#WEP/IWSG June Challenge – Please Read the Letter

This month’s WEP/IWSG Challenge was as inevitable as the dreadful and ongoing tragedy in Ukraine. I’ve attempted to continue my tale of two aviatrix cousins from April, using the suggested approach of ‘correspondence’ – nowadays emails etc.

However, I was unable to catch the emotions involved as others did so well last Challenge. Also, I failed to edit down to 1,000 words.

My excuse… tomorrow, June 1st, we complete on our new mobile home, and we move the following day.  So, I’m scheduling this in advance of the Challenge deadline and may be offline for some of June, while we await internet connection.

Please note, this follows on from my World War II story Feathered Fire, which featured in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost, and my brief sequel Rainbow Firebreak, for the #WEP/IWSG April Challenge https://rolandclarke.com/2022/04/20/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-a-hard-rains-a-gonna-fall/.

Apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments or struggle to visit all your posts after re-connection to the internet.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

BLURB:

Messages keep hope for Mother Ukraine alive.

Winged Woes

2022

Wednesday, April 27th – Luhansk region, Ukraine

Ksenia Zelenko kzelenko99@psu2.ua

To: kzelenko97@psu1.ua

Pryvit Kyrylo,

I’ve prayed for you since the steelworks defence became desperate though brave. Can I believe in a miracle with help and consultation from the angels of the deep?

Please believe dearest brother.  Mariupol will be liberated. We will be together.

With my winged sisters Vasy & Kalyna, I helped retain control over most of our airspace. Now Russian air activity focuses on southern and eastern Ukraine. We will harass then drive them back across the border.

Love, blessings, and prayers.

Ksenia

We will have a good day when we win.

Slava Ukrayini.

One of the Ukrainian soldiers under siege in the Azovstal steelworks. Photograph: Dmytro Kozatsky/Azov Special Forces Regiment

Saturday, April 30th – Cold Lake, Canada

Leonid Sokol lsokol@chaykair.ca

To: ksokol@chaykair.ca

Darling Kalyna,

May this find you fighting fit. The kids share the family’s concerns for you both. Dispel our anxiety as news from Ukraine feels unclear. You must be on the Eastern front, halting renewed Russian attacks.

We watch President Zelenskiy’s addresses, hoping the war ends soon. We read the Ukraine’s Armed Forces report on nine Russian attacks repelled in the last 24 hours. Guess the reborn witches were somehow involved in the destruction of multiple enemy ground and air units.

I know you cannot reveal military secrets, but we have to know you’re safe. Please answer, lyuba.

 Chayka Air thrives, despite your absence. Seems our eldest, Aliona has your PR talent, making the most of pro-Ukrainian sentiment. Chayka Air displays are raising funds for humanitarian aid.

Promise you’ll keep the secrets and the memories we cherish in the deep.

Leonid

Slava Ukrayini.

A Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 lifts off at a 2017 airshow in the U.K. The Su-27 is Ukraine’s long arm, an offensive fighter with great range and the capacity to carry nearly 10,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, and missiles.
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/fighter-jet-fights-both-sides-180975834/

Saturday, May 7th – Luhansk region, Ukraine

Vasy Holub vholub@chaykair.ca

To: mholub@chaykair.ca

Dearest Marko,

We didn’t mean our silence to feed your fears. Yes, we maintain some military secrecy when another victory is being devised. The welfare of defenceless and innocent civilians  must be paramount.

We are well and love you all. Stay safe and secure yourselves.

Today, the Ukrainian government confirmed the last civilians trapped in the Azovstal plant were evacuated. But our remaining brave defenders appear unlikely to surrender as they vowed to stand until the end – even if many are severely wounded, some crippled. We fear the Russians will capture any who survive and surrender. With their Azov association, they could be imprisoned or worse… executed.

If that happens, please ask my father if he can legally help defend at least one of them: Kyrylo Zelenko, the younger brother of our wing-sister Ksenia. He is not a member of Asov, nor does he share the beliefs of comrades with far right views. Our own clashes with neo-Nazis in Canada has been a warning of irrational reactions. Too late, too late. A fool could read the signs.

We must arrange a virtual meeting. Is tomorrow too soon?

Our hearts are with you all. Mine is yours forever.

Vasy.

Slava Ukrayini.

Women evacuated from Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol stand next to service members of pro-Russian troops at a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Sunday, May 8th – Chayka Air Virtual Meeting

Cold Lake, Canada (15.00) and Luhansk, Ukraine (00.00)

Vasy Holub: Apologies for making the family wait while we honoured the Fallen.

