Dear readers, tonight with me is Valya Svetlova, a young Russian student with a side job of a folklore tour guide. But not any tour. Valya’s flier asks: “Vishenky’s Legends and Supernatural Phenomena: Are you brave enough to experience them?” – a premise we know our readers would love to explore!
She is here to tell us about all the wonderful culture and attractions that Russia has to offer tourists, including her guided tours based around legends of supernatural phenomena.
Nice to meet you, Valya. Is everything okay? You look a little…pale.
A long and stressful day after a sleepless night. My guests have no idea what it will take for me to keep them alive.
I thought you were a folklore tour guide. What makes your excursions so dangerous?
“Tour guide” is my cover story. In real life, I’m a postgraduate student. I had to invite a group of Americans to stay in my summer home. I promised them a folklore tour in a quaint village not far from Moscow. But Vishenky is a perilous place.
In what sense?
Supernatural occurrences. I knew my plan was dangerous. What I couldn’t foresee was how quickly everything would whirl out of control, or how much effort it would take to ensure my visitors’ safety.
Then why don’t you send your guests to Moscow?
This is my only chance to prove I’m not a soulless monster destined to perish in another dimension.
What? You better start from the beginning.
Imagine my shock, my horror when I discovered I might have been stillborn and resurrected by an otherworldly entity. Can you call yourself human if supernatural forces control your every breath, every emotion, every desire? I refuse to believe this is true. My goal is to prove that I can sense and manipulate human emotions only because of my bloodline, my genes, not because some blazing ball of otherworldly energy chose to inhabit a dead infant’s body. So I lured my distant cousin, Debra Alley, to the village. I was going to expose her to Vishenky’s energy and see if she exhibited paranormal abilities.
But things didn’t go as planned?
It’s only been one day, and the problems are mounting. I’m facing new manifestations. I wonder whether they have been triggered by the arrival of the group, though I can’t explain how it’s possible. Debra’s friends are hiding something from me. They agreed to follow my rules, but it’s clear they don’t believe in supernatural phenomena. I fear they will attempt to interact with the otherworldly creatures just to prove that those are props in my “horror show.” I won’t hesitate to put myself between my visitors and any threat, but I must be realistic about my abilities.
The worst part, they brought with them their professor, Chris Waller. Once the first creature makes its grand appearance, I can handle a group of my peers, but I can’t foretell the reaction from a levelheaded adult like Chris. Debra seems very fond of him, and if I convince him to leave, she’ll follow him to Moscow. And if I let him stay…
The way your tone changed when you mentioned his name—you like him, don’t you?
I do—from the moment I met the group at a hotel in Moscow.
What did you first think when you met him?
I’ll tell you what I didn’t think. His combination of green eyes with wavy sandy-blond hair probably never failed to get a woman to like him at first sight, but I didn’t think I could fall just for a nice face. With his self-control impeccable, I’d never guess how upset he was about my tour if I didn’t read his emotions. I still don’t know what his students told him to bring him to Vishenky—for some reason, Chris chose to keep their secret—but at the same time he’s concerned about me, he worries whether I have the stamina and experience to deal with a difficult group, he tries to help me.
What is the worst thing that can happen if you can’t convince him to leave Vishenky?
His presence distracts me. Instead of staying focused on my plan, I keep wishing I could close my eyes, and in the next instant it would be late evening, and an open portal, and everything unfolding as intended. Then maybe tomorrow we all could go to Moscow. I’d play a different kind of guide, a one without concerns about predatory creatures and covert agendas. A runaway train of trials speeds in my direction, but my mind remains fixated on a man I have known for less than a day.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
There’s a place on the other side of the river, a vast field that lies south of the newest part of Vishenky’s cemetery. It has never been cultivated. Fat brown bumblebees hum over wildflowers that thrive on the fertile soil. Edible fairy ring mushrooms sprout after warm July showers. Sorrel clumps are abundant, but no one comes here to pick the sour leaves for a tasty green soup.
Eerie stillness reigns over the unused pasture in summer time, even when the breeze bothers the birches in the neighboring grove. Half-hidden in tall weeds, a weathered boulder sits in the middle of the field. The locals call it the Crying Tombstone. Dozens of them used to be scattered around. On the nights of July’s full moon, sobbing could be heard by anybody brave enough to step into the meadow. Tears poured from each stone, so thick that rivulets snaked through the grass all the way down to the Osoka river. If the unfortunate witness was a man, he would lose his mind to unbearable sorrow. A woman would never be seen again.
That’s the legend of the Crying Tombstones. Only one is left; the rest have probably sunk into the ground. The remaining boulder still “cries,” though only a few droplets seep through the cracks in its eroded top. I collect its “tears” in case I have to make the antipathy potion. But what I’ve never told anyone is how I learned the recipe. Once I happened to walk through the meadow at the sunset. The sunrays fell just right on the stone’s surface. Moss and lichens seemed to create some kind of a pattern just above the ground on the north side. I traced the grooves with my fingers. None of the indentations looked like letters, so I figured it was a decoration. I was wrong. It was a text, and the next morning I knew exactly what it said. Tears of the Crying Tombstone. The antipathy potion. I hope I never need to find out if it actually works.
What does the future hold for you?
An excellent question. To have an answer, I should get back to my guests—and let the adventure begin. Thank you for the interview.
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.
You can find Valya on the pages of Soul of the Unborn.
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