Lose your Head!

This Week’s Prompt:90. Anencephalous or brainless monster who survives and attains prodigious size.

The Resulting Story:

Anencephalous is a creature that lacks a head—the connection that has with brainless should be obvious. The notion here seems to be that a creature is not born brainless, but rather executed or in some other way rendered brainless/inert/headless. Decapitation, however gory it may be, is a common theme in myth and legend however—just as surviving is.

The first creature this reminded me of is Xingtian, a man who made war on the Yellow Emperor Huangdi. As is the case with most men who make war on Heaven, he failed and was executed for his rebellion—his head was buried underneath a mountain for good measure. Nonetheless, his body lived on. He formed eyes where his nipples were, a face where his belly button was, and took up his shield and ax to dance in defiance of the emperor still.

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In Hinduism, we have a Rakshasa named Vishvavasu, who began life as a celestial musician—a role he shares with Xingtian, who in one account composed music for the workers in the field. He preformed rituals to earn a boon from Vishnu, and asked for immortality. He then made war on Indra, convinced that he couldn’t possibly loose. Indra struck him with a thunder bolt, sending his head into his body. He was cursed to remain such, until Rama cut off his arms. Some versions say before warring with Indra, he delighted in seducing maidens and attacking monks, drunk on power. He is described as “as big as a mountain, dark as a black cloud, with pointed hairs all over his body and looked fierce with a voice as loud as thunder. He had an eye on his stomach, round and yellow, emitting a glare like a fire-name. Looking wicked he thrust his big tongue out of his huge mouth licking the sides”. After he is freed from his curse, he provides counsel to Rama on the proper direction to take his war with Ravana.

A dread asura had a similar fate. Named Svarbhanu, at the churning of the cosmic ocean he managed to acquire some of the Amirta of the gods. Before he was noticed, he drank it in the darkness and became immortal. While an Avatar of Vishnu was informed by the sun and moon, and with a chakram blow cut Svarbhanu in two—his head and his body. Rahu and Ketu, as they are now known, lived on nonetheless. Rahu in particular became the diety of solar eclipses and meteors, an inauspicious force in astrology.

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Connected to Rahu is Kirtimukha. Once, Rehu was sent to demand that Shiva give up his bride, Parvati, to his immortal master Jalandhara. Jalandhara’s own life is a fascinating story, but the relevant part is his end. Shiva in a rage set forth a bolt from his third eye, that manifested as a terrifying and hungry lion. Rehu begged for mercy, and Shiva acquiesced—the lion was told instead to devour itself. It did so, until only it’s face remained, to be the head of glory outside temple walls.

Continuing our story of vast growth and wars against the gods is Ullikummi. Deaf and blind, Ullikummi was placed by the god Kumarbi to overthrow the storm god Teshub. Ullikummi grew without being noticed, rising off the back of the world supporting giant. This genderless pillar of volcanic material does their job well—Teshub’s thunder cannot harm them as they continue to grow. He abdicates his throne, and descends to Ea, who dwells in the dark waters of the underworld. There, a great and primal cutting instrument or knife is acquired, and used to chop off Ullikummi’s feet, sending him toppling down. Thus the senseless growth of the volcano is curbed before reaching all the way unto Heaven.

Ullikummi’s war with a thunder god and his apparent invincibility, as well as the importance of a cutting weapon in his defeat and volcano symbolism, has lead to parallels with Tyhpon, a regular feature on our discussions. Typhon does on some occasions lose one of his heads—but this is usually a self inflicted injury, as the head becomes a terrible dragon with which to guard Zeus’s wounded body.

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Among the Aztecs, we have a more famous beheading. After the moon and stars were born, the Earth Goddess Coatlicue became pregnant again by a ball of feathers. The moon goddess, Coyolxahqui, became convinced that this sudden and miraculous birth was a dishonor on the family name, and with her four hundred brothers she came to slay the her mother. One of the stars, however, went out and warned the unborn child of the coming battle. The newly born god, Huitzilopochtli, emerged fully armed and armored. He slew his brothers and sister, scattering them in every direction. More than one later narrative specifies that the head of the moon goddess was thrown upward, into the sky where it stays to this day—chasing her brother sun to devour him.

