Welcome to Hereabouts!

“You think there’s more to the story?”

“The story, no. Stories are always simple. The truth, that takes work.”


Welcome to Hereabouts, home to Westfall, A Queen’s Ransom, and Ivan the Brave.

Long Reads

Westfall – Ever have one of those dreams you can’t get out of your head?  Ever have an immortal faerie king take over your life?  18-year-old Rose plans to do something about it.  (Warnings: violence and violent deaths, some sexual references and language, politics)

Quick Looks

Short Stories – Shorter works with rhythm, rhyme, and occasionally reason. (TV-PG)

Poems & Songs – Verse and rhyme in both fiction and memoir.  (TV-PG)

The Real Life Personal journals on writing and life. (TV-PG)

Scripts & Screenplays

A Queen’s Ransom A trickster princess disguises herself as a traveling harper to save both her fiance and the kingdom from a father’s last request. (Warnings: fantasy violence, some adult themes, death)

Ivan the Brave – A simple prince faces off against a cunning sorcerer to save his mother and an unconventional princess from the Underworld.  (Warnings: fantasy violence, death)

The Midnight Dance (WIP) – Is it a conspiracy of cobblers, or something more sinister?  Two familiar but unconventional detectives will go to the edge of the map to find out. (Warnings: fantasy violence, death)

Other Musings

Thereabouts – Cabin fever, but stuck wandering the web?  Check out my writer’s blog on Weebly.

 


Images by Pixabay and Unsplash

Advertisements

30: Breaking Loose

Last Chapter               Story Notes                 Next Chapter


EXT. THE FOREST – NEARLY NOON

From the tree line, the old woman stares out at the city.

EXT. THE UNDERWORLD – DAY

The off-color sky shakes around the peaking sun.

 

BABA YAGA (O.S.)

Far too long the tides and springs have sent their treasures through my gates.

 

Step. Clank. The silver brooks foam, crash, swell to rivers, choke a forest footpath.

 

BABA YAGA (O.S./CONT’D)

My coffers brim and overflow. It’s time to rip apart the old. Raise the mild, pull down the bold. Whatever cannot stand will go.

 

The blood-slicked foot of the onyx stair bears Chudov’s dragon corpse.

From the silver forest, Baba Yaga arrives with her mist, Garm at heel. Trees creak, open knot-hole eyes, watch water flow.

Step. Clank.

Baba Yaga approaches the crumpled white dragon, lays a gnarled hand on its scales.

The forest floor is a mirror, the stair an island.

BABA YAGA (CONT’D)

You’ll have your pledged ones, sister. I’ll have mine.

 

Scales snap flat and bones reset. Blood trickles backwards.

 

INT. STOLIST PALACE – NEARLY NOON

Doors close one by one. Servants in pairs lift beams to bar them. The soldiers around the throne ring tight.

Tugarin sits, eyes darting at shadows, Melina beside him shivering with her handkerchief. He absently strokes her hair.

At the table, Helga stands staring up at the banner.

 

TUGARIN

(to Helga) I’ve told you not to become attached.

 

HELGA

I’m sorry.

 

TUGARIN

It changes nothing.

 

Melina whimpers. Helga’s fingers stray to the sash and hidden mirror, away quickly at the king’s glance.

 

TUGARIN (CONT’D)

Everyone has his weakness, dearest. You mustn’t equate yourself with anyone. Keep yourself above and others below. That is power.

 

HELGA

Yet everyone dies.

 

TUGARIN

The only equality. If men are willing to seek it, happily show them the way.

 

The banner flutters oddly.

 

HELGA

(noticing) Shouldn’t we be getting on with the ceremony, Father? It’s almost noon.

 

TUGARIN

Soon enough.

 

He stands.

 

TUGARIN (CONT’D)

Well, Nikolaevich, are you ready to stop being a coward and show yourself?

 

Snap! The fluttering banner of the golden knight crumples to the floor in a cloud of dust and strings of cobweb. Tugarin spins around.

On the wall looms the stone frieze of the twined dragons, their claws clutching a space over a bricked-up arch.

Helga reaches for her belt.

Flash The arch opens on darkness.

 

TUGARIN

Guards!

 

PAVEL (O.S.)

Do you how know unsettling is it, your majesty —

 

They all freeze.

 

PAVEL (O.S., CONT’D)

— to be in a locked room and know something can still get in?

 

TUGARIN

You think you can undo me with a dragon’s trick? (to Walsh) I want fifty men at that doorway.

 

A sharp wind snuffs out half the candles as fog rolls in. In the darkness, something beats the air: Flap.

