Searching for a boy

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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OPTIONAL IWSG MAY QUESTION: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

MY ANSWER: Homemade bombs. A few years back, I wrote a short story, an urban fantasy, about a young witch finding and defusing a bomb at a shopping fair. She had to do it by magical means, of course, but I needed to know what goes inside a bomb to be able to apply her magic. I have to tell you: the internet is a treasure trove of information on the weirdest of subjects, especially wikipedia, although I worried for a time after I did that research that some government agency or another would be interested in me. To my relief, nobody was. The story is part of my collection Squirrel of Magic.
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My research for my stories doesn’t exclusively involve combing the internet for information. Often, it is a hunt for a cover image, and occasionally, it leads to unexpected results. Lately, I have been thinking about a short fantasy story, set in my favorite quasi-medieval world, with a teenage boy protagonist.

I don’t have many of those: most of my protagonists are young women. The story is almost ready in my head, I just have to write it down. As usual at this point, I wanted to find an image of my protagonist and I started looking where I always look for my medieval characters: classical art of the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

That’s a very wide field of search, and I’ve always been able to select my heroines there. You could find hundreds of girls or young women of any class and skin color – from a red-headed country maid, to a blonde aristocratic lady, to a sensuous gypsy dancer, to a mythological amazon – among classical paintings floating on cyber waves. But this time, I encountered a blank wall. To my surprise, there are almost no adolescent boys in those paintings.

There are boy children and then, there are men. But it seems the artists of old had an aversion to painting teenage boys. Of course, there are portraits of princes and dukes of any age, but even counting them, there is maybe one depiction of a fifteen year old boy per a hundred adult males. And the girls heavily outnumber them both.

The only exception is David, the one who won against Goliath. Almost every classical painter painted David at least once, and all of them painted him as a teenage boy, often half-naked, with Goliath’s severed head in a triumphant grip. Some of those boys are actually very nice paintings, and I could, maybe, use one or two for my hero, but what would I do with the huge dead head? It is not in my story.

I tried playing with the images, making the head appear as a sack or a rock, depending on its location. Once, I put a column from another painting in front of David to hide Goliath’s head. The results were not too bad, but not exactly what I wanted.

When Davids didn’t work for me, I started looking elsewhere, specifically at free fantasy wallpapers. I wanted to find a young archer dressed in a ‘sort-of’ medieval garb. I did what everyone does in such situations: I Googled “boy archer fantasy wallpaper.” I thought I would have hundreds of hits, but… surprise! The majority of fantasy archer images used for wallpapers – could you believe it? – are girls, too. Hordes of them, with bows and swords, mostly dressed in bikinis.

I’m not touching the overabundance of bikini-clad female warriors in this post, but where are the boys?
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UNRELATED NEWS: yesterday, May 2, was the official release day of the IWSG short story anthology Hero Lost. I’m one of the authors fortunate to be included in the anthology. We all do our best to promote the book, and one of my contributions is a guest post I wrote yesterday for Stephanie Faris’s blog. You can read my post, Open-ended stories, here.

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Defying Kikimoras published

My short fantasy story, Defying Kikimoras, was published this month in Bards and Sages Quarterly. The story is about a young mother whose baby son is sick. She is going to do whatever it takes, defy living people and malevolent spirits, to save her son’s life. Below is the start of the story.
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Gleb patted his beard. “We robbed a huge caravan—fifty wagons and only ten guards. Lucky for us, the greedy merchants skimped on the guards.”
Aglaya nodded absently. She didn’t care about the raid. “Levi is ailing again.” She gestured at the curtain separating their two-year-old son’s den from the kitchen. “He’s been coughing and fevered since you left.” She settled beside Gleb and put her hand on his huge hairy palm. Her thin fingers seemed feeble on top of his. “Gleb, take us to a Healer tomorrow morning. Levi will die otherwise. I’ve done all I could. Nothing helps.”
A wet cough and a weak cry from the den underscored her words. Aglaya flew to her son’s side. She scooped him out of bed and held his thin little body to her breast, caressing his skinny back with its sharp shoulder blades. Levi whimpered and coughed some more before sliding back to sleep. His tangled blond curls tickled her cheek. His skin was hot and dry, and hoarse bubbles raged inside his small chest on each stuttering inhale. Despite all her ministrations and herbal tinctures, her son would die, if she didn’t get him to a Healer.
Gleb held the curtain with his hand, watching her, his mouth a grim line. “I can’t take you to a Healer. The hills teem with the tsarina’s soldiers. They’re hunting us. They’ll never find us here, but if we leave the vale, we’re easy prey. They’ll torture us until I break. They’ll kill everyone here. No. Petro would never permit us to go, not for Levi.”
Aglaya didn’t reply. She should’ve known…
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You can read the rest of the story by buying the issue from the magazine’s website.

