I must admit that when I first obtained The Tainted Vase of Białowieża Forest, I did not think it was an item I would one day part with. At best, the trinket is a chilling reminder of a tragic affliction; at worst, it is something much darker. The truth is that I have not dared find out which, and the younger version of myself thought that nobody else should, either. However, with age comes wisdom, and I have decided that it is not my place to make this decision for another.
The following is the history of the Tainted Vase of Białowieża Forest, as I have come to understand it.
In 1995, I was in Białowieża, a tiny village in the heart of Białowieża Forest, in Poland. For those unfamiliar, Białowieża Forest is an enormous, primeval forest; an ancient woodland which has remained largely undisturbed for centuries. This forest is among the deepest and darkest I have yet ventured, and the small town of Białowieża, in the midst of it, is riddled with mystery.
It was in this village that I heard tell of a creature imprisoned in the old town dungeons; a monster the locals referred to only as ‘The Devourer’. The stories surrounding this man were fascinating, but misaligned, and reeked of exaggeration. Intrigued, and unconvinced of the histories the locals told, I decided to investigate myself. With a little convincing (and a well-placed bribe), I was allowed to visit the creature’s cell.
In a dark, stone room, several stories below ground, I found the sallow, sickly figure cowering in a corner. His skin was pale, his clothes tattered, and his demeanour pitiful. I tossed him some raw meat which the guard had provided me, and the creature tore into it. As his hunger waned, his lucidity grew, and I was able to strike up a conversation.
This is Adok Kaminski’s story.
* It should be noted that, in addition to my conversations with Adok, I spoke to his mother, Lena, who to this day resides in Adok’s childhood home in Szczecin. This story features insights provided by her, by Adok himself, and by some of the more reputable Białowieża locals.
Adok was an adventurer. He spent his youth dreaming of faraway places, and as soon as he came of age, he left to explore the world. Every forest, every cave, every region of even moderate interest, he had to discover for himself. He was intrepid, excited, a young man with a thirst for adventure and a tireless interest in the unknown.
It was several years into his wanderings when he came across a substantial, unmapped clearing in the depths of Białowieża Forest. This was a desolate, grotesque place, a stark wilderness of black rocks and oily moss. Adok immediately knew this land was corrupted, but even as a well-travelled man, he yearned for adventure, and the nameless meadow promised just that.
Deep in the clearing he came across a tiny, wooden cabin, inhabited by a hunchbacked old crone. They did not converse; whatever language she spoke, he was not familiar with. But intrigued by the woman, he followed her lead. When she handed him an old, brass vase, he took it. When she indicated for Adok to pluck a single flower and place it in the vase, he did so. But when he did, she cackled, entered her cabin, and locked the door.
Chilled to the bone, even Adok, the most adventurous of adventurers, left the glade immediately – and he took the vase with him.
* I feel the need to interject here. Adok could not speak of this encounter without breaking down in tears. He could muster only a word or two between sobs. The anguish and despair with which the man spoke was contagious; it sucked the air from the cell and drowned the spirit of all in his presence. I personally was overcome with grief; I can not begin to imagine, or perhaps I do not want to imagine, the depths of Adok’s sorrow.
Upon returning to Białowieża, Adok told me that an urge built rapidly; a yearning for meat, a heinous desire to gnaw the flesh off human bones. He tried to suppress the craving, to silence it, but his hunger only grew. He was famished, starving, insatiable. He fought the compulsion for as long as he could, but awoke one day covered in blood, with the remains of his victim torn and butchered by his side. And even as his revulsion intensified, he could not stop himself. Sobbing, disgusted, horrified, he slipped another piece of human flesh into his mouth.
When the locals finally caught him, Adok had lost most of himself to the curse. No longer did he dream of travel, or gaze up at the night sky. Instead, he cowered in dark alleyways, waiting for someone to tread too close, fixated on nothing but his next meal.
Adok told me that he had never removed the flower from the vase, for fear that doing so would end his life. But now he had been locked away for so long, and he was barely recognizable as the man he once was. He was ready for death. Adok told me where he had hidden the vase and pleaded with me to empty its contents. The once intrepid explorer now yearned for nothingness.
I, of course, followed through with my promise. I located the vase and found it had a single wilted and rotten flower drooping over the edge. I dumped the remnants deep in Białowieża Forest, and upon returning to visit with Adok once again, found that he had passed away.
As noted previously, I added the Tainted Vase of Białowieża Forest to my collection, but never dared tamper with it. I do not know if the curse that afflicted Adok Kaminski is still carried by the vase, or whether placing a flower in it will plant the same burden on another. What I do know is that I am unwilling to find out.
Perhaps you are.
To the person who purchases The Tainted Vase of Białowieża Forest, the item will be meticulously packaged, and delivered with a copy of its history. Thank you for reading this tall tale, and I wish you all the best.
J. W. Smithworth