The Balkan Peninsula, an interesting place in Southern Europe, where humans never leave a story alone. Adding details, and blowing a story way out of proportion is our specialty, particularly when fear is in the focus. I guess that's human nature in general, but still I had to share some of what I've been hearing for more than 20 years from my environment. Without further ado, here are some stories that haunted me into adulthood.
1. The hand inside the wall
A hand from hell that reaches out from a bedroom wall at night, disturbing the host of a tiny apartment with a great location, and a curiously low rent. Night after night, the young man struggles to get any sleep, as he keeps seeing a palm, pressing and protruding against the wall, twisting it as if it were made of cloth. The story escalates when the young student gets a dog to help him deal with the situation. Little did he know, that night would be the last one in that apartment, for the next day, his friends found him dead, mangled in canine guts. Someone slaughtered the dog, and utilized its intestines to strangle the apartment's occupant.
Let's just say, high school was a strange place that brought me nightmares worse than any horror movie.
2. The three fates
Ah, a myth known to many in the Balkans, but what elderly women need to learn around here, is to stop telling their grandchildren of less than 10 years their creepy beliefs. This, for example is a myth of three women who appear after a newborn is brought to this world. One particular story stands apart, about a stranded traveler who found himself lying on the floor, across the room of the newborn of the couple who gave him shelter for the night. A night he spent with very little sleep, after hearing three distinct feminine voices argue about the fate of the little boy.
The first woman gifted the baby with kindness and prosperity, the second one wished he could find love and beauty, while the third one condemned him to a short life of only 19 years. She even went into detail, explaining his death; he would indeed find a beautiful girl and fall in love, but on the day of their wedding he would fall into the dried out village well (in the past, people from the Balkans would often gather around a well, usually right in the middle of their village, where they would celebrate great holidays like Easter or even weddings).
The traveler took it upon himself to seal the dried out well, he took it down brick by brick, and proceeded to cover the hole with dirt and wooden planks, he even put a layer of metal a top of it. Feeling confident he had saved the boy from the horrible fate, he decided to say nothing to the parents. Nineteen years later, he found himself staring down the lifeless body of the now grown man inside the well he so desperately tried to destroy.
What can I say, my grandmother is one traditional woman, whose words kept me wondering about my own fate for far too long.
3. Animals or something more?
Well, this one made me look at cats and goats in a very different way. It comes from a small place inhabited mostly by Muslims.
Imagine a dark, country road late at night and a man riding his bike home, to his village. The man sees a goat in the middle of the road, just standing there with a blunt look on it's face. Confused, the man looks around, and after realizing the goat's owner is no where to be found, he proceeds by taking the goat with him. Meter by meter as he nears his village, his ride becomes more and more difficult, but his fatigue and the animal's weight stand as a logical explanation.
The more distance he passes, the more it seems his village is further and further away. Things become crystal clear, but terrifying once he turns back to the animal he decided to take home; instead of a goat, he sees a pale and sickly looking human, staring at him with two deep, dark eyes and a smile resembling a bear trap, clinging to his back with claws in the place of nails.
As for cats, there is a story about a group of friends camping in the woods. Just as they retracted to their tents to get some sleep, they begun hearing strange animal voices. At first, like one small cat meowing, escalating in violent noises of cats growling, fighting and strangling each other to death. Only one person left their tent, letting the others know there were no cats anywhere near them. The group found what was left of their friend the next morning; curled up in a bundle under a tree, with nothing covering his nude shriveled body, he kept leaning back and forward whispering some strange, unfamiliar words.
4.Tied to a grave
This one is on the edge between creepy and disgusting. It has to do with manipulating energy through objects. For example, if a person wants to do harm to someone, marry someone, even cause family feuds, they go to an individual who possesses the knowledge to do so. Let's just say, no religion could ever cloud the traditions of Balkan people passed down orally for generations. From seers to shamans, to people who talk with the dead, you name it, we've got it. It's like a cult of sorts, where people mess with karma just to get what they want in their lifetime.
The most disturbing fact, however, are the methods and tools these seers use to complete their rituals. For example, the water used to wash the dead body, or even the cord used to tie the lifeless hands into position, can be used as totems, one to cause conflict, and another to bind a lover. But a corpse doesn't lose it's utility there, bones are kept in water for months, only to use the liquid later to bring misfortune to someone by pouring it over their head. Hair, lint, or tiny pieces of cloth from the deceased are placed among the clothes of the living one wants to harm. Soil from a grave doused in water, or even blood from a lamb/chicken, later poured before the threshold of an enemy's house, can bring great fulfillment to the ones whose hateful heart desires vengeance or "justice."
This is just a fraction of the things I've heard, of course I never could hear the rest of the story, since the words/chants of the seer doing the ritual remain known exclusively to their families. But what I do know, is that somehow they manage to tie a person/house/family to a ghost/demon, through matter. A grave, a picture, strain of hair, clothes, even a nail one discards, all things that can be used to do harm.
After hearing more than 100 stories of curses and spells done with the most elemental objects, I kind of think twice before I give a photo of myself to anyone.
5. The dance of the Fairies
Fairies, beautiful, noble creatures, usually women, or at least that is the popular modern picture brought to us by the western world. But here, on the Balkans things can often take a dreadful turn for the worst, rather fast. As a "proof" there is one urban legend about a man that disturbed the dance of the fairies.
Supposedly, three men decided to chop firewood in the forest not far from their village. In their search for bigger, older trees, they strayed deeper in the woods, not accounting for daylight. When the sun eventually sunk below the horizon, not having any other choice, they had to spend the night on a tiny slope. Not wanting to sleep on a steep terrain, one of the men headed for the meadow just a few meters away, despite the warnings from his friends.
Just as he began to fall asleep, he heard his two friends calling out his name. Upon opening his eyes, he saw his friends heading further into the woods, explaining they didn't care about the dark, and how he must hurry up and help them to take down a big, old oak. He ran and ran, trying to catch up until a hand stopped him right before he fell into the cliff he somehow failed to see. He turned back to see his two pale friends staring at him, wandering what it was he followed.
It is said that fairies come out in the forests at night, and dance on meadows. Whoever dares to disturb their dance, by stepping, laying or God forbid urinating on their spot, finds him/her self in deep trouble.
Yup, once again thank you grandmother for giving me one more reason not to go camping, like ever!
6. The devil's in the details
This one is similar to number five, only fairies are left out of the equation. This time it is something more sinister, luring a little boy out of need, rather than retaliation.
It goes like this, a little boy hears the voice of his mother calling him at about three in the morning. She wakes him up, asking him to accompany her to the toilet just outside the tiny house. (In the past, and even now Balkan people living in tiny communities - villages found it necessary that the toilet is separated from their living space, and built them a few meters away from their houses) The boy does what his mother says, and watches her go inside the Polish toilet. He waits and waits for what seems as eternity, until his father pulls his hand half an hour later. The father asks his son why is he standing before the toilet, to what the boy answers "I am waiting for mommy to come out"
Knowing his wife is sound asleep, the father takes the boy back to his room and makes him believe it was all a dream. Few days latter, after a talk with a Christian priest, the family learns more about the history of their house; each time a family moved in, the first born child always went missing in only a few weeks.
And that's about it, for now anyways. I apologize for the long post, and hope people like these six stories I wrote from the top of my head.