I spent so much of my childhood wishing I was older. Now I suspect that I’ve forgotten about 95% of what happened to me as a kid. But I’ve never forgotten the day I brought home a book called Monsters You’ve Never Heard Of from the library.
I read a lot now and I read even more then. Most of the books I remember reading in my childhood are probably still in my head either because they’re either classics or I still read them occasionally as an adult. There is only one story I remember from that book, however. I think about it at least once a week, and it’s been 20 years. It had an effect on me that I can’t explain.
As was my custom, I came home, went into my room, put my feet up, and read as much of the book as possible before I had to go downstairs for dinner.
The Burr Woman
The story is simple and unremarkable. But there were images in it that gave me fits. I would not lie down in my bed for weeks without thinking of The Burr Woman.
A group of men on a professional expedition in the southwestern United States–I don’t remember what they were doing–are going about their business when one of them notices movement. Something darts from cactus to cactus. Suddenly it runs towards one of the men and jumps onto his back.
It is a tiny, furry, grayish woman. Her hands dig inside of his shoulder. Her feet pierce his torso and wrap around his ribs. Of course they can’t pull her off.
Soon she is whispering in the man’s ear and influencing his actions. The man confides in the narrator and says that he is going crazy, which isn’t surprising.
The story ends with the poor guy running towards a cliff while the narrator watches. “Run! She’ll come for you next!” he screams before diving to his death.
The narrator runs to the edge and looks down. His friend is lying face down on the rocks. The Burr Woman pulls her hands and feet out of the man and looks up. She begins to scramble up the cliff towards the narrator.
When the story ends, he is whipping his horse trying to get away just as she drags herself over the edge of the cliff and lopes after him.
Even now, it makes me shiver. I don’t know what it is about the imagery that affects me so badly. Maybe I’ve just had too many women with their hooks in me. I kid! I kid!
That book is out of print, but variations of The Burr Woman can be found in several Native American myths. Weird stuff. Weird enough that I have carried that story in my head for two decades now.
I love Halloween.
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