Small white cups with chipped handles. A fine mist of rain covers the roofs of the shops like dust. I had forgotten I’d stopped drinking dairy and accidentally poured cream in my coffee, and took desultory sips from the neglected cup. The waitress, in a vermillion-hued dress with her name embroidered on the breast, brought the bill. Darlene. I settled up and left for the cemetery, leaving a half-drunk cup on the table.
The mist was now rain. Thick, heavy, the kind that won’t stop dripping from your brow bone.
drip. drip. drip.
I walked through the headstones, wiping my face in annoyance, irritated more and more with every insulting drop. My steps quickened. Old and fresh plots passed by. The new, decorated with flowers; the old, forgotten and bare.
It came quicker than I expected, his headstone. Grey and shiny. Polished marble? No, just feldspar and resin. Here lies Jacob Willingsten. Beloved father. May he rest in peace. Beloved father. Beloved by whom? Not me. Dad, it’s me. I just came to make sure you’re really dead. Go fuck yourself. Starry night peonies were lain in front of the stone. I placed my boot over the flowers and pressed down hard, breaking the stems and dragging the plant about around the plot.
Across the yard I spotted a figure in a black vinyl raincoat and acid-wash jeans. He spotted me, and started toward me. My face and neck flushed. Our eyes connected and I looked at him like I was staring into headlights. Wretched girl. I rounded my lips around the word and played with it in my mouth. Wr-etched. My tongue flicked the past-tense marker. You’re wretched.
We fucked on the grave as the water poured. I sneered at the writing on the stone, my face wrinkling up into something altogether unrecognizable. The encounter was as brief as it was strange.
- Will I see you again?
The rain subsided and I headed for home. The peace of home. The peace of emptiness. There is a fullness in absence, did you know?
My boots were loud on the laminate floor of the foyer. Pulling them off of my damp feet allowed something to fall from the bottom of the sole. A piece of paper? A sticker? Nay, a starry night peony petal.
Fucking get wrecked, old man.
The wind slips between the almost-bare tree branches around me, snapping the last red and gold leaves at their brittle necks. The dead grass compounds beneath my sneakers, forcing muddy water towards the surface and soaking my pant legs; I shouldn’t have taken the shortcut home from school. I just couldn’t bare to see that asshole Percy again, I just know he’d make this day even worse. Perhaps he’d steal my backpack again like last week, turning it upside down and letting my textbooks drop into the soupy mud below. Maybe he’d just taunt me again for being poor. That, I can handle… Replacing textbooks is something Mom can’t afford to do again. Maybe this shortcut isn’t so bad.
The cold is really setting in now. It’s that type of cold that’s wet and soggy and penetrates your clothes, making you feel icy-hot freezing-burning all over. I pick up the pace as the air howls around me, keeping a safe distance from the shores of Frog Pond Lake. That lake has always freaked me out. I heard this one girl Samantha talking to Grayson in the cafeteria one time, saying how her brother knew a guy who went fishing there with two buddies. She said after a day of drinking and floating around and not a single bite, they decided to call it a day. When one of the guys went to reel in, something came out of the water and grabbed the rod, almost pulling him right in. Who knows though, they were drinking, and how reliable can stories be when they start with it happened to a friend of a friend of mine? Whatever, the place still gives me the heebies. Still, it’s better than a run-in with Perc the Jerk. The lake was still as I hurried past, and from a distance I could see the glow of the candle Mom had put in the window for Samhain. I felt comforted just then, and ran the rest of the way until I reached the front door.
Dropping my damp backpack and jacket on the floor of the kitchen, I looked up to see Mom’s unimpressed face. Okay, okay, I’ll hang them up! I said to her with just a look. I kicked off my dirty sneakers in the mudroom and hung my wet items on the ornate antique hooks under the window. Through the window I could see a thick fog rolling across the lake, a mist that seemed to engulf the still waters and the black tree silhouettes that surrounded them. The fog seemed to be moving quickly, almost as if it were approaching the house. I rubbed my sore eyes, tired from a long day at school, and decided I needed some rest. Taking a Pop Tart and a green plastic plate from the kitchen cupboard and settling into our old couch, I turned on the TV. Our couch was worn and old, and I’m pretty sure it was left here by the previous tenants, but it’s comfy like that worn-in sweater everyone has that’s soft and plush and envelops you and swallows you entirely. I nod off before even taking a bite of my Pop Tart, which slides off the plate as my body goes limp and lands on the cushion beside me.
