What is Smukums?

Tukums Werewolves Tales

Mystical stories and legends abound about the Rauda Forest — a truly ghostly forest! Sages say that in the sense of energies, it does not lag behind the legendary Pokaiņi Forest. The Rauda Forest is special with the fact that here — unlike anywhere else in Latvia — one can experience a marked contrast of energies. Here, the positive and the negative energy come face to face.

The theologian Ralfs Kokins has described the mystical side of the Rauda Forest in his book “Kurzemes vilkaču nostāsti” (Werewolf tales of Kurzeme). From this book we have selected 4 stories by Ralph Kokin, first published by the publishing house "Zvaigzne" in 2007.

The Tale of the Draņķozols Oak

The story I’m about to tell is the most curious tale I have ever heard myself. It is not merely an account of an unusual encounter but also of a strange and mysterious conversation with a werewolf that leads us deeper into the secrets of our existence.

Plenty of folk tales and legends assure that, given certain circumstances, with the help of magic rituals, humans are able to turn into wolves or werewolves. However, the werewolf folklore of Courland introduces us to a different kind of werewolf that must have been like this since the beginning of time — the giant, prehistoric spectres, phantoms, shadows, more resembling the Celtic “great and mighty dark”, or fortibus umbris.

Near Tukums, not far from the Engure highway, right in the middle of an eerie marsh in the Rauda woods, there is a mound. On top of the mound, stands a thick oak tree, centuries old and long since dead. A dark hollow stretches along its trunk about three metres above the ground; its broad, broken, moss and lichen covered branches are stretched towards the sky like veiny arms.

At least five different werewolf myths and thrice as many ghost stories have sprung from the Draņķozols Oak and its oddly beautiful surroundings. The most famous is the tale of the evil spirits that lead travelers astray, with countless accounts of people getting lost while hiking, picking berries or mushrooms. The spirits send them walking in circles till exhaustion, ending up always at the said oak, thus falling gradually into terror and hopelessness.

The Draņķozols Oak is at least six hundred years old, mentioned in the Tukums village papers and local church chronicles as early as in the 15th and 16th centuries as a grand, tall oak where witches and Satan’s servants were burnt and hung.

During feudalism, the local farmers, having been brought to despair, would hang themselves from the tree. The modern history has also reported quite a few mysterious suicides and sudden disappearances around this area. It is all in all an unusually strange place, exuding primal beauty and a peculiar aura.

It seems to be one of the most wonderful and diverse woodlands in Latvia where you will find all types of forests, surprisingly high and steep hills, wood lakes, marshes and brooks. South of the Draņķozols, near the almost unnaturally steep Maijpuķīškalns hillock, on tops of knolls covered in old firs, you will find rare and odd-looking formations; these so-called bubble-springs pull from the depths of the earth and force up ice-cold, crystal-clear water. In places where the water flows onto the surface, under the roots of tall trees, there are oval quicksand “eyes”, so deep that the longest stick would not reach the bottom. Should you try and poke the sand “eye” with a long object, the spring will get furious, swirl it around and push it right back at you. These springs form a vast system of brooks. Like fine, and lively capilares, they meander down towards Lake Melnezers. The locals claim the waters here have beneficial and even healing effects.

As you walk from the oak towards Zirgezers, right behind the big quagmire, you will find a wide hollow stump of an old fir tree, fallen way back when. The hole in the trunk is at least as deep as a good water well. You can hear spooky, muffled echoes coming out of it. The ground near this stump is rich in mushrooms and berries, mainly for the reason that the location scares most hitchhikers away. Some say, the hole connects to a passage that leads to the world of underground gnomes and trolls. Others claim it is a part of a cluster of ancient Celtic sacred sites, which is rather unlikely.

There have been sightings of animals as rare as lynx and wolves, especially as you walk closer to the seaside from the Draņķozols and Āži Mounds.

Being near the Draņķozols, I was often overcome by sudden, animalistic fear without any apparent reason. I felt as if something terrifying was watching me from out of someplace dark. Even during stormy weather, it was peaceful and quiet there; at times there was a chilling fog.

