Authors note: This is a shorter version of this story, a slightly longer, more elaborating version exists on reddit. If you are willing to read a couple of hundred extra words with more details. Click here!
These Things Still Happen in Russia by BloodySpaghetti
Apparently, some businessman had orchestrated the murder of my relative, Uncle Sasha. I've learned of his death through a letter exchange with my parents back at the old motherland just as me and my girlfriend, Veronica, were planning to visit that place for the first time since we've left seven years ago. My name is Simeon, and this is the story about why I'm never going back to Russia. You see, I come from a small village on the shore of Lake Jack London, in the Russian far east. this small town, well it's rather unique, because it consists of polytheistic religious movement that was founded back in the eighties and tends to abstain from things such as facilitated marriage, the use of most modern technology and contact with the outside world whilst taking part in things such as various superstitious behaviors, cultural elitism and a lot of nature worship. A truly lovely bunch, eh?
Anyways, to make a long story short. Last summer, after a horribly long flight from NZ to Russia we've eventually made it home (to be honest, it also took a few days on a train and travel by car to actually reach the village.) When we arrived that morning, everything seemed just as it did when we left. It's like nothing had changed in the last seven years. It was so surreal, almost like I was in an alternate universe.
It unnerved me slightly.
My family's reaction unnerved me even more. They had acted as if I wasn't gone for the last few years. It was really unpleasant watching my own parents act as if I didn't seemingly randomly leave their midst as a sixteen-year-old kid. What kind of parents would do that? I mean, I get it, we were a free society, and freedom was really encouraged, but they never came looking for me, not even after they found out we were staying with my grandparents at Novosibirsk. It was borderline fucked up how they've acted when we had come back. Sure, everyone was happy and all, but, if my kids had run away on me like I did on them. I'd kick their asses when I'd meet them and only then proceed to shower them with love.
Something was clearly off with my family, I mean, that was the most loving family ever when I was a kid.
Veronica seemed to be suffering the same treatment from her parents. Which distressed her quite a bit. I didn't like that, not at all.
I would've made a fuss out of it unless my younger sister, Daria, hadn't come to try and knock me off my feet with a big bear hug then and there. Last time I've seen her she was a kid. When I came back though, she was already a woman in body and mind. She hugged me tightly and started telling me about everything that had happened ever since I left. Including the fact that she had been with the newly coroneted Volvkh of our community. That made her a priestess which she was quite boastful of. I felt proud of my younger sister. In all honesty, I was proud, I still am.
Also, apparently, my parent's had another son after I had left. About two years after my departure he was born and they named him Timofey. He kind of reminded me of my child self.
It's such a shame I won't be able to be there for him, or Dasha…
I really wish I could've stayed, but after what happened, yeah... nah...
It's not like I hate any of them, really, I love my family, my childhood friends and even my childhood neighbors, but man, I just cannot let go of what had happened there.
So, Vera and I were settled down in a small shack that had been emptied especially for us and the week we've spent there was pretty much the perfect vacation. It's like we were in our own piece of heaven. I got to spend time with my family and the love of my life together. The rural scenery really fits my girl, she seemed to radiant back there, not to say that she isn't now, but something over there made her seem even more special.
We would go fishing together in the lake with my father and younger brother. Whatever was caught was splendidly cooked by the three most important women of my life. Vera and I even spent one night sleeping on a boat at the lake, it was really nice experience.
On the seventh day of our visit to the old village, it happened to be last year's Kupala night. It's basically a summer solstice festival we and many other pagans celebrate, also, it had made its way into the folk life of Slavic Christians as a holiday. The whole idea of this holiday is to welcome Jarilo, the god of fertility into the world once more and pray from his blessings in agriculture and family life.
In our case, it was a day long festival at a local grove filled with traditional music, dancing a lot of drinking and a sacrificial feast for the young god.
