My short story "Emissary" is now available over at Selene Quarterly Magazine. This is set in a post-apocalyptic Upstate New York beset by invaders from the West bent on conquering and enslaving whatever remains of civilization. In the face of this nightmare, a woman with very little faith in anyone around her tries to find someway of saving her town. Standing in her way is her husband, Jon Alban, a man she has every reason to doubt but that nevertheless might offer a way out of the crisis despite himself.
|Winter Burdens by Morgan Crooks (2018)|
This story was written at the intersection of two ideas. The first was the sense of the main character, Darra, as a someone focused on saving a town she has very little faith in. The second idea was a retelling of a portion of Russian history.
Darra as a character was tricky to write and while I'm not sure I quite got her right, I do hope that her struggle to the right thing despite a Cassandra-like awareness of the weakness surrounding her is at least interesting. I think the thing that really clicked for me about the character is that she alone realizes the sacrifice necessary to save her town is not simply a one-off gesture. The sacrifice must be repeated, celebrated, and maintained. One of the consistent critiques I've received about this story is the narrator's relative passivity. I absolutely recognize that critique as valid, but I'm hoping that the slow-burn aspect of her story pays off for readers. I would not personally describe Darra as passive. To me, she demonstrates the power of strategic patience.
Jon Alban, the husband mentioned above, is loosely based on Alexander Nevsky. Maybe inspired by is a better description of the final version in the story, but nevertheless this somewhat obscure corner of history fascinated me. The barebones outline of the actual story goes something like this. Alexander Nevsky was a prince in the Russian city of Novograd on the eve of the Golden Horde's invasion. The Golden Horde was rolling over the steppe as an unstoppable force grinding every city and civilization in its path to ruins. Nevsky, faced with this threat, did perhaps the only obvious thing: he capitulated. He pledged his fealty to the leader of the Horde and promised tithe taxes to the invaders.
What is interesting, at least to me, is that Nevsky is not remembered in Russia as a figure of surrender and cowardice. Far from it. In the wake of this capitulation to the Mongols, Nevsky railed the people of Russia to resist another invasion, this time from the West, by the Teutonic Knights. Meeting this new group with ingenuity and determination, he was able to save the Russian nation from total subjugation.
I think what this story provides is a parable about the usefulness of strategic thinking. I'm not sure if Alexander Nevsky was Machivellian as this little retelling suggests, but it does describe a person able to prioritize. Sometimes the world does not work out the way we intend and people are confronted with threats that cannot be surmounted. Is the better choice to fight to the point of utter annihilation or to resist only where some chance of success is possible?
I don't know the answer to that. I know in my gut there are certain threats that feel as though they must be resisted to the last ounce of strength. But the ability of people to resist is not infinite. Sometimes a people must pick and choose. I wrote "Emissary" as more of a question than an answer.