When Batyushka woke up, it was in the middle of the night. Bok was gurgling in his sleep, like always, almost as if trying to imitate his father’s snores. But that wasn’t what woke her up.
She lay back down and closed her eyes. She listened to the quiet crackling of fire and noticed it was a bit cold in the room. Was that why she woke up? Slowly dragging herself out of bed, expecting to be dizzy from drowsiness, Batyushka was surprised to find herself fully rested.
The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She shivered, but she also began to sweat.
“I must be getting a fever…” Batyushka won’t lie she was a bit worried of getting sick. She got up to the fireplace and added a few logs. She sighed at how heavy her arms were.
“It must be a cold… I’ll just lie back, I’ll be better tomorrow-“ She looked up from the fireplace, through the window.
The barn door was open.
Did she forget to close it? She always closed it. Batyushka broke out in cold sweat, and had this urge to wake up Ilyusha.
No, she’ll keep him rested. Tomorrow he has to go woodcutting again. He’ll be grumpy if she wakes him for something as minor as going outside and closing the barn.
This part of Russia didn’t have wolves, the industrial town and hunters made sure of that. Before going outside, Batyushka took the table lantern.
The snowstorm ceased. Flakes fell down from the dark sky, which gave off an eerie feeling. Strange, she usually really liked how the flakes fell.
“No paw prints…” she sighed in relief, going to the small wooden barn, the door half open so she couldn’t see inside. She was now only a few feet away, and that’s when she noticed them.
“A poacher..?” It could have been one. Or it could have been someone homeless, taking shelter in her family barn. Batyushka couldn’t ignore the tight feeling in her chest, and she didn’t even notice she held a heavy iron shovel in her bare hand before entering the barn.
The air outside was so cold she couldn’t smell anything but frost, but in the barn, it was slightly warmer, barely from the opened door.
Batyushka smelt the faintest scent of blood. The deeper she got, the heavier that scent became. She was afraid to speak, afraid to breathe, and feared the shovel in her hand wasn’t enough to protect her. She shakily took out her pair of keys from her coat pocket, unlocked the metal chest near the entrance, and took out Ilyusha’s axe.
“…Baschka?” she whispered when she spotted the silhouette of her pregnant goat. Batyushka came closer, the grip on the axe tightening when she saw a large gash in the goat’s swollen stomach. The stomach was emptied of her baby. This made Batyushka cling to her own stomach.
“What… what did this?” ‘Who did this?’ She quickly remembered the bare footprints in the snow. Why? She placed the lantern in the centre of the barn, and saw it all.
All the animals were dead. The other two goats lay on their sides, their throats slit from mouth to their chests with claw marks. Batyushka didn’t need to look long to spot the few chickens they had torn and thrown about the barn floor.
“… I-Ilyusha… I need to wake Ilyusha-“
As soon as she heard a loud, ear-piercing crash of a window and Ilyusha’s scream, her vision went dark. Batyushka didn’t know how she got back to her house, didn’t feel the weight of the axe in her arm even though she knew it was there, tight in her grip until her knuckles went white. What she noticed, though, was the puddle of blood beneath the crashed window of their house, a limp body of a man dangling on the pierced edge of the frame, and Ilyusha’s head barely holding itself attached to the neck. Time seemed to slow down for her as she ran past him, torturing her with the image of her dead husband and how lifeless his eyes were.
‘Smile for me, my darling Ilyusha. We shall survive this winter, and the next.’ Batyushka’s eyes stung from tears.
She ran into the house, unable to fathom the nightmare that was before her.
Their once white sheets were gored with the ugliest red she had ever seen, and pieces of flesh lay strewn about the floor and beneath a kneeling man, whose feet were bare and bloody. He turned around showing off his canine teeth and red, beast-like eyes, one darker than the other. He… it growled, clutching a piece of a red, shiny substance in its claw like hands.
“… B-Bok…?” Batyushka’s voice cracked and she did the only thing that seemed sane to her at that moment. She felt so heavy, as if her legs were tied down by boulders. She walked forward, only seeing the pale face of a child that was no older than one.
That couldn’t possibly be her boy? But Batyushka’s vision turned black again, when she saw a dot beneath the blood stained face. The birthmark she kissed every night.
Batyushka didn’t hear herself scream. She didn’t feel the monster’s claws cutting deep into her shoulder, and didn’t see its teeth going for her neck.