I’m jolted awake by slimy hands on my ankles. I struggle and the icy cold fingers they grip my legs and I’m trying to get off the couch but I can’t something’s grabbing me from underneath and I can’t move I’m stuck and there’s water all around my feet and something is crawling out from under me it’s like a skeleton and I can’t breathe and there’s water in my lungs and I – –
NATHAN?! I hear Mom say as she shakes me from the watery nightmare in which I was just held captive, you’re getting crumbs all over the couch!
To be continued…
Rain falls gently on Vera’s cheek as she approaches a café in Tver, where Natasha is waiting, expecting her. She shivers, pulling the thick fur tighter around her, thankful she wore her shapka. The bell on the café door chimes quietly as she enters, and she looks side to side, scanning the restaurant for Natasha. Natasha’s eyes sparkle and a smile spreads across her face as she sees Vera enter. “I thought you weren’t going to make it,” Natasha says, relieved, “but I’m so glad to see you.” Vera’s smile matches Natasha’s as she takes a seat across the small table.
“I almost didn’t make it, my husband was home today. I had to tell him I needed to go to the market to pick up some things. He seemed a little suspicious but I managed to sneak out.
“I’ve missed you so since our last meeting. My husband, too, is becoming suspicious. I fear what he’ll do if he finds out.” The dim light of the café lamps washes Natasha’s soft face, making it seem softer, more feminine, and somehow more vulnerable. Looking about the restaurant, the Soviet décor screams at her. It screams pozor! Shame! suffocating her in her seat.
“Relax, dear. Calm yourself. No one will find out.” Vera says coolly as she pats Natasha’s hand with her own. “You worry too much. Although, I have come to find that endearing.” Natasha’s smile turns to a pursed lip, and on her forehead appears a furrowed brow.
“Oh, don’t be so silly. It’s a compliment. And I’ve missed you, too.” A pleased look of relief finds Natasha’s face.
“You’re shivering Vera! You poor thing. Why do you always insist on walking? Automobiles were invented for a reason you know.” Removing her shapka and furs to allow the warmth of the café envelop her, Vera smirks. “I like walking. I get to see the city at my own pace, observe other people walking by.” Vera has always preferred to walk to her destination, ever since she was little. The smells of baking bread would fill her nose as she passed the bakery on the way to school, and as she passed the Nevsky Restaurant, the quiet buzz of voices and slight aroma of cabbage would take her to an entirely different world.
“Good afternoon ladies, may I start you off with something to drink, or are you ready to order?”
“Just chai for me please.” Says Natasha.
“Make that two.” Vera replies.
“Very well.” The waiter gathers the menus on the table, and disappears into the kitchen. The rain begins to fall harder outside the café, creating a feeling of isolation. Vera and Natasha both felt as if they were alone here, the only ones in all of Tver, protected by a wall of rain.
“Tea, na dvoich.” The waiter says pleasantly, placing the cups on the table. Natasha thanks the waiter, and as he leaves, her expression suddenly becomes serious. “I think we should leave Tver, get away from all of this. Our husbands, these lives – neither of us are happy with them.” She pleas.
“I can’t leave my daughter, Natasha. You know that.”
“Then let’s take her with us.”
“I don’t know… take her away from everything she’s ever known? Away from her father?”
“Don’t you think she’d want her mother to be happy? To grow up in a loving home?”
“Yes – but as far as she knows, she is in a loving home. But the truth is, I don’t know how much longer I can keep up this façade.”
This is the moment, surrounded by a shroud of torrential rains, where Vera realizes that she has never loved anyone the way she loves Natasha. This is the moment that life changes.
Soggy newspaper, rust on trees, empty streets. Water poured from the angry sky as Emy ran from the coffee shop on the corner of Baker Street to her favourite purple door. There was a garden across the street where in the Summertime sunflowers grew as tall as her mother. Emy always thought that was funny, especially as a little girl. Her mother belonged in the garden, she thought, for she was a sunflower.
Pesky red and yellow leaves snuck in to the foyer before Emy could close the heavy door. She collected them, deciding they would make a great addition to the table’s centerpiece. The house was warm and smelled like supper. Michael had taken the day off (unbeknownst to her) and cooked a wonderful meal for the two of them. A note lay on the counter which read: Hi sweetheart, dinner is ready. Your plate is keeping warm in the oven. Just ran over to the store for some wine. Start without me. – M.
