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KULNEZHA

Dimitar Atanasov

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I have wasted thirty-five years. They're gone, just like that. I' ve had enough of living in the city, and so I said "thank you". I didn' t possess all that much - a flat that grew smaller as the children got bigger. So I let them have it. As a teacher I had nothing to give them apart from advice and directions, which they had long since rejected. Bring a person up, and then give him freedom - that's what I call education.

I spent almost two-thirds of may uneventful life teaching history, and then recently I retired, having had enough of the subject. For the last two months, my wife and I have been living in the country. It wasn't too difficult - just a matter of doing up my father' s house a bit. A good thing I hadn't sold it, as my son had wanted at one time. I came here to find some peace and quiet, but I haven't got it. The people have forgotten me. Until some years ago I still came from time to time, and people still used to greet me. But now - no way. If you are a peasant's guest, he'll give you a fitting reception; but don't become his neighbour. Suddenly he'll change and become mistrustful, suspicious. Years have to pass before you are accepted again. If you don't know anything about farming, he'll look down at you and poke fun at you. The peasant today is shut up tightly within himself, somehow they all seem embittered and alienated. They only open up when their children and grandchildren come to see them from the city - they weigh them down with farm produce to take back with them, and once they've gone, they shut themselves in even more. If you think that the villages are seething with life, you're wrong; looking around it looks as if we're the youngest people here.

But then it's not really the people I'm after. There are fields, forests and wildlife - as long as you're open to that sort of thing. The wells and springs are the same, the woods are even wilder, the grass is even deeper, and it's all like a reverie in green through which the free winds of your youth blow.

I can't stay shut in at home. I go out cycling, like in those wild, free years, when one's age was both hope and one's element.

So I set off for Kulnezha. It's an area about two hours south of the lake. I pedal along country tracks used only by farming-machines and by shepherds who drive their herds to the summer pens. One can see that the spring was fairly dry, because the tracks are suitable even for cars. The road to the town passes near the lake, since cars for natural reasons prefer metalled roads, while the tracks slowly become overgrown again. It is a real pleasure riding along tracks like these. The green carpet of the track is cut in two by strips of light, trodden earth, which sometimes vanishes under the grass. There is 1ush grass in the middle and lush grass to either side. If you watch a cyclist from the distance, you can't see his bicycle, but only the top half of the rider gliding through the air above the green field, like a bird gliding through the air, its eye to the ground for some insect that's landed in the grass. A crow flying over a field that has just been ploughed looks just like that, and perhaps the kingfisher, too. The track vanishes in the distance, while you have to keep your eyes open in case you run over a yellow grass-snake basking in the sun, or a pheasant or woodcock startled by the clatter of your mudguards; you pass through a few belts of acacia wood where you can stop and rest in the shade, and where you can pick mushrooms if it has rained recently - because if you don't catch any fish, your wife will still be waiting at home for you to bring the evening meal. These belt of trees cover huge areas, and were planted back in the fifties, if not earlier. Their purpose is to catch the rain and retain the humidity, and to provide shelter for people and cattle in the vast plains of fields and pasture-land. Among the acacia groves you might also find the odd fruit-tree - usually a plum-tree, although you'll occasionally find a wild pear-tree, or you might come across a hare or a tortoise; hunters say that the most frequent tracks you'll find here are fox-tracks, through the dried-out nettles, the danewort thickets, the milkweed and the mown grass. At dusk or early in the morning, it steals up to a hen-house on the edge of the village, kills a few hens and vanishes like smoke, heading as quickly as possible for the cover of the thick woods of Kulnezha, Skriptsa or Karaburun.

Kulnezha is actually a large valley. It begins at Debelata Vurba, passes through the Big Reservoir and continues to Dyado Vulchovia hollow, following the course of a little stream that crosses the main road under a bridge and flows into the lake. If you walk its length, it would take you from morning till noon, Its southern slope is entirely wooded, with plenty of lime-trees, oak and ash. The north side of the valley is pasture land, broken here and there by copses of acacia, sparse oak-trees, wild pears and mostly hawthorn. A few vineyards and beehives betray human intervention here. A narrow stream, which is fed by the Big Reservoir and numerous springs after it, flows calmly among the reeds. The stream bed is covered in weeds and roots, but that doesn't seem to prevent the water from giving all it can - humidity, juices, life, the will to live, foliage and secrets.

