They say the worst thing about death is that yer never know when it will get yer. If it bashes right from the sky and thwacks your loaf, if one day yer drown in a puddle, or fall head-first from a thatch, nobody knows. The good thing is that it’s fair at least, not picky, takes both the poor and the rich, the young and the old…
Look at that one, closing in on us. Bohdan is his name, he’s coming back from the field work. The skin on his palms thickened by scythe and flail, his neck bronze as a well-baked bread crust. A right solid lad, but his mug is dreamy and his sight misty as the hobbledehoy’s! Just wait a bit and see how he trips on a pebble, knocking those pretty teeth out! To Marysha he goes, aye, after Marysha, as usual, I see ‘em here quite often, after all, curse these brats, arranging trysts at the forest edge… At Kupala feast they’ve bonded, svats have already decided their engagement, all the big wedding preparations are in place, and he runs, every day, to meet her, like a fleet horse, as if there’s not enough fieldwork for that pigeon. Will he get there this time though? Will he? Aye or nay?
It’s getting dark, and the strange wind from the unshaved fields arrives, carrying an old chant with it, an outworld one. Eh? Too late is his return, too late… The dogs went off their wild barking across the village, their howl resounded far, far away… He would feel, aye, he would, that he has to bail, if not that dreamy mug, if not the thoughts that carried him far away from the path that he’s walking, from the awful stench, barely smelled yet. Away from the field through which death itself is coming towards him.
He walks, dragging his legs, unbothered, and dreaming, aye, dreaming of his lover, while now, there, there, a different young princess is arriving. Inhuman, drifting across the sea of yellow grass, in such haste as if she hasn’t eaten in years, a monstrous being. Her hair ruffled, clutches raised, her deadly teeth shine in the waning sun, and the stupid Bohdan is still dreaming!
He bends slowly, scratches his neck, and would step on the deviless inevitably if the fickle wind wouldn’t begin to favour him eventually, carrying the stench that the boy choked with. Oh, look, as he hits the ground running, once his sight caught a glimpse of a silhouette that, surrounded by a dim light, was rushing towards him through the fields! Oh, he’s not dreaming anymore, he’s not! His chops gaping, screaming: ‘Heeeeeelp! Someone, save me!’, but even if he screamed till dawn, would do nothing the one who’s absent. He’s waving the scythe, sweating and getting weaker and weaker, as everyone before him.
Didn’t ye know that ye were not allowed to wander between the fields so close to the sundown… Aye, went wrong the wedding…
A tabby cat stretched idly and licked its muzzle out of the milky droplets. He looked around and perked up his whiskers. The bowl was emptied, and the world full of motion, so the little, drab hunter in a mere moment followed a trodden path that led right to the stable.
“Wait for me, kitty!”, shrieked a girl, knee-high to a grasshopper and not more than five-springs’-old, freed herself from a woman’s arms and followed the cat’s track, carefully avoiding visibly sharp stones with her little bare feet. The woman pulled back from her face a free hair strand that had untangled from her long, blond plait. She smiled over the look of tiny watery footsteps marking the path ahead. Her teeth were pearl white and not lacking, cheeks rosy as the rustic apples. She grabbed a heavy tub that she washed the girl in, tilted it both handed, and flooded nearby patches with the water darkened by mud.
“Marysha! Go to Mikalova’s, we’ve all gathered there already to make dumplings, for the Doshinki. This time it will be enough for everyone, you take my word for it! Just don’t worry about the little one, she’ll get by! Sambor has already run after her, they won’t get lost together! Hurry up, we need you!”, shouted a dark-haired woman with a floral kerchief tied under her chin. She wasn’t young but sturdy, unhunched, and with a bold look. She pointed toward a hut surmounting a nearby hill, painted with white and blue intricated patterns.
“I’m coming!”, answered Marysha, wiping her hands with the edge of her working apron. She rushed toward the chants that were coming from the hut. Her simple, linen gown tied off at the waist waved along with her steps, to the beat of the song:
The willow board, board,
By my little bridge, bridge.
On the field it lies, it lies,
When will a cute boy come by, come by?
When will a cute boy come by, come by?
What will he bring, bring?
Red boots, boots,
For better work, work.
In the hut, all the women gathered together, around a great, square, wooden table. They were kneading the dough out of flour, eggs, and water, cutting plump rings of it, filling them with mashed potatoes and fried onions. Marysha nimbly found her way through the crowd and fit herself at a place right next to the warm kiln, within the group rolling the dough, chanting quietly to make the minutes pass faster.
“Dash it, little chiert!”, a gammer curled in the corner hadn’t managed to catch a tiny, child’s hand that snatched a piece of warm bread from her knees. ‘Ah, let it be. It would be too hard for me anyway...’
The boy ran away squeaking, skillfully avoiding a heavy piece of rag that sprang toward him from his mother’s side.
“Tomir, clear out of here at once you silly chap! To steal from the nan?!”, snapped his mother angrily. The boy just laughed and run away, throwing a piece of bread to domovoi on his way out, for everyone knows that the full house spirits protect the household better.
The sun was about to set and the dogs were howling across the village. The strange chill pierced the bones, so the little old lady sitting in the corner tucked herself tightly with a warm, woollen blanket.
“Chierts work…”, she muttered quietly under her nose.
Suddenly the heavy, wooden doors opened and their shriek tore the air. The portly, bearded man stood in the doorway, barely gasping for breath, as if the pack of wolves chased him up here. He was paler than the newly limed walls.
“Marysha!”, his wild sight spotted her silhouette in the crowd.
“Papa… What happened?”
“Bohdan… The fields…”, the man’s lips twitched when he leaned on the frame. “He’s gone.”