Moroccan Folktales: Chapter One (Part 2)
*please read chapter one part I if you haven’t done so already.
“The next day arrived, and by nightfall the ghoul was at the girl’s doorstep once again. He repeated his request and was denied, just as he was the night before. He stomped, broke down the next door, and went home. This process happened over and over for the next few days.
On the 6th evening, the ghoul went home again, leaving the helpless young girl even more anxious than ever before. There was only one door left before the ghoul would finally break into her home and eat her. What can she do? Who can save her? Tears welled up in her eyes. She kept wringing her hands and praying in desperation.
As if on cue, a little bird perched outside her window. A spark of hope filled her as she ran to the window to open it.
“Please, little bird,” the girl pleaded. “Find my brother in the city and tell him I’m in danger. He has to be back before tomorrow night!”
The bird flew to the city as fast as his wings could carry him. He found the brother outside in the streets, going about his business. Upon finding him, the bird flew down and chirped the message to him. The young man, alarmed, immediately headed home, anxious for what awaited him there. He reached his destination the next afternoon, and when he saw the broken doors his heart dropped.
He burst into the house and found his little sister cowering in a corner. Relieved, he embraced her, and then angrily asked her questions.
“Why did you go out when I told you to never open the doors?!” he demanded.
Still sobbing, the young man’s sister explained her story from these past few days. She told him of the cat who peed on her matches and left her, her subsequent starvation, and the ghoul who tricked her and is now attempting to eat her.
“Why didn’t you just share that chickpea with the cat?” he grabbed his head in exasperation. “There’s two parts to it. It could’ve been split easily!”
“I’m sorry, I thought the cat was still asleep!” the girl wailed back. “There’s nothing I can do about it!”
Frustrated, her brother glanced back at the last door still standing and closed his eyes. Then he began to think.
“We don’t have time for this,” he said. He reached for his sister and grabbed her shoulders. “For now, just do as I say. The ghoul is going to come no matter what. Understand that? And when he does, you have to be rude. Make him angry.”
“But won’t that make him more determined to eat us?”
“I’d like to see him try,” the brother retorts with a dangerous glint in his eyes. He pulls out his sword and locks the last door. “For now, we wait.”
The sun set, the moon rose, and the tension continued to grow in the little house in the forest. The girl and her brother sat away from the door and waited for their visitor. He finally arrived in the dead of night, knocking on the door when the moon was at the highest point in the night sky.
“Who is it?” the girl sang out, like she always did.
“Please open, sister,” the ghoul sang back. He licked his lips, anticipating his luck in entering the house tonight.
“I will not, you ugly ghoul,” the girl responded flatly.
Enraged at her rude response, the ghoul stomped on the last door. It did not take him long to break in this time. He stepped inside the house, and the girl’s heart began to race wildly.
The ghoul immediately advanced towards her. She cowered, terror filling her core as she realized this was the end.
When the ghoul was close enough, the girl’s brother suddenly jumped out of his hiding spot in the shadows. The ghoul did not have time to react. Before he knew it, the young man slashed his head off with his sword. The head rolled on the ground, the eyes hauntingly looking around still. The rest of its body thudded to the ground shortly after the head.
Stunned, the siblings stared at the corpse of the ghoul. Their breaths were still ragged, and their heart rates took several moments to calm down. After a long stretch of silence, they began to relax, breathing a collective sigh of relief. The young man sheathed his sword once again.
The moment did not last long. The ghoul’s body began to move again, and then it quickly stood up. The brother unsheathed his sword once again, his senses on high alert. Terrified, the siblings witnessed the ghoul grow another head before their eyes. The brother moved forward and slashed his head off again without hesitation, and another head grew in its place, this time almost immediately. He slashed the next head, only to watch it grow back again. The ghoul smirked, taunting the brother to slash again, and he did. Again, and again. And again. The heads continued to fall off, one even rolling across the room towards the little sister. She screamed when it grinned at her.
After the 6th head, the brother stopped slashing. He leaped back in a defensive stance. He waited for the ghoul to attack, but for some reason the ghoul stayed in place, waiting. To the brother’s confusion, the ghoul looked… worried.
“What are you waiting for?” the ghoul demanded. “Cut my head off again.”
“No,” the brother responded, clasping the hilt of his sword so hard his knuckles were white. A bead of sweat dripped on his forehead. In his high-alert state, he recalled a legend about the forest ghoul who could grow back his head. Many have died trying to behead him, only to find that the head would grow back, and out of despair they give up and accept their death. The brother tried desperately to recall the rest of the tale as he faced off against the ghoul in front of him. What was the ending? How can the ghoul die?
The young man glanced at his little sister, who stood behind him and had tears welling in her eyes. He clenched his teeth and looked back at the ghoul. The memory of the tale began to sink in. The ghoul has several lives, but the 7th life is the shortest. The ghoul will die unless his head is slashed one more time. The brother was not sure if it would work, but he had to try anyway.
It was a gamble, but he chose to wait.
“Do it,” the ghoul coaxed. He grinned sinisterly and took a step forward. “Or do you want me to eat your sweet little sister first? You seem like the overprotective type. I’m sure you warned her of things like me that lurk at night.” The ghoul snarled, drool dripping from his lips. The little sister began to sob at the sight. “Of course, she didn’t listen,” the ghoul continued, almost crooning. “You left her all alone for days, and she had no one to go to, poor thing. When I saw her appear at my doorstep, I had to keep myself from eating her flesh right then and there. But oh no, I had to be patient. I had to wait for her big brother to come so I can eat him, too. I suggest you behead me again, before I have you watch me eat her. Don’t worry, there’ll be room for two meals tonight. I’ll save you for last.”
This may be the last thing I ever do, the young man thought. It was a maddening thought. He unsheathed his sword and stood up straight. “No,” the young man responded, folding his arms across his chest. “I won’t do it.”
This time both the little girl and the ghoul’s eyes widened. The ghoul pleaded some more. The young man refused again. The ghoul threatened some more. Still the young man refused, standing his ground defiantly with his arms crossed.
After more pleading, the ghoul started to choke. He clutched at his neck. His eyes started to bulge. He took a step forward, fear and rage consuming his features. The siblings backed up as the ghoul continued to slowly advance towards them. The little sister grabbed her brother’s arm, trembling.
Right before the ghoul reached them, he collapsed.
The siblings stood on alert even longer this time, not daring to raise their hopes or let their guards down. An eternity seemed to stretch. Still the ghoul did not stir.
The brother was the first to relax. “It’s over,” he said. He sheathed his sword to wipe off the blood, then looked around at the wreckage and ghoul remains in the house. “I think it’s time to find a new place to live.”