This is not exactly what I had in mind when I left the comfort of my home in Cambridge to accept a position at the Museum of natural History in Belgrade. True, I left to see something of the world, and to escape the dull tiresome life that my parents had planned on my behalf (down to the most minute detail), but the events of the past four days have changed my view on the entire world, and my place in it. I now find myself on board an east bound train, heading towards Sofia in Bulgaria on a hunt for a part of an ancient, evil statue of great power. Sounds rather dramatic, doesn't it? So I would have thought had I not experienced the horrors of previous few days.
I spend most of my Saturdays working with the artifacts at the museum, when I'm not actually out in the field, working in the countryside I love so well. This past Saturday I was in the vaults, looking over a new shipment of Turkish relics, when my mentor, Dr. Milovan Todorovic, asked me to help out some Americans who were apparently searching for a piece of a rare Byzantine statue. The Americans (well, five Americans and a fellow Brit) made an unlikely team of scientists, so both Dr. Todorovic and I were suspicious. None the less, if the team could produce the required legal documents for exporting rare artifacts, I agreed to accompany them on a trip to a local supplier of statuary in the distant town of Orszac. Later that day, the group returned with the requested paperwork, so I made plans to take them to Orszac on Monday.
On Monday I met the team at the station, where we would catch a local train to the northern town of Mladenovac, where we would change trains and head east to Orszac itself (although the train doesn't actually go to Orszac, it is a short walk from a nearby stop). Apparently the group had gone to the black market of Belgrade on the previous day, searching for the missing piece of their statue. They gave an amusing account, which involved a chase with several Turks who stole the statue arm they had purchased. In any event, the arm had broken, which for some reason convinced them that it wasn't the right piece.
The train ride passed without event (unless you count a chicken usurping one of our seats an event, well I don't, or didn't), and we arrived at Orszac late that afternoon. Our contact was Father Filipovic, who had, over time, sent Dr. Todorovic a steady supply of statuary parts from a local dealer. As luck would have it, the father was visiting a nearby village that afternoon, however the head man of the town, Todor Nedic, invited us into his home, where we spent the rest of the day. Father Filipovic dropped by shortly before dinner, and gave us directions to his supplier, someone the villagers called "Grandmother" who lived in a nearby forest. That night we were fortunate enough to witness a local custom: some sort of ritual involving gypsies at each home in the village. Even though Father Filipovic shook his head at the obviously non-Christian ceremony, I found it both fascinating and enjoyable.
The next morning we set off for "Grandmother's" house, but before we left, a young waif from Todor's house handed one of my companions, Mac, a peculiar bone comb, with some tale of "protecting us in the woods." The rest of the town saw us off as we traipsed across the fields, and into the forest. Thinking back, I wonder why we weren't suspicious when none of the villagers wanted to come with us. The trek through the forest took a good deal longer than expected, but by early afternoon we found what we were looking for: a little cottage in the woods. Within the cottage we found a young attractive woman, Kcerna, who said that "Grandmother" would be back later on that afternoon, but we could wait if we so desired. We did.
Several hours later an old woman entered the cottage, and Kcerna jumped up and hugged her, calling out, "Grandmother!" The old woman looked at us, and speaking some strange dialect to Kcerna, smiled and welcomed us in English. While Kcerna prepared the wood burning oven for dinner, the old woman listened to our description of the statue, which my companions called the Sedefkar Simulacrum. The old woman directed Mac to look upon different shelves, which were piled high with pieces of statues. Finally the old woman directed Mac to look at the top shelf, and there, just beneath the thatched ceiling, he found the right arm of the Sedefkar Simulacrum!
Here's where things got weird, and I have a hard time believing that what happened wasn't just a dream or hallucination. The arms from other statues piled up on the lower shelves twisted around and grabbed Mac. The old woman suddenly stood up to her full height: well over seven feet tall, and she picked up a bread shovel and advanced towards Mac. As we looked up at Mac, we saw the grinning faces of skulls peering down at us as they poked through the ceiling. Kcerna picked up a large knife and advanced upon the doctor in our group (Marabou). Mac managed to free himself from the statues and avoid the old woman, but at that moment, the oven came to life and sprang towards us. This was too much, and I left the house as quickly as I could (okay, I panicked and ran).
Things didn't get better on the outside. The lovely picket fence that we had seen when we approached the house was now a fence of bones! I could hear the yells from my companions from within the cottage, and shortly afterwards Tilly Shaw (the Brit), ran out as it (the cottage mind you) lifted itself up on a pair of giant chicken legs and began to stomp towards us. No, I don't expect anyone else to believe it either, but things get stranger and more horrific yet. Mac was the next to make it out of the house, although he had to jump down to the ground, followed by Zelda (a rotund woman who was always singing bits of show tunes off-key). The four of us wasted no time in running for the woods, in the hope that the chicken legged cottage would have trouble running amidst the trees (it didn't). The doctor jumped from the cottage just before it made it to the woods, but she landed hard, and remained still on the ground, like a corpse. As we ran through the woods, the old woman leapt from the doorway and began to fly after us, gaining on us with terrible speed. The house itself began to crash through the underbrush, and as I looked back I saw Ian, clothing on fire, leap from the house, and roll on the ground, while avoiding the chicken feet at the same time.
Mac paused for a moment, and threw down the bone comb he was given earlier that day. I'm really hard pressed even now, in the relative safety of a train berth many miles away, saying if the results of tossing the comb down were worth what came afterwards. Things. Horrific, terrifying, shadowy forms, vaguely tree like, but with enormous tentacles where the branches should be sprouted up from the ground near where the comb fell. These blasphemous creatures began to attack the cottage and the old woman, which gave us the opportunity to escape into the woods. Mac hadn't moved since dropping the comb, and seemed to be suffering from some sort of shock, so Tilly and I pushed and shoved him along. By some amazing bit of luck we managed to find Zelda, and later Ian, who was dragging Dr. Marabou's body behind him (she was still alive, but not conscious). After several hours of staggering through the forest, we came to a quiet village. We rented a small room at the back of a local pub, and rested for the remains of the night.
As we were leaving the village on the next morning, a flock of hundreds of black chickens attacked us and the villagers, forcing us to retreat and beat off the things until they had beaten themselves to death against the doors and windows, or we killed those that managed to enter. Outside, the once black chickens were grey and white, and turned out to be the villagers' own flocks! We quietly paid for the birds, and stole out of town, in the direction of the train line.
The trip back to Belgrade was mercifully dull, and we met up with the last of my companions' friends, a professor from the States. She had remained behind to keep an eye on the rest of the Simulacrum's pieces that the team had already found (at the cost of two lives, I later learned). They have but the head to find of this accursed statue, and they suspect that it lies in Sofia.
There is no question of my going with them now: I must see this thing to the end, and so I quickly packed, took a leave of absence from the museum, and now find myself on board an east bound train, heading towards Sofia in Bulgaria on a hunt for a part of an ancient, evil statue of great power.