I usually try to share spooky stories in October, with Halloween being at the end of the month, but I’m a little slow this year. I just started decorating the inside of the house on Tuesday and we probably won’t get around to the outside until next week. I did find a suitable spooky story for today though. “The Shroud” comes from Russia and was retold by W. R. S. Ralston in Russian Folk-Tales, 1873. I read it at D. L. Ashliman’s Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts, one of my favorite sites.

In a certain village there was a girl who was lazy and slothful, hated working, but would gossip and chatter away like anything! She decided to invite the other girls to a spinning party. Every one knows, it is the lazybones who gives the spinning-feast, and the sweet-toothed are those who go to it.

Well, on the appointed night she got her spinners together. They span for her, and she fed them and feasted them. Among other things they chatted about which of them all was the boldest?

The lazy girl said she wasn’t afraid of anything.

“Well then,” say the spinners, “if you’re not afraid, go past the graveyard to the church, take down the holy picture from the door, and bring it here.”

She said that she would, but only if each of the girls spun her a distaff-full. She didn’t want to do any actual work, rather have the others do it for her.

She went, took down the picture, and brought it home with her. Her friends all saw that sure enough it was the picture from the church. But the picture had to be taken back again, and it was now the midnight hour. Who was to take it? At length the lazy girl said: “You girls go on spinning. I’ll take it back myself. I’m not afraid of anything!”

So she went and put the picture back in its place. As she was passing the graveyard on her return, she saw a corpse in a white shroud, seated on a tomb. It was a moonlight night; everything was visible. She went up to the corpse, and drew away its shroud from it. The corpse held its peace, not uttering a word. Well, she took the shroud and went home.

“There!” says she, “I’ve taken back the picture and put it in its place; and, what’s more, here’s a shroud I took away from a corpse.” Some of the girls were horrified; others didn’t believe what she said, and laughed at her.

But after they had supped and lain down to sleep, all of a sudden the corpse tapped at the window and said: “Give me my shroud! Give me my shroud!”

The girls were so frightened they didn’t know whether they were alive or dead. But the lazy one took the shroud, went to the window, opened it, and said: “There, take it.”

“No,” replied the corpse, “restore it to the place you took it from.” Just then the cocks suddenly began to crow. The corpse disappeared.

Next night, when the spinners had all gone home to their own houses, at the very same hour as before, the corpse came, tapped at the window, and cried: “Give me my shroud!”

The girl’s father and mother opened the window and offered him his shroud. “No,” says he, “let her take it back to the place she took it from.”

“Really now, how could one go to a graveyard with a corpse? What a horrible idea!” she replied. Just then the cocks crew. The corpse disappeared.

Next day the girl’s father and mother sent for the priest, told him the whole story, and entreated him to help them in their trouble. “Couldn’t a service be performed?” they said.

The priest reflected awhile; then he replied: “Please tell her to come to church tomorrow.”

Next day the lazy girl went to church. The service began, numbers of people came to it. But just as they were going to sing the cherubim song, there suddenly arose, goodness knows from where, so terrible a whirlwind that all the congregation fell flat on their faces. And it caught up that girl, and then flung her down on the ground. The girl disappeared from sight; nothing was left of her but her braid.

I don’t really understand why she didn’t just take the shroud back to the corpse in the graveyard. It honestly didn’t seem like she was afraid of much, except working. After all, she took the shroud of the corpse, would it have been that big a deal to return it? I also think we learned recently that you need to respect the dead in fairy tales and folktales, so maybe she was just doomed from the minute she took the shroud, regardless of if/how she returned it.

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


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