Bloodsucking Bodies from the Balkans

This Week’s Prompt: 92. Man’s body dies—but corpse retains life. Stalks about—tries to conceal odour of decay—detained somewhere—hideous climax.

The Resulting Story:

We have discussed the restoration of corpses before, but for this one I would like to examine in detail a particular case—one that we discussed towards the beginning of our work here at the Undead Author Society. To limit our discussions, I will focus on living corpses of the vampiric kind, from Slavic and Balkan areas. In particular, this calls to my mind the story of a man and his vampiric brother, both in the attempts to hide the bodies nature and its attempts apparently to maintain its life.

The story goes that a woman died, leaving her husband and son behind. The husband remarried, but the woman was—as often is the case in these stories—a wicked woman who loathed the son. She demanded he be driven out and out of love for his wife, the father agreed. So the son went out into the world with twelve dinars.

As he entered a new town, he found a body, that people cursed and spat on. When he asked why, he learned the man died with many debts. A compassionate soul, he spent his little money paying the debts and arranging a proper burial. Leaving town, he passed the cemetery where the man was buried. The man, now a vampire, approached him in disguise, and offers to help him along his travels.

At the next town, they learn of two tragedies! One, the Turkish pasha’s daughter has passed. Two, every guard who holds wake over her body is found dead the next day. The vampire-brother gives the young man a holy scripture and tells him to focus on it every night, or he will die. On the third night, he reveals what you dear reader already suspect—the woman was a vampire! He tells the young man to lie in her coffin when she rises—and when she returns and cannot move him, the curse is broken and she is freed. The pasha, delighted, gives the young man his daughter’s hand in marriage(the other daughter, presumably).

Vampire Woman

Then the young man heads home, without his vampire assistant or wife. Along the way, he stops at a coffeehouse and is convinced by the two men there to begin playing cards. He loses everything rapidly, and is forced to become a cowherd. However, the vampire and wife head out to find him—and the vampire sees and understands all their tricks. He wins everything back from his fellow vampires, and restores the young man.

Returning home, the vampire asks to divide everything he’s earned between them. This is done easily, as most things are split with a saber. But when the matter of the young man’s wife comes up, it becomes a bit more difficult. For the young man. The vampire splits her in two anyway, and kills the serpent that emerges. Given his dialogue, listing the good deeds, it seems probably that the wife was restored before the vampire returned to the land of the dead on his fortieth day.

A similar story comes from Ukraine—here a rich man gives a poor man a loan on the advice of an icon of St. Michael. The rich man’s herds and land are blessed, but he is unhappy until he recieves the loan back. When he learns the poor man has died in debt, he gouges out the icon of St. Michael’s eyes and beats it—until it is bought by a young man passing by. The young man in time travels with his rich uncle merchants, and comes to a czardom where the princess has fallen ill. No manner of healing can help her, and every man sent to pray over her in the church is devoured down to his bones.

The Icon of St. Michael however advises the simple young man, telling him to lay pears in baskets around himself to keep the vampire princess at bay. When she attacked, he tossed the pears on the floor—and had enough baskets to keep her at bay until the cock crowed. Each time he threw the pears she pursued, until in the end it was her doom. This happens the next night as well, but with nuts. On the third night, like his companion in the Balkans, the young man enters into the coffin—although he is covered in holy water and incense. This time, however, he does leave after she promises to be her consort.

VampireWoman2.png

The two are found the next morning praying, and the princess is baptized again to drive out the unclean vampire holding her body. In this case, we have an incident of a woman possessed—and in a coffin—but not dead yet. But the stories are otherwise so close that one can’t help but wonder about them.

The most common of these dead rises in the forty day period between death and arrival at the afterlife. In this case, the creature somewhat fails our materialist prompt which specifies only the body remains. The body and soul are seized by the power of the devil, and compelled to stay together—in some sources this is explicitly a lower or more base soul. The animated body then pursues its own kin, either as an animal or as a human, drinking their blood. Such a creature has a loathsome fate, for the rituals that remove the devils own power over the soul/body and annihilate it entirely. Such a terrible fate befalls only a select few: Those who die a violent death suddenly; those who’s burial rites are preformed improperly; those who die due to curses by parents or themselves; those who die unbaptized; stillborn children born on Christian holy days; those who participate in sorcery; those who eat the flesh of a sheep that was killed by a goat; those excommunicated; and those who’s body is, during burial, past over by a cat. Unlike the uncorrupt dead—sometimes called vrykolakoi, a term elsewhere reserved for vampires properthese creatures are extremely predatory. The lack of decay in a corpse is thus sometimes a mixed blessing—generally one has to look at the health around such a body. If people begin to suffer and grow exhausted, its a vampire. If nothing happens, a revenant. If oils are produced, perhaps the dead has become a holy saint.

