“When I first saw the abandoned house on a grey November day, I was struck by its ominous aura. Even from the distance, across the crumbling stone wall topped with rusty barbed wire, I sensed the house’s malevolence. Empty black windows gaped in the cheese-yellow facade, oozing evil.” –Rayne Hall
Welcome to Bulgaria, my adopted country in the south east of Europe, a land of snow-blanketed mountains and sun-baked plains, deep pine forests and fragrant rose plantations, studded with remnants of past eras – ancient Thracian and Roman, medieval, Ottoman and Communist.
Join me on a fictional journey to remote villages where you’ll meet native Bulgarians, travellers and expatriates, demons and ghosts. I’ve blended my personal experiences with Bulgarian folklore and mythology, and let my imagination roam. All the events and characters are my inventions, yet they’re steeped in Bulgarian myth and reality.
The tales in this book belong to the ‘quiet’ horror category – more creepy than gory, rich in atmosphere and suspense. Instead of throwing you into a whirl of violent action, I’ll take you on a gentle visit to experience Bulgaria – the wealth of her nature, her economic poverty, her legends and traditions, her creepy abandoned homes and her timeless beauty – all from the safety of your armchair.
The stories are personal, arising from my perceptions and imagination. Still, I hope you’ll gain a ‘feel’ for the country. After each story, I’ll tell you a little about the genesis of that tale, the sources of my inspiration.
Bulgarian artist Savina Mantovska from Sofia has created beautiful illustrations, enriching each story with her vision.
Come and join me under the grape arbour while the sinking sun streaks the mountains with crimson and purple. Sip a blood-red pomegranate juice or a fiery rakia, and enjoy my creepy tales.
Welcome Rayne! Tell us a bit more about your inspirations for the stories in this collection.
When I first saw the abandoned house on a grey November day, I was struck by its ominous aura. Even from the distance, across the crumbling stone wall topped with rusty barbed wire, I sensed the house’s malevolence. Empty black windows gaped in the cheese-yellow facade, oozing evil.
But saw it again under the bright blue April sky, the walls now gleaming like dandelion blooms in the spring sunshine, and the mood was cheerful and inviting. I concluded that my first impression had been coloured by the dismal weather, and that this house was a fine property, albeit a sadly deserted one.
I often strolled past and admired its design. Two stories, solidly built in the traditional Bulgarian style, surrounded by an orchard of fruit trees, and with a beautiful vista of wooded hills and the village cemetery, this must have been a wonderful residence.
The wooden door to the ground floor stood open. Although cobwebs dangled from the ceiling rafters and plaster crumbles littered the wooden floors, I could imagine how lovely these rooms must have been, and how beautiful they might look once again if restored by a loving hand.
One room on the house’s north side gave me the chills, like spiders crawling up my spine. My skin pimpled and my throat clenched. I told myself that the creepy sensation came from the cold temperature in that room. Surely the coolness was natural, since the room was on the north side of the house, and probably once used as a kitchen and larder. But I didn’t linger.
Back outside in the sunshine, everything looked bright and innocent, and I decided to explore the upper storey. Like many Bulgarian houses, the building had external stairs, and I walked up the crumbling grey concrete steps.
A yellow sign at the door warned me not to enter: “High Voltage. Danger of Death.” The wording startled me. The house had stood empty for years, and the electric power supply was long disconnected. The house’s owner had probably purloined a sign from a utility pole to put curious trespassers off. A rusty padlock hung open. When I grabbed the cold door knob and twisted, the door slid open with a faint sigh.
Inside, I found several cheery rooms, brightly lit from large windows. Some furniture remained – traditional Bulgarian couches, a small wooden table. A large Turkish-patterned carpet gleamed in the sun. In one room – perhaps a former bed chamber – I found a stained mattress, some toppled chairs and a cheap red suitcase. Who had lived here and left their suitcase behind?
When I left the house, two old women intercepted me, talking in excited Bulgarian gesticulating wildly pointing at the house. My Bulgarian was still too limited to understand. Were they trying to sell me the house? Many properties in rural Bulgaria stand empty, and a foreigner showing an interest is seen as a potential purchaser. I smiled and wished the crones a lovely day.
I visited several more times during the summer, even picked the fruit from the orchard, juicy apples and sweet figs. Only the plums had a horrid taste, and I dropped them after a few bites.
I wondered why nobody had snapped up this perfect property. Sure, it would need a new roof as well as an indoor bathroom and interior staircase, but the structure was sound and the views were stunning. At the time, I was renting a house in the neighbourhood, and hoped to buy my own home before long. Was this yellow house the one for me?
Only one thing warned me.
