Years ago, in Ireland, there was a young girl named Mary Culhane. Her family was very poor and they lived in a white-washed cottage, down a country lane. She had six younger brothers and sisters and spent a lot of her time taking care of them. Her father worked as a grave digger in the local cemetery, next to the Catholic church. It was the only job he could get because he had been born with a bad leg.
One day, when her father came home, he sat down sighed. He was extremely tired after working all day.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I left my blackthorn walking stick back at the graveyard. If I don’t go back for it, someone will steal it. It was the last thing my poor departed father gave me before he died. I can barely walk without it.”
Mary Culhane was always a helpful girl and she knew how tired her father was. She fetched her shawl and said, “I’ll get it for you, Daddy!” She ran out the door before anyone could stop her. At the time, many people in Ireland were superstitious and nobody dared to go into a cemetery after dark.
By the time Mary reached the gates of the graveyard, the moon was out and the wind was whistling through the trees. She carefully walked around the graves, making sure she didn’t step on any of the,, because that would mean bad luck for her.
She spotted the blackthorn walking stick lying against an old oak tree and ran over to pick it up. Unfortunately, she wasn’t looking where she was going and fell into a freshly-dug grave.
She got up on her hands and knees and tried to climb out, but the grave was too deep. Suddenly, she felt something crawling up her back.
A chilling voice whispered in her ear, “Little girl, I have been waiting a long time for someone to drop by. Now that you’re here, you must take me into town to get something to eat. I have a terrible hunger and an awful thirst on me.”
Mary’s heart skipped a beat. She knew that the thing that was whispering in her ear could not be alive. She could feel its rotting fingers stroking her hair and its fetid breath blowing against her neck. The dead thing’s arms wrapped around her body and she could feel its ribcage digging into her back.
She was helpless and alone. There was no doubt that the dead man would surely kill her if she didn’t do his bidding. She reached up to the grave’s edge and took hold of two clumps of grass. Then, she pulled with all her might. She felt the weight of the dead man dragging on her shoulders. Somehow, she managed to lift herself out of the grave with the corpse clinging to her back.
As she lay in the mucky grass, trying to regain her breath, the corpse screamed in her ear, “Get up, young girl! Get up and carry me into town. I’ll ride you like a horse!”
Mary slowly got to her feet, and with the dead man straddling her back, she trudged towards the village. When they came to the main road, and saw a house, the dead man hissed, “Take me into this here house so that I may feed.”
Mary climbed up the steps with great difficulty. When they reached the front door, the corpse cried out, “Not here! Not here, for I do smell the stench of holy water!”
The frightened girl walked back down the steps and went to the next house. Again, as they reached the front door, the corpse cried out, “Oh No! Away with us, for I do get the stink of holy water here as well.”
Mary walked on down the road until they came to a third house. “This is a house that has no holy water,” hissed the dead man. “Take me into the kitchen and I’ll find myself a bit to eat.”
Mary walked down the darkened hallway to the kitchen. There she let the corpse slide off her back and onto a chair. All that was in the cupboard was some porridge and some dirty water.
“I’ll teach these vagabonds and blackguards not leave me anything. Let me on your back.” Again Mary did as the dead man commanded her to do. “Now take me up these stairs.”
Mary was reluctant to go upstairs because she knew the family who lived in this house. She went to school with the three boys who slept upstairs. But the evil corpse dug its bony fingers into her neck and threatened to choke her to death. She slowly made her way to the top of the stairs.
There, in the pale moonlight, she could make out the figures of the three young boys, lying fast asleep in their beds. The corpse took out a sharp knife and slit each boy’s throat. Mary turned her head and looked away. She couldn’t bear to watch. The dead man collected their blood in a jug.
With the first drop of blood, their breathing stopped; with the second drop of blood, their hearts stopped beating; with the third drop of blood, all life left their bodies.
He took the jug full of blood and said, “Take me back down to the kitchen so that I may feast.” Mary sadly walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. The dead man took the bowl of porridge and poured the jug of blood over it. When he finished, he took a spoonful of the bloody mess and gave it to Mary Culhane. “Eat this!” he said.
“No!” she cried.
“You’ll do it and you’ll do it now!” he said and he wrapped his arm around her throat. She took the spoon from his grasp and brought it to her lips. The dead corpse picked up the bowl and began to slurping and licking up the bloody porridge. While he wasn’t watching, Mary quickly threw her spoonful on the ground.
The corpse put down his bowl. “We must hurry,” he hissed. “I must be back in my grave before the morning comes.”
As they left the house, the corpse began laughing insanely.
“You know, there was a way that those boys could have lived,” he cackled. You see, if they were to drink their own blood, they could come back to life. But all the blood is gone and now there is no way.”
On and on into the night they went. The creature whispered in her ear, telling her evil stories and disgusting things that no one wants to hear and nobody would ever repeat. The moon was going down and the sun began to rise. They were close to the cemetery when Mary heard a rooster crowing.
“What is that God-forsaken noise?” screamed the dead man.
Mary knew full well it was a rooster and that morning was fast approaching, but she said, “It sounds like the bleating of a sheep or maybe it is the moo of a cow.”
“Quickly,” shouted the corpse. “Get me to the cemetery, for I feel myself weaken.”
Mary saw the oak tree. She saw the open grave. She walked slowly towards it. Just then, the sky broke open and the first beam of morning drew across the sky and into the graveyard. The rooster crowed three times. The corpse let go of her shoulders and slid down into the grave.
Mary Culhane was free of its deathly grip. She grabbed her father’s walking stick and hurried home. When she got to her house, wveryone was asleep. She threw herself into bed and fell into a dead sleep.
A few hours later, her mother ran into her room and cried, “Mary, Mary, wake up! Something terrible has happened in town! Three boys were murdered last night!”
Mary stirred and her mother could see that her hair was matted and tangled. There were dark circles beneath her eyes. Her dress was dirty and it looked like there were blood stains on it.
Mary Culhane headed into town. When she got to the house where the dead boys lived, she could see that the entire village was trying to console the devastated parents. She went up to the father and said, “Please, please let me inside!”
“No, Mary! I can’t do that,” he replied. “What lies upstairs in that bedroom is not fit for the eyes of a young girl to behold.”
“But you don’t understand,” insisted Mary. “I think I can save the lives of your three sons.”
“Mary, if you could save my three sons from the clutches of death, I would be forever grateful,” he cried.
“I ask nothing,” said Mary. “But that you let me go in there alone.”
The father cleared the house and Mary entered. She walked down the darkened hallway to the kitchen. She grabbed the spoonful of blood and porridge from the floor and went upstairs. She saw the lifeless forms of the three boys lying in bed. She gently went over and put the spoon to their lips.
With the first drop of blood the boys began to breathe, and with the second drop of blood, their hearts started to beat, and with the third drop of blood, all life came back into their bodies.
And what rejoicing there was, when Mary walked outside. The three boys were alive and well. The jubilant father came over to Mary Culhane and said, “You have made me the happiest man ever to live. You gave me my boys back from the dead safe and sound. What can I do to repay you?”
“Well,” said Mary. “There’s only one thing I ask of you. Always be sure to keep some holy water at your front door.