The draft of the next Alexi vs. Baba Yaga story is done. No idea when I’ll have it ready for sale, although I do have cover art waiting.
The edits on A Cat at Bay are coming along well, and the cover art is taking shape. The re-working of Renaissance, the sequel to Hubris, are done, and I’ve decided to add Rada Ni Drako story as well, since the novel is shorter than most.
The opening to (tentative title) “Chicken Feet and a Firebird”:
“You are doing what?” Ekaterina Boroslavna’s incredulity came across the computer chat loud and clear. A feline “mreeoow” echoed Alexi’s grandmother as Ivan the Purrable seconded her comment.
“I’m helping a bunch of church scouts at summer camp near Ft. Collins,” Alexi Zolnerovich repeated. “And I was sober when I agreed to go with them.” His brother Cyril had told their father that he thought Alexi had been drunk at the time. No, Alexi sighed, just a sucker for a damsel in distress, in this case the mother of twin fourteen-year-old boys. “Father Anthony is leading group. Father Anthony Makarov.”
“Oh. In that case, why did you scare me like that?”
Ivan chimed in, “Meh.”
Alexi rolled his eyes and hoped the camera on his computer didn’t pick up the gesture. “Because I am not going fishing at Horsetooth Reservoir with them at the start of trip, Babushka. I want to come visit you for two days. Then I’ll meet them up at campground in National Forest.”
The white-haired woman’s expression softened, although her black cat did not appear mollified. “That’s different. What did you tell Fr. Anthony?”
“The truth, mostly. That I cannot swim well and I do not know how to fish or paddle boat, so I avoid lake.” Fr. Anthony would not believe Alexi’s real reason, one that his Babushka understood all too well: a rusalka. Alexi’s ex-girlfriend had drowned herself out of mad obsession and rage at him, and Alexi no longer trusted any lake or pond. In the Old Country, rusalkas’ magic bound them to the lake where they died. Not so in the New World, and Alexi had barely escaped Stacie’s ghost once already when he’d gone with his brother to look at a boat up on Lake Shawnee near Topeka.
Ivan made a sympathetic noise. “Thanks, Ivan.” By now Alexi had almost gotten used to talking to the black cat, almost.
Three weeks later Alexi’s pick-up pulled up to the gate in front of Babushka’s house at the edge of Golden, west of the Denver metro mess. Alexi waited. The new gate opened and he drove through. He stopped, made certain that the heavy pipe-rail entrance slid closed and the little red square “locked” sign appeared, and drove up to the white house with red and green shutters. Instead of knocking on the front door, Alexi walked around the garage and followed the sound of muttered Russian and English to a mass of corn stalks wiggling and swaying at the corner of a very large garden. He waited for a minute or two and cleared his throat. “Babushka?”
“Back here.” He heard more rustling, and after a moment his grandmother emerged from the corn and bean-poles. A painfully loud green and purple swirled kerchief covered her white hair, and she wore pink overalls and a red plaid shirt. “Welcome, welcome!” She kissed his cheeks and hugged him. She seemed a little shorter than he remembered, but she’d never been tall, just formidable. Any woman who could escape Russia with her husband, four children, and several books and icons had to be formidable.
“How was your drive?” she inquired.
“Quiet. Blessedly quiet.” No houses on chicken feet, no horses with flaming eyes, no talking Coyotes had appeared on the Interstate, he’d seen no tornadoes or blizzards, and the truck behaved. All he’d encountered between Wichita and Denver had been the usual speeding semis and distracted car drivers, and the occasional under-powered little roller-skate. “May the rest of this trip be so quiet.”
“Amen.” Babushka pointed to the back porch. “There is lemonade, and fresh bread if you are hungry. Supper is cooking.”
Alexi blinked. “Um, Ivan cooks?” Tuna casserole, tuna steaks, tuna au gratin, tuna burgers, an entire Ivan-approved menu flashed through Alexi’s mind.
Babushka laughed, shaking her finger at him. “No, no, the oven and a slow-cooker cook. Ivan only eats.”
And complains about the food, Alexi thought. He’d found Ivan’s opinion of being left with nothing but dry cat-kibble two mornings after he’d returned from rescuing his grandmother from the Sweeper. At least the hairball had been on the outside of the overnight bag and not in one of his boots or on his clothes. “I’ll put my bag inside and then come back.”
“Good. I need to finish tying up the beans.”
Alexi got his overnight bag out of the pick-up, unlocked the front door, and stepped inside. Half a second later, “MrOW!”
Alexi staggered and looked down in time to keep from planting his boot on Ivan the Purrable’s tail. “Dude! I can’t stop that fast, OK? And hello to you to.”
The black cat glared up at him, blue eyes narrow. Ivan sniffed and stalked off, tail at half-staff. Alexi rolled his eyes and took his bag to the guest room. Unlike the last time he’d come to visit, the mirrors stood uncovered and the icons hung in their proper places on the walls. Alexi nodded to St. George. He made a quick trip to the guest bathroom and stared at the rubber-duckie-shaped soap in the dish. “Ohhh boy.” But it lathered like normal soap, and Alexi felt a lot more relaxed as he walked through the tidy, dim ranch house, out the back kitchen door and onto the porch. Ivan joined him as he sat down. The lemonade proved to be hard lemonade, and Alexi grinned as he opened the bottle. The sun had warmed the black bread, enough so that the butter (also hiding in the little ice chest) spread easily. That was one Old Country tradition Alexi heartily endorsed: the greeting with bread and salt. He stretched his legs out and sighed.
“Mrowp.” A dense cat landed in his lap, walked around and settled with an answering sigh. Eyes closed, Alexi scratched the top of Ivan’s head. An arrhythmic purr rewarded his efforts.
(C) 2015 Alma T.C. Boykin All rights reserved.