It’s now more than twenty years ago and still I can’t forget the faces I saw running after the car and the way they screamed when we drove off.
It was all because of the Folk Circle. My parents wanted me to join. They said that we should try harder to become part of the community. They didn’t want to be outsiders anymore and, to be frank, me neither.
The people had always been weird; I thought that right from the first day. The village was small, only about forty houses of which seven or eight were uninhabited. It was early summer and we were the only ones that had moved into the village in a long time – and the villagers made sure we were aware of that.
I remember the day we unpacked out boxes. I got out of the house to get my second box with books and games. They weren’t touching it; an older man and an older woman, both just standing stiffly and staring at the box.
I was fourteen back then. We only moved because of my father, he found a job in a city only half an hour away – but the move into the city would have been expensive and my mother always dreamed of living in the countryside. God knows how they found that village and that house.
I hated them for it. Of course the idea of having greenery around was nice, but I lost all my friends through the move and I had always lived in the city; I didn’t even know how to spend my time without cinemas and malls and my usual friends.
The next day we had a barbeque to say hello to our neighbors – instead the whole village paid us a visit. The amount of beer and meat my parents had planned was gone before even half the people arrived – but luckily everybody brought something along.
That was the only time they anybody really spoke to us. Afterwards they always ignored us on the streets, but that day they all stood in our garden and pretended to like us. That day, with my parents and fifty or so adults drunk on local beer, I sat alone at the other end of the garden. I was upset that there was not even a single child.
“They are probably already in bed,” said my mother. “Country folk get up early and sleep early.”
We heard about the folk circle two days later – or more exactly, we heard the circle itself. They sang loud, thirty or forty adults, crammed into the house next door and singing at the top of their lungs. We didn’t understand a word, but my mother gleamed with joy.
“I always wanted something like that,” she said.
My dad and I felt less comfortable with the screaming voices, especially when the harmonic song turned into a wild mix of screams.
“That’s real culture,” mom said. “Don’t be so judgmental!”
She wasn’t as cheerful after she went herself for the first time. Dad had been too busy to come along and mom hadn’t succeeded in convincing me to go.
When she came home, unexpectedly early, her lips looked sad but her eyes were burning with anger.
“They just started singing in some other language and nobody even tried to explain to me what to do.”
She went a second time, but then mom gave up. And instead she decided that I should go. She said that I was young enough to learn it and that I could ask naïve questions and they wouldn’t mind.
After three weeks of boredom and her constant pleading she had convinced me to go. Dad had always taught me to be proactive and open-minded; he always said that was the best way to make new friends. He didn’t say that it was also the best way to get pulled into things you don’t want.
The front door, like many in the village were during daytime, was wide open. As the other villagers streamed inside without a knock so did I.
The living room was surprisingly large – from the outside the house looked tiny, but the whole ground floor, except for a small kitchen, was just one large living room. There were about fifty chairs squeezed into three concentric rings. Most chairs were already occupied. In the middle stood two adults, an older man with short white hair and an older woman with obviously colored brown hair.
The woman saw me first. She looked surprised, but quickly put a smile on her lips.
“Hi,” she said. “Your mother said you might come. Join us. Extra voices are always welcome!”
Mom had told me that the folk circle sings. I always wanted to sing, although, admittedly, I had never dreamt of singing folk songs.
The woman sat down next to me and placed her hand on my shoulder. I tried to move away from her to get rid of her hand, but quickly the older man that had talked to her in the beginning sat down on my other side. His hand was on his lap, but it looked as if it wasn’t lying steady, it twitched occasionally as if it was ready to grab my leg at any moment.
I remember wondering why there were no other children. I remember feeling regret for coming.
There was no sign, no signal, no first singer. They all started at once, in the same moment. Nearly fifty voices started a loud, buzzing, throaty “Mmmm…”
I was surprised but quickly joined in.
Their voices, all at the same moment, dropped a note deeper. Their mouths opened slightly and the “Mmmm” turned into a nearly growl-like sound. The floor seemed to be shaking under my feet.
I followed their lead and pushed the air deep from my throat out of my mouth.
The man to my right began to sing first; the others still kept their growling “Mmmm”
“Mmmorateido,” he sang.
I felt his body vibrating from the resonating tones in his chest.
