A stryzga is a mythological creature from slavic folklore, a female demon or vampire-like figure, feared to pray travelers in the night. According to myth, people with odd peculiarities such as people born with two sets of teeth, those who did not grow hair in their armpits, or those with a unibrow or some kind of a birthmark on their back would turn into styzga after they died.
Giggles flit through the air catch her attention. She quickly hurries to hide out of sight behind a fallen log. She scans through the empty, quickly darkening forest for the source of the noise when, through the brush, a fair, young woman frolics into view through the dim light. Her dress and cloak swirling about her form. A larger cloaked figure chases her playfully, clutching a basket with a lantern affixed to his waist.
“Alina!…Alina! Slow down, the clearing should be just up ahead.”
“Ha ha! You’ll have to catch me first!” she briefly turns around to tease with a mischievous smile before continuing her pace through the wood.
With a soft chuckle, the man easily increases his pace to catch up to her. Hearing his footfalls, the frolicking girl tries to duck out of the way but is too late, and she is swept into his arms. He holds her closely, securely and leans his cloak-covered head down to hers to whisper something in her ear that causes her grin widely. He pulls back, his gaze seemingly locked on hers, taking in her features in the dim lantern light. Several moments pass between them, both silent.
Their moment is broken when, in adjusting from her uncomfortably held position, leaves crunch and twigs snap beneath the hidden one’s weight. The couple look away from each other, scanning the quiet forest for the source. Their shadowed figures, illuminate now only by the low glow of the lantern, rigid and alert. They could not spot her though, not with her dirt-streaked face, ragged clothing, and leaf dotted hair that blended with the dark forest so well.
“Perhaps tis just some small woodland creature…?” The woman says quietly to the man with uncertainly.
“Perhaps…,” he agrees without much heart to it, “but we should go to the clearing now. Come on, it’s just past this grove.” He sets the woman back on her feet and links his hand with hers to guide her through the forest.
When they had moved past, she lets out a breath of relief. That was a close call. What would they have done if they’d discovered her? But… that basket. Surely they have food, she thinks as she clutches her rumbling stomach. It had been quite a while since her last meal, and they were here… in the forest. She wouldn’t have to risk being spotted in the village rummaging through the refuse for edible portions. They’d call her a monster, do their best to stone her, if they noticed her too close.
Ruled by her stomach, she resolves to follow the couple and try to sneak away some food if they become distracted. Slowly she stands from her crouched position and heads in the direction they disappeared. She comes upon them in a small meadowed clearing. There they sit on the soft grass side by side, enjoying the food from the basket the man had carried. The lantern sits in the grass a little ways off from them to illuminate the area. Her eyes narrow on the barest shadow of the basket, trying to think of how to lure them away to snatch it.
Loud giggling and rumbling laughter break her concentration, and she looks to the couple to find that the man has rolled over, tumbling with the woman, until he lay sprawled over her a few feet from the basket, on the edge of the lantern light burning away the lengthening shadows. If she circles round the clearing and enters from the side to their back, she might be able to sneak the basket away quietly. She skirts round the edge of the wood line, and upon seeing them to still be engaged with one another, makes her way towards the basket. She stays as low as she can, hunching over to remain as small as possible. Quietly she reaches out to grab the basket…
“What is— Ahhh! Monster!” the young woman shrieked. The couple jumps apart, the young man reaching for his knife.
She freezes, terrified by the glint of the blade in the man’s hand. In the now dim light, she can only just make out their shadows beyond the light of the lantern. Quickly now, she turns to run back to the shadows of the forest and the safety she found there. But she was not quick enough. All too soon, her movement is halted by a blow to her back.
“That’s the Strzyga! Kill it! Kill it!” the woman yells out as the man falls atop her back, knocking her hunched figure to the ground. She writhes and wiggles for all she’s worth, trying to free herself from under the man. Growling and shrieking in terror with unused vocal cords, strained by the sudden use, a wet gasp is suddenly ripped from her throat as she feels piercing, fiery pain enter her back. The weight slowly leaves, and another gasp of pain tore from her as she is roughly turned over. She winces away from the bright light of the lantern he now held in her face.
“Wha—? Alina it—it isn’t a monster. It’s—Oh Lord! Tesia? What have I done?” he exclaims, horrified at the realization of his hasty actions. She could only watch, gurgling up blood, as he falls to his knees, hands raised to his head with an expression of pain and shock. “What do I— She—She needs help! We must get her help!” he exclaims in a panic, jerking away the hood of his cloak before reaching forward to grab hold of her.
Tesia’s eyes flare wide in recognition as the hood of his cloak is hastily pulled back. She had not properly seen his face in the dim light as his closeness now allowed her to, had not recognized his deepened voice. Slowly she begins to form the words, practicing the movements before giving them voice.
“Hel-lp…Ple-ease…” her rough voice quietly calls out. At that the woman moves forward, grabbing the knife from where it had fallen to the ground in the man’s distress.
“What are you thinking, Marcinek? She’s a Strzyga, a monster!” she yells before springing forward to attempt to jam the knife into Tesia’s chest.
“No! What…are you… doing?” he ground out while grappling onto her shoulders to pry her away before she could cause further injury.
As she’s dragged away from the girl, still struggling in the man’s arms, she shouts, “I hope you burn in the depths of hell, you hideous creature!”
He scrambles to take the knife from her, to disarm the current threat but is unsuccessful. Using all his strength, he does all he can just to keep hold of her with all her writhing to keep her from breaking free and attacking the other girl.
“Do you not remember when the alderman cast her out! My mama always said she was a bad sort, that she was born with teeth! A sure sign of a Strzyga!” she raves, now in hysterics.
“No! My uncle was ill. I was sent to help with the fieldwork till he recovered. I pressed mother and father when I returned, but they’d only tell me that she was no longer allowed in the village. No one else would speak of it! I thought she was sent to some of our kin and not to return!” he returns angrily and indignant before continuing, “She was always an outcast in the village, it would have been better for her.” He takes a moment to refix his grasp on her squirming figure, “And what about her teeth? So she was born with a tooth or two at birth! It does not make her a monster!”
“No, but she tried to seduce Krzysztof—”
A rough, strained “No-o!” from Tesia interrupted her.
“You harlot! HE told the alderman, ‘bout a few years back, how she enticed him, attacked him, and tried to bite him. She showed her true nature then!” she adds but begins trying to calm herself. The man’s grip relaxes as he notices the excitement leaving her. Her chest still heaving with panicked, ragged breaths, she continues, “The alderman simply banished her after your parent’s pleas But…
“We should have killed her then! Burned her body to keep her from harming anyone else!” She shouts as she burst forth from his relaxed grip the knife still in hand. Before he could stop her, she’d plunged the knife forward into Tesia’s small body. She was soon pulled away by the man, but it was too late.
Tesia could only watch as the argument continued, renewed in its excitement. Though soon her breaths grow more ragged, and darkness begins to creep at the edge of her vision. As Tesia’s vision fades, she watches as, seeing her state with a quick glance behind him, he rushes back to her. Falling to his knees beside her once more, he pleads with her keep her eyes from closing, to hang on with tears streaming down his face, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. The last she saw was the pain and self-hatred burning in her brother’s eyes.
Sarah Rau, is an undergraduate student of Lindenwood University majoring in English Studies with interests in creative writing and professional communication. Though more of a fiction-based writer, she enjoys taking the time to express herself in the occasional poem. In addition to this piece, she has other works published in Arrow Rock’s 14th and 15th editions. In her free time, she can most often be found trying to lose herself in the world of a fantasy novel.