There are quite a lot of secrets in Kulnezha. One of them is its name, which comes from the word kulna, meaning to bud, or to sprout. My uncle said it came from the fertile soil of the valley: "Whatever you poke into the ground sprouts, " he would say. Watermelons grew as big as cauldrons, walnuts as big as fists, and tortoise-eggs as big as apples. Wine made from grapes grown here was the colour of honey. Every time my father took his first taste of the new wine he would say: "It's the devil's own valley, this - it'll even make a stone bear fruit."

That the devil has a finger in it all is more than certain, as the valley is full of ghosts. When people and ghosts encounter one another, they make way for each other. They are our own ghosts: Roussa, who continuously drives her cart up and down the valley, unattended herds sleeping in the heat of the day, the faceless beekeeper, the white-tailed wolf, the yellow snake from the track leading to the lake which walks on its tail, and others that not everyone knows about.

But I find the people who frequent Kulnezha no less mysterious. They're the people who tend the half-dozen or so vineyards and the beehives in the valley. They don't live here, but just come whenever their work demands it. They all know each other and often stop to discuss the pests that attack the vines, the blackbirds that attack the grapes, the white-tailed wolf, the advantages and disadvantages of the bee-eater, or whether it wasn't possible to sabotage the sluice-gate of the reservoir so that they can fill their arms with fish. It happened once, but nobody had found out whether the sluice-gates had really broken down or had deliberately been sabotaged.

"Even if you think you're something, you'll never know what others think of you," was the profoundest philosophy in the life of Miltara, one of the men who tended a vineyard in Ku1nezha. And he did as much as he could to show that he didn’ t care less what others thought of him. He had a sharp tongue and a high opinion of himself. Once he went up to Chilibonka, the landlady of the pub and, in front of everyobody, called her a whore. She replied with such a hard blow that he ended up on the nearest table. Although this had everyone rolling about laughing, he just walked out calmly as if nothing had happened. Apparently he had got away with it.But he didn' t always get away with it. Once he met Dimo Kairyaka, who also has a vineyard in Kulnezha, next to ours. His vineyard has the tautest wires, and its soil is always turned. One day Kayriaka was on his way back from the Big Reservoir, where he' d been fishing. And Miltara, who just can't hold his tongue, started poking fun at him, saying that on a cold winter's day like that it was a waste of time to go fishing instead of having a drink. It really was cold - so cold that the ewes had to give birth indoors, otherwise the lambs would freeze the moment they came out. My father told me about that winter, saying that if you touched a piece of iron with your hand it would freeze to it and tear your skin off. And in that weather, Kayriaka was fishing. So Miltara started laughing at him, saying he was a mug if he thought the fish would bite on a day like that, he must be off his rocker, things like that. So Kairyaka opened his rucksack, produced a large carp, and said: "Is this fish, or isn't it?" And without waiting for an answer, he took the carp by the head and gave Mi1tara a hefty swipe across the face with the tail. This angered Miltara greatly, but he had asked for it. Since then he has had a fishtail-shaped mark on his face.

Kairyaka isn' t a man to be messed with. He was in trouble recently, in fact, he had gone to court, and nobody knew how he had got off so lightly. It was only years later, on one of his rare visits, that he told me about it. One evening Dimiter Zlatarev, coming out of the pub, had seen afigure in the dark and gone up to him to ask for a light. It was Kairyaka. "A light, eh? I'll give you a light that'll keep you burning for the rest of your life." And he gave him such a beating that Zlatarev was a month in hospital. They had never got on, and avoided one another, but in the dark they had simply hurled themselves at one another. So Zlatarev sued him. In court, Kairyaka explained that years ago Zlatarev had been a watchman when Kairyaka was a little boy, and he and some other kids from the neighbourhood had gone to steal watermelons. As he was the smallest, he had naturally got caught, and had given him such a thrashing that for three days he couldn't say his own name. Since then, Kairyaka explained in court, his aim in life had been to take his revenge. He swam, lifted stones and did all kinds of physical exercise, only and only to grow strong enough to deal with Zlatarev, who weighed seventeen stone. He had waited for that moment for twenty years. And now it had come. He told the court that he was willling to take any sentence they passed on him. The judge asked Zlatarev whether that was true, and Zlatarev replied that it was passible, but he couldn't remember exactly. So Kairyaka got off with a small conditional sentence. Although he's a bit wild by nature. Whenever there's a fight, he's the first to get there. The other evening, when I was at his place, he surprised me by asking me outside to listen to the nightingale sing. "The nightingale sings most beautifully in May," he said. He said that first the males arrived, made nests and then tried to attract females. The song of the nightingale can't be compared to anything else, aned on that quiet spring evening, it was divine. Then I realised that I had often heard the nightingale sing, but never paid much attention to it. And it was a person like Kairyaka, a man whom I had always thought such a tough, hardened spirit, who had taught me to recognise the song of the nightingale.