Leonid Sokol: No problem. The time difference means we were running fund-raising aerobatics in aid of Ukraine.

Marko Holub: For our Motherland. Which is why your father will assist Ksenia’s brother and comrades. But he warns there are risks. The far right here in Canada could misuse this support.

Ksenia Zelenko: We’re still grateful. Kyrylo wanted to join us, but the siege hardly pauses. Life is dire. Starvation, infected wounds, and when their water runs out the inevitable end.

Marko Holub: A desperate crisis so our government must act. We hear Zelenskiy’s pleas but feel powerless. You three… night witches are fighting for everyone. We’re relieved our prime minister Trudeau visited Kyiv today—

Leonid Sokol: — and agreed to expand economic and defence cooperation.

Kalyna Sokol: We’re proud to be Canadian and Ukrainian. Especially on this Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation marking the end of World War II. Let’s hope Putin doesn’t escalate this war in his Victory Day speech tomorrow.

Vasy Holub: Which could play into far right hands. Ironic this invasion has strengthened their influence. I fear what lies ahead. More death and devastation.

Ksenia Zelenko: And a false peace if Putin is allowed to seize our eastern provinces. We will only have a good day when we win outright. Slava Ukrayini.

1944 Polikarpov Po-2 of The Shuttleworth Collection, United Kingdom
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 at the RIAT 2018 airshow

Thursday, May 12th –  Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine

Kalyna Sokol  ksokol@chaykair.ca

To: lsokol@chaykair.ca

Darling Leonid,

News services will show footage of our latest blow to the invaders. You gotta reap just what you sow. I know you all fear for our safety, but rest assured we’re safe.

Today, we flew a dawn raid to help our ground forces repel multiple enemy attempts to cross a strategic river here in the Donbas. Our forces inflicted heavy losses, but the Russians will retaliate. Sievierodonetsk may be targeted. So, we’ll move to another temporary airstrip. Witches keep flying.  

My love forever. I miss your arms around me.

Kalyna.

Slava Ukrayini.

Friday, May 20th –  Mariupol, Ukraine

Kyrylo Zelenko kzelenko97@psu1.ua

To: k.zelenko99@psu2.ua

Lyuba Ksenia,

This may be a farewell message. I dread never seeing you again, dearest sister.

We have orders to surrender our positions to the enemy.

Inevitable as we’re struggling in unsanitary conditions, wounds bandaged with non-sterile rags, no essential medicine or water.

Our fate might be worse.

I dread being executed for war crimes… as a ‘neo-Nazi’. You know I’ve never been one. But I must stand and die with my friends, some holding views I ignore. First we fight for freedom and Ukraine. Only when we prevail can we argue politics.

Will they herd us to prison, stage a show trial, then death? Or a bullet as we surrender beside a mass grave?

This is a final plea for help. Is it too late to pray for that miracle?

It’s crazy how it all turned out. We needed so much more.

Love, regrets, and hope.

Kyrylo

You will have a good day when our people win.

Slava Ukrayini.

Ukrainian servicemen carry a wounded comrade as they are being evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, 17 May 2022.

1,012 words FCA

As with the April Challenge, I’ve slipped a few lines of Please Read the Letter lyrics into my digital interactions.

Invasion of Ukraine

Events have moved on since the date when my flash ends, and it’s been difficult to write this as the horrors Putin unleashed continue every day. I keep the live update from The Guardian open on my PC but feel powerless. All I can do is use my writing to express my support.

 May I plead for donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres, who work worldwide and are often the first charity in and last out: https://www.msf.org/

How this terrible crisis ends is hard to foresee, especially with the daily threat of escalation as Ukrainians find the will to resist, but the Russian attacks continue to wreak destruction on another Motherland. Somehow, I will attempt to find the positive conclusion to my Ukrainian story that mirrors reality.

A resident stands next to debris of an open market destroyed by a military strike in Sievierodonetsk. Photograph: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters

#StandWithUkraine

#WEP/IWSG April Challenge – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

I decided on the theme of my entry for this month’s WEP/IWSG Challenge over 50 dreadful days ago, and before I checked the apocalyptic song lyrics.

Putin had invaded Ukraine a few days earlier, and I had already researched tyranny in that country for my World War II story Feathered Fire, which featured in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

Readers had wanted to know what happened to the Ukrainian sisters, Vasy and Kalyna Chayka, whom I had also built an emotional bond with. So, Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall inspired my brief sequel Rainbow Firebreak, which I hope echoes the idiosyncratic protest song and pays tribute to the ongoing bravery of the Ukrainian people.