My black cat Sulu – a dear companion whom I had adopted from a rescue shelter some years before – loved to come on walks with me, exploring the sounds, sights and smells of the roadside. He especially enjoyed visiting abandoned homes, happily trotting across thresholds, sniffing in corners and napping on windowsills. But whenever we got near that house, he baulked. His back arched, his tail stood up rigidly, and his fur stood up. Nothing could entice him to enter.
It’s a known fact that cats can sense supernatural presences which humans are unaware. Was Sulu simply uncomfortable because we had walked further than usual, or was he sensing a ghost?
Could this house be haunted? My interest as a horror writer was whetted. I hired a Bulgarian translator to help me with the research, and uncovered archived newsletter articles relating to the building: The house was the location of several bizarre accidents and gruesome murders.
A man bought the house twenty years ago moved in and was never seen again. Neighbours assumed that the stranger was using the place only as a holiday home, so nobody reported him missing. Because of unpaid bills, the electricity company turned the power off. A year and a half later, police found the man’s body dismembered in the freezer. Since the freezer no longer functioned, the flesh had rotted, leaving no facial features. The pathologist had to examine the bones to determine the man’s identity. The articles quoted the pathologist’s report, as well as the investigating police officers’ statements and the conclusion that the murder remained unsolved.
Now the creepy chill in the kitchen-larder took on a new meaning. This was the place where the freezer had stood.
A local Bulgarian-Orthodox priest told me more: The house was cursed – with a curse so powerful that nobody could remove it.
Over a hundred years ago, the son of the house brought home a new bride. When she swallowed a hard-boiled egg, it got lodged in her throat and she passed out. Assuming her to be dead, her in-laws buried her alive in the cemetery across the road. Regaining consciousness, the poor girl managed to claw her way out of the grave, run to the house and bang on the door.
But her in-laws thought she was undead – risen as a vampire – and would not let her in. Instead, they drove her back to the cemetery, refused to listen to her pleas for mercy, and hammered an iron stake through her heart. Dying, the young woman cursed the house and all who lived in it.
Since then, everyone who moved into the house died a mysterious death. The bride’s husband and in-laws sickened with a mysterious disease – apparently their skin took on the pale colour and mottled texture of eggshells – and died. Later residents broke their necks when they were thrown downstairs by invisible hands, or were found hanging from rafters.
After the freezer discovery, nobody wanted to buy the house. However, a gypsy family moved in as squatters, pleased to get such a nice fully furnished residence rent-free, albeit with the water and electricity disconnected. Within a month, they all perished in a horrendous car accident. The red suitcase belonged to them – and the priest told me that it still contained toys and toddlers’ shoes.
Now I recalled my first impressions of the house – that ominous sense of evil oozing from the yellow facade.
How strange that I had sensed the wrongness the first time, but experienced no negative vibes during my later visits, except for that creepy chill in the kitchen-larder.
Again, I entered the house, this time conscious of its history. I got a distinct sense of evil malice, could not even bring myself to go into that horrifying room. Were my perceptions more alert now, or was what I had read affecting my imagination?
My cat Sulu’s perceptions were more consistent. He always arched his back, fur raised, and refused to enter the site.
Was the curse real, or could it all be put down to a series of unfortunate coincidences? I had entered the house repeatedly, had even eaten the garden’s fruit, and not come to harm.
So the curse – assuming that it was genuine – affected only those who lived there, not those who merely popped in for a fleeting visit. This made me wonder about the ‘rules’ of the curse. If quick visitors are exempt, what about someone who spends a night under that roof?
I also wondered why the bride had cursed the house, and not simply the husband and in-laws who had buried her alive. The man who got cut up and stuffed into the freezer a hundred years later, the gypsy children who died in the car crash… they had not harmed her. Why was she punishing them with her wrath?
Questions like these fire my imagination and inspire stories. Soon, I was plotting a creepy tale about someone who spends a night in that cursed house. I named the story ‘The Bride’s Curse’ which also became the title of a book.
Rayne writes fantasy, horror and non-fiction, and is the author of over seventy books. Her horror stories are more atmospheric than violent, and more creepy than gory.
Born and raised in Germany, Rayne has lived in China, Mongolia, Nepal and Britain. Now she resides in a village Bulgaria. The country’s ancient Roman ruins and the deserted houses from Bulgaria’s communist period provide inspiration for creepy ghost and horror stories.
Her lucky black cat Sulu, adopted from the cat rescue shelter, often accompanies her on these exploration tours. He delights in walking across shattered roof tiles, balancing on charred rafters and sniffing at long-abandoned hearths.
Rayne has worked as an investigative journalist, development aid worker, museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, bellydancer, magazine editor, publishing manager and more, and now writes full time.