The Tsar was alive. His wife and children were alive. The story about their deaths in Yekaterinburg was fabricated by those hoping to liberate – rather than liquidate – the imperial family.
This month marks the 102-year anniversary of the February Revolution (New Style March 8 – 16, 1917). The events that transpired over the course of those nine days forever changed Russia, opening the door for the October Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union.
The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II was one of the most pivotal moments of the Russian Revolution (which includes the February and October Revolutions). His subsequent assassination by the hands of the Bolsheviks was perhaps even more significant. The simultaneous murder of his wife and children proved to be one of the darker moments of this zealous movement, creating generations of folklore and myth.
Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Tsar, allegedly survived the tragic end of her immediate family. Although modern research has mostly undone such legends, there were certain factions present in Russia that desired to save the Tsar and his family. On the other hand, the survival of any member of that family may have undermined the sweeping reforms that divided and overwhelmed Russia in the years to come.
“Long Live the Tsar” is a short story that I wrote in April and May of 2017 – a century after the relative lull between the February and October Revolutions of 1917. The action of this piece unfolds in early 1918 in a timeline that sees the Tsar and his family liberated and whisked away by the Whites at the last minute. However, salvation awaited only beyond the scope of the Russian Civil War (1917 – 1922) and only a gambit along the Trans – Siberian Railway offered a true means of escape.
“Long Live the Tsar” originally appeared with Slick Lit Magazine in May of 2017.
To read “Long Live the Tsar”, click on the image below.
Donald Barlow didn’t have any pots on his head or bands of aluminum foil wrapped around his arms.
That was a step in the right direction.
The old man was crazy, but, aside from an absurd hat, he answered the door in ordinary dress.
“Thank you for coming,” Barlow said as he pushed the door open for his former neighbor, John Forbes. “I see you came prepared.”
Forbes stepped through the doorway with a new Winchester Alaskan rifle in his hands.
“Well, I wanted to help if I could,” Forbes replied once inside the kitchen.
Barlow had called Forbes the night before about an unusually threatening bear near his home. The former asked the latter to bring a firearm capable of bringing down a grizzly. If Forbes was successful, Barlow offered to butcher the animal and hand the meat over for freezing.
Check out my #ScifiFri and #ScifiSat prompt responses from Twitter!
Every Friday and Saturday, SciFiFri (found on Twitter @SciFiPrompt) offers up an opportunity for fans of science fiction to share their most intriguing ideas (generally confined to just 280 characters or less).
SciFiFri provides a theme for Friday (#SciFiFri), encouraging those participating to somehow include or reference this theme (although you don’t absolutely need to do this). Of course, part of the challenge is tailoring your particular idea to suit the theme or creating a new concept from scratch based around the theme.
Saturday (#SciFiSat) is open and you can really see genuine creativity pour out of those participating. Some of the ideas and concepts I’ve read through #SciFiFri and #SciFiSat are amazing! I’m sure that every weekend I see at least one or two that could make for a great anthology television show episode or film. The possibilities truly have no limits on either day, which is really my favorite feature of the science fiction genre.
When I first joined Twitter several years ago, one of the first true fascinations I had through that platform was “twitterfiction“. My schedule can be absolutely crazy during the school year (especially during basketball season), so Twitter provided a means for me to read and enjoy “very short fiction” whenever I had a free moment. #SciFiFri and #SciFiSat really present some of the most unique and wonderful twitterfiction pieces you’ll find.
I wanted to share a few of my own from the last two weekends:
“Your neighbor?” “Yeah.” “That old woman?” “Yep.” “She built a time machine?” “Yes.” “That’s why you need to rob the Medicine Shoppe?” “The machine uses cough syrup as fuel. She needs a case.” “And you want me to be the getaway driver?” “Or you can use the shotgun.” #SciFiFri
Washington was dying, but that didn’t stop his doctors from administering a grueling regiment of bloodletting and archaic medicines. The scene was chaotic, with servants and family rushing to meet the doctors’ demands. No one paid Martha any mind. Or her voodoo doll. #SciFiFri
He woke up in a cheap motel room outside Medicine Hat and had no recollection of coming to Canada. There was a large crucifix tied around his neck and braids of garlic were scattered around the room. A single ticket for the next train to Calgary was in his pocket. #SciFiFri
He pulled his wife into the next room. “What do you think you’re doing bringing a witch doctor into our home?” “He’s a ‘medicine man’,” she growled. “Whatever! What are you thinking?” “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find an exorcist on a Friday night?!” #SciFiFri
The bull made a final pass, and the matador bowed before the crowd. He revealed a sword and waved his cape. Turning to the bull, a rush of terror ripped through him. The bull had reared up and fumbled a revolver between two hooves. “Never again,” the bull mooed. #SciFiSat
The astronauts rushed from the crash into a swamp. Flora and murky water obstructed their view of the apex predator – a massive frog. Mylar proved a poor excuse for armour, not that any material was suited for the whipping tongues and sticky saliva encountered. #Vss365 #SciFiSat The creatures described their origin to mankind. Developing intelligence during the Cretaceous, these dinosaur descendants escaped Earth for a distant world prior to Chicxulub. “Why have you returned?” The beasts were stunned. “Have you not resurrected our brethren?” #SciFiSat
You may notice the “#vss” tag – more about that later!
