A Transylvanian folktale retold by Cathy S. Mosley
Deep in an ancient Transylvanian forest a crew of woodsmen sat in discussion around their fire. They had worked all summer, and cleared most of one slope, rolling the logs into the swift, hazardous river.
The eldest of the loggers, Peter, poured the last of the wine they had been sharing, and intoned, "Look!! We have given you the first of our wine, and now the last! Please spare us!!"
"Who are you talking to?" demanded Matthew, though he was old enough to know, but stubborn enough not to say. His two sons, Benjamin and Constanin, were as "modern" and stubborn as he was.
"You know," Peter said patiently, "The spirits have been generous this summer, but fall is coming ......and ....."
"You're just trying to scare us more so we'll believe your old tales," Matthew answered, "I have no use for them, and say we cut the last stand of trees to get another day's pay."
His sons nodded their agreement, but the other woodcutters shifted uncomfortably; some were old enough to mostly believe as Peter did, and the youngest were new enough to be unsure of everything.
"Tales that are truth," Peter answered sadly. He knew that no words would make a man like Matthew believe, and what he believed so did his boys.
So uneasy they all went to bed.
And before dawn they were awakened to the familiar sounds of axe blows against solid tree trunks.
Worriedly the crew dressed and went out to see what Matthew and his boys were about.
At the edge of the last tree stand rested Matthew, leaning against his axe handle. He waved to them and grinned. "About time you were up!! We've nearly got a day's work done!"
Still the woodcutters looked fearful and unsure, and watched as Matthew shook his head in annoyance and lifted up his axe in order to go deeper into the trees.
An inhuman shriek made all of them jump and Matthew dropped his axe to rush towards where his sons had been working.
When the rest of the crew arrived they found him holding his youngest boy, Constanin, in his arms. The boy's leg had been severed by a bear trap beneath a great, black oak, and the lad had bled to death in moments. Not a man said a word, particularly about Peter's warning, though each one of them thought about how the forest spirits demanded a sacrifice.
They gave the boy an overnight wake in their cabin, and a simple burial the next day. After reading from the bible Peter murmured, "Please be satisfied with one life ...let the rest of us go in peace."At the words Matthew roared in blind rage and bellowed to his remaining son, "Grab your axe!!"
Benjamin, as grief-stricken as his father, grabbed up his axe and joined his father in hacking madly at the trees.
The crew tried to run to stop the men, but were horrified to find that their muscles frozen; they could only watch as a wispy phantom rose behind Benjamin, grasped his axe, and pulled it back into his skull.
They watched as Matthew howled like a beast gone rabid. He grabbed up Benjamin's bloody axe and seemed to hack at something only he could see; he kept swinging as he rushed at something by the river.
Only after he splashed into the foaming river, struggling between the floating logs, were the crew freed from the spell. They rushed to the water's edge, but all they could do was cross themselves as they watched Matthew fighting the current and the spinning logs.
Nor did they hold out much hope as they saw a raft skimming between the logs, being poled by an old man. They watched as Matthew desperately grabbed hold of the edge of the raft, and noted that the old man took no notice of his passenger. They murmured prayers as they watched as the maddened woodcutter fought to pull himself aboard, and they could see a large tree trunk sweeping through the old man as if he wasn't there.
The trunk struck Matthew hard in the chest as he struggled to stand, and drove him beneath the water.
The next day, after burying Benjamin, the crew found his father's body washed upon the shore, and they laid him next to his sons.
Then the crew prayed that the spirits had drank enough blood before making the long journey through the forest towards home.
Spariosu, Mihai I. and Dezso Benedek. _ Ghosts, Vampires, and Werewolves: Eerie Tales from Transylvania_. New York: Orchard Books. 1994.