The story of Ivan Abramov
How the water spirit drove off the educator

It happened in the early 1930s. A certain Ivanov arrived in the village of Zekhnova, Kenozero area from the district center. He introduced himself as an educator, showing his badge and adding he had arrived on an outreach mission. Well, the folks up top come without warning. Please, come in and have tea.

Ivanov didn't look like an educator to Zekhnova men, though. Dressed in black leather jacket, his eyes icy, questions odd, Ivanov wanted to know what the people in Kenozero thought about collective farming, why they remained devout and didn't want to give up all that toxic religious propaganda. His plan was to lecture them on the pernicious influence of church, but no one came to listen. They had no time for idle talk, the villagers told Ivanov in a matter-of-fact way. The summertime was coming to a close and there was a lot of work to do.

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What followed was what Ivanov expected least. One evening, he sat down to eat fish at the old man Vasilyevich's where he was accommodated. Through some mishap, Vasilyevich was out of bread. Neither had he flour. Ivanov ordered Vasilyevich to go to the mill to grind some grain, but the latter explained he couldn't: it was no longer allowed for Zekhnova men to use the mill whenever they needed to, nor maintain it like they did earlier, for there now was a kukhar (dialectal word for "miller") to administer it on behalf of the collective farm.

"Go get ready and take me to the miller," said Ivanov.

Vasilyevich refused. He said the miller was a knowledgeable person and a friend of water spirit and that it wasn't a good idea for someone other than him to break into the mill at nighttime.

The educator got furious when he heard that. He took his briefcase and rushed off into the night. The darkness had to be defeated.

... Miller Ivan Abramov had difficulty falling asleep that night. When he finally dozed off, there was a knock on his door. On the doorstep stood the educator. He told the miller to get him some food and prepare a bed for him. "I'll be staying at your place for a week," he said sternly. Superiors were not to be messed with.

The following few days were hard for the miller. He worked restlessly around the clock with Ivanov breathing down his neck.

"Why do you have to throw bread crumbs under the mill every day, Abramov?" he'd ask the miller time and again.

To gain the favor of the water spirit, was the answer. Such was the custom. If unappeased, the water spirit might cause the mill to break or the water to be rough.

"Come on, Arbamov, you pious, uneducated bore. There is no water spirit. It's people and the collective farm that owns this mill."

But the miller wouldn't listen. One Sunday, when it was a religious holiday, the educator saw the miller pour a glass of vodka over the mill wheel. "To the master," educator Ivanov thought to himself.

When Ivanov caught a huge burbot in the local pond and asked Abramov's wife to bake it, the Abramovs refused.

"We don't want to hurt the water spirit. We shouldn't eat his fish. What if this fish is him?"

So respectful was the miller of the water spirit that he never even shook the flour off his garments. And he kept a black cat in the water mill, as prescribed by the tradition. The more Ivanov heard of Arbamov's superstitious staff, the more he realized it was the water mill, not the church, that was the root of all evil in Zekhnova.

... One night Ivanov woke up thirsty. As he went to get himself some water, he heard something rustle, whisper and scream in the corner that made the hut shake. The rusting didn't stop until dawn. In the morning, the educator packed his things and left without saying a word. So sudden was the ending of this story.

In the evening, when miller Abramov came to leave some bread crumbs at the wheel, he got down to his knees and said, "Thank you, Father! For saving us and the mill. Thank God we are safe again!"

... And in the meantime, Abramov's children – mischievous little devils they were – were looking for the escaped black cat in the bushes. They were afraid their father would get angry if he'd find the cat missing. Little did they know when they put that cat into the sack that it would its way out anyway.