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29 April 2016 @ 01:47 pm
LJ Idol Friends & Rivals: "With Hope Our Only Guide"  
With Hope Our Only Guide
idol friends and rivals | week 20, #1 | 802 words
Yes, Anastasia


We came from a place where the birds had no songs, a land already dead or where the future was lost long ago.

We dreamed of things we did not have, even things we had heard of but never seen. Stories were handed down from mother to child, of trees heavy with fruit, streams silvered with fish, days warmed by the sun until the heat of it reached your bones.

We could not imagine a place so lush and green that even the color of light was changed.

Over weeks of travel, we grew thin and gray even as the land around us became more colorful.

"So many animals!" my daughter would say again and again. At home, even wolves were hunted for fur and food. We had so little to live on that other predators were not welcome. Many animals now survived only in myth.

There was such beauty in this new place, so much life. There were creatures for which I had no names. You are surely dreaming, Sofia, I thought, yet the soft earth under my feet and the scent of unfamiliar flowers said otherwise.

Where were the other people? Was the land beyond so rich that even this flourishing forest had no dwellers? We had walked for so very long already—were there truly so may days of blight between our home and the edges of these woods?

"Are we there yet, Mama?" Anastasia asked. "I'm so very tired."

She had hardly complained all this time, although her feet were sore and her stomach so often empty. Surely, I had not possessed such patience and forbearance when I was her age. Such a dear, brave little girl.

There was little to eat in the forest—at least, little I knew to be safe. There were many unrecognizable plants, and we dared not chance them in the event they might be poisonous. The little red berries among several patches of low-lying leaves were tempting enough that I did not let Anastasia out of my sight. She was obedient, but she was still a child, still innocent of such dangers.

We were deep in the forest now, and the animals had grown scarce. I had just begun to wonder where they might have gone when I heard a growl.

That sound was one I knew all too well.

We were ill-prepared for such an encounter, and I had hoped stronger weapons would not be needed. I had a knife, but that was not enough to hold off a wolf.

"Move behind me," I told Anastasia, reaching slowly for a large branch lying nearby.

I held the branch in front of me, thrusting it forward as I shouted at the wolf. I was ready to strike if need be, and I waved my other arm to appear as large and menacing as possible.

Anastasia fretted behind me, her hands clutching my skirts. I prayed the wolf would not attack us, after everything we had already endured. It was close enough that I could the dust on its fur, the hair so much darker than the wolves of our own land.

When the wolf finally turned and walked away, I could have wept from sheer relief.

Anastasia crumpled to the ground. I knelt down beside her, despairing at the pallor of her face. She was surely exhausted. I smoothed her hair back gently, still thinking about the wolf.

We could not stop here, not with it still so near.

I picked her up and settled her on my hip. She was lighter than ever, but I was weaker. Our progress was graceless and slow.

Would we survive this journey that seemed to have no end?

It seemed I walked for hours, stopping now and then to rest. I thought I glimpsed grassy fields off in the distance, and I moved faster then, hoping to finally escape the forest.

I stumbled out of the woods, and ahead was an amazing and welcome sight—a farmhouse, with smoke curling from the chimney.

"Are we there, Mama?" Anastasia whispered.

I turned my head, and I saw that her eyes were closed and her lips tinged with blue. My heart nearly ceased beating.

There was a farmer out working in the field. He quickly abandoned his plow and ran to me, his arms outstretched as if he knew how heavy this near-ghost of a girl had become.

My heart lifted, oh how it lifted to at last find help when all hope had almost fled!

I held her closer, my darling child and only treasure, willing her to not to leave now that rescue had finally come.

"Yes, my sweet girl," I told her, "yes, a thousand times yes. Our journey has brought us to the land of our dreams.

"At long last, we are here."


If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with other fine entries here.

bleodsweanbleodswean on April 30th, 2016 03:28 pm (UTC)
This is really gorgeous and my favourite piece by you this season! It's lyrical...and otherworldly. Is it a death dream? Is it an allegory of hope? It reminds me of some Hans Christian Anderson work. I love it! This line knocked me out and I'm still reeling from it - Many animals now survived only in myth.

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 1st, 2016 06:17 am (UTC)
This is the kind of writing I tend to do when I "unhinge" the process a little and let the subconscious do more of the driving. I haven't done it much lately, but the prospect of two stories in a short time really almost forced me to pull back and see where the opening for this one would evolve.