Actually, nobody knows what the other person is really like, because people are varied and unpredictable. Perhaps that's why Miltara is right in his philosophy, especially when you look at it the other way round. What's so surprising, when we don't even know ourselves properly, and just deceive ourselves into thinking that we know the human character.

My head is full of Kulnezha. I go through the woods along familiar and new paths sunk in silence and soft, muffled light, feeling elated and slightly anxious, always alert, because you can never tell what might jump out from behind a tree. Anything might jump out from behind the trees. In fact, I've even had a tortoise jump out before me.How, you might see, can a slow, clumsy tortoise jump out? Tortoises walk heavily; if you're nearby and hear something stepping along heavily like a buffalo, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that it is a buffalo. It might just as easily be a tortoise. That's how heavy their step is. Tall, thick grass which is hard for people to walk through is no problem for tortoises. They simply plough through the grass, pushing it aside and leaving a trail as if something on hoofs has walked by there. Apart from tortoises, a badger might also jump out. The badger is a very strange animal - at first sight it's a sluggish thing, with a thick neck and a squat body, a yellow-brown pelt and a black stripe on its head. In some ways it resembles a dog, but the strange thing is that, inoffensive as it looks, it is one of the few animals in Kulnezha that attacks man. And it isn' t just attack in the usual way, because usual1y it minds its own business. But if you see a badger in the wood or in the meadow it won' t stand aside to let you pass, but will charge you, jumping straight at your crotch and try to get a good bite where it hurts. I've seen Kairyaka catch them with an ordinary gunny sack; he holds it open in front of his crotch, and as the badger leaps for the kill, he falls into the sack. I catch badgers with a snare. When the grapes start ripening, they come to suck juice from the grapes. Otherwise, in other seasons you'll rarely come across one, but one badger is capable of ruining large areas of vines. One did it to mine, until in the end I set a snare across the path it used through the corn. I went there the next day, to see what had happened: there was a devastated circle around the stick to which I had tied the thick copper wire - everything was crushed and haIf-eaten cobs of maize, the earth ploughed up and the wire broken. It had run off with the noose around its neck. I felt sorry for the beast, running around like that with a noose around its neck, so I followed the trail and found its hole, with such a stink of badger around it that I could hardly bear it. From under the ground I could hear a whimpering sound. I sensed that it had young, and as I stood there wondering what to do, the badger poked its nose out of the hole; its tongue was hanging out, it was breathing heavily and kept on choking. It crept slowly out of its hole and sat there opposite me, looking me straight in the eyes. I looked at the noose around its neck - if nobody took it off, it would be dead by nightfall. And I was the only person around to do the job. I approached it without fear. It didn't even growl. I took hold of the copper wire, loosened it and drew the noose back over its head, and only then did it bare its teeth. Instinctively fearing that it would jump at my crotch I held my hands to protect myself, but it simply went back into its hole, from which happy whimpers could be heard. As I walked back I imagined that the badger had smiled when it had showed its teeth before popping back into its set. I felt satisfied with myself for undoing the mess I had caused.

I returned to the vineyard. I noticed a flock of sheep resting in the shadow of the acacias, I decided to go over for a chat with the shepherd. It was hot, and the animals were lying close together, their heads close to the ground, breathing heavily through their nostrils, while the ones on the outside waved their tails to keep off the maddening afternoon f1ies. There was no shepherd in sight, so I sat down and waited; maybe he had gone off to the reservoir. I sat there waiting, but nobody came. I remember my father saying that a flock of sheep without a shepherd had often been seen in KuInezha resting under the acacias or grazing at sunset in the pasture, munching at the grass, with sheepdogs running around and even a donkey with a cloth over its back, but no shepherd. The shepherd had been bewitched by the big yellow snake, which had turned him into a bird, usually a bee-eater which circled high in the air above the flock keeping watch. And the sheep, sensing his presence, didn't become nervous, but grazed calmly. I looked up into the sky, and almost believed my father, because up there in the sky a motley bee-eater was darting about in the sky and warbling something that sounded like "be on your way!" over and over again. So I decided to be on my way in order not to annoy the shepherd, as my father had advised me to do.