When I wrote this story, I wanted it to have a Slavic flavor. Kikimora from the title of the story is a creature of Slavic folklore, a bad-tempered female spirit. I used a couple more Russian terms inside the story, but when I searched for a cover image, no Russian painting reflected my heroine. I found my Aglaya in a painting by Charles Sillem Lidderdale (1830-1895).

Lidderdale was a British painter specializing in the portraits of idealized young women, usually from lower and middle classes. I’m not sure about the realism of his images, but they are pretty, and their clean lines and pastel colors agree with my sense of beautiful.

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WEP: Madonna run

Many of you, including the hosts of the WEP website Yolanda and Denise, asked me in the comments to the previous WEP challenge to continue Tasya’s story. Below is the next vignette in the series – and the next medallion. In case you missed it, the first installment, Shielding Misha, is here. Not sure I could keep it up for the entire year, but I’ll try.
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“Did you also give birth yesterday?” Tasya asked one of the other new mothers. All three of them were nursing their babies – the first nursing of the morning. Her little son sucked greedily, while her fingers caressed his downy hair.

“No. The day before,” the flaxen-haired woman said. “They’ll discharge me today, after the next feeding.” Her big hand traveled all over her baby’s blanket, absently straightening the creases. “You two came in yesterday. I’m Ira. What is your name?”

“Tasya.” Tasya turned to her other roommate. “What is yours?”

“Jailbird.” The woman’s hands held protectively over her nursing baby. Her dark curly hair concealed her face. “We’re both jailbirds.”

“Traitor,” Ira said. “The NKVD are waiting for her.” She nodded at the window. “She shouldn’t have sold our communist Russia to the dratted capitalists.”

“NKVD is waiting for her?” Tasya whispered, appalled.

“I saw them bringing her in yesterday,” Ira said. “Enemy of the people.” She grimaced. Then she kissed her baby, and her grimace transformed into adoration.

The other woman said nothing.

Tasya felt cold. Her son fell off her breast with a contented sigh, and her magic stirred. She had dropped one of her magical medallions, the mother-and-baby medallion, into her purse just before she called a taxi to the hospital, but it had been an impulse. She had thought it fitting for her upcoming labors. She didn’t expect to find someone who needed her magic in this place. Only peace and love should exist in a maternity ward, but neither was forthcoming for the poor woman. She would have to help her. As soon as a nurse carted the babies away, Tasya climbed out of bed.

Ira also threw off her blanket. “I must get dressed. I’m going home soon.”

Perching on the edge of Ira’s bed, Tasya squeezed Ira’s shoulder in false solicitude. “Is your husband meeting you?” She unleashed a bit of her magic, playing with possibilities.

“No. Nobody does.” Ira yawned. “We just moved to the army base in the suburbs. I don’t know anyone yet, and my husband couldn’t get a pass. He is an officer. No matter. I’ll take a bus.”

Before she could rise, Tasya pushed with her magic. “Wonderful,” she said. “Sleep.”

Ira’s eyes glazed over. Her body slumped, and her breathing deepened.

“Get up,” Tasya commanded.

Obediently, Ira got up and stood immobile, waiting for further directions.

Tasya faced the other bed. “I’ll help you escape. I hate NKVD. They shouldn’t have your baby. Can you walk? Do you have a place to go? To hide from them?”