More on the invasion of Ukraine below my flash piece.

Apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments or struggle to visit all your posts.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

BLURB:

Two cousins echo deeds of their grandmothers by resisting tyranny in Ukraine.

Rainbow Firebreak

2022

Saturday, February 26th – Cold Lake, Alberta

Vasy Holub glanced at her cousin Kalyna Sokol. The decision was easy, but they must convince their families.

“We called you here to say we’re travelling to Ukraine. We must assist our besieged homeland whatever our age.”

Kalyna’s oldest son stepped forward. “Then, I’m coming. I’ve graduated so I’m old enough to fight.”

“And die, stupid,” said Vasy’s pre-teen daughter. “It’s a death sentence, mama. Okay, we’ve Ukrainian ancestry, but Canada is our country… since the old Cheyka sisters escaped here decades ago.”

“Show respect, lyuba. Baba Chayka was twelve when she and her older sister fought the Nazis in the Second World War as Nochnyye Vedmy—”

“—and escaped the Stalinist butchers who murdered their parents,” added Kalyna. “They fought for everyone and Ukraine. As their namesakes, Vasy and I will return for us all.”

Her father silenced everyone, then spoke. “You expect us to do nothing. What if I offer my legal skills? And why aren’t your husbands here?”

“They were as shocked as us when Putin launched his invasion on Thursday. They too have relatives and friends there, tato. But they’re assisting with our plans—”

“Remember our grandmothers,” added Vasy. “My baba wrote in her memoir: ‘We lurked in the middle of seven sad forests to avenge our people’. Now it’s our turn. But we need your support. Someone must keep this business running.”

Her mother smiled and nodded. “We will help you prepare, lyuba.”

Wednesday, March 2nd – Przemyśl, Poland

As the packed train drew into the station, Kalyna peered into carriages for familiar faces. The doors opened disgorging a confused crush of refugees from Ukraine.

“Did they catch this one?” asked Vasy. “This is the third without them… unless we missed meeting in the throng.”

“It’s a long journey from Kharkiv… across a country many women and children are fleeing, while the men arm themselves to defend freedom.”

A haggard figure with three kids threw her arms around Kalyna.

“You came as promised. I am so grateful.”

“It’s nothing. Your husband’s grandmother, Galina Sokol helped ours escape Stalin. Did you travel alone? Friends?”

“They went to Warsaw… those who didn’t stay to fight like my husband and father.”

The cousins led Kalyna’s Sokol relatives to their hire car, passing over the keys, and documents to get them to Canada.

“Someone will be at Edmonton airport to meet you. We’re going to Lviv to volunteer—”

“I can’t stop you, but a warning – of the nightmare. Our apartment building was gutted… people were killed. I saw a blackened tree with blood that kept dripping.”

The cousins were undeterred. “Despite the growing brutality, we’re determined to aid our suffering homeland.”

LVIV. A child waits on the train to Poland at the central train station. Many people are heading west in anticipation of Russia’s military renewing attacks in the east
Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ukraine

Sunday, March 6th – Lviv

The recruitment officer stared at the cousins as they approached.

“Wrong building to volunteer for humanitarian work. We only take experienced combat veterans. Sorry.”

They chuckled and handed him the papers from the Ukrainian Defence Attache in Canada.

“We were both majors in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Cold Lake flying Hornets.”

He checked their enlistment details.

“Apologies. Impressive – like your mastery of our language.”

“We’re Canadian-Ukrainians, but learnt both dialects as we grew up.”

“Excuse me asking: why flying?”

“It’s in our blood and when we were kids—”

“—we heard the sound of thunder, then saw our first low flying jet fighter. It roared out a warning and a challenge.”

The officer smiled, then shook their hands.

“I’m afraid our forces may be brave, but not as well-equipped as yours.”

“It’s the skill that matters,” said Vasy. “We saw how brilliant your pilots are when we were guests at Clear Sky 2018 hosted by Starokostiantyniv air base.”

The officer closed his eyes.

“The invaders claim they disabled Starokostiantyniv this morning. Where these deployment papers lead you is unclear. Why use the names Kalyna  and Vasy Chayka?”