A sinuous ravine leads straight down from the oak and ends in a couple of dozen metres on the edge of a small, black and quaggy marsh. The path is rather wide and never grows over with weeds as if someone was there at all times to clear this strange road to nowhere. Just as spooky is the upwards path that leads from the oak, past the Cīruļpurviņš marsh, up the Lazdas Hillock, and towards the distant Ozoliņi village and the Engure Road. As you climb up, you will be weight down by unusually great weariness and heavy and grim thoughts. If you happen to walk away from the oak alone, it is excruciatingly scary to look back.

A plethora of rare, unseen species of plants and flowers are found in the Draķozols proximity. Trees around here grow very old, massive and branch out far. Three old giants — a fir, a pine, and a birch — have slowly twisted and grown into each other forming a single stem. The woods are home to the remnants of several burial sites or the so called “Devil’s Boats”, as well as weirdly shaped stones with ancient engravings of various symbols. Even in the most recent times, victims of mysterious suicides have been found near these stones. Usually, the story goes something like this: a person comes here to pick berries or mushrooms, ends up cutting his wrists, lies down on the moss-covered stones and bleeds to death. It might be that some hungry sprites dwell here and trick and talk folk into such deeds.

The marshland right next to the Draņķozols is the most horrid place I have ever laid my eyes on. No words can do it justice. Even the uncanny and infamous marshes of the Transylvanian and Bavarian valleys have nothing on this beast up here in Courland.

Once during an autumn recess, I was playing with my friends around the Draņķozols Oak, we met the local forester, as we often would. He was an old, very old man, or so he seemed to us when we were little, with a rather bushy, grey beard. He had a wild appearance and looked nothing like your “regular” folk. He did not speak much, but when he did, his voice was rough and deep; he had a hearty laugh that could make treetops tremble. He overheard us boys joke amongst ourselves that we should go and hunt down some monsters, to which he responded by suggesting with utmost seriousness that we equip ourselves with a silver bullet. He told us you could kill witches and werewolves with those, and then he offered us to tell a story from his own experience. This is when he told us a tale truly frightening and shattering.

It was back in the early 1960s. A local forester owned an old carbine, a gun he inherited from his forefathers. One day, on his way home, he decided to walk the narrow paths that lead past the Draņķozols. It was late in the evening and the forest had sunken into a misty dusk, the moon was full, and the sky full of clouds. As he got closer to the oak, he felt sudden fear. A kind he had never felt before. He was certain something was behind him, watching. The forester turned to look back, and what he saw scared him nearly to death. He was now face to face with this horrific, deeply dark creature, almost four metres tall, human-like. The beast’s bottom half was wide, and the top half was skinny. For a moment, it seemed to the forester to be a giant, burnt and charred man. It had a head of an earless wolf, its eyes were deep and dark, and his teeth unnaturally long, thin and crooked. Its entire body was covered in black and ragged hair.

Suddenly, the air was filled with an unavoidable stench of corpses and deadly silence. Even mother nature had stood still that moment, and not a leaf, not a single blade of grass moved. At first he thought it was his own mind playing mean tricks on him. The forester, being a man of action, grabbed his carbine he had on his shoulder, and loaded with a single silver bullet he had on him. He had wanted to ask the creature, thinking it might be somebody dressed up, just fooling around with the locals, but his tongue had been paralysed with terror and he could not force any sound to come through. As he was about to fire, the beast spoke up, or rather began uttering beastly sounds. Then the strangest thing happened. The man saw himself, as if in a moving picture, put down the gun unfired, and engage in a conversation with the monstrous being who spoke to him in a primeval, dream-like tongue. It explained that it was neither of good, nor of bad nature, and that he was a werewolf.

As soon as the vision was over, the man decided to act according to his instinct and put the gun down. The creature pulled its muzzle into an even more petrifying grimace, so the forester thought he was about to have a heart attack. He wanted to fire his gun, but was unable to lift it up this time, for his arms were numb and weighed down.

