The Mud Sucker Curse of Transylvania — Page 2
By Kirsten Koza

Helen lay on her twin bed in the hotel, stretching her legs. “Pass me the palinca.”

I refilled her glass with the overproof plum hooch. Vlad, who normally led Radu’s mountain biking trips, had taken us booze shopping in Sinaia. Vlad was unibrowed.

“It’s not surprising that Vlad has testicle issues,” I said, “if he rides with a heavy backpack like Radu does.” 

“I told Radu he shouldn’t do that,” Helen slurred.

“What did you think of Radu when you first saw him at the airport?” I asked.

Spinabith-fida.” Helen tried again. “Spina bifida.”

“Spina bifida?!” I had no idea why I was laughing at a horrible defect.

Spina bifffffida.” Helen cried with laughter. She filled our glasses, sloshing contents.

“Shhhhhhh, you can’t be spina bifida-ing. I swear, Helen, ever since I wrestled with the airport gypsies who tried to steal my bike, each time I say or think a bad thing, I’m bitten on the ass by their Romany curses.

horse carriage

Helen refilled our tumblers.

The next morning: “You should have stopped me from drinking so much,” Helen groaned as she pushed her bike through a ditch in the forest.

Bike wipeoutRadu had gone ahead. We’d been lost all day. I refused to spend another day carrying my bike across Romania. I stood on my pedals and stuck my butt out over my back tire as counterbalance. My sunglasses flew through the air. I tried to catch them. Oh no, I was going over my handlebars except one of my feet hadn’t released from the pedal. I was midair somersaulting with my bike. I marveled while upside down how Grimm’s fairytale foreboding the forest was. Then I was lying in the ditch under my bike. I closed my eyes but could see Helen’s camera-flash through my eyelids. I’d rest while I was down here.

Outrunning a Forest Fire

“I found the way!” Radu beckoned and we continued down the mountain and out into a small clearing where there was an unattended grass fire.

“Shit,” we gasped. A pine tree burst into flames. It sounded like fireworks.

“A shepherd must have started this. I’ll look for him to put it out. Stay,” Radu commanded.

I looked at Helen, terrified at the thought of trying to outrun a forest fire. We’d both purchased swords for our five-year-old sons at Dracula’s Castle. Maybe someone would ship the weapons to them. We were going to die and I hadn’t even eaten Romanian donuts yet. Another tree blazed like a sparkler.

“This is because of spina bifida,” I said to Helen.

“I give up. Let’s get out of here,” Radu called. “I found a trail.” The pines were so dense that we needed a cut a path.

We were six feet along the path when we rounded a bend—dead end. We turned back towards the fire. There was a fork in the path that we’d never have seen from the other direction. We took it, not daring to look back at the hellish monster in hot pursuit. We burst into a lush meadow. We’d made it!

No we hadn’t! There were river rapids between us and the meadow with a felled tree for a bridge. We had to carry our bikes while balancing on a narrow log four feet above rocky rapids. We made it, and I took a breath as I stepped off the slippery log and froze. There’s one thing in the world that I’m deathly allergic to—stinging nettles. The field of nettles stretched forever.

“I’m allergic to nettles,” I said. “If I’m stung, I’ll die.” I felt exposed by my bare legs.

“Helen and I will break the plants down using our bikes, like this.” Radu ploughed his bike sideways through the bumper crop of nettles. Helen followed, crushing the toxic hairs and juicy flesh. I took a step forward. They were shoulder-height. The wind blew, the nettles swayed and smoke nipped my nose.

A Nice Cabin Shower

Safely at Radu’s family farm, our fear of the fire crossing the mountains was extinguished as lightning lit the charcoal sky over Dracula’s Castle and sheets of rain blanketed the hills. Radu’s grandmother-in-law had cut firewood to heat the water for our baths. She finished stoking the water heater beside the tub and left.

I could steal the first shower and hot water. I grabbed my ablutions bag. I stepped into the warm spray and lathered my hair. What was that—a belching volcanic rumbling? I looked up at the shower head. “AHHHHH!” A blast of mud caught me squarely in the face. An eruption happened again before I had time to step back. I was covered from head to toe in sludge. I tried to wipe my eyes. “Helen, get in here!” I cried. “I can’t see.” I fumbled for the taps and was hit by another cascade of muck as Helen entered.

Helen howled. “I’ll get Radu.”

“NO!” I went to step out of the tub to get a towel and instead was off my feet and flapping like a squid in the bottom of the bathtub. If Helen hadn’t made me laugh at spina bifida, none of this would have happened. It was the curse.

Helen’s bwa-ha-ha followed her out of the guest apartment. I grabbed the sides of the tub and tried to haul myself up. My ass made this horrendous mud sucking noise, like when you pull a rubber boot out of deep mud. I heard a cough. Radu was behind me.


Romania has changed since 2004. I hadn’t seen one Trabant, and there are fewer horse wagons on the road. I was at an airport hotel dining with Christopher Campbell, a photographer, and his girlfriend. He’d taken an eerie photo of Heroes’ Cross on the peak that Helen, Radu, and I had climbed. Our entire group ooo’d when Radu told them the story. The trip was done. I was leaving. No gypsy nothing had happened. We said goodnight and went to our rooms. I crawled into bed and then sat bolt upright. What the hell? I ran to the bathroom and projectile vomited. What the…? I hadn’t eaten anything like that. I’d had a gorgonzola cream sauce. Another brown cascade burst from my mouth. It looked, it looked exactly like mud.

Bran Castle

Kirsten Koza 
is an adventurer, humorist, journalist and author— affectionately dubbed “the Canadian lunatic.” She’s the author of Lost in Moscow and edited Travelers’ Tales most recent humor anthology, Wake Up and Smell the Shit. She’s had over seventy stories published in books, newspapers and magazines around the world.

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Related Features:
Blast Off to a New Romania by Leif Pettersen
Hiding the Cannoli in Sicily by Kirsten Koza
From Red to Green in Bulgaria by Tim Leffel
The Mountain Men Who Don't Exist in Kyrgyzstan by Kirsten Koza

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