 Burned buildings marked with bullets holes and shrapnel fragments show the evidence of a brutal battle that occurred in Borodyanka. Photograph: Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Thursday, March 10th

Trekking east, the cousins were horrified by the devastation. They were relieved to reach a temporary forest base, which used a stretch of road as a runway. Jets were hidden under the trees, echoing WW2 tactics, backed up by anti-surveillance electronics.

The smell of borscht was welcoming as the commander led them to meet tired crews.

“Endless sorties and evading the enemy takes its toll. Fresh pilots are welcome, especially if you are familiar with our jets.”

“We’ve both flown a MIG-29 and an Su-27, since we left the RCAF,” replied Kalyna. “Our air display team has one of each.”

“And we flew against an Su-27 during a Maple Flag exercise at Cold Lake,” added Vasy.

The commander gestured at a female pilot, a few years younger than them. “Perhaps it was Kapitan Ksenia Zelenko – one of our finest”.

The blond aviatrix saluted as she stood, then relaxed.

“An invaluable experience, although I never imagined I’d fly with you again. Together we will drive out these invaders.”

An honour to serve our grandmothers’ homeland—”

Ksenia glanced between them, then produced a black and white photo of women pilots posed by a biplane.

“That one was my mother’s babushka. As a young girl growing up, her example was like a rainbow revelation.”

Kalyna studied the group, then pointed. “And that’s mine.”

Commander Evdokiya Bershanskaya gives a briefing to her “Witches”. (Archives Vlad Monster, http://www.ava.org.ru)

https://www.gracpiacenza.com/night_witches_eng.html

Wednesday, March 16th

As darkness enveloped the base, the  shrouded lights on the runway glowed. The Ukrainian counter-offensive to drive the neo-Stalinists back was about to begin.

“Your targets tonight: six artillery systems blasting Kyiv indiscriminately. Make them pay.”

Ksenia led the trio to their ebony-painted Su-27s.

Nochnyye Vedmy reborn.The night witches will wreak terror again.” 

“May our grandmothers be with us,” said Kalyna.

“We’ll fly to the depths of the deepest black forests to stop tyranny engulfing our world.”

A Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 lifts off at a 2017 airshow in the U.K. The Su-27 is Ukraine’s long arm, an offensive fighter with great range and the capacity to carry nearly 10,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, and missiles.
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/fighter-jet-fights-both-sides-180975834/

958 words FCA

Unlike the February Challenge where I had the song playing in the closing scene, or in 2021’s Year of the Art with pictures/replicas in the flash, my approach above was different. Does it work? Was it noticeable? Too obscure or blatant?

A clue…

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Hard_Rain%27s_a-Gonna_Fall

Invasion of Ukraine

#StandWithUkraine

Events have moved on since the date when my flash ends, and it’s been difficult to write this over the two months since I started and since Putin unleashed his terror with horrific war crimes emerging every day. I keep the live update from The Guardian open on my PC, but feel powerless – beyond donating to Medecins Sans Frontieres: https://www.msf.org/

How this terrible crisis ends is hard to foresee, especially with the daily threat of escalation as Ukrainians find the will to resist.

The war also became more real through a game I’ve played for over a year. Its developers are in Ukraine, and one of their team, a regular on social media, gave a disturbing interview after fleeing Eastern Ukraine. Despite the ongoing destruction of their country, the team refuses to give up, if not fighting, then managing to update the game regularly.

On a different note, a musician I know (from my equestrian days), David Gilmore has colleagues over there, plus a Ukrainian daughter-in-law. Disturbed by the Russian invasion, he has released a new Pink Floyd single Hey Hey, Rise Up!, with proceeds going to Ukrainian humanitarian relief. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/apr/07/pink-floyd-reform-to-support-ukraine

Pink Floyd – Hey Hey Rise Up (feat. Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Boombox)

I’m resisting adding more rabbit warrens I explored – like the Royal Canadian Air Force or fire rainbows. Maybe if you ask in a comment.

For now, I will close with this article, which demonstrates what some Canadian veterans have been doing: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/canada-veteran-evacuating-ukrainian-kids-cancer Other veterans, like Vasy and Kalyna, have gone to fight, for instance as part of the Canadian-Ukrainian Brigade: https://nationalpost.com/news/world/exclusive-so-many-canadian-fighters-in-ukraine-they-have-their-own-battalion-source-says

Photo: A Ukrainian flag flies in a damaged residential area in the city of Borodianka, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Photograph: Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Afraid of What? Not #IWSG?

I’m afraid. Afraid of what?

Afraid of the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group post?

Afraid of worsening health issues? Afraid of what that means?