Out of the blue, the creature started making low and strange sounds which appeared to be some sort of language. It was both inconceivably frightening and mesmerizing. His voice sounded like the hissing of an enormous oven, the turning of the cogs in a windmill, like wailing from the bowels of the kingdom of the dead. It was nothing close to human speech. Werewolf's register was bizarrely and hideously low, it spoke lengthy passages like a Nordic shaman or an oracle. At times it sounded like an ancient saga that rhymed, at times — almost like a song. It seemed to the forester a timeless song of the earth and its depths, a language older than all animals, older than time, an important song that was our greatest misfortune to have forgotten. It seemed like a distant, irretrievable memory. Petrifying chills ran down the forester's back.

He had understood not a single word from the beast’s speech, however, while the wolf spoke, the man was experiencing foggy visions of the werewolf among other mythical creatures, many of them winged. They were tearing apart and devouring people. He saw what resembled sewage waters and streams of dregs carrying rotten human and animal corpses. He saw all consuming fires burning myriads of men and women; he saw tall towers wrapped in fog or mist, filled to the brim with dead people, gnawed at by worms; he saw dried up trees, forests devoid of green, a sky full of ash and soot. He tasted something bitter and metallic, and he somehow knew it to be poison. Later on, he translated this premonition as a message about the eminent threat of pollution and violence we impose against mother nature. The kind we are witnessing reach its peak today.

He saw horrid diseases, and a large meteorite falling to Earth. Then came blinding darkness and frost of which the entire humanity perished. There were also catastrophic fires of unfathomable magnitude melting our largest cities to the ground.

This is where the werewolf stopped. One moment, the beast seemed friendly, even grateful; a split second later, he was spewing out curses, preaching misfortune and apocalyptic disasters which meant a total and immediate annihilation to the forester. He tried to force himself to calm down and say something, explain or justify himself to the werewolf by speaking clear and fluent Latvian. Nothing came out of this but the return of the nauseating and paralyzing sense of primal fear and panic. He wanted to introduce himself to the wolf somehow but was soon faced with the fact that he himself had forgotten his real name. The name typed in his passport and used by people back in the human world now felt like an empty sound signifying nothing even to its owner. He came to realize he had to communicate in the language of images, dreams, fantasies and archetypes. It was extremely difficult to muster, but once he managed to do it, he also learned that he knew his real name which was nothing like is like his Latvian one.

The werewolf spoke up once more, wailing and snorting, starting at the Forester several times, as if trying to eat the man or frighten him dead at the very least.

That is when the Forester saw himself lying on the ground with his stomach cut open. It had a big tumor growing out of it, ugly and raw clumps of pus and dark blood pouring out of the wound. The werewolf now became extremely nasty and was raging violently. The forester knew with certainty — he had to find a way to save himself, to escape, take refuge. The forester remembered nothing from that point on until the moment he stopped running. He came to his senses having reached the edge of the Ozoliņi forest on a moonlit night.

What he found most peculiar was that after this horrendous and outlandish encounter, he knew at least two things with utmost certainty.

First, he knew his health was in serious danger. He had been feeling poorly for months now, but he was diagnosed with cancer only after the werewolf had shown it to him. The tumor was still in a stage where it could be removed safely. The surgery was successful and the forester recovered without complications.

The second thing he was certain of was that the beast spoke some universal language anybody was capable of comprehending - humans, birds, and reptiles alike. The werewolf spoke the language of animals, dragons, and all living things. It was the language of indivisible, vast and complete realm gifted by God himself to all his creations.

But the most important was the realization that there is an unknown, inexplicable wonder hidden in plain sight, namely, that it was possible to communicate directly with all imaginable life-forms without using words.

The forester now could see that despite having different voices, all beings, even trees, could speak to each other in a shared language of archetypes, perceptions, dreams, hearts and images. And the the only beings who had forgotten how to speak it where humans. We have lost the track of what the one single truth is. Man is no longer capable of seeing beauty, seeing what truly matters, thus he goes wrecking everything in his way. It is the way of sorrow, misery, and irreversible destruction.