The woman stared at her. “They’re waiting for me at the front. I can’t pass them.”

“Yes, you can. You’ll look like Ira. You will be discharged in her place today, with her documents. She’ll sleep until tomorrow. What is your name?”

“Rachel,” the woman said faintly. “What… how?”

“I have magic,” Tasya said. “You need to swap beds. Move.”

Shakily, Rachel got out of her bed. Tasya conducted Ira to Rachel’s bed and tucked her in. With one of her subjects safely in magical sleep, Tasya turned to Rachel. A few passes of her magic, and Rachel’s dark hair lightened to Ira’s flax. Her kinks uncurled into straight oily strands. Freckles appeared. Her small body even looked as tall as Ira’s. “Good,” Tasya approved her own handiwork. “Your disguise will hold until midnight. Do you have any money?”

Rachel shook her head. “They…” Her alto quivered. “They said they went to my husband’s office to arrest him, but he fled through the back door. I hope he got away. Then they drove to our home and arrested me. My waters broke in their car.”

“Get dressed.” Tasya rummaged in her purse for the medallion and put it over Rachel’s head. She gripped the little pewter Madonna and poured magic into it. “Protect!” she murmured and felt the power settle into the trinket. “Now you wait on Ira’s bed. After the next nursing, a nurse will take you to the office to get discharged.”

Tired from such a big expenditure of magic, she dived into her purse for the treats she had brought: apples and chocolate. She needed to recharge before working more magic. After her hasty repast, she pulled a ten-ruble bill from her purse. Rachel needed money for her upcoming escape.

Making a blanket tent on her bed, Tasya put the ten rubles into the dark cave under the blanket and called the same type of bills to come to her from all over the hospital. Her magic stretched, and an incipient headache started between her eyes. The paper bills rustled cheerfully under the blanket. The pile grew pretty thick before the bills stopped coming. “Must be a pay day or something,” she muttered, collected the bills, and wrapped them in one of the clean rags they were given for their flows.

“You’ll wrap it in with your baby before you go. Keep a few in your pockets,” she instructed. “Should be enough to get you out of Moscow. If you can.”

Pale, her brown eyes huge in her drawn face, Rachel nodded.

When the babies arrived for the next nursing, Tasya switched the name tags between the tiny wrists of Rachel’s and Ira’s girls. Ira nursed her daughter without waking up and dropped back into her enchanted sleep immediately after. When a nurse came for her, Rachel clutched her baby with the wrong name tag and got up from Ira’s bed. She tossed a last desperate glance at Tasya, mouthed, “Thank you,” and shuffled after the nurse.

An hour later, Tasya looked out the window. Rachel came slowly out of the hospital’s front door, her baby in her arms. She passed the bored NKVD guards and disappeared into the street.

Smiling, Tasya settled back in her bed. Her head throbbed, but the next feeding time wouldn’t be for two more hours. She could rest. She felt suffused by peace and love. Her son was beautiful. Rachel should be safe. Tomorrow, when it all started to unravel, Tasya would claim ignorance. Ira might screech her indignation, but nobody would suspect magic, and Rachel would be long gone. Tasya slept.

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Cutting, cutting, cut!

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

I have decided to participate in one of the current Wattpad competitions. This one is for a fan-fiction story, which I already posted there, and the only requirement that didn’t quite fit was the word count. They set the ceiling at 10,000 words, and my story was almost 12,000 words. To enter the competition, I needed a serious revision to cut out 2,000 words.

Cutting is painful. You want to express this idea and that, to let your readers know all the important details, to explain the history and contemplate the possibilities, but if you wish to eliminate 20% of your story, every inessential word must go. The beautiful adjectives. The complex clauses. The entire paragraphs dedicated to a charming but irrelevant side plot.

It took me several passes to cut out that much. At one point, I didn’t think I could do it at all without mutilating my story beyond salvation. But in the end, the story emerged better, tighter, more focused than before. I entered it into the competition.

