As you go on, a soft low beating drifts across the barren moors. You listen to the sound and it seems to form words – slay, slay slay…
You look up to see four dark shapes swooping down through the mist towards you. The creatures attacking you are chonchons. These disembodied heads fly using their large veined ears as wings and attack by biting with their chisel-like teeth.
If the flying heads of the Orient belong to the province of Dream, being either nightmarish (penanggalan) or surreal (nukekubi), those of South America are the creatures of Delirium. What else are we of make of an entity that flies by flapping its ears, the only warning of its approach being the soft beat of “tue, tue, tue” on the hot evening breeze?
Chonchons made an appearance in The Castle of Lost Souls (illustrated by Leo Hartas) and I could have sworn I originally came across them in the West Indian horror stories of the Reverend Henry S Whitehead. I even had an explanation of their origins, in a story that an African slave might tell his children of seeing an elephant’s head peering over the treetops in the dusk. The snag is, I can’t find anything about chonchons in Whitehead’s work now, nor any evidence that they originated outside the New World. And it was such a beautiful theory, too.
By one account, chonchons are sorcerers who treat their neck with a magic ointment so as to be able to detach their heads. Alternatively, they could be a sort of Chilean vampire, arising from the graves of suicides and flitting off in search of blood. In classical myth, vampires frequently took the form of owls (striges) to screech out omens of death, and most versions of the chonchon have them feathered and/or taloned, so possibly there’s a connection there.
Anyway, as I’ve said before, the beauty of folklore is precisely that it is an incoherent jumble of sources. You want taxonomy, go to a zoo. Fantasy is far stranger than that.