It is actual hope, after leaving a place too barren now to survive. Thanks to the Russian name in the prompt, I had Chernobyl and Siberia on the brain, and so there is this-- a place that once held more life (if grudgingly), but where survival is so difficult that leaving-- to the unknown, to the promise of "more" handed down in stories--is a better option than staying put.

I'm glad you liked it!
whipchickwhipchick on April 30th, 2016 09:21 pm (UTC)
This makes me so curious about what they are fleeing from and toward!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 1st, 2016 06:41 am (UTC)
Thank you!

They are fleeing from the destruction of resources and hoping that the stories of abundance elsewhere have at least some measure of truth.

My husband is always bothered that people stayed in the Northern Circle rather than continuing onward (he seems to take it kind of personally!). But the thing is, if you don't know there's anything better and all you see is ice and snow in all directions... there's little reason to believe that anywhere else will be different. Making that journey is a leap of faith.
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on May 1st, 2016 01:18 am (UTC)
i thought this was going to be kind of post-apocalyptic - i mean, i imagined anastasia and sofia escaping a war-torn landscape and violent machinery - but i actually like that it wasn't. i like the contrast of the really lush forest with the these two starving, exhausted people, and i admit i wondered if the farm on the other side of the forest was really there or if it was a hallucination or even heaven, if sofia and anastasia were actually dead.

and i too am curious about what they were fleeing!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 1st, 2016 06:57 am (UTC)
Post-apocalyptic and dystopic (or both!) are my thing, but this story is set more in the past than the future.

The end could be a dream or it could be reality. I tried to present them as equally true.

These two were fleeing blight in their native land. We forget how important something as simple as finding food can be. Once you cannot get enough to eat, the location itself will kill you. Leaving is the only option if you want to survive, though sometimes you have no idea whether there's any "other" to be found.

rayasorayaso on May 1st, 2016 02:35 pm (UTC)
I loved this story, especially the opening sentence, which was so poetical. It was a great use of the prompt, staying away from Russian history and merely using "Anastasia" as the name of a character. The desperation of the mother to get away, to find something better, even not knowing what lies ahead, is so wonderfully portrayed. The declining health of Anastasia imbues the tale with a sense of urgency, and the wolf hints at some of the dangers they had to deal with in order to get to someplace better, surviving on hope. Outstanding!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 1st, 2016 06:12 pm (UTC)
As with a lot of stories, the opening sentence was the foundation for the background I wanted to fill in (of how bleak and destroyed the place was they had to leave), and then the difficulty of the journey leading to that ending. If something better were close by, I think they would know and have left long ago. But to have such a long stretch of blight between their own country and the slow return of life... you can't know if better exists, or whether you'll even make it.

We forget how easily starvation weakens and kills, now that we live with such ready abundance. But traveling by foot for weeks over mostly barren land? There's the terrible risk that you will run out of time before you reach salvation. :(
prog_schlockprog_schlock on May 2nd, 2016 08:31 pm (UTC)
... and she and her daughter were promptly turned away at the border and told to return from whence they came...

I kid, but that seems to be the sentiment of so many in our world today. Man, people risk everything to try and escape war and horror and we humans don't seem to be able to empathize with them. I hope that if we ever end up like Anastasia and her mom that there will be people kind enough to welcome us!

(Edited to add: and I think you did a great job of capturing the horror of immigration - the literal wolf here is also a symbol of all of the awful things one might face while fleeing to a safer location)

I thought of Gogol Bordello, an international rock band that combines traditional Romany music with punk. This song was the one that I thought of, though I'm not sure why:

Edited at 2016-05-02 08:32 pm (UTC)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on May 3rd, 2016 12:18 am (UTC)
Yes. Even though it's mostly Europe that is getting inundated, the assumption that you should reject immigrants who might be terrorists (instead of assuming that they're fleeing the influence of terrorism) is just so callous and unhelpful.

Really catchy tune!

Maybe the "Dogs were barking" (which has such a threatening feel) and the diaspora refrain (Defn: the dispersion of any people from their original homeland)? That fits what's happening here pretty well!

Murielle: Scrunchedmurielle on May 2nd, 2016 09:57 pm (UTC)
Oh! I can hardly breathe! My heart is in my mouth. And I am telling myself over and over, the farmer is a good guy. The girl is going to live.

Beautifully written. Excellent story.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Fantasy Foresthalfshellvenus on May 3rd, 2016 12:19 am (UTC)
You can probably imagine what it's like to be that mother, to be so afraid not so much for yourself, but for your child.

The girl lives, and the farmer IS a good guy. So, your heart can be at ease now. :)