Boyan spent the festive afternoon building a coffin for his mother.
She had lived alone above the village in the old family house that was passed through many unnamed generations till half of it resulted ruined. Nonetheless Boyan had liked living in seclusion and quiet, but never saw much love for the village or the villagers, and neither had they all the years he lived there. He had been released from prison the day before to watch the autumn leafs be blown across a full graveyard by the coldest October winds he could remember. There were ghosts voicing the naked field, tombstones made audible with moans and bickering laughter. Boyan had no money to have a proper burial for his mother, so he took upon himself to make a casket from loose boards in the house. He found he had to visit the village for supplies to put together the casket.
Boyan walked, a grey man in his father’s old coat standing out from the festive colors of the villagers dressed in dyed animal skins and red colors to fight back the evil spirits of their diseased relatives from possessing them. They all watched him soundless, pumpkin heads and scarecrows. Boyan banged his fists on the only door he had memory of being open to him and asked the old man Luka if he could borrow him a bag of nails and a hammer and a shovel. Luka, oiling his mustaches with greasy fingers, chewed his food and heard Boyan’s plea.
“Aye, just for your mother,” he said and went inside his home, “She was a good woman. Strong one,” Boyan heard from inside the warmth of the house. Luka returned with the needed and Boyan thanked him, making his way back home.
He worked all day on the casket and then wrapped the fragile body of his mother, peaceful in her eternal sleep, in her whitest sheet. He tied a rope he found in the basement around the casket and dragged it across the woods by the paths he knew as a child to a field with small white flowers in the heart of it lighted by the very last rays of a faded distant sun. Even from here he could hear the celebratory pagan ritual taking its beginning. He had no desire to join them, but a part of him wished he had someone to talk to. Boyan went down to his knees and touched where the soil was favorable. It was cold and grey and when he struck it with the shovel he almost dropped it because it had felt as if he was hitting through concrete. Boyan knew he would dig through the night.
By moonlight, a full moon above, Boyan had nearly dug deep enough to lower the casket. Boyan sat himself up from the edge of the dig and armed up with the shovel again, plunged it into the dirt when it hit at something solid. Boyan found himself not breathing, the gravedigger that he was, fearing skeletons and more coffins underneath.
He pushed the shovel aside and fell to his knees digging with hands, dirt under his fingernails until they scratched at the darkened wood of what was a large box chained shut. Boyan managed to free it from the rectangular hole it had sunk in and bring it out, himself along. He crawled beside it and took in his hand the old large lock scraping with his thumb the dirt from it. There was a carved cross above the keyhole and when Boyan turned the lock around he found a larger one decorating the entirety of it. He thought odd a simple wooden box like this needed religious protection, and a chain so thick and heavy, but his mind raced towards treasures and the Holy Grail, perhaps the bones of a Tsar.
The shovel was back in his hands and Boyan brought it down on the lock, hitting as mighty as he could until it broke right in the middle, separating the cross in two.
“Good God,” he muttered and fell back.
There was a large skull placed in a bed of hay, and Boyan felt like he should cross his soul with trembling fingers, not because of the separated head, or the length of the sharp teeth of the beast coming from a wide protruded snout , but mostly because of its enlarged skull. Boyan touched the back of his own head and sat down. It looked almost human if it wasn’t for its jaw. Like a beast and a man in one, Boyan thought wrapping himself in the old dusted coat.
Boyan had never insisted upon himself to believe in superstitions, the talks of disturbing spirits, but he couldn’t fight the sensation of supernatural building inside him now that he was staring at this unnatural skull. He thought back to stories of wolf-people, vrkolaks they called them here, the drawings of man shading his skin for a beast to come forth; drawings of maddened man with wolf snouts tearing at babies left in the woods as a sacrifice.
He took out the skull and held it in his hands, cocking his head this and that side, staring into the gaping holes for eyes of the beast, in the dark feeling like he was regressing, stepping back into the skin of someone else, a half-man, half-beast. A vrkolak.
A howl made Boyan shiver, for there were no wolves in the valley, not since the villagers took upon themselves to kill them all. By the second howl Boyan looked behind his shoulder finding only darkness and the path back no more. Then the howl was beside him and it wasn’t the wild wolfs one, but a man panting like a beast would, snarling like he had lost his ability to speak. Then the howl was in his chest, tight and building, a low roar.
He looked down at the coffin still above the ground and quieted himself to hear the drums of the celebration, twinkling lights through the trees. The clothes on his back itched on his skin and he removed them, the shovel light in his hand. He ran to the village.