Dullahan, Dullahan, carries around her head
Dullahan, Dullahan, calls your name, you’re dead
Her whip’s made of spine; her wagon’s made of bone
Cross her path in any way, you’re going to die alone.
Children’s poem, ancient Ireland
He dreamed of death. Through the midnight fog, he spotted a wagon. It was parked in a small clearing in the woods. He walked towards it, wiping sweat from his face despite the cool night air.
The wagon was a standard shape with four lit candles inside skulls secured to each corner. As he circled it, the stench of rotting flesh permeated his nose. He gagged and forced the bile back down. Through the candlelight, he could pick out the wheel spokes made of human thigh bones.
Fear ran up his spine. As he turned to walk away, he found his feet planted in place. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing escaped.
A sound of low murmuring caught his ear. It was coming from the wagon. To his horror he saw the stretched faces of skin that covered the frame, their grotesque mouths singing undecipherable songs.
He closed his eyes and cursed. When he opened them again, the wagon was replaced by two figures. A small dark-haired girl wearing a bloody pink shirt was holding the hand of a headless woman. Dirty clothes hung off the skeletal frame of the woman who held a cast iron metal basket.
To the man’s horror, he saw a disfigured face with rotting skin peeking out from between the iron bands of the basket. It was laughing. The headless creature released the girl and a long whip made of the bones of a human spine appeared in her hand. Laughter filled the air as the creature snapped the whip…
The man screamed as he shot up in bed, the moon illuminating the room. His clothes and sheets were wet. The shoddy suitcase still on the chair by the window. The gun on his bedside table.
The man wiped his face and got out of bed. He was still shaking as he walked to the bathroom and turned on the light. He washed his face in the sink and glanced at himself. The lines ran as deep as his conscience. He gripped the sides of the sink and touched his forehead to the mirror. Glancing into his accusing eyes, he found no comfort, only guilt.
“They’ll never find her,” he said aloud. “They’ll never find her.”
He tore away from his judging reflection and walked out of the bathroom, extinguishing the light. Back in the bedroom, he grabbed his suitcase and the gun, put on his coat and boots, and took a final look around. Satisfied he’d left nothing behind, the man exited the room and walked down the stairs.
The front door slammed behind him. He opened the trunk of his black Dodge K car and threw the suitcase in. Grabbing the container of gasoline by the side of the house, he pulled off the lid and poured the liquid up the front stairs and along the porch. Minutes later the can was empty and sitting in the middle of the living room. Outside again, he lit a match and ignited the gas.
The flames climbed the front steps with a ferocious hunger and soon the whole house was ablaze. He stood and watched for a few moments, his breath floating in the cold air. He was about to turn toward the car when he saw the young girl’s face in window. She was dirty and wearing her bloody pink shirt. She was pointing at him as the top floor collapsed, then she disappeared.
The sound of the burning house shook him from his stupor. He turned and ran to the car. The engine turned over immediately, and he sped away.
Breathing heavily, he reminded himself that the house was five miles from the main road and the chances of anyone seeing the flames was remote. The nearest town was ten miles away and the fire would burn out before starting a forest fire. He grew calmer the further he drove. Soon he found himself laughing.
The full moon lit the road as the car sped along. His hands relaxed on the steering wheel, and he started to think about the insurance money. A devious smile stretched across his face.
It was a five-hour drive to the house. Raymond’s young niece Sarah was excited and kept peppering him with questions about the old house and what they were going to do there. He explained that the house belonged to his cousin on his mother’s side who lived on the west coast. The house was hardly used, and they were doing his cousin a favour by staying there and checking it out.
“It’s too bad Aunt Tammy couldn’t join us,” she lamented. Sarah had grown close to Raymond’s wife Tammy after the death of her own parents, Tammy’s sister and brother-in-law, earlier that year.
“Yes, it’s too bad,” he said, remembering Tammy’s last words: Make it quick.
Sarah was singing along with the radio as they approached the turnoff. It was midafternoon when he parked in front of the house. Sarah got out of the car and ran inside. He got out of the car and opened the trunk.
“Uncle Raymond, come on!” Sarah yelled from the upstairs bedroom.
Raymond grabbed his suitcase and walked into the house.
As Raymond drove, he noticed glow coming from the right. He turned to see a group of horses pulling an old wagon and keeping up with the car. Fire shot from the nostrils of the horses as they ran. He swore they were running above the ground.