As I write the fifth draft on April 5th, I’m afraid of what my blood test for CLL (leukemia) on April 13th shows.

Am I afraid it’s worse?

Afraid of being more of a burden? Afraid my wife is suffering as well?

Afraid of being moved to a nursing home? Afraid of the alternative in a crowded trailer park?

Afraid of losing my dog? Afraid she’s not qualified to be a companion dog?

Afraid of the suffering as I live?

Afraid of death?

Maybe this recent post from Writers Helping Writers is a comfort… or a red herring:

Afraid of a legacy lost?

Afraid of minimal writing? Afraid of failing the April WEP/IWSG Challenge?

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/p/challenges-2022.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Hard_Rain%27s_a-Gonna_Fall

Afraid for Ukraine? Yes, and I feel unable to help… beyond donating to…

Medecins Sans Frontieres: https://www.msf.org/

 Burned buildings marked with bullets holes and shrapnel fragments show the evidence of a brutal battle that occurred in Borodyanka. Photograph: Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

What would my fictional Ukrainians do – Kalyna  and Vasy Chayka, the heroines of Feathered Fire?

https://iwsganthologies.blogspot.com/p/voyagers-author-page.html

They fought the Nazis and fled from Stalin’s persecution.

So, their Canadian-Ukrainian granddaughters will fight Putin’s terror.

Rainbow Firebreak is in the pipeline.

I was afraid to tell the Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh ‘ffarwel’. But not yet.

Finally, don’t forget to visit more active writers via the IWSG site:

Insecure Writer’s Support Group

As the question is optional, I’m not tempted to answer… beyond saying, “none so I listen to others”.


April 6 question – Have any of your books been made into audio books? If so, what is the main challenge in producing an audiobook?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 6 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Jemima Pett, Patricia Josephine, Louise – Fundy Blue, and Kim Lajevardi!

How can I be repetitive asking you to agree these guys are the best? Well, they are – especially as they all have concerns, fears, and insecurities. But they struggle on, so ticker-tape applause for all of them – plus toasts with the best brew available.

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience, or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something.

For more on the IWSG monthly post and links to other participants visit:

https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

#WEP/IWSG February Challenge – All You Need Is Love

I feared my entry for this month’s WEP/IWSG Challenge would be too late as there were too many interruptions, not least diving down too many rabbit holes... and WordPress being a pain.

Anyway, a writer is never late, nor is he early. He posts precisely when he means to… as the deadline looms.

Having done two Challenge years of Sparkle and Kama tales and having written a romantic interlude for them in December, I felt it was time to give my Norse snow queen another overdue outing. The last one was in December 2019: https://rolandclarke.com/2019/12/11/wep-iwsg-december-challenge-footsteps/

As always, apologies if I’m slow to respond or slow to visit your posts.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

BLURB:

Gold medals are gifted through divine skills and love.

FREYJA’S TEARS

2022

Tuesday, February 8th

Constant clamour engulfs my ears. The din as Ægir’s dreaded daughters crash against the rocks, sending salt spray skyward.

Seagull squadrons screech and thieve my food as they assault me.

Not what I craved, yet my husband Njörðr expects me to enjoy my days at his Nóatún home beside the whale’s way, watching him play.

Sail-boarding, surfing, and today water skiing.

He insists I admire him showing off his talent. But he won’t teach me, even though as the snow-ski specialist I taught him my arts.

Why did I choose him? Cheated by Loki. Made to decide by selecting feet. Handsome limbs – yes. But not Baldr the Beautiful’s as I desired.

So now, Njörðr believes in this false fetish, saying, “See what this gorgeous god can do, and the skill’s all down to fantastic footwork.”

All I want is real romance. Poetic passion. Epic emotions.

Or escape to frozen-tear drifts. Time to be myself.

Time to leave him for the serene silence of my mountains. I must snow-dance again.

**

Skadi by Michael Jorvik

Thursday, February 10th

Silent-fall settles as I skill-slide into the rural resort near Thrutheimr, my alpine abode. The winter-blanket glistens under the silver-face, and I enter the central mead-hall.

Everyone is enthralled by the glowing screen showing the Beijing Winter Olympics. We all have our favourites in the final of the Women’s 10k cross-country, though all have learnt my arts.

But we cheer loudest whenever a Scandinavian competitor poles ahead of desperate rivals, and we toast the shield-maidens’ prowess.

A strong arm clasps my shoulder, and a seductive voice says, “We’ve bred them strong and swift in our lands. You’ve inspired them, Snow-Dancer, see.”