Now, it is up to the judges and the readers. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how they decide on the winners. Probably, as everything on Wattpad, the stories with the highest number of reads/likes win.
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Here is the summary of my story:

Five Days of Elf, is an urban fantasy inspired by Wen Spencer’s Elfhome universe. Lisa, a film school student from Vancouver, Canada, attends a local Shakespearean festival, when a gun-toting terrorist embarks on a shooting spree. She could’ve been killed, if not for a young man in a gray turban who risked his life stopping the shooter. After this traumatic event, the story plunges into the next five days of Lisa’s life, the most turbulent five days… with an elf.
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You don’t need prior knowledge of Wen Spencer’s Elfhome books before reading this story. Everything relevant is right there, in the text, despite my ruthless cutting.

Come read the story, folks. Help me be among the winners.

The image for the cover: courtesy of my favorite free image site, Pixabay.

Have you ever needed to cut your story to such a degree? What was the reason? What was your approach to cutting? Tell me in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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“Paper Cuts” published

My short fantasy story, Paper Cuts, was published today in Devilfish Review. The story is about a young librarian Ninele. She uses her paper magic against goblin mercenaries besieging her city. Here is how the story starts.
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“You’re to take care of the children,” the head librarian said.

A group of magic students huddled behind his back. The younger ones looked subdued and scared. The older ones glared at Ninele. They wanted to help protect their city from the goblin mercenaries. She did too. None of them wanted to hide in the library with her babysitting them. Unfortunately, neither the children nor Ninele could do much on the walls of their besieged city. The kids had yet to grow into their prospective powers, while her magic was small, confined to paper, no use on the walls either. It was better to keep them in the library, out of trouble, and she was the obvious choice to supervise them.
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To read the full story, click here.

The cover image comes from one of my favorite artists, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement, Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898).

I love Pre-Raphaelites, their bright colors and their often quirky themes. Unlike many artists before them, they didn’t concentrate their art on the Bible, nor on the Victorian life of their contemporary England. Their paintings tell stories that have nothing to do with religion or reality and everything to do with beauty. They painted Greek legends and illustrated medieval poetry. They paid tribute to Shakespeare and Dante. They were the fantasists of visual arts, and their imagery appeals to me, a fantasy writer.

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My story free on Amazon

My fantasy novelette Grave Escape, part of the series The Society of Misfit Stories, will be free on Amazon, as Kindle Single, on March 20-24. Afterwards, the publisher, Bards and Sages, will pull it out to include in their upcoming anthology of the entire series.

The blurb on Amazon reads: “How far would you go for your freedom? Two young women, desperate to escape the oppression of those who torture them in order to harness their magical powers, engage in a desperate escape attempt. But when the path to freedom goes through long-forgotten crypts, the destination leads to unexpected revelations.”

Below are the first few paragraphs of the story.
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“Rada, are you coming?” Lonit’s sandy braid swayed against her nun’s robe, as she trotted into the chapel. Her hazel eyes twinkled, belying the dark semicircles beneath.
“I’m done with the fairy tales,” Rada said. Paint still glistened on the last illustration of the manuscript she had just finished copying. She admired her handiwork for a moment before closing it and hobbling to the Nunnery library alcove to put the new book on a shelf.
Lonit settled on the edge of Rada’s desk. “You’re burying yourself in here, among your manuscripts. Come on. It’s sunny outside.” A grin flashed, illuminating her gaunt, pale cheeks.
Rada shook her head and wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Lonit was nineteen, only a decade younger than herself, but Rada felt ancient beside her friend. “Copying manuscripts is the only thing that keeps me sane in this repulsive place.”
She loathed the Nunnery. She had spent eight years here and still couldn’t get used to it. Every week, when the priests’ odious device gobbled her magic, she wanted to puke.
“I know,” Lonit sad quietly. “I always vomit after they suck out my magic, but what can we do? Might as well smile and make the best of the situation.”
……..

Click on one of the links below to download the full story.

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When I write my short stories, I always try to make a cover for each story, even if nobody will ever see it. For me, a cover is a visual representation of the story; it pulls me in. The best covers relay the atmosphere and convey the mood. I often go through a number of images before I hit the perfect one. The publisher’s cover is at the top of this post. They made the entire series visually universal but generic. I wanted to share here my specific cover. It reflects the spirit of the tale and its two heroines wonderfully. You could see their apprehension, feel their love and support for each other. The cover is based on a painting by a Belgian artist Francois Joseph Navez (1787–1869).