In Northern Europe, we have other headless creatures. We can consider, for example The Green Knight who’s head game has been mentioned before (here and here). The Celts had a reputation as head hunters in the Mediterranean but the exact meaning of their decapitations is still disputed.

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There is also the recurring image of the saint who carries their own head (a Cephalophore). Some simply walked off with their lost heads. The most famous, St. Denis, picked up his own decapitated head and wandered off—he preached for a time about the nature of penance, before finally moving on. Many more saints followed suit—most went to a local church or holy site, preaching as they went. A few mounted a horse or camel and spoke with lost relatives one last time, before finally leaving. This form of decapitation survival calls to mind the final fate of Orpheus—Orpheus, who was decapitated by the Maneads, and sent down the river. He sang the whole way down, until passing into death. Like the Saints, parts of Orpheus were stored in temples.

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The beheaded seem to have a knack for disturbing the existing order then—in some cases for good cause, in other cases for their own wicked ends. For instance, we can consider Chhinnamasta, another Hindu goddess, beheaded herself to feed two of her starving handmaidens while they were bathing in the river. In another instance, her beheading was after a battle with demons, ripping her head off to sate her rage and drinking her own blood.

A slightly stranger bodiless head is that of Hun, father of the Maya Hero Twins. When a princess of the dead spoke with him, Hun impregnated her with spit. When later on, the Hero Twins descend to deal with the lords of the dead, they have a more comparable experience. Here, one of the tests is to stay in the Bat House—and they succeed almost the entire night in their shelter, until Hunpahu peaks out. His head is removed by a passing bat god, but all is well—it is replaced with a gourd. The two go out and have their ball game match the next day, retrieving Hunpahu’s head before it can be used as the ball.

And there is the most famous of the Talking Heads, Mimir. Mimir is a Norse god of wisdom of the Aesir family. During the Aesir-Vanir war, he is beheaded but stays alive and gives Odin secret counsel. Some versions specify that Mimir and another god were sent as hostages to the Vanir. However, when it was discovered that the strong and handsome Hoenir needed Mimir to be of any use, the Vanir beheaded Mimir in rage. Odin then embalmed the head of Mimir, worked magic on it so that it could speak, and kept it for counsel. Mimir is recorded elsewhere as drinking deep from his name sake well of wisdom, at the root of the world tree.

There is also, as we discussed at length in a patreon article, the Brazen Head. These contraptions are replicas of heads without bodies, powered by occult machinery and able to answer any question asked of them. A number of scholars have possessed one—but few have finished them or made use of them.

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We can also consider that lacking a head is of course a sign of death—in Journey to the West a dragon holding his own head serves as a frightening image to the Emperor, when the Emperor failed to ensure the dragon’s safety. In Ireland, the Dullhan carries its own head as a lantern and the spine of a human being as a whip. On it’s black horse, it rides until it finds someone doomed to die. Calling their name out, their soul is pulled from their body. The Dullhan thus acts as something of a horrific pyschopomp…although one that according to some accounts can be kept away with a flash of gold. In Germany, some versions warn away hunters from their accidents, while others hunt capital offenders with fire tongued hounds.

A more noble headless horseman comes from India—Jhinjhār. These warriors often lose their head when fighting off cattle rustlers—but fight on anyway. A lotus springs from their neck, and eyes grow on their chest like our other earlier immortal warriors. Sadly, after freeing the cows and returning home, he is still in the grips of fury. The woman of the town therefore must scatter indigo dust over him, sending him at last to death’s waiting grasp.

The miraculous power to stave off death then, is connected with is an almost senseless nature. Our champions are warriors, but often ones who pursue the impossible or are trapped in a state of violence. They are something like a human being, without the guiding mind, often lost in rage—yes, they lost their head, get the pun out of the system.

Our story then is about a creature of singular appetite who never ceases to grow, then. In some respects, this resembles our discussions of a mindless and senseless creator. Something large and unreasonable, that seemingly cannot stop. It is note worthy, I think, that those who don’t replace their head perish in a reasonable manner—the Saints, for instance, live without their head but not indefinitely. The many warriors and the hero twins either replace the head with another object, or convert their chest into a head. I think that what we have here is…interesting.

