Tag Archives: legends

Land of Bandits

by Mattia Ravasi

murder in monzaThe city of Monza lies in the north of Italy, not too far away from fashionable Milan and its dreadful Duomo. It is the main center in a small but lively province called Brianza, a name that comes from the Latin word for “bandit”. My own surname, a rather common one in the area, is derived from the Latin word for “thief”. This is to say more about how the Romans saw the region and its inhabitants than about the inhabitants themselves.

Monza is an amazingly picturesque city, and those looking for horror might find plenty of it—if only they are willing to drive a few miles out of town to the industrial suburbs where you breathe in misery with exhaust fumes.

Dedicated searchers—especially those with some knowledge of the region’s history—might choose to linger for a while and perhaps visit the colossus that is Monza’s Park, this part of Italy’s green lung. It also features a small benign tumor in the form of a Formula 1 race track.

A wall was built around the park in the 18th century by the Austrian invaders who were to be kicked out, come back, kicked out again, and return at least four more times such that it is difficult nowadays to say whether they’re gone or they’re still here. In a much similar way, it is not so clear whether that first tall wall around the park was built to shield it from the expanding communities around it or to prevent anything inside from roaming where it shouldn’t.

The main function of the park was in fact that of being the private hunting ground for the Habsburg rulers of northern Italy. A Royal Villa was built in the park to serve as the summer dwelling of the Archduke of Austria, yet the much-despised rulers had introduced foreign animals to the park long before the Villa was conceived. The beasts that were left free to roam in the park came from the dark forests of Germany, from the even darker vastness of northern Europe, and from the rocky hills of the Balkan Peninsula. There is a cave not far from the Villa local parents like to show their children, giggling at amazed expressions when the small ones are told it once was the den of a bear.

It wouldn’t be absurd to wonder whether many of the strange folk stories from the city’s past could be based on reality: tales of slender predators stalking the streets of Monza at night, leaving their victims ripped to pieces and disfigured. Said predators were nothing but wolves, or lynxes. Of course, the region is full of tales of weirder beasts (the symbol of Milan itself is a basilisk devouring a child). Whatever the creature was—cryptid or plain animal—it did murder quite a number of locals. The stories agree on this point. To this day, the night life of the city has not recovered, and if you are alone in Monza late at night, you’ll wish you weren’t.

More disquieting still, and much more gruesome, are the many reports—probably exaggerated—of what the period’s Austrian rulers liked to do with political opponents and rioters. The stories are legion and they all disagree, but the common element they share is that poor souls were left alone in the park at night where they’d become the meal of the wild beasts, forced to fight to the death against each other, or—and this is the most widely diffused account—they’d become prey in a peculiar and merciless hunt, one for which it was always open season. The final touch to this unlikely but disturbing scenario is that these night hunts apparently did not stop with the end of the Habsburg rule and the establishment of the kingdom of Italy.

Every summer the king came from Turin. While in the Villa, he liked to carry on the memory of his predecessors by enjoying what the park had to offer—everything, if the tales are right.

Diabolic murderer or not, the locals never liked the king; after all, he came from Savoy, which wasn’t even “the real” Italy, and then again, people in Brianza hardly love each other let alone strangers.

Throughout the 20th century, no reports of hideous games, murderous monsters, or exotic creatures can be found. It would seem the old fantastic tales did not survive the clash with modernity. And the Villa lost most of its shine when the king himself was shot dead in Monza in the first months of the century. The murderer was an anarchist extremist, apparently, though at the time there was no lack of voices affirming there were more personal and secret reasons behind the assassination. However it was, the following generations of kings chose never to visit Monza.

The town has built a monument to commemorate the assassination, a tower-shaped chapel called Cappella Espiatoria. It is Monza’s oddest beauty, and any trip through the town should end here in the rather isolated and silent corner where the monument stands. The chapel’s statues and high reliefs show stark images of suffering, yet there is also an element of mockery in the gothic features of the whole structure, and in the bat-like wings that decorate the fence around it. To this day, huge bright graffiti keep appearing on the monument, and on the asphalted road that runs before it, praising an assassination that took place more than a century ago.

