Monday, October 17, 2011

Skulls that Speak in the Bone-House

The Skull in the Bone House

It was evening in the house of Constable Wyler who lived in the Swiss Valley of Loetschen. Women and girls sat in front of the fire spinning while older crones told tales about witches and goblins. The young listened attentively.

Nearby sat a young man of twenty, who boasted about his courage, fearlessness and incredible adventures. “And what fortune I’ve had!” he preened, “Never has a single hair on my head been harmed even though I have done some gruesome things in my time! And today I shall do what none of you would ever dream of. I will go into the bone-house and retrieve a skull! You will see!” Placing his fingers at the corner of his mouth, he pulled his lips back in a grimace so that his white teeth sparkled in the firelight.

The others listened quietly. Finally an older woman said he should not commit such a grave sin and should never make jokes about such things. But the assembled spinners could not hold him back from his foolish deed, even though they cried after him that one should never play with the dead for something gruesome might happen. But these words only acted as a catalyst. He tore himself from the group and stormed into the night.

He hung his hat on an elderberry bush in front of the bone-house of Kippel, where hundreds of skulls were stacked up high. Carefully lighting his lantern, he entered the dusty, dreary hut and searched among the desiccated skeletons for the skull of his uncle. When he found it, he placed it under his arm, then he blew out the candle and made his way home. “They will be surprised when I bring the skull into the chamber and place it on the table,” he murmured to himself and laughed into the dark night.

But it seemed that the skull he carried was getting heavier and heavier, the farther away from the bone house he came. When he arrived at the house of Kippeler Riedbord, he thought he could no longer carry his load. Reaching the chapel, he placed the skull on the stone before the door and murmured a prayer. Then he grasped the smiling skull and continued on his way until he reached Laerchen. But there he had to rest again. It seemed he was no longer carrying a skull but rather a leaden ball under his arm, which was aching under the heavy load. He considered what to do and thought to himself “It is not much further and I shan’t return now!”

But the jaws of the skull began to crack like wooden wheels running across sharp-edged gravel. Then the skull began to speak in a raspy voice: “You are lucky you only removed the skull of your uncle, otherwise you would have been torn to bits!” and the jaws of the skull flapped wildly and groaned like an old lock refusing to open with a rusty key. “Take me back to the bone-house in Aff, take me back, take me back” the skull moaned “and return me to the spot where I used to rest!”

The youth would have preferred a hasty retreat, but he had to remain were he stood. His feet were rooted to the ground and after some time like this he thought it  best to do what he was told and as quickly as possible. He picked up his heavy load and followed the way he had come. Gradually with each step it became easier and he felt his boney load becoming lighter the closer he got to the bone-house. As he stood before the door, he lit his candle and placed the skull at the exact spot of its prior rest. Then he quickly left the dark and creepy hut, never again returning to the evening spinning circle. Instead he returned to his room where he lay in bed lifeless and quite ill for many weeks. 

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