Killing A Vampire

This physical tie, between corpse and soul, relates partly to the description and understanding of Death in some rural parts of Greece. Here, the angel of death descends and slits the throat of the deceased—taking their soul to judgment. The blood is splattered on the family and their clothes—which must be set aside and not worn for several days after. The body achieves its final point of judgment upon fully decaying. However, before that time, the devil can seize the body. And just as the flow of blood out released the soul, the return of blood forces it back into the body. Drawing it into an intolerable state. Removing this creature requires pouring boiling oil into its grave and reading an exorcism over it. Others suggest the more famous staking or even hamstringing the creature in it’s grave to prevent its return.

A story out of Montegro reports that a pair of lovers were seperated against their will—the woman forced to marry her foreign betrothed. The man died of despair and returned as a vampire nightly. While most vampires are corpse like, this couple had a child that was identical to the deceased man—and his distance meant resolving the manner was nearly impossible.

Another story tells of a group of four siblings—three brothers and a sister. The story goes that the four siblings set out into the world, as their parents could no longer support them. After nine years apart, they came home. On their way home, the three brothers spend their earnings from nine years ransoming animals from torturers. The sister, however, comes across a curious trade: A hedgehog buying iron teeth from a mouse. She buys herself a set, and after testing it on an oak tree, buys a whetstone from another mouse. With sharpened teeth, she finally arrives home.

Once home, the siblings celebrate—the brothers, with their animals, assume their sister has simply made a small fortune. The celebrations are cut short however, as their father dies just a bit later. The brothers decide to invest in the land, setting three horses to work with a plow. However, the first day they set to work, they find one of the horses almost entirely devoured. After nights of watching, the elder sees a pale creature coming at night to feed—and determines its his sister! Not long after, proof comes when the youngest brother stays behind without the sister’s knowledge. Spying, he sees her devour their mother, all the way up to her head. She sets out in pursuit of the other brothers, not finding the youngest.

A strange omen follows her chase—a kettle of boiling water became blood, and as she grew closer and closer to the brothers, the bubbles rose faster and faster. As she gave chase, however, she was purused by the youngest’s dog, and chased against a tree. The brothers, seeing her coming after them, did not stop the dog from tearing her to shreds.

Weird Vampire

A more esoteric form of Vampire, from the Slavic regions, is not the body of a dead man but rather his shadow. This version was attributed to Muslims in the region, as well as Romani, and also was supposedly able to breath fire from its mouth. Other vampires of the region rise from the dead as strange things of water or jello, that scatter when bitten by a wolf or banished by a magician.

Serbian vampires sometimes hold weddings in mills—they find wandering and lonely travelers and give them a bottle made of a horses head. This brandy, of course, makes the victim instantly sick—especially if they are struck with it. Such behavior is more innocuous then other vampires, that appear like roaring winds and mists on the ground. Serbian vampires are also longer lived, lasting sometimes for three months, instead of the Greek forty days.

In both Balkan and some Slavic areas, vampires cause a variety of nuisances—they break tiles, lurk in attics, tire out horses, and so forth. While in some regions they are absolutely predatory, the more common fear is their attacks on small domestic animals such as sheep. These vampires of all types strangle and murder with glee.

Of all of these, vampires play a number of predatory roles. The number of women that emerge as vampires—particularly daughters in either far away places or returning from their travels—is interesting. The fact that vampires are, in a way, both foreign and familiar in these stories perhaps links to their liminal nature as dead and living things. The corpse here is a similar sort, given it’s detention. While perhaps Lovecraft meant something more like a revenant, those corpses are less troublesome and not nearly as retained. We’ll see what our body gets up to, after the angel of death visits and makes its lethal cut.

Bibliography

Du Boulay, Juliet. “A Study of Cyclic Symbolism in Marriage and Death”, Man, New Series, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Jun., 1982), pp. 219-238, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

Durham, M. Edith. “121. Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans”.Man, Vol. 23 (Dec., 1923), pp. 189-192.Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

Marshall, Bonnie C. Tales from the Heart of the Balkans. Libraries Unlimited Inc, Englewood Colorado, 2001.

