Coming from the eastern Croatian city of Osijek, Mario Berečić mixes various genres in his writings, SF, fantasy and horror, often with ethnic flavour. He published a collection of stories in Hungary, and is a SFERA Award winner.
Translated by: Boris Švel
Like a patriarch among his minions stood the large mansion, the only one in the midst of the cottage neighbourhood. That house of the rich was always comfortably in shadows, eluding the streetlamp glow in the sweaty summer night. A small band was approaching the building: a youngster and a gal, with three more teenagers following them. The leading couple, Dario and Daria were holding their hands. Other three young men – Kristijan, Miroslav and Toni – were silent. They solemnly watched the couple quietly parting, Dario heading into the house, Daria moving through the shadows into the dimly lit street, fast paces going away.
“Shall we follow her,” Kristijan asked his two friends.
“Nah, it’s certain we’ll loose her,” replied Miroslav.
“As we did over and over again…” Toni was musing more for himself.
They tried to follow her several times, but she escaped them in the village streets and paths. Does she come by car, bicycle or by simply walking, they couldn’t figure out. It was not the jealousy that drove them to find out who she really was. Part curiosity, part concerns for their friend, but the efforts were fruitless.
“Even after two months, we still know as much as before. She’s living with her mother and uncle, somewhere on the edge of town”, Kristijan murmured.
“Doesn’t matter. Somehow I feel she’s all right”, Miroslav replied.
“Even if she doesn’t want to know anything about us…” Toni added.
“Jealous, aren’t you”, Miroslav was opposing him.
“No, not at all… But Dario might find her secretiveness upsetting, no?”
“C’mon, you two. If she is any good to him, she ought to be good for us!”
“Right! If she’s avoiding us, it’s her problem, not ours!”
So they argued in the night, slowly disappearing into shadows themselves, a trio of brave nearly-twenty-oldsters having perhaps the most exciting discussion of their lives.
“I know what I’ll do, sister. Tommorow morning”, said white-bearded man to the white-haired woman, as the dusk was falling on the garden.
The woman was staring blankly: “I have to rely on you. You always find the way, somehow.” She was despairing more and more. Her daughter Daria ignored all bans, curfews and punishments, stubbornly meeting with that boy. Daria cunningly evaded her mother’s supervision, now and then disappearing to enjoy her relationship. Relationship that was immature and potentially dangerous not only for the girl, but for all her kin.
In the meantime, Daria milled around the little plum orchard, next to the large high-rise building at the town outskirts. She was perfecting her mimicry skill. She needed to, for her everyday look – white hair, youngish face, and smile of sharp teeth – might scare away even her beloved Dario. There was no evil in her, but strange looks can be scary. So, when she was impersonating a young teenage girl in ordinary tee shirt and jeans, she didn’t invoke the usual fear of the unknown. Of course, her name was not Daria; she invented it for her lover. But we will call her Daria anyway, for her real name might be difficult to pronounce. She obviously wasn’t human, although she was very closely related to the mundane dwellers of towns and villages. Others of her kind are not too dissimilar: white hair, barely clothed, some of them covered with plant growth. They inhabitated some three acres of land at the edge of town, some several hundreds fairy people, with only dozen males between them.
Fairies dwell in the orchards and gardens next to living blocks that communist government built just before the War, in the place of ploughed land. They lived in this place for thousand years, seeing all good and bad. They remember kings, pests and choleras, Turks conquering and fleeing, the arrival of Austrians… They have a lot of things to recollect. Some fifteen years ago, the progress finally touched them, the new buildings forcing them to settle into the remnants of farmlands and orchards. Inhabitants of buildings took the rest of the fairly land for their gardens, cultivating them in their leisure time. The fairies only slowly retook some town streets, but didn’t move into the villages, for the village fairies live there. So Daria has a long walk – some couple of thousands of paces – to the village where Dario lives. Never mind, it has been enough frolicking; it is time to meet her love. She departed into the dusk.
Fairy species is small in numbers, being generally unknown, and invisible to the most of humans. Still, many people have actually heard of the fairies, believing that stories of such beings are only a concoction of lies. Some do know of fairy culture and their diminishing dwellings. Such people are considered weird or even lunatics, their words being ignored by sane folks. On very rare occasions, humans and fairies come close together, such encounters usually being fatal for both sides. That is the reason why Daria’s mother is despairing over her only child. Her liaison with a man, nearly three hundred years ago, almost destroyed her. In the times of the empress Maria Theresa, she fell in love and gave birth to a child. Needless to say, the life of Daria’s father was brief, too short for the child to remember him. The little half-fairy must not suffer like her mother did.