The message we receive from all living things is one of trust and goodwill, and all living things, in return, know perfectly well what we are trying to say. All life either suffers obediently or celebrates in hope joyously along with us. Humankind is growing and evolving, and there hopefully will come a day when we no longer act like the devil who neither sees, nor feels anythink and ruins all things.


The Tale of Lake Zirgezers

In the woodland between the Cīruļpurviņš marsh, the Āži Mounds and the Draņķozols Oak, surrounded by steep small hills and impenetrable bushes, lies Lake Zirgezers. It is a small, rather round forest lake with dark and rusty waters. It's banks are overgrown thick with old fir trees. The lumpy, heavy, moss-covered branches cast black shadows over the calm mirror of the lake even on the brightest of days. Just where the reflections of treetops end, the bed drops sharply and the lake gets considerably deep. When you stand on the lakeside, you can hear a dull sound coming from underneath, for there are hollow crevices filled with water between the roots of the trees. Similar holes can be found near Lake Melnezers where they sometimes get up to several meters deep. The small lake got its name due to a tragic event dating back to around the late 19th or early 20th century: an old man was once driving home with a cartload of firewood he had gathered on a felling site deep in the woods. Since the paths are extremely curvy around these parts, leading up and down into the steep hillocks, the old man tried to cut the distance slightly by crossing the frozen lake with his cart. Ice cracked as he reached the middle of the lake, and, despite holding on to its dear life with all might, the horse lost the battle with the icy waters, gave in and drowned. Ever since, many have reported seeing clouds of mist in the shape of a horses head form over the lake.

Several other tragedies and even crimes have taken place in the lake and the area surrounding it, so the range of ghost stories about the place is both vast and impressive.

Mushroom pickers often claim to have seen a ghost of a pale maiden with holes for eyes and a mouth either sewn or bound shut, or even werewolves bathing in the lake on foggy autumn evenings. You could apparently only see their heads and shoulders, and steam surfacing as if from a hot tub. Skeptics say, these must simply be deer wading into the water.

Another one of these stories goes like this: On a fine, calm and rainy August day, a local man sat down on the side of the lake to fish. He was alone by the lake that day, and was very much enjoying the solitude while wrapped in a duffle coat, and sheltered from the rain under its wide hood, contently smoking away, thinking to himself.

Suddenly he heard steps coming his way from the foot of the mound behind him. He heard them approaching slowly and steady, and stop right behind his back. At first, he thought it was just another fisherman. The men would sometimes do this - they would come down, and watch others catch the big fish. When the silence grew larger, he decided to turn around and look. What he saw, scared him so much he almost fell to the ground. There was a corpse of a young woman with long, wheat colored hair, holes for eyes and and her mouth sewn shut with a rough thread.

The man stood there for a while, blinking in disbelief. He tried to come back to his senses, jumped upright to look more closely, but as he turned to take a second look, there was nothing there. He felt so uneasy, however, that he decided to rush home. Till this day, the old man hasn't been able to explain what exactly occurred that evening.

Yet another fisherman claims to have seen something elongated, resembling a pile of old and dirty rags, slide down hill towards the lake on a rainy day. Curious as to what he was seeing, he got up and went closer to take a better look. The pile of rags let out strange sounds, a sort of gargling or whiny belching. The fisherman thought there must be some animal hiding under the nasty pieces of cloth, so he got hold of a stick and tried to poke the shapeless object or lift it up, but what happened next, made him jump and fall over backwards. It was not a pile of rags after all, it was a rotten corpse of a young woman all covered in veins and shredded to bits. The creature was blindfolded with a dirty cloth, and her jaw was missing. The corpse gargled as if being choked, and crawled past the man continuing her way towards the lake. Without stopping, it disappeared headlong into a quagmire a couple of meters from the lake.

The man was certain it had been a "tangible" phenomenon, not merely an apparition or a blurry spectre. Soon after the encounter, he went mad and took his own life.

I think the most impressive story is the one from my carefree childhood years when we spent school holidays down in the Rauda village. At the bottom of Lake Zirgezers, there are all kinds of underground streams, and water there is always stinging cold. One hot summer day, a bunch of us went swimming there a couple of times although strictly forbidden to do so.

