I reedited the first 5K+ of the ghostwriting novel I’m working on, in an attempt to get this project moving again. But when I finished, and ended up exhausted from schlepping out garbage and recycling, I sat down to look over the novel I’d been working on for years now. I finished it a year or so ago, and set it aside because I wanted to see it with fresh eyes when I did my final run through.
So far it’s made me cry. This is a good thing. Anyway, the opening chapter is short, and it sets things up, so I thought I’d share it just to see what y’all think. It’s a time travel romance set in St. Petersburg on the eve of the Russian revolution, and in the mid 1990s here in the United States.
The house was dark and silent.
Everywhere Sasha looked, there were shapes like sleeping animals hunched in the darkness. The room seemed familiar to her as if she had seen photos of it, old photos in sepia and shadow. She looked up, above the fireplace, expecting to see a portrait there, but it was covered with a cloth, like a shroud. Sasha tugged the cloth, it caught for a moment, then drifted down to pool on the floor like an exorcised ghost, to reveal a portrait of her great grandmother, a golden-haired beauty in a tobacco-colored velvet gown. Around her neck the famous Kharkov amber necklace.
Sasha knew where she was. This was Kharkov House, her family’s home in Saint Petersburg, a home that had been lost during the Russian Revolution when her grandfather, Roman Kharkov, walked away from his title and his inheritance, and into a new life. She had seen pictures of this room in an album of photos Roman had brought away with him.
There was a sudden, sharp sneeze, and Sasha jumped back from the fireplace in surprise. “Who is it?” An old woman poked her head into the parlor and gave a yip of distress, falling on her knees, crossing herself over and over.
“Oh Blessed Mother, Oh Holy Saints forgive me, forgive me!” the she moaned. “Forgive me Madame, I know I did wrong but I– I thought you wouldn’t need it anymore!”
Coughing nervously the whole time, she produced an object from inside her coat and held it out to Sasha, averting her eyes as if Sasha was too hideous to look at. Sasha took the thing – a necklace she guessed, from the feel of it – from the woman’s trembling hand. “Where did you get this?” she asked sternly.
“May the Holy Mother forgive me, I know I did wrong but it was so beautiful and you weren’t going to use it anymore! You’re dead! All the Blessed Martyrs forgive and protect me, but you are dead! I saw you die.”
Sasha realized that the woman had taken her for Natasha. “How dare you steal from the dead?”
The woman began to weep loudly, messily, rubbing her eyes and nose, and smearing her face with tears and mucous. “I am so sorry, Madame, so sorry. But I was bringing it back. I swear to you I was. It’s a thing of ill luck,” she insisted. “It cursed me for stealing.”
Sasha frowned. “You did a very wrong thing,” she said sternly, figuring that her best bet was to play along. “Had you kept it I would have haunted you all your days and brought evil luck to your children’s children unto the seventh, uh, generation. Now leave this house and don’t ever return!” And she raised her arms in a sort of Dracula-meets-Frankenstein’s-monster gesture, just to emphasize the threat. She only just managed to keep herself from adding, Booga-booga!
The old woman scrambled to her feet and ran from the house as fast as she could, leaving the door wide open to the chill air from the street.
Suddenly it wasn’t all that funny anymore. There was something sad about the house, an abandoned feeling that sucked the humor out of Sasha’s little joke. She walked slowly to the door and closed it behind the woman, turning the key in the lock. Then she raised her hand until it caught the moonlight that spilled into the house through beveled windowpanes.
The thing she held, the necklace, was a long golden chain from which dangled a pendant so familiar to her that it was like holding a piece of herself. It was the Winter Rose, a red gemstone that had been dug out of the earth at her family’s home in Kharkov, centuries ago. She felt power surging through the stone as it began to glow in her hands. She’d always been told there was magic in the Winter Rose, but she’d never believed it until this moment when the necklace shone with a pure, clear light. Instinctively she reached up to touch the one that always hung around her neck and gasped as she realized it was missing.
There was a noise behind her. Sasha turned to look, her eyes following the line of the stairwell to the top where a pale, fair-haired boy stood, clad in a nightshirt and holding a sword.
It was Roman. His eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak. And then everything went black.
Sasha woke, clutching the necklace. It was as warm as a living thing in her hand.