As she settled cozily into the seat at the very end of an almost empty bus, her mind was trying to process the afternoon she sensed was not barely lived through, more like survived, and definitely not without scars.
She closed her eyes and dozed off in a matter of seconds, like those left behind to mourn close the blinds in a house that someone had just died in .
She was the wolf and she was grabbing across the moonlit clear and open fields following the scent of the prey that was heavy and hung around her like a cloud.
As if the creature made of elegance and perfection, limbs reflecting the blackness of the midnight light was wanting her to hunt him down.
So she did, with unrepentant devotion.
Across the fields and through the woods onto a hilltop where he was standing waiting for her .
The human side almost took over for a moment, as the beast stood in awe of its opponent and praise of the battle that was to take place, a battle between the slave and the oppressor, a showdown of the darkness and the light, head bowed down in acknowledgment of the force that drove them here tonight to dance on the edge of the worlds, between the seams that held all life and all of the death together.
Both creatures knew what was going to happen.
And they both had lived their lives with emptiness that called, waiting for this moment of the reckoning to unwind.
The wolf cried as the teeth gripped and tore and ate the flesh while the warmest blood still spurted from the edges of it, and the beautiful animal beneath her was still alive.
Woken suddenly, with the taste of warm blood on her lips, by the buss pulling over to pick up passengers on the edge of the town, she tried to trace back the images that hung around her like flickering dancing shadows on a curtain , in a desperate attempt to pull herself back into reality.
She was wiping her mouth like crazy, hands slicing through the air, trying to shred the ominous figures she had unwillingly summoned.
Hope was afraid, powerless against the truth that nightmarish images were telling her, how she was sporting a beast of her own somewhere underneath the layer of an almost eighteen year old little girl, less than a week from now, staring blandly back at her from the reflection in the smudged window.
She was of the wolf kind, or at least, a big part of her obviously was.
With her mishmash puzzle of genes, any kind was her kind, at some point in time.
Those bloodthirsty genes. The pre-human hunger.
And the teeth that would flash menacingly and create uneasiness even when revealed by the widest of her smiles.
Well. So what? We all are.
At least I didn’t turn into a werewolf when the full moon descended upon us.
And she had her well-nurtured human side to take care of now, she needed to cleanse and feel she is a human.
A human of the city kind
As the bus drove through a familiar suburb, she got the idea exactly how.
She got off the bus where the hill ended in a dangerously steeply descending curve, almost falling down straight into the river.
Prying eyes of everyone standing in the station, as she crossed the road towards and pass them, going home after spending their day trying to fry themselves on the shores of a small lake that was created in the river’s old path, in the evening like this, stinking of piss and sweat of hundreds of thousands of people who cooled themselves in it during the day, told her how odd anyone going towards it, when everybody else is moving in the opposite direction, must have looked.
She walked across the narrow land-bridge, created in one of those ’voluntary’ work actions during the golden fifties, when everyone believed they were living in the mother of all countries, blessed with communism as the ultimate civilizational development.
Well, not exactly everyone.
She remembered the writer she could quote for days, who was in the prison doing his time for organizing anti-communist youth and practicing his writing skills on pieces of toilet paper smuggled in, who had obviously, thanks to a functioning brain and a brilliant deductive mind, managed to miss the enthusiastic spirit of the times.
Oh-oh, he’s gonna kill me.
She realized with horror, thinking of Sasha’s book down in the dirty dumpster alley between her building and the SKC, that would on normal days stink just like the lake did right as she passed it by. She’ll have to go dive down into the trash and look for the book when she gets home .
Hope avoided the cultivated beach, and headed for the quiet piece of undeveloped, unspoiled riverbank deeper on the island.
For some reason, like rabid beasts develop hydrophobia, she had feared water more and more as she was growing up, and hated all rivers and lakes and all water that had things crawling floating and creeping all over her body in it, but felt desperate enough for a swim to settle for this one right now.
Her body needed water.