Freed from parachute material, restrictive connections, and the general confines of the lander, a roving probe hummed to life and rolled onto the frigid surface of a new world.
Given the distance involved, there had never existed any hope to remotely pilot the rover. The small six-wheeled vehicle was programmed to forge a path through this frozen world, while using three cameras to photograph the vast white expanses surrounding the lander.
Photographs captured by the rover would first be relayed to the lander. An array on the lander had the capacity to communicate the images back home. The enormity of space required that visions of this extraterrestrial winterscape travel many light-years, not arriving until long after the rover ceased to function. Despite the apparent cold, this particular planet existed within the habitable zone of main sequence star. Data collected by the lander and rover, no matter how scant, may determine…
Not everyone gets to spend Christmas Eve patiently anticipating St. Nick.
“I’m not paying for your opinion,” Charles Penn growled, “I’m paying for you to dig.”
Jacob McKean scowled but thrust his spade back down into the earth.
With the night concealing their illicit deed, both men shamelessly removed dirt from the grave. Charles Penn feared the cold ground of the graveyard may present a challenge, but the first few days of winter had proven merciful – the earth had not yet frozen. Only one lantern illuminated their clandestine endeavor, but the soft glow of the moon allowed each man to see the bottom of the deepening hole.
Madeline Penn had rested in her grave for only three short weeks before her husband decided upon this nefarious exhumation. There was no doubt to Jacob McKean that Penn was painfully eager to see his wife – albeit for apparently devious reasons.
“Only another foot or so,” Penn offered between heavy breaths. His comment sought to reassure his tired upper body more so than his hired help.
“Climbing out of here isn’t going to be so easy,” McKean grunted.
Charles Penn was aware that his associate was becoming more sober by the minute. If McKean fully regained his senses, he would undoubtedly ask many, many more questions. Penn had purposefully plied the younger man with whiskey several hours earlier at a nearby tavern. The alcohol had made McKean much more agreeable and eager to earn a few coins despite the holiday.
“We are almost finished,” Penn encouraged again.
McKean didn’t respond. He only wearily sighed and kept digging.
“Trust me,” Penn continued, “I am sure that the necklace my wife was buried with will collect a small fortune. Your share will be worth your labor and more.”
“I hope,” McKean groaned. “Those couple shillings would have otherwise never got me tonight.”
Of course, there was no necklace. The Penns owned very little of value. If the family had possessed such a prized item, the piece would have been sold and not buried. Charles Penn was left with three small children to care for at home after the fever took his wife. Any opportunity for extra financial support would have been readily seized.
Charles Penn had another motive for his Christmas Eve exploits. This reason was potentially far more sinister than that of an ordinary grave robber. Although Penn kept his observations to himself, he was certainly pleased the grave appeared undisturbed. That eased his nerves somewhat.
A hollow thud announced McKean’s spade striking an object at the bottom of the grave. This was no rock or hardened clump of soil.
“The coffin!” Penn shouted with relief. He immediately recoiled, fearing his proclamation was too loud.
“Sounds to be the lid,” McKean replied. He dropped down onto his knees and raked the remaining soil away with his hands.
“I’ll dig around the coffin,” Penn said as McKean returned to his feet. “Can you climb out and retrieve my sack?”
Jacob McKean glared at his temporary employer. Charles Penn was a rotund man and climbing out of the grave would undoubtedly be a challenge for him.
Penn carefully dug a trench around the coffin, providing a place for the two men to stand. McKean scurried and scrambled up one side of the grave and momentarily disappeared before descending back into the hole with Penn’s mysterious sack. McKean dropped the sack down on the coffin.
“Merry Christmas,” McKean scoffed.
“My apologies,” Penn offered with a weak smile, “but we’ll also need the lantern.”
McKean sighed and shook his head. He clamored back up one side of the grave and carefully returned into the grave with the lantern.
“Would you be kind enough to hold the lantern?” Penn asked.
McKean nodded and held the lantern over the coffin. Penn finished the trench, wiped a sleeve over his forehead, and lowered the sack down next to his feet. He opened the sack and carefully removed an iron pry bar, hammer, and pistol.
McKean immediately stepped back upon seeing the pistol, suspecting that a double-cross was afoot. He was very surprised when Penn calmly handed him the firearm.
“Just in case there is any trouble,” the widower explained.
Charles Penn positioned the pry bar under the coffin lid and carefully hammered the bar inward. He repeated this process numerous times. McKean moved with the lantern to illuminate wherever Penn was hammering. The stout man worked slowly but with great precision. After carefully dislodging the nails, Penn returned to his sack and crouched down into the trench as low as possible.
“Now, be ready for anything,” Penn warned in a whisper.