He repeated the phrase; this time others joined in.
The third time everybody, including me, joined into the song.
“Mmm…morateidokalima. Morateidokalima. Morateidokalima.”
Over and over we repeated the phrase; I began to feel dizzy.
After about ten minutes, one by one, people dropped the “Morateido” and sang different things instead. Nobody seemed to keep the phrase, nobody sang in sync anymore – except for the man to my right who kept repeating the phrase and I, not knowing what else to do, followed along.
My throat began to ache and my head got unnaturally warm. Then the black spots appeared in my sight. The woman’s hand pressed stronger on my shoulder; the man’s hand wandered onto my leg and pressed it down.
I sang louder.
The blackness filled my vision. Louder!
My voice got out of my control.
“Morateidokalima, shukrikara cinika….”
All I heard was the buzzing of deep, throaty voices around me and my own voices screaming, louder than all of them, phrases that I had never heard before.
I kept screaming; I remember that I kept screaming. I felt my lungs on fire and the air pressing through my aching throat, but I didn’t hear anything anymore.
And she appeared.
The most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She stood right in the middle of the circle. Everything else around her was just a blur of gray and black shadows, but she stood there, smiling. Her hand stretched towards me.
I screamed from the pain in my leg.
Hands held me down.
“Wake up!” screamed a female voice.
Water hit my face.
Their faces were all around me. I was back in the room, but there was no singing anymore. Everybody just stared at me.
“My god,” somebody whispered.
“Are you okay?” asked the woman that had sat to my left.
“He saw something,” whispered another voice.
“He belongs,” whispered a fourth.
“Can you walk?” asked the woman.
My arms and legs were tickling. I nodded; then shook my head.
“Enough for tonight,” the older man said.
His fingers were clawing in my leg.
Against my protest the woman pulled me up. My legs were shaking, but she and the man from my right slowly led me outside. The rest of the singers watched.
The outside was dark; only the stars seemed to grant light. In the distance the forests looked as if they were swallowing the light.
“You are good,” said the man.
They led me towards my house, their arms still holding me up.
“You are talented,” said the woman.
“You have to come back,” said the man.
“You are special,” said the woman.
We reached my house and they knocked on the door. A chair scratched over the floor; footsteps came down the stairs.
“Who was the girl?” I asked.
The woman’s eyes got wider.
“You saw a girl?” asked the woman. She stared at the man to my right.
“Yeah,” I said. “Who is she.”
The footsteps approached the door.
“You dreamt,” said the man. “You fell asleep.”
His voice was trembling.
The door opened. My dad grinned.
“You are a bit too young for liquor, aren’t you?”
“I’m not drunk,” I mumbled.
“He didn’t drink,” said the woman. “We would never allow that.”
“Okay, okay,” said my dad. “Don’t worry, we don’t mind.”
He grabbed my arm, pulled me inside.
When the door shut behind us he laughed loudly.
“Glad you had fun, boy!”
It was 3am when I fell into my bed. I had been at the folk circle for more than six hours, yet it had felt like only a few minutes.
The next day, when I walked to the only store in the village to buy milk, the people stopped on the street to greet me.
“How are you.”
“You were great.”
“You come tonight?”
I didn’t plan on going, but even the shopkeeper asked me whether I would come again.
“I’m not sure, I’m pretty busy tonight.”
The shopkeeper laughed.
“I’m sure you’ll come around. Nobody does it like you and then stops coming.”
I walked out of the shop and the few steps back to our house. I had no intention of going.
And then I saw her.
She stood behind one of the vacant houses. Her long straight hair fell over her shoulders. Her eyes were straight on me.
I just stared back.
She tilted her head; then she smiled. Her pale hand rose and waved for just a short second.
I finally woke from my rigor and waved back.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m –“
“I know,” she said. “And I’m Cini.”
“Don’t trust them,” she said.
Her hair seemed to linger in place for a second longer than her body. Then all of her disappeared behind the house.
My parents drove to the city to go to a restaurant and celebrate our new life. They offered me to come along, but I refused.
I wanted to see her again.
By the time I had run to the corner she was gone.
That night I went again. This time I was early but the room was already crammed with people.
“Welcome back,” said the man that had sat to my right. “I need to talk to you.”