We discovered that the lake was not as deep as it appeared, maybe three or four metres at most at the deepest place. We had heard something about German arms, possibly even tanks, having been drowned there to hide from the Russian army. Wanting to find out if it was true, we took self designed underwater flashlights, goggles and air tubes we had nicked from the hospital, and went down there. It was a scorching hot Summer's Day, and even the usually icy water seemed to us at times warm like milk. There were, I think, six of us, and we dived in teams since there was no not enough equipment for everybody to go at the same time. We came up with a system to search the lakebed thoroughly from one end to the other.

When we got tired and most of the lake had been combed without any significant findings, the second team with all the older boys decided to go for the final dive before heading home. Two of them surfaced after a couple of minutes all excited and told us they had stumbled upon something huge and impressive. To move it, they claimed they needed a couple more flashlights and a helping hand.

One of the older fellows agreed to dive in and show them light down there. I will never forget what happened next. All the boys bolted back up like cork floats and desperately rushed to the shore leaving most of the equipment at the bottom of the lake. The our friends’ faces were altered by fear. Even while sitting on the lakeside, warmed up by the hot sun, they trembled so hard it was almost impossible to understand what they were saying had happened down there.

They had found some off-white, massive object at the bottom of the lake. At first, they had thought it was one of those tanks or armoured vehicles from the legends, later, that it was a cannon. When they touched it, it turned out to be something crooked, rather light-weight and slimy. Attempting to lift it up to the surface, they tried to remove dirt from it first and discovered that the thing had a head, resembling a horse’s head. It had a crooked mouth, flat, yellow teeth, and huge, pale eyes like porcelain cups. The boy claimed it was the scariest-looking thing they had ever seen or could have conjured up in their worst nightmares. It had been an image best left deep down at the darkest corner of one’s memory.

Why is lifting something out from under water so traumatic to us? Is it not the same with the dark things we have hidden at the depths of our consciousness? Is not the very likelihood of lifting something truly frightening surface what is stopping us from bringing it to light? If there were no terrifying things within ourselves, would we be so scared of some drowned horse’s head? There is always a possibility we are not ready to face what is down there. What will life be like after facing it? What to do? How to be?

Back then we came to a consensus that it must have been the horse from the story about the man and the cart whose head had rotted away and mummified throughout the years, or a corpse of one of those werewolves that basked in the moonlight. Strangely enough, both of the options seemed equally terrifying to us.

Not one of us ever set foot in that lake ever again, not even to show off in front of the girls.


The Tale of the Āži Hillock

Between the hilly and winding Engure highway and the Rauda forest road, on top of a high mound, the Rauda Cemetery is located, and on the other side of the road from the cemetery — a beautiful marsh with a tiny lake in the middle of it. A narrow road twists along the side of the lake further into the woods. It continues for about a kilometre and forks: the smaller path leads to the left into a wide marsh towards the Āži Mounds and then towards Lake Zirgezers and the Draņķozols through a thick spruce holt. The wider road leads to the Ozoliņi village, and on the right side of it, you will find a deep crater, approximately 50 meters wide, that was created by a meteorite long ago. There’s a tiny pool at the bottom of it.

One day I decided to walk to the mound approaching from the Ozoliņi side, and descend into the steep and deep crater — this activity always excited me, sometimes I would startle some hogs lolling about in the swamp. That day I did not stumble upon any such animals, but I heard howling coming from somewhere outside of the crater deep in the forest. Because of the great distance, I was unable to tell what animal was making the sound. I wanted to believe it was a wolf, since to see a real and living wolf had been my dream for a long time. And it almost came true. The locals claimed to have seen a large wolf limping about alone, clearly gotten astray from his pack.