A long table was station in the center of the grove at the middle of which was set a hay figure that was meant to represent the young god. It was just a large hay humanoid figuring with a huge shaft, which upon seeing, Vera joked how even a god cannot hold a candle to my pelvic prowess. In front of said table there was a set of kettles in which the sacrifices were boiled over a long pyre.
That morning, each of the wishing would approach the Volvkh and his Volvkhvina and ask them for a blessing, sharing the troubles and desires and giving them their offering for Jarilo. Some offered birds, others offered bread loafs and portions of their harvest. After the initial gathering and requests, the offerings were made and by noon we've had a celebratory feast with lots of food and alcohol. After the feast, we've started participating in various fertility rites. Couples would have to hold hands and jump over a small pyre and if they couldn't make the jump it was a sign they aren't meant to last. Of course me and Vera made the jump, rather easily I must add.
It was a day filled with joy and celebration, one of the more fun holidays I got to enjoy in my life, as a whole. So after some drinking, dancing and eating, I decided it was a good idea to invite my significant other to a date in the lake. So it was me, her, a few candles and a bottle of vodka on that boat.
Fortunately, we've made it safe back to the shore, hours later, not even wasted. I guess I tend to get more intoxicated by her amazing presence than by alcohol, which is a good thing. We've come back ashore when it was already dark. From the lake the grove seemed completely dark and empty at this point in the day, it almost felt like a you could feel the presence of various forest spirits in the area. Everything was covered in a blanket of darkness, everything aside from the sacrificial pyre that was still burning strong, all these hours.
We came back to the grove and were seated down along with the majority of the village's population near a huge willow tree, we were also told that there was a special occurrence about to happen, something truly magnificent that does not happen every year. I became somewhat anxious, perhaps it was the alcohol, or maybe the environment. It was however probably the attire Dasha was wearing; she had this long white dress and she covered herself in some kind of a large pelt. Her face was covered in some sort of makeup, it looked almost like war paint. Highlighting her already large green eyes. She looked almost menacing to me like that, especially because she was sitting on a horse.
She raised a ceremonial toast for those in attendance and we all drank with her, and then she calls out someone. Four men came out of the woods, dressed in war paint and bear pelts. One of them was my friend, Lazar. I didn't catch the faces of the rest. I guess I was really drunk at that point, as seeing them drag a fat man along with them did not steer that much thought at first.
Then I noticed that all of them were carrying wooden clubs.
The memories came back.
For the longest time I did my best to repress the reason as to why Vera and I had left in the first place.
Now it seems like I'll never be able to do that again.
Back when I was sixteen, there was this young woman in my village, she was a few years older than me. A real beauty, she was also apparently very intelligent and caring, as she made her way into a medical school in Magadan.
So just before we left, she came to visit her family with her boyfriend at the time.
I remember being outside with a bunch of friends when we heard people screaming and cursing. We ran over to see what was the noise and then we saw a bunch of the adults beating down on some poor chap. There was a whole mob beating down on that poor guy. The girl, well, her mother was holding her down as she begged them to stop, but they did not.
They stopped only when he stopped moving.
They had beaten him to death, over the fact that he was a Jewish man.
I had no idea what all of this really meant at that moment, and even gathered the courage to look at the corpse up close, being the stupid teenager I was. He lay there, on his back; his arms and face blistered and covered in cuts and bruises. His face was broken and bloodied, I recall one of the boys even picking up a tooth of the poor man. One of the man's orbital bones was visibly crushed, you could tell by the fact that whole region of his face was purple and bloodied. His lower jaw seemed to have been yanked out of its place. It was hanging awkwardly to the left inside his mouth. I am pretty certain I had seen some purple squishy matter slightly spilled beneath his head.
We poked at his body for a bit, before being chased away by the elderly from the corpse.
I hadn't thought much of it back then.
Now I do…
It's fucking horrible.
The next day, I recall going out early in the morning to see Vera, as I was walking through the tiny streets of the village at some point, when I was nearing that young woman's house, I remember seeing an odd shape dangling from the roof. I slowly approached the house and then I saw it.
