A girl goes into the forest in search of a cannibal witch and comes out with a skull lantern full of magic coals.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
If you haven’t, don’t feel bad about it. Popular culture has been so thoroughly saturated with Disney-goggled fairytales, that anything outside the scope of televised fables naturally flies under the radar. Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden, among other fantasy writers, have been doing magnificent work bringing forth Slavic and Russian-influenced tales to the mainstream book market, but so much remains unexplored.
Especially within the realms of Romance and Erotica genres. Nobody likes a raunchy adaptation of Beauty and the Beast better than I do. But Little Red Riding Hood has been ridden by the Big Bad Wolf so many times, no wonder the poor dear can’t find her way to her Grandmother’s house. I’m not saying these trusty, good old fairytales should be forsaken, gods forbid. But while Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel continue to fuel fine taboo tales, why not take a peek at another pantheon of fairytale characters?
There are damsels, there is distress, and sometimes they are coupled, but often in unexpected ways that make you raise your brow, thoroughly intrigued. (I’m looking at you, Marya Morevna! Who has the most powerful warlock in Russian folklore locked up and chained in one of their rooms? And why? I have so many questions!)
There are Bird-Princes, and Grey Wolves, and Baba Yagas, and clever, tough heroines that deserve a chance to shine.
I hope I’m doing my (small) part in the short story, “Vasilisa and the Tale of Tales,” published in the collaborative project Perfect Potions: An Anthology.
Interested in a sneak peek of “Vasilia and the Tale of Tales”? I’ve got you covered:
Suddenly, Lisa felt a chill run down her spine. Leaves rustled above their heads and she slapped a hand over John’s mouth to keep him quiet. But she could feel him tense as well, his body preparing for a fight, his heartbeat receding into a quiet drum. It’s been three years, but she was still attuned to the slightest shift of his body.
She tried not to think about his body.
The air was full of a new smell – feral fur, sweat, the scent of death, and endings. Softly, a rumble rolled through the treetops. Thunder, Lisa thought at first, but something was off. It was alive.
And the sound of chafing chains.
“Carrion-eater,” John hissed.
“Skoromokh,” she whispered, her eyes trying to pierce the dark foliage above her.
She had never met one in person. Supposedly, one — or many — have visited her mother when Lisa and her sister were born. But mother never spoke of that.
All Lisa knew was common knowledge — they took many shapes, had sharp teeth and a silver tongue, and an uncanny tendency to appear when tales were about to start or end. They fed off tributes offered by hopeful or fearful parents, or, if no tribute was offered, on the dead bodies left in the wake of the Tale. They were the Order of Skoromokh, the Tale-tellers, the Witnesses. They took no sides but carried the Tales to the end.
The air hummed with static electricity, raising the small hairs on the back of her neck on end.
“I prefer Scholar Cat,” said a dark voice.
The voice was followed by the appearance of two rows of sharp glistening teeth stretched into an impossibly wide grin. Then, out of the darkness slowly emerged an enormous striped body of a feline. It sprawled along a branch high up in the tree, a golden chain looping from its neck all the way around the tree trunk.
“What are you doing here?” John asked.
The Cat smiled unpleasantly but said nothing.
Lisa felt her heart tighten in her chest. There were no tributes to feed it here. But soon, there will be dead bodies aplenty. “Our tale is coming to an end,” she said softly.
The Cat’s smile widened further, and she grew nauseated. She looked at John, finding him watching her, his face pale but his eyes steady. He tore his eyes from hers and looked up at the creature.
“It’s not over yet,” he stated.
The Cat cackled, standing up and stretching sluggishly, its body rippling with grace. Finally, with a flick of its tail, it slipped along the branch further into the darkness.
Lisa swallowed hard, apprehension creeping into her heart. She tried to shove it down, looking at John in hopes of reclaiming the anger that’s been driving her for the past years. Instead, she saw something dark in his own eyes, familiar and unnerving. She looked away, squeezing her eyes shut. Not now.
“Was this what we were supposed to find? The Carrion-eater?”
She shook her head, looking down at the stalling app on the screen. “I don’t know.” She looked up at the tree, but there was no trace of the sinister feline. His chains, however, were still in place, spiraled around the trunk and from hanging from the higher branches. Lisa frowned.
“Yeah,” John murmured. “Weird.” He took a step forward, as if he would go around the enormous tree, to follow the Skoromokh.
Lisa instinctively jerked on the chain, pulling him back. “Where do you think you’re going?”
He stumbled for the umpteenth time and then righted himself. When he turned to her, it was obvious he had had enough. She saw him plant his feet apart, and when he pulled on the chain, she realized she’d made a mistake. She tried to pull back, to keep her footing, but he was stronger than her, and no magic chains undid that. He pulled her slowly, methodically, watching her.
Something dark coiled in the pit of her stomach, dissolving into a burst of butterflies. She was already too close, but he gave one final yank on the chain and caught her deftly, pressing her body to his with an arm around her waist. His blue eyes were midnight black, full of promises made, full of purpose, and the intoxicating nightshade of desire.
When he spoke, his voice was rough and low and reached out into the dormant nooks of her heart with practiced ease. “Where can I run from you, Lisa?”
Don’t forget to get your copy of Perfect Potions: An Anthology, available on Kindle and in paperback.
Together with 14 other writers, we explore potions in all their glory, and I dive headfirst into the world of Russian folktales. The anthology may not be erotic, but it’s chock full of romance of the finest kind, guaranteed to make your heart flutter. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet your new favorite author among the line-up?
Come follow me. I’m a hoot!