A truck driver on a lonely stretch of road, a hitchiker, and an ancient curse-- a brilliant and moving tale, steeped in folklore, by the masters of modern Fantasy. In 1999 ""The Burned Tower"" was awarded the ""Interpresscon"" as the best short story of the year on the international SF-convention in St-Petersburg. Now, for the first time, in English. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 24, 2012
Number of Print Pages*
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Burned Tower by Sergey Dyachenko
THE BURNED TOWER (Chapter 1)
You never know where trouble will await you.
Rolling down from the bridge, the van caught a wheel in a pothole. Its old body shuddered, and Guy distinctly heard the crash of an overturned cage. There was nothing to do but curse and stop the car.
It was a June morning and the smell of fish wafted from the river; not a rancid smell like in a shared kitchen, but fresh and invigorating, as if he were on a fishing trip, when the water stands placid like a mirror and the elastic body of a fish is flopping in the dewy grass. An unfamiliar, greenish bird sat speaking its mind in the shrubbery by the roadside and its monologue put him in a peaceful mood. Guy squinted at the sun low in the sky and thought with satisfaction about the long and quiet day he would have from that morning until late at night, the entire day a leisurely road because there was nowhere to hurry to...
Guy didn't know that the cage which had fallen over in the back of the van from the blow had lost its cover and a lustrous black beaver, denoted in the invoice by a number with a string of zeros, was therefore halfway to freedom. Guy didn't know this and carelessly flung open the steel doors to the back of the van; the valuable beast tumbled to Guy's feet and, running off a few paces, froze between its startled jailor and the bank of the narrow river.
The beaver was still stunned from the jolt and the clatter, and so upon finding itself at liberty, it didn't immediately come to its senses. To his misfortune, Guy came to his senses even later.
"Rat," he said with false tenderness, taking a step towards the fugitive. "Good little rat..."
The next moment he lunged frantically, as if wishing to be crowned the best goalkeeper in the world; he attempted to grasp the naked black tail, but only caught air and a tuft of grass. The beaver, no fool, bolted to the riverbank and slipped into the water without a splash. Guy could see its head for a time, and then the head vanished underneath the bridge.
For a few minutes, he just sat on the shore feeling utterly helpless. Then, clenching his teeth, he got up and returned to the van; the empty, coverless cage lay on its side. The others were intact and nine yellow-toothed creatures eyed Guy gloatingly.
Returning to the shore, he lay down on his stomach and peered under the bridge. Patches of sunlight played on the moss-covered rocks; under the very belly of the bridge it was utterly dark - just like Guy's spirits. Because a minimum of half his earnings...the earnings for the whole summer...had vanished into the water. Literally and figuratively...But it's no use grieving now...damn my luck!
"Did you lose something?"
Even on desolate roads you can happen upon travelers, sometimes even the inquisitive kind. There was nothing strange in that voice, but Guy tensed. A second later he realized that he really, simply really didn't want to turn around and answer. But not to answer at all would be impolite; therefore, after hesitating, he responded, still lying on his stomach:
"A beaver got away..."
The stranger laughed softly.
Guy turned over onto his side and saw narrow bare feet and khaki pants; an ant was crawling up the right pant leg. Guy abruptly sat up and raised his head.
It seemed to him that two piercing green searchlights looked at him from two compressed slits. He had time to notice a shock of blond hair and to make out a leather case hanging around the stranger's neck - and then he hurriedly looked away. All at once. That's how it goes, all your troubles come at once...
"I hadn't heard that beavers bred in these parts," the traveler informed him, reflecting upon it.
Go away, Guy silently begged. I didn't do anything to you. Go away.
The traveler didn't heed his pleas - he was waiting for something; then Guy muttered gruffly:
"Beavers...I've got them over there...an entire van full."
The traveler walked off in order to peek into the open back of the van and chuckled in surprise - or maybe gleefully:
"Heh heh...a prison break. What do they do, gnaw through the bars?
A large black beetle made its way from a blade of grass to a ribwort leaf. I just won't look, Guy repeated to himself. There's no reason to look at this...person. So all their talk about his...reappearance...wasn't for nothing...I thought it was just a lot of hot air, but no...
The traveler left the beavers to themselves. Apparently he thought it was more interesting to talk with Guy:
"Why the long face?"
The beetle lost its footing and disappeared from sight, falling from the leaf, beyond hope.
"What's your name, chatterbox?"
What's it to you, Guy thought, and hunched his head between his shoulders.
"What did you say your name was?"
"What are you going to do?"
A length of lead pipe lay under the front seat of the van 'just in case'. No, that idea's completely uncalled-for.
"What will I do? I'll take my pants off and crawl under the bridge."
"Do you expect to catch him?"
"No, I don't expect to," Guy grumbled to one side.
"Do you want me to help?"
Guy jumped up as if he had been scalded. He ought to drive away immediately, but to leave the valuable animal to its own devices seemed unthinkable. So all there was left to do was to pop the hood and stare blankly at the motor, thus making it clear that the conversation was over.
The traveler, however, had another idea and didn't hurry to set off:
"And why not exactly?"
"Thanks," Guy forced out, "but there's no need."
The minutes dragged on; Guy realized with horror that the design of the engine had completely slipped his memory, and what's more, everything was becoming a blur before his eyes, yet somehow he had to feign vigorous technical repairs...
"What are you afraid of?" the traveler asked unexpectedly gently. "I want to help you. Really."
"I didn't do anything to you," Guy forced out.
"Actually, neither did I...You're going to Lur, right? To the fur farm I take it...Where they'll tear the clothes and skin off your back for that rat. So why don't you want me to help you?"
Guy slammed the hood with a bang:
"Because you never do anything for nothing."