Hope was good at knowing things, and trusting her instincts without the need for a rational explanation why.
Why was always down the line, and if you wasted time looking for it you could get in a lot of trouble with life that usually waited on no one.
Turning a full circle on her heels, she checked the bushes first for perverts and voyeurs, before she undressed completely.
This was one of their all time favorite sightseeing spots int he city, due to the vicinity of the probably only nude beach ever to exist in a communist country, which was still open nearby.
The water touching her feet eased her soul like a mother patting the child gently to drive away the pain of a bruised knee.
Her soul was all bruises and the skin wrapping it hurt in pain that was the sum of all the individual pains she had witnessed today.
God have mercy on us, she thought as she joined her palms in a prayer of sort and pushed herself into the river.
Water touched and the touch healed.
This liquefied comfort felt homelike to her aching body and tormented mind.
She was five and six and seven again, in that small Bosnian village that was the closest habitat to the military camp where her family lived in a cubic wooden barrack, once designed to be extra kitchen storage for the millions of meat cans stacked up, there to ensure survival of the Yugoslav armed forces through the cold war crisis escalating times.
The cans of meat byproducts started disappearing from it the moment they were first stored there, providing a source of extra income for the army kitchen personnel.
The empty shed was repainted in haste and installed with a small window, when the soldiers found out that their new commander was crazy enough to bring his family along to this harsh, isolated place with no proper civilization around to facilitate a normal life.
The storage-unit-turned-house had only one room with those metal-framed army beds, a wood-eating stove and a squeaky limping picnic table with two interrogation room chairs.
No closets, no toilet, no running water nor electricity, only the stench of thousands of cans that was inhaled by the thin walls that made the place heat and cold resistant as if there were no walls at all.
The father was apologetic about the accommodation….this is only a temporary solution, he said as they entered the ’house’, the glorious army will most certainly build them a proper one in no time.
Father was happy having his family around and her brother enjoyed himself like crazy playing with real guns. Mom had never complained to father about anything in her or their life, so Hope was presumed to be OK, since she was still a child.
The temporary stay was temporary enough to last three years and almost cause her to loose eyesight learning to read and doing her homework by the petroleum lamp light.
She often wandered down the narrow almost invisible path that lead into the village- a row of no more than ten deserted houses on one, and ruins of the old church on the other side.
After the last war, the Second World War, which was only considered to be the last in the present absence of the following one, there were not enough people who survived left to rebuild the church one more time.
There were scattered ruins of a few stone walls of a house up the hill by the road, a little hidden and sort of invisible, like they were cast out by the other houses which looked like they didn’t want even these scarce remains to be within their sight.
There was a big tombstone by the side of the road where the ruins were, and there was an old woman, with the face of ageless centuries, sitting on the bench in front of it, sitting in unbroken silence that seemed to suck all sound right out of the air around her too.
She was there every time Hope walked by.
Day or night.
Rain or shine.
Under The Moon and under The Sun alike.
Hope, in her still imprintable mind, believed that the old woman had never left that exact spot.
The old woman was a wondrous creature that never moved, never ate or went to the bathroom.
She existed only there, sitting like that, sitting silently with her dirty spring muddy river colored hair that had visibly been falling out in bundles, keeping guard over a long destroyed home and the grave of her loved ones, and her memories of the times when that heap of broken stones across the road was probably her home, her life and her house.
Children from the village on the other side of the outpost would spit three times and take three steps back each and every time, crossing themselves fiercely three times, walking briskly past her in the morning, as they climbed the dusty provisional road towards the school, situated on top of the hill on the side of the meadow.
This local witch, their superstitious minds believed, could curse the life out of them if they failed to produce enough saliva, or took two instead of the three magic protective steps, or crossed themselves starting on the wrong side.
In dire panic, trying to get the procedure right, they would, of course, naturally, get one or two or all of those things wrong, and had to repeat the odd ritual usually at least half a dozen times, before they succeeded in getting it right, thus ensuring they were alive to do it all over again, on their way back home.
