Hello! I’m not reviewing any books this week, but I do have some AMAZING news to share instead. I’m thrilled to say that my novelette, “The Demon-Slayers” has been published in the latest issue of “The Society of Misfit Stories.” This is the first piece of fiction I’ve ever been paid for, and I’m so excited to share it with you!
Here’s an excerpt (content warning, suicide):
Azamat was dead. I heard it from his older sister, Mariyam. She rode to my dwelling in the outskirts of Verniy and told me.
I shook my head and said I was sorry. Then I asked how he had died, and my voice trembled when I asked it.
Mariyam stared at the weapon-rack I had put against the near wall.
I couldn’t not know, and so I looked at her closely, trying to figure it out. It seemed like she’d been crying, but she’d had enough composure to do her black hair in its usual long braid. I didn’t know what to make of that.
“How did he die?” I asked again.
“He killed himself.”
It was the beginning of winter. Damnit, everything felt too cold for it to be the beginning of winter.
“Why?” I managed to get out.
Mariyam shook her head. She didn’t know, she said. She had returned home yesterday evening to find her brother slumped in a chair with a slit throat and his knife on the floor, blood on its broad blade.
I shuddered. “Surely you must know why,” I said. “He must have had a reason—”
“Please don’t ask me anymore.”
He must have had a reason.
I nodded and had her sit on the carpet. I flinched. She was carrying Azamat’s dombra, long-necked and two-stringed and inlaid with beautiful gold damask.
Mariyam followed my gaze and slowly held the wooden instrument out to me. “Here.”
“You don’t mean to give me his dombra,” I said.
It had meant everything to her brother. She would probably regret giving it up later.
“He’d want you to have it,” she said.
I didn’t want it. Everything was so cold I was convinced Azamat’s instrument was a shell of ice that would shatter if I touched it. There would be nothing left of him, then.
I wrapped my fingers around the dombra’s neck. It didn’t shatter. “Thank you.”
Mariyam smiled feebly. “I thought that it would help,” she said.
“It does,” I lied. I set it against the far wall where I wouldn’t have to see it.
I turned back to Mariyam. “How are you faring?” I asked. How are you faring. What a nonsensical question to ask. Her red shapan was rumpled, as if she’d slept in the robe overnight, and there was a forlorn look in her dark eyes that hurt to look at. “My god, Mariyam, it must be horrible for you.”
She nodded but didn’t say anything else.
“Do you want anything?” I asked. “I have food and koumiss. We could have a feast in his memory.”
She shook her head. “Just koumiss.”
I gave her a small wooden bowl of the white mare’s milk. She drank it so quickly that some of it dripped onto the embroidered front of her shapan.
“I can help you bury him if you haven’t yet,” I said. I didn’t want to, but Mariyam shouldn’t have to do it alone.
“I did it yesterday. I couldn’t bear looking at his slit throat.”
His slit throat. I nodded.
“Are we still going to kill the demon?” she asked after a pause.
I blinked. “So soon after Azamat—”
“I’m not ready to think about him. Killing the demon will give me something else to do.”
I thought of the shriveled orange leaves littering the dirt streets outside, of the tiny ice shards flowing in the Vesnovka river, and of the flocks of pale cranes that were flying away from the first chill of Kazakhstan’s winter. I thought of Azamat’s laughter, and of last spring, how we’d sat under that thick-trunked apple-tree outside my house feeling warm and sharp from living. He had been strumming the dombra, then. He had played it so well, even though he’d been tipsy on four bowls of koumiss. He had once said that apart from having a friend like me, music was why he was so happy in spite of his troubles.
I found myself staring at the dombra, and maybe I was about to cry, but I stayed that way for minutes on end, and no tears came.
“Please, Balta,” Mariyam said. “The demon shouldn’t be too difficult to slay.”
I looked at the expression on her face. I felt sick. “Okay. Just—just give me some time. A day or so. I need to make preparations.”
“Thank you,” Mariyam said.
When she departed, there was still grief on her face, but the forlorn look had left her eyes. That was really all I had wanted. It gave me some sort of hope that my own sorrow could pass, too.
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