In “Viy,” a description of student life in the seminary of the Bratsk Monastery in Kiev is followed by an introduction to three students who are hiking home for the summer. They are the philosopher, Khoma Brut, the theologian, Khaliava, and the rhetorician, Tiberiy Gorobets. The three students lose their way in the dark and are unable to find the road. Being hungry and afraid of wolves, they ask for lodging at the first farmyard they come on. An old woman at first refuses to take them in, saying that she fears “such great hulking fellows.” The three students swear that they will behave themselves, however, and Khoma falsely promises to pay her “the devil’s bit” in the morning. The old woman invites them in, saying “What fine young gentlemen the devil has brought us!” She gives them all separate places to sleep. Khoma is given a place in the sheep pen.
In the middle of the night, Khoma is awakened by the entry into the sheep pen of the old woman. She reaches out her arms toward him. Khoma tries to reject her advances, saying that she is too old for him and that it is a time of fasting. However, he finds himself strangely powerless to move away from her. She leaps onto his back with the swiftness of a cat and begins to ride him, beating him on his side with a broom.
To his amazement and horror, Khoma carries the old woman out into the wide plain, which seems to him to be at the bottom of a clear sea. The sun replaces the moon, and he sees a beautiful water nymph floating pale and naked before him. He feels an exhausting sensation that is at the same time voluptuous and exhilarating.
Realizing that he is in the power of a witch, Khoma begins to recite all the prayers he knows, all the exorcisms against evil spirits. The old woman’s power seems to fade, and he, as quick as lightning, stops carrying her and jumps onto her back instead. As she starts to carry him, he picks up a piece of wood from the roadside and begins to beat her with it. The moon comes back into its former place, and as they soar over the plain, the old woman’s angry howls become fainter and sweeter until they sound like delicate silver bells. Khoma, still beating her severely, wonders if she is really an old woman at all. At last, he hears her murmur, “I can do no more,” as she sinks exhausted onto the ground. As Khoma looks at her, she is transformed into a lovely young woman with luxuriant tresses and eyelashes as long as arrows.
Khoma, shaken by his experience with the old woman, runs all the way back to Kiev, forgetting his companions. In Kiev, he passes whistling through the market three times, finally winking at a young widow in a yellow bonnet, who takes him home to regale him with her food and her favors. That same evening, he is seen in a tavern smoking his pipe and throwing a gold coin to the keeper. He thinks no more about his extraordinary adventure.
Meanwhile, rumors are circulating everywhere that the daughter of one of the richest Cossack sotniks (commanders), who lives some distance from Kiev, has returned one day from a walk, severely injured, hardly able to crawl home to her father’s house, and is lying at the point of death, expressing the wish that one of the Kiev seminarists, the philosopher Khoma Brut, should read the prayers and the psalms over her for three nights after her death.
Hearing from the rector of the seminary about the sotnik’s daughter’s request, Khoma has a presentiment that...
(The entire section is 1424 words.)