But I found out the real reason for the roaming flocks from my uncle, who was himself a shepherd. He described how once he had crossed the stream and followed the snake trail to go and gather lime-buds in the woods. He had filled his shoulder-bag and was just about to set off back along the path when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, but no one was there. He set off, and felt another tap on his shoulder. He turned around, and there he saw a yellow snake, as thick as a man's wrist, standing up on its tail and looking him straight in the eyes from so close up that he could have reached out and caught it by the neck. But he didn't reach out; he simply dropped his bag in horror. It fell with a thump to the ground behind his back, and the sound startled the snake, which coiled a few times in the middle and started backing off, sti11 looking him in the eyes. Then Uncle started following it in a trance, while it coiled around and around itself and led him off somewhere. It led him straight to the lake, to a secret place where there was a boat. The snake entered the water; it didn't swim along the surface the way snakes usually do, but continued to stand on its tail and, coiled in the middle, sliced its way through the water. Uncle got into the boat and rowed after it. On the other bank he couldn't see the snake, and Uncle approached the bank along a path through the reeds, got out of his boat and found himself standing in front of a woman with honey-coloured hair and a bright grey shine in her eyes. She led him to a house that stood nearby. There she turned into a fish, breathing heavily through her gills, lithe and slippery and talking all the time, bewitching him with her words. The words were whispered quickly, they were incomprehensible, distant words which Uncle knew existed, but which nobody had heard used this way before, words which played about with his soul as if it was made of wax. Afterwards they sat in the doorway and silently looked at the reeds and the round, blue-black forms of the Karaburun hills on the other s i d e.

All of this upset him greatly, for he started losing weight and didn't look like himself any more. He became touchy and nervous, he avoided people and they avoided him, but his eyes blazed and the more the plot thickened, the more fiercely they blazed. And things got to such a turn that he often left his flock to go down to the lake and the boat, spending his time somewhere on the lake, while his sheep grazed themselves, without a shepherd. He would come back at dusk to drive them back to the sheep-pens. It was not long before Uncle asked to be transferred to a job as watchman on the lake. Auntie was astonished by all this, but her sixth sense told her that something was afoot. She made a few enquiries here and there and found out that Uncle' s sheep grazed by themselves in Kulnezha. And it wasn' t really that hard to see: the sheep had became as lean as greyhounds, and spent their time chasing the sheepdogs up and down the valley. So she persuaded the whole family, relatives and all, to keep Uncle from taking a wrong step. But he had become an obstinate man, prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his ends. He didn't become warden of the lake, but he couldn't keep away from the fish-woman, and kept on visiting her. In this way he spent a fiery summer, one which almost burnt him out.

Winter came on. Uncle brought the sheep back into the stalls and was at home again. Nobody knew what Auntie did that winter, but one thing is sure: she didn't sit around twiddling her thumbs. She took a piece of uncle's clothing to Nikoula the fortune-teller too charm him against curses. Nikoula, an expert on these matters, muttered various spells and told Auntie to get Uncle while he was asleep and to tie a red thread around his ear. Auntie did this without Uncle noticing a thing, and all winter Uncle went around with a red piece of thread tied to his ear.

In May he set off for the summer sheep-pens again. He didn't wait for the yellow snake to come and tap him on the shoulder asking where he had been all winter: he had decided to get into the boat himself to go and visit the widow, as the fish-woman turned out to be. But no sooner had the sheep settled dawn to rest in the afternoon than he noticed another flock nearby without a shepherd. He set off along the snake-path, and saw that it was not overgrown, but freshly trodden. He went to the secret spot by the lake, and the boat wasn' t there. But there were eddies in the water and it the mud hadbeen churned up in clouds among the reeds. A pelican cackled sarcastically.

Ever since then Uncle has been meekly herding his sheep in Kulnezha, and Auntie smiles to herself when she thinks of the piece of red thread on his ear.

That's how the untended flocks appeared. They graze quite peacefully, and not even wolves attack them. And there are wolves in Kulnezha. Everybody knows that their lair is in Dyado Vulchovia hollow. Early one morning, years ago, we were on our way to the vineyard. The horses seemed nervous; they kept on turning back their ears and snorting. My father was wondering what the matter was, his temper gradually building up, when suddenly they stopped. And we froze in our seats, because from around the bend came about half a dozen wolves. They stopped and looked at us, sitting on their haunches. There was no fear in their eyes. We just stared at each other like that for what seemed to me like an age when the biggest wolf, obviously the leader, a grey-red beast with a white tail, growled something to the rest, who all got up and followed him across the road and away they went, all the time keeping their eyes on us. Later my father said that if we had made a single movement, they would have attacked us. But we hadn't moved - there wasn't anywhere to move, and at a moment like that your whole mind is paralysed. It was a good thing that the horses hadn't broken.