I smile then celebrate with my people as the Nordic countries sweep the podium, taking gold, silver, and bronze.

Then I turn my gaze on the handsome stranger.

He feels familiar even disguised, and I tease the truth.

“Wandering or seeking rings to break?”

He hands me a silver locket. “Will this do, Snow-Stepper? Or do you want something more precious? You’ve already won every gold medal.”

I laugh, louder than when Loki tussled with a goat then cheated me.

“All I desire is love. Is this heart-bait truly given? Or another trick?”

Music drifts across the celebrating crowd as he laughs and offers to remove his boots.

“I know about your foot-fetish. These aren’t my son Baldr’s, but my heart is bolder.”

“Do you seek to hide from me? That footwork was a falsity fabricated by the Mischief-Maker. It’s not the feet but what goes with them – and how you use them and where.”

Oðinn says, “I desire you forever by my side, Skaði, my goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. Will you be one with me – my Snow Queen? If wished I will break the rings binding you to Njörðr.”

“And what of  your other lovers?”

He covers an eye.

“I sacrificed one sight-light for my wisdom and presage. You will be foremost—”

“—and you tell all your conquests that.”  I point to my face, then wink. “I’m not snow-blind. Frigg will view me as a threat… to marriage-purity. But I foresee another rival – Freyja, Njörðr’s daughter.”

Oðinn hesitates and I fear my truth-quest is doomed.

His grin captivates as the jukebox plays ‘All You Need Is Love’.

“Freyja shed tears of gold when I left to wander the Earth. Do we expect our shield-maidens to receive lesser rewards if I repent? Our match is fated, so we must commit to—”

“—to Infinity and beyond, heart-caller.”

614 words FCA

Apologies to those who know their Norse mythology and folklore, as I’ve taken a few liberties here. However, with so little from the ‘Viking era’ surviving, and much of it being oral in origin, I’m following in the bastardising bardic tradition.

For those who like rabbit holes, visit:

Throughout the mythology, Freya is associated with gold. When her husband leaves her to wander the Earth (more on him below), she cries tears of gold. Because of this story, “Freya’s tears” became a kenning, or poetic circumlocution, used to represent the word “gold” in Norse poetry. Freya’s golden necklace Brísingamen (“flaming necklace”) appears in connection with the goddess in several Eddic tales. According to Snorri Sturluson, the terms “flame” and “fire” are often connected with gold in poetry of the North “since it is red,” so it should not be assumed that Freya’s necklace was a thing of fire, but that it was simply made of her favorite metal.

          [From: http://https://www.norsemyth.org/2010/04/gods-goddesses-part-one.html]

Or:

Due to numerous similarities, scholars have frequently connected Freyja with the goddess Frigg. The connection with Frigg and question of possible earlier identification of Freyja with Frigg in the Proto-Germanic period (Frigg and Freyja origin hypothesis) remains a matter of scholarly discourse.[67] Regarding a Freyja-Frigg common origin hypothesis, scholar Stephan Grundy comments, “the problem of whether Frigg or Freyja may have been a single goddess originally is a difficult one, made more so by the scantiness of pre-Viking Age references to Germanic goddesses, and the diverse quality of the sources. The best that can be done is to survey the arguments for and against their identity, and to see how well each can be supported.”[68]

[From:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freyja ]

As for the Winter Olympics reference, that is based on real events. On February 10th at the Beijing Games, the 10k gold medallist was Therese Johaug (Norway), the silver medallist was Kerttu Niskanen (Finland), and the bronze medallist was Krista Pärmäkoski (Finland) – so, a Nordic clean sweep.

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-country_skiing_at_the_2022_Winter_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Women%27s_10_kilometre_classical]

And now for the music:  

#WEP/IWSG December Challenge – Narcissus

I feared my entry for this month’s WEP/IWSG Challenge would be too late, but then as I wrote this short piece, I realised I had to post today. The reason might become relevant on reading the last scene. As for the theme, I found a Welsh element to tie elements together for Sparkle and Kama.

This 2021 Year of the Art theme has provoked some interesting thoughts – and trips down rabbit holes.

Although this year’s posts are not another ongoing case for Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai of the North Wales Police, I’ve attempted something else involving them. So, once more I’m going down the stand-alone path with my dynamic Welsh duo.

But this time, I’ve tried a change of genre – well, perhaps. Also, this is a response to my editor pointing out an oversight in my Fevered Fuse novel – the lack of personal growth.

