Just like a Russian sailor who must have his glass of vodka, I must sometimes have a jet-black Russian fairy tale.
This one rivals Bram Stoker for plot. The faint hearted should turn back here, without following me to this particular underworld.
However: if you are resolved, take your phial of holy water and follow me.
In darker days, before Lenin and Stalin, before the Romanovs, before Peter The Great, way back: they used to celebrate St Andrew’s day in a particular way.
All the young women of all the little candlelit villages of the Russian steppes would collect in just one house, and make merry for days.
And if I were a rakish demon, looking for a sweet little girl to torment, I would find one of these cottages and get me an invite.
In the evening the local lads would turn up and eat and drink and be raucously merry. Thus it was in Marusia’s village: and more than anything else, she loved to dance. And this particular evening, the most arresting young man asked his way in.
He swept her off her feet. Never before had anyone danced with such command, such charm. At the end of the evening, he asked her to marry him. And she accepted.
Her mother was quiet when she returned that night to tell her she was to be married. Follow him, her mother counselled. Tomorrow night, see where he goes afterwards.
Which is where elation turned into a cold hard boulder inside her stomach. Skeletons in the cupboard? The charming men of many steps would finish off each evening by dining on the dead in the local graveyard.
The next day he saw her. And she just knew: he had known she was there, watching him feast.
But she wouldn’t admit it. And the demon was so furious he took the people nearest and dearest to her, one by one, and finally she, too, died in mysterious circumstances.
It is so often the old women who are the vanquishers of demons. An old woman of the village had spent the last precious moments of Marusia’s life putting some enchantment into place. A beautiful flower began to grow on Marusia’s grave, and a handsome young man had it potted and put in his house. Of course, it transformed one day into Marusia herself, more beautiful than ever. They fell in love instantly and were soon married.
But Marusia had stipulated one thing: she could not enter a church for four years after their wedding.
Of course, one day her husband bowed to village pressure and insisted, and as Marusia walked in to the church, there was the dashing demon sitting in the window alcove, waiting for her.
“Ah! here you are at last,” he exclaimed. “Just like old times. Were you in the church that night?”
Dry mouthed, Marusia whispered: “No…”
“And did you see what I was doing there?”
Almost inaudible, a silent sob: “No…”
“Very well: tomorrow, your husband and son will die.”
There was nothing for it but to stumble to the house of the babushka. I have a plan, said the old woman. Take a couple of phials: one of holy water, the other of the water of life. Go back, admit the whole thing, and throw it all over him.
“Tell me, Marusia,” the demon wheedled the next morning. “Were you in the church?”
“And did you see what I was doing?”
Not the time to mince words:”You were feasting on the dead.”
No need to fumble with the stoppers: she had them open in anticipation of this. As the water hit his form it crumbled to dust.
And she lived happily ever after, to become a wise old woman herself.
Picture source here