 

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Settling Down, Setting Free

This Week’s Prompt: 89. Lone lagoons and swamps of Louisiana—death daemon—ancient house and gardens—moss-grown trees—festoons of Spanish moss.

The Prior Research:Swamp Men and French Werewolves

There was an old rotting property at the end of Leeman Lane, that had it not been for one particularly pick lawyer, would have been demolished years ago. The house belonged to my great uncle’s family—a family I had only vaguely visited once or twice. Hated it, honestly. There was a nice backyard, and a cool patio I think, and a chest of old toys. But well, it was on the edge of the swamp.

I guess I remember Uncle Todd dying. No, I probably just remember a funeral sort of. I was like eight, and the house at the end of Leeman Lane vanishing beneath a bulldozer wouldn’t have made my family news. We weren’t close.

But then, a lawyer calls me up. Says I’m the next of kin—not of Uncle Todd, but my second cousin (or is it cousin once removed?) Jerry. Jerry died with the house in his name, passed it on, and well no one wanted it.

I didn’t want it.

It was cheap and far away from the folks and who knows, putting something back together might be healthy. Left over student loan money would be able to get me started, rebuilding it anyway. I closed the car door at the end of the road, the creaking and condemned buidling looming over me. Home sweet home.

My first visit of the old house was dire. There was water dripping from a whole in the roof down to the basement, where it made a mosquito infested pit., most of the furniture was already gone. The porch was covered in mold, it’d have to all be replaced. The wallpaper had all been pealed back. There was no way I was sleeping there for at least a months of work.

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The motel was cheap and didn’t look that bad, all things considered.

A whole month?” the old woman behind the counter said with a raised eyebrow. “What, you shooting a documentary or something?”

People do that often out here?” I asked, handing over the card for her to scan. Reception wasn’t great out here, things took a bit.

Course they do! Nature stuff in the swamp, people looking for moss men, that sort of thing. Not your lane though?” she said, handing it back. “Well, you might see something out by the old Leeman house. Room 2b, ice machine’s down the hall.”

I lugged my pair of suitcases up and got to studying. I had…a vauge idea of what I was doing, but not really? Not in practice. I mean, demolishing the whole thing and starting from scratch seemed expensive and a bit…pointless, really. Wasteful, I guess?

So that meant figuring out how to replace waterlogged, moldy walls. How to saftely take down walls, how to tell their load bearing. What sort of tools to get, which were rip offs, which were for professionals, what you could get by with;what materials, what kinds of plasters, where to buy them, that sort of thing.

Looking it over, there was no way this was a one man job.

Hey Frank.” It took a couple calls to get through. “You still need a job? Still got that old truck?”

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Frank’s a big guy, a nice guy. He’s done some construction work, but even he was surprised at the size of the damage.

Man, this whole wall’s gotta go. Like, are these…there are mushrooms growing out of this.” He said, reaching out and flicking the sprouting shrooms. I nodded, and tapped it with an axe.

The whole thing? Edges seem pretty good.” I said, drumming the wet but not moldy corner. Frank leaned over to look and frowned.

They might be fine, we’ll see when we get the rest out of the way. Their might be mold inside.” He said, heading over to the back. “And—okay, yeah, you were right. House first, backyard second. I can’t tell if that’s a pool or a lake.”

Tree looks nice though.”

Yeah, I guess. Spanish moss kinda looks like a curtain.” He said, shrugging as he walked around to the front.

The rest of the tour goes as better—there’s a lot of work to be done, but its not impossible. Just intense and expensive. I wave my hand at that, money’s not a real issue at the moment.

Really?” Frank says looking around the stairs—some would need to be replaced, but the structure was mostly fine. “I mean, I know–”

We both stood stock still. Rustling, and another splash. Frank held up a hand, and slowly walked over to the hole in floor, peering over. He frowned and shrugged, gesturing for me to come over. There was something floating in the water—holding a cellphone light over the hole, a small bit of wood came into view. For a moment I sighed with relief. Maybe it was just a bit of the roof that fell. But the light caught on something with color—a bit of red and blue. I leanded over a bit, careful not to fall in.

