I should have never agreed to visit this Zhetva festival : Scary Stories – Short Horror Story

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(Yugoslavia, 1956.)

It was a sunny but cold spring morning. I just arrived in the village of Krasica to report about somewhat mysterious and not so popular Zhetva festival.

No one really wanted to go here, not even i, because it’s so remote and far away from any bigger city, but due to my bad performance recently my boss told me that it’s either that or i can pick up my stuff and leave my job. Honestly, i ddn’t even think that any of my readers will be interested in this festival.

I was left off in front of one kafana, type of bistro and lit up my cigarette while rubbing off dust from my coat left by the car that quickly drove away. “This bloke is in the hurry” – i thought to myself while cigarette smoke was suffocating that beautiful, fresh morning smell.

However, i kept reminding myself of the true reason for this report. You see, no one actually knew about Zhetva festival outside of this village, until my coworker, who’s originally from this village, told us about it. He was a village banker and he wanted to pursue a big city life, thus he left. He didn’t say much about the festival – in fact he said very few words about it but he said at least dozen times how we have to do a report on it.

It was a boring year this year, and happenings were scarce so my boss made us write about anything even remotely interesting.

While i was standing there thinking about everything i’ve heard a key unlocking door of the kafana – “Good morning stranger!” – someone said behind me

As i turned around i threw my cigarette on the floor and stepped on it couple of times – “Good morning to you too!”

“Well if you are waiting for someone you better come inside, you’ll catch something nasty standing in this cold” – said the elderly guy with white, thick beard on his face

He looked like a kafana clerk, in his 60s, with one limp leg. I decided to get in.

“What’s your poison?” – he said while cleaning glasses and cups probably left in the sink since last night

“I’ll have a strong one, with two suggar cubes” – he knew what i’ve meant, it was pretty popular phrase in Yugoslavia when someone wanted to drink a strong turkish coffee

“So, what’s up with you?” – said he.

“Huh?”

“Well, i haven’t seen you around here before, and we don’t have that many visitors, at all” – he replied and brought two coffee cups, for both me and him and sat down with me.

“Oh well. I’m here to report about Zhetva festival… i assume i don’t have to ask you if you know anything about it” – i asked while grabbing a notebook and a pencil from my coat.

“Yes, it’s tonight! Zhetva festival is probably the best thing in Yugoslavia. However, i…”

“Dragoslav! Don’t bore our guest with stories he can withness tonight! – said a large man, dressed as a fine gentleman, in tailored suit and with leather shoes who bursted into the kafana and interrupted clerks explanation.

“Excuse me, but i was just trying to find out…”

“You will. Tonight you will. Zhetva festival is filled with joy, food, drinks and it’s best thing ever” – he interrupted once again and proceeded to sit down on the table opposite of us – “But how did you find out about it? I mean, we don’t exactly advertise in your Belgrade newspapers”

“Oh well, Marijan told me about it” – said i

“Marijan.. yeah, he’s a nice guy. Curious, ever since he was a kid… so, where is he now? – man repplied, obiously annoyed by the fact that Marijan, my coworker is not member of the village any more

“Uh, in Belgrade” – i replied – “And he’s working with me in Pravda”

“Smart chap” – he said in a mysterious manner and left me wondering what the hell he meant by that

I’ve spent my entire day trying to find out more information about the festival. I was talking to local officer of the law, local priest, shop owner and doctor. However, no one could have – or didn’t want to give me any more information except their standard answer – “Zhetva festival is filled with joy, food, drinks and it’s best thing ever”

To be honest i was pretty annoyed but i kept telling myself how eventually night will fall down, i’ll see what the festival is all about, i’ll do my report and by morning i’ll be on my way to Belgrade.

Around 7pm preparations began. I saw children running around playing with marbles and stones, women were preparing food in large cauldrons and men were bringing tables, chairs and other heavy stuff to the city center. Everyone seemed very happy, thrilled actually and busy with their tasks.

I was invited by the same banker that i interviewed before to be a special guest of the festival and i immediatelly accepted. I kept writing about everything i saw that day and night quickly came.

I was seated between the local doctor and one peasant and kept looking around, excited to see what will happen next and who will speak on the small wooden stage set just a bit in front of all the tables.

“Brothers, sisters of the village, good evening!” – said the same man that i spoke with earlier in the kafana.

“He’s an amazing speaker our city elder, you know?” – said doctor leaning towards me

“We have had an amazing year. We harvested a lot of wheat, our chickens gave us a lot of egges and our cows gave us plenty of milk. Glory to the Zhetva!” – said elder and everyone replied “Glory to the Zhetva!”

At that moment chills went down my spine and honestly i started to feel a bit anxious considering how small community of peasants started to seem more like a cult and less like a community.

“Borther Marijan has left us, you might not knew that. Neither did i. But i am thrilled to tell you that he decided to come once again in the name of the Zhetva”

Seeing what happened next i felt frozen. My legs felt numb and my heart started pumping and beating like never before. I was petrified as i looked towards the stage where two large, muscular guys dragged down beaten body of Marijan.

“Unfortunatelly we did not know where he was until this morning, when our amazing guest told us. Thank you Mr Stefanović, you made sure that our Zhetva goes on as it should” – he said – “And to explain, as a sign of gratitude… No one can leave this village. Ever. If someone leaves we need a new person to replace him and to sacrifice the sinner”

At that moment i realized that it’s my fault why they caught him but, at the same time, he deliberatelly wanted to send someone there to replace him.

“Sinner! Bloody sinner!” – crowd interrupted while throwing spoons, plates and rocks toward beaten Marijan

“Settle down brothers and sisters, settle down! As i said, if someone leaves this village, and we don’t sacrifice him, we would be cursed to have bad harvest, which would mean bad year for all of us.” – he said, and raised his voice – “Brothers and sisters, proceed to punish the sinner!”

People stood up, took their knives and one by one approached Marijan and stabbed him in leaving pools of blood around him. Even tho i was petrified, scared and frozen, i saw my opportunity.

I stood up and started running as fast as i could. I didn’t turn arund a single time and just kept looking forward. Until that slam. Someone struck my body so hard that i fell down and felt pain in my leg like it was broken. I turned around and there was elder, standing above me and looking down, straight into my eyes.

“Where are you going young reporter? Don’t you know that now, when Marijan is dead, we’ll need a new banker?”

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