 

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Arts Musing: St. Martin’s Cloak

pixabay_artprawny_logoA few months ago, I asked my readers if they might be interested in some art-related posts. The answer was a resounding YES, so I’ll try to make my arts musing a recurring feature of this blog. Such posts won’t appear with any regularity – I don’t want to tie myself to a schedule – but only when a particular idea or a piece of art tickles my fancy.

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The legend of St. Martin’s cloak attracted multiple artistic interpretations. Several European cities erected statues of St. Martin. Senica in Slovakia even chose the guy for their coat of arms.

There are also many paintings depicting St. Martin’s best known charity case. Anthony van Dyck, Louis Anselme Longa, Jacob van Oost and several others painted the saintly soldier sharing his cloak with a beggar. El Greco’s masterpiece is one of the most famous.

El Greco

So who was St. Martin and what did he do to deserve such reverence?

According to Wikipedia, St. Martin (316–397), Bishop of Tours, was one of the most recognizable Christian saints, sometimes venerated as a military saint. As a young man, he served in the Roman cavalry. He discovered Christianity early in life and eventually decided that his Christian views are incompatible with a soldier’s sword. He got out of the army, became a monk and, after a while, a bishop. All his post-military endeavors were dedicated to spreading Christianity, establishing monasteries all over France, and destroying pagan temples with unrivaled enthusiasm. He also cut down the sacred trees, usually centuries old, that were often associated with the pagan beliefs and grew beside the temples.

His legend that’s inspired so many marvelous pieces of art states that when he was a young soldier, he rode to the gates of Amiens and encountered an almost naked beggar. It was winter. Gripped by his Christian compassion, he cut his military cloak in half to share with the beggar.

Louis Anselme Longa

Later, the part he kept for himself became a renown relic upon which military oaths were sworn. At one point, kings carried it into battle. A priest tending the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu. Ultimately, the name became attached to all priests serving in the military:  cappellani. The English word chaplain is derived from that root. A similar linguistic development also led to the word chapel – a small church.

I wonder: why did Martin cut his cloak in half? Why didn’t he give the entire cloak to the poor man? After all, he himself was much richer. He had a secure position in the army, a horse, and his weapons. Probably some money too. He should’ve been able to afford another cloak for himself. And what is half a cloak anyway?

Jacob van Oost

I think a cloak is something like a blanket, a piece of cloth about 1.5 or 2 m long and as wide. A half would be at most one meter wide but twice longer. I suppose it could’ve kept a beggar from freezing to death but only just. And it wouldn’t be very useful for a cavalryman always on the move. So why withhold the other half? To make a relic of? How did the story become known anyway? Did he brag of his ‘generosity’? I can’t see any saintliness in the act and can’t understand why it was so lauded by both artists and church historians. But the paintings are surely wonderful.

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Short stories old and new

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
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The March 2017 question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

My answer: Yes to both questions. I frequently recycle old ideas that didn’t work out at the time, but this was a complete story. It was one of my first written stories. My submission database shows that I started submitting it in 2004. I kept at it for several years, but nobody accepted it for publication. After a while – I was probably improving as a writer – I realized that all the editors were right: the story didn’t work. So I dropped it. But the idea and the protagonist stayed with me.

cover_vincentvangogh2Last year, I decided to give them another go. I completely rewrote the story, leaving maybe 10% of the original text in, probably even less. I altered the main conflict and changed the ending. And started submitting the new incarnation under a new title, Flower Consultant. It’s a humorous sci-fi story. This time, it got accepted on the second try. It was published in Aurora Wolf last summer. Here it is.
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Continuing the theme of old stories: I’m running out of short stories to submit. Of the bunch of stories I wrote in 2015 and 2016, only 5 are still making submission rounds. The rest found homes in magazines or anthologies. I have 2 fantasy stories left, both written originally for specific anthologies, although neither made the cut. I also have one sci-fi story still homeless and 2 magic realism stories.