It’s carved.” I said slowly. “Some sort of…doll?”

Maybe something left on the roof?” Frank said, looking up. “Though…seems strange for the wind to catch.”

Yeah…maybe a rat or something?”

Do rats play with dolls?” Frank said, frowning more.

Well, no, but…maybe a crow dropped it? It looks kinda shiny, nest material?” I said, standing up and looking around.

Yeah, maybe. We should take a look, just in case.” Frank said. “This place gives me the creeps, and I’d rather not get a heart attack from a stray cat jumping at me from its home.”

The basement wasn’t…exactly safe to get into. The stairs creaked, and I felt one breaking as I went down with Frank. It was a big basement—shelves still against the wall, with cans that might still have some good food in them. No furniture, but some piled up lumber and a rusting heater.

The walls had some holes. And there were, of course, insects buzzing around the small still water pool. Mosquitoes loved it. I wish I had worn gloves, they bit my arms like crazy.

No rat holes…not that I can see.” Frank said, shining his phone light around on bare concrecte and wood.

Might have gotten out?” I said, peaking behind the lumber.

Sure, sure. Oddly tidy down here.” He said, shining his cellphone light about.

Well, must not have had much use for–” I stopped and grabbed Frank’s shoulder. A shadow covered the water. My eyes rose to the floor above. No one. In the silence I listened for another breath. The roofed creaked, as the shadow grew—and then shifted back again.

Thank god you live in a hotel.” Frank said as he breathed again.

The hell was that?” I said, slowly walking over to the pool. Picking up the wood carving, I looked up—and the hole in the roof a bit bigger than before.

I don’t know, but let’s not find out. Could be…I don’t know a bear or something.” Frank said, gesturing to leave.

Are there swamp bears?” I asked. Frank didn’t answer as we left.

I looked back as we got in Frank’s car—there were some broken branches around the roof.

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At the hotel, I did try and you know, find an answer. It couldn’t have been a person. I mean, I don’t think so. The branches were broken, and I think we would have heard someone taking that high of a fall. I don’t think someone could have crawled up the walls, and there wasn’t a ladder or rope.

There was a black bear. It could have been an extra-ordinarily friendly one, who thought the house was his. Or I guess, I don’t know. An escaped zoo animal—no that would have made the news. Sighing, I considered that it could have been…an exceptionally big bird or crow. Whatever it was, me and Frank had agreed: we’d see this through.

I mean, yeah, if we had the cash we’d hire some folks but honestly I think you’re right to try it on your own for now.” Frank said nodding. “Raw materials will eat up a lot of it, but you’d be amazed what the internet can teach you these days.”

We’d keep an eye out for…whatever that thing was. That, Frank admitted, was not something we should handle with a Youtube tutorial. Thinking on it, I couldn’t help but laugh a bit.

What’s so funny?”

Oh, nothing. The hotel lady, she mentioned—people shoot big foot documentaries out here. Maybe this is where he’s been hiding.” I said laughing.

Your family’s the bigfoot protection program. Of course, you look just like him.” Frank said, chuckling a bit as we pulled up to the hotel.

Swamp1 Louisiana

We didn’t see it again when fixing the walls—God that was costly and exhausting. We patched that hole up, as soon as we were sure that the wall wasn’t going to break and send the whole thing falling down. Clearing out the moss was unpleasant work, and it took a week to get all of it off. Another week to replace most of the rotten wood, patching the few holes.

It was about three weeks in, when we went outside, that things were strange again. Frank had finished asking me about what sort of crazy stuff I had gotten into during my brief college experience. I made some shit up about getting drunk at parties and smoking weed, heading out back to avoid further questions.

That’s when I saw the new hole. It was smashed in, and there was bits of black fur stuck on the edges. Inside, a rusted metal lock box—and digging. Something had either dug up…or been trying to bury this box. Picking up the fur, I felt a chill down my spine. It felt…lacquered. Greasy, like it was stuck in a shower drain oil was poured down. I flicked it off and took the box in.

Hey, Frank…you got a screwdriver or hammer or something.” I said, holding it up.

