Holy underthings, Batman, this story scared the beejesus out of me! For serious, you guys. This story is quite possibly the scariest story I’ve ever read. Not just for R.I.P. Not just in terms of short-stories. The SCARIEST. STORY. EVER. I mean, yeah, Poe was all sinister and creepy and kinda scary. Sure. But “The Squaw”? No comparison. I’ve got to give this one to Stoker, evermore (get it? a play on ‘nevermore’? Man, I’m freaking Poe-larious. :P)
“The Squaw” begins blandly enough. Amelia and her husband – our unnamed narrator – are a couple of tourists (it’s not made clear whether they are American or British, if it matters) who are joined by a man from Nebraska named Elias P. Hutcheson on their trip to visit Nurnburg to see, of course, various medieval torture devices. Amelia and her husband are on their honeymoon, and Elias is passing through on his way to visit a friend in a village up the road. As they are touring Nurnburg, walking along an outer wall on their way to the torture chamber, Elias spies a cat and her kitten play with a small rock. Thinking it funny, Elias then picks up a stone to drop to frighten the kitty (after a good round of back-and-forth “no don’t, you’ll hurt the kitty” from Amelia and “no, I won’t, it’ll be fine” from Elias). It is, of course, not fine. For those of you who haven’t read the story, I caution you that the following passage is a little intense. And gross. But, well, that’s the story for you. Turn away now if you need to:
Thus saying, he leaned over and held his arm out at full length and dropped the stone. It may be that there is some attractive force which draws lesser matters to greater; or more probably that the wall was not plump but sloped to its base—we not noticing the inclination from above; but the stone fell with a sickening thud that came up to us through the hot air, right on the kitten’s head, and shattered out its little brains then and there. The black cat cast a swift upward glance, and we saw her eyes like green fire fixed an instant on Elias P. Hutcheson; and then her attention was given to the kitten, which lay still with just a quiver of her tiny limbs, whilst a thin red stream trickled from a gaping wound. With a muffled cry, such as a human being might give, she bent over the kitten licking its wounds and moaning. Suddenly she seemed to realise that it was dead, and again threw her eyes up at us. I shall never forget the sight, for she looked the perfect incarnation of hate.
So…yeah. Needless to say, the cat is now thoroughly enraged at Elias. (SIDE RANT: I totally don’t blame the cat – and I hate cats! Now, before you freak out, I know that many of my lovely readers and fellow bloggers are cat owners, and proud of it. Don’t get me wrong. I know plenty of individual cats who are very loving and cuddly. I’m sure yours is one of these types. However, my experience with the species has usually meant a haughty attitude and numerous scratches. Plus, I’m horribly allergic. So, even considering this, continue it quite the statement for me to say that I was TOTALLY on the side of the cat the entire time!) And, also needless to say, Amelia faints and needs to be revived. As she’s reviving, Elias tells her a story about how the cat reminds him on an Indian ‘squaw’ he saw once who killed a man viciously for stealing her baby (yeah, right? great recovery story). The three continue to the main torture chamber, the cat is following them from the yard below, relentlessly trying to jump up the wall and gain access to her human companions. But then the three enter the display of torture tools and the cat is virtually forgotten.
The entire length of the story, the reader is told that all the three people really want to see is this thing called the Iron Virgin. As Stoker describes:
It was a rudely-shaped figure of a woman, something of the bell order, or, to make a closer comparison, of the figure of Mrs. Noah in the children’s Ark, but without that slimness of waist and perfect rondeur of hip which marks the aesthetic type of the Noah family. One would hardly have recognised it as intended for a human figure at all had not the founder shaped on the forehead a rude semblance of a woman’s face…The inside was honeycombed with rust—nay more, the rust alone that comes through time would hardly have eaten so deep into the iron walls; the rust of the cruel stains was deep indeed! It was only, however, when we came to look at the inside of the door that the diabolical intention was manifest to the full. Here were several long spikes, square and massive, broad at the base and sharp at the points, placed in such a position that when the door should close the upper ones would pierce the eyes of the victim, and the lower ones his heart and vitals.
And then, there it is. In the middle of the room, where they can inspect it from a distance. But that’s not enough for Elias*. He decides he wants to really live, to be tied up and to lean inside the thing**. This proves to be a horrible decision. **BEGIN SPOILERS: Remember that pissed off cat whose baby Elias killed, who the three characters have forgotten about? Yeah, the cat didn’t forget about them. While Elias is leaning up inside the Iron Virgin, asking the decrepit old display manager to please slowly lower the VERY heavy iron door so he can “feel the same pleasure as the other jays had when those spikes began to move toward their eyes”***, the cat suddenly saunters in from around the corner. At the least moment, and just as Elias is getting ready to make his way out his unfortunate positioning, Amelia yells out to watch out for the cat. But the cat doesn’t go for Elias. As he’s preparing to exit, the cat suddenly lunges at the decrepit display manager, clawing in to his face and making him drop the only rope supporting the hundreds-of-pound iron door. And then it’s lights out for Elias. In a major, painful way. And the worst part?:
sitting on the head of the poor American was the cat, purring loudly as she licked the blood which trickled through the gashed socket of his eyes.
**END OF SPOILERS!!!**
And at the very end? Well, the cat doesn’t survive. Let’s put it that way.
I’m not sure what it was about this story that really did it for me. It was most likely the fact that I felt SO ENRAGED on behalf of the cat that it was almost gratifying to see the man get his just rewards – and that feeling that in myself kind of creeps me out. Maybe it’s the underlying human nature of this cat, who can plot, plan, and wait for cold revenge, and then seem to take pleasure in it. I think a lot of it also had to do with the fact that, despite everything, if Elias had just not been an idiot (on multiple occasions), this could have been avoided. Much like The Shining, which I posted on not too long ago, this leads to ideas of the scariest and darkest things in the world coming from inside us, not from exterior ghosts and ghouls. Which, when you think about it, is a truly terrifying concept. This was another great read for Carl V.’s R.I.P. Challenge and I hope that, whatever you’re reading, you’re having a great time with it!
*: This is the first point in the story where I was like ‘Seriously?! The cat thing wasn’t bad enough? Elias, you don’t have it all there, do you?’
**: ‘SERIOUSLY?! Like, are you for real? You just watched a frail old man use all of the strength to wrench this death trap open, and you want to…to…SERIOUSLY?!’
***: ‘OHMYGOODNESS YOU JUST DESERVE TO DIE. Maybe that’s callous, Elias, but you do. Survival of the fittest does not include voluntarily wanting a torture device capable of tearing out your eyes to be lowered closer to said eyes. You just lost all my sympathy. Well, everything you still had after killing the kitty.’