She just swung. She swung, and swung, and swung until the handle of the axe broke. Even then, she took the axe head, her fingers cut open for gripping the sharp metal so hard, and slammed down against the monster’s head. She didn’t stop even after its face became unrecognizable. She didn’t stop even after its head was clearly decapitated from its body, and even after she heard every bone in its torso break. She stopped only when the axe head fell from her battered hands and she had no more strength to hold it.
“Ah…” Batyushka reached for the boy, her vision blurry from tears. “Bok…” She took his body from its claw like hand, and stared at him in disbelief. She must be hallucinating. This isn’t real. It can’t be real. “My baby…!”
Batyushka choked on tears and blood as she pressed her baby against her chest. She was unable to cry out, unable to comprehend the situation before her, unable to tell if he was alive. Her instincts just kept screaming at her to keep her boy safe. He was alive. He had to be.
Batyushka didn’t move until she saw the body she battered moving again. The sight of a half-headless, broken-ribbed corpse and a gurgling growl snapped her out of her shock. This was a nightmare. Batyushka had to run away from her nightmare.
She hurriedly wrapped Bok beneath her coat and ran out of the house, into the darkness of winter. She sprinted into the open fields, across the stone bridge and towards the nearest house. She thought it was the nearest, Batyushka didn’t know what the right direction was anymore. But she felt the pain in her shoulder now, and her survival instincts finally kicked in. A monster attacked her home, and now it was at trying to kill her and her baby.
“Help! We’ve been attacked! Help!” She screamed. Batyushka was exhausted, the heavy snow making her muscles cramp. Her lungs never stung so much before, and the pain in her shoulder felt like boiling water splashing over her bare skin, over and over again. But she could hear rapid footsteps closing in on her, and she didn’t dare look back at the headless monstrosity that was chasing after her and her baby.
That’s right, she had to keep her baby safe. At least get to the nearest house and then run. Maybe the beast will only chase after her.
There was a small but steep hill at the edge of the village. Batyushka only had a little more before she reached the first house, and she crawled through the tall snow, trying her best to not tumble over.
Batyushka felt her body shut down for a split second at the horrible pain on her back and neck, from where she was slashed. The monster growled behind her as she climbed even faster. It grabbed her ankle and squeezed with a deadly force, but Batyushka, with a desperate cry, kicked it in its headless neck, and it tumbled down the hill with her boot in hand. She scrambled herself atop and didn’t give herself time to breathe. She knew if she rested now, she’d fall over.
“Help…! Someone… my baby!” Batyushka went to the nearest house. She held her baby with one hand, to reassure herself he was still under her coat, and knocked with what was left of her strength. “I need help! Please!”
Soon, the room went alight, and the door opened to reveal an elderly woman with a dog. The dog’s face was crunched in a growl for only a second before it whined and put its tail behind its legs.
“Batyushka-? What are you doing here? What happened, you’re bloodied-”
“H-help… My… my son….” Batyushka’s legs shook as she tumbled into the house. She was barely able to open her coat to reveal a limp Bok. She didn’t hear what the old woman said. She doesn’t think she knows her, because everything but her boy is a blank image. Is he alright? Is he alive?
The lady seemingly struggled to do anything. She kept looking between Batyushka and Bok before finally doing what the mother herself was afraid to. She placed her fingers on the boy’s neck, closed her ear on his pale mouth, and stilled.
“… I’m sorry.”
“W… what are you sorry for? Help him! Can’t you see he’s hurt!” she scrambled to his side and wanted to push the woman away.
“Batyushka… he’s not… he doesn’t even have a heart!” the old lady struggled to speak, her own voice wavering from grief.
Batyushka looked closely at her son. The area around his bare chest was darkened with a hole. His stomach was slashed. Worst of all, his once rosy cheeks were now covered in a crimson red, soaked with his tears.
Batyushka stepped back, out into the dark field. She gripped her shoulder and squeezed. When the pain seeped all the way to her brain and blood oozed out, she hoped she’d wake up from this nightmare. But she didn’t, and she cried.
Her sobs could be heard throughout the whole village. Her body was filled with gashes and bruises, her fingers were stuck together from axe wounds and frost, but she never knew a heart could hurt this much.
She was pulled in by the old lady into a heavy hug, she felt her tears soaking her coat, but all Batyushka could do was stare at the tattered body of her little boy.
She took one foot forward and her knees gave in. Her head hit the stone floor.
She had no more will to stand, no reason to stay conscious.
She hopes this was all just a nightmare.
Tomorrow she’ll wake up, and everything will be alright.