The Curse of Kosma
The wild wind howled outside the humble little hospital in Poland, Tykocin.
In one huddled dimly lit room, a mother to be screamed as her cramps intensified. Krystyna had been in agonising labour for sixteen hours. Her husband, Kosma, gathered himself once more for the onslaught. He held Krystyna’s had, or rather, she held his in a death grip and squeezed even tighter.
Kosma wished so badly for it to be over, for his beloved to be safe. He no longer cared about the child, his anguish was all for her and this never-ending process they called birth. He wanted to cry but couldn’t let it go. He wanted to be strong for her and forced back tears at regular intervals.
There was another screaming fit but without an outcome. The midwife assured them it wouldn’t be long, that the baby was close now.
The room fell silent as Krystyna’s breathing slowed and the sobs stopped. The rain quieted somewhat and made a soft tapping against the glass, it had a homely almost relaxing rhythm to it.
Kosma found himself drifting off in memory to the rain…just like it rained four years ago on his gentleman’s night out. A stag night if you will, the week before marrying his wonderful Krystyna. It had been a good night, fun and frivolity but all clean and healthy. He had drunk a lot, which he didn’t usually do but he was carefree and happy and why shouldn’t he have been?
He reminisced about their journey back to the hotel they’d booked just off Krakow’s main square, how he was reflecting on a good night until that hag showed up. A gypsy woman threatening to tell him his fortune. Perhaps it was the drink, but he felt irrationally angry at the hooded old crow in her dusty garments. Playing out every stereotype in the book while threatening his little slice of happiness. She struck him in that moment as both offensive and intensely irritating.
Kosma hunched his shoulders in the hospital as he remembered her pawing at his shoulder, hearing her course fingers rub the fabric on his coat as she sought his attention, “I read your fortune happy little man if you cross my palm with silver.”
Her breath was sour, her face ragged with a long nose dominating her features. She was musty smelling, like dead leaves. He instantly felt repulsed by her, “Just…no. Thank you. No. I’m out with friends can’t you see. This is not the time. No, you go away please.”
He and his friends carried on and he’d thought they’d lost her as he passed a group of British girls, a hen party, who roared at he and his companions in what he presumed was their native language. It was hard to tell, there appeared to be no audible syllables in their speech, more a long slurred nondescript noise which they performed in perfect unison. Kosma and his friends replied in kind.
As they passed the last corner before the hotel the gypsy woman appeared again this time bothering one of Kosma’s companions. He was laughing at her and gently pushing her away from him, but the gypsy woman kept coming back. Kosma could feel again his anger rising even as he watched his friend dance with her. The gypsy woman played along then held out her hand, “Now you pay me, or I call the police. You handled me! I am with child. This is harassment. Pay me for harassment!”
Much to Kosma’s surprise he saw his friend get out his wallet just to silence the old crone. Kosma was having none of it as he marched over to the woman, “You, I told you already, go away please.”
The woman stared past Kosma, “Your friend harassed me, now he pays me. Simple. Give give,” she added as she held out her hand and pushed Kosma.
Kosma felt his alcohol fuelled rage reach the surface as he grabbed the gypsy woman’s arm and led her away from the group, “I asked you nicely, you old fucking hag. I don’t normally behave like this or swear, much, but you people, you fucking free loading bastards. I work so hard all year every fucking year. This is one night out in my life, a celebration, a night I have saved long for and here you are doing your best to ruin it. Now if you got pregnant at your age, that is your fucking problem and curse to live with. Not ours. So please, go bother someone else.”
Kosma’s pals laughed drunkenly as one of them made his way over to grab Kosma.
The gypsy woman looked at Kosma blankly, appearing to not be remotely offended or effected by his words. She licked her lips, “You give me money then?”
Kosma exploded, “I’ll give you a kick in the cunt, unholy wench! Go away!” he added as he pushed her. The old lady lost her balance and fell backwards, slowly, with her arms flailing like a windmill before landing arse first into a puddle.
Kosma’s friend arrived and put his arms around Kosma laughing, “Whoa there Kos! Slow down my friend, come on what’s up with you huh? Let’s go inside, have a night cap and forget this old woman. Come on its not worth it, she’s just chancing her arm is all.”
