Story for Halloween: The Corpse-Rider”

This appeared in Lafcadio Hearn’s Shadowings, which is now available for smooth reading and will be posted to Project Gutenberg in early November. Enjoy.

THE body was cold as ice; the heart had long ceased to beat: yet there were no other signs of death. Nobody even spoke of burying the woman. She had died of grief and anger at having been divorced. It would have been useless to bury her,—because the last undying wish of a dying person for vengeance can burst asunder any tomb and rift the heaviest graveyard stone. People who lived near the house in which she was lying fled from their homes. They knew that she was only waiting for the return of the man who had divorced her.

At the time of her death he was on a journey. When he came back and was told what had happened, terror seized him. “If I can find no help before dark,” he thought to himself, “she will tear me to pieces.” It was yet only the Hour of the Dragon; but he knew that he had no time to lose.

He went at once to an inyoushi and begged for succor. The inyoushi knew the story of the dead woman; and he had seen the body. He said to the supplicant:—”A very great danger threatens you. I will try to save you. But you must promise to do whatever I shall tell you to do. There is only one way by which you can be saved. It is a fearful way. But unless you find the courage to attempt it, she will tear you limb from limb. If you can be brave, come to me again in the evening before sunset.” The man shuddered; but he promised to do whatever should be required of him.

At sunset the inyoushi went with him to the house where the body was lying. The inyoushi pushed open the sliding-doors, and told his client to enter. It was rapidly growing dark. “I dare not!” gasped the man, quaking from head to foot;—”I dare not even look at her!” “You will have to do much more than look at her,” declared the inyoushi;—”and you promised to obey. Go in!” He forced the trembler into the house and led him to the side of the corpse.

The dead woman was lying on her face. “Now you must get astride upon her,” said the inyoushi, “and sit firmly on her back, as if you were riding a horse…. Come!—you must do it!” The man shivered so that the inyoushi had to support him—shivered horribly; but he obeyed. “Now take her hair in your hands,” commanded the inyoushi,—”half in the right hand, half in the left…. So!… You must grip it like a bridle. Twist your hands in it—both hands—tightly. That is the way!… Listen to me! You must stay like that till morning. You will have reason to be afraid in the night—plenty of reason. But whatever may happen, never let go of her hair. If you let go,—even for one second,—she will tear you into gobbets!”

The inyoushi then whispered some mysterious words into the ear of the body, and said to its rider:—”Now, for my own sake, I must leave you alone with her…. Remain as you are!… Above all things, remember that you must not let go of her hair.” And he went away,—closing the doors behind him.

Hour after hour the man sat upon the corpse in black fear;—and the hush of the night deepened and deepened about him till he screamed to break it. Instantly the body sprang beneath him, as to cast him off; and the dead woman cried out loudly, “Oh, how heavy it is! Yet I shall bring that fellow here now!”

Then tall she rose, and leaped to the doors, and flung them open, and rushed into the night,—always bearing the weight of the man. But he, shutting his eyes, kept his hands twisted in her long hair,—tightly, tightly,–though fearing with such a fear that he could not even moan. How far she went, he never knew. He saw nothing: he heard only the sound of her naked feet in the dark,—picha-picha, picha-picha,—and the hiss of her breathing as she ran.

At last she turned, and ran back into the house, and lay down upon the floor exactly as at first. Under the man she panted and moaned till the cocks began to crow. Thereafter she lay still.

But the man, with chattering teeth, sat upon her until the inyoushi came at sunrise. “So you did not let go of her hair!”—observed the inyoushi, greatly pleased. “That is well … Now you can stand up.” He whispered again into the ear of the corpse, and then said to the man:—”You must have passed a fearful night; but nothing else could have saved you. Hereafter you may feel secure from her vengeance.”

Halloween is traditionally celebrated big time around DP. Lots of scary books to proof, format or smooth read. Have fun celebrating!

Halloween Bash 2010

2 Responses to Story for Halloween: The Corpse-Rider”

  1. LCantoni says:

    Wow. Tough divorce laws. 🙂 Really creepy!

  2. usbengoshi says:

    The book is now available on Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34215

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