As always, apologies if I’m slow to respond or slow to visit your posts.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

BLURB:

Uplifted by daffodils, two women affirm their love and pledge to fight for human rights.

MIRRORED PRIDE

2016

Saturday, 10th December

I stare at the unfamiliar reflection and wince. Pain comes with the job,but I can’t go out like this – not to celebrate.

Stupid. Some guys never give up easily – even cuffed.

Does it matter how I look? I purse my lips. Perhaps. I’m not vain, but tonight is special.

I reach for the makeup bag. Should I use some yellow concealer to hide my black eye? The icepack helped, but it’s still obvious. People might jump to the wrong conclusion. Abusive partner.

My fingers touch the slash on my cheek. Is a scar a turn off or a mark of courage?

Will Kama care? My whisper echoes round our bedroom.

“Of course not, cariad.” Kama replies in the doorway. I swivel and smile as she walks over, then kisses me softly. “You’re beautiful whatever happens.”

Then she sits down beside me at the vanity table.She traces the cut, then my nose. “At least, he didn’t break your mischievous feature.” She continues caressing my face.

The perfect excuse for my own daring exploration for hidden pleasure.

“Leave something for later. We need to get dressed up not down. After dinner antics are best.”

“Haven’t we always eaten first.” I slow my teasing hands, then add, “We never break the rules.”

“Except speeding on our bikes. That’s an unbroken addiction.”

Motorbikes brought us together nearly five years earlier – as did crime and our first case together.

I let our lips meet, and I enjoy the taste of minty cardamom. Long and lingering, and then I ask, “Do you ever regret the life we lead?”

“Never. I’m proud to be your partner. Both as a wife and a cop. You have doubts?”

“No longer, chellam. I admit my heart has wavered – doubt can be a mischievous trickster – was once. But we’ve proved ourselves as women, as lovers, and as crime busters.”

Kama clasps my hands. “Now we can be open with our pride, despite the risks.”

“Risk is our adrenaline and will be forever. And there are tests ahead, but we have each other. Still, I’m covering up these blemishes before we go out.”

“The table is booked for eight so I can pamper myself too. And then I’ve a present for us downstairs. Seasonal light for the cottage.”

***

A floral feast fills our front room. Dozens of displays of daffodils, not yellow but white blooms.

Kama beams with the flowers. “It may be eleven weeks until St David’s Day on March 1st, but why wait until our Welsh National Holiday?”

“Paperwhites – I love these daffodils. Perfect Christmas light bringers.”

“And I bought some bulbs to plant for the Spring as well. Plus, I added some which might flower on New Year’s Day. Those bring good fortune according to Chinese legend.”

“A bonus – even if having each other is our valuable destiny already.”

“I’ll echo that sentiment, cariad.”

***

We arrive on time at the Italian trattoria to celebrate and ‘Stand up for someone’s rights’ on a day when we are lucky to be in Wales.

When our cocktails arrive, I toast all those who fight for justice. “Not just on Human Rights Day but at every moment, chellam.”

“And together, we can take a stand for more humanity.”

On the wall behind, the face of Caravaggio’s Narcissus looks down through his pool of water at us and the vase of paperwhites on our table.

571 words FCA

Crime never sleeps.

Nor does the fight for justice and human rights.

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/HRDay2016/Pages/StandUp4HumanRights.aspx

#WEP/IWSG October Challenge – The Scream

Crime never sleeps.

Well, despite destroying the original version of my October/Halloween WEP/IWSG challenge – accidentally – I managed to recall enough for another version. Only my wife read/heard the original, so might sense where this differs. We didn’t tempt fate by re-reading this version. Please note, she wasn’t the one who destroyed the earlier draft – unlike Fanny Stevenson’s response to her husband’s creation:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/oct/25/books.booksnews

I’m not saying my short is comparable to the famous novel, but reading this article, I see a few echoes – or maybe not.

Anyway, this 2021 Year of the Art theme continues to provoke some interesting thoughts – and tempts me down rabbit holes. One of those arose from an interesting link on the WEP site – more on that at the end.

Although this year’s posts are not another ongoing case for Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai of the North Wales Police, I’ve attempted something else involving them. So, once more I’m going down the stand-alone path with my dynamic Welsh duo.

But this time, I’ve tried a change of genre – well, perhaps.

As always, apologies if I’m slow to respond or slow to visit your posts.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

BLURB:

A detective confronts a deadly foe in the mist to save her wife from Death.