He was right of course and just as Kosma was about to go to the old lady to help her up she addressed him from the rapidly dirtying puddle she now occupied, “I curse you! I curse you! I curse your first born! He will be wretched. He will incite hatred and uncontrollable revulsion in others. You will wish it never born. I curse you!”
Kosma was snapped out of his deep reflections, by the sudden birth of his son.
It practically popped out of her like an oversized golf ball, a ball of blood and flesh. It screamed before unfurling itself.
Clown like large feet revealed themselves first, folding out in front of him before it raised its head, ceased the baby warbling and started panting repetitively. ‘Ehh ehh ehh ehh.’
Kosma and his wife looked on at their child, smiling to one another but with eyes betraying those smiles.
The midwife resisted an insatiable urge to slap the new-born and dismissed herself temporarily from the room in self-disgust.
“Oh husband. Our…our beautiful baby boy. He’s so….so. Here.”
Kosma nodded and patted his wife’s hand as she handed the baby over to him.
“He has so much hair. Is…is this normal?” asked Krystyna.
Kosma answered in the absence of the midwife, “What is normal anyways. I’m sure it is fine,” he replied as he observed his baby son’s obscene curly thick mop of hair, like a collection of thick house spiders snagged together, complete with a centre parting.
They both sat there in silence a while, their new-born’s repetitive panting playing out like background music that had gotten stuck on the one note. They eyed their son, his huge feet and tiny frame, his little paunch belly and that overwhelming hair. Some people would never grow that much hair in their lifetime never mind be born with such a full head and then some. His eyes were tiny piss holes in the snow. No more than papercuts. His fingers were long already and reminded Kosma of stick insects. All the while the baby panted, constantly. ‘Ehh ehh ehh ehh ehh.’
Both new parents twitched their noses more than once. There was an unseemly odour surrounding the baby. Radiating from it even. It was a sickly scent that came and went but made both parents secretly ball their fists.
He fought revulsion and remembered again the gypsy woman.
“I curse you.”
As the years rolled on Kosma and Krystyna made the best of their son, as much was possible.
They called him Peter and not long after his birth had moved to Britain where they felt he may blossom and be reinvented.
They could no longer stand the looks of barely concealed disgust from friends and family when they presented Peter. These should have been proud moments but while people did their best to hide their true feelings, the distaste shone clear in the eyes and constantly wrinkled noses with downturned mouths.
The baby Peter evoked and stirred something horrible in them, an uncomfortable unease which slowly turned to revulsion. If you asked each of them what it was that made them feel that way, they’d each give you a different answer or couldn’t answer at all. It was a natural undeniable state that Peter evoked.
Some would say it was his many spider’s hair, it made some want to pull it out by the fist full. Others just his smell, it was as if he secreted spite inducing pheromones from his pores.
Then there were his feet, so bulbously big and stupid. Almost rubber like in appearance, hacked off from a dead clown or from a clown who hacked them off himself, so repellent were they. The constant panting was not a heart-warming trait either. ‘Ehh ehh ehh ehh ehh,’ relentlessly when not talking and even sometimes when he was speaking, he’d squeeze an ‘ehh’ into a sentence somehow or mingle it with a word.
But in Britain, his parents worked hard to fit in, and they did.
They’d set up and established a relatively successful bed and breakfast hotel and business was fine, so long as Peter wasn’t involved and was kept out of sight as much as possible.
Life became manageable for the trio, but the nagging questions remained. What would happen to Peter and the business once Krystyna and Kosma were too old to care for both.
As Peter had got older, they had tried to integrate him into normal life.
As a teenager he was no longer too unusual looking. His thick mop of hair less outlandish on a fully grown human and while the urge to cut his feet off from the ankles remained, he could perhaps hide and mingle in a crowd like a grotesque tribute to Where’s Wally, where you would really rather not locate him.
They worked hard with Peter, providing lessons on British culture (which seemed to be primarily about queuing, drinking, football, good manners while going unnoticed), how to socialise and meet people, how not to infuriate people, how to recognise when things are about to turn ugly and how to run away at speed over long distances.
They even taught him how to drive and, after a few years of intense learning where Kosma admittedly thought about driving them both off a cliff edge on more than several occasions, he passed his test and could legally drive.
