You’re looking at my constant companion for the past few weeks. I acquired him from a company that furnishes props for horror filmmakers. “Fred the head” has gone everywhere with me on book tour, traveling placidly in a little cardboard box that fits nicely in my carry-on suitcase. He’s practically weightless (being mostly skin and hair) and because he has no bones, he zips through airport x-ray screening without causing any raised eyebrows. I bring him to bookstores, where he’s inevitably the hit of my presentation. I don’t immediately reveal him; I leave him hidden in his box until just the right moment, when I announce that I’ve brought along a tsantsa.
Then I whip him out. And everyone stares, appalled.
No, he’s not real. Even I would be freaked out by a real shrunken human head. He’s a replica made of goat skin and hair, and a pretty good one. His “scalp” has stitches up the back of his scalp (as a real tsantsa would have). His “eyelids” are stitched shut, and he has fake eyelashes. He’s the perfect show-and-tell specimen, and I use him to explain how to shrink a human head.
He also smells … interesting. Once, while giving a talk at a bookstore that had a cat wandering about, I looked down to find the cat clawing at the box, trying to get at Fred. I guess the aroma of dried goat skin is as irresistable as catnip.
It’s not easy keeping a bookstore crowd interested. Some authors like to read from their stories. Others sing songs or field questions from the audience. What I love to do is give a little lecture on some obscure and creepy topic. With BONE GARDEN, it was the history of childbed fever. With THE KEEPSAKE, it was the art of mummification and head-shrinking. Which is where Fred came in.
Next February, Fred will become a trans-Atlantic traveler. Yep, I’m bringing him on my UK tour. He’s looking forward to it.