There had also been an incident in Kulnezha with a flying cart. Between Dyado Vulchovia hollow and the Big Reservoir is a meadow which is wel1 exposed to the sunlight, and where since time immemorial there have been bee-hives there. There had also been a small white cottage. The bee-keeper, Shomolcheto they called him, almost never took the net off his face, and spent the whole summer there with his wife, who drove down to the village in her cart only once a week. Her name was Roussa, who had a dark face, dark eyes and jet-black hair. Once she had gone for food and not come back. Shomolcheto waited and waited for her, and finally set off in search of her, without taking the mask off his face. He looked for her all night long, going down to the village and back three times, but she was nowhere to be found. The next day one of the shepherds was on his way to the reservoir when he heard whinnying and saw the overturned cart lying in the bushes at the bottom of the dam, the horse nervously shaking its head. He ran up, and there he saw Roussa, lying with the cart-shaft through her chest. He called some other shepherds for help. They turned the cart the right way up again, and that was what the horse had been waiting for - it bolted, galloping wildly up and down the tracks of Kulnezha and didn't stop: something had happened to it. They tried and tried to catch it, but all in vain. Shomolcheto himself didn't try, he thought the horse had gone mad because it knew the reason for Roussa's death.

And so the horse and cart, without Roussa, hurtles up and down Kulnezha to this day. You can tell it by the humming of the wind in the reins, and nobody is surprised to see it without a driver. Sometimes the horse stops for a while by the Big Reservoir, shakes its head, looks about sadly and then gallops off again. And when Shomolcheto heard the whistle of the wind and the slap of the reins, would take off his mask and wipe his eyes, and then continue to seal the beehives with manure. It was said that his bees became meeker and more tame, like Shomolcheto himself. There was no meeker person than Shomolcheto in the shole of Kulnezha. He simply melted like bees' wax in the sun, he melted and melted until he was like a child. Somebody said that they' d seen Shomolcheto with his mask off, wiping his eyes, but without any eyes to wipe; in fact, he didn't have a face - only the mask was left. He had shrunk so much that it wouldn't be surprising if he had trickled between the holes of the mask out into one of his beehives.

And so Kulnezha was left with that ghostly bee-keeper' s mask, which pottered about energetically in the bee-field, keeping the beehives sealed properly, keeping them stocked with wax - in short, looking after the bees properly, and frequently repeating Shomolcheto s gesture of wiping his eyes whenever it heard the hum and snap of the reins of the cart hurtling towards the reservoir. As for Roussa, they said that on the track along the top of a dam, the horse had been frightened by a wolf with a white tail (and so had overturned the cart. Later I heard others ask what she was doing driving along the dam when it wasn' t on her way. Yet others, it seemed, knew something, but held their tongues. Not a year passed, before the whole story was unravelled. Miltara had been getting water from his well and had just leaned over to drink from the bucket, when he heard the cart rushing past behind him; he had dropped the bucket, the beam had struck him over the head and he had fallen into the well. They only discovered him by accident. Then the rumour started going around that Roussa had regularly gone to his vineyard, as she had done on the day of the accident, but then Miltara had shooed her horse away and not let her get off. And so, the whole mystery was solved. Since then nobody went to Mlltara's well, except for Roussa's ghostly horse and cart.