Kosma and Krystyna felt such pride for their son, a pride never felt before, even though whenever he drove, passers by for no good reason would shake their fists at him or scream obscenities while other vehicle users blared their horns on sight.
These attempts to invoke normality were all to resolve a future where Peter would have to go it alone. They needed to prepare for this eventuality.
Although there was a plan B.
Kosma and Krystyna didn’t like to talk about it and it only ever came up twice, when things were at their worst. When all hope was lost. When customers stopped coming to the hotel and business dried. When the complaints from schools came, threats from other kids, all kids… along with two headmaster’s and one headmistress, who had been awarded a prestigious gong for an outstanding track record of inspiring, mentoring and discovering untapped talent. She had tried to beat Peter once using her award and had since been sectioned under the mental health act.
They talked of killing him, a mercy killing, an act of euthanasia. Whatever must be done. But such talk ceased and felt like lunacy when things had calmed down. Neither of them were killers and besides, Kosma knew this was likely a curse by that gypsy and this was all his own fault. If only he could see her again, apologise somehow, ask her to remove the curse. But she’d be long dead by now, disease or age he figured, whichever got her first.
On Peter’s 30th birthday his parents decided to go away for a long weekend. They hadn’t been away once without him in his entire life and as he said to them between pants, “I eh..don’t like it,” they thought twice but decided to bite the bullet and go.
Peter seemed to sense on some level that his father was angry at him and needed to get away quickly, like he was at the end of something that could snap at any moment. There was probably a saying for it.
It was a trial weekend away his dear mother had explained patiently and not without a few exasperated sighs. A trial, now that he was a grown man, to see if he could run things while they were away. He had to manage just three days and two customers. Breakfast, dinner, and if anyone else comes in asking for a room next week, book them in. Krystyna stressed this over, and over again. God knew they needed the customers and their business.
Three days later Kosma and Krystyna returned.
They looked on nervously as they reached the hotel. It was still standing.
In they walked and much to their surprise the lobby was clean and in order. Kosma walked around nervously, dipping his head into the small restaurant area, no sign of trouble.
Krystyna worked her way up the stairs anxiously, but everything seemed right to the eye and in its right place.
Krystyna called out to her son, “Peter!? We are back. Where are you, are you ok?”
Kosma continued his surveillance downstairs and was satisfied so far. It was clean, tidy. He went behind reception and pinged open the cash register. It had money it and looked like money used to buy drinks from the little bar. This was incredible. His heart was pounding, was this too much, too good to be true?
He heard his wife call out his son’s name. He joined her, “Peter!? My boy! Come on out here. You made money! I’m so…..Peter?”
Kosma caught up with his wife at the top of the stairs, she was staring at a guestroom wide eyed. “What, what is it my love?”
Krystyna looked at him almost apologetically, “I don’t know, but I can hear Peter in there. He’s talking and laughing with a guest. Is it a woman do you think?”
Kosma doubted that, women had been known to set off their rape alarms or pepper spray Peter on sight.
They edged their way to the guestroom, hearing that familiar panting, almost comforting in its blank stupidity, ‘ehh ehh ehh ehh,’ and then their son laughing softly and returning a word or two.
Krystyna pushed the door gently and there was her son, in bed with a woman. Peter was leaning on one elbow, propped up and chatting away to her. The woman laughed and then turned her head. Peter looked momentarily startled but then quickly relaxed.
“Mummy, Daddy, eh eh eh eh eh, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend. I like her, eh eh eh.”
Kosma felt elation grip him, “Oh my boy!” but then she turned to face him, the woman in the bed who had been fornicating with his son (based on the appalling smell of putrid sweat and juices that had only now started to infiltrate the senses.)
“This daddy is Julie-Ann, ehh ehh ehh, and we love each other just like you and Mummy.”
The woman met Kosma and Krystyna’s eyes.
She was rounded with a thick mop of hair that was lank with grease. It resembled the texture and look of clumped hair that’s been stuck in a plug hole for several months. There was so much of it gathered atop of her stretched spotted forehead and it smelled damp, like dead leaves, even from the doorway.
Her nose was big and ended in a cruel point. Her skin was blotched and swollen, it glistened with an oily sheen of sweat. It made Krystyna think of brine in tinned tuna which in turn made her wretch.