The stairs creaked when we stepped on them. For a moment I saw the older woman in her underwear; then she quickly shut the bedroom door.
The man led me into a small room with not much more than a desk and a shelf with books. He too shut the door.
“Okay,” he said. “Did you really see a girl?”
“What did she look like?”
“Black hair,” I said. “And really pale skin. And she wore a thin, nearly transparent white dress.”
“Okay,” he said. “That is good. Can you tell me more?”
“She was very pretty and she smiled and stretched her hand towards me.”
“Oh,” said the man.
He opened a drawer and took a piece of paper out of it.
“I need to tell me if that is her,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”
Then he showed me a photo.
The first thing I saw was the blood; a white dress drenched in dark red blood.
Next to the dress was the naked body of a young girl. Her arms were tied to the stretcher and cut open.
I recognized her face.
“Oh god,” I said. “That’s her.”
“Good,” he said. “That means life.”
“What do you mean? Why are her arms slit open?”
“Her blood brings life.”
“What is that supposed to mean? What did you do to her?”
“Don’t worry about her,” he said. “She is not human. We’ve been waiting for her for a long time. Many of us have died already, just waiting for her.”
“I suppose we needed someone like you to make her return.”
“Oh, she escaped,” he said. “And we have worked hard to bring someone like her back here.”
He stared at me.
“She belongs here,” he said. “We need her.”
His smiled stretched further.
“And you will help us.”
His hand locked around my arm and he led me down the stairs.
I protested, but I stopped speaking when we came down the stairs.
All eyes were on me. They seemed to be expecting something.
The man led me towards the same chair I had sat on the day before.
“We will sing,” he said. “I know you enjoyed that.”
Two of the men in the center of the circle held ropes.
“I don’t feel like it,” I said.
“Oh, you will,” said the woman that again took a seat to my left. The man let go of my arm, but in turn the woman’s hand pushed again on my shoulder.
Then they began to hum.
The man looked at me and nodded.
And the tone dropped; their throats began to roar the sound rather than sing. The whole room was vibrating.
I was still quiet.
The man nudged me with his elbow. Slowly I began to hum.
For another minute the throaty, growling hum continued. Then the man began to sing.
The humming continued. The second time the whole room joined in the singing.
The man nudged me again. I continued to hum.
My throat began to itch.
The urge to sing grew.
I joined in.
“Morateidokalima, shukrikara cinika….”
Then everything turned black.
My chest was still moving; my lips were still screaming.
A shimmer appeared in the center of my vision.
Grins seemed to appear all around me.
A grinding sound.
My chest was heaving stronger.
The shimmer focused in a single spot like a tiny fire.
I recognized the car outside.
Her shape formed in the middle of the room. Everything around her were just gray and black shadows.
She stared at me.
There was fear in her face.
“No!” she screamed.
One of the shadows lunged towards her.
“No!” I screamed.
The darkness broke; the screams returned; her body disappeared.
The man with the rope fell on the bare ground.
I ripped myself away from the hand that held me to my chair. Most of them were still screaming; but the man had opened his eyes. My fist hit him by surprise.
I jumped over my chair and squeezed through the last row. A hand tried to grab me but I managed to slip away.
I ran towards the open door. I saw two red lights outside.
They were close behind me but I ran fast.
The red lights turned off and I screamed. My parents, still with the car doors open, turned around in surprise.
At least ten of them were close behind me and quickly gaining ground. My parents jumped back into the car and started the engine.
The red lights returned and the car drove backwards out of the driveway.
I could feel their feet hitting the ground behind me; their screams hurting my ears. “Wait!”
My parents’ car was right in front of me; I grabbed the door handle
“Drive!” I screamed.
“You can’t leave!”
A body slammed into the side of the car. Somebody tried to pull my door open.
“Drive!” I screamed again
The car accelerated.
The door opened slightly.
“We will die!” they screamed.
A cracking sound; the pull on the door disappeared. I quickly pulled it shut.
It was dark; I barely saw their bodies but their faces were illuminated in the red of the rear lights.
There were at least fifty faces running after our car; I still can’t forget the anger and fear in their eyes. And I still can’t forget their screams.
“We will find you,” they screamed. “And we will capture her again.”