“Oh, hey Mom! I didn’t see you come in. Are you hungry?” Emy asked, happy that her mother had joined her.
“I am not hungry, dear. Thank you for the offer” she replied, solemn; quiet.
“Are you alright? You’ve been so distant lately. I feel like I never see you anymore” said Emy, pulling her plate out of the oven with yellow flowery oven mitts.
“Emy, we need to talk…” her mother began.
The heavy purple door creaked open and slammed shut. “Emy? Are you home?” Michael called from the entryway.
“In here!” Emy called back, smiling warmly at her mother.
“Is there someone else here?” Michael asked, “I thought I heard you talking to someone.”
“Yes, mom’s here, she’ll be joining us for dinner tonight” answered Emy. Michael’s face fell. He placed the bottle of Tournesol white wine on the counter as he walked slowly past. With a heavy heart, he sat beside Emy and placed her hand in his.
“Sweetheart, your mom left us five years ago, remember?”
Emy’s ears began to ring as she stared at the oven mitts, focusing on the warm yellow sunflowers embroidered on them.
Rosa Pocetti’s Diary
September 24, 2052
I arrived in Luhansk today. I’ve been placed with a host family for the duration of my trip, the Timoshuks. They’re all very friendly, they greeted me at the door with smiles and the wife – I haven’t really learned how to pronounce her name yet – had baked fresh bread for my arrival. I was so grateful for this as I hadn’t eaten anything since right after boarding the plane in Winnipeg! It was already late when I arrived at the house so I had a bit of bread and some soup. There are two young boys in the family, they look to be about six or seven. They watched me eat my small meal in awe as their father scolded them in Ukrainian. I’m really going to have to pick up the language if I’m going to survive here for the semester, my host family speaks very little English. As I wrote earlier, it’s late – I should get some sleep. Morning will come early enough.
September 29, 2052
The city is beautiful. Our Ukrainian language and culture professor, Dr. Yatsenyuk, took the class on a tour today. In the city centre there is striking architecture, both modern and old. There are sprawling green pastures with picturesque trees dotting the skyline. There is some evidence of the war in 2014: foundations of old buildings that were hit in the blasts, large pieces of metal stuck in the ground. Dr. Yatsenyuk says they remain as a reminder that Ukraine is strong and remained independent even when so much was threatening to tear it apart. Apparently, in September of that year, the Russians had invaded the border near this city and the Ukrainian army met them with resistance. They held back the invasion and peace fell over the country, and those that no longer felt comfortable being Ukrainian citizens fled to Rostov-on-Don and small towns across the border. How incredible to be in a place with such history! Note: Tell mom this story next time she calls, she’s such a history buff…
October 27, 2052
The class has shown remarkable progress in acquiring the Ukrainian language. Ms. Pocetti in particular has shown great advancement in her conversational skills. I have reason to believe she should be the one chosen for the Kyiv trip scholarship. Note to self: advise Ms. Pocetti that “xhuilo” does not mean “happy” and that she should refrain from learning new words from the two children in her host home without checking the meaning in her dictionary.
October 28, 2052
Professor Y. told me I won the Kyiv scholarship today! I can’t believe it! I must really be improving. I will be traveling to Kyiv for a week, all expenses paid, for the opportunity to see the parliament building and visit the historical Maidan Square. I’d better pack, I leave tomorrow.
Oh, and remember to kill those two brats later!
Michail’s Journal (translated from Russian)
October 30, 2052
Bumped into a Canadian girl today in the Square. She looked lost, so I gave her directions; and would you believe it? She had the nerve to ask me why I was speaking Russian in a Ukrainian city! I had to tell her all about the peace agreement after the war: all languages are seen as equal in the eyes of the law; though Russian has not been adopted as an official language, I’m free to speak it in public, at work and at home without fear of discrimination. Doesn’t she know Ukraine has become one of the most tolerant and accepting countries in the EU? Ugh, anyway – she seemed nice enough, if not naïve. She was very attractive however… in that annoying sort-of way.
