It’s Going to Be Gross in this Post–Fair Warning

I woke up to a dog with a tiny bloody gash on her head. She apparently wanted me to look at it, but not to do anything about it. And so that’s what I did. I had nightmares all night long, which I directly attribute to writing the zombiefication portion of my sexy zombie story, which now does seem to have a zombie in it.

So, I wrote that part. It was pretty straight-forward. Guy comes down creepy basement stairs he’s not smart enough to be afraid of, guy gets axe in sternum. Crunch. And then, after guy is on the ground, the axe is twisted to crack open said sternum and guy’s death is extracted so that he cannot actually lay down and die until he fulfills his murderer’s wishes, which are, obviously, for more murders, one of which I plan to try to describe in my efforts to experiment with writing actual horror fiction as opposed to unsettling, creepy fiction.

But I had this idea that it would be appropriate for dude’s murderer to grab a hold of each side of the broken sternum and pull it open in a blood eagle and set him loose to kill that way. And then I thought, well, I don’t know. It seems like it would be hard to run around murdering people with your chest all splayed open and your lungs falling on the floor. You slip in a pile of lung juice and your victim is out a bathroom window in the time it takes you to right yourself.

But then I looked up blood eagle on the internet and discovered a.) that now most folks don’t even believe that was a thing that actually happened, just a story that spread about Vikings to illustrate how fucking not to be trifled with they were; and b.) they (supposedly) didn’t go in from the front. They held their victims down, broke the ribs away from the spinal column, and splayed those out, like wings. Then they ripped the lungs out and offered up the soon-to-be dead man to Odin.

I guess they had all fucking day? And where did the floating ribs go? Souvenirs? Dog treats? I mean, really. You have a guy, usually a king, that you’re supposed to be able to hold down long enough to sever each rib away from the spinal column on both sides and break those ribs outwards to form bloody wing looking things and get his lungs out and maybe salt everything to really cause him pain all before he died?

I’m not buying it.

Might they have desecrated bodies in this manner? Oh, sure. I’m willing to buy that. But if you want to get in a person’s chest and rip out their lungs while they’re still alive and aware enough to be horrified by it? I still think your best chance is a swift blow to the sternum with an axe.

Anyway, per the Butcher’s recommendation, I killed off the guy who needed to be killed off. His head came rolling down the basement stairs. I was sad to see him go. The characters who saw his head said “Shit” and “Santa, no!”

23 thoughts on “It’s Going to Be Gross in this Post–Fair Warning

  1. People do pretty extreme things to make a point. Look up “draw and quarter” — which was an actual punishment actually meted out, of which we have actual records. One would think that the criminal might have put up more of a fight, but they seem not to have. Or being burned at the stake: you don’t hear much about the person being tied to the stake trying to get some punches in while it was going on.

    I suspect that there was a combination of things going on. In a society that recognizes a blood eagle or drawing and quartering or whatever as an acceptable death in certain circumstances, the person being killed that way is more likely to accept what’s coming. Plus, fear can be paralyzing. And finally, a good sharp blow to the head before you start doing any of this stuff can keep the person from fighting back.

  2. Oh, and let me say that I think I may not want to read this book. I can’t take stuff like that.

  3. Yeah, dazed terrified people don’t fight back as much as you’d think (according to the surviving records…let me clarify for the benefit of the constabulary). And this strikes me as a “we badass” thing that was a leave-behind to discourage retaliation or an exemplary practice to cow the slave-captives. The Mohawk, for example, did eat small pieces of a few victims in the Mourning War in acts of ritual incorporation, but they did not subsist on human flesh. However, this practice gave them the rep of being cannibalistic mofos and people captured in raids were often surprised and grateful that they didn’t wind up in the stewpot. I suspect the blood eagle worked the same way — a private sacrifice to Odin that also sent the right message to one’s enemies.

    Aw, Santa, no! I hate it when kids get fucked up in horror stories.

  4. Bridgett, I have a serious and even grosser question: did any Indians really and truly do that thing where they cut you open, tied off a loop of your guts, and made you walk around a tree unwinding your intestines by holding a flaming stick to your back? I swear, they taught us in middle school that that was a real torture. I’ve often wondered since then whether I just had a sociopathic social studies teacher instead.

