GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ Excerpt: Nightwood (Dark Fantasy set in the Soviet Empire Book 2) by Elana Gomel | I Smell Sheep

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Excerpt: Nightwood (Dark Fantasy set in the Soviet Empire Book 2) by Elana Gomel

by Elana Gomel 
January 18, 2023
All fairy tales were history once.

Ally is a Ukrainian bride who married a wealthy Californian, Carl Morris. Everything is strange in her new home: the shadowy redwoods, the peculiar neighbors, and the mystery surrounding the death of Carl’s first wife. But Ally is determined to leave her own tragic past behind and to be a good wife and a good American.

Escaping darkness is not so easy, however. Ally discovers that her house is situated on the borders of Nightwood, where fairy tales become nightmares and nightmares become reality. And the ruler of Nightwood has plans of his own.

When Carl is abducted by a forest monster, Ally follows him into the land where the Red, Black, and White Horsemen drag the sun in their wake. There she is taken prisoner by the ghoulish Little Mother and is forced to labor in a filthy farmyard filled with deformed human livestock. But Little Mother is not the most terrifying creature in Nightwood. The Ogre, squatting in the Castle with no Windows, is poised to invade our world. He has Carl; and he wants Ally.

Unexpectedly joined by new friends, Ally escapes to embark on a perilous journey across a dying land filled with mythical beasts and creatures from fairy tales. To save Carl, Ally will have to brave the horrors of Nightwood and uncover the shattering secret of her own identity.

"History, trauma, and folklore intertwine in a Ukrainian immigrant's American dream in Gomel's novel. ...the novel is unquestionably an intensely creative, hard-hitting work with a suspenseful storyline and empathetic yet critical deliberations on human suffering."—Kirkus Reviews

"In Nightwood, Gomel masterfully combines the horrific elements of fairy tales  with even more horrific history to create a chilling and atmospheric story that blurs the boundaries between story and reality."—Gustavo Bondoni, author of Colony, Desert Base Strike, and Outside

"If Shirley Jackson and Lewis Carroll had a love child, it'd write a lot like Elana Gomel. In her mesmerizing dark fairytale, Nightwood, Gomel draws on Slavic folklore to blur the lines between horror and fantasy. Ally, a Ukrainian 'mail order bride,' ventures deep into the California redwoods and 'through the looking glass,' fighting shapeshifters, witches, ogres (and worse) in hopes of finding her husband...and herself."—Josh Schlossberg, author of Malinae, editor of The Jewish Book of Horror, and undertaker at