“Hello Mr and Mrs Peter, eh eh ehh ehh,” said Julie-Ann as she raised her giant fifteen sized foot out of the bed and waved at them playfully.
As that putrid massive trotter taunted them, the tether of sanity inside Kosma and Krystyna finally snapped.
The foul stench of their sex filled the air and inspired something evil within Peter’s parents. The mixed scent of their son and Julie-Ann had combined to make something too repulsive to abide for a second longer.
Within moments both Krystyna and Kosma raced towards their son and lover, lips curled back to reveal bared teeth, eyes bulging in absolute rage and murder. They were rabid with rage.
The room was quickly splashed in blood.
Kosma was dragged out of his daydream by a prison guard, “You have a visitor Kosma. Can you believe that? Five years and not one visitor in all that time. Well? Hop to it.”
Kosma rolled off his bed and shuffled his way out the cell.
Visiting time was for the other inmates, not Kosma, so for the first time in a long while he felt a hint of intrigue, of interest in something, anything.
He rounded the corner and was guided to a chair, he sat down and finally looked up to see who was on the other side of the perplex screen.
Sat there, staring back at him with the hint of a smile in the eyes, was a gypsy woman. The same gypsy woman who had cursed him all those years ago.
“Wow, you don’t look a day over one hundred and twenty years old, just like when I saw you over thirty years ago. What’s that about, another gypsy trick?” asked Kosma.
The old woman shrugged.
Kosma leaned forward, “Why...what are you doing here, what do you want? Is this real?”
The old woman had a dusty old patterned handbag on her lap, she was chewing on something and duly open her handbag and spat whatever it was into the bag.
“I’m glad you remember me after all this time. I’ve been watching you since the day we met,” cooed the old woman.
“Why did you put that curse on me? I was young and stupid and inebriated. You…you did put a curse on me? My firstborn and only son?”
The old gypsy woman nodded her head, “Yes I did, and yes you were, all of those things. It matters little why. I simply thought you’d do. It could have been any of your friends really, but I could see in you some glint of kindness. I was right about that.”
Kosma pondered this for a moment, “Kindness. After what I said to you? You inflicted a curse on me out of revenge.”
“Not revenge, necessity,” replied the woman.
“Necessity? I…please, what do you mean I don’t understand?”
“I too was cursed. Every child I bore was born hideous, inspiring rage and hatred in others. I moved from town to town, losing child after child to the murderous intent of others while I lived to see the horrors. Long life and foulest offspring, my curse. The only way to lift the curse was for one child to survive long enough and find another of its kind who would love it back. That was your Peter, in their briefest of times together they loved. You see I watched you raise him, bestow small kindnesses on him and protect him from himself and others. Then, when you finally went away for just a few days, I introduced my daughter to him so that the curse could be lifted from me.”
Kosma sat silent momentarily, “But I killed them? My god, I killed my own son and your daughter?”
“Yes, thank you,” replied the old woman.
“Thank you? I….I.”
“You lifted the curse from me, I came here to thank you and make the circle is complete. So, thank you.”
The old woman got up with some speed.
“To thank me, what…what about me, my curse?” enquired Kosma.
“That’s lifted too, your son is dead, and you can live life without him now,” replied the old crone who was gradually not looking quite so old.
“But...but I’m in prison, for life, for fucking murder! How is that my curse lifted? And my wife!?”
“That part didn’t work out so well I’ll admit. But hey, you never have to worry about that monstrosity of a son again. I don’t have to worry about another sick parody of a child darkening my womb. Every cloud,” added the woman as she backed away from Kosma who was now pressed up to the perplex screen and starting to pound it with his fist while the prison guards strode purposefully towards him.
“Curse lifted,” said the young lady in rags as she reached the exit door of the visiting room and vanished through the doorway.
Kosma nearly cracked that perplex screen in half with thunderous blows and for a few sweet seconds saw himself scrambling out of the prison and after the woman.
After a few more seconds, Kosma was lying on the floor of a prison visiting room, unconscious.
Kosma never saw the woman again.
He didn’t see daylight again.
All he had for company, for the rest of his days, was a padded room and a gentle panting audible only to him.