(Or for those familiar with the dynamic duo: ‘Sparkle confronts a deadly foe in the mist to save Kama from Death.)

VULPINE MIST

2016

Monday, 31st October

I jerk awake. A shriek pierces the darkness.

Relax. Just a fox howl. A vixen calling for a mate.

Wrong season as cubs now hunt alone.

The wail is almost human. A cry for help?

I turn to Kama, but she’s gone again. Only the curled indent beside me and her scent of vanilla and bergamot remain.

She must be wandering in our family home, Tyn-y-llyn, nestled in the Snowdonia mountains.

I creep downstairs, searching for Kama. I whisper her name. Only an echo from the gloom. No answer.

Call louder but I mustn’t wake the family.

But nobody stirs. My thorny rose tattoo prickles. I search every room –  no Gwawr, nor mam, nor my grandparents Gwyneth and Hywel Pugh. Nobody.

I’m alone.

A sigh from outside. “Fy ngwraig! Fy ngwraig!”.

Who’s calling ‘My wife! My wife!’ in the night? The voice sounds female. But not Kama’s sultry tones. Where is she?

Fog slithers under the front door, yet I’m drawn outside to the farm.

Tattoos jangle as the mist welcome me with cold embrace, clutching for my heart.

“Kama – where are you?” My shout recoils off the billowing barrier.

A chill as folk memories uncurl. A cyhyraeth is stalking the darkness, its disembodied wail sounding before a person’s death. Invisible but unyielding.

Who is it after?

Kama. My wife mustn’t die. I can save her.

I grope my way towards our llyn, where we swim and relax. But the pastures are overgrown with brambles. I must reach the safety of our lake.

More moaning. Closer.

“Fy ngwraig! Fy ngwraig!”

I shudder as thorns rip my skin. ‘My wife! My wife!’ is the summons of Gwrach-y-Rhibyn. The monstrous Hag of the Mist claims Kama. Never. She’s mine and I am hers – forever and eternity.

Fighting my way through the thicket, I follow the groans, now interspersed with cackles. At the stream feeding our deep waters, I confront my deathly foe.

The Hag washes her hands, polluting our pure brook. Her unkempt hair hangs around her wizened body. Withered arms widen and skeletal hands beckon. As a harpy, she hovers on leathery wings, and bares long black teeth dripping with gore. My heart pounds as I face this grim corpse of doom.

No sign of Kama. She’s safe – somewhere.

Gwrach-y-Rhibyn shimmers in the swirling mist. And morphs into a flame haired woman, beautiful with luxuriant locks falling over her revealing red dress.

A gust of wind shifts my vision. Kama is in this sensuous siren’s embrace, her head nestled between the seductress’s naked breasts. My wife moans, aroused. I’ve lost my skilful lover to this sultry temptress.

Tears well as rosy lips kiss Kama’s neck. Fangs glisten in the moonlight, dripping with blood – the life-force of my soulmate.

The vulpine shape-shifter laughs – howling as she licks her bloody mouth.

“Love and Pain”

The mist turns to dense blackness. Kama becomes a man – in the arms of a scarlet haired woman. Then everything freezes.

No sounds. No movement. I stare at the Vampire painting.

The canvas creeps towards me. Creaks and cracks – closing.

Behind, I hear a sibilant sigh, rising to a shriek.

I turn and face another painting – The Scream.

Munch’s master creations curl in on me. Trapping me. Sucking in the air, stifling me.

I scream – silently.

And wake entwined in Kama’s arms. Her lips are on my neck.

Our jackdaw trickster, Negesydd taps at the window banishing the Nos Galan Gaeaf spirits. Halloween is buried – for another year.

Sunbeams dance as we caress each other.

From our beach, the sough of the surf carries on the sea breeze, the salt scent tempting us outside to swim.

623 words FCA

I mentioned a rabbit hole, and from The Scream prompt, I was led to Edvard Munch’s Vampire painting: https://www.edvardmunch.org/vampire.jsp. Reading this gave me my climactic scene – including that last piece of suggestive dialogue, “Love and Pain”.

As for December’s Challenge – Narcissus – my mind is already pursuing that one down a burrow. Google, isn’t a daffodil – the Welsh national flower – a narcissus? Tune in next time for the answer.

Finally, for those wondering about my first Sparkle & Kama novel – Fevered Fuse – I managed to collate the feedback from my stalwart beta readers. The manuscript is now with my editor, who helped get Spiral of Hooves published.