Part One: A Good Marriage
Suzie was lost once again.
Mitch Webster was not worried. He knew she would turn up soon enough, wandering into the living room or the kitchen with that gentle, dreamy expression on her face that he had learned to dread, the fat tomcat named Max following, rubbing against her legs in the hope of getting a treat. She would call him Patsy. Patsy the dachshund had been dead for six years.
Mitch got up from his kneeling position in front of the fireplace where he had been patiently stacking firewood, his lower back responding with a flare of pain. The aches that a body accumulated as it moved inexorably toward its final destination were getting worse. Well, every man had to die. But he was determined to go into the darkness with his mind intact, and so far, his resolution seemed to work. As for Suzie . . .
It was not Alzheimer’s; the doctors said. They averted their eyes and spoke in smooth platitudes about “unspecified dementia” and “general decline”. These were sneaky codes for their ignorance and helplessness. But Mitch knew what it was. The love of his life was leaving him.
A door banged and Suzie walked in, shedding twigs and needles from the disheveled bunch of branches she carried in her arms. Could she be so far gone as not to realize that green wood was useless for fire?
She looked animated, her eyes sparkling, and his heart leaped, as it always did when he saw her. Forty years of marriage, and the magic was still there.
“What is it, darling?” he asked gently.
“I found it, Mitch! I found it!”
“Found what, baby?”
“The tree!”
“What tree?”
She pouted and dumped the branches onto the floor in front of the fireplace. Max scuttled away, his tail indignantly lashing his rotund sides. Mitch sighed. He would have to clean up the mess later, after Suzie went to bed. She often grew upset when he corrected her household blunders. She threw a fit when he was too conspicuous about laundering the red-stained lace curtains she had put into the washer together with a velvet throw.
“The singing tree. The ash! Come on, Mitch, don’t you remember?”
He had no idea what she was talking about, but then something stirred at the back of his mind. A fairy tale, wasn’t it? A guest at one of the dinner parties from the time when they still had dinner parties . . . . He saw an ash-tree, rare in the redwoods of Northern California. What did he say? Ash, a pale tree. Ash, a maiden tree. Ash . . . a witch-tree?
“I thought we cut it down a long time ago,” he said uncertainly.
“No! It’s still there! Bigger than before!”
“What about it?”
“It spoke to me!” Suzie cried triumphantly.
Mitch felt a chill worm its way down his back. What if Suzie’s problem was getting worse? What if it was developing into psychotic delusions?
“Come on, Suzie!” he barked, desperate to force herself back into sanity. “Trees don’t talk!”
“Really?” she sneered. “What about that?”
She picked up one of the branches and thrust it into Mitch’s face. He drew away from the leaves that rustled loudly . . . too loudly.
He bent closer, listening. How could the leaves rustle at all when Suzie held the branch steady? And yet he could distinctly hear a soft susurrus, a humming overlapping sound.
He pulled back and stared at Suzie in horror. Was she infecting him with her madness? Was it his turn to succumb to the ravages of age that were devouring her mind? But she looked neither senile nor decrepit. The dusk erased her wrinkles, and the fire in the fireplace lent its glow to her cheeks and its luster to her eyes.
The voices rose from the greenwood like dripping sap, vague but overwhelming, shaping themselves into articulate words.
Song of youth
Music of rebirth
Ash will sing
Ash will sing for you
“What is this?” Mitch cried.
“The trees are speaking,” Suzie explained patiently, as if talking to the toddlers that their middle-aged sons used to be.
“How is that possible?”
“They’ve always spoken, Mitch,” Suzie said. “You know it. This is why we are here. Because they’ve always spoken to us. Trees are our friends.”
Yes, indeed. This was why they were here, in that isolated house in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains. This was why they always rejected the subtle and not-so-subtle hints from the kids that they should move down to the Peninsula and look for a nice senior facility. Because this was the place. The place of magic. They worshipped in the Church in the Woods but in truth the woods themselves were their church.
Suzie let the branch drop and smiled at Mitch, blinding him with her suddenly resurrected beauty. The branch rustled at his feet. The rest of the tree limbs scattered on the floor took up the chant. The firs and redwoods outside amplified it to the point of the volume being almost too high, the meaning almost too clear…

Music of youth
Song of rebirth!
“They are giving us a chance, Mitch. A new lease on life.”
Ash will sing
Ash will sing for you.
“The trees live long and put out new leaves every spring. The trees know the secret of rejuvenation.”
Song of rebirth!
“Ash will sing for us, and we’ll be young again. Just as we used to be, my love!”
Ash will sing!
“Yes,” Mitch whispered. “Yes!”
The woods were magic, he had always known it. And if this magic wanted to reward him, give him back what the cruelty of time had taken away, why not?
Ash will sing for you!
“We’ll be young again!”
Ash needs to be fed.
You’ll feed Ash and he’ll sing for you!
“What?” Mitch shook himself, surfacing momentarily from the enchantment that enveloped him like the memory of Suzie’s smile on the day they met. “What does it mean?”
“Nothing comes for free, darling. We know that. You pay for what you want.”
“Pay? How?”
“Ash is hungry. Ash will feed. Ash will sing for you.”
Susie’s hair, still long and full, swished about her shoulders, its silver turning back into gold.
“Trees need to be fed. The soil here is thin and bitter. They’ll make us whole again if we give them what they want.”
Song of youth
Song of rejuvenation.
“I’ll bring tons of fertilizer if this is what they want!” Mitch cried.
“No, not chemical muck. Something else, something real.”
“What’s real, Suzie?”