Tugarin meets Helga’s cold eyes.

Flap.

 

TUGARIN (CONT’D)

Close it.

 

Flap. Helga lowers the mirror.

 

HELGA

You know the trouble with threatening people with death, Father?

 

Flap. She lifts the chalice.

 

HELGA (CONT’D)

They have to be afraid.

 

Gliding in on a frosted glare in a rush of wind, Chudov catches the chalice in his talons, twelve heads roaring.

The boyars dive to the floor. Soldiers scream, drop their spears and run. Servants scramble at the barred doors.

The dragon wheels towards the ceiling, plunges again. Talons open, crush armor, spatter blood.

Chudov swoops back up over the hall. Tugarin stares upwards, frozen in alarm. Melina scrambles away.

Clang.

Blackened, the chalice hits the table and bounces

Clang.

— rolls in an arch across the floor: heavy, inelegant — made of lead.

The princesses huddle as their guards flee from the snatching claws — one too slow slams against a wall with a sharp crack. As a shadow on the wall, one’s chomped in two.

Terrified servants hoist door beams aside, are caught by ice and fire and fall screaming. Soldiers shove doors open, run, scream and fall in a stampede down the halls, into the garden.

Helga watches coldly from her place by the throne.

Melina runs to Anna, buries her face in her arms. The boyars crawl toward them and they huddle together, safe but surrounded by frost-fire and fury.

THE GARDEN

A sweep of one white wing slices the hall open.  Masonry tumbles across garden hedgerows and trellises, crushes a fleeing soldier.

THE GREAT HALL

Chudov lands on the gilt table and it buckles. Twelve heads snake in all directions, hissing. White necks arch, shoot forward, gullets churning cold fire.

Flame bursts through down the halls, turns greenery to cinders.

 

EXT. STOLIST PALACE – SAME TIME

THE INNER COURTYARD

Soldiers flee the keep, fall and roll to smother frost and flame on the porch. Reinforcements spill from the ramparts and up the steps.

The earth buckles and cracks. A dozen men stagger at a splash, look down: Water sprays from crack and crevice, upends merchant carts and torches.

Beliya watches beside Agatha, unsurprised.

 

BELIYA

(undertone) Always selfless, our Helga.

The Two Brothers



Last Chapter               Story Notes                 Next Chapter

Image by Unsplash

 

Notes – Beta and Clarity

One of the downsides of writing a story is that there is so much meticulous planning, mapping, writing and rewriting, that it gets hard to see if something is missing, which is why I really need beta readers who care enough not only to read my drafts but to tell me when I’m not being true to the story idea. I probably told the end of The Queen’s Ransom to myself twenty times before I finally settled on the version I did, and even then I’m sad for the things that were left out and not 100% happy with what was left in.

In this case, I knew I wanted there to be an evil king, and that the twelve princesses would be captives. I didn’t realize at first that Tugarin thinks of himself as a kind of teacher. He actually believes that he is a benefactor, smarter and stronger than everyone around him, and that it benefits his kingdom to do what he does. To him, not only does the end justify the means, the fact that it is he who’s doing it justifies it. And of course, that kind of moral compass (or lack thereof) is insane, disaster waiting to happen. His enemy turned out to be a dragon because it made sense. His rigid and ruthless control over everything would not be countered by Baba Yaga directly, though she’s all about balance. It would be countered by a force of chaos that would leave nothing undamaged.

At the same time, I tried very, very hard to make Helga just as ruthless. In every story, it’s clear the eldest sister is a kind of ringleader and in the Romania and French versions she is literally ready to ruin a man’s life to keep the party going. But I think deep down she’s simply buried herself. I don’t know what that will mean for her and her real family (though the other princesses are certainly sisters by trial if not by blood), but I imagine there are missing scenes in this story where she had a lot of unlearning to do in order to get strong enough to reach this point, and her fight’s not over yet.

The Undeserved Servant (a ghost story)

There was once a man named Volkavich who had a foul temper. He beat his servants, his wife, and his son, never caring which, so far as they were near enough within reach. His anger would come upon him much as a temper comes over a child. But as he was a large man, formidable in strength and prone to displeasure, these tempers were horrible to all those around him.

It happened that he had a loyal servant named Orin, whom he had taken in one cold winter on the whim of a moment, when he had thought it might do good for his soul. Orin was a young man, very plain, and when no other could calm his master, it was custom for the family or the other servants to send him. It seemed he stilled the master’s ire by simply going about his business, but in those moment Volkavich thought about how he was not a good man, and yet how he had done one good deed and that was to rescue Orin that winter’s night.