A sudden sense of dread overcame me, so sudden I felt my breakfast come back up.
She had been suspended in the air, by a rope tied around her neck.
That lifeless stare she had in her eyes, it's like… it's like she was staring right through me.
A tug on my arm awakened me from my trip down memory lane, Vera was clutching at me as I was starting to realize what was happening. Dasha was standing next to the tied up fat man. Her face, she had that same empty, lifeless stare in her eyes. She was staring right through him. He seemed mortified by the situation he found himself in.
The sight had sobered me up a lot, I knew I couldn't do anything about what I thought was going to happen and I knew I wouldn't be able to leave, this was a very sacred religious ceremony on top of everything.
I knew what was coming and I did not like it, not one bit.
All I could do was wrap my around Vera and try to comfort her as she wasn't exactly thrilled about what we were to witness that moment.
Dasha had begun accusing the fat man of various "crimes" such as greed, disrespect to the land, the desecration of sacred grounds and the murder of my relative. Once I had heard it, something inside me snapped. I wanted to get to him and end his life, especially because he admitted to the deed. The crowd around me roared in disdain towards the man.
Dasha then proclaimed him ripe for the rite and stepped back from him.
What came next was the most painful thing I had gotten to witness in my entire life, it probably won't be ever surpassed.
My sister had thrown her arm into the air and then let it drop to her waist and with that the four men in pelts began beating on him with their clubs making animal like sounds while they were at it as the crowd cheered them on. Each blow made a thumping sound that made me sick to my stomach. I felt myself almost shudder with each blow the pelted men landed, especially the once that produced a crunching sound.
The fat man was just lying there, begging and whimpering in agony as he was being broken down piece by piece by an angry bunch that had looked like the semi-mythological Neuri who were said to be able to turn into wolves.
The beating took a few minutes and then it stopped, with a wave of her hand, my younger sister forced the four pelted men to stop and demanded him to be tied to the willow and her horse. As they had been tying him to the tree, I remember the sight of his broken body; he was bloodied all over, something was poking through his shirt in his midsection, I guess it was a broken rib that protruded through his skin. He had blood smeared all over his chin, even though they had never hit his head once since it is regarded that the soul rests inside the head of the man, therefore they had kept it unharmed for the duration of the ceremony. His right shoulder was clearly popped out of its socket and one of his legs was bent backwards at the knee in an unnatural position. The man fat would not stop groaning and moaning for as long as being tied up.
I knew where this was going to go, it's been a common practice in ancient Rus' to use horses as a means to rip apart criminals as a capital punishment. I knew this wasn't going to be any different.
Yet, I knew I had nothing to do but watch the horrors that are about to unfold.
My sister than began chanting, "O' Gods, please welcome my gift,
"The blood of a sacrificial lamb,
"O' mighty Perun, please accept my offering,
"and mother Mokosh, take it in
"Father of winds, Stribog, please accept it.
"The child of growth, Jarilo, embrace it.
"Svarog and Dazbog consume it in flames.
"Ziva and Zara take it up to the heavens to feast upon.
"Morena, hold it in your cold embrace
"Veles, mighty magician king, accept this misguided soul into your realm"
The crowd repeated after her, she kept repeating those lines over and over as the fat man was being tied to the tree. A piece of rope was fastened around his neck and then the rope was tied to the horse.
Dasha stopped chanting and then signaled her horse to start walking, pulling the rope, tighter and tighter, she be began chanting again, staring directly into the man's eyes, she ordered him to chant after her, again and again.
He had no choice but to follow her lead, struggling more and more with each sentence, as the rope tightened around his neck. He had even coughed up some blood during the chanting and I'm pretty certain I could see tear streaming down his cheeks. His face overall went blood red and his eyes began bulging out disgustingly, blood could be seen overflowing his sockets as his gums had begun visibly bleeding by that point.