    And ditto on the use of kids for cheap shock. But I trust that B. is better than that. (I hope?)

  5. Yes, there is a record that the Seneca leader Little Beard and his men practiced such a torture (once) on the luckless Lt. Thomas Boyd in mid-September 1779. The context was that General John Sullivan had taken an army of 3500 men into Seneca lands on a “search and destroy” mission aimed at burning Indian crops in the fields and any surplus corn (starving all western NY Indians, not just the combatants), burning villages (so that they’d all be shelterless and freezing in the upcoming winter), and killing as many Indians as they could get their hands on. Boyd and 28 others were scouting (and killing, and scalping…the barbarity cut both ways in this war) on September 13th and had been warned by their Oneida guide Han Yost not to pursue a small group of Seneca who lured them into an ambush — but Boyd ignored the guide and everyone paid for his mistake in a very gruesome painful way. In the resulting ambush, 17 US troops were killed, 7 escaped, and 5 were captured. The leaders (Lt. Boyd and Sgt. Michael Parker) were ritually executed — the others were released, apparently, as I can’t find any mention of what happened to the captured enlisted guys.

    According to another lieutenant, the torture/mutilation was actually even more extreme than your social studies teacher managed to convey. Lt. Erkuries Beatty wrote in his diary that “… on entering the town we found the body of Lt. Boyd and another Rifle Man in a most terrible mangled condition. they were both stripped naked and their heads Cut off and the flesh of Lt. Boyds head was intirely taken of and his eyes punched out. the other mans hed was not there. they was stabed I supose in 40 Diferent places in the Body with a spear and great gashes cut in their flesh with knifes, and Lt. Boyds Privates was nearly cut of & hanging down, his finger and Toe nails was bruised of and the Dogs had eat part of their Shoulders away likewise a knife was Sticking in Lt. Boyds body. They was imediately buried with the honour of war.” Curiously, though, none of the enlisted men’s accounts talk about the unwound intestines….though that might have been covered under “barbarities too shocking to mention.” The take away point for Lt. Moses Fellows was that “we must fight those more than devil as long as we have life rather then to Surender Ourselves prisoner.”

    The Seneca allied with the British, so I guess one could interpret all of this under “bad shit happens when people go to war” but it is telling that Americans in the service of Sullivan blazed “tomahawk rights” on trees with the intention of coming back and seizing the rich farmlands of the Seneca as soon as the war was over. Sullivan’s expedition was both a genocidal attack meant to deny the British allies the means of making war AND a land prospecting run into the western New York frontier. So, even if the Seneca lost the battle or the war, the torture of Boyd was meant to establish to the would-be invaders that they weren’t going to simply roll over.

  6. What’s kind of interesting, now that I think about it, is that a decontextualized one-off torture execution in the middle of a hugely violent and mutually barbaric international war has, over time wound up taught in US schools as “what Indians did.” No specific time, place, people, or reason — just, you know, something to catch the attention of the bored middle school audience. In Ohio and KY schools, I know that we were taught similar things with the unspoken justification of “oh, and here’s why we were totally in the right to civilize and Christianize or retaliate/kill Indians.”

    Weren’t we just talking about the way in which racism functions and racist knowledge is transmitted in spaces/times where it’s officially supposed to be frowned upon? (Sorry, I guess that is a derail…)

  7. nm, I wasn’t doubting that someone would not fight back, if subjected to that. I’m doubting they could regularly stay alive from point “we’re removing your back skin” through the rib cutting and breaking through to “and now we’re pulling out your lungs and salting your wounds.” Sure, I guess if they were knocked on the head, maybe.

    I’m still thinking that, if this happened, either no one expected them to live through to the end or, like I said, it was a terrifying corpse desecration. I still think, if you want someone to be aware of what you’re doing, you’d have to go in through the front and pull those lungs out right quick.

    We may need Rachel to weigh in on this.