The box wasn’t actually that hard to force open—the lock was easy enough to knock open with a screwdrive and hammer. I didn’t ask where Frank learned that trick—probably googled it, honestly. Anyway, inside was a small set of diagrams that I took out and folded open on our little workbench—we hadn’t quite gotten the new furniture in yet.

I started sorting through the stuff, placing the contents of the box out. There was a floorplan of the house, with X’s drawn on some of the wall spaces.

Buried treasure?” I asked, handing it to Frank as I unloaded the rest.

No…no, I think…Lemme check something.” Frank looked around the room for a bit and passed off, tapping part of the wall and then moving to the next room. There were some scraps of paper and painted leaves, and then…photos.

Old photos, of the backyard. Flicking through the nights recorded in the little windows, there was a growing pattern. It was in the corner of shots, on the edge of the light. A black furred limb—sometimes an arm, sometimes a paw, sometimes something bent and strange. Little eyes, red eyes, stared out from some of them. They were perfect pinpricks, they followed as I turned the picture under a light.

Frank…You need to see this.” I said, laying them out on the table.

Gimme a sec, just one more room to check!” Frank shouted.

There was a dull rumble from the living room, and as I turned it sharpened into a cracking sound. The wood bent upward, the old hole opening up again. And then it cracked apart, black claws flickering out of sight. I ran up to the hole, and stared down at a pair of fierce red eyes.

***

The next thing I knew, Frank was talking to someone on the phone about how “and he just like, he just passed out. I don’t know I think he had a stroke? Is there an age limit on strokes?”

Frank?” I said, getting up slowly. Frank looked at me.

And um. He…he got up. Yeah, yeah okay. Hey man, what’s your name?” Frank said, still on the phone.

Daniel Jordan.” I said, sitting up a bit.

Hey, take it easy. Alright, Dan, what day is it?”

Tuesday..” I said rubbing my head. “Why, what’s going on?”

You took a bit of a fall. Now, where are we?” Frank asked seriously.

The house at the end of Leeman street…the old mossy one Uncle Todd owned.” I said slowly, starting to stand.

Alright.” Frank went back to the phone. “He…he seems fine. Uh, I’ll bring him in.”

Bring me where?” I sad, standing—good my legs hurt. “Frank, we’re not going to a hospital.”

Thanks again.” Frank hung up on his cellphone. “Dude, you were out for like twenty minutes. You need to see a doctor.”

I’m not going to a hospital for a concussion—that’s gonna eat up what I’ve got left, man.” I said, shaking my head. “We can get to a minute clinic or something. There’s gotta be something like that around here right?”

Frank frowned and started to say something before I held a hand up to cut him off.

Dropping out didn’t void my student loans, and the last thing I need ontop of working those off and rebuilding this house is a hospital’s worth of lawyers chasing me for using their emergency room, alright?”

I grabbed some of the loose stuff in the box, and head for the truck.

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Frank was uneasy the whole ride, but I kept myself busy reading through the journal. He didn’t believe me about the red eyes, not until I showed him the pictures and the guy at the minute clinic confirmed I was fine. I mean, of course I was fine. It cost a hundred bucks I kinda had, but I was fine. He got real quiet then.

Its messed up man, like. This is stuff we call a priest over.” Frank said, shaking his head. “You know, this is ghost stuff or something. Call the local news.”

I don’t think so.” I said, thumbing through the book.

I mean. Maybe that’s what the map was about?” Frank said, as we turned a corner. “The X’s, they were marking spots were there was mold before. And there was mold around the hole you found…”

Yeah, it doesn’t like the house, that’s clear. But Todd and Jerry lived here, so it wasn’t here forever. Or they figured out how to deal with it.” I said, thumbing a bit farther along. “God knows I don’t need a free loading room mate who knocks me out when I look at him.”

Very funny,” Frank said with a grimace.

Thanks.”

And then I found it. It was over a few pages, but there it was. Answers.

The house hadn’t been doing well—business at Jerry’s shop was declining, and travelers were down. Story of the century, small family business failing as everyone moves to the big city. Except, I guess, Jerry had a screw loose or something. He’d found out there was something living in the swamp—it had some Spanish or French name, I don’t know—something that was big and scary. And he figured, it might be handy to bind this terrible spirit of the swamp to the family. That way, he could rot out and devalue local property to buy up, maybe have it steal stuff or find things lost in the swamp. It was all a bit panicked excitement, really.

