“I never was a huge fan of myths, legends or any folksy wisdom for that matter. Spooky stories to tell around a campfire had no value to me, except good entertainment of course. You know, a man can spend his whole life living in ignorance, maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be … but sometimes, one is yanked into the unknown without a reason, facing consequences larger than life! Would you call that fate doctor?”
With his legs spread over the firm matrices covering the floor and walls of his prison, a tormented man gazed into the glasses of his doctor. His arms, squeezed tightly into a straitjacket, wrapping his torso mercilessly, making it hard to breathe, let alone talk. Yet, he found the strength to let his thoughts out of the head whose nightmares carved dark, blue circles around the sunken, hazel eyes.
“Mr. Smith, the only way to put an end to Your episodes is a good night sleep. You are experiencing sleep deprivation, leading to hallucinations, common when the brain is more than 3 days without a rest”
With a syringe full of sedative in his right hand, the young doctor paid little attention to the words of his patient, quivering to the sight of it.
“No! I mustn’t fall asleep! They will come again! I know they will! They always do! I must be awake to listen!”
Just as he leaned over to administer the drug, the young doctor’s eyes met the look of the crazed old man, pleading for him to listen.
“Give me the drug after I tell you, I must tell you!”
Normally, he wouldn’t listen to an aggressive patient after an episode, but this time the young man was intrigued by the desperation in the voice of the man pressing against the wall. His hand hesitated, until he found the plastic cap of the needle. His curious mind wanted to hear the distorted story of reality, residing in this poor man’s thoughts. With the sedative in the pocket of his white coat, the doctor sat next to the patient, and carefully probed for more information.
“Alright Mr. Smith, tell me who are they?”
Eyes widened in relief, and a creepy smile on the face across the wandering doctor, while a crusty voice begun unveiling a strange story.
“Thank you, you want to listen, nobody else does! You know once, I was young too, just like you. But you chose to see lunacy, while I tried to get away from it most of my life.”
“When did it begin?”
“Oh, long time ago, it has been approximately 30 years from that night”
The seemingly absent eyes shifted to the upper right corner of the room, a sign of remembrance, the doctor thought, while a soft, curious voice flew out of his throat.
“What about that night?”
Fear, worry and desperation clenched the wrinkled face of the man struggling with his thoughts. Pieces of a puzzle, falling into place in his mind, until words found their way out, in a bizarre, eloquent manner.
“I was traveling through Europe, researching Slavic mythology. As an aspiring playwright, I somehow found myself stranded between curious myths and legends. Their entertainment value was a great interest of mine, but the more questions I asked, answers always eluded my senses. Eastern Europe is not a good place for the inquisitive mind of an American researcher. At first, locals of small villages would greet me with great hospitality, but the second I pondered religious beliefs beyond Christianity, they would ask for me to leave their residence. I never knew why they ignored their oral heritage like that.”
As the patient sunk into his own memories, the doctor’s curiosity peaked once more, taking him back to the cruel reality of the asylum.
“I’m sure you’ve had your suspicions…”
He lifted the half bald head from the floor, looking at the way his new doctor managed to craft an expression of interest, he continued.
“I did. But they were all false, nowhere near reality.”
In a vague attempt to comfort the soul of the man, getting devoured by guilt and agony piece by piece, the calm tone of the doctor once again offered a fraction of reason.
“Reality is what your senses transform into thoughts…”
Before he could finish, a voice full of rage cut his sentence into half
“That’s what has been pummeled into our minds ever since childhood, but in some places of this Earth things are different!”
Noting the radical change in his patient, the doctor found a way to bring down the tension of the conversation.
“Alright, tell me more about these places”
Pulling his knees toward his rigid torso, the man continued his story, staggering and struggling to remember.
“Place, it was one small village, somewhere in Eastern Europe. I think in the south … I’m not sure, it’s been over 30 years, I … think. I was there looking for something, anything that may help me write a great story. But, as usual, I hit a brick wall of silence. The locals got mad at me for my constant probing, and threw me out of their village. I remember rain, heavy rain begun pouring from the sky. Summer rain I guess, because hail followed shortly. Three times in a row, I was banned from a village, but never during a storm.