The car slid and he fought to keep the wheels straight. Trying to concentrate on the road, Raymond couldn’t keep his eyes off the racing apparition. The car slid again. As he gripped the wheel, his niece appeared on the road ahead of him. Raymond screamed and lost control of the car. A large tree filed the windshield as the car slammed into the base of it.
The deed was easier than Raymond thought it would be. Sarah’s shocked eyes at the sight of the knife were now lifeless as they stared into the grey sky. She lay in the hole he had dug when he’d visited a few days earlier to prepare, her pink t-shirt covered in blood. Raymond didn’t look at her as he filled in the hole in between shots of whiskey.
When he finished, he covered the mound with green and red leaves. Back at the house, he finished the bottle and lay down. He couldn’t leave until it was dark and decided to have a short nap. Burning the house as he left not only covered any evidence, but it was also a shot at his cousin who he hated. He closed his eyes and dreamed of death.
Raymond pushed himself off the steering wheel and fell back in his seat. His chest exploded in pain. He wiped the blood from his eyes, fumbled with the seatbelt and fell out of the open door.
He lay on the ground for a few minutes before staggering to his feet. He looked at the wrecked car and his perfect plan sank along with him to his knees. As he cursed and pounded his fist on the ground, a glow appeared from behind him.
He turned to see Sarah standing in front of the horses and wagon. The headless woman from his dream stood next to her. The spinal whip was in her right hand. In her left hand, she was holding a head by its long hair. The head was laughing.
Sarah’s eyes bore though him.
“Why?” she asked.
Raymond coughed up blood and stuttered. He couldn’t put two words together as he tried to explain. Eventually he gave up and just stared at her.
Sarah looked at him. She turned towards the woman and nodded. She glanced at Raymond once more and walked into the woods. A soft glow surrounded her as she disappeared.
Raymond turned his gaze to the woman. She walked towards him waving the whip in her hand. The air grew colder as Raymond stared at the disembodied head. It gave a cackling laugh and screamed, “Raymond O’Brien!”
A dozen black, grotesque hands emerged from the ground and grabbed him. He tried to scream but he couldn’t open his mouth. The head’s eyes stared and laughed at Raymond as he was pulled into the dark.
Two weeks later.
Tammy O’Brien stood in front of the graves of her sister and brother-in-law. Sarah’s and Raymond’s graves lay next to them. The newly fallen snow was up to her ankles and the cold air forced her hands into the pockets of her parka. In her purse was the money from the insurance company.
As she exited the cemetery, Tammy smiled to herself. She’d hated her sister and her brother-in-law and their perfect life. They had money, two houses and rich friends while she and Raymond struggled. After they died on holiday, Tammy was furious that their wills had set up a trust fund for Sarah that couldn’t be touched until she was twenty-one. They needed the money more than a new mouth to feed.
It had been so easy to convince Raymond to do the deed. He would do anything for her. She hadn’t counted on Raymond dying but the stupid bastard did her a favour—now she didn’t have to share the money with anyone.
As she got into her car, Tammy laughed as she thought about how easy it was to play the damsel in distress. The police were satisfied with her statement about Raymond being abusive and wanting to kill Sarah. Following her directions, the police found the burned house, Sarah’s grave, and Raymond’s body next to the wrecked car.
The insurance agent was efficient and soon the cheque was cut and cashed. She cried at the funerals and soaked in the sympathy. It was perfect.
When she arrived home, she stepped into her front hall and was greeted by the cold. She checked the thermostat to be sure of its settings and walked into the basement to check the furnace. She pulled her parka close as she walked down the stairs. To her surprise, Tammy found the furnace working properly.
Confused, she turned and saw a small figure in the shadows. Before she could scream, she was grabbed from behind, one arm pinning hers, a cold hand over her mouth.
As she struggled, the small figure walked out of the darkness. It was Sarah, still wearing her bloody pink t-shirt and covered in mud. In her right hand, she held a rotting head by its hair. It had a sinister smile on its face.
Tammy screamed through the hand covering her mouth. In the reflection of the shiny ducts of the furnace, Tammy saw her captor. Her eyes widened as she recognized Raymond, a smile stretched across his entire face.
Tammy turned back to Sarah as she struggled against Raymond. Sarah, still holding the head by the hair with her right hand, carried a strange-looking whip in the left. She took a couple of steps forward and smiled at her aunt.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Aunt Tammy.” She held the head up in the air. “My friend here has something to say.”
Tammy made one last effort to get away as Sarah snapped the whip and the head screamed, “Tammy O’Brien!”