Detail from “1914 Iroquois Native American Group in Winter” available at SummertownPrints.com

 

October is the time for creepy, scary stories and today’s tale certainly fits. “The Vampire Skeleton” comes to us from the Iroquois people of North America and is included in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sistes by Kathleen Ragan.

An evil wizard died and his body was left, according to custom, in a cedar plank box inside his home in the woods. Several nights later, a woman, her husband and their child were travelling though the woods. To the woman’s embarrassment, her lazy husband complains about visiting relatives, taking them good and walking through the snow. Finally, when he sees the old lodge he decides they must spend the night there, even though the woman disagrees. The little boy cries as soon as they near the place but eventually settles in. Remember, forests are almost always full of danger.

The husband is not a good person. He’s lazy, a complainer even when his wife is doing most of the work, and then he takes the only bed, leaving his wife and child to sleep on the floor. In the middle of the night, a sound awakens the woman and she senses something is horribly wrong. In the moonlight, she tiptoes over to where her husband is and sees he is dead, his throat has been torn out. She also sees the cedar box is open and inside is the skeleton of a large man and its teeth are blood covered. She knows she needs to get out. She grabs her baby and, while pretending to sleep so as not to alarm the dead thing, inches slowly to the door.She makes it into the woods before she hears the screaming of the vampire skeleton, who is following her. She runs as hard and fast as she can to the nearest village. She runs into the nearest lodge and tells the people about the monster following her. Several men go out and they see the creature at the edge of the billage, but it comes no closer and as dawn approaches it leaves.

At the advice of a wise woman, the villagers go back and burn the house in the woods, but at the last minute a screech owl escapes from the burning house. The skeleton was detroyed. From then on, though, the dead were buried so a wandering spirit could not so easy to escape and roam the night.

I like the ending of the woman’s story “The woman who lost her husband found friends in the village. Eventually she married a man who helped her and listened to her advice.” Nice ending, isn’t it? She gets a happily ever after and with a man who actually respects and cares for her.

This story is from the woman’s point of view, what happened to her, how she saves herself and her child. Another important character is the wise old woman who knows how to get rid of the evil. In some fairytales, she would be the evil witch, but here she’s helpful and intelligent. The male characters are either evil, the wizard; useless, the first husband; or helpers for the women, the men who burned down the house and the second husband. Apparently the Iroquios culture was traditionally matrilineal, meaning descent was traced through the mother’s family, not the father’s. While Iroquois chiefs were men, women nominated them for their positions. Women owned the family’s property and land. They were the keepers of culture and had great influence in the communities, which may explain why the story reflect’s the woman’s experience.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I love Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters. It’s definitely a book you should pick up if you have an interest in folktales and/or strong heroines. You can buy it on Amazon.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

This was my fifth short story for R.I.P. VII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim. R.I.P. VII is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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