With just one bag, and the shirt on my shoulders, I somehow escaped the angry mob. It thinned rather quickly; I guess they could tell a storm was on its way. But for me, the safest place to be was on the road, to the next village, approximately 3 miles away. It was the first time in my life, that I ever saw a curtain of rain, so dense, so persistent; I couldn’t hold my head up for more than a few seconds. In the midst of my struggles with the flood surging from the sky, I passed a small house not far from the road.
It felt like a blessing, but I dared not come near it. It was only when a young woman came out and summoned me to enter, did relief finally reside in my heart. Soaking wet and beaten up, I found a shelter from the rain. I entered the tiny house, well it felt more like a cottage, but it had a warm, welcoming feeling to it.”
With his eyes shut, he inhaled deeply, as if he could smell the fragrances from that night, the cottage, the beautiful young woman, the meal she had been preparing for the night. Noticing how memories overwhelmed his patient, the doctor broke his silence.
“Go on …”
A bit staggered, Smith shook his head, as if coming out of a trance of past events. He continued the story, with a note of melancholy in the rigid voice.
“She was beautiful. A young creature, in her twenties I guessed. She was out to get me for no more than a minute, but the rain didn’t spare her either. Her knee long summer dress was so wet, to the point where I wished it were white, instead of the dark blue that ruined my … perspective.
She squeezed the water from the long, dark hair before entering inside. I remember her smile, even now. The pearly white teeth, and those sincere dark eyes, brought me peace. She spoke with the same dialect the nearing villages used to, so it wasn’t hard for me to understand her. I’ve been researching for months, so talking to people was easy.
But what got harder was getting answers, so this time, I thought to myself: I won’t ask anything. I let her thoughts float into words, as she began asking questions for my wandering in the rain, my name, my profession … I answered every question with a smile on my face, her charm made a fool out of me. I blabbed everything! My fatigue, combined with the gazelle looking at me curiously, let out every drop of truth out in the open.
I didn’t care if she judged me, hell I didn’t even give a damn about the pouring rain outside.
All I could see was her, a masterpiece of a woman, hourglass figure, legs stretching for miles, and a soft, round face sculptured in heaven. All the time I was talking, she sat with her hands crossed before the miniscule table. Her eyes, dashing like the brightest stars on a clear summer night, did not move an inch from mine.”
Contemplating his memories, Smith gradually started leaning back and forward, resembling a lonely rocking chair. At this point, the doctor knew his patient didn’t even register him, so once quietude ruled over the room, a slight cough on his behalf brought Smith back from the moments he wished lasted forever.
“She listened, not a shred of judgment on the stunning, pale face. Once I was done, a lavish smile curled gradually on her lips. She told me I wasn’t the first one to investigate their beliefs. In fact many others have come, only to leave empty handed, or not even leave at all. Her voice, soft and smooth could make me do anything, for a second I began contemplating leaving, since that was what she told me I ought to do. But not being the one to give up easily, I smiled that conversation away, and turned it toward her, her life, her marital status, the fact she lived in between villages, I wanted to know it all.
She didn’t tell me much, only she was married, but her husband left her for another, and now faced with the shame of abandonment and a three weeks old baby, she found herself forced to live alone. Who would leave this beautiful flower for another woman? That was the only thing I could think during dinner. She was an excellent cook, but then again I hadn’t eaten that good for days, maybe even weeks so whatever it was we ate, it brought back the color on my cheeks.
She offered me to stay the night, I gladly accepted, even though all she had to accommodate me was the rough floor. She threw a few plaids before the fireplace right across the tiny table, though it wasn’t much, it felt like I was lying on a cloud. She gave me some of her husband’s old clothes, a pillow, and a thin summer blanket before she went to her room. I said my thanks, and as soon as my head touched the feathery pillow, I sunk into deep sleep.”
