Dani Bertrand of Entertaining Interests and Jackie Felger of Bouquet of Books are hosting their second annual Spooktoberfest. Participants have four pictures to pick from, and must use three of the six words in a list. All flash fiction must be between 300-500 words.
I started writing something set in the darkened cellar, with my character Kit in a gorilla costume to spook her annoying youngest brother Sammy, but I didn’t really feel inspired by it. I switched to a piece set in the eerie forest, set in 1929 and featuring two of the main characters from my long-hiatused alternative history. It’s based on the premise of the Whites winning the Russian Civil War and young Aleksey later coming to power as the Tsar at age 25, in 1929.
Várya slipped out the back door of the palace and ran down the darkened streets of St. Petersburg, the wretched chilly winds biting at her bare hands and legs. She hadn’t been out of the palace since her unwanted arrival, and wasn’t at all familiar with this large regal city, but any direction she took would guarantee her of getting as far away from her prison and farce of a marriage as possible.
After running for what felt like hours, she reached a forest aglow with an eerie greenish-blue light, the trees looming, sinister black shadows. Every step of the way, desiccated red and orange leaves crunched underfoot. Then, just as it seemed things couldn’t get any more foreboding, she tripped on a tree root and came face-to-face with a pile of skeletons. Várya screamed one long, loud, blood-curdling scream, her whole body violently shaking. She covered her face for a minute, and when she saw the skeletons were all still there, she screamed even louder.
“Are you trying to run away again?”
Várya pressed her fingers over her eyes and ears, positive one of the skeletons were talking to her.
“Don’t be scared, Várya. It’s just me, Alyosha.”
Várya recognized the soft, soothing voice of her new husband, the most powerful yet craziest man in Russia. At least she knew he wouldn’t beat her or hand her over to be punished for running away.
“Why are there a pile of skeletons here?” she gasped, her voice ragged and shaking. “Does anyone at the palace know about this?”
“Of course we know. This is an ongoing project. These are just some of the priests Dzhugashvili murdered before my father was restored to the throne. They’re being excavated to a more respectable location, with plans for a large stone engraved with each one’s name and dates. Dzhugashvili himself approved the project. It’s amazing how much progress Dr. Freud has made with him.” Alekséy lowered himself onto the ground and put his silver fox coat over Várya. “You’ll be nice and warm on the walk home. I hope this teaches you not to run away again.”
“You don’t want to be married to me either. I’m not the only one unhappy in this marriage.”
“At least I like you. That’s more than some other monarchs can say about their arranged marriages. And I don’t want to be married to anyone because I don’t want to risk a child with my condition. If I weren’t sick, we might be a real married couple.” Alekséy pulled a silver flask out of his leather satchel and guided it over to her mouth. “Drink this. It’s a special potion to make you feel warmer and happier.”
Várya accepted, then stood up and gave her husband her arm. She huddled closer than usual to him as they walked out of the forest. Even if he were no match for ghosts, it was nice to be on the arm of the Tsar.