4 of 5 stars.
An Eastern European folk tale horror haunts the narrator in this eerie, modern tale. This story would make for a good modern ballet or opera.
At eighteen, the unnamed narrator lost his mother to cancer and left his father’s farm for good. After four years of wandering Europe doing odd jobs, he closes in on the Eastern Polish village of his mother’s mother. He seeks it for a sense of belonging and closure. There he meets a kindly grandmother who boards him and her 18-y.o. grandson Piotr.
At the Mid-Summer Eve festival in which the girls gather around a bonfire on one side of the river and weave wreathes of flowers to float and the boys stalk the opposite bank around their bonfire waiting to retrieve a wreathe from the river, the narrator spots a lovely pale girl off from the rest, sheathed in willow branches. By the time he gets to the other side, she has disappeared. Tricks of moonlight show him ghastly light flashes from beneath the river’s water.
As days pass, the young man becomes despondent, losing his appetite to the consternation of Piotr and his grandmother. He spends his hours searching the river banks. The old woman makes Piotr warn him of the Rusalka, the spirits of girls who’ve died before their wedding days. They stalk the rivers and trees. “Like nymphs?,” he asks. Piotr dismisses such folk tales as peasant talk, but warns the young man regardless. The narrator goes out again upon hearing his name on the breeze. He spies the ethereal young woman for the second time, again among the willows beside the river on the opposite bank and she beckons . . .
This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “Rusalka” first appeared in Exotic Gothic 4 (Postscripts #28/29), edited by Daniel Olsen (PSPublishing 2012).
[Check out my other reviews here.]