Smith stopped briefly; it was moments later that his sobbing filled the room with distress. At first, one quiet breath doused in the most profound of sadness escaped his scarred lips. But then, one after another, warm tears began flooding his face. The doctor, surprised by his reaction, touched the strained shoulder of a now desperate man in an attempt to calm him.
“Mr. Smith, it’s ok, your memories can’t hurt you! Tell me what happened next, after you went to sleep?”
Smith found the courage to continue, minimizing the sobbing, but tears never stopped pouring out of his eyes.
“It’s a bit hazy. I think it wasn’t a dream… but it could have been… it should have been a dream…”
“Take your time, think it through. It can do you good”
“No, it can’t! Because the more I think, the clearer it becomes, it wasn’t a dream!”
“Proceed…” a calm voice led Smith to continue
“I woke up some time of the night, I have no idea when. It might have been two, or three in the morning. It was still dark, but the rain had ceased. Silence has never been my problem, but now it made me grow weary for some reason. The only noise that broke this cocoon of monotony around me, was the baby’s laughter. I remember thinking, it would start crying any minute, but … it never did.
This made me curious, as to whether she had gotten up to check upon her baby boy, so I sneaked to the compact door of her bedroom, noticing it was cracked open. I could see her; she had fallen into a deep slumber, with her back against the wooden window, facing her baby’s crib. A desire to enter the room, and watch her sleep left as quickly as it entered my mind. How beautiful she looked under the light…. That hellishly pale silver light. At first I thought it to be moonlight, but considering the previous storm I knew it was definitely not a clear night. I failed to see the rest of the miniscule room, so I cracked the door a bit more open…”
His eyes froze in fear, his throat felt unable to let out a noise, and wrinkles of worry possessed his forehead. Noticing the patient was close to a breakthrough, at least that was what the young doctor thought, he pushed Smith once more, to finish his story.
“Go on… what did you see next?”
With gut wrenching dread sinking its claws into his posture, now even more crumbled than before, a trembling voice promised the doctor his curiosity was going to be satisfied.
“I saw, these … three … women … leaning over the baby’s crib… they … they were chanting some strange words … Two of them were at each end of the crib, and the third one was right in front of it. I strained beyond any man’s capacity to hear, and see under the dim light. Until my eyes adjusted, and a clear image of all three pale creatures appeared before my crusty eyes.
One of them, the one closest to the little boy’s head, was a pale shadow, in a subtle, flattering blue dress. She had a clear, sharp face, adorned by a delicate smile, and a traditional, golden collar made out of coins on her wide forehead. All the light seemed to come out of her… from her and… and the blue gown she wore, unveiling two thin and fragile shoulders, under her long, fair hair.
A warm, strangely familiar feeling came over me, while my eyes still feasted to the sight of her. On the other side of the tiny crib, before the feet of the child, was another, seemingly older woman. Her presence was elegant, not as wild as the first one, serious, but in a polite manner. Her lack of expression exposed her firmness even more. All I could see were her dark locks waving back and forward, as if some invisible wind blew inside the room. Even her vestments were dark… dark and fine – drawn, unveiling little, close to no flesh…
But the last one… the last one was different … at first I couldn’t tell if it was a woman at all, I stared for what felt like ages in the candle shaped, black robe, until two hands of an elderly woman, with claws on the end of each finger, gripped to the crib. I had to stop myself from screaming, once my eyes sunk on the floor, where I could see no feet… they all, hovered aside the child.
Ice ran through my veins, to the thought they could harm that poor innocent creature, I wanted to enter the room and make them leave, but petrified as I was, I couldn’t move a single muscle. The one thing that didn’t fail me was my hearing. At further times of my life, I wished I was deaf as a mole, so I couldn’t hear anything they said that night. But I did. I heard it all; I comprehended every word that came out of the lips of the three women.”
Like a dried out spring, words cased their flow. Smith did not hide his shame, staring at the torn mattress beneath his foot. His brows, bent with sorrow, hinted remorse to the young doctor, slowly filling his lungs with air, in order to proceed with a question.
“What did they say?”