    As for the piece, yes, it’s gross and tacky, full of cheep shots. No actual little girls come to any harm, but a supernatural being who’s busy disguising himself as a little girl while buying time to come up with some brilliant plan does not fare as well. And then, obviously, he loses his head.

    Later, of course, he gets it back.

    Ha, oh lord, this may be the October I lose all of my readers.

  8. Bridgett, no worries. It’s an interesting derail, for sure. I’m about to derail a little bit along those same lines by mentioning that, when doing my research into the blood eagle, I learned that people in the 1600s and 1700s were surprised to learn that men had as many ribs as women (expecting, of course, due to Adam giving Eve a rib) and it brought back a memory of being told that in school when I was very young by one of the other kids–that men had one less rib than women. I remember asking the teacher and she would not say that he was wrong. I don’t know if she was afraid that my dad might agree with the kid or something. But it was weird.

  9. Thanks, Bridgett! There may have been a context offered when I was taught about this grossness, but that was long ago and in a galaxy far, far away. Which is actually where I prefer to keep all of middle school in my mind.

    But that SS teacher was a Super Christian outdoorsy macho man type, big into hunting and the Civil War and his mustache. So he proably just liked talking about horrible things to scare the little people and give examples why we should convert the heathen, as you thought.

  10. My impression (which I don’t want to confirm by trying to find the accounts and reread them, because squick) is that persons being drawn and quartered (and, btw, it was really “hanged, drawn, and quartered” b/c they were hanged by the neck first for a while, but not until they were dead) were at least alive when the drawing-out of inside stuff began.

  11. Yes, they were choked by hanging until they passed out, then they’d wake up to the spectacle of being emasculated and having their viscera spilled (after which they’d quickly bleed to death) and then their corpse would be beheaded and sectioned (sometimes pulled apart by horses). After that, the trophy-ized bits would be put on display.

    Kind of puts the Seneca’s behavior in perspective, doesn’t it?

  12. I am glad that the title of this post is what it is so that no one stumbles into this frank discussion of human sadism unawares.

  13. Bridgett, you left out the part about burning the viscera while they were still attached inside at the very end. In front of the person’s eyes, so that if they hadn’t died or passed out they had to see it happening.

    Note that if you were a woman they would just burn you alive for the same crime, since it would be too immodest to have you naked in public. And if you were noble you got a simple beheading, without additional mutilation or grue.

  14. I also left out the anal rape with a heated poker for accused sodomites, the popping out of the eyeballs and letting them dangle from the optic nerve…it’s all pretty barftastic. It’s impossible to overstate the bodily insults issued by the English monarchic state in defense of its own prerogatives.

    So did they pile coals in the body cavity and roast the guts or what? I mean, it sort of sounds like they used the body as its own papillote. I get that it was meant as a prefigurement and exemplary instruction about hell’s torments, but some of this stuff just seems far too out there for humans to visit on one another without inflicting severe psychological damage on the practitioners and witnesses. I guess the idea was to insult the body so terribly as to make people detach from the punished as a person — the ultimate uncitizening, where you couldn’t even summon the memory of his existence without terror.

  15. No, they drew the guts out and set them on fire outside the body, but while still attached inside. There are actual accounts of this, but none of the rape-with-hot-poker scenario, which leads me to believe that it was more mythical than real.

    And I’m sure that drawing and quartering was brutalizing for the onlookers. Richard II, as a child, saw it done to John Ball, as punishment for the Peasants’ Revolt. Now, if you’re 11 years old and are told that this is what rightly happens to people who challenge your right to be king in your own way, is it any wonder that you show some violent (burning down the palace in which your beloved wife has died) and autocratic (banishing your cousin for suspicion of listening to treasonous conversation) tendencies as you get older?

  16. This post features some of the very best, and the worst, that the Internet has to offer.

    I will let you all decide on your own which is which.

    :saluting our gracious and lovely hostess for the fair warning, and … exeunt, hastily to the tintype boys:

  17. Oh, foot, B. I put the wrong data in the wrong box. Please delete previous comment, and please accept my thanks for the post (and the warning).


  18. Again, I thank you, our gracious hostess. And sit in awe of your creative process. I have done some research in my time for projects, both fiction and non-, but boy howdy.


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