After a very long break (filled with 18,304 revisions of my novel and my submission materials for said novel), I am back and hoping to resume semi-regular posts. We’ll start with an excerpt from the short story I’m working on, tentatively titled “Magissa.” Very rough still, but I’m just happy to have gotten something down on the page what with all the nail-biting going on as I wait to hear back from agents. Enjoy!
It had been over a year since the Germans invaded Hellas, and the crushing weight of occupation suffocated the land. Every day, refugees from the cities fled to the countryside in hopes of escaping the famine and sickness that had turned Athens’ churchyards into mass graves. But even a mass grave cost money, and the death toll was so high and the people so poor that often those who died were left where they lay or thrown into the streets to rot.
So it was said, and the villagers of Kastania had no reason to doubt the haggard men and women who drifted through town like a river of ghosts. Some stayed on for a day or a week or a month, working in the fields and gardens for whatever scraps the villagers could spare, but most continued on to a destination no one seemed able to name.
To young Chrysanthe Hatzoglou, the refugees were even more terrifying than the swaggering German soldiers. The soldiers, at least, were alive. The refugees put her in mind of her mother’s tales of vrykolakes, the undead ghouls that roamed the hills. But the refugees were invariably pale and gaunt, more like skeletons than people, and her brothers had assured her that vrykolakes were ruddy-complexioned and swollen with blood, nothing like the prosfyges who filled the road. The refugees were human–miserably, inescapably human.
The same could not be said of the Germans, at least not with any amount of conviction. Like so many others, Chrystanthe’s grandmother had died that first winter, of starvation or of some small illness that she hadn’t had the strength to fight. The Germans had requisitioned their livestock, their winter stores of grain and oil–anything, everything they could carry–and Yiayia had wasted away until there was nothing left. When her spirit slipped away in the night, no one could save her, not even Mother, who was a magissa: a wisewoman…a witch.
Some said she was more than that, even. They said Kiveli Hatzoglou was a fairy woman, a neraida. Her name was outlandish and pagan, and her daughter as wild as a hare. Before the Germans came, Kiveli’s skills had been in high demand. Women came to their door looking for healing tinctures and charms, or hoping to have their dreams unraveled and their fortunes told. But now the villagers regarded Kiveli with resentment and suspicion, for they believed that the magissa and her daughter ate better than the rest of them did. They were sure she had secret stores of food, or perhaps secret arts that kept her strong.
Though the stares and muttered curses hurt, Chrysanthe could not deny that they were justified, inasmuch as the rumors were true. She and her mother did have hidden stores of food, and both Kiveli and Chrysanthe had an uncanny knack for finding nuts and berries and edible greens. But, Chrysanthe often thought–aggrieved, and with aching fingers or aching feet–there was nothing stopping the other villagers from doing as she and Mother did: burying clay pots of preserved vegetables in the dead of night or trekking hours into the mountain to gather food. What she and her Mother ate, they earned. They didn’t spy on their neighbors and bear tales to the Germans, as some did. They weren’t collaborators.
Sometimes, though, Chrysanthe felt a twist of guilt in her belly–she knew it was guilt because it was sharper and deeper than the more familiar hunger pangs–and wondered if perhaps Mother had known what would happen, and if she had warned the villagers. Had she tried and been ignored? Or had she kept the knowledge to herself, the better to protect her own family? For it was undeniably true that Mother had started gathering and hiding food almost at once, long before anyone realized how much the Germans would take.