What was left from his once shoulder long hair, now flipped backwards, unveiling the face where the two eyes spewed profound certainty in his words.
“At first, I thought it to be gibberish, a pointless rant of some never published poem … but with everything that happened… night after night, their words kept coming back … nightmares transforming Slavic verses into an English poem I still know by heart … I’ve never put it into words, even though it constantly echoes in my mind…”
Seeing how a few words drove a man to the verge of insanity, the doctor couldn’t help but ask for the poem to be unleashed out of the poor man’s psyche.
“Would you like to share it with me?”
With a disturbing look gushing suspicion, and a creeping smile resembling a bear trap, Smith answered with a question
“You… want to hear it?”
Considering his mental state, the doctor paid no mind to the mask of morbidity on Smith’s face. He wanted to continue the conversation with the one patient in the hospital, who never said a word for the 20 years he’s been locked up. Only screams of agony during his episodes were witness he was not mute. In the doctor’s mind, the poem was the one thing holding him back from any progress. So he confirmed his desire to hear it.
“Yes Mr. Smith, I do want to hear it. Recite it for me”
With a drop of hesitation in his voice, Smith continued his story, leaning close to his doctor.
“They stood still, ogling the baby; with those hollow eyes … I could see all of them at one point, as they prowled around the crib. First to speak was the youngest. She reached for the boy’s forehead, closing the eyelids; she spoke with a feminine, sweet voice:
“Reason is the call he will chose to follow,
By madness he shan’t be swallowed;
Pure heart resides in his chest,
One the unfortunate will know best;
His life, a joyful blast,
Until old age it will last”
She retracted the gloating arm to her torso, quickly as if she caught a fright from the other two, standing close to her. Then another voice, from the darker figure reaching to the tiny heart of the infant; this one, almost sinister, still femininity dominated over the note of malice. She too, slammed the dark, empty eyes shut and continued, as if defying everything
the first one said:
“You know naught of his heart,
Loneliness will claim it, for the most part;
Ten years will pass,
When misery becomes his path;
Vengeful flames swallowing the womb that gave him life,
A sole survivor of a tragic strife;
With a dream to guide him to the new land,
He will rise to be a helping hand”
She concluded, with a mischievous grin on her face. That’s when she moved aside, along with the first one. A strange odor of dread took over the humble room, while the third shadow neared even closer to the crib. The black nothingness of her robe rose above it, while the baby’s laughter stopped completely. What I saw next still appalls me, till this day. A face where old age sunk its claws, yanking down the flesh of the two cheeks almost to the ground. Eyes possessed with gloom, broken singularly by two, red marbles shining in the dark.
Floating a top of the infant, the silver strains of her hair tumbled down, as if to reach for the baby, peacefully lying inside the crib. It seemed her hair had a life of its own, as it curled around the unsuspecting child. Wrapped in an ancient woman’s hair, I could see no fear on the tiny face, floating in mid air, along the monster. As the two, cracked and wrinkled lips moved, a high pitch voice broke the absolute silence that ruled over the room, once it was her turn.
“Wisdom and hope, you both desire
This life will end in the opposite of fire;
An end not before long,
Thirty three is the last number before it is gone;
Once the unheard truth blooms before his grown ears,
Trough a man, plagued with madness across the years;
To escape a watery doom he will try,
But no concrete cloth can break this knot I, now tie”
I can still hear the screeching voice inside my head. I only stood there, like a statue made out of the heaviest stone, wondering what in God’s name was I witnessing? My eyes followed the two women, pulling a single hair out of the frosty locks of the monster, still yielding the baby within them. And then … then … I saw … these scissors, like two swords Knights used to posses, emitting silvery glare between the covert, hardened palms of the middle woman.
The one that spoke first, took the white string of hair between the playful fingers, twisted it around them three times, before the fierce sound of the scissors rendered it lifeless. Then, the monstrosity of a woman pulled her cloak back over the grizzly head, putting the child back where it belonged. The last glimpse I had was the sight of the youngest, placing the now dead hair in the right hand of the little boy. Next thing I knew, it was morning and my nostrils were overwhelmed with the smell of a tasty omelet coming from outside.”
