The word continues to make skin craw and hair stand on end. Walk out on a full moon night. Breathe in the cool night air. Look at the stars and marvel at their infinite vastness. Hear the crickets’ serenade. Mention the word – vampire.
You have to look over your shoulder, don’t you?
Vampire myths occur in just about every part of the world. There are variations, but all have the lust for blood in common. When Bram Stoker published Dracula in the late 19th century, vampire fiction was never the same. Today, the evolution of this genre is still continuing.
In the Caribbean, there is a legend of a blood-sucking hag known as soucouyant. 1 Like a snake, the old woman is said to shed her skin and change into a fireball that rockets across the night sky in search of prey. The creature is able to gain entry into any home. No slit or crack is too small. Every body part is a waiting feast for the soucouyant – arms, legs, or abdomen. And when you awaken from slumber, you know you’ve been attacked by the blue and black marks on your body. 2
So, what happens if the hag drinks too much – a bloody hangover? No. The victim, according to the legend, either dies or becomes a hag, too. (Neither choice is too palatable, is it?) 3
And why does this creature go sipping her bloody cocktails in the first place?
She ‘vants toooo drink your blood’ to trade it to Bazil, a demon who lives in silk cotton trees, not for a tree house with a better view or anything like that, but because she practices black magic, she trades the blood for evil powers. 4
So, you think you might have one of these monsters slithering under the crack of your door? Who ya’ gonna call? A soucouyant buster.
I don’t know of any listed in the yellow pages, right off hand.
It goes back to one of those legends about stopping vampires. You heap rice around your house or at the crossroads. 5 Apparently, vampires and soucouyants suffer from OCD. They simply cannot pass a big pile of the stuff without picking up every grain. (Sort of like getting ready for a really hot date and discovering the black sweater you’re wearing looks like you’ve come in from a snow storm – not snowing at all. Just a super bad case of heavy dandruff. Can we all say freak out time?)
Anyway, to get back to the legend, while the hag is busy picking up every single grain of rice – not something you do in thirty seconds or less – the sun rises. If you can find where she shed her skin, dump coarse salt into it. This prevents her from donning her skin. (Talk about an outdated wardrobe!)
People in the Caribbeans still believe in these hags. They belong to spirits known as Jumbees. 6
Much like the vampire myth, some ways to escape jumbees include:
Leave a pair of shoes outside the front door. Some jumbees have no feet, or they walk backwards. The jumbee will spend the rest of the night trying to put on the shoes and leave your house alone. 7
Heaps of sand or rice outside a door keep the obsessively curious jumbee busy counting every grain until the sunrises. Or a rope with tons of knots will keep a jumbee just as occupied until that big orange orb peeks over the horizon. 8
If you must stay out late working, or heaven forbid partying or such, walk backwards so the jumbee cannot follow you inside your house. 9
(And if your neighbors are peeking out the window and see you doing this, how will you ever convince them you’re not sloshed?)
If you’re out and about and a jumbee is hot on your trail, try crossing a river. Jumbees can’t follow you over the river. 10
In the French West Indies, there is the soukougnan. She is also believed to be a person who sheds her skin and turns into a fireball, but the difference here is that young women can be this type of vampire, too. Women get this ignoble honor because it is believed that only females have breasts that can camouflage the beast’s wings. 11
(Like how large are the wings here?)
So, here’s a happy picture:
You’re driving home late at night. Your car breaks down. You twist on the key in that ignition until you think you’ll bend it in two. Nothing. Not even a sputter, a groan of the engine, a back-firing pop. You’re on a lonely, deserted road beside an ancient cemetery. Gravestones glow under the silver light of a low full moon. The black silhouette of a large owl sits on a skeletal branch of a leafless tree limb. His head spins your way, and you see his spectral eyes glowing in the dark.
Beside the graveyard is a small hut. You can just make out the sliver of smoke rising from the chimney. You take the key out of the switch and open the door. The heel of your boot snaps a dry twig, and dead leaves crunch beneath your step. You knock on the door. It creaks slowly open.
There beside the fire is a mortar full of wrinkled, discarded skin.
What do you do?
Sprinkle hot red pepper – that you handily happen to carry with you in your pocket at all times – on the skin. When the vampire-witch returns, she’ll put the skin back on and snap, crackle and (oh, please stop!), she’ll turn to toast or charcoal. Well, you get the picture.