Chapter 1: Homecoming

There was a face in the cabin’s window.
Ally blinked and it was gone. Just a spot of reflected light in the dirty glass. She twisted in the passenger seat, looking back at the ramshackle little hut made even smaller by the contrast with the impossibly tall trees that nodded over it.
“Somebody lives here?” she asked Carl.
“Nah! It’s been abandoned . . . like, forever. I don’t even know who it belongs to. The Websters may know.”
Yes, the Websters. And the Singers. And the Murphys. And the gay couple whose names Carl had forgotten. And Mike and Laura, whose name he pronounced differently every time. And some families who were of no account because they rented their mansions on the mountain rather than owned them. All the people Ally had not met yet. All her future neighbors.
The Tesla navigated yet another hairpin bend in the road, which narrowed down to one lane. Ally gripped the edge of her seat, trying to convince herself she could drive. She had received her international driver’s license from an outfit that would certify a blind man for an appropriate fee. Her Gucci bag slipped off her knees, the wallet flopping out. She quickly picked it up, reassured by its thickness. It held her license and her green card, along with her embarrassing and soon-not-to-be-needed passport.
Carl’s hands were negligently caressing the wheel. Square hands lightly dusted with . . . freckles?
Age spots.
The view was breathtaking. The road was dappled in gold and green as the sun broke through the feathery branches of Douglas firs. Under their thin crowns, curlicues of shed bark created a mosaic of bronze, ocher, and pink. Occasionally, the bright strawberry-colored trunk of a madrone flashed by like a ruby set in jade.
Another hairpin—and she gasped. The redwoods started here, slender giants piercing the pale sky whose light caught in their furry paws. Their size felt like a personal insult, reducing her to the insignificance of a bug crawling in the grass.
She glanced to the right and was surprised how far down the slope she could see through the sparse undergrowth. The tree colossi let few rivals flourish around their majestic trunks. The moss-covered ground was dotted with giant mushrooms. She blinked and reality reasserted itself: they were actually boulders, sticking up from the powdery soil. All proportions were askew here because of the redwoods.
“Pretty, huh?” Carl said smugly. “Like a fairy tale.”
“Fairy tales are not pretty,” Ally said.
He smiled indulgently and she squashed her irritation. He was a good man, she reminded herself. A kind and loving man. His occasional boasting was a small matter. So what if he talked as if the entire wilderness belonged to him?
Perhaps it did. Hadn’t he told her he owned a large piece of land along with the house?
They owned, she corrected herself. They.
She lightly touched her ring, a small modest affair, just like their wedding. But the diamond was real, and so was the marriage, and so was her status, and so was—
The car swerved sharply, its front wheels digging into the friable shoulder, scattering fir needles, hanging over the edge, the whole thing dipping, a kaleidoscope of light and dark, her strangled squeaking, as if she did not dare scream . . . and then it all stopped, and the car was back on the road, and Carl was swearing.
“Bloody deer!”
“Deer?” she whispered.
“Yes, didn’t you see? A silly bugger just about jumped over us!”
Had there been a deer? Had she actually seen a pale fawn shape streak across her field of vision, suspended in the air like a monstrous butterfly? Yes, she must have seen it. She had. It must have been a deer; what else would it be?
The past was so much easier to live with when you could edit it at will.
The Tesla pulled into a broad driveway peppered with gravel and moss. And here it was. The house. Her new home.
It was long, and slinky, and transparent, built into the long slope that led down from the road into the wilderness of tanoaks and firs. Coiling ground fog crawled up its glass walls. It blended so well with its surroundings that it appeared inconspicuous despite its impressive size. Most of its bulk was hidden by the slope and masked by the scatter of native bushes in the unfenced front yard. Above loomed the redwoods, leaning over the house as if curious to peek into the exposed lives of its inhabitants.
Carl jumped out and trotted toward the house. He paused in the covered walkway that led to the front door, looked back at her.
“Welcome home!” he said.
Ally got out of the Tesla, her legs cramping after the long drive. She stood there, gaping at the house.
Houses are supposed to provide shelter. Houses are supposed to be where you hide away from the night, and the things that walk in the night. Houses are not supposed to be open to the woods.
“Come on!”
She walked to the glass door, tottering on her kitten heels.