The doctor’s palm, now placed over his soft lips, trembled to the morbid poem this strange man just recited without any hesitation. It was the first time, a lunatic sounded so eloquent, so well read, and almost reasonable. A thought that flashed, and quickly faded in his mind, and still interested in the end of the story, he asked:
“What happened next? Did you tell her what you saw?”
“No. I couldn’t. I think it was because, I thought of what happened as a dream. But later I learned just how wrong I had been”
“The only thing I did before leaving was look at the tiny, right palm of the infant. It had a strange mark, a hook like, dusty string. His mother couldn’t see it, but to me, it was as clear as day, a miniscule silver hook lurking around the thumb. As if the hair from the ancient woman pierced the pale skin, and settled under it.
I chose to ignore the happenings from the last night, thanked her one last time and was on my way to the next village. A month later, I was back home, empty handed. I was amazed by the fact that a few years later, I still remembered everything from that damned dream. Eight more years passed, and I was reading my morning newspaper when … I saw her; the woman that gave me shelter from the rain 10 years ago.
It was a flattering picture, she held a child, about nine or ten years old in her arms; a face that hadn’t aged for a single day, shying under the dark hair, curled just above the shoulders. A smile that could melt the ice off the heart of the cruelest monarch, was the only accessory she needed to complement the simple wedding dress adorning her body. Next to her, a man whose eyes gave away the love growing inside his heart, for the woman that he just married. For a brief moment, happiness resided in mine, until I read the title of the story.
“Couple slaughtered on their wedding night”
Surprised by the direction of Smith’s story, the doctor’s eyes widened in terror under the thin glass of his eyewear; cold sweat caressed his neck, down to the last vertebrae of his spine. Smith’s face, pale like a white canvas, was depraved of any emotion. Only the certainty in his words, produced a lump of dread above the Adam’s apple of the doctor.
“He was an established European businessman, whose previous heartbreak led him to the steep mountain she called home. He found comfort, love in her gentle arms. Few weeks later, drunken by passion, they wished to crown their love in marriage. What he never told the poor mother of one child, was that an enraged, scorned lover of three years sought vengeance against him. He left an infertile bride, to drown in tears before the glorious altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.
After a year of struggles inside a psychiatric hospital, she suppressed her rage, the way her wealthy father suppressed the rumors around the incident. She caught into the footsteps of the one that betrayed her. Watching, creeping, and planning retaliation against him and his new bride. She waited patiently, among the shrubs and bushes behind the window of the petite cottage. When lust tired the two lovers, slumber gradually took over, giving her the long desired opportunity.
Thirsty for vengeance, she slipped inside the home, using the cracked bedroom window as entrance. With the blurry line between dream and reality to her advantage, the lovers found themselves tied up against the wooden handles of their bed. With only rope over their hands and feet, they laid at each side of the bed, looking at the eyes of their executioner. Her wrath drove every plunge of the knife through the heart of the woman who took her place.
She made him watch, as life drained from her eyes, the eyes that caressed my face ten years ago. His pleads and screams didn’t help, even after his wife was dead, she seemed to want something more. With the cold, precise hand of a surgeon, she scalped her way to the womb. After pulling it out from the lifeless body, she nailed it to the rustic door. She watched as the man she once loved, squealed and begged for forgiveness, promising marriage, and a second chance, everything her dark heart once longed for.
But empty words had no meaning to a woman crazed by wrath. With fresh blood still dripping down her knife, she butchered his genitals, punishing him to a slow death, staring at the burning womb doused in kerosene. Her last gift to him, before she slit her throat, and tumbled over the dying man.
The next morning, the gruesome discovery claimed one more life, the mother of the poor, gutted woman, bringing her grandson home. Her heart failed, once she saw three dead bodies, resting on the bloody sheets. The little boy, witnessing the collapse of his only living relative, ran out of the house to the next village, where he asked for help, saying his grandmother felt ill. It’s a good thing he didn’t go inside the room…”
With the last word bringing numbness to his patient, now staring blankly into the floor, the doctor made an attempt to burst the bubble of desperation surrounding his patient.