Just as the man finished chanting, Dasha stopped the horse and the man gasped for air, and then I saw my sister smile, she smiled a sinister smile.
Everything went quiet and I had to look away.
She yelled at her horse to go, and a scram that turned into a suffocated gurgle could be heard. Lo and behold, the fat man's head popped out of his place and fell onto the ground as the crowd around me burst out into drunken cheers.
That sight, the sight of my sister doing something so evil, I just couldn't bare it. I whispered in Vera's ear that we're getting out of there as quickly as possible.
She was clearly shaken up by the event we've just witnessed.
As we were making our way through the crowd after a few minutes of unpleasant small talk with the people who were cheering for the death of a man, I noticed something at the edge of vision. It was a tall figure, with horns, it was standing at the edge of the forest line, once I noticed it. The figure turned around and left.
I must've been very drunk at that point.
Now you might be thinking I am probably going to conclude my story with a paragraph about how I've lost my faith and became an Atheist or something, that couldn't be further from the truth.
You see, that night Vera and I had decided that we should spend the night in the lake again, away from the bloodthirsty drunken mob. We thought that the fog that was covering the lake by this point would prevent the highly superstitious crowd from trying a night swim in that body of water.
Hell, we were right.
Nobody came to the lake to follow, or even look for us.
Nobody human that is.
You see, while I was rowing the boat, with everything we've been through that day, we couldn't even speak to each other, we just sat there and stared.
That’s when a splashing sound could be heard near us.
It was impossible, there are no large animals in lake Jack London and it was way too deep in the lake for someone to be swimming there.
Suddenly a bright light came from inside the lake, encompassing an area far larger than that of the boat we were in, Vera, startled grabbed at me and began panicking, I had no idea what do to or to think honestly so I reached out to the water, it felt completely normal.
Then, out of the blue, from that fog came the same figure I've seen earlier.
It was a tall humanoid with a long hair and beard, sporting a rob like garb and it had huge antlers on the top of its head. It did not look at us, or anything really, it was simply walking into that light beneath us.
We both simply gasped in awe at the sight.
I wish I could say it was just my mind playing tricks on me, but there's no bloody way both me and Vera saw the same thing.
The figure noticed us, it turns its head towards us and stopped. Snake like eyes stared at us for a few moments as we sat there, frozen in a mixture of fear and awe and then this, thing, it's neck expanded towards us. The beast exposed it's sharp canines at us, exposing a bear trap like set of teeth flying our way. Its head flew right by us, throwing us both out of the boat before disappearing into the light which had faded away with it.
The sensation of cold water on my skin and the sounds of my screaming girlfriend shook me out of my trance. I quickly swam towards her and began helping her back up onto the vessel. Nothing had happened to us as a result of the fall, we were both dumbfounded by this strange occurrence and Vera, well, she didn't let go off me for the rest of the night due to being so fearful that something else might happen to her.
I don't know what the fuck happened there, I don't know what I've seen or what've seen. All I know is that my home village is filled with monsters wearing a human guise and that I'm not contacting my family ever again.
Also, I could swear that after the fall into the lake, I could hear a distant satisfied laughter coming from below me.
You see, on top of being the god of the underworld, the travelers, cattle, and music. Veles is also a magician like trickster god, so maybe, possibly, just perhaps, we've encountered a god.
Who is to say what really happened there that night, all I can say is that in a vast country like my mother land, where so many things are still unexplained and unexplored, everything is possible.
Unsurprisingly, at least for me, . People disappearing seemingly at random here and there aren't the thing of the past. Just like my relative, Sasha had seemingly randomly disappeared in the eyes of the wider public that knew him, so did that fat businessman. For all they know, he was lost somewhere in the Taiga and died from exposure to the elements.
As for us? Well, we're back in New Zealand and we're not going anywhere any time soon, I'm kind of into gardening right now, I've even planted a willow in our garden in honor of my horned god...