This article is inspired by local legends, gathered from the elders of a small village in Bucovina, who all told the same story.
Around 1930, the inhabitants of a small village in Bucovina were terrified by a young woman who roamed the surrounding forests. The forests were young, wild, untrodden by human feet in their depth as today. Those who did, never return, and if they did, they could not tell anyone what they saw, because their tongues were knotted, their mouths silenced, and their hands frozen. Or at least that’s what the few old people who have lived to tell the story say.
Alexandru (or how people call it, Sandu): “I was a small kid, but I remember my mom, God forgive her, telling me about the lady. She said that you could hear her, late at night, singing, as she was stepping on the water, walking up the river, but you couldn’t understand what she was saying. Some said she spoke the other way around, others said it was a language we are not allowed to know. People woke up with goosebumps from head to toe but were not allowed to leave the houses or try to see her through the window.
There were also reckless young people who did not listen. A friend of mine went into the woods to find her; to prove the others wrong. He returned after a few days, but it was not the same. When asked what happened, his tongue knotted and his mouth fell silent. That evening, when she began to sing again, he left the house, like a madman, and ran into the woods. Seven brothers could not hold him. He jumped over the fences without touching them, like an animal.”
Leonid (or how people call it, Leonte): “People were terrified of her. She was often seen at sheepfolds, where she sought help. That’s how we know what she looks like. My grandfather worked in a sheepfold on top of the mountain with his friend. She came one evening, when his friend was awake, and asked for his help. He refused, not believing what it was said about her. When my great-grandfather woke up in the morning, he found his friend unconscious. He could not remember what had happened, and all the sheep were scattered throughout the forest, most of them being killed there, or found thrown into the chasms or rivers.
She returned two nights later, this time my great-grandfather, Tona, was awake. She appeared out of nowhere, beautiful as you can’t imagine, and tall… so tall. She was wearing a white dress. She also asked for his help: to grease the wounds on her legs with the fat left from the sheep. He knelt in front of her and did so. Her legs were backwards, with her toes behind, where the heel was. The old people said that she was leaving as if she was coming. After he did this, she got up, thanked him, and in return spared his sheep. When she turned her back, father Tona saw that from behind she was unrecognizable, being entirely a tree. I think he was allowed to tell her story. That’s why my great-grandfather didn’t lose his mind, and he wasn’t cursed in any way.
However, I think he was affected somehow. Not him personally, but his descendants. There were many young deaths, too young in the family. Even my brother lost his little girl, as a baby, to an unknown disease. Me too. Both twins. They died a few weeks apart from one another. As in his case, the doctors did not know what my kids had. We even reached the enchantments of the old women of the village. We were told that it was something evil.”
Alexandru: “It was known to be something bad, negative. Many strange things happened when she was here. In the evening, large blue fires appeared at the edge of the forest, where evil money was said to burn. And if you went to that place the next day, and you put yourself on the burnt grass, and stuck your head to the ground, you could hear buckets of gold falling deeper and deeper. An acquaintance of mine became obsessed with it. He heard the money all the time, and he started digging for them, which you weren’t allowed to do. He dug and dug, and he could hear the money falling deeper and deeper. He eventually went mad, and disappeared after a while.”
Lili (known as grandma Lili): “Another trick of hers was to make black balls appear, which would have followed you until they took you to her. If you were walking on the street in the evening, after midnight, a black ball would appear following you for a short time. You just had to go ahead, ignore it, and whatever you did, never look back. It would eventually disappear if you did that.”
Leonid: “I think she became more and more afraid over time, of people who had started to ignore or forget her because, before she disappeared completely, we heard cries of children in the forest in the evening. They were crying and screaming… It was almost every night, for weeks, coming from different sides of the forest. That was the scariest part, I think, of all she represented. She disappeared, as I said, shortly after.”
When asked why he thought she was gone, Leonid’s answer came late, after a long moment of silence in which he seemed to calculate his answer well. “Things have changed. People have lost faith. And I think also because they entered her territory more and more. They cut and trampled everything in their path. It wasn’t like that before. The forests were thick and wild. You didn’t know what was hiding there, and I’m sure there was something there. Certain things have happened that I can’t explain to myself even today. And I’m old and I’ve seen a lot.”
The villagers left the few houses that were near the forest. They all retreated to the other side of the river, where they felt safer. They left behind houses, which are now almost entirely gone, fountains now dried up and the dying memory of a beautiful girl who enchanted the young and led them to their deaths.