Michail’s Journal (translated from Russian)
October 31, 2052
I must be cursed! As I was getting off of the metro on the way to work at the parliament, the same girl walked right into me, pushing me over. I watched as all of my belongings flew through the air and landed scattered on the platform. She apologized profusely – I would think she was charming if she wasn’t so annoying – and helped me pick them up. At least she was polite. It must be a Canadian thing. Memo: God forbid I see her again, but if I do, ask her if Canadians really do use dogsleds to go to the market. I’ve always wondered…
I’m in Kyiv, and you wouldn’t believe the last couple days I’ve had. I am such an embarrassment! I won’t get into details… Let’s just say I might have an enemy in this city already. He’s cute, though!
I took a walk through Maidan Square. There are memorials set up there for all of the heroes that gave their lives for Ukraine’s freedom. It was a humbling experience. I’m visiting the parliament building tomorrow. I’ll call soon and tell you all about it, I promise.
Tell Dad I say hi, and give Dottie a kiss for me. I miss her furry face.
Lots of Love,
P.S.: I can’t believe I missed Hallowe’en this year. Ukraine needs Hallowe’en.
P.P.S.: Save me some candy.
Rosa’s Voice Recorder
November 2, 2052
We’re in the basement – they said there’s an emergency and we’d be safest down here. Strangely enough, Michail is here too, he does administration for the parliament.
Whoa – what was that? Was that growling?
Michail: I don’t know, I heard it too…
Official Statement of the Verkhovna Rada
Parliament of Ukraine
November 3, 2052
At approximately 09:43 yesterday, November 2, there was a disturbance at the parliament. We are urging all residents to please stay indoors during this time.
We advise to stay away from any and all dogs – they are not the dogs you are familiar with, are dangerous and carry a very infectious disease.
Ukraine will stand strong during this time as it always has. Please stay indoors and report all animal bites to your local health authority.
It was late evening when Stephen finally had the chance to sit down and relax. He’d had a long, tiring day and wanted to enjoy a hot cup of tea with his fiancé.
“You know, I didn’t even get to take a break today.” Stephen sighed as he sipped the chamomile.
“Oh, you poor thing!” exclaimed Jack, nestling closer to him on the divan. “I know it’s difficult right now with your new job, but I really think this was the right thing for us. You’ll see.” On the small oak table, Stephen set down his powder blue tea cup with “FIKA!” painted on the side and slid a furniture catalogue onto his lap. Thumbing through the pages, he made slight sounds of approval and interest. “I really think we need to order some furniture, hon. It still looks like we’re squatting,”
“With time,” started Jack, “we will accumulate it. I know you’re feeling uncomfortable. It’s the transition, you know? Culture shock. Every expat goes through it. We’ll make this apartment feel like home, and you’ll settle in here. Besides, what an experience! We picked up and moved halfway across the world! Did you want to wake up and regret not taking the chance of a lifetime?”
“Yeah, yeah. Carpe diem and all that. I both hate and love your optimism. You know the only reason I moved here is because of you?” Stephen closed the catalogue gently and laid it on the cushion next to him.
Feeling exhausted from the hectic day, Stephen placed a peck on Jack’s cheek and shuffled into bed. “Bed, already? You’re not even going to finish your tea? What a waste! Things are not meant for wasting; tea, time, life!” Jack called into the bedroom. “Fine! While you sleep your life away, I’ll be here, seizing the day. And seizing the tea!”
The morning came quickly and the sound of traffic and birds awoke Stephen. Realizing he had slept past his alarm, he readied himself quickly for the day and headed out the door, saying a quick, loving goodbye to Jack and throwing a granola bar into his briefcase.
“Love you!” Jack hollered from the kitchen island, “And remember to seize the day! Life is short!” With that, the front door clasped shut and Jack prepared himself for a day of exploring the city.
Walking out into the crisp air, Jack inhaled deeply and admired the breaking sunlight. He stepped further out and watched the boats make their rounds on the glimmering waters, their colourful shapes reflected to create a mural. “Life is short, this beauty must be appreciated,” he thought – just as the number 27 tram rounded the corner and struck him, leaving his body lifeless on the historic streets of Stockholm.
“I love Christmas, don’t you?” Anna asked, hanging an antique crimson and silver bauble on the tree. She watched as it swung back and forth slightly after placing it, its shiny surface catching the sparkle of the tiny lights on the branches. “It’s my favourite time of year, especially decorating the tree. Wouldn’t you agree, mom?”
Ding! The oven chirped signaling that the cookies were ready.