Perkowsky, Jan. Vampires of the Slavs Slavica Publishing Inc. 1976

 

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A Long Night

This Week’s Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?

The Prior Research:A Deep, Cold Sleep

The buzz of cicadas near the rivershore will always be the sound of summer to me. Even if I’ve never seen one, the near constant buzzing in the trees keeps the season clear—just like up north, the drifting of fall leaves announces autumn and the dreary blanket of snow makes winter all the clearer.

C’mon, I got a jar and everything!” Jordan says, holding up a glass jar with some very tiny holes poked in it.

There floating over the water, a little light show. With a sigh, I let myself by pulled down—against a dark sky, we chase the stars. Its a hokey little memory, I think. The kind I’ll write about when Jordan’s older. The kind that’s bleeding innocence. The kind that a Pixar movie would use for the good old days, before adult hood made everything complicated. Its nice, is what I’m saying.

River Forest.png

How often do you get fireflies down here?” Leslie asks, as we pace down the riverside. Jordan’s running a head, waving his jar around and trying to catch them on the sand.

Every now and then, but we only come down to the river like once a year.” I said, a fire fly landing in my hair—and for a moment I worry Jordan’s gonna bash me on the head with a jar to catch it. It flies off before that becomes a problem.

We caught a dozen—although half figured out where the hole was and slipped out of the jar. Neither of us had done this before, and I’d been too lazy to google how.

Think they’ll glow all night?” Jordan said, holding up the small collection. On cue, firefly number seven slipped out the top of the jar.

Maybe—we might need to get more tomorrow.” I said as we walked back to the cabin. “But a few might. If you get up early, you could probably still see them.”

Hmmm…” Jordan weighs the notion of waking up early—with the understanding of going to sleep now—against running around more.

I’ll make pancakes.” I promise.

Fireflies

I got the batter ready in advance after Jordan went to sleep. It was my mom’s old recipe, which she said she got from her grandfather—but honestly, I’m eighty percent sure I’ve seen it on the back of a box of mix.

You’ve got to know the fireflies will be gone by the time he gets up.” Leslie said, sitting at the counter.

Well, sure. But that’s fine, we’ve got another night up here and he’ll catch more. Besides,” I held up a mixing spoon. “There’s no misery that pancakes can’t cure.”

So, hows he doing in school?” Leslie asked, getting up and starting a pot of coffee behind me.

Fine, fine really. He likes math, which is a godsend I think. Math and science and in a few years, he’ll be off to the races in college.”

I mean, in ten years maybe.” Leslie said, rolling her eyes.

Ten years, a few years, eh.” I waved it off as I mixed. “Point is, I think he’s got a scientests brain. Maybe biology, what with how much he loves running around in the woods. He could make some good money that way.”

Sure, I mean…that’s pretty far away though.” Leslie said shrugging. “He might change his mind.”

Yeah, kids do that, but I really think he’s onto something.” I said, placing the batter in the fridge. “And, I mean, I’m working on his junior high already—thats where stuff can really get out of hand. But I’ll work something out for him.”

Leslie shrugged again and looked back outside. A small flash of a shooting star went by, and she sighed. She always thought it was weird for me to talk so much about how great Jordan was going to be, but it never came to much.

River ForestComet.png

Its funny. My grandparents had a cabin like this—I mean, not exactly like this. Prescott doesn’t have a river, just some creaks. But…places like this always feel nice.” She said, watching the stars between the trees. “I blame Diseny—there’s something about cabins that makes the whole world seem to stand still.”

The coffee pot beeped to break the silence.

Which cup?” I asked, opening the cabinet.

Leslie grabbed a blanket as we went out onto the patio.

Oh c’mon its July! It’s nowhere near that cold.” I said, rolling my eyes.

Speak for yourself, I’m freezing.” She grumbled as she leaned into the armrest.

Its getting warmer every year…” I said, sipping my coffee. “It’s going to be sweltering soon. God, can you imagine the mosquitoes?”

They’ll be the size of airplanes.” Leslie said with a laugh. “And the fireflies are gonna be bigger than Jordan.”

Oh, God, he’d try and ride one away.” I said, laughing and nearly spilling the coffee on the floor.

…hows he doing. In school.” Leaslie asked, looking up at the yellow’d harvest moon.

I mean, he likes it, his grades are good, like I said he loves math–”

Yeah, but you know. What about hobbies? What’s he do when he’s not catching fireflies?”

