Demons Devour Men
A Hmong Folklore
Long ago, there was a Hmong village in the middle of nowhere. Few people knew the village existed, and some had stumbled upon the village by mistake while traveling. It was a beautiful, peaceful place, like a hidden paradise until one day a strange tribe of people found the village. This tribe appeared to look like another Hmong clan traveling with their families, so the kind Hmong villagers gave them lodging. Overnight, the strange tribe had devoured every single villager; consuming their flesh and bone. Well, almost everyone in the village was slaughtered, the eldest villager governing the natives was spared and imprisoned. These outsiders were not human at all; they were demons who looked human and the only thing they craved were real humans. The governor was given a choice, join them or be eaten alive. The old man didn’t hesitate to save his own life, so they turned him into a half demon; he too, had to feast on humans to survive.
The strange tribe stayed in the village and lived as if they belonged there undisturbed by the outside world, and with the old governor by their side, no one questioned them. For once in a while, travelers would find their village, but anyone who visited the faraway paradise was never seen or heard of again.
As the strange tribe remained in this village appearing to live as humans, the livestock multiplied in numbers every year, roaming free on the land and soon the cattle and boars had attracted hunters to the village. Skilled hunters might have ended up in the village and survived for a few nights, but they never left alive. The massive herds of animals lured countless hunters, lone travelers, even migrating clans into the appealing village only to meet their end upon nightfall. On and on this went for nearly a decade, and then one day, a rumor spread like a tall tale about a village in the middle of nowhere harboring cannibals. The story reached a man who was not a shaman, but gifted in a similar way and clever in dealing with the supernatural.
The gifted man made an armor out of wild rock vines and feathers, hiding enchanted blades throughout his body. He then journeyed to the village in the middle of nowhere and found it quite easily once he met fields of sheep and chickens; the animals practically led him to the place. Upon arrival, he noticed a family of travelers entering a two-story shelter. Husky men stood guard at the entrance of the village. The gifted man told the strange tribe that he was born without a name, so they called him Stranger. The strange tribe didn’t trust him, especially because of the unfamiliar clothing he wore made of dried vines and feathers, but they never turned away anyone and led him in the same shelter the traveling family was welcomed into. He was told to stay put until the governor could come and inspect him.
As soon as Stranger was left alone, he exited his private room to discover that all the rooms in the building were empty with no sign of the traveling family. He was soon met with the hosts in the main room, a married couple, and asked them, “Where’s everyone?”
“Who?” asked one of the hosts, seeming clueless.
“The family that arrived just before I did.”
“They didn’t want to stay anymore,” said the other host. “So, they left.”
“Why?” asked the hosts.
“It’s the middle of the night.”
The hosts were at a loss for words, staring at each other for answers. Tension rose between them and the stranger. Luckily, the governor arrived on the scene, breaking up the awkwardness.
“I have to inspect you,” said the governor, appearing like a normal old man; slow moving and slightly hunched over with a bad back.
The stranger nodded in agreement and the hosts left them alone.
The governor began patting the stranger down on the sides. The elderly man reached his hands under the feather coat and screamed.
The hosts barged into the main room to see the governor holding up his bleeding hands with a few missing fingers.
“Bring Thao Seng!” shouted the governor.
The stranger knew Thao Seng was the title for mayor in villages and towns, this was the next person in charge of these people.
The hosts rushed out of the front door and quickly returned with Thao Seng, a strong looking man with a wise appearance. He was immediately surprised that one of their own was successfully injured.
“What do we do?” asked the governor.
Thao Seng carefully approached the stranger and said, “It’s the law to inspect outsiders.”
The stranger spread his arms, willing to comply.
Thao Seng cautiously patted the stranger down while the governor and hosts nervously watched in the background. While going into the heavy vine and feather coat, Thao Seng reached behind the stranger’s legs and felt a sharp cut. Thao Seng instantly retracted his arms, but his hands were severed clear off at the wrists.
The hosts were hesitant to attack the stranger, and instead, they quickly coward out of the building alarming the others. Soon, every member of the strange tribe along with the mayor and governor ran for the forest, shouting to one another, “Go to the dark house!” Their bodies were morphing and changing as they drew close to a peculiar gourd that sprouted out of the earth. The stranger chased after them and witnessed the villagers diving into an opening of the gourd as if they all were sucked into the black hole. The stranger took out a dried corn cob and sealed the black hole of the gourd. Chattering came from inside the gourd , with the strange tribe blaming one another for their misfortune; loud roars overlapped over screeching noises.
The stranger, gifted as he was, knew these were demons trapped inside the gourd and that he was fortunate they feared him instead of challenging him; he was just one man against an entire herd of demons. He found a wide, flowing river and placed the gourd into the current.
Art by Bao Xiong