Monday, April 19, 2010

Andrew's Thoughts on Ko-rea-ran-neh-neh; or, The Flying Head - Scary Short Story

The little-known horror short story Ko-rea-ran-neh-neh; or, The Flying Head was first published by Charles Feno Hoffman (18-6-1884) in The American Monthly of 1836. It was successful and republished a number of times as a result. It is the only horror story in this countdown of the Top 40 horror short stories from 1800-1849 that contains a flying head. This was based on a legend told by the Iroquois. Consider this summary of it in a 1904 book called "The Legend of the Iroquois":
THERE were many evil spirits and terrible monsters that hid in the mountain caves when the sun shone, but came out to vex and plague the red men when storms swept the earth or when there was darkness in the forest. Among them was a flying head which, when it rested upon the ground, was higher than the tallest man. It was covered with a thick coating of hair that shielded it from the stroke of arrows. The face was very dark and angry, filled with great wrinkles and horrid furrows. Long black wings came out of its sides, and when it rushed through the air mournful sounds assailed the ears of the frightened men and women. On its under side were two long, sharp claws, with which it tore its food and attacked its victims.
The Flying Head came oftenest to frighten the women and children. It came at night to the homes of the widows and orphans, and beat its angry wings upon the walls of their houses and uttered fearful cries in an unknown tongue. Then it went away, and in a few days death followed and took one of the little family with him. The maiden to whom the Flying Head appeared never heard the words of a husband's wooing or the prattle of a papoose, for a pestilence came upon her and she soon sickened and died.
One night a widow sat alone in her cabin. From a little fire burning near the door she frequently drew roasted acorns and ate them for her evening meal. She did not see the Flying Head grinning at her from the doorway, for her eyes were deep in the coals and her thoughts upon the scenes of happiness in which she dwelt before her husband and children had gone away to the long home.
The Flying Head stealthily reached forth one of its long claws and snatched some of the coals of fire and thrust them into its mouth—for it thought that these were what the woman was eating. With a howl of pain it flew away, and the red men were never afterwards troubled by its visits.
Apparently the legend carried over among the Mohawk American Indians of this scary short story. Hoffman tells how a group of people are killed and decapitated. Their bodies are burned to ash and the heads taken together by a Mohawk for dumping into the middle of the lake. While he is doing this, he gets tangled in the net and falls into the lake with the heads. This is what ensues:
The morning dawned calmly upon that unhallowed water, which seemed at first to show no traces of the deed it had witnessed the night before. But gradually, as the sun rose up higher, a few gory bubbles appeared to float over one smooth and turbid spot, which the breeze never crisped into a ripple. The parricides sat on the bank watching it all the day ; but sluggish, as at first, that sullen blot upon the fresh blue surface still remained. Another day passed over their heads, and the thick stain was yet there. On the third day the floating slime took a greener hue, as if coloured by the festering mass beneath; but coarse fibres of darker dye marbled its surface; and on the fourth day these began to tremble along the water like weeds growing from the bottom, or the long tresses of a woman's scalp floating in a pool when no wind disturbs it. The fifth morning came, and the conscience-stricken, watchers thought that the spreading-scalp—for such now all agreed it was—had raised itself from the water, and become rounded at the top, as if there were a head beneath it. Some thought, too, that they could discover a pair of hideous eyes glaring beneath the dripping locks. They looked on the sixth, and there indeed was a monstrous Head floating upon the surface, as if anchored to the spot, around which the water—notwithstanding a blast which swept the lake—was calm and motionless as ever.
This scary short story of severed and flying heads nearly cracked the Top 20 of this countdown if not for its lack of fluency of story and lack of character generation. Given the Indian legends, its full originality is also called into question. Still, it is a story to be read and discovered for the first time by many in the horror community.

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