Retribution
By Laurie Paulsen
The hunched figure shuffled to the fire, stoked the flames and settled in the rocking chair reflected in the
firelight. She wore a thick shawl, her face obscured in shadows.
“I tell you, boy. Then you leave,” she said, shifting to look the boy in the eye. “You leave and no come
back.” A bony finger rose off her lap to point at him.
Simon nodded and sat on the rug next to the fireplace, huddling against the chill. Tired, he’d been hiding
the past few days, hounded by this creature at night. Its nocturnal raging left him terrified and he needed
an answer before it reached him, tore into him with its jagged claws, sank into his pliant flesh with its
silvery teeth.
Simon decided Mother Magda might know what to do. She was very old, the oldest woman in town. He
scanned the small cabin, doing his best to ignore the frantic scratching and yowls outside. Mother Magda
snorted and tucked her shawl close in. She stared at the fire, her gaze pensive.
“I saw it come when I was girl. In old village, in old country; night time, full moon. Cold, like tonight.” She
rubbed her hands together, her swollen knuckles silhouetted in the firelight. “It wanted Olya, for to return
with it to grave. My sister, Olya, betrothed to man. She was,” Magda gestured with both hands at her
abdomen, “to birth, to born a child with this man. Man died in drowning. Olya mourn and go on, have
born baby.” Magda paused, her chair creaking as she rocked. She worked her gums for a moment and
then continued. “Olya not love this man. She love other man, but other man not take her, not with dead
man’s born baby. So, Olya hate born baby.” Mother Magda rocked for a minute, staring with empty eyes.
Her breath hitched and she wiped at her face with rough hands. “Olya, she murder born baby.”
The sounds outside grew louder, the thumping against the outer walls shaking dust from the rough
ceiling beams. Simon watched the door as Magda intoned, his thighs tensed in their crouch. He decided
the thick pane window would be his best route, if need be. He hoped the creature outside didn’t think of
it first and that Magda would hurry up and get to the important—
“Boy, you listen? Is important. All is important,” she warned, her one clear eye glaring. Wisps of black
hair framed her face, sneaking out from under her babushka. “Olya dead baby come back for her, to
make her be mother, even in grave.”
The wind picked up, whistling through the flue and into the room. The pitch matched the keening outside
as the drekavac screeched, its claws scoring the thick logs forming the cabin walls. Tree branches
whipped back and forth, batting against the roof.
“Sssssiiimonnn . . . “
Simon gasped, his heart frozen in his chest. He grasped Magda’s armrest.
“What does it want, Mother Magda?”
His blood stilled in his veins as the abomination outside spoke again.
“Ssssiiimonnn, come to meee . . .”
“Boy, what you do?” Magda stood and wobbled to the door, listening through.
You do something to bring this on you.” She pressed her palm to the wood and closed her eyes.
“Just tell me. Please, how did your sister make it go away?” Simon’s head whipped around as the back
wall shook from the impact as the creature lashed out in fury. “And how can we know it can’t get in?”
The corners of Magda’s mouth tilted up and she pointed at the fist-sized, stuffed cloth sacks hanging
above the door and windows without opening her eyes. “I am safe, boy.” She turned her head and
pinned the boy with her gaze. “You, though; you in danger.”
“I am?” Simon squeaked and then cleared his throat. “In here?” He backed against the hearthstone,
comforted by the solid, cool rock. “Why?”
Magda ignored him, listening to the wailing, the snarling outside. She nodded, and returned to her chair,
rocking as if her story had been uninterrupted.
“I finish story. What you want, yes?”
“Only if it tells me how to send this, this drekavac away.”
She cackled and continued rocking, her bony fingers gripping the ends of the armrests, her tiny feet
arching in her slippers as she pushed back on the rocker.
“Boy, make no matter the why. Only matter the truth. Truth is…you cannot stop drekavac. Drekavac has
justice, has truth. Drekavac is, how you say, avenging.”
Simon shook his head as she spoke, his cheeks losing color, “Avenging what? I didn’t do anything
wrong.”
The creaking stopped as she directed her gimlet eye at the boy, “Lying boy.”
“Ssssiimonnn…come to meee.”
The boy shuddered, racking his memory of any wrongdoing, any hurt he’d caused. His stomach clenched,
a pit opening up in his chest, as he remembered.
“Ah, he remembers.”
But, it was an accident; an accident. Frederick had fallen into the river while playing and the neighborhood
children couldn’t do anything to save him. The boy couldn’t swim and the current was too strong. Weeks
ago. Frederick, who was smaller than the other boys asked for help crossing on the slippery rocks. Simon
and his friends laughed, goading the younger boy to grow up; to grow some balls. Simon winced, reliving
the moment Frederick fell and his piercing guilt at watching the boy sink. He thrashed, splashing and
yelping before water filled his pink lungs, before he succumbed to the inevitable forces of nature.
“But, why me?” Simon asked, tears filling his eyes. “Why wouldn’t it come for the other boys?”
Magda shook her head as if the movement caused her pain and pressed her lips together. She hitched up
her long skirt and stood, shuffling toward the door. Her eyes were cast down, her shoulders bowed.
“I am sorry, child. Truth, I am.” She reached for the heavy latch and raised the bar. “But, you must
know.”
She let the howling wind push the door open, the moonlight illuminating the silhouette of a stooped,
broken figure standing in the raging storm. Tatters of its school uniform still clung to its gray flesh. It
turned its face to the night sky and screamed, rage and sorrow leaving its throat in a torrent.
“It did.”