But, as is too often the case when mortals let their tempers fly, it inevitably happened that one night Volkavich was in his study and in a foul mood and Orin was close by preparing tea, and Volkavich struck his servant and the tea was spilled all over the hearth rug.

“Apologies, sir,” said Orin, as if only his carelessness had dropped the tea. “I will clean it up immediately.” He had a habit of saying what he would do before he did it, so as not to startle a rage out of his master. He immediately fetched a bucket and scrub brush, and he set to scrubbing both the rug and the floor, toweling up the water so as not to damage the boards. The scrub brush hissed against the hearth rug and the floorboards: brush-brush-brush, soft and steady.

But Volkavich’s temper was not yet satisfied. So annoyed was he at this interruption to his evening ritual, and so irritated at the simple necessity of the hard brush bristles scrubbing at his floor, that he took up the iron by the fireplace and with it began beating his servant over the hearthstone. He called the man all manner of terrible names and heaped insult upon insult and blow upon blow on him.

There is no kind way to say it, but that beating in the end cost Orin his life and left a horrible bloodstain on the hearth rug and the floor around it for days afterward, so that no one would go into the study. Orin’s wretched body was taken away and buried by strangers.

As this was the first time a man had died from the master’s blows, the household of Volkavich was in a fit. The wife took her son and went to live with her mother. The servants one by one found new employment. Those left behind shuddered and lost all sleep at the thought of how angry these losses made their master. Gradually, and good for them, Volkavich was left behind and the house became very, very quiet.

For some time, Volkavich was at a loss how to remedy this. He went about his business simply because he had no other thing to do. It seemed at first that he might manage, but it soon became evident that with none to clear ashes from the hearth or cook his food, and none to launder his clothing or lay out his suit for the morning, he was gradually becoming less and less a competent person, and his place of employment noted this askance.

Volkavich was distractable. He tore off his suit one evening and said, “Let it be taken care of,” and ate the last of the bread and cheese in the pantry and cried, “Let it be stocked.” He was so used to the life of a master, he indeed had no way of telling himself to do anything. Perhaps therein some morbidly curious soul might understand the source of his affliction and how by it he afflicted others. All this to say, however, Volkavich went to sleep thinking the devil couldn’t care less than he.

It was morning soon enough, and a fine one, though cold, and Volkavich woke and dressed himself at his mirror. He went to the pantry and found bread and jam and so ate it. He took up his walking stick and put on his hat and went to work. None commented on his appearance. It is a rare thing to do so when a man doesn’t look anymore like he is falling apart. The other men at his employment remarked one to another that Old Volkavich must have hired himself new servants at last.

“They must not be from these parts,” some added to one another. It became a whispered joke that day, that Volkavich had hired foreigners, as no local would stake his skin in that house.

Volkavich came home, indifferent to all of this, so used to how things had been, and he dined on a supper left ready for him, and drank from a tea service as he did every evening, and at last considered he ought to remember who was still here. He went to his study to look into his ledgers.

Turning page after page, however, he soon realized that all his affairs were out of order. His accountant had left off tending his investments. His wife had kept the private accounts and she, too, was gone and her records blank.  There was none to order for the cook, and no cook to prepare what was ordered. The launderer had not been billed. No housework was accounted for.

It was nearing midnight, and Volkavich was at the end of these books of black and red ink when he noticed a strange thing about the rug in front of the hearth of the study. There was a stain on it, very dark. It spread quickly and then stopped suddenly, and the shape it made was very much the shape the blood had made beneath poor Orin the night he had been beaten into his grave.

“What is this?” said Volkavich aloud. He spoke for his own comfort, to wake himself from some delusion.

But he was answered:

“Apologies, sir,” said a voice. “I will clean it up immediately.”

The great bear of a man, Volkavich was sent shaking like a leaf. It was the voice of Orin, his servant. He could heard the brush-brush-brush, soft and steady, of a scrub brush on the floor. Brush-brush-brush, and the stain was cleared away.

Volkavich left the study and immediately locked the door. He lit every candle in the house as he hurried up the stairs. He shied away from every shadow, and he did not sleep but an hour that night.

The next morning was as before. The clothes were lain out. The shoes were shined, the hat buffed. Even his jacket was brushed. There was bread on the table fresh from the oven, and hot coffee in its carafe. Afraid, but not wanting to spend another moment in the house, Volkavich hurried to work and even forgot his cane, but by that afternoon he had convinced himself:

“My servants are having a laugh at me. This is all a game. They are coming by night to do these things, and throwing their voices and playing games with disappearing inks and who knows what else!”