McKean looked upward, supposing that Penn suspected someone was approaching the grave. Only a patchwork of stars, a pale moon, and the looming spire of St. Dymphna’s Church were visible, but he cautiously pointed the pistol toward the opening above anyway.
“No,” Penn said sharply. “Down here.” The older man pushed the iron bar under the coffin lid. The bar easily slid inside. “I’m going to lift the lid on the count of three.”
McKean steadied the pistol at the coffin, grateful that he was no longer seeing double.
McKean took a deep breath.
McKean raised the lantern as high as his left arm would allow.
“Three!” Penn shouted. With one forceful motion, Charles Penn thrust his body forward and the wooden lid flipped off the coffin and tumbled against the legs and feet and his associate.
Neither man said a word. Both took a long, silent minute to assess the contents of the pine tomb.
The sides of the coffin and underside of the lid were gouged with deep, rough marks. There were also a few small, dark stains visible.
The bottom of the coffin appeared to have similar marks, but this could not be discerned for certain because most of the bottom wooden panels was missing.
There was no body – only a circular, jagged hole in the bottom of the coffin.
Charles Penn leaned over the coffin and lowered one end of the iron pry bar into this hole, which extended into the cold earth beneath.
There was no obvious bottom. The decaying remains of Madeline Penn had not merely slipped through inferior wood or poor craftsmanship into the muddy recess of the grave.
McKean lowered the lantern toward the hole. The golden light illuminated an apparent tunnel extending below the coffin.
Charles Penn hadn’t suspected this particular outcome, but he wasn’t necessarily surprised either. His children had come to him each of the last several days explaining that their mother had visited them at various places and times. She wasn’t quite herself, but each of the children had been mostly pleased to see her.
Penn initially wrote this off as nothing more than young hearts pining for their lost mother. However, one of the children from the neighboring farm went missing soon after his children reported the first ghostly encounter. The father of that child had also claimed to see the undead Madeline Penn scurrying about on her hands and feet as if she were some type of animal.
“Where the hell does this go?” McKean asked.
Charles Penn carefully read the face of Jacob McKean in the dim light. He understood that McKean hadn’t the slightest idea of what the pair had found.
Penn next thought of his children, each snug in their beds just a few miles from the graveyard and, that very moment, under the watchful eye of his sister. His children were anticipating a visit from St. Nicholas that night, and he suspected many of the neighboring children were as well. He imagined a fiendishly resurrected Madeline descending the crumbling masonry of a chimney or two in place of the jolly, old saint.
“Grave robbers,” Penn said dutifully after mulling over the circumstances and possibilities. “The rascals have beaten us.”
“The thieves took the entire body?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“However, I don’t doubt this tunnel does lead somewhere,” Penn speculated. “Perhaps even to the scoundrels’ lair.”
A cold, dank gust of air lifted out of the tunnel.
“Definitely,” McKean replied.
Penn was silent for a moment and then made a fateful offer.
“Mr. McKean, how would you like to earn an additional five guineas?”
Joshua Scully writes speculative fiction and can be found @jojascully.
“Sleeping at the Rum Cherry Motel” falls somewhere between The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. Todd McHugh is on the run from the law in my recent piece appearing in Twister Sister Lig Mag‘s “Payback’s a Bitch” issue. Todd is hoping to slip away to Mexico after murdering his wife, and he’s stopped for a few hours of sleep at the Rum Cherry Motel. Click the image below to see if Todd evades justice and melts away into the Mexican backcountry.
I was fortunate enough to have a short horror piece published by Flash Fiction Magazine last week. I wrote “You First” in August.
I grew up in a somewhat isolated farmhouse, where (much to my family’s chagrin) the power and telephone frequently went out for long periods. I remember that the mildest thunderstorm often was enough to knock out our utilities. The power and telephone companies rarely had an explanation and certainly took their time restoring service to us. I had been reflecting on those childhood experiences before I started to write this story. The setting for “You First” is essentially my parents’ house, with some elements of my grandparents’ house (which was an even larger, older farmhouse that had a seriously creepy vibe on certain nights). The setting could easily be located in rural Pennsylvania or West Virginia.
“You First” takes place on the remote Hetherington farm, where two…
I hope you brought a change of clothes – preferably a youth size. We’re going into the fountain.
Twister Sister Lit Mag recently published “The Fountain”, a short story that I wrote in November of 2016. If you teach American History long enough, you’ll also start to find some interesting footnotes that the textbook never visits in a totally satisfying way.
“The Fountain” blends elements of historical fiction with fantasy (with maybe just a touch of the supernatural), although I do employ plenty of creative license. I didn’t want to use any actual historical figures – somehow throwing Juan Ponce de Leon into the middle of this story took away from the fantasy aspect.
That said, I do find the subject matter to be one of the more interesting tales from America in the 16th century – and that’s really saying something considering all the bizarre occurances in the Western Hemisphere during that century.
Click the image below to be taken to Twister Sister Lit Mag and experience “The Fountain” for yourself: