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Stephen the Murderer, A Hungarian folk tale…
HERE was once, I don’t know where, over seven times seven countries, or even beyond that, a very, very rich farmer, and opposite to him lived another farmer just as rich. One had a son and the other a daughter. These two farmers often talked over family matters together at their gates, and at last arranged that their children should marry each other, so that in case the old people died the young people would be able to take possession of the farms. But the young girl could not bear the young man, although he was very fond of her. Then her parents threatened to disinherit her if she did not marry as she was bid, as they were very wishful for the
marriage to take place.
On the wedding morning, when they arrived at church, and were standing before the altar, the bride took the wedding ring and dashed it on the floor before the clergyman, saying, ” Here, Satan, take this ring; and, if ever I bear a child to this man, take it too! ” In a moment the devil appeared, snatched up the ring, and vanished. The priest, seeing and hearing all that was done, declined to proceed with the ceremony, whereupon the fathers remonstrated with him, and declared that if he did not proceed he would lose his living. The wedding thereupon was duly celebrated.
As time went by the farmers both died ; and the young folks, who couldn’t bear each other before, at last grew very fond of each other, and a handsome boy was born. When he was old enough he went to school, where he got on so well that before long his master could teach him no more. He then went to college, where he did the Fame as at school, so that his parents began to think of him taking holy orders. About this time his father died; and he noticed that every night when he came home from the college that his mother was weeping : so he asked her why she wept. ” Never mind me, my son/’ said she; “I am grieving over your father.” “But you never cared much for him/’ said he ; “cheer up, for I shall soon be a priest.” “That’s the very thing I’m weeping over,” said his
mother ; “for just when you will be doing well the devils will come for you, because when I was married to your father I dashed the wedding-ring on the ground, saying, ‘Here, Satan, take this ring ; and if ever I bear a child to this man take it too. One fine day, then, you will be carried off by the devil in the same way as the ring.” “Is this indeed true, mother?” said the student. “It is indeed, my son.” With that he went off to the priest, and said, “Godfather, are these things which my mother tells me concerning her wedding true ?” “My dear godson,” replied the priest, “they are true; for I saw and heard all myself.” “Dear godfather, give me then at once holy candles, holy water, and incense.” “Why do you want them, my son ?” asked the priest. “Because,” replied the student, “I mean to go to hell at once, after that lost ring and the deed of agreement.” “Don’t rush into their hands,” said the priest; “they will come for you soon enough.” But the more the priest talked the more determined was the student to set off at once for the infernal regions.
So off he went, and travelled over seven times seven countries. One evening he arrived at a large forest, and, as darkness set in, he lost his way and roamed about hither and thither looking for some place to rest; at last he found a small cottage where an old woman lived. “Good evening, mother,” said he. “Good luck has brought you here, my son,” said she. “What are you doing out here so late? ” “I have lost my way,” replied the student, “and have come here to ask for a night’s lodging.” “I can give you lodging, my son, but I have a murderous heathen son, who has destroyed three hundred and sixty-six lives, and even now is out robbing. He might return at any moment, and he would kill you; so you had better go some-where else and continue your way in peace, and mind you take care not to meet him.”
“Whether he kill me or not,” said the student, “I shall not stir an inch.” As the old woman could not persuade him to go he stayed. After midnight the son returned, and shouted out loudly under the window, ” Have you got my supper ready?” He then crept in on his knees, for he was so tall that he could not enter otherwise. As they sat at table he suddenly saw the student. ” Mother, what sort of a guest is that?” said he, He’s a poor tramp, my son, and very tired.” “Has he had anything to eat ?” “No; I offered him food, but he was too tired to eat.” “Go and wake him, and say, l Come and eat’ ; because whether he eat or whether he let the food alone he will repent it. 5′
“Hollo!” said the student, “what is the matter?” “Don’t ask any questions,” replied the old woman; ” but come and eat.” The student obeyed, and they sat down to supper. “Don’t eat much,” said the old woman’s son, “because you will repent it if you do eat and you will repent it if you don’t.” While they were eating the old woman’s son said, “Where are you going, mate what is your destination?” “Straight to hell, among the devils,” quoth the student. “It was my intention to kill you with a blow; but now that I know where you are going I will not touch you. Find out for me what sort of a bed they have prepared for me in that place.” “What is your name ?” “My name,” said he, “is Stephen the Murderer.”
In the morning, when they awoke, Stephen gave the student a good breakfast, and showed him which way to go. On he travelled till at length he approached the gates of hell. He then lighted his incense, sprinkled the holy water, and lighted the holy candles. In a very short time the devils began to smell the incense, and ran out, crying, “-What sort of an animal are you? Don’t come here ! Don’t approach this place ; or we will leave it at once !”