My dog’s reaction added to the mysterious tension already filling the air — upon hearing the distant howl, he immediately rushed to my side, yelped and rubbed against my leg. I ran to get out of the crater as quickly as I could, still walking my bicycle for it was too steep to ride. Once atop, I could not decide which of the two paths to take. I thought the more interesting path was the one leading downhill to the Āži Mounds. My idea did not seem to rub well with the pupper. He kept dangerously close in front of my bike and would several times abruptly stop almost getting caught in the spokes. As we got closer to the big marshes where the deer feeder was, he tucked his tail between his legs and pressed against me although he was a big, strong and fierce dog. I, on the other hand, was feeling neither scared nor insecure yet. I decided it was a good time to teach my dog some courage. However, as we passed the feeder, I, too, suddenly felt uneasy and somewhat strangely lonely and sad. The road was winding through the spruce thicket and slanted up onto the back of the Āži Mounds where we could again hear the howling. I was now really, really scared. That is when my dog, who had failed to convince me to leave all the way up to this point, ran off homeward, leaving me on my own.

I decided to take the bike to the top of the hillock where there is a tiny path leading downhill and connecting to the Rauda road next to the cemetery. The gradient there will allow me to ride fast and get away quickly from the scary place. As I pushed my bike up the hill, I was overwhelmed by indescribable panic. I sensed something malicious was looking straight at me from behind the bushes. The only other time I had felt like this was near the Draņķozols Oak.

To the right from me, ran the slope of the Āži Mounds, covered in aspens, pines and tiny fir trees. To the left, there grew a couple of tall, old forest oaks, yet another marsh and thick and dark woods lurking from behind the trees. I knew that whomever was staring at me was back there and the thought of it sent shivers down my spine. This animalistic, paralysing fear made me want to scream seemingly for no reason. I had to pick myself up, try my best not to freeze up and continue walking. No matter what I tried to tell myself, I was too frightened to look back, for I knew something terrifying was behind me. Somehow I was able to pick up the pace and get to the top quickly. The Āži Mound’s crooked back was sparsely scattered with gaunt deciduous trees; all the dark dense groves were down at the foot of the hill. The trees here allowed more light in, so I was, of course, relieved almost immediately when I got there.

When I returned home safely, the dog was already waiting for me, pressing against the front door. He looked truly terrified, and his eyes were bone-white.

That night, I had a strange dream. I was on a hike with my dog, just like the one we had that day. I saw everything as if it was a moving picture: I saw myself descend into the impact crater; heard the howling, and climbed the Āži Mounds with the dog, and saw him run off, just like he had done. And I was as frightened in my dream as I was during our daytime adventure. When I came near the old oaks, they had wrinkly and kind faces, and one of them explained to me he had seen many a traveler pass by, and that his job was to make sure the path was safe from those who waste the road’s time and sometimes even gobble it up. I thought nothing of it; it made perfect sense in the dream.

The trees are in general curious creatures. I always knew trees were not just some plants as we were made to believe. Different species of trees have special kinds of relationships with humans — we can live both in harmony and in discord with each other.

They say, trees have three souls. Usually it is said to be the case with oaks: they grow for three hundred years, live for three hundred years, and die for three hundred more. According to Courland’s folklore, such time periods refer to all species of trees, and maybe even to people to some extent. When the tree dries up, it is said to leave its two previous souls behind, and these souls stick around until the tree is gone altogether. There are theories which claim that humans, too, have some immaterial, relatively timeless part in us that roams the place of death long after we have passed. Such theories are often used to explain various phenomena in sites of accidents, catastrophes, or even homes of the deceased. Every year, things that were, lived, and occured take up more and more space in this world. It might be some form of information that is left over. This is how both happy and positive and darkly depressing places come to exist. As we move on through history, our lives become easier and harder at the same time. What the trees speak, is always the purest kind of truth and wisdom — some of it might seem to us too childish or simple. One of such truths is that living is beautiful no matter your species, location or even the amount of suffering you must go through. Life is what occurs despite all odds, and the balance is fragile in all things. Trees, of course, also know that life has more love, sweetness and simplicity than we have come to believe.

Although trees possess incredible power and their souls are capable to easily do away with even the strongest of humans, they are endlessly kind. When trees are being hurt, they silently weep even though they could banish the perpetrator and never let them out of the woods. This patient suffering never goes unnoticed by God. Folk in Courland know of at least a few cases where the spirits of cut-down trees have haunted, deluded and drained the culprit.

