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"The Vampire Skeleton"


The married couple encounters death; the child avoids it. To make the point more emphatic, the mythmaker has the skeleton appear as a fox, which the Onondaga recognize, or at one time recognized, as a symbol of sexual love. Here again is the familiar anguish of the culture myth; love breeds death. Or, to put it another way, death is the price of love. As the mythmaker reminds us, there is only one escape; to remain a child.

In old times the Onondagas lived on a much larger reservation than now-a great land-but they made hunting parties to the Adirondacks. A party once went off in which there were an old man, his daughter and her husband, and their little boy. They went one day and camped, and another day and camped, and then separated. The old man, his daughter, and her husband turned one way, but the little boy accidentally went the other way with his uncle.

The three kept on, and late in the day found an empty cabin in clearing. There was an Indian bedstead on each side within, and as no one seemed to live there, they resolved to stay for the night. They gathered plenty of fuel, stripping long pieces from the shagbark hickory, built a fine fire, spread their deerskins on the bedsteads, and went to sleep-the old man on one side, the man and his wife on the other.

When the fire became low and it grew dark in the cabin, the young people were awakened by a sound like a dog gnawing a bone. They stirred about, and the noise ceased, but was followed by something like rattling bones overhead. They got up and put on more fuel, and were going back to bed when they saw something like water flowing from the other couch. It was blood, and the old man was dead. His clothes were torn open and his ribs broken and gnawed. They covered him up and lay down again. The same thing happened the second time, and this time they saw it was a terrible skeleton, feeding on the dead man. They were frightened and in whispers devised a plan of escape. They made a great fire, and the wife said, "Husband, I must go to the spring and get some water; I am so thirsty." She went out quietly, but a little way off ran with all her might toward her own country.

When her husband thought she had a good start, he made a very big fire, to last a great while, and then he said, "What has become of my wife? I am afraid she is drowned in the spring. I must go and see." So he went out, and a little way off he, too, ran with all his might, and when he overtook his wife, he caught her by the arm and they both ran on together. By and by, the fire went down, the skeleton came again, and when he found they were both gone he started to give chase. Soon they heard him howling terribly behind them, and they ran faster.

It happened that night that the Onondgas were holding a feast, and it now drew near morning. The man and woman heard the drum sounding far off, tum-tum, tum-tum, and they ran harder, and shouted, but the skeleton did the same. Then they heard the drum again, TUM-TUM, tum-tum, and it was nearer, and they shouted again. Their friends heard the distress cry, and came to their rescue with all their arms. The skeleton fled. The fugitives fell down fainting, and did not regain their senses for hours; then they told their story.

A council was held, and the warriors started for the dreadful spot. They found the hut and a few traces of the old man. In the loft were some scattered articles, and a bark coffin. In this was the skeleton of a man left unburied by his friends. They determined to destroy everything, and fuel was gathered on all sides and fire applied. The warriors stood around with bent bows and raised hatchets. The fire grew hot, the cabin fell in, and out of the flames rushed a fox with red and fiery eyes; it dashed through the ranks and disappeared in the forest. The dreadful skeleton was seen no more.

"But what the little boy to do with all this?"

"Oh, that is to show it was well he went the other way."

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