By: Natalia Brothers
I confess: I’m obsessed with spooky, atmospheric settings. When I travel, I’m on lookout for places full of eerie charm, intensity that would stir my imagination and inspire a new story. One of such spots is a pastoral village where I spent my childhood summers.
The settlement has changed over the years. A new highway slashed the sprawling fields behind the gardens. Beavers moved in, built dams, altering the flow of the river, and disappeared, leaving behind dozens of downed willows.
But other things remain the same. In May, nightingales’ intricate whistles fill the night and the orange full moon peeks through the birches before beginning a hurried journey across the black sky. The cemetery on top of a hill grows, but its crawling edge doesn’t affect the aura that lingers under ancient lindens, where the rusted fences guard abandoned graves, and forget-me-nots and lily-of-the-valleys are lovely against the thick carpet of moss.
An avid photographer, my childhood friend Olga wants pictures of the church in the soft light of the setting sun. Alex, my cousin, gives us a ride on his lovingly restored 1976 motorcycle. The old machine grumbles and sputters but makes it uphill. Alex offers to wait and bring us home. We ask if he’d like to join us on a walk. He glances at the graveyard and shakes his head.
He knows what kind of stories I tell. He doesn’t understand why my genre is dark fantasy. I smile. He’s proud I took the picture for my book cover on one of our motorcycle rides.
Our homes are just across the river, but I warn Olga that the rains have damaged the bridge. We have forty minutes to reach it before dark. If we don’t make it, we’re in trouble: there are no shortcuts through the overgrown meadows peppered with hidden waterholes, curtesy of the beavers. And I’m not ready to walk back through the cemetery long after sunset. Thin trails zigzag among the plots, some of which are well maintained but others neglected. It’s easy to end up in a dead end between fences.
Alex leaves. As Olga and I take pictures, the approaching dusk changes the quaint atmosphere. The shrubs, heavy with moisture after a recent shower, and blue columbines blooming by a tiny abandoned house seem too quiet. Someone dumped discarded wreaths onto the dilapidated porch. I check my watch. Olga turns off her camera.
We leave the church yard, cross a stream, and enter the labyrinth of graves.
“Fifteen minutes till darkness,” I tell Olga. “We must hurry.”
Except, we lose our way. We left the main trail too early, took a wrong turn, and now every path we try leads us to an older part of the cemetery, under the canopy of the old lindens, away from the bridge. It’s hard to see the deep-green ground. I trip over a border stone of a forsaken grave and realize I’m still wearing my dark glasses. Olga giggles nervously. She looks around. “I know where we are,” she says and points at another grave. I recognize the picture. We used to play together when we were children. Olga and I bow our heads and stand in silence. Then she leads me out of the maze.
We pause on the hilltop, the darkening sky and the cemetery behind us, the river below, and the vast fields ahead, framed by a forest on the horizon. The slope under our feet is covered with lupines that will soon burst in bloom. In a week, the landscape will look like a colorful painting.
It’s nearly dark when we reach the bridge. We tread carefully on the rickety structure.
I’m a dark fantasy writer. I better take more pictures.
About the Author: Born in Moscow, Natalia grew up with the romance and magic of Russian fairy tales. She never imagined that one day she’d be swept off her feet by an American Marine. An engineer-physicist-chemist, Natalia realized that the powder metallurgy might not be her true calling when on a moonless summer night she was spooked by cries of a loon in a fog-wrapped meadow. What if, a writer’s unrelenting muse, took hold of her. Two of her passions define her being. Natalia is an orchid expert and she writes dark fantasy.