Travels with Fred

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.

11 replies
  1. caite
    caite says:

    Yes, I am sure he is a great attention getter, but really, that is just a wee bit creepy. True, it is ‘someone’ to talk to on those lonely book tour trips.
    And he has a grand head of hair.

  2. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:

    It was great to meet you and Fred last Thursday in Atlantic Beach.

    I recently saw this real one at The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. Very creepy. It makes me wonder about his history, and if he’s in the spiritual realm now and realizes that thousands of people gape at his shriveled mug every year.

  3. Abe
    Abe says:


    Oh wow! A miniature Chucky! If you talk to Fred and he starts talking back, run like hell.
    It’s nice to know you have a traveling companion.
    You should bring a letter of authenticity for Fred with you when you travel. Make sure that people believe you, because as we all know there is no such thing as a “tsantsa clause.”

  4. emineminy
    emineminy says:

    HO-LY-CRAP. I am so creeped out right now. But I really hope Fred will be able to make it to the west coast so I’ll have a chance to meet him in person!

  5. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    Careful with him in London – some might assume you’ve kidnapped a royal (he has some resemblance to one or two, but that’s all I’m saying). He also has a bit of a Mick Jagger thing going on there.

  6. michellebcf
    michellebcf says:

    Hi Tess,

    Do you have venues and dates for the UK yet? I’d like to try to go, and I can post them on the forum aswell.. you have a lot of fans on there. 🙂

    The Book Club Forum

  7. Tess
    Tess says:

    I’ll know more about my book tour schedule in the next month or so. I’ll be touring the UK the second week of February, and I’ll be sure to post the info when I find out!

  8. natalietahoe
    natalietahoe says:

    Hi, Tess —

    It sure is great to see Fred again — I was one of the fortunate attendees at the Neptune Beach, FL book store a week ago when you came to visit… and Fred certainly was a treat! I do have a nice pic of him laying next to the bookmarks you had with you — I didn’t notice a smell to him, but that’s probably because I was creepily fascinated by, well, everything else about him… very freaky!

    Thanks for coming to visit the bookstore in Neptune Beach — I hope that we see you again soon!

    — Natalie

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