Myth Monday: The Flying Head Monster (Iroquois Legend)
Myth Monday: The Flying Head Monster (Iroquois Legend)
Hundreds of years ago in what we now call upstate New York, the people of the Iroquois Confederacy—the tribes of the Seneca, the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Cayuga, and the Onondaga—were terrorized by a horrific assortment of monsters, demons and giants, all seeking to hunt down and devour the humans. Perhaps the worst of these creatures was the one called Flying Head. Flying Head was a huge, bodiless head that flew through the air at night on a pair of black bat wings, seeking out its human prey. Its face was dark black and green, ragged and putrid, the skin drawn back and shriveled like a corpse, the nose a collapsed black pit in the center. Its mouth was ringed in spear-like fangs, and its enormous bulging eyes, though clouded like those of a dead man, blazed with an infernal red glow. It moved as rapidly as a bird in flight, and nothing—not the palisade walls, not the war clubs and arrows of the warriors—nothing could stop Flying Head once it set out to hunt.
The Iroquois lived in constant fear of Flying Head. There was no way to fight the monster, so guards were placed to keep watch. Once the demon was seen in the distance, the guards alerted their villages, and all within fled into the woodland as fast as they could, leaping into canoes and paddling for their lives.
Those that could not flee were devoured, eaten alive, and their anguished screams rang out through the night, filling the survivors with despair.
One day as dusk fell, the silhouette of Flying Head was seen on the horizon, and the guards raised the alarm. As the people prepared to flee, one young woman, cradling her infant child, walked back into her longhouse and sat resolutely down by the central fire.
Frightened, her husband ran in to the longhouse after her. “What are you doing?” he cried. “Flying Head is coming. We have to leave now!”
Setting her jaw, the young woman tossed a handful of kindling onto the growling fire. “I’m not running,” she said, her voice firm. “This thing has eaten my parents and grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my brothers and sisters. I will avenge their deaths.”
“How? No weapon can stop this thing!”
“I don’t need a weapon.” Seeing the terror on her husband’s face, the woman smiled gently. “Go now, before you run out of time.”
Too overcome with fear to protest, the man turned and ran, his hear breaking, certain he would never see his wife and child again. His wife watched her husband run for his life, and, for a moment, a pang of doubt sprang inside of her, cold and sharp as an icicle.
Could she really defeat Flying Head?
Shaking herself off, the woman turned back to her fire, throwing more kindling on top, adding logs once the flames grew hot enough. She poked and prodded the burning wood until it crumbled into piles of glowing red coals. When she had a pile big enough, she picked up a small, forked twig and waited.
The woman didn’t have to wait long. Clutching her baby tighter, the woman shivered as she heard Flying Head swoop down over the tall spiked logs ringing her village, roaring in anger as it smashed through one longhouse and then another, furious that it couldn’t find any humans within to eat.
Hearing the monster drawing closer, the woman slid the forked twig under a blazing coal and lifted up. Bracing herself, she lifted the coal up towards her face.
With a scream of rage, Flying Head crashed into the front entrance of the woman’s longhouse, shattering the bark walls and the log struts. Its gray teeth scythed through the air as it growled, thrashing its head back and forth to knock the walls and ceiling down.
“Hah!” it snarled, the withered face splitting into a jagged grin. Its pointed, blistered, blue-purple tongue slid out past its cracked lips, licking them hungrily. “Found you! Though you’re hardly enough to satisfy me, you’ll do well enough as a snack!”
Fighting to keep her hand form shaking, the woman nodded solemnly. “All right,” she said, astounded by how steady her voice sounded. “Just let me finish my dinner first.”
Tilting her head back, the woman opened her mouth wide and lifted the coal up. Holding the forked twig near her mouth, the woman, knowing Flying Head couldn’t see from the angle where it hovered, let the coal slide past her face, dropping harmlessly to the ground behind her. She pretended to chew and reached out to scoop up another hot coal.
Flying Head looked at the fire curiously. “What could you be eating that could be so good that it would keep you from running away from me?”
The woman tipped her head back, opened her mouth, and allowed another coal to fall safely behind her. “Roasted acorns,” she answered, pretending to speak through a full mouth.
Flying Head’s mouth dropped open. “Roasted acorns? You knew I was coming, but you stayed to eat roasted acorns?”
Much as the sight of the demon disgusted her, the woman shot Flying Head a disdainful glare. “Why not? They’re the best!”
“They are not.”
Snorting derisively, the woman gestured to the coals. “Try them for yourself. You’ll see.”
“All right, I will!” Opening its hideous mouth wide, the Flying Head shot forward, swooping down on the coals and scooping every last one in its mouth.
Instantly, Flying Head’s eyes bugged out and it shrieked, smoke pouring from its mouth as the coals burned through its desiccated flesh. Screaming in agony, Flying Head whipped around and blasted out of the ruined longhouse, its ugly bat wings flapping as hard as they could as it fled into the forest.
The next morning, the Iroquois cautiously crept back into their village, fearing the destruction they would find there. Instead, to their amazement, delight and pride, they found the young mother sitting outside her wrecked longhouse, happily playing with her baby.
And Flying Head was never seen again.