“Oh! My cookies!” Anna exclaimed, grinning, as she gently placed a small wooden snowman decoration back in its container and paced back into the kitchen. The snowman had a serene smile on its tiny wooden face, as if it knew Anna would be back to put him in his rightful spot on the tree; just as she had done last year, the year before, and every year since she was a child.
“These smell incredible, don’t they mom?” She called from the kitchen. She placed the cookies, one by one, on a small cooling rack to prepare for decorating. Sugar cookies were her absolute favourite. When she was five, she helped her mom bake a batch for the first time. She took a bite of one too soon after coming out of the oven and burnt her mouth terribly, but she didn’t care – it was delicious! Anna’s heart felt light as she remembered this special moment with her mother. Once the cookies were all set to cool, she returned to the living room to finish the tree.
The snowman was waiting patiently right where she had left it. She picked it up and placed it below the salt dough stocking decoration she made when she was young. The snowman smiled back at her, thanking her.
“Aw, remember that mama? When we sat with grandma in the family room and made those salt dough decorations? That was so much fun, although, I really wasn’t much of an artist.” She chuckled, admiring the sporadic paint job and crooked “A” on the top in felt marker.
The tree was almost complete, that is, aside from the angel at the apex. Anna always loved how her mother chose an angel to sit atop the tree as opposed to a star. She felt like this angel watched over her and the family, protecting them. She picked up the delicate angel, her tiny arms outstretched as if to hug Anna, and tell her she’d missed her. She placed a chair under her feet, and reached up to the top of the tree, placing the angel where she belonged. Satisfied, she stepped down and admired the job she had done.
“It looks perfect!” She said enthusiastically. “It’s too bad Ethan isn’t here to admire it. He’s got some work thing, I guess. Who works on Christmas? Anyway, looks like it’s just you and I this Christmas!”
Remembering the cookies in the kitchen, she headed back to decorate them. She delicately swirled the green and white icing over each cookie, placing just the right amount of sprinkles on each one. She placed four cookies on a plate and strolled back into the living room.
Anna sat on the floor beside the coffee table and placed the plate of treats next to her mother’s urn. “Yep, just you and I this year,” she sighed, “love and miss you more than you know.”
“You are such a loser!”
“What? It does! It happens every time. I’ll be driving down the street really stoned and then a cop will pull up right behind me. It never fails, I drive twenty below the speed limit and signal four blocks too early. In my head I think okay, you’re doing fine, he’s not suspicious yet. He pulls up beside me as I go to make my right turn and I think to myself, alright Lana, good. You’re in the clear, just don’t wave. And sure as shit, there goes my arm in the air and I’m waving right at the cop.” Lana laughs as smoke billows out of her mouth. “Every single time.”
“I don’t know how you can drive like that, man. I could never,” says Genevieve, waving Lana’s smoke out of her face, “I’m too paranoid for that shit. Further to that, do we have to hotbox the car?”
“Hey man, you wanted to hang out.” Lana replies.
“Ugh. I’d rather do something else.” Genevieve says, rolling her eyes.
“I know a guy.” Lana states mischievously.
“You know lots of guys.”
“No, a guy. You know. For stuff.”
“What kind of stuff? Could you possibly be any more cryptic?!” Genevieve exclaims.
“Don’t be such a prude,” Lana says mockingly, “you know, for blow.”
“I’ve never done it before…” Genevieve states shyly. “We could just go somewhere and have a drink instead.”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” Asks Kasia from the backseat of the car. “I’m all for it! Let’s get some!”
“Fine, but if I die, it’s all your fault – both of you!”
Genevieve’s heart began to race. Her palms were sweaty, lips dry. “Is this supposed to be fun?” She asks. “I just feel like I’ve had way too much coffee.”
Kasia made up another line on the glass table in her dad’s living room. As the hours passed, the girls talked for hours about meaningless subjects over massive amounts of cocaine. Time passed by in an instant, and it was dark and time for bed, but they were far from tired.
They lay on the floor together amongst piles of blankets and pillows, closing their eyes but unable to submit to unconsciousness. As they lay quietly in Kasia’s bedroom, Genevieve’s cell phone rang loudly and jilted them out of their quiet state. Genevieve answered, it was her brother.
“Gen, are you at home?” Matt asked. Matt was older and lived on his own, about twenty minutes outside of town. “Put mom on the phone.”
“I’m at Kasia’s, didn’t you try the house?” Genevieve questioned.