It was nearly dawning, and Daria slowly strolled away from her lover’s house. Starry sky was still above her, and she felt better than ever. She was happy, fulfilled with love. Suddenly, a pale hand reached for her from the dark. She jumped away, prepared to scream as only fairy can. A deep sigh comes out of her chest when she recognises her uncle.
“Quiet, my little one”, said the fairyman. “We will have a short walk. Back.”
“Back? Back to Dario’s house?”
The uncle nodded: “Indeed. And for a little longer.”
“Where to? Dario is asleep…”
“Is he?”, the white-bearded apparition interrupted, with a bit of irony. “Is he?”
They walked in silence. When they approached the house, the mansion seemed somehow different to Daria. As they slid inside, the rooms were dusty, even faintly smelling of rot. Daria realised that the spaces appeared untidy, perhaps deserted.
“Now look”, uncle pointed to the tiny nail that was protruding from the doorpost. “I hammered it in yesterday evening. The nail is full of magic: it lured your boyfriend onto it, so he has pricked himself. The rest you know…”
Daria became silent: the body bitten by such nail leaves a thin, almost invisible track of blood. The fairyman was by then following the dark-red thread on the ground. “Now you will see who your Dario is. Let’s go!”
Unwillingly, she came along. Concerned for the outcome of the walk, she was letting her magic go, becoming more and more fairy-like. She was repeatedly convincing herself that nobody could make Dario repulsive to her. They met secretly so many times, she eluded the custody of her mother so often, but she was rewarded every time. She felt that he was the one she waited for all of her life. And Dario was always answering to her passion with his love.
They followed the thin trail of blood across the whole village, and it was for quite a distance. Villages in this region follow roads, often for thousands of paces. In their quest they occasionally evaded the workers that were hurrying to their shift in the town, the farmers still sleeping. The traces of recent War were visible only to the ones who knew where to look for them. A neatly patched roof here, or fresh facade there, were silent testimonies of the shellings and bombardments. The actual fighting occurred more to the east, so here the traces of terror were quickly disappearing.
Daria and her uncle were quickly approaching the end of their short journey. Thin track of blood was leading unmistakeably to the village cemetery, to the home of her lover. To the home made of stone, the biggest on the cemetery.
Wertacnic Dario, 1968 – 1986.
She gasped when her uncle proudly showed his discovery. He gently patted the gravestone: “Now you see… He died in an accident, driving a motorcycle.”
She saw. Dario wasn’t mortal at all. He has nineteen for the whole eternity. And he perfectly hid his true essence. A sudden thought shook her: “Is he a werewolf? He is not, tell me he is not?”
“No, he is not”, the fairyman said reassuringly. “He does live in the grave like werewolf, but isn’t noisy like werewolves. Dario is simply a living dead. And there are more of them.”
They strolled along the alley of graves. The uncle was showing more graves to Daria: Miroslav Šaric, Kristijan Tadijanic and Antun Mijatovic, called Toni. In the year of 1992, all three of them were of the same age, nineteen, when one night they died under the Serbian artillery barrage in the small town of Valpovo.
“And they were just leaving the snack bar, after having their pizzas. Poor boys”, uncle murmured pensively. ” They sleep in their graves these days, and walk by night through gardens and street. Most of the year, they gather in the Wertacnic’s house, while Dario’s parents and a younger brother work in Germany. Nobody notices them.”
“How did you know?”, asked Daria.
“A village fairyman told me. He actually praised them quite a lot. He repeatedly told me that living dead are much better company then the unruly werewolves.”
Daria sobbed. Her uncle was content. Just one look on her tormented face was enough to assure him that she regretted her recklessness. The tears were the true sign that the love is over. The day went well.
On the return trip they sneaked into a lorry that was hauling wood to the town. Crouching on the logs, Daria had enough time to calm down. She went through a most disturbing experience, but the world is still turning. As they approached their dwelling, sober resolution replaced pity. After all, it was better that way. From today on, there will be no secrets between her and her love, and his friends too. They all belong to the same world. The hurricane of her thoughts was revolving around a single idea: Dario isn’t mortal. Therefore, their love is not in jeopardy.