In those days the forest was a good place to live. My sisters and I had everything we needed. The rivers teemed with fish and the trees hung heavy with nuts and fruit. I don’t know how big the forest was. Back then, it seemed to us that everything was forest. We could walk all day and the trees would dapple us with shade. Life was good.
I don’t remember my father at all. Mother would smile and change the subject when we asked. After a while we stopped asking. I think it was because we were interested in other men by then. We were timid at first and watched them from the trees. There were old men sitting on carts, clicking the reins and singing to their ponies. There were big men who walked with a careful tread and carried bows or traps, and who came back laden with furs. And there were the young men, sometimes. We watched them with our breath held tight.
We didn’t know why.
We asked mother about it, of course. She smiled and changed the subject at first, but we persisted. So she sat us down, one spring day with all the birds singing, and told us. It sounded very strange. We talked about it afterwards, just the three of us. I remember giggling a lot, but it was a nice feeling. The more we talked, the more interesting it all sounded; the more eager we grew.
It had to happen, one day. He had long dark hair and a pointed nose and he wasn’t very handsome, but we didn’t mind. It was a lovely morning and we whispered and laughed until he couldn’t help but hear us. He called out; for a moment we froze, but then all three of us burst into a fit of the giggles. Next thing we knew he was peering into the forest, right at our tree. He pushed through the undergrowth until he got to where we were hiding; and he looked up at us and we all smiled back down at him and blushed.
He looked at us and his eyes narrowed in a funny sort of way.
“Who are you?” he asked, and he didn’t sound as if he was pleased to see us.
“Sisters. We were playing, and then we heard you come along…”
“Playing?” he asked. His eyes weren’t so narrow now.
“Hide and go seek. It’s a lovely day to play, isn’t it?”
He rubbed his hand across his chin. He was smiling now.
“It is. Certainly it is. You think I could play too?”
“All right,” We were still giggling. “You stay here and we’ll hide. Cover your eyes and count.”
He did as we said, but I’m sure I caught him peeping as we shimmied down out of the tree. Off we went into the forest, the three of us all in different directions.
“We’re ready!” we called to him. And the game began. We didn’t stay hidden in one place, because that wouldn’t have been much fun. We skipped about the forest, hiding behind bushes and then popping up to scurry elsewhere, so that he’d catch a glimpse of us between the trees. He crashed around through the forest where we skipped and danced. We called and laughed and giggled and he blundered and crashed and shouted until we could tell he was getting angry because he couldn’t catch us. That was when we decided to make it easier for him. He found us almost at once, then, where we’d all three gathered behind a great elder bush.
“I’ve got you,” he said. He was red-faced and sweating but that big smile was on his face again. “You led me a merry dance, though.”
“It’s a good game,” we said, and smiled, and blushed.
“I know a better,” he said, and started taking off his shirt.
His game was very different and he seemed very keen on it. He played it with my eldest sister first, and then he played it with my middle sister, and then finally he played his game with me. We played it for a lot longer and it felt very strange but rather nice. Eventually, he stopped playing and rolled over onto his back. He looked very tired but he had an even bigger smile on his face, now.
“Wasn’t that a fine game?’ he asked.
We agreed that it was.
“We’ve got another game,” said my eldest sister.
“Mother taught us this one,” said my middle sister.
“Close your eyes,” I said. And he smiled and he closed his eyes as he lay there.
He didn’t like our game at all.
He screamed and his eyes snapped open and he tried to get up. But my youngest sister had hold of one arm and my middle sister had hold of the other; and I sat there straddled over him. So when I drew my nails down his chest he couldn’t do anything but scream. And when I pulled his ribs apart he couldn’t do anything but scream. And when I plucked out his heart and lifted it to my lips…
After we had finsihed playing we washed in the river until we were as pink and fresh as when we were born. And when we told our mother, that evening, she smiled at us and hugged us all.
“My lovely daughters. My lovely Rusalki,” she said.
There are more roads now, and less forest. I have three daughters of my own, but things aren’t so easy as they were when I was young. There are soldiers, and there are friars, and it’s much harder to find people to play with. My skin isn’t as pink as it was and my hair isn’t as golden.
But I still have my memories. I remember how it was, how good it was, the first time. The feel of a beating heart in my hands, the warm, salt taste…
I’ll always have such sweet memories.
Brian Dolton‘s fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Flashing Swords, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others. He has been writing for many years, and will continue until they pry the keyboard from his cold, dead hands. PS If any of you know who the “they” in question are, he’d love to hear from you, so he can make suitable preparations.