“What happened to the little boy?”
The absent stare of Smith took meaning again, as his eyes filled with tears of guilt, under the frowned eyebrows.
“I tried to find him… I wanted to take him with me… but no matter what I did, getting to him was impossible. I tried calling every single county in that area, but the line went dead, each time I mentioned the gruesome act. But I was determined, that boy would not live in misery! So I decided to go back for him. But fate put a brick wall before my destination.
Coincidence after coincidence, every single time I planned a trip, it had to be canceled. After six months, and about thirty futile attempts for a trip to Europe, my family slipped further and further away. I became obsessed with a Slavic tale I read in a study I found online. Someone broke the fort of silence, and published some of their myths. I remember, the first time I read it. A storm was raiding my hometown, thunderstorms, as if to warn me of the revelation.”
“What did you find?”
“A story… about, three immortal women. Slavic people called them the three fates or judges. I could find it in Greek mythology too, only by another name. They are the ones who decide one’s fate. Once a baby is brought in this world, they forge tales about its destiny. The first one – kind, the second one – cruel, but the last one, she always has the last, defining word. And it’s never good! It’s never good! NEVER GOOD!”
The doctor watched how Smith’s sorrow morphed into rage, only to culminate in weeps of despair. His screams softened after a while, but the agonizing tale was not yet over.
“You see doctor, it is their words, their prophecy that brought me here! I learned every single detail of what happened that fateful night, trough a fellow researcher. He told me everything the paper never dared to publish, the gruesome, vengeful murders, the burning of the uterus, her suicide after the act. But all that I could learn about the little boy, was that officials took him to an orphanage in another city, as far away from the crime scene as possible.
From that moment on, it was night after night plagued with gruesome nightmares, pictures of the three women, their words, the events that happened, what was to come, could I do something to stop it? But once I started questioning my own fate… that is when, my family decided it was time for me to rot in an asylum. But you know, secretly I know, I have the last word! They said, a mad man will reveal his fate! But, as you can see, I am as sane, and eloquent as any other person, in spite of everything! Would a mad man choose silence, to stop a dreadful fate?”
He giggled, clinging to the doctor with his look. Unable to retain it, a question escaped from the doctor’s mind.
“Why now? You have been silent for almost 20 years, what made you talk?”
Like a teenager, who just cheated on a test, first joy, but then regret plagued the face of Smith. He answered with a deep sense of certitude.
“Because, I feel I am to die soon. And I had to unburden my soul. But as mad as everyone considers me to be, I am sure of one thing – I am the savior of that little boy! The boy who is probably, a doctor… somewhere in the states… probably a psychiatrist… or …”
Anguish dropped in the eyes of the mad man. He gazed at the young healer, staring at him with confusion frowning his face. Just as thoughts of regret filled the half bald head, a strong blast from beneath, shook them to the core. Shortly after, water started filling the room plastered in concrete and cloth. Smith just stood there, stricken with guilt, whispering the poem, when the weight of what he did sunk like the heaviest of rocks in his heart.
The doctor desperately tried to open the jammed metal door, but being the last one on the shift, no one could hear his screams. Water rushed into the room, leaving the two men, trapped in the basement of the asylum. Built more than 100 years ago, floods were unheard of in that institution. However, that night, the old pluming in the foundation of the building failed. Curiously enough, the solitary where they kept the patients after an episode, was where an old pipe ruptured under the pressure.
Smith, now doused in water up to his neck, had one last request.
“Show me your right hand doctor!”
“Why?” the doctor asked, struggling to keep water out of his mouth
“Just do it!”
The doctor pulled his hand out of the pool of water around them, causing a wild reaction in the patient. There it was, the young man’s life line, resembling the same mark he saw on the baby’s tiny palm, a silvery, short hook laughing at his face. In Smith’s mind, there was no question about it, he just killed the boy he was trying to save.