“I did, but it’s three o’clock in the morning. She’s not answering the house phone. This is urgent, Gen, you need to run home and wake mom up.” Matt urged.
“What is so urgent that you need to wake her up at three AM?” Genevieve questioned again, her heart still racing.
“Just go! You’re three minutes away from the house. Go! Put mom on the phone when you get there. I’ll stay on the line.” Genevieve packed up her bag and sweater and headed out the door running. When she reached the house, she shook her mom awake.
“Mom, it’s Matt. He says it’s urgent.”
“What do you mean she’s in the hospital?” Exclaimed Genevieve.
“Your cousin’s been in a car accident,” her mom said as she struggled to get her boots on, “she’s in emergency.”
“What if she’s not okay, mom? What if she’s not okay?” Genevieve cried. She began to put her sweater on. “Okay, let’s go.”
“You need to babysit your little cousin. There’s no one to watch her and I need to go to the hospital.”
“Are you kidding me? I’m going to the hospital with you!” Said Genevieve, furious, shaking from fear, uncertainty and stimulants. And with that, her mother was out the door. Genevieve could hear her car speed off in the distance.
Genevieve got in her car and sped to her aunt’s. Her mind was foggy with worry and anger, and the rain didn’t help her driving too much, either. When she arrived, the house was dark and quiet. Britney’s parents had already left for the hospital. Genevieve stalked the halls, it was the first time she’d actually seen the house before. It smelled of all the smells of home – perfume, candles, food. Normally it would be comforting, but Genevieve couldn’t gather any comfort from it today. She walked silently and slowly up the stairs to Britney’s bedroom. Her bedroom was exactly as she’d left it that night, her clothes and make-up strewn across the floor. Her blow dryer and hair straightener lay unplugged but still on the floor. Genevieve lay down in her bed and sobbed. Was today the last day Britney would ever step foot in this bedroom?
Britney’s sister slept silently in her bedroom, blissfully unaware of the horror happening around her. Genevieve finally called her mother. “If my cousin is dying, I deserve to see her!” She insisted.
“You’re right. Someone is on their way to watch Alison. Just come now.” Her mom agreed. The drive to the hospital was a blur of red lights having been run and honking horns. She wanted to cry, but for some reason tears wouldn’t come as she drove. She was determined.
At the hospital, Genevieve could see all of her family’s drawn faces. They were pale white with red eyes, the tears poured down every cheek. She ran to the doors of the emergency room where she was greeted with a nurse in a brilliantly white uniform.
“Before we go in to see Britney, I must tell you, she’s going to look a lot different than you remember, okay?” The nurse warned in a soothing voice.
“Okay.” Genevieve confirmed. The nurse pulled back the white curtain to reveal Britney on a hospital bed, covered with a sheet. Her head was wrapped in white gauze. The only thing recognizable that told Genevieve this was her cousin was her smooth blonde hair that fell over the gauze. Long, pretty blonde hair that was now blood-soaked. Britney’s toes stuck out of the sheet at the bottom of the hospital bed. Genevieve wrapped her warm hands around Britney’s cold, purple-hued toes. They were like ice, Genevieve thought.
“It’s time to say goodbye.” Said the friendly nurse.
“No!” Genevieve screamed, “You can’t leave me! You can’t leave! Not like this!” she continued as the nurse pulled her out of the semi-private room.
Outside of the emergency room, her family remained crowded. Genevieve collapsed to the ground. She felt the cold concrete against her skin and thought to herself how absurd it was that while she was taking life for granted, the life was being taken from someone who meant so much to her.
If you read only one book this year, ensure it’s Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Now, as I’ve said before, I intended for this blog to be dedicated solely to short stories, but I could not pass up the chance to tell you about this book! It is officially my favourite novel of.all.time.
If you’re a history buff and love eloquently written fiction, this book is for you. The author’s ability to mix historical accuracy and page-turning gotta-see-what-happens-next fiction is unmatched. It is difficult not to relate to and admire the protagonist of the story, Sashenka. The novel follows her through her life as a dedicated Bolshevik and party member and the lives that are interwoven with hers. For me, the book evoked real emotion. Usually at the end of a book I get to the point of, “Okay. I get it. End already.” With Sashenka, the pages were turning so furiously I think they almost caught fire between my fingers. I felt like I knew Sashenka, Vanya, Snowy and Carlo; like somehow they were my own family.
I’ll make this short, but promise me you’ll read this novel!