They whispered stories how she was once a Rusalka, a female spirit that had lived together with her sisters in the nearby river, the one that the devil himself had given a human body to live in because she was a good servant who procured him many souls.
Rusalkas were ghosts, nymphs, found in or around the water, demonic creatures hostile towards men and known to drown a tired traveler looking for a refreshing bath, especially on the nights when the Moon was bloodthirsty and young.
They could kill with their loud laughter and curse a man into madness with their smile.
Some folks even believed that they were the souls of the girls who had drowned young, or have endured a particularly violent and painful death. Taken before they had chance to wed, these brides of sorrow were believed to be courting the mortal men haunting the nearby river.
Hope would sometimes stare at her face for hours, with absence of fear so typical of the small child yet to be corrupted by the world of adults, and, if the Sun was casting its light in a particular manner, she would see a young beauty, immersed in golden red waterfalls, smiling at her from where the old woman was.
The old forgotten woman, the witch, the immaculate golden vision of youth, the Rusalka.
All of this, she was.
She was the Rusalka that a local boy fell in love with one hungry night when, hidden among the soft birch trees, he saw her dance with her sisters as they prayed dancing, to their shining silver father, high above, to take the souls of the drowned misfortune passengers.
They swirled and turned and danced and twisted around long past the midnight.
When their dancing prayer was over, and the pale see-through exhausted bodies fell down to the ground , in an impulse of a person that does not what he should, but what he needs and must, he snatched the golden hair vision he had followed the whole night, the one among them that smelled of honey and lust when he leaned over her and picked her up.
He placed her, unconsciously asleep and insanely exhausted, over his shoulder like a weightless sack of flower, and, careful not to step on the other demonesses that laid senseless on the riverbank, snatched her away, and walked uphill, carrying her tenderly as far away as he could, following an instinct that told him that in order to keep her for himself, he must keep her far away from the water.
He laid her gently on the ground in a sweet smelling orchard in full spring blossom, when he assumed that they had escaped far enough, and watched how her face lit up with thousands of fires with the first rays of the dawning Sun.
She woke up silent and confused, wondering why the water felt so distant.
She was scared realizing how there was no sound of the waves smooching the shores anywhere around her.
But, she was scared only for a moment, and she was no longer afraid when she saw the young man sitting by her side, and after her eyes that hid honey and lust, had taken a look into his wide open heart.
And he bent down and kissed her lips, and her lips became alive.
And he touched her breasts, and her breasts became alive.
And he made love to a spirit made of water, and the spirit became flesh and blood.
The villagers spoke how he must have had sold his soul to the devil after he had almost drowned on that night, asking the Satan in return to give this abhorrent ghost of the dead life, and let him take her home as his wife.
He brought her home, and the night she stepped over the threshold, the old sheppard dog died, first victim of the evil presence, the villagers murmured watching her work around the house in the days that followed.
She left wet footprints in the ground when she walked, and every animal she touched died in agony shortly afterwards.
The villagers were all quite disturbed and agitated by her presence among them, and were united in demanding casting the strange couple out of their lives and out of their god abiding village, to live in that half-torn house that had no friends, stranded all alone at the rim of their universe.
After a while, and, almost a year had passed by, and no one in the village had seen, or heard them, or noticed any sign that they were alive, except for a tiny glimmer of light in the cracked window sometimes, the young man appeared one morning walking down the road that led into the village.
He had aged decades, and his body was shattering under the weight of an invisible burden.
The once young man slowly went down to the church, not raising his head, not even once, to look at people gathering in the street, watching him pass them by.
He knocked on the church door and, the head never raised, asked the bewildered priest to perform the wedding ceremony for him and his cursed bride.
The priest refused and slammed the door of the temple shouting in horror how this wretched lost soul dared insult the speaker of God with such an abominable proposal, turning a deaf ear to his desperate plea to save the soul of his unborn son.