Mattia Ravasi was born in Italy in 1991 and has lived in Milan and in Birmingham, UK. He currently is in Venice where he writes short stories and works on novels, though he is supposedly studying for a postgraduate degree in English Literature. His fiction has appeared in the humorous magazine Hobo Pancakes and he will soon be featured in the steampunk anthology The Lost Worlds, edited by Eldritch Press.

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The Legend of the Rattlesnake Doctor

by Michael Gosack

The Legend of the Rattlesnake DoctorIt is cool and quiet under the gnarled pines around the cabin. The silence is watchful, as if hateful eyes lie in wait in every shadow and behind every tree. Something like a dead fish stench hangs in the air here. Heads of rusted nails protrude from the trees, and the posts and frame of the porch. According to the reports that I have managed to uncover, this is a result of the Rattlesnake Doctor’s foul prayers.

His was the Black Work. No one knew where he’d been raised. No one knew of any sure kin, though a few lost souls came forward after his death claiming to be his bastards. Trick babies to a one, they shared his legendary hatchet face, fiery dark eyes, and straight black Indian hair.

Twenty miles east inland from the Lake Michigan coastline and the county seat, well into timber country, just outside a whistle-stop town populated largely by rough men and their loose women, there arose the not-infrequent need for incorporeal revenge. To get him to do a job, all you had to bring him was a bottle of whiskey. All ten of my sources agreed on this detail.

The single mother in the tar-paper basement shack had the most information to offer. Her mother had brought him a bottle in exchange for the death of her own stepfather, for crimes which remain shrouded in the oblivion of history. They walked together through the trees, as was apparently his custom, him sniffing the air like an animal until he found a snake nest. He broke a rod from the lower trunk of a lone old red pine and tormented the serpent until, rattling with fury, it struck out at his riding boots. A flick of his buck knife severed the reptile’s spine, and he plucked up a thing alive, in agony, and harmless.

On his table, in the single room cabin reeking of drink, the Rattlesnake Doctor slit open the snake’s belly and shoved inside of it was the name of the stepfather written nine times on a page torn from the Book of Revelation, along with some hair stolen from the cursed one’s genitals. With muttered prayers in some unknown tongue, the Rattlesnake Doctor stitched up the serpent with black thread and nailed the snake to a tree through the neck. As it rotted, the single mother’s stepfather sickened, going into a terrible fever in which he vomited and shat a black purge fluid that stank like a dead reptile. He screamed throughout the night, hideous cries about poison and ghosts, and things that dwelt in the trees, until, after seven days and seven nights, he lay wasted and dead.

An interview at the local nursing home with one Mister Seppanen, formerly a sheriff’s deputy, revealed more of the Rattlesnake Doctor’s character. Of Finnish blood, the deputy had been raised on witch stories going all the way back to the land of the midnight sun, though the community had been tamed by the doctrines of Lutheranism and had abandoned the reputation of readiness to resort to either knives or sorcery to settle dispute. Still, there remained a healthy respect for the black arts in his generation. He’d removed the Rattlesnake Doctor from the back room of an Ottawa roadhouse, the girl the Doctor had assaulted all stained with tears and blood. She refused to press charges and would only mutter medicine prayers in response to questioning.

Nothing remains of that roadhouse now. It was built on wooden foundations, and the Ottawa’s land has all been piece-mealed away by trickery and squattage. And no one ever agreed to testify against the Rattlesnake Doctor. He silenced all witnesses with a glare from his black eyes. Former Deputy Seppanen shuddered to imagine it, sixty years hence, from the safety of his wheelchair.

What crimes gave the Rattlesnake Doctor authority over death? A country and western song, which had enjoyed brief notoriety a few decades ago, mentions the Rattlesnake Doctor and his crimes. Though there was only one pressing of the album, I was able to listen to this rare piece of vinyl due to the generosity of the county seat’s own AM radio station. Entitled “the Rattlesnake Doctor’s Hand” for its main hit, it added relatively little to the information I have gathered here, save for the claim that his mother was a full-blooded Cherokee and his father was a dark Spaniard.