I stopped a bit and shrugged.

I mean, he does puzzles and stuff.” I said, frowning. “I’m thinking he’ll do debate in a few years, he’s got the mind for data and that’s important. Or robotics and coding.”

What about now though?” Leslie said. I shrugged.

I think he hangs out with a kid named Jeff?” I said, frowning. “Doesn’t come over much, but they had snacks and played games once.”

We talked a bit after that, about travel and college. I went to bed, feeling a bit chilly—not that I’d say anything. A bit of a wet wind had come off the river, that was all.

I stirred a little in my sleep. Something cold and freezing went over me, and lights danced outside. An aurora rising in the window, a cool and strange light. For a moment, the woods loomed large. I was half awake, half dreaming as I saw them. Half formed shapes of fur and tusk, lumbering nameless about the house. The river was bubbling, many colored gas rising out and off of it. I sighed a bit, and lay back down, breathing slowly to sink back to sleep. I didn’t think much of it—I thought it was a strange dream, half remembered. The sun didn’t rise that early, I thought—and the woods were too thick, too thick to be real.

I jolted awake later, a drop of water hitting my head—and as I stretched, my limbs felt exhausted. I saw the sun high in the sky, and a moment of panic struck. I’d forgotten to make breakfast! I got up and—and as I stretched, I felt a sudden chill. Looking outside again, I saw…white snow. Snow running up the window, all the way down to the shore.

The hell?”

It had snowed before in summer. I think. I mean, we weren’t far enough north for that to be normal, but freak weather wasn’t out of the question. But still, it was—well, I guess no fireflies would be caught.

Jordan! Jordan!” I shouted. He was going to love this. But the entire house was silent as I walked into the living room—a thin layer of frozen dew over the window. Looking out onto the patio, the wind rocked the chair back and forth.

Forest Frost.png

Someone was in the chair. Leslie! She must have slept in. When I pulled the screen door, there was a horrible sound. The edges were pretty rusty—I’d have to call the maitence guy about this. I mean, he might write it off as a freak blizzard but—and then I paused again, looking out from the patio. The frost on the window had obscured it but there were more trees then before. Not many, but saplings that had crept up from the shore. Not just saplings, no. The undergrowth was thicker, rising from the snow. Bushes and rotting brown moss growing on dead wood.

How long had I slept?

I turned slowly at the chair and caught a glimpse. A glimps of skin tight on bones, a face full of terror, a blanket full of holes and worn down. I slammed the door shut and ran back inside. I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t look at that face, hair frozen where it was. How long had I slept? How…

Jordan. Oh no. Oh no.

 



I’m…not fond of this story. I really couldn’t get the twist ending into a cohesive narrative in my head, and when I had something I had little time to finish it. This might be one that, in a few years, I might rewrite for the patreon (linked below). Next week, we come back to a common staple of horror, and delve deep into a regional variant that started this entire blog! Come and see, when the dead walk!

 

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A Deep, Cold Sleep

This Weeks Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?

The Resulting Story:A Long Night

The fear of being frozen alive is a rather common and profound one. We have here that, combined with the common fear of sleeping in—albeit more extreme then my nightmares of waking up and missing a class I’ve never registered for. We covered a large amount of sleeping stories fairly recently in our research, so for this time around I’m going to focus on creatures of frost and avatars of winter.

Father Frost.png

One of the most famous of these is Father Frost. His most famous story stars the classic trio of a stepmother, stepdaughter, and daughter. The daughter is mistreated and sent out into the cold alone, and encounters Father Frost, who lowers the temperature around her. As he does so, he asks again and again if she is comfortable. The daughter says she is, no matter the chill—and her perseverance and kindness touches Father Frost’s heart. He thus leaves her with many gifts, beautifully dressed and alive.

The stepmother, seeing this, grows enraged and tries to get her own daughter the gifts. However, her daughter—as is tradition in these stories—is cruel and rude to the terrible embodiment of the Winter itself. So she freezes to death, and the wicked stepmother learns it was due to her own envy.

A similar story comes from the Brothers Grimm, who tell instead of female spirit. Like many spirits, this Mother Holle lives at the bottom of a well. The daughter in this story arrives when she chases her mother’s pin down after being dropped. There she is instructed to fluff a pillow, until feathers fall out and cause a blizzard to occur in the real world. Like the Father Frost story she receives vast rewards for her good service—and her sister receives wicked treatment for her laziness, covered in pitch. In both these stories, an animal announces the arrivals.