Kulnezha is something that always remains inside of you, it overwhelms you and never allows you to forget it. It is always calling you, and you listen to it in the hope that you'll hear something. For example, as I listen now, I hear the rushing of water. A flood of water. One year after torrential rains, the sluice-gate of the dam which kept the water-level in the reservoir had broken down, and the water had leaked out until only a foot or so was left in the bottom. Kulnezha was flooded with water. That was when Uncle's flock of sheep had drowned, but not one drowned sheep was found afterwards, for they had all turned into a shoal of perch with shiny grey eyes. The fish started grazing in the woods, their colour gradually turning to red, while the wolf, the snake and whatever else was there moved up to higher ground and watched in astonishment as people went to catch fish with nets, baskets, buckets and old clothes. The people ate their fill of fish then, of perch. They caught what they could, while the rest swam into the lake, which also turned red. That year the lake was red, and fuller than ever before. And in Kulnezha Kairyaka found in a small pool along the stream a twenty-five-pound perch which he killed with one blow of his crook. When he put it on his packsaddle, the tail hung out and dragged along the ground. But being a greedy person, not the type to say that enough is enough, he took the perch home, got his wollen skein, and with his brother Petrika went out for more fish. They waded out into the water and started dragging it with the net. But nothing went into the net. There was thick mud which reached up to one's knee, which was why they could only move and reactslowly, because when you hear a tapping in the net you have to lift it up quickly, otherwise the fish gets away. So around them it was swarming with fish, while the net remained empty. As they were pulling the net, Petrika felt the other end slacken. It was dark, and he couldn't see anything, so he called out quietly. Kairyaka didn't answer. He felt afraid by this sudden disappearance of his brother. He groped his way over to where his brother had been. The pole was still there, but his brother wasn't the corks of the net just bobbed up and down ominously. He grabbed the pole and tugged it, and then felt someone pulling it away from him. He pulled as hard as he could, and after a lot of pulling managed to pull his brother out, but he had to slap him across the face severa1 times before he came to. Later he realised that his brother had slipped into a hallow full of mud, which must have sucked him under. Whether it was the mud, the fish or the shock I don't know, but ever since then Kairyaka's skin had a reddish tint, maklng him 1ook as if he was made of baked clay. They also gave him the nickname of "Burning" Kairyak, who always seemed to be smouldering.

The same evening Kulnezha was swarming with red perch, ghosts and people, while the weeping willows beside the stream giggled all evening because in the mud and furrows innumerable traps snapped shut on men and ghosts and ghosts and men indiscriminately. The only survivors were the flying cart without Roussa at the reins, the ghostly bee-keeper and the untended flocks, Uncle's not included.

The traps are probably snapping shut to this day, but I don't believe that anyone gets caught in them any more. As if it' s not enough that people and ghosts have grown more and more cunning, nobody knows whether they're there now, or whether they've become shadows of the ghosts with their ephemeral melancholy.

As I was riding along, the mudguards clattering along the uneven track, I suddenly felt the spokes turning backwards. I was in Kulnezha already. I didn' t know whether I was just imagining it, but it seemed to me that I could hear the whistling of the wind in a horse's reins. I peered through the milky air and saw the reins and all the trappings of a cart-horse rapidly vanish towards the horizon in the direction of the Big Reservoir, after which I realised that there were no horse or cart, although I had sensed their presence. Just a mirage. I walked past the green belt of old acacias. I saw something silvery in the grass. I looked down, and was the yellowish shed skin of a snake. I reached out to pick it up, but it crumbled into dust in my hand. Then I reached the reservoir. It was full, and the water was so still it looked as if it was sleeping. All around was lush greenery with not even a poacher to be seen. Otherwise the track was the same, except that it was overgrown and couldn't be seen very well. The same lulling melancholy shimmered everywhere. The reeds by the stream swayed slowly, and I could hear them gently and sadly whispering, as if the wind was blowing into the dry pipes of a saz.

Beyond the bend were the vineyards, the bee-field and the snake-path along which Uncle had walked and come back with his silvery secret. As I approached it, my heartbeat grew stronger and stronger. I passed it and... I found myself on facing a high wire fence with concrete posts. The track led up to and past a large double gate with a big sign saying: "Game Reserve. Strictly No Entry."

Beside it was a rough board on which was written unevenly "Phesant-ground", with the letter "a" missing.

From here I could see a red brick building with the roof extended on either side to form verandahs. I called out, and shortly a man in a forester's uniform appeared. He approached me, greeted me and asked me "what brought me this way". And I didn't know what had "brought" me. Then he said, "Permit-holders only, sir."

He straightened his forester' s hat and I, not being a permit-holder, scratched the back of my head, got on my bike and pedalled off in the opposite direction. Before I reached the bend I stopped, remembering something. I turned around, looking for the bee-field. The blue hives and the white cottage weren't there any more. All that could be seen in that same meadow, which was also behind the wire fence, was a white stone. A tiny spot on top of the stone was shining in the sun. I looked at it carefully.

What was shining on the stone was a tiny drop of honey.

 

 

© Dimitar Atanasov
© Mark Cole, translated
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© E-magazine LiterNet, 19.03.2006, № 3 (76)