We pass now from direct sources to folklore, and thus the veracity of this claim can be neither confirmed nor denied. But the song explicitly discusses his powers of malice, identifying his as a “killing hand,” its potency lost if his heart ever flushed with kindness, or love, or mercy. Regrettably, the artist in question was crushed shortly thereafter while working at his regular employment on the county seat’s train yards, when a freight car became uncoupled during a switching move, causing the train to derail and roll forward, striking him dead. As yet, I have not been able to locate any members of the family to interview and must assume that they, like so many others, left the area looking for work.

One source asserts that the Rattlesnake Doctor drained his captive reptiles of blood, which he kept in small bottles hung by rope deep enough down his well so as to preserve them from decay in the cool of the earth. A drop of this cursed blood, secreted in a man’s drink, could infect their bodies with a plague of serpents. Some lay the death of the unfaithful young wife of the owner of a local sawmill, which culminated in her vomiting a clutch of freshly-hatched serpents in a black mess of blood and rot, squarely at his feet. Other alleged murders occurred by even more surreptitious means. When one of his maledictions dried into a mummiform length of bones and hide, he allegedly crumbled the remains, mixed them with shavings of bullet lead, belladonna, and dirt bought from the graves of murderers.

Such a potent killing powder, blown through the bars of the county jail, cast down an unnamed traveling gambler, held imprisoned to save him from the wrath of those half-starved men who’d caught him gaming with lead-loaded dice. He never awoke from the fever, save to scream obscenities at the chimeras he described assaulting him from every corner of his cell.

I can picture it as clearly as if I stood before it in his time, my own bottle of whiskey in my hands, a hateful name written nine times on my lips. In my sleep, I have walked the long path through the miles of cullwood from the whistle-stop town, a cluster of buildings along the railroad tracks, mud and water puddling its filthy streets. In my mind’s eye, the whole cabin hangs with nailed serpents, each one with maledictions stitched inside its rotting hide. Each jack pine slithers with the poisoned shade of a cursed soul, watching you with slitted eyes, dripping death from spectral fangs.

How did he sleep at night, with the pine needles rustling against the dry scales of hungry ghosts? The answer is clear–he drank himself into nightly torpor, to drown out the endless rattles of his victims. When he woke up and drug himself into the sunlight to wash his face in the well, did he listen for the sound of reptiles in the leaves?

Originally hailing from rural Northern Michigan, Michael Gosack lives and writes in New Orleans.

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The Raven Man

by JD DeHart

Raven ManFrom the land of ashes, there came a dragon. This dragon was unlike others of his species in stories because he was not interested in gold or princesses; no, this dragon wanted to find the Raven Man.

Some ancient cultures called the man Odin, moving with his one good eye through time. Other people had other names for him.

It was rumored that the Raven Man knew the location of the Clover. Not just any clover, but the Clover, which would allow its owner to reverse any course of action in history. The action could be small or large. The larger the action, the more emotion would be attached to the event.

Every villager and politician assumed the dragon wanted the Clover so that he could amass a fortune or conquer the world. They forged weapons against him to keep him at bay. The dragon’s motive was much simpler than that, recalling the deadly arrows that struck down his serpentine bride.

Every seventy-two and one half years, the Raven Man spent one night in a human body. This was known, as all legend and holy writ is always known. It was also predicted at least once every year until it happened. People had a way of losing count.

Odin did not tell the people he was coming and did not tell them when he arrived. He simply walked among them, his form that of a young man with dark hair. The ravens helped him with this endeavor, covering his gray hair with their feathers. No mortal knew the difference.

They pushed him around and no one would take Odin in. So the one good eye moved among them, searching for someone of worth. The night grew late and Odin heard the heaving breath of what the villagers would call a beast or monster. He perceived the heart of the creature, hidden in the rocks above.

In the morning, the townspeople were startled to see, just over the fences, two dragons playing in a field, pockets of clover freshly grown here and there. Before they could raise their weapons, the two dragons flew away, seeming to touch wings as they flew.

Some said it was odd while others wondered about the whereabouts of the raven-haired man. They never knew the truth that walked among them, instead picking the powerless clusters of clover that had grown among the behemoths.

JD DeHart is the author of two collections, Decaf Days and Sunrise of Tomorrow, available on Amazon. His work has appeared in the Garden of Eden anthology, among other publications.

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