And so Volkavich went home an hour early and checked every crevice and closet. Then he rang for a locksmith and had him change all the locks in one afternoon, quite the task for a single man, who was left breathless by the end of it. He was fortunate Volkavich had taken a cab into town to leave him to it, or his employer’s temper would have gotten the better of him with impatience.

Volkavich made a complaint to the police that he suspected someone had broken into his home by day. He did not mention the dusted suit or the coffee pot, not wanting the officers in any way to think his intruder kind. Instead he described a state of disarray and claimed his family was visiting his wife’s parents on holiday, and so he would be alone in the house that night.

That evening, with the police on patrol along his street and himself assured by the weight of new keys heavy in his pocket, Volkavich marched to his study with his tea. He paced and he looked out the windows. He eyed the hearth and he stirred the ashes and the hands of the clock rolled towards midnight.

At last, in defiance, he threw the cup on the floor, now convinced his servants had hoodwinked him. Had he not been in such a rage, he would have regretted it, as it belonged to his late mother’s service.

Suddenly, as before, that horrific stain appeared on the carpet amid the broken porcelain. Volkavich threw the rug back and said, “Ah hah!” and felt a right fool for it, for the stain on the flooring was also as fresh as it had been the night Orin died.

Stumbling back in fear, he cried, “Stop! Stop this at once!”

And again, the only answer to his orders was the voice of poor, beleaguered Orin, saying, “Apologies, sir. I will clean it up immediately.”

And so Volkavich was once more forced to watch the stain scrub itself away.

Had he not been so exhausted, Volkavich would not have slept that night. He did not undress, but went to bed in his clothes with every candle lit as before. He should have woken to lamps out of oil and candles burned down to stubs, but instead every wick was trimmed and every candle replaced.

Volkavich did not go to work that day, but changed quickly into a new shirt and hurried out to the church.

“I need an exorcist,” he told the priest. “There is a ghost in my home. I have locked every door and turned on every light, but each night things have moved around.”

The priest, who was aware of the kind of man Volkavich was, nevertheless took the station of his office seriously and questioned the other man calmly about his spiritual predicament. Volkavich refused to mention whom he thought was haunting him, but described in horrific detail the ever spreading bloodstain that cleaned itself.

The priest, whose name was Father Moishikh, arrived at Volkavich’s residence not long after noon and brought with him the Holy Scriptures and the Book of the Hours. In the study, the halls, and all the rooms of the house, he chanted the holy prayers and extended liturgies and did all things necessary for the vanquishing of unclean spirits. He bid the devil flee before the name of the Almighty. He invoked the Holy Trinity’s perfect union. He appealed to the Holy Mother and to all the Saints to pray on behalf of the afflicted. Volkavich followed doggedly in Father Moishikh’s steps all the while, muttering under his breath half-understood litanies from the Septuagint and the Hours and so forth, in case his second voice might add to the potency of the exorcism.

At last the rites were over and Volkavich donated a large sum to the charities Moishikh suggested and then went home, now at ease.

This time he locked the study door and went to the kitchen for supper. He sat at the cook’s breadboard, as it was bare enough now to be used as a table. And then he went to bed.

It was in the middle of the night when the candles were low that Volkavich woke and at first did not know what had awoken him. As he strained in the dark to understand it, he heard as if from another room the faint sounds of a scrub brush and sloshing water. Fear seized his limbs and despite his blankets he felt a cold dread spread over him. The candles of his room went out, and he was alone.

It seemed to him the scrubbing moved, first along one wall, then the next. At last the brush-brush-brush, soft and steady, faded down the staircase.

Volkavich did not close his eyes again that night, and did not dare move his gaze from the ceiling, for he feared what he might see going about its business in the night hours of his house.

The following morning, Volkavich fled the house without looking left or right to inspect it. He did not stop until he arrived at the safety of his workplace. His manager was in a foul mood, as he had lost time and money the day before when Volkavich, with no explanation, had not showed up for work, and the day before when Volkavich had left early. Volkavich insisted he had been ill and his bedraggled appearance served him in that respect, but most of his coworkers agreed he did not look ill so much as mad.

Volkavich returned to the priest, who assured him that all the rituals had been done in the prescribed manner, and that if Volkavich had confessed his sins he need not fear for his soul. Volkavich did not perceive any sins in need of confessing—that is, he would not even admit he had murdered his servant, only claim no control over his terrible rage. He staggered into the street and walked the lanes and alleys so long as there was daylight. He had supper at a cheap eating house and then turned his steps towards home, pushing his way, he felt, through heavy shrouds of dread hanging unseen but smothering in his path.