When a tree dries up, one of the souls stays inside of it, therefore even seemingly dead trees can still be considered living creatures. These souls usually have wrinkly, long and queer faces that make them look like magical beings from fairy tales. That is why dry trees look a little spooky to us. But these souls are never ill-minded. If the tree is cut in the right time, out of dire necessity, and not out of primitive, irresponsible greed, the tree will keep its soul, even when turned into rafters or firewood logs. This is why the old wooden houses are said to breathe, move around, and live; they have distinct characters and faces, just like the ancient sailing ships. If you cut a tree at a bad time when it’s blooming or greening, the spirits inside it will be disturbed thus making sure that the object you create out of it will fail to serve its purpose and might even harm you in some way.

Trees also have a peculiar relationship to time. An old wisdom from Courland teaches us that roadside trees protect travelers from malevolent passing of time, and that they watch time closely. Trees are also said sometimes to swallow time to leave less of it for various evil forces.

The road changes a person, and why wouldn't the flow of time be under the mercy of trees. They are always so mysterious and bewildering standing there along the roads, in our backyards, in woodlands. The trees serve us and are endlessly selfless and loyal.

This is where the dream deferred from the actual experience at the forest. I did not continue to the very top of the hill, instead I stopped, turned around and looked into the dark thicket where I felt the dread ooze from. At first, I could not discern anything there, but when I looked more closely, I finally noticed something enormous and terrifying beyond belief. I must have woken up that very second because I do recall neither what happened, nor what the thing really looked like.

I heard yowling somewhere very close by. It was my dog barking at the moon, and his heart was all in it. I threw something at him through the window to attract the dog’s attention; it worked for a minute, but he went straight back at it with just as much vigour.

I got angry and decided to lock him up in the barn to make him calm down. I found myself in the middle of my yard overcome by the same type of strange fear again. It felt like someone was looking at me from where the well was in the apple orchard. Then it seemed to move between me and the front porch, although the bright moon made it light enough to see that there was nothing there, some dreadful premonition made me tremble. Then something truly inexplicable occured — I knew something humongous was rushing towards me to attack me. It ran through, or brushed past me, bruising my entire being to a point I was in physical pain and touching my soul violently. I felt like I was seriously wounded, robbed of something precious, like I had lost my memory. My soul was bruised! Although the feeling was unbearably horrid, physically there were no signs something was wrong with me. I remember that night to be one of the very first times I prayed to God from the bottom of my heart for I felt deeply confused and lost.

A couple of weeks later, I decided to drive down to Āži to once more look at the place which caused me to feel so much irrational fear. To make sure the dog doesn’t run off again leaving me all on my own, I had him on a leash this time. But he did not seem keen on running away at all. And I wasn’t afraid either. The thicket was as thickets are — there was nothing peculiar or strange about it. But this one thing did seem out of order: the oak which spoke to me in my dream had fallen over in a storm! For a while, I stood there seriously bewildered.


The Tale of the Cīruļpurviņš Marsh

Cīruļpurviņš marsh is located almost a half kilometre south-west of Draņķozols, in the middle of many minuscule, but almost abnormally steep hillocks. Truth be told, it is not just a lovely-looking little marsh, but more of a wide, spooky and dangerous swampland, totally surrounded by thick growths of spruce and various deciduous trees and impregnable wilderness. Narrow paths, beaten by wild animals, trickle in all directions like a network of tunnels, or a labyrinth.

Cīruļpurviņš is an extremely tricky place. Although the beaten tracks look safe to walk, in places, the seemingly dry moss hides quaggy depths. Under the thick roots of trees, you can sometimes find bottomless caverns filled with black waters.

