April Newsletter Fiction Preview: Farewell To Rusalka

It’s February. Just a little over one year since I started posting again on this blog, and I think that year has gone pretty well. However, I’ll admit that I’ve been slacking a little bit this February, with really only one post (my hopes and dreams for Moon Knight!) to show for 18 days of this 2nd month.

Well I’m here to tell you, that I actually HAVEN’T been slacking . . . I’ve been writing. Beginning on February 7th and lasting until February 12th, I participated in a challenge put on by Jami Attenberg called #mini1000 (check my progress on my #mini1000 thread on twitter). Essentially, you write 1,000 words every day for 6 days, and then congratulate yourself post about it on twitter to keep yourself accountable, and encourage others.

I only managed a despicable 3,000 (ish) words, but it was more or less a grand ole time and really kicked me into gear to get a new piece started which I’ve been wanting to work on for a while.

I spent the next 5 days finishing the piece (another 3,000 ish words) and attempting a revision. I’ll be sending it to my writing group later today for critique and I’ll hopefully have some feedback by the first day of March. I’ll attempt another revision during that time, and hopefully have an polished and beautiful story completed by April 1st for my newsletter subscribers.

So what have I been working on? Well I’ll tell you. This piece is about a young boy (Ivan) in medieval Russia, living atop the infamous Russian stove without a care in the world. Then a priest comes to town and begins converting both the boy and the other villagers to the Orthodox faith. The town prepares to celebrate the annual Provody Rusalok, the “Farewell to Rusalka”, when the boy discovers the murder of the church’s Deacon and begins investigating.

In this excerpt, Ivan has followed a procession into the forest near town, and witnesses a ritual, in hopes of discovering the killer’s identity. Hope you enjoy this excerpt from Farewell to Rusalka

My attempt at getting an AI to generate Rusalka in a forest

Farewell To Rusalka (Excerpt)

Ivan found a wreath hung upon a spruce at the threshold of the wood. He’d followed scattered bits of clothing, loaves of rye, wormwood and bundled parsley — left out to appease the Rusalki — past the fields where the procession had marched in years past, and towards the river just beyond. The very heart of the Rusalka’s domain.

 Why the procession would leave the fields in favor of the river, he couldn’t guess, but he was certain it did not bode well for Roza or his village.  

Ivan crossed himself and entered the wood anyway. The thick foliage seemed to cover any evidence of the procession’s passing, and he prayed quietly that the path he walked was correct. But he need not have worried for soon he heard the discordant clang of birchwood against cookware, and just beneath it, the glorious harmonies of women singing:

I will lead the Rusalki

Into the green rye;

There in the green rye

The rusalki were sitting . . .

Their song, meant for the open fields, sounded uncanny and strange echoing off the trees near the river.

 Men and boys had never been a part of the “Rusalka’s Farewell”. They stayed back in the village to look after any who had disobeyed the week’s prohibitions and tried to work during the holiday. Under father Andrey’s supervision, Ivan assumed that there would be quite a bit of praying and prostration to accompany the ritual dances and consumption of healing herbs.

So when Ivan finally arrived at a small copse of trees looking directly unto the riverbank , what he saw stopped him in his tracks. Women of all ages stood ankle deep in the river’s water, singing or dancing as their mood suited them. They formed a large circle which touched both banks. Each wore a white dress and wreaths of flowers and wormwood, which they would cast into the water at intervals.

In the center, where the water was deepest, Roza had waded out up to her waist. She wore white like the rest, but as the one chosen to represent the Rusalka, she had also been painted with silvery-blue scales like a fish. Her long blond hair looked almost green above the water, and hung loose around her shoulders unlike the single tight braids of other girls her age.

She turned briefly towards him, and Ivan could see that she was blind-folded, but then someone stepped forward inside the ring and jeered at her, commanding her to return to where she came. Roza turned toward the sound, but obviously could not see exactly from where it had come. She stepped towards the girl who laughed and scampered back into the ring, just as a woman holding an icon stepped forward with another insult. Roza tried to change direction but stumbled slightly on the river’s pebbled bed.

Somewhere, amongst it all, lurked the true Rusalka, and while Roza might be the most vulnerable, Ivan could not help but wonder if the spirit would use the circle’s focus on her as the distraction it needed to attack someone else.

The women continued stepping forward to slight, or fading back into the ring laughing. With each new abuse, Roza became more and more disoriented.         

Ivan shouted for them to stop, though it seemed no one could hear him over the cacophony of frying pans and heckling.

Roza seemed to hear though, and as she whipped around to face him a stone finally came loose under her feet and she pitched forward into the water.

The singing, chanting, and impromptu percussion stopped and the murky waters where she’d gone under rippled outward even as the silence did the same. All were quiet, searching for Roza in the depths and wondering what would happen next. Moments passed in an eternity, Ivan holding in his breath as if he too had been dragged under the surface.

Finally, when Ivan could not stand to wonder any longer, and made to rush forward and dive into the river himself in search of Roza, she appeared, shooting up out of the water as well as any Rusalka could, her blindfold hanging loose around her neck. She grabbed the nearest person —  a young girl — from behind, embracing her. The girl shrieked with laughter as Roza tickled the nape of her neck and then released her to hide behind her mother’s skirts.

Roza feinted as if she might follow, but then dove into the water in the other direction reappearing near another girl, slightly older, who fled laughing. Roza could not keep a smile from her lips as she gave chase.

All of the women, young and old, participated in the fun, splashing Roza to keep her away and throwing their wreaths down at her feet as she came after them. Ivan watched them for almost an hour before settling on the ground near the base of a tree, finally letting the tension release from his shoulders and chest.

The Rusalka — if there even was such a thing — seemed to have been sated. There would be no further death in Veliky Ustyug this week.

Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Farewell to Rusalka. Please let me know what you think in the comments (I hope I didn’t spoil it). And if you’d like to get the full, polished and amazing (hopefully), version of this story on April 1st, please consider signing up for my newsletter.

I use it (each quarter) to share a little bit of myself that doesn’t get shared here on the blog, and also try to pack it with other things like new short fiction I’ve written.

Thanks for your time and I hope to see you around again sometime.

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