The sci-fi is a surprise. It is a solid story, and I was sure it would be one of the first to get accepted. Strangely, it was not. The magic realism is a different matter. I doubt either of them would be published by any American or Canadian magazine. They are too… alien, I suppose, for the English speaking readers. Both take place in Russia during the WWII. Both deal with uncomfortable subjects. I might cave in, stop submitting them, and publish them myself on wattpad.

That brings me to the gist of my post. I have a few more old stories on my computer. Some I started but never finished. Others are just undeveloped ideas. Perhaps I should do something productive about some of them. After all, I enjoy writing short stories and have a fairly high success rate with their magazine publication route. About 99%. I only truly ever abandoned one story, the very first one I ever wrote. I don’t think any amount of rewriting would resurrect that ugly baby, but we all fail sometimes. That’s how we learn, right?

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My story Clerk or Hero published

cover_parmigianino2A few days ago, my fantasy short story Clerk or Hero was published in Aurora Wolf magazine. Like many of my stories, this one takes place in an imaginary world, populated by witches, undines, valiant warriors, and resourceful clerks. And, of course, magic. Below is the short excerpt from the beginning of the story.
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After a long, terrifying slide, Tiero’s feet touched the ground. The thin rope tying him slithered down and coiled at his feet. Only his weight kept the loop tight for his involuntary descent. As soon as he was down, the witches dropped the rope.

High above him, at the mouth of the shaft he had just been lowered through, one witch sniggered, invisible behind a bent in the chute. “Bon appetite, boys!” Her mocking cackle drifted down the shaft.

“Harpies!” he shouted back.

Nobody replied to his toothless insult. The voices babbling far over his head trickled to nothing, leaving Tiero alone in the dimly lit stone well. No, not quite alone. He had a comrade in misery, a young officer, slumped unconscious against the shaft wall, the wound in his leg bleeding sluggishly. They were both going to die here.
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To read more, check out the full story here.

The editor of the magazine created his own enigmatic cover for the story, and I created the one you see above. I used a painting attributed to the Italian artist Parmigianino (1503-1540).

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WEP: Shielding Misha

When Yolanda, Nila, and Denise from the WEP website came up with this nifty challenge, I thought: cool! So many possibilities. Unfortunately, the story wouldn’t gel for quite a while. Until the last moment, in fact. My approach could be best defined by the following quote by Bill Watterson:

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“Last-minute panic.”

The story takes place in Russia, in the 1930s, in the midst of Stalin’s terror.
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Tasya knelt in front of her grandmother’s armchair. “Grandma, you have to help me save Misha. NKVD has been arresting people, innocent people. They have arrested several of Misha’s friends. The accusation is always the same – the enemy of the people – but it’s false. They’ll arrest him too, I know.” She gazed in entreaty at the cantankerous old woman.

Her grandma stared back. “My magic is gone,” she croaked. “Saving him is up to you.”

“I’m a communist. I don’t believe in magic.” Tasya gripped the scuffed armrests tighter.

“You came to me for help.” The thin, angular shoulders, clad in faded chintz, rose and fell.

“I’m desperate. I can’t bear if he is arrested. Tortured.” Her voice broke, but she collected herself. “It’ll kill me, grandma. We have only been married for two years. I’m pregnant. Please.”

“I can’t, Tasya. I can teach you, but you’ll have to work magic yourself.”

Tasya shivered. She was a communist. She had renounced her magic long ago even though she had never told anyone about the long line of witches in her family. Even Misha didn’t know. Should she abandon her convictions now?

If she didn’t, NKVD would come for her beloved husband, take him away, and beat him until he confessed any heinous crimes they wanted. And then they would shoot him. She knew it. Her premonitions had always been true. Her stomach clenched in misery. She didn’t have a choice; she had to accept her magic.

“Fine. Teach me,” she growled.

“There is a price,” the old woman warned.

“I know.” Magic always extracted a price. Whatever it was, Tasya was willing to pay it. “What do I do?”

“I gave you an escritoire for your wedding. Look in the top left drawer, in the back.”