The northern part of the marsh points in the direction of Lake Zirgezers and the Āži Mounds. The place is full of countless dark, eerie and unwalkable thickets with many streams, quagmires and armies of fallen trees. Dark lichen is dangling from lanky trees and the place looks like an old black and white photograph. Strangely enough, not a single living thing has been seen in this part of the marshland. It is, indeed, a dreary, depressing, moist, spooky and daunting place. The spot where the marsh meets this low woodland is truly repulsive. You will never feel alone in this place, in the most spooky sense. There is always someone watching you, following your every step, coming ominously nearer. Cold shivers will shake you to the very bone, and when you finally dare to turn around and look, you will find nothing there but uncanny silence. Then you keep waking and the same dread follows you, only now much stronger, clearer, heavier … The marshes around Draņķozols will make you feel a similar sensation of being followed, haunted, that will give you the creeps. Somebody of weaker character might even give into this primal fear and go completely mad. I remember, once in childhood I overheard someone say about this place: “There is nothing there! Big deal?” Every time I think of these words, they send cold shivers down my entire being. A place with nothing there. What is there then? What is it like when there is nothing?

I have travelled the world, and nowhere have I seen a more dreadful and scary place than those around the Draņķozols marsh and the far end of the Cīruļpurviņš marshland. Even people who are well familiar with these places often are lead astray there.

I remember there were four of us at the summer country house back in my childhood: me, my younger brother, and my two cousins. We were a group of the best, most joyous, inseparable kids you could ever imagine. One summer day, we ran to play and pick mushrooms at the Lazdas Hillock. We were surprised by a strange sound coming from the marsh: as if wheezing, then crackling or dry twigs, and then a deep booming noise as if accompanying a massive and heavy object falling to the ground. We all heard the sound undeniably. Moreover, we also felt the boggy ground tremble under our feet. We stared at each other in fear.

We had heard old wives tales about werewolves who sometimes out of anger would tear animals apart and launch their poor mangles bodies over the treetops as far as several kilometers away, for they possessed ancient untamable strength. This phenomenon usually occurs around the hunting season and is thought to be the werewolves’ vengeance for all the pointlessly murdered animals and as a final warning to the heartless shooters.

They say most hunting accidents also occur due to the direct involvement of werewolves — they would use spells to make one of the huntsmen take on the form of a deer or some other game animal in the eyes of his fellow hunters. Nobody will suspect anything mysterious since it will seem like a usual accident in a remote place. Should a person kill for his own pleasure only, if he wrecks an destroys nature, punishment is sure to be delivered by werewolves.

This is exactly what we thought that day — that what we heard falling was a dead body thrown by wolves. We did not say it out loud, but we all knew. We were all shaken to the core, so we made a pact to return the next day and find out. The next day came, and we invited some other boys along and went all the way down from the Lazdas Hillock to the Cīruļpurviņš marsh.

We crawled and snuck around the narrow paths in the marsh. It did not take us long to find the place where we had been the other day; on a beaten path down in the swamp, we stumbled upon a body of a deer without a head. Its head was torn, bitten or chewed off. The end of the poor beast’s spine was sticking out from the stump what used to be a neck. There were several wounds on the dead doe’s sides, and its belly was cut open. “No way!” was all we could blurt out in our confused and hoarse voices. Only a werewolf could have done something like this!

Twilight was setting in, so we immediately headed off, away from the damned place. When we reached the path on the hillock, we heard howling coming from across the Cīruļpurviņš marsh. It sounded so lonesome and ghastly! It might have been just a wolf, I do not know for sure, but the sound was more than horrid.

The older fellows started towards the house, joking that we will all be eaten if we don’t run for our lives. Panic quickly grew among us as we ran faster and faster to catch up with the big boys. Nobody wanted to stay behind so, when we finally reached home, we were all out of breath.

When we told parents about our adventure later that night, they assumed we had made the whole thing up. We did not back down, however, and explained everything in detail, so they came to a conclusion that the dead deer had lain there, and because of the great summer heat, it had rotten away, bloated and exploded, and that must have been what we had heard. I remember feeling angry at their dismissal of our story. The sound was not like that, and the deer had no head! But they tried to explain that away too: “Stop talking nonsense! Someone must’ve just cut its head off!”

When the next day we continued with the “same old song” about the deers corpse and the werewolf, the grownups decided to go and take a look for themselves. There was nothing there, no body, and no sign there ever was one.