“Wherever you go,” said the student, ” I tell you I will follow you; for, on such and such a date, you carried off from the church floor my mother’s wedding-ring ; and if you don’t return it and cancel the agreement, and promise me that I will have no more trouble from you, I will follow you wherever you go.” “Don’t come here,” cried they;” stop where you are, and we will get them for you at once.”
They then blew a whistle and the devils came hastily out from all directions, so many you could not count them, but they could not find the ring anywhere. They sounded the whistle again, and twice as many came as before, but still the ring was not to be found. They then whistled a third time, and twice as many more came. One fellow came limping up, very late. “Why don’t you hurry,” cried the others; don’t you see that a great calamity has happened? The ring can’t be found. Turn out everybody’s pockets, and on who ever it is found throw him into the bed of Stephen the Murderer.’ “Wait a moment,” cried the lame one, “before you throw me into Stephen the Murderer’s bed. I would rather produce three hundred wedding-rings than be thrown into that place,” whereupon he at once produced the ring, which they threw over the wall to the student, together with the agreement, crying out that it was cancelled.
One evening the student arrived back at Stephen the Murderer’s. The latter was out robbing. After midnight, as usual, he returned, and when he saw the student he woke him, saying. “Get up, let’s have something to eat! And have you been to hell?” “I have.” “What have you heard of my bed” “We should never have got the ring,” said the student, “if the devils had not been threatened with your bed.” “Well,” said Stephen, “that must be a bad bed if the devils are afraid of it.”
They got up the next morning, and the student started for home. Suddenly it struck Stephen the Murderer that as the student had made himself happy he ought to do as much for him. So he started after the student, who, when he saw him coming, was very much afraid lest he should be killed. In a stride or two Stephen overtook the student. ” Stop, my friend; as you have bettered your lot, better mine, so that I may not go to that awful bed in hell.” “Well then,” said the student, did you kill your first man with a club or a knife?” “I never killed anybody with a knife,” said Stephen, “they have all been killed with a club.” “Have you got the club you killed the first man with? Go back and fetch it.”
Stephen took one or two strides and was at home. He then took the club from the shelf and brought it to the student ; it was so worm-eaten that you could not put a needle-point on it between the holes. “What sort of wood is this made of?” asked the student. u Wild apple-tree,” replied Stephen. “Take it and come with me,” said the student, “to the top of the rock.” On the top of the rock there was a small hill; into this he bade him plant the club. “Now, uncle Stephen, go down under the rock, and there you will find a small spring trickling down the face of the stone. Go on your knees to this spring and pray, and, creeping on your knees, carry water in your mouth to this club, and continue to do so till it buds; it will then bear apples, and when it does you will be free from that bed.”
Stephen the Murderer began to carry the water to the club, and the student left him, and went home. He was at once made a priest on account of his courage in going to hell; and after he had been a priest for twenty-five years they made him pope, and this he was for many years.
In those days it was the rule- according to an old custom for the pope to make a tour of his country, and it so happened that this pope came to his journey’s end, on the very rock upon which the club had been planted. He stopped there with his suite, in order to rest. Suddenly one of the servants saw a low tree on the top of the rock, covered with beautiful red apples. “Your holiness,” said he to the pope, “I have seen most beautiful red apples, and if you will permit me I will go and gather some.” “Go” said the pope, “and if they are so very beautiful bring some to me.” The servant approached the tree; as he drew near he heard a voice that frightened him terribly saying, “No one is allowed to pluck this fruit except him who planted the tree.” Off rushed the servant to the pope, who asked him if he had brought any apples.
“Your holiness, I did not even get any for myself,” gasped the servant, “because some one shouted to me so loudly that
I nearly dropped; I saw no one, but only heard a voice that said, “No one is allowed to pluck this fruit but the man who planted the tree.'” The pope began to think, and all at once he remembered that he had planted the tree when he was a lad. He ordered the horses to be taken out of his carriage, and, with his servant and his coachman, he set off to the red apple-tree. When they arrived, the pope cried out, u Stephen the Murderer, where are you?” A dried-up skull rolled out, and said, “Here I am, your holiness; all the limbs of my body dropped off whilst I was carrying water, and are scattered all around ; every nerve and muscle lies strewn here; but, if the pope commands, they will all come together.” The pope did so, and the scattered members came together into a heap.
The servant and the coachman were then ordered to open a large, deep hole, and to put the bones into it, and then cover all tip, which they did. The pope then said mass, and gave the absolution, and at that moment Stephen the Murderer was delivered from the dreadful bed in hell. The pope then went back to his own country, where he still lives, if he has not died since.