Tales of the Fantastic: “Rusalki”

A short story by Chrissa Wolfe

“The rusalki lure through their movement—spinning, dancing, and singing.” –Jack Zipes

Everyone knows the best way to get rid of a body in Florida is to feed it to gators.

Dixon had a favorite spot along the river. On special nights he brought his lady friends to this particular bend. Pressed dirt tracks crisscrossed the fifty thousand acres of swamp preserve, but none of them led here. Only stacked off-road 4x4s could forge the rutted silt path where it dead-ended at the water’s edge. The black, tannin-stained river wound through the tangled roots of the cypress trees, their breathing knees reaching up from the putrid backwater. It was a sanctuary for predators.

Dixon preferred twenty-dollar hookers for these nights. Experience taught him that if you give a twenty-dollar hooker a hundred dollars, she’ll go anywhere with you—and you can still get your money back if the night goes as planned. 

So far, this night was right on schedule. 

Sitting on the downed tailgate of his old Chevy, Dixon enjoyed the last drag of his cigarette. Smoke billowed from his mouth like a dragon, the shroom tea causing psychedelic tendrils to curl through space around him. Moonbeams shuttered on the ground from a breeze as humid as an exhale in the June night. He flicked the Marlboro butt into the river ten feet away and watched the red glow stretch into a laser beam through the darkness. Dixon chuckled at the reptiles’ shining eyes watching him from the far bank, a low rumble billowing across the water.

With the first girl, he had used a butcher’s knife. It was sharp, the logical choice for a beginner. It wasn’t very efficient, though. Perhaps severing a single limb would have been fine, but it was grueling to dismember an entire body with such a small blade. Halfway through he had wished for a chainsaw but knew it would be reckless. He felt pretty secure this far out in the swamp but didn’t want to push his luck. 

With the second girl, he went bigger. A long-armed strike with the machete gave him more leverage than the knife but was still laborious. You see, the real fun was not the dismantling of pieces but the taking of life, when the pulse actually stopped in your hands. It was orgasmic; the body writhed and bucked and then gave one last agonal shudder before going limp. Once the body was drained, the fun was gone. Only meat was left.

With this third girl, Dixon would try an ax. It would be less precise, but the weight should make quick work of the thick joints, always the most time-consuming part of the evening. And he was looking forward to annihilating tonight’s body; this one had been a dud. She thrashed like the others, but even holding her neck double-long, she had never given him that last spasm he craved. Though he had mashed and squeezed and shook her body waiting for it to come, she just went limp in his hands. Feeling cheated, he wanted to destroy this body. As he lifted the ax for his first strike, Dixon was already planning for the next body: he would draw it out, make sure he got that final tremor.


A soft voice whispered his name through the trees, echoing off the leaves and approaching him from every direction, the vowels rolling into each other on the wind. Dropping the ax, Dixon spun around to find its source. 

Behind him stood a woman in the river. 

She was the color of moonlight, bright even under the cypress canopy. In the grayscale of midnight, her hair floated silver down her back and around her shoulders, waving as if suspended in water. The edges of her nude body were soft, almost blurred. Dixon blinked several times to clear his vision, but she remained indistinct. And she seemed familiar to him, somehow. 

“Who the fuck are you?” 

“Don’t you recognize me?” She swayed as he watched, rocking her hips to the rhythm humming across the river. Dixon followed the curve of her breast as she danced, the arch of the waist, and swelling of the heart-shaped hips, his gaze sticking at her cleft when she turned. When his eyes met hers again, he was dazzled like an owlet facing its first full moon.

Slowly, Dixon shook his head. He wanted to remember her—very much—but memory of all things seemed to recede like the tide when, before a hurricane, it smashes into the coastline.

A screech owl’s wail tore through the night, breaking his reverie of the apparition. Dixon’s mind snapped into place, and he seized the ax from the sand.

“Stay away from me, you bitch,” he growled, raising the weapon over his shoulder. 

The woman stepped onto the bank; Dixon edged back. “I’m warning you,” he said, flexing his fingers over the wooden handle. “Come any closer, and you won’t be the first thing I killed tonight.”

The woman smiled at Dixon and peered over her shoulder. Behind her, a second woman emerged from the water, first her head, her shoulders, breasts, hips, legs, and then finally she strode onto the shore, nude and glimmering. But she was no mirror of the first woman. This one was taller, thinner, with smoother curves. Her face was different as well, but the eyes were the same. Their brilliance was mesmerizing, like the open jaws of a cotton-mouth viper before it strikes.

The women didn’t greet each other, but they spread their lips and began to sing. It was unlike anything Dixon had ever heard—he wouldn’t even have known it was song if he hadn’t been looking at their mouths as the sound flowed out, encircling him, snaring him. He could feel the pure vibrations penetrate his skin, the melody lilting, the strange rhapsody caressing his nerves. He stood transfixed as the figures approached, their touches soft as a cool mist. He didn’t feel the ax drop from his hands; he just felt them: in his fingers, on his arms, his neck, his face. A gentle tug coaxed him forward, first one step, then more. The music seeped into him, through him, filling his mind with curling fractals of light and sound.

The heaviness of water in his boots jerked Dixon from his stupor, his mind suddenly sharp and aware—of the silence, the black water around his knees, the glowing red eyes creeping across the river. Dixon froze at the sight of the ancient scaled beasts stalking him. He tugged one foot back, then the other, the glutinous mud unwilling to release, the burning eyes approaching faster than his retreat. Dixon finally wrenched a leg from the mud and reeled to the shore, but a mighty thud slammed his chest, almost knocking him backward into the black water. His gaze fell, and protruding from his ribs was the ax—with living hands wielding its handle. The third woman stood before him, very much alive, flanked by her shimmering consorts; he remembered them now. Dixon stumbled under the weight in his chest, slipped on a root in the mud, and fell back into the congregation of teeth waiting in the river. 

And the predators did as predators do. 

When the splashing ended, chunks of meat were stuffed deep into nooks below the cypress knees to rot until soft. The last of the blood drifted away as the moonlight women waded into the river, their song getting lost on the wind slipping between the shadowed oaks. 

Chrissa Wolfe admits that it would actually be easier to get rid of a body by feeding it to pigs than to gators, but she reads, writes, and teaches about monsters in literature at a college in Florida, the Sunshine State, where gators abound. She has a forthcoming fiction publication in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

“Rusalki” will be featured in Tales of the Fantastic, a special issue of Studies in the Fantastic, forthcoming in Spring 2023.