26 October 2015
Today, a cozy little inn that stands at the crossroads is full of talk, music and the soft light makes mysterious shadows dance in the corners of the dancefloor. How else would it be in the night of the dead! A cheerful and at the same time very dangerous festival that came to us from ancient times. The conversations between guests vary, on one table mysterious whispers are exchanged while at another the crowd erupts into loud laughter. Bat, skeleton and even scarecrow-shaped candles that were made especially for this holiday are burning on the tables and ceiling beams. The front door is kept open, letting in stragglers all night long.
Around the table at the far corner, next to the bar, a lively discussion just started between an old but still strong veteran and a young man.
- ...No way! - the veteran slams his fist on the table - that is impossible!
- Why not?! - shouts his companion, - I saw it with my own eyes! Curious guests began to gather around the table – and really, why not to listen some interesting stories?
- This is how it happened - a man slapped his hand on the table, calling the waitress, - I was returning home from the castle library. It was late, but the moon was shining, and I knew the road very well – there was nothing to fear. We were freed from the plague of the wild beasts a long time ago and bandits were driven away even earlier. I walked, thinking about the new research projects – perhaps you already heard of them - we came up with an idea how to use the fog of war to accomplish our goals, to create a route to the place we need to go and shorten the time we usually would spend on our way.
With a smile, the waitress put a few mugs with frothy drinks on the table. The man nodded gratefully, wet his throat, and continued:
- While walking, I was deep in my thoughts and then, suddenly, I heard music playing! It was a road in the open field, so no one could play music there! Well, I prayed to old gods and increased my pace. However, the further I would go, the louder the music would become! Then women's laughter joined it. I felt a chill running down my spine. I started running away as fast as I could, but I was also curious, so I turned around to look back. I was shocked – I saw a girl hovering above the ground. She had a painted skull instead of her face – and held a lute in her hands. Pumpkins and all sorts of sweets began to grow out of the ground where she passed.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead.
- I don’t remember anything after that. I must have completely passed, I don’t even remember how I got home - but this is what I found on my doorstep this morning - he reached into his pocket and pulled out something small, putting it on the table. After taking a closer look, it was possible to discern a surprisingly elegant skull, skillfully carved out of a piece of sugar by an unknown master artisan.
The crowd that had gathered around the table gasped. Even the veteran didn’t argue, he just stuffed his pipe thoughtfully and squinted, looking at the skull.
- But you’re not the only one to whom strange things happened - the crowd made some room, letting a young woman to the table. She sat down on the vacant chair, smiled, and accepted her dish of roasted pumpkin that was passed to her.
- A family lived in my neighborhood - mother and daughter. They were not wealthy, but still happy together. The daughter used to go to the forest and gather herbs, so that her mother could make mixtures of them and sell them to pharmacies. However, one time the girl didn’t return home from the forest - whether she simply got lost, or something happened to her... nobody knows. After that her mother fell into despair and became a different woman – she could barely walk, had no wish to speak, she was only sitting at the window, waiting for her daughter to return. One evening, when I was busy with my embroidery, I suddenly heard children's voices outside my house. – Has the lost girl returned? – I looked through the window – But I couldn’t understand, I saw a blurred silhouette of the girl. Her clothes were covered in something like spider`s web. How happy her mother was! She rushed out of the house, hugged her daughter but then, suddenly, the girl waved her hand - and they both disappeared.
The woman took a sip, as speaking for so long tended to dry her throat and touched the skull.
- I am not easily scared, so I put on a coat, ran out of my house and went to the place where they were standing just a few moments ago - but everything I could find was a hairpin made of pumpkin. This is the one - the woman took a hairpin off her hair and put it on the table – it’s my protective charm against evil spirits now.
- You should better be careful with that, - said a man from the crowd - May I sit down? - Looking at the other guests, he waited for a confirming nod, took a seat at the table and threw a dried rose on it.
- You talk of protective charms ... Don’t joke with such things, oh, please don’t. I once had a friend who was an explorer. He often went into the fog of war, looking for temples, treasures and the ancient knowledge. Once he told me about the ruins that he had found not far from our city.
-Strange,- he said – it’s not a temple, not a tower, nor an ordinary house – it seemed to be a basin made of an unusual stone - pink, like marble, but it wasn’t darkened, only a little bit crumbled by time.
- He went to these ruins every day, trying to understand what was hidden there and who had built it. We told him to stop before something bad could happen, but he didn’t listen to us. One time he came to me in the evening, his eyes were shiny and his hair disheveled. He said that he had found a door and a room behind it. It was huge, all in gold, crystals were everywhere, frescoes adorning the walls and a large mirror on the ceiling. There were no tables, nothing, only a rose bush in the center of the room. Young and stupid as he was ... he tore a rose from the bush and ran away to tell everyone what he had found. The next morning we assembled a squad and went there... Unfortunately we couldn’t find the room - even the ruins disappeared - everything scattered in the sand. My friend just couldn’t believe it and in a week he began to laugh – he told everyone, that the rose is his lucky talisman. And really, - everything he was doing, was successful. But then he began to lose weight and he started suffering from insomnia. He said all his dreams were about the rose bush and that there was a voice calling him back. We didn’t believe him at first, but later we decided to bring him to a doctor. It seems that he even felt good - that shine appeared in his eyes again, he began joking and that his loss of weight didn’t matter, that it would get better with time. But then...one morning he disappeared. I went to his house, because we had agreed to go into the woods for hunting or just to shoot, to relax – but there was no one home. His boots were still there, his mug on the table still warm. Well, I thought – he probably just went out for a little bit and would come back soon. I waited half an hour, an hour and then two hours. After that I told everyone to start looking for him. We searched the whole city – but he disappeared without leaving a trace. All that was left behind was his rose. However, it didn’t bring luck anymore, only disease and misfortune. So many of my friends disappeared after having taken this rose home – too many! Only I am still alive, though I have yet to see the sun since back then.
- A young girl, almost a child, came to the table - she was quite pale. You can’t get rid of this rose once and for all?
- If only I could - the man shook his head sadly, - there is nothing that can make it disappear.
The antique clock behind the counter stroke ten times. Discussions have gradually started to settle down, only at the table in the corner it was still lively. The veteran, with whose story everything started, had already retired to his room a long time ago to get some rest, but the company of four guests that were telling all this strange, mystical stories were still disputing.
Guests could hear loud echoes of their heated debate. The young girl who recently joined their company was about to prove something to the other, waving a piece of bandage.
- I’m telling you, - she threw her hair back – he just stood up and walked away! We had spent days to cure him, there was no spot on his skin that remained intact. We were wondering – how could he stay alive, all covered in bandages, with gray hair? Suddenly - some haze appeared around his body, the air was vibrating, shimmering green. We weren’t frightened, everything happened very quickly. He just stood up and walked away - still covered in his bandages! I tried to stop him, but he turned around, his eyes sparkled and he dissolved in the air. Only a bandage fluttered to the ground...
Gradually all the conversations ceased, all the guests went to their rooms, and the four guests at the table continued their conversations until midnight. But as soon as the hand of the clock crossed the mark of 12 hours, they simultaneously stood up, without making any arrangements before, and headed to the exit.
- Dear guests, - the innkeeper called out - How long are you going to stay outside? It’s late, I will need to lock the door soon.
- No, - the woman turned around. A mask of an „ordinary human” began to fall off her face and the outlines of a lute appeared behind her back. - We are not going to stay there long. Perhaps we’ll come back soon. Maybe in a week...