Still not lifting his head, he sobbed long, just standing there.
Then he turned around and set up hill into the dusk, followed by the angry shouting of the villagers.
Then came the morning.
And everyone knew what had happened.
All the cattle was dead of unknown disease that left stricken corpses laying around frozen in spasmic, contorted piles.
Between the time the Sun had risen and the time it went down, someone had died in each and every house.
Like an avalanche, the cries of grief poured out into the street as one by one gates were opened for the mourning to be announced. An old man here, a child there, a random soul taken from each and every hearth.
Then came the night.
And everyone knew what was to happen.
The villagers, armed with guns and clubs and crosses freshly dipped into holy water, and the priest as their ultimate weapon by their side, went up the hill to the house carrying torchlights, and started barricading the two of them, the young man who had fallen in love with the spirit of the water and the woman who was the spirit before his love turned her to flesh and blood.
Then came the child.
And everyone knew that it was to be born and to die.
They nailed the thick wooden planks carefully - like piecing together a puzzle, chanting their prayers in a trance, covering all of the windows and the only door of the small house.
When they were done, then they nailed on top of it another layer of planks, making sure nothing escaped this house turned coffin, not then, not now, not ever under the Sun.
When they were finished with this long, exhausting carpentering work that took them almost a couple of hours to complete, the cries of the man, the woman and a new born baby coming from inside of the house had died down and they hammered the extra planks on top of the second row in total silence.
The priest gathered them and they formed a circle around the house.
The prayer was said and as he said the last Amen, he threw his torch onto the straw covering the roof, which instantly caught fire.The villagers amened that by throwing their torches onto the already burning roof as well.
As the last torch parted the hand that held it and in a long series of somersaults landed into the fire, they crossed themselves one more time, waiting for a sign of approval from above for the God’s work that was done..
The house fought with last few squeaks of the melting stone and vanishing wood, trying to keep the familiar form and remain in the place it had occupied for a long time.
They watched the frail structure collapse and they opened their mouths to cheer the grand finale of this cleansing bonfire.
Then came the silence.
And then everything stopped.
The very next moment, the night became absolutely dark, freezing the vocal chords and stealing the air from their lungs. The rain poured down in an instant, heavy as the rains that carried The Flood that was escaped only by Noah and his animal farm .
Then the fire was gone.
And they blinked for the last time.
And then there was more silence, of the inside of a grave and buried alive kind.
And the eyes looked through the nothingness of the dark and the eyes that saw nothing saw her standing in the middle of the dead bonfire, moving her lips and slowly turning around to take a moment to look into every man’s eyes.
They tried to shut them but could not.
They stood paralyzed as the silent curse wrapped itself around their hearts. The words that didn’t need sounds to carry the message around, the words one can hear resonate inside the bones and penetrate through the skull, were her prayer for her lost ones.
She had cursed them never to hear the sound of a child born alive.
She damned them to live and watch all of their children be born to die.
She cursed them never to have a new house built in this place that will stand the light of the first full moon and not fall apart.
She cursed the church never to be rebuilt and the remains of if to be burned to the ground two more times, for the two souls it had cast out of the skies.
She cursed the nations that united in blind hatred to extinguish one another in a bloodbath.
She cursed them and cursing them with every word her face was carved with a new line.
She cursed them and cursing them with every word the flesh and blood of the woman they torched died.
When she was done, she had become the spirit again.
She walked out of the circle and, when she reached the bench across the road, she sat down to wait and watch for her revenge to uncoil, before the spirit could return to the water to mourn her life of the human kind.
The river smelled of sweet wine and cinnamon and she stood for a while after she had dared to come back to the outside, waiting for her skin to absorb the scent of childhood and the wind to dry her eyes.
She could still feel the softness of the grass growing in the shades of the blooming orchard under her feet.
The sun was down and she was able to pretend she was a city creature again .
Almost a human of the city kind.