A more memorable wintry god comes from the Netsilik—one Narssuk. Narssuk was born of giants—both his parents fell in battle, and so he remains an orphan. He was so large, even as a babe, that four women could sit comfortably in his lap. He eventually ascended to the sky, and became a wicked spirit with power over blizzards after he was mocked by humanity. It was only by sealing him in caribou skins—which grew loose whenever women kept their monthly period secret—that bad weather could be averted and humanity saved.

South of the Netsilik we have the Chenoo. The Chenoo is notable for a few traits—they are capable of taking on vast and terrible shapes, are skilled in many magics and can see very far, and have a heart of solid ice. Not just ice! Often ice so cold, it must slowly warmed to melt. One story specified that the ice was so cold, it was as cold compared to normal ice as ice was to fire(for those inclined, some quick google suggests that would be…negative 508 degrees F, well below the temperature of liquid nitrogen). In two of the three stories I found, the Chenoo prove at least aware. In one case, a daughter was afflicted with a heart of ice, and as she began to change, revealed to her family that she could be stopped by shooting her seven times. After seven tries, her heart was finally shattered and her body destroyed.

Another common feature of the Chenoo is the notion that female Chenoo are larger and stronger then their male counterparts. The sound of Chenoo fighting, described as a lion’s roar but higher pitched, is lethal to all who hear it. They dislike warmer climates, and frequently head north during summer—in one story they are weakened explictly by the heat. They also regualrly engage in cannibalism—one record accounts for them eating each other livers, while another says they instead eat the icey hearts of their fellows to grow in power.

Back to the Inuit are the Mahaha, a demon that pursues its victims in cold weather. It’s touch is freezing, and it has long claws worthy of a strange demon. It’s method of murder is…well, not that strange given it’s touch is the threat, but it tickles it’s victims to death. Like DC’s Joker, the Mahaha leaves its victims with a twisted smile (I wonder if the name sounding like laughter is a coincidence).

The Yuki Onna from Japan is another snow spirit, although she has various origins and roles depending on the prefecture. The Yagamata prefecture has a tale of her as a lunar princess, who was trapped here when she descended and becomes visible with the snow. Aomari, Nigata, Miyagi prefectures record her isntead as a vampire—and fitting our interest in freezing to death, she freezes her victims and then sucks out their vital energy.

Yuki Onna.png

Also from Japan, there are a pair of related stories about winter and freezing bodies. There is the Tsurara Onna, a woman who comes into being when a man looks at an icicle and wishes for a woman as beautiful as the icicle. And sure enough, a woman of that sort arrives! The two get married and live the winter together—although inevitably, tragedy comes to them. In some versions, the husband draws a hot bath for her or asks her to fetch hot sake and…well, she is an icicle bride. She sadly melts. Another version has her vanish in spring. The husband then pursues another woman and they get married. Unfortunately, his icicle bride returns in winter. Learning she’s been replaced, she lures her husband out to the open—and impales him with a large icicle.

The related spirit is a snow child. Called Yuki Warashi, a child formed by an aging couple. The couple regrets having no children, so makes one of snow. Like a certain other story, the child comes to life. Like the icicle woman, it comes to the couple seeking shelter from a blizzard. And likewise, it stays until spring, where it wastes away. However, in winter, the boy returns, red cheeked and fat—and does so for years after!

And one last Japanese spirit (I found a wonderful resource here on this topic: 7 Snow Monsters of Japan) is the Yuk Jiji, the Old Snow Man. A powerful spirit, Yuk Jiji rides an avalanche down mountain sides and roads. The longer his avalanche, the better the harvests will be when he stops. In other prefectures, he acts as a foe in the forests, attacking and misleading travelers as they try and cross the mountains. In a handful of stories, the Yuk Jiji has his origin in a frozen body, re-incarnated as a spirit.

Our winter spirits are thus a varied lot, but their motives are often oddly similair. While some weaken with winter, many show signs not only of passionate and friendly relationships, but of familial closeness. This informs some of my idea for our scene—a long winter sleep, in a family home, awakening to find all the rest dead. We might do a riff on the frozen cavemen idea (We discussed that one as well here), the dreams in a deep cold sleep, and set the scene in a family gathering.

 

Bibliography

Balikci, Asen The Netsilik Eskimo, Doubleday , Dell Publishing Group 1970

 

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