“Meda!” Obelia shouted down the hallway of Meda’s quarters. “Help! Panthea and Kassia,” she panted, “stuck in the forest!” She slumped down and put her hands on her knees, trying desperately to catch her breath.
Meda had been unable to sleep, so she sat quietly on her divan reading a 1596 edition of the Book of Alchemy and Creatures, penned by Tahzeh D. Aayre, a close friend of the Wytcher coven.
“Excuse me? The Midnight Forest?” Meda questioned, slamming the historic book closed, dust escaping from its pages. “What in the world of Hadesa were they doing there in the middle of the night?”
Obelia blushed, her cheeks flushing more than they already had. “We… We went to find out what happened to Sariel. We did it to protect the coven! I swear!”
“What happened?” Meda demanded answers. Deep in her gut, she could sense trouble.
All it took for Meda was this one word: Six letters and two syllables to sound the alarms inside of her. She couldn’t comprehend how it was possible, she was sure Ariadna had slain him with her sword, the Sword of the Warrior, but she didn’t have time to contemplate possibilities. If Aldrik was back, it was time to prepare. She ordered Obelia back to her room and started toward Ariadna’s.
The old stone building felt colder tonight than usual. A crisp draft blew through the windows, down the hallways and chilled the Wytchers and Wytchlings alike. As they slept, Meda moved quickly through the elder’s quarters to reach Ariadna. She kept her thick robe on, although she was hot with anger. Her heavy heels clunked across the solid polished floor – the sound of authority.
Reaching Ariadna’s room, she pushed the door open. She had no time for pleasantries.
“Ariadna, awaken. The impossible has happened. Aldrik…”
Ariadna threw her blankets aside, she needed no further explanation. She slipped on her robe and pulled back her shiny black hair, securing it quickly with two pins, each of which sparkled at the end with black diamonds. Meda and Ariadna exchanged a look – they both knew what had to be done. Ariadna slipped on her shoes and both elders headed toward the back quarter together.
Reaching the exit at the back quarter, Meda opened the door. If they were going to make it in time, they had to hurry. It had to be done before sunrise. They moved silently across the grounds, avoiding the forest and traveling east past the Telechine East building into the Field of Tombs. The only sound was their laboured breathing and wind whipping through the fabric of their robes. They ran until they reached the sepulcher at the edge of the property. Poised before it, each of the elders stiffened and released the breath they had held in their lungs for the last full minute. They entered the sepulcher just as it began to rain. The air around them was stale and smelled ancient. Meda grabbed her besom, and together they called the spirits of the elements to protect the circle they were about to draw.
“Thank you spirits for joining us. Tonight we invoke the oldest souls and perform the Rite of War.” Meda began. “The elders call upon you as these are dire times. We request your protection, dear ancestors.”
Ariadna pulled the Goddess Dagger from inside of her robe. It was a gift from Meda when Ariadna graduated into Wytcher and learned her power. “Only to be used when necessary. You will know when the time is right.” Meda warned. Ariadna opened her hand, palm facing up and used the knife to draw blood. She squeezed her hand, drops of blood falling onto the dirty ground.
What evil lingers still, upon these earthly grounds
That threatens our lineage, our elders
So nefarious, it must be found
Thus we call you here tonight, our greatest ancestors
To keep your coven safe
We call you to this site, dear Wytcher Warriors!
A great rumble began deep from inside the sepulcher as Ariadna finished the chant. Both elders struggled to keep their balance as the ground shook. They could hear the sound of stone cracking and heavy marble scraping upon itself. From each corner of where they stood, the semi-preserved bodies of the Warriors emerged. Bony fingers grasped the stone, and slowly they pulled themselves through the marble and stone and crawled out of the darkness. The Warriors were grand in stature and stood at least eight and a half feet high. Four of them stood now around Meda and Ariadna, each of them wearing tattered black robes that covered most of their form. Their faces were not visible – it was only blackness inside of their hood. Through holes in the fabric, Ariadna could see their deteriorated skin. It was strange, Ariadna thought; it was as if brown vines had twisted and woven themselves around their bodies, mixing with blood and blackness. The Warriors stood towering over them, and although they had been dead for many years, their chests rose and fell as if still breathing. The elders could feel the power emanating from within the Warriors. It hovered inside their massive mangled bodies, waiting to be used.
With the rising of the ancestors, the second War of Creatures would begin.