catch a ride with you while my car is being repaired?”

She put her hands to her lips uncertainly. But she was not one of those people who could easily say no. And he was so young and charming!

“Well, I suppose…” she began, perplexed as to how to respond.

“Great!” he exclaimed. Here, just let me go an straighten things out with the mechanic–”

And he opened up her car door, putting his briefcase in the backseat. He then said, “My, it really is a stroke of good luck, me finding you, and both of us going to the same class reunion! What are the odds?”

And, smiling, he turned and walked back to ward the garage, gesturing over his shoulder that he would be back in just a minute.

Anxious and a little excited, she got back behind the wheel. And waited. And waited. But, the young man must have been tied up on some minor business detail with the mechanic. At any rate, she started thinking to herself that the whole thing seemed fishy. He was much too young to be going to her class reunion, she surmised. And, well, you could always be charmed by a snake…

She started up the car, put her foot to the gas, and headed on her way.

Later, after the affair was over; after dinner and drinks and dancing, and reminiscing with old friends that were now married, fat, bald and well past their prime, she was headed out to the parking lot to get on the road home (she had soberly stuck to non-alcoholic punch all night), and, getting in her car, she spied the young man’s briefcase.

Oh my! she said to herself. “I’ve run off with it. And I don’t even know his name!”

She reached in the back, retrieved the briefcase. She was vaguely aware, in the back of her mind, of some small chatter that had gone on during the reunion, something about an escaped inmate…but she had been having too much fun to pay any real attention to it.

She got the briefcase out, put it on the hood of her car, snapped it open.

Inside, she found a roll of duct tape.

A length of rope.

A mask.

A few rags that looked as if they might be used as gags.

A bloody knife, some locks of hair…

Dimoetes

The body was tossed to and from in the surf. Diometes paused for a moment, listening to some vast inner calling, some crystal voice out of the blue; perhaps out of the black.

Slanting rays of sunlight painted the cascades in rapturous color. Time stood still for a moment. For him time must always stand still.

He approached slowly. The thing was bloated in the surf, filled to bursting with salt water. Yet, stills supple, still exuded the elusive quality of coy humanity that must have marked her in life. In truth, she could have been a pale blue doll tossed to an fro on the gentle tide, , washed in salty brine and sand, spied from above by the beady, hungry eyes of suspicious gulls.

She was still shrouded in her sopping robes. Who was she? Who had she been? Had she been a wife, a mother? He didn’t know. His mind peered over the lifeless, bloated visage, into the unseeing eyes, seeing for a moment, another image, an image that was dear to him, and hateful to.

“Your daughter has been unfaithful to me. And with her own flesh and blood she has worked that which is unseemly. Whatever are we to do?”

He spoke calmly, serenely to father Troezen, his careful, thoughtful words underpinning the old man’s shame.

“I shall…”

But the old man’s lips quivered and his brow fell heavily in pained anguish. The sun rose and the sun set, illuminating the world and then casting it into shuddering darkness. The days failed to grasp his consciousness very tightly; he surmised he was simply insulating himself from the pain of regret, of rejection.

The old man beat Evopis fiercely, her shrieks of protestations and cries of abuse ringing throughout the household, shuffling servants bowing their heads low over their toil, trying as best as they could to ignore the shouts of accusation, the tears of protestation, the sounds of the blows falling.

The brother and lover simply skulked in the shadows, a look of shame and dishonor crossing his brow. Soon, he would go into exile, ride away on a donkey, cover his face with his cloak. He would go about the world to seek absolution for his sin. But, he was already wondering: could those without shame, truly find forgiveness. Inside, he felt few regrets, except, of course, for the crime of being found out.

Dimoetes had walked in on their mad embrace. His eyes had bulged and his cheeks had flushed hot at seeing the brother thrust himself between the ample thighs of his own sister, Dimoetes’ sweet little Evopis. The maidenhead burst like a grape. And this was not an act of rape, as her clinging fingers and cries of sweet, remorseless passion gave testimony to. Both of the shamed lovers tried to hide themselves from Dimoetes’ baleful stare, and the brother ran into the shadows.

But he had seen. He knew.

However, like so many other recent images, it faded into the obscurity of rememberance as just another scene, void of feeling and emotion, as cold and flat as a fish out of water, a portrait plucked from the storehouse of recent memory, almost like an image from a dream.