So your telling me ‘run off half sure of yourself, and try a dumbass thing’ isn’t just you?” Frank said, as I read along. “It’s like, genetic?”

When have I–”

You’re currently trying to rebuild a swamp house to get away from your family, and the fact that there’s a monster in the house didn’t get you to run immediately.” Frank said, waving. “But please, carry on.”

Right, first of all, harsh. But yeah, so…he tried to cobble together some sort of spell to catch the thing. As you do.”

As you do.”

And well…it kinda worked?” I said, frowning. “I mean. It caught the thing.”

But…”

Well, it caught a wild animal, it didn’t like. Control it.” I said, sighing. “So its a wild animal, stuck in the house, trying to get out.”

Why didn’t he just…let it out?” Frank asked, as we pulled up to the motel.

You luck a dog up in a cage, and it starts biting at you and shaking the cage—you let it out and it might run away. Or it might go for your throat.” I said, shrugging. “But…I think Jerry got it wrong.”

…You think it’s smarter then that.”

It dug up the book, and dropped the doll thing.” I said, nodding. Frank put it in park. “We should head back tomorrow and…”

Please do not tell me your going back down there, and gonna muddle with stuff we don’t know about and hope it goes okay.”

…and yeah, muddle with stuff we don’t understand to free a thing we can’t really see and hope it just leaves.” I said, sighing. “Like you said, this is specialist work, but we don’t have the budget.”

We went over the plan the next day. There were two rings we needed to get rid of—one was in the basement, beneath the lumber pile. Jerry apparently thought that would stop that thing, and was convinced it’d eventually calm down. The other one was out by the pond thing—where he caught it.

You take the basement.” I siad, point to the diagram. “Just. Just go to town on the circle. I’ll go to the pool—I’m not gonna be able to move the lumber very well. If the thing shows up, don’t look at it. Jerry says it’s eyes are messed up, and you know, I think he was right about that.”

The one by the pool?”

I’ll handle that. It’s some stones, I can just…knock them over.” I said, shrugging.

Frank insisted on bringing a gun. I told him not to bother, that it’d be dangerous. But whatever, his deal not mine.

I started walking out the back door. The grass was fresh. We hadn’t worked out the backyard yet, not even close to the pool. The moss was still hanging like a curtain, from the branches around the pond. The wind rustled as I got closer.

I’d noticed the stones, but really I’d thought they were just some kids dicking around. Circles in stones, wrapped around and around. Like a labyrinth not. Jerry worked really hard on it—I wonder if that’s really why he didn’t break it. There were little wooden dolls around it, facing towards the center where a crude bit of drift wood was.

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Something was in the air—it felt like I was walking silk, sticking to my hairs and pulling them on end as I got closer. I felt little legs crawling down my arms, like spider legs with baby fingers. Soft, but unwelcome.

I picked up the first of the stones, and tossed them—and the web vibrated, the air twisted around. It rippled as it fell into the pond. I felt the snares, pulling at me slightly with each stone I through around. It hurt, I don’t know why it hurt to tear it apart, but it hurt. My chest ached, my limbs felt tired, my eyes burned.

When I was done, I slumped against a tree. Moss hung down to my shoulders, and I saw a glimpse of it. It was tall, dark, and had bright red eyes. It looked like something—like a crocodile, I guess, or like a person with a thrown out back. Stood up right, and I closed my eyes and sighed. It left whistling on the wind, and I haven’t seen it since.




This story was one I knew from the start had an obvious metaphor, like last time. Repairing an old house seemed like an obvious direction to take it. And the idea of repairing your life, metaphorically repersented by repairing a house—with a monster and a dark past mixed together to create an external version of internal struggles seemed also basic. The writing isn’t quite as tight as I would like, and the ending is a bit rushed I think—I ran out of time again, and space frankly. This is already a very long piece, and I didn’t want to push my luck to far.

I tried again to stay grounded for this one, as next time we will be dealing with another fantastic and strange monster. Come and see these!

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