“All the drawers were empty,” Tasya said impatiently. “I put my stuff there.”

“No. Look with your magic. There is a secret compartment with several medallions in it. Take one and make your husband wear it.”

“It will protect him?” Tasya sprang to her feet, ready to rush home.

“No. It’s a receptacle. You have to imbue it with protective magic yourself.”

“How?”

“Wish it. Magic is as much a matter of intent as power. Put your heart in your wish, believe in your magic, and it will keep him safe.”

Tasya kissed the wrinkled cheek and raced the three blocks home.

Misha had already returned from work. “Hey, Tasenka,” he called from the kitchen. “Where were you?”

“Hey, yourself. Visiting grandma. I’ll be right there.” Breathless from her mad dash through the streets, she darted to the bedroom and yanked open the top left drawer of the escritoire. It was filled with her sawing supplies. She pulled it out all the way and willed that hidden corner of her mind to unlock.

blank_pendantshield_3by4Nothing! Cursing mutely, she closed her eyes and groped sightlessly, and her fingers stumbled on the unfamiliar shapes. Yes! She felt an inaudible pop, as her magic broke its self-imposed bonds. When she opened her eyes, she saw a wide and narrow compartment in the back, shimmering faintly. Several medallions rested there, each in its own slot. She picked up one – a shield on a thin chain; it seemed fitting – and hurried to the kitchen.

“I have something for you.” She offered the pendant to her husband. “I want you to put it on and wear it under your clothing.”

He lifted his shaggy eyebrows at the small heap of pewter in her palm.

“Please, Misha. It’s a gift.”

He shrugged, his lips twitching, but he put it on and tucked it under his shirt. “Thank you. What is the occasion? Should I have something for you too?”

“You already have.” She grinned in relief. “I’m pregnant.”

“Oh, Tasenka!” He lit up like an electric bulb, lifted her off her feet, and twirled her around their tiny kitchen. “Love you!”

Tasya hugged him back. Their celebratory mood lasted until nightfall, when Tasya glanced down from their third floor window and saw a dreaded black Marusia, the distinctive NKVD car, gleam evilly under streetlights. It stopped in front of their apartment building. Three men in uniform peeled out and marched into the door.

Already? Icy terror gripped her insides. She hadn’t done anything with her magic yet. She grabbed Misha’s shirt with both hands and concentrated, envisioning the pewter shield on his chest. She poured all the magic she possessed at the medallion. Protect him, she wished with all her being. Keep him safe!

“Tasya?” His blue eyes radiated concern.

Someone pounded, and her head throbbed, echoing the menace on the other side of the door.

He went to answer, and Tasya trailed after him, still wishing: Protect! Protect!

The three men across the threshold eyed them with cold disdain. The leader thrust an arrest warrant at them and recited Misha’s full name and address.

Misha’s wide shoulders tensed beneath Tasya’s hands. From behind him, she glimpsed the warrant sheet and tossed an angry handful of magic at it. A mistake, she thought grimly. There is no Misha’s name there.

Under her eyes, the crisp letters of the name and address morphed into inky smears.

“It’s a mistake,” she whispered.

“Huh?” the man in charge looked uncomprehendingly at his illegible arrest warrant.

Go away! She flung her magic at him like a grenade. You don’t want my husband.

“A mistake,” he repeated, scrunched his forehead, and turned slowly toward the stairs. His subordinates followed him down, their boots clattering on the steps.

Tasya leaned on the wall, too exhausted to move, her head ready to explode.

Misha closed the door quietly and turned to face her. Deadly pale but calm, he touched her cheek with questing fingers. “What happened? I thought… I was sure…”

Tasya nodded weakly. “My head hurts. I need to lie down.” But she knew her blinding headache wasn’t the only price of her magic. The real price was the other medallions, each one connected to a person. She needed to find them all and help them all. She needed to have a serious talk with her grandma. But first, she needed her head to stop hurting. At least Misha was safe. She smiled and fainted.

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Posted in Olga Godim, WEP, Writing Challenge | Tagged , , | 25 Comments