The feet of a corpse are never beautiful. Staring upward, he could see her hanging there by her scrawny neck, her hair, now shot with streaks of white, falling over her pained, pinched, inert face; the face of a battered and bruised doll. She had ended her life when her lover left, when their taboo romance was discovered, when she was threatened to be turned out into the streets like a dog, cast away like a leper in disgrace.

But with her dying breath she had cursed the man who did this to her. No, not the seductive brother, but her own HUSBAND, whom she died despising as a traitor, an usurper of passionate, if forbidden romance. Or so the servants whispered.

His cold lack of affect shocked others, but he confessed that, at this point, “I cannot allow my self to feel. The pain is too great.”

To which the old servant woman, who he knew loved him passionately, replied, “Go then. find your soul, your destiny. But, in the fullness of time, come back to us.”

And so he went. And the dreamlike days passed. and it was then that he found himself walking the coastline, staring at the thing washed up from the depths, the thing that should, by all rights, repulse him, but did not.

He carried the thing home. It’s sopping garments, its burial shroud acted as a sort of pulley by which to manage the dead weight. But, as light as the poor thing was, it was nothing for him to, eventually, pick her up in his powerful arms, take her back to his dark, dank abode.

He uncovered her face His private angel, his little doll, his vision of heaven. He remembered the dead, corpse feet of Evopis, her swinging form suspended like some grim lantern from the ceiling of the bridal chamber.

Ah! Here was a fulfilment, then, of the promise of his wedding. His black wedding; his marriage to the dead.

He swept his electrified eyes across the face, drank in the deathly pallor, caressed the cold flesh.

bending, he placed the first few kisses upon the cold, shriveling cheek. He began to play the folds of the burial shroud, his heart hammering in his chest at the blasphemous taboo he was transgressing, the social bond he was breaking. In his mind, he endowed the cold husk with voice, with gaiety and warmth, laughter, romance and love. He entered her, thrusting in mad passion against entropy, seeding the rebirth of a romance that could defy death and time. (Or, as one would put it, “putting his loaves in a cold oven.”)
***

He built a life for her in his dreams, endowing her with all of the attributes of a living, breathing woman, a woman that could never be, the “Bride of the Black Wedding,” the image of perfection–even as she rot and lie stinking in his bed, drawing vermin.

It was not long that, like sands flowing through the fingers of a desperate man, all attempts to resurrect the image of her, to make love to the one yielding perfect (because silent, malleable and inert) romance of his life, that he realized her woman hood had become to rotted with corruption to accommodate his lust any longer.
Indeed, she was now a putrefied, degraded thing, a thing that stank abominably, that was too rotted to be enjoyed, to be mocked-up in a fantasy vision of inviolable, perfect, and dream-like romance.

“I shall build for you the perfect crypt, oh my sweet, my dearest one. It shall be a bridal chamber the likes of which no one has ever seen before, or shall ever see again. And I will stay with there, all the day and the night..”

(One is here reminded of Annabel Lee, whom Poe vowed he would “…all the night tide, lie down by the side, of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride…” Also of the short poem by Henry King, Bishop of Chichester which has the words: “Stay for me there: I will not fail / To meet thee in that hollow vale.”)

And so build it he did, a tomb in the side of a cliff. And if it was but a hollowed cave, a poor specimen of what he, in his fevered imaginings, had intended, it was no one’ fault, but merely his isolation and poverty. But, in his mind’s eye, the walls were smooth, perfect, engraved with proclamations of his great love, forming a stone screen for the images of his hot imaginings.

Yet, he knew it for what it was: simply another version of the lifeless, dead womb, a huge, confining prison-like womb that would never birth new life, but merely contain the seeds of one brutally and unceremoniously ended, the last vestiges of material life as it seeped into nothingness, forgotten.

And so, falling upon the sarcophagi n a fit of terror and shame, his emotions finally giving vent in a torrent of grief more powerful than any he had ever felt before, a deep metaphysical anguish that felt crushed beneath the futility of life and time, the dissolution and inevitability of entropy, decay and death, he plunged his sword into his breast up to the hilt, and, pouring his life’s blood across the stone floor of the crypt, died beside his love, and is with her still.