At a corner, he came upon an old woman with one good eye and one milky one, and when she saw him, she pointed a finger like a crooked twig and said, “Ah, there is Volkavich, but where is Volkavich’s house?” Volkavich did not know what to make of this, and so he hurried onward and locked his door the instant he arrived home. He felt accused, but he knew not of what, and assured himself the bolts would keep such troubling stares and questions out.

Again, Volkavich lit every lamp, giving extra attention to the wicks. He struck a match for his largest candles and all around the house he lit flame after flame until the whole of the residency blazed gold and hot like some terrible amalgamation of heaven and hell. Then he carried his teacup to his study, and its saucer was nearly full of tea when he set it down. He stared at it and did not dare drink it, for fear his paroxysms would spill this personal cup of trembling and Orin would appear.

The tea went cold. Just as Volkavich feared, come midnight the stain appeared on the hearth rug. With a roar of rage and terror, Volkavich snatched up the rug and threw the whole thing into the fire, where its aged fabric was quickly eaten by the flames, which smoked and popped as they devoured it. Volkavich staggered back in fear, for the stain had not gone. It still spread on the floorboards as it had on the rug. He took up the iron poker from the fireplace and stabbed it, but this had no effect. The stain merely seemed all the more like a wound, and the iron was lodged in the floor.

And the trembling voice of poor Orin said, “Apologies, sir. I will clean it up immediately.”

“No, no, let it burn!”

Volkavich clawed at the floor, grasping uselessly where he heard the brush-brush-brush,  soft and steady, of the scrub brush and its unseen sopping water. Volkavich tore off his shirt and fine coat and threw these in the fire, for now these seemed to him part of some pact of service he could no longer endure.

A madness took him completely and he ran from room to room, seizing in his rage anything other he could think which the servant might attend. The fire consequently grew and grew, and soon the ashes spilled out, and his account pages, now littering the floor before his overturned desk, became traveling tinder. The aged curtains, the glued wallpaper—every part of his house was caught by hearth fire. Candles dissolved and tottered.

Volkavich did not notice the fire, such was his fear. He pulled at his own hair and stared all around him at the light and flame, fearful his eyes would fall on a ghost and yet searching still for more to burn away.

And then he saw Orin, the poor servant he had killed in untempered rage, standing at the door and shivering.

“Orin,” Volkavich demanded, “What is the matter? Why are you shivering as if you are cold? I’ve given this whole house to hell.”

“Oh, you have, master, you have,” Orin said, and wept. He stood pale and wan and blue amid the orange flame. “You have made this house a hell and so all the innocent were sprung from it, as if Christ our Lord Himself had descended with the trumpet blast.”

“It is your fault then, Orin!” Volkavich declared. “You should have gone to heaven. Instead you stayed.”

“I have stayed to scrub clean the stains you left behind, master,” said Orin. “You saved my life that cold winter and I owe a debt. Would you rather I go?”

“This house is burning,” said Volkavich. “You cannot stay.”

“How I wish it wasn’t so,” wept Orin.

“Are you so ungrateful? I’ve set you free,” boasted Volkavich. “I will go and I will leave this place and I will never think of you again.”

But the specter of Orin solemnly said, “My master, for the good you did for me, I would have cleaned the sin from your soul, for your soul is like this house and your guilt harrows you to repentance as every night you recall your unforgiving deed. But you refused to hear me and you refused to confess, so now this house burns around you, but so, too, does your mortal body.”

And with that, the weeping ghost vanished with a wail, freed from what bound him to the place of his demise. And Volkavich realized the fire was eating up the walls and the floors and the curtains, and he was left with no way out of the disaster his murderous temper had set ablaze. So by his own heavy hand, the man Volkavich died.

And who can say where he went? Not any I’d wish to meet.

photo by kummod from Pixabay


Other Short Stories

Photo by Pixabay.

 

 

27: Lying in Wait

Last Chapter               Story Notes                 Next Chapter


EXT. STOLIST – MORNING

The fanfare blasts.

THE CASTLE GATE / THE MAIN ROAD

A parade of tumblers dances down the steep road with drums and tamborines. The crowd is packed on both sides, watching the gate.

 

EXT. THE GUTTER – DAWN

Guarded, wearing white clothes, Helga clutches her basket and slips out the West Gate.  Walsh is with her.

Continue reading

26: Lessons Learned

Last Chapter               Story Notes                 Next Chapter


INT. STOLIST PALACE – CONTINUOUS (NIGHT)

THE BEDROOM

Pavel staggers through the doorway, bleeding and shivering. The cloak sheds white fire. He bats at it weakly, stumbles towards the antechamber, drops his sword, falls. Continue reading