At least the kitchen was brightly lit.
It was huge. On one side it blended into a dining space fronted by French windows. On the other, it was separated from the enormous living room by a bar. The top of the bar carried a motley collection of knick-knacks which got in her way while she was making dinner, no matter how careful she tried to be, but the kitchen was so crowded with mementos of other lives that Ally inadvertently knocked down a framed photograph. She restored it to its place, noting that it depicted Carl with another man and two women. Was one of them Ros?
Well, what difference did it make? These people were of no consequence anymore. People of the past.
Everything in the kitchen was big, expensive, and confusing: the green Australian-stone countertops, the large island bearing an electric range, and several ovens that stared at her haughtily with their complicated dials. The hanging lamps in red and blue glass shades provided enough illumination (and got in her way) but beyond the French window was only darkness. The ocean of green was veiled by the impenetrable night. The glow from the kitchen petered in a snarl of shadows in the huge living room. And beyond the insubstantial glass walls the redwoods nodded and whispered in the dull sky. There were no streetlights. And no sounds from the outside, except the susurrus of the rising wind.
Ally deliberately clattered pots and pans—and stopped. It sounded like a provocation.
Her nights had never been silent. Not in Mama’s tiny apartment filled with traffic hum and the retching of the perpetually drunk policeman who lived next door; not when she was on her own and had to turn off the lights, so that the hammering on the door would stop and the men would go away; not even in the students’ dorms in Berkeley. Malika, her roommate, liked to hang out with girls in bright headscarves whose chatter in a language she did not understand was the background to Ally’s struggle with her Advanced Anthropology textbook.
The potatoes had been sliced and plunged into icy water, the meatballs oozed juices through their coating of breadcrumbs, the cucumbers and tomatoes for the salad had been chopped. All she needed was oil.
The countertop held several bottles of virgin olive oil from Spain and California, but nobody cooked with olive oil at home! She needed canola. Ally opened the enormous fridge and stared in disbelief at the supermarket-like display of sauces and condiments. Search of the freezer revealed stacks of frozen pizza and burgers.
Who kept the fridge stocked? It couldn’t possibly have been in the same state since Ros’ death, could it?
She closed the fridge. Carl was in his office, talking with some angel investor. Ally did not want to run to him with every paltry question like a little girl tugging on her Daddy’s hand. He was her husband, not her father. And she had never had—or needed—a father.
Ally looked around and saw the door: a smooth tawny wood, flush with the wall. She pulled it but it did not bulge, so she pushed it instead. The door swung open and she saw—nothing. Inside the doorframe was a rectangle of blackness. The light from the kitchen stopped at the threshold.
Ally reached inside and felt a shy brush, as if a mass of cobwebs met her questing fingers. And then something tangible nested in her hand—a cord. Ally tugged on it and a small bulb came on, revealing steep stairs going down. A basement?
She hesitated on the first step. There was a chilly draft wafting from the depth and she heard a scratchy sound like a mouse trying to run away. How big should a mouse be to make such deliberate noise?
Ally was not superstitious: nothing supernatural could be as bad as real life. But she was unwilling to plumb the house’s underbelly just now. Darkness outside and darkness inside; and the glass house a thin treacherous membrane between the two.
She began to turn when something made her look back.
Standing on the lowest step, just where the thin light dissolved into the murk, was a bottle of oil.
Ally sprinted out of the basement and slammed the door shut.


