434. Not Bereft

Was supposed to work today for web-customers that I had delayed until Char and Jay were away for a few days. I still take in some customers (as agreed between Char and I), while my base is at home to take care of Jay. They are mostly the old ones who return to buy new hours and I should be happy for that, but I am not really.

It is an old problematic that I have struggled with for years, and especially last year.

I feel out of place, honestly. It is tolerable to work like this, more than any other work I have done before.

But I know I will feel bereft if I end this life and have not found out how to make money from something that I feel more … right.

Not necessarily something deeply purposeful – that is The Blog and that is enough, regardless of circumstances. But something that is … more fun, where I use more of my skills, more of ‘me’. And that has always been storytelling.

And so I have embarked on my Hammer and Magic-story – my next try to do some fiction with a little bit of art this time and make it work – this time.

Not as a comic book, not as a novel – for those media have failed me. No, I suspect it will instead end up being a site for role-players with stories and a world and perhaps some sales down the line of paperbacks and t-shirts and maybe premium memberships. We will see.

It is honestly not so important. What is important is that I do it and that I do it in the right way.

And that also means recognizing that I can’t really have a joyful day unless I do this first, now that I have the chance while alone. And I need only an hour to create that joy.

So I did it.

Chapter 4

The night before …
Somewhere away from Petrograd

Kerensky was dizzy.

He saw only blackness for awhile and thought the world smelled like smoke … and sulphur? For a moment a fear gripped him that he was still in the Winter Palace and that someone had set fire to the building.

Perhaps the stress had gotten to him and he had fainted and then woken up only minutes before he would choke and succumb to smoke poisoning?

Perhaps he had been wounded by those shots he had heard just before …

“Are you all right, Mr. Prime Minister?” a deep soft voice said behind him, still with that whiff of accent.

Kerensky shuddered and then he remembered …

The stranger stepped out of the shadows, which all seemed suddenly to fold in on themselves and implode in some spot behind him. Like a thundercloud resembling an octopus that whirled and whirled and became ever smaller until at last … nothing.

Nothing but the cold autumn night and …

“Pskov!” Kerensky exclaimed as he saw the city in the distance from the hill where they stood. Yes, he could see again! Everything was clearer now …

Everything except …

“Who the hell are you?” Kerensky turned angrily towards the stranger.

“Tsk, tsk,” the stranger said, “that is really none of your business, but I suppose you will be more at ease to do what must be done if I give you a … presentation.”

“What? What is it that must be done?” Kerensky worked hard to maintain a stance of ministerial aloofness towards this man, but inside he felt like just … running away.

First the attack on the palace by the mob, and now … this.

“I am a guardian angel of sorts,” the stranger merely said. “I possess certain abilities which have just now saved your life. I think it would be prudent to use that salvation to go down to Pskov and rally the garrison. You have a city to take back – Petrograd.”

“Yes, yes – I know,” Kerensky replied, feeling exasperated. “Look, what I just experienced was … “

“Merely a force of nature,” the stranger said, smiling faintly “ – useful for those who know how to use it.”

“My intelligence service once put a report on my desk, detailing how they looked into … this.” He grimaced. “I told them to look after the Bolsheviks instead.”

“I prudent choice, Mr. Prime Minister,” the stranger commented. “We who know how to use this force are few and far between and we do not really wish to be discovered. If that were to happen it could have dire consequences, for us – and for the world at large.”

“Then why have you made yourself known to us – to me – now?” Kerensky asked.

“Have I made myself known?” the stranger asked cryptically. “Who will believe you if you tell the world this story? As a matter of fact there will be a counter-story already which is a lot stronger – namely that you escaped Petrograd by car. And so many people saw you do just that … “

“What? But that is ridiculous? How could there be any witnesses to an event that did not happen?”

“I have had some help from someone who has an interest in promulgating the story,” the stranger said calmly, “and the rest I would just call … magic.”

Kerensky shook his head then steeled himself. He looked directly into the dark eyes of the stranger, trying to find some … hint of an identity. A clue …

In the years after the revolution Kerensky would be mostly remembered as the ineffective prime minister who was toppled by the Bolsheviks. Few also remembered that he had personally rallied troops at the front during the last ill-fated Russian offensive that bore his name, while he was minister of war.

“You may not be an ally of mine, but you are an enemy of the Bolsheviks,” he said.

“Let’s just say I wish to … shake things up a little,” the stranger replied and allowed himself another smile.

“For the Bolsheviks?”

The stranger only said: “You’d best get on your way, Mr. Prime Minister. It is getting chilly out here … “

Kerensky nodded then held out his hand:

“Thank you … “ he said. “I am at a loss to explain … to fathom … but thank you.”

The stranger took Kerensky’s hand, briefly. His skin felt warm – very warm, in fact.

Almost as if a fire burned inside him …

Kerensky quickly withdrew the handshake. Then he nodded again and began making his way down the hill to the main road leading to Pskov.

Back on the hill a figure emerged behind the stranger. It was another man. Like the stranger the man was not dressed for the autumn cold, but more like he was going to mingle in Petrograd high society – what was left of it. The man wore a checkered suit of good quality, a jockey’s cap and a pince-nez.

“’Shake things up’,” the man repeated, grinning. “You should have let me shake him up. Isn’t that why we are here – to shake down the old regime?”

“Yes, we are always here to tear down the old,” the stranger said wistfully, “but we must not let it be too easy. The revolutionists are like a sword out of the forge. It needs to be hammered into shape. Not so much that they break, but only a series of well-placed blows.”

“I want to shake him … “ the man said again. “Can’t I shake him, just a little bit?”

“In good time, my friend,” the stranger replied

“Can I tell Baba Yaga that we have worked tirelessly to prevent the nasty little revolution, then?” – He made a sweeping gesture towards the dark skies with both arms “ – Can I make that report, at least? I can deliver it so the whole Council will weep with pleasure when they understand that they do not have to change their comfortable little lives just yet? Kerensky will rally the troops  – wham!”

The other man moved around feverishly now, pretending to be both an officer who led men into battle and the men that ran into battle.

“Then if Kerensky gets beaten – wham! – there will be Kornilov, or Kolchak – or Denikin. Blow by blow – bam-bam-bam!”

He stopped and pretended to smash his own head with a blunt object which right now was merely his balled fist:

“And then … one of them will crack the egg, so to say. And the nasty putrid revolution will be gone!”

He looked at the stranger, smiling cat-like: “Or – a fine sword!”

The stranger merely smiled, then with a gesture he silenced the other man who had been about to say more. A lot more …

“Come,” the stranger said, “we have more forging to do.”

The whirl of black thunder clouds opened again.

Read the collected story here, as it progresses.