In the last post about my very own Schrödinger’s cat experience, I referenced a story called “The Rattly Old Skeleton,” which I’d told T a few days before. It’s one of the only scary stories I know by heart, so even though it’s a children’s story I continue to tell it anytime a likely occasion arises. I even used to tell it to my college roommates, lying on our XL twins, the dorm dark and hushed.
This story originally came from an audio tape of spooky stories we got from the public library when I was a kid (yes, a tape. It’s called history.). I wanted to link to the story in my post, but after scouring the interwebs I determined that it is absolutely nowhere in print.
This cannot stand. As a graduate of the Theatre & Performance Studies program, I am acutely aware of the paramount importance of oral history, stories being passed from one generation to the next. This is one that, no matter how slightly silly and strange, I really don’t think should die. So in honor of Halloween, light up a fire (or at least turn up the sound effects; I love A Soft Murmur) and gather round for the only (as far as I know) publication of the story of:
The Rattly Old Skeleton
Once upon a time, there lived a Little Old Man and a Little Old Woman, deep in a dark forest. That winter, the cold was so harsh and the snow so deep that all the game animals moved on. So they had very little to eat. The Little Old Man and the Little Old Woman watched their food and firewood slowly dwindle until one day, they had no food left at all and only enough kindling for one more fire.
The Little Old Man said to the Little Old Woman, “Little Old Woman, I must go hunting or we will surely starve. I know it is cold in the cabin, but you must not light a fire. We have only enough kindling for one more and we’ll need it to cook the food I shall bring back.” Then he shouldered his rifle and left.
The Little Old Woman sat as long as she could in the cold, dark, house. But soon she was so freezing that her hands and feet were going numb and turning blue. And she was so very hungry. Finally, with the last of her strength, she used the last bit of kindling to light a big, roaring fire.
It was so warm. She stretched her frozen hands out closer to the fire to thaw. Closer, and closer she put reached, vainly trying to warm her chilled bones until — OUCH! — the fire burned her finger. She quickly drew it to her mouth to quell the pain. And found…hm.
It tasted good.
Tentatively she took a little nibble. A queen’s meal could not have tasted finer. But she was still so very hungry. So she took her whole hand and put it in the fire, and ate it. Then she put her whole arm in the fire and ate that too. Little by little, she put her whole body in the fire and ate herself down until she was nothing but a
But. She was still hungry.
By this time the fire had died down to embers. The Rattly Old Skeleton heard the sound of The Little Old Man shuffling back through the snow dragging something heavy. Quickly she positioned herself behind the door and made to hide. As she moved, her bones made a terrible rattling sound: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.
The Little Old Man slowly opened the door. Creeeeeeaak.
The cabin was empty. But he saw the embers of the dying fire and cried out, “Little Old Woman! You’ve lit the last fire! How we will cook this deer I caught?”
A shadow fell on the room as the door slowly swung shut behind him. Creeeeeeeak. The man slowly turned around, and there she was…
The Rattly Old Skeleton. And she was still hungry.
She made to grab for the Little Old Man with her long bony arms, but he managed to slip from her grasp and run back out of the door.
Through the snow he ran, getting slapped by branches and pelted by falling ice, and all the time he could hear the CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW of the Rattly Old Skeleton following close behind.
The Little Old Man ran and ran and ran until he came to a huge, gaping gorge. It was so deep there was no way to climb down, and there was no bridge–no way across. And he knew the Rattly Old Skeleton would be upon him in moments.
Looking around in despair, he suddenly noticed a tiny cottage half hidden by trees at the edge of the gorge. Heart pounding, he raced to the door and knocked upon it, THUMP THUMP THUMP.
The cottage was the home of an ancient enchantress. She opened the door and saw the Little Old Man upon the step. “How may I help you?” she asked.
“Please,” the Little Old Man wheezed, “there’s a Rattly Old Skeleton chasing me, she wants to eat me up. I must get across this gorge so I can get away.”
“I will help you,” the enchantress said. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”
Seeing this as a small price to pay for his life, he readily agreed. When he had picked a bushel of berries and chopped a log into firewood, he brought them back to the enchantress and begged again for her help.
Smiling, the enchantress walked to the edge of the gorge. She reached her hands up and before the Old Man’s very eyes, she began to grow. She stretched taller, and taller, and taller, until at last she was as long as the gorge was wide. She fell down across the gorge in one big flop, creating a bridge out of her body.
Without hesitation, the old man scurried across, over the hills and away to safety.
The enchantress pushed herself back up and shrunk down to her normal size. Then she went into her cottage and shut the door.
Not two minutes later who should come along but the Rattly Old Skeleton: CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.
Seeing the impassable gorge, and the Little Old Man escaping into the distance, she rattled up to the cottage and scraped upon the door with her long bony fingers. SCREEECH SCRECH SCRRECH SCREEEEEEECH.
The enchantress opened the door and said, “how may I help you?”
“I must get across this gorge!” the Rattly Old Skeleton snarled. “I am HUNGRY. That’s my dinner over there and he’s getting away!”
“I will help you,” said the enchantress. “IF, you pick me some berries, and chop me some wood.”
“I don’t have time to pick your berries and chop your wood!” rasped the skeleton. “Get me across this gorge right now or I’ll eat YOU!”
So calmly, as before, the enchantress stepped to the edge of the cliff. She reached her arms up to the sky and began to grow taller, and taller, and taller until at last she was able to stretch across the gorge and make of her body a bridge.
Without hesitation, the Rattly Old Skeleton started across.
But no sooner had she reached the middle of the bridge, she began to feel the Enchantress’s body sway under her bony feet. Faster and faster, and wider and wider went the arc of the swing, until the Rattly Old Skeleton lost her balance and
into the gorge below, cracking at the bottom into a thousand bony pieces.
So the Little Old Man got away. But to this day, if you go to the edge of the gorge, and put your ear down to listen, you’ll hear a strange sound:
CLAtAW, CLAtAW, CLAtAW.
It’s the sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton, trying to pull herself back together.
And she’s still hungry.
*I am sorry I cannot attribute the original author or source. Oral history is one big game of Telephone and I’m sure this version has changed somewhat in the telling. If you know the source, or have heard this story before, please tell me about it at cushioncutblog at gmail dot com.