Folktales weren’t always cheerful stories to entertain. Sometimes, they were harsh and dark for they needed to be scary to teach a valuable lesson. For instance, every young girl needed to fear the big bad wolf in the woods, i.e. the deceitful man in society that could bring dishonor to her family’s reputation if she trusted him too easily. Shocking images used to be the brand mark of all didactic stories. Isn’t that right, Mr. Charles Perrault?
My great-aunt Nanna used to tell me Moroccan folktales so I would stay still while learning an art she deemed essential, knitting. The magic words at the beginning of each of her stories “hajitek, majitek” [Moroccan Arabic for, “Let me tell you how once upon a time”] always had the desired effect on me. They transported me in ancient cities -or medinas– in a fantastical Morocco and taught me useful morals I still remember today.
A Gruesome Short Folktale for Adults
Hajitek, majitek [Moroccan Arabic for, “Let me tell you how once upon a time”] two brothers lived in a rich town far, far away. They were twins. Identical. Their fortune, or rather misfortune, had forced them to rely on illegitimate means for survival.
What had started by necessity, continued by greed, and soon their thievery was the talk of the town. Their first successes gave them boldness that only grew since their luck never seemed to fade. They never got caught.
Rich now, the twins’ hungry days were a long way behind them, but still they persisted in their immoral lifestyle. Their most recent target was the Judge’s Charity Fund that collected coins or gold each week to help buy food and deliver it anonymously at the doors of destitute people. The gold coins and other donations were kept in the courthouse’s basement. That purse was replenished every week, which assured the twin thieves of a fortune that would last a long time.
No one suspected them. They knew how to keep a low profile, a skill they’d learned from years of slinking in the gloomy Medina streets during their childhood. Their plan to steal from the judge was smooth. On a random day every week, they waited for midnight, the darkest hour, before they went behind the courthouse. There, they uncovered the hole they had dug to reach the basement. One brother would hold a rope while his twin would go down the hole, gather the stored funds, and get lifted back up. Then they would cover the hole again and go home.
Meanwhile, the judge was too ashamed to tell his community he was being robbed every week.
“Sneaky thief, he will be the ruin of me,” he told himself every day.
He hoped his new nemesis would stop after a few hits. Alas, no luck. The insufferable robber got bolder by the week! The judge refused to hire a guard to protect the donations. In their town, if the word got out, people would stop giving.
After weeks of racking his brain, the judge came up with a solution. Since he kept the gold and coins in the basement, the thief had to get down there somehow. Rubbing his hands with excitement, the judge went over his plan in his head and smiled. Each night before heading out, he covered the floor around the “treasure” chest with asphalt. That way, the next time the thief visited, he would slip in and get stuck until morning.
Unaware of the trap set for them, the twin brothers headed to the courthouse one night, and again, uncovered the hole in the back. One brother went down the rope held by the other. Suddenly, he screamed and a dreadful silence fell.
“Brother? Is everything all right?” whispered the twin down the hole.
“Hurry, brother. Someone might have heard you. What happened?” His voice shook as fear crawled up from his stomach to his throat.
Quickly, he tied the rope to the wall, and joined his brother down in the basement. He approached the chest in slow steps, fearing what he would find, for he could not hear his brother at all. There, at the feet of the rustic table where the chest stood, lay the prone form of his brother.
From where he stood, he realized his brother was dead. He must have slipped and hit his head against the table. Carefully, he approached him and discerned the asphalt in which his brother was stuck.
“Poor brother. And poor me. For I cannot unstick him, nor can I leave him here. If they find him, they will come for me. After all, we share a face.”
Making a rash decision on the spot to avoid the hangman, he took out his dagger and decapitated his brother. With the head tucked under his arm, he made it back outside, untied the rope, and covered the hole. Sad, the lonely twin headed back home with the reassurance that no one would ever come after him, since,
“To close an argument, cut off its head.”