“Great potatoes!” Carl speared the last golden-brown piece on his fork. The meatballs were scattered around his plate.
Ally sipped her Mondavi pinot noir. The famous wine felt rough on her palate. The candles reflected in the window along with the red and blue lamps, making the glass wall look like an aquarium of dark water filled with luminescent jellyfish.
“You didn’t like the meatballs?”
“They’re a little . . .” he shrugged. “Too much bread, maybe?”
“No, it’s okay. I can grab some burgers tomorrow. But you need to start eating meat, honey. Just look at yourself. A gust of wind could blow you away!”
There was genuine concern in his voice and Ally patted his hand in gratitude. There was no way she would share his burgers or taste her own meatballs. Ally had been a natural vegetarian since birth. Mama told her how, as a toddler, she would cry herself blue in the face when offered a piece of boiled chicken or a slice of kielbasa. To her credit, Mama had never tried to force her, simply accepting this oddity of her daughter’s and trying to find alternative means of keeping her alive, which was not easy in the penury and chaos of those ruined years. Ally would reluctantly drink kefir and swallow boiled eggs, but she adamantly refused to eat any meat. She herself did not know why. She was not a militant vegan and had no problem cooking meat for others, but the disgust that welled up when she saw a piece of flesh on her plate was as undeniable as physical pain.
She sipped more wine and felt her head fill with lightness like a helium balloon.
Carl smiled at her. The soft candlelight smoothed away a decade from his face, molded the hanging jowls back into a firm jawline, darkened the silvery hair to its original sandy color. She smiled back, giving another tiny push to her gratitude until it became affection.
“Let’s go to bed,” he said. “I’m pooped.”
She started stacking the dishes in the sink to wash them tomorrow. He stopped her and showed her the built-in dishwasher that yawned like a hungry mouth. By the time Ally filled it, Carl was already in the master bedroom suite, which occupied a separate wing of the house.
She turned off the lights and stepped out of the kitchen to face the cavernous darkness of the living room. It felt as if she had stepped into the forest. In the dark, the glass walls were invisible. The bushes reached out for her, the furry branches of redwoods scraped at the charcoal sky, and the dense firs wove the spiky tapestry of black on black. In the clearing that was the living room, the low shapes of couches and armchairs crouched like sleeping predators. Ally grasped a supporting pillar, took a step forward. Blurry shadows danced as the wind picked up. A whitish tentacle of fog slithered along the wall, keeping pace with her, and then a sharp bang came from behind her.
Abandoning her dignity, Ally ran to the bedroom suite and closed the door behind her. She found herself in a wide hallway that opened onto a tiled room with a marble spa and a sauna. To the sides of the hallway were two bathrooms, his and hers; two dressing rooms, and the master bedroom itself, door slightly ajar. Carl’s reassuring snores drifted out.
Ally peered into the spa room and quickly ducked back. The spa was glass-walled too, surrounded by gnarly shadows. Her bathroom, on the other hand, had proper solid walls and a cheerful flowery curtain. She relaxed.
Standing in front of the mirror, Ally pulled out the pins that kept her braids wound around her head. She shook her hair loose and it fell to her knees, a shiny waterfall, enveloping her slim figure like a golden cloak.
She was pretty but there were women prettier than her. She was smart but not a genius. She was tough and determined but so were millions of refugees and migrants washing up on the world’s unwelcoming shores. The only thing unique about her, the only attribute that set her apart, her only true wealth, was her hair. Mama used to call it “fairy gold”, and it turned out her fairy gold had an exchange rate, after all. It had bought her this fancy house, the joint bank account, and the husband to underwrite it all.
She quickly finished in the bathroom and snuck into the bedroom. Carl’s snores changed in pitch as he rolled over and threw his heavy arm over her. Normally, she had to steel herself to suffer the noise but now she was glad of it. It covered up the distant bang coming from the heart of the house.

Little Sister is a novella about impossible friendship and fighting monsters set in the dark mirror-reflection of World War 2. The creatures that populate this world are as horrifying as the choices that Svetlana and Andrei will have to make, and the sacrifices that the victory will demand of them.
The books in this series are only thematically linked to each other and may be read in any order.

About the Author:
Elana Gomel has taught and researched English literature and cultural studies at Tel-Aviv University, Princeton, Stanford, Venice International University and the University of Hong Kong. She is currently dividing her time between California and Tel-Aviv. She speaks three languages and has two children. She is the author of five academic books and numerous peer-reviewed articles on posthumanism, science fiction, Victorian literature and serial killers. Her fantasy, horror and science fiction stories appeared in Apex Magazine, New Horizons, The Fantasist, Timeless Tales, New Realms, Alien Dimensions, and others. Her stories were also featured in several award-winning anthologies, including Zion’s Fiction, Apex Book of World Science Fiction, and People of the Book. Her first fantasy novel A Tale of Three Cities came out in 2013, and her standalone novella “Dreaming the Dark” was published in 2017. 2018 saw the publication of her dark fantasy novel The Hungry Ones and her first collection of short stories Un/home. Her latest novel is a dark sci–fi–horror hybrid The Cryptids. When not busy writing or teaching, she can be found on the plane, heading for Norway, Cambodia or Hong Kong in search of new monsters.

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