A Gentler Sky
In the stories Grandfather told, the rain-makers always turned into mist before the last drop of the drums and right after the first drop of water onto the thirsty earth. In the rare, whispered stories of Shy Izigiro, Grandfather’s little brother, the rain-makers always fell to the ground dead–shriveled of all moisture, eyes pained and staring, endlessly, into the pouring skies.
Today, Imvura learned both these stories were true. And they were both a lie.
The drums began their beat all at once. The chanter clanged drumsticks together to guide the rhythm. The air charged with anticipation.
The rain was coming.
Imvura’s people weren’t rain-lucky during the long dry seasons. The windy, many-ravined plateau hazed with heat until every plant brittled and died.
The rest of the country, Imvura had once been told, was green and lush as a precious gem. Trees, grasses, rivers, fields upon fields of pastures. Thousands, if not millions, of farmers tending the fecund earth. Imvura had never seen anything other than her native highlands, but she believed all the pretty tales. She believed a great many things others had told her. Probably the only big flaw of hers.
The villagers said it was the issue of the good rain-making magic, nothing more. Out there, in the lowlands, the people simply had better dancers and drummers. And thus, gentler skies. Here, in the highlands, they had the wrong ones. That was why the local villagers rarely had rain, and whenever they did, one of their rain-makers had to die for it to happen. That was also why the rest of the country chased them away centuries ago to this small waste of land.
A hard land under a hard sky. For a hard kind of people.
They didn’t dance like hardened people, though. Swish, jump, land on one leg–then swivel with the other, fast. Faster than the wind, all the dry grasses and leaves of the dancers’ skirts cutting air like knives. All the men, even the big ones, danced effortlessly, their step lighter than the drought’s lingering touch on the land. Imvura wanted to dance with them but she was only a girl, too weak for commanding such power.
Besides, somewhere deep in the back of her mind, she did feel afraid of dropping dead at the end of the rain-making dance. Just a bit.
So she clapped and stomped her feet like everyone did. But sometimes, she stopped, frightened. And waited, breath bated, for the rising tension of this unhinged joy to subside. She would not get caught in the tide of this dance. She knew the legends and how they ended.
Today, she visited a neighboring village for the first time. She didn’t know the names of most dancers but she knew the chant and the pattern of the rhythm even before the drums began pounding. They would thunder like this for hours, if necessary. Whatever time was enough for the bravest dancer, the rain-maker, to go into the trance and the full abandon. The realm of actual, live magic.
“Shy Izigiro, what’s going on now?”
Imvura jumped, but couldn’t see well. The crowd had grown too big and surging for her to brave through. Other kids and some of the adolescents had climbed the trees or the roofs of the nearby huts to see better, and some were squeezing themselves past the adults’ feet.
Imvura knew better than to try. The singing and drumming rose and rose, louder than ever. So did the crowd’s desire to dance. Imvura’s bird-fast heart thrashed in her chest and she couldn’t tell if it was excitement or terror.
“Shy Izigiro! Look at me!”
Though she cried at him with all her strength, he couldn’t hear her. The entire world was now a large rumble of drums and the call of songs. Imvura tugged, and only then Shy Izigiro bent down to sweep her in his arms and lift. His bad feet stomped to the rhythm all the while.
“Look, child, look,” he said, not hearing. “The rain-maker has been chosen.”
From above, the dancers didn’t look as graceful as they did from the ground. Imvura’s teeth dug into her lips when she saw. In the free, tiding crowd, those closest to the middle of the chant weren’t dancing any more. They were danced. By something greater than any human–something far more powerful. The coming storm itself.
That quick youth of a dancer, at the stark center, under the wooden mask. He was the one, Imvura knew. Tonight’s rain-maker. Everyone had to know, with the way the youth swirled and jumped and fell through the air. No way he would be able to stop even if he wanted. His earthly will had ceased to matter.
The sounds vanished as if in a deaf midnight. Every other person in the crowd had faded, too. Even Imvura’s breaths. Only the heartbeat. Her heartbeat, and that dancing, triumphant youth. Nothing else.
What was this feeling?
A clash of thunder, louder than any drum, shook the ground. The sky had darkened so much it was hard to see clearly–yet Imvura never noticed. She stared, transfixed, clutching Shy Izigiro’s tunic with her rigid fingers, unable to move, or even blink.
The rain-maker lunged forward and up. Higher, higher, like a rising swipe of mist. His hands stretched out and thin, his legs useless and limp, his chest thrust forward until it couldn’t make sense for a human body to bend like that. Then something cracked, loud. The noise came from inside him. A branch, broken in half. Only it was his back. And then his arms. And his strong, muscular legs. Everything cracked and bent. And twisted.
Imvura wanted to scream. The youth was smiling. He never stopped, even as his skin split and shriveled around the no-longer fitting body.
Another roll of thunder overhead. Another impossible move of the rain-maker’s body. It curled inward like a wet rag squeezed off moisture. A snap. A thunderclash–and an empty, mangled body hit the ground.
But first, there came raindrops. A cloudburst of them. They were hot on Imvura’s face and in her eyes, and somehow, they tasted strange.
She didn’t remember how she began breathing again or how she got inside one of the huts to dry by the fire. Vaguely, she remembered the way the people looked around them, either shocked or relieved to see the rain come as promised. But beyond that, nothing.
Shy Izigiro sat with her and the other little children by the fire. He talked to the others in his quiet, somber voice. Imvura didn’t hear. She knew he kept her safe–a familiar, dear person to cling to amidst fear–and that was all that mattered.
“…you have to give something back to the sky if you want to receive a gift from it, no?” Shy Izigiro was saying. “Humans don’t belong in the sky. But mists and clouds do.”
“But you always say he couldn’t have turned into a mist!” Imvura’s little brother frowned. “You say they all just die.”
“They do too, Igicu. It’s to us, that it looks so horrible. It doesn’t feel that way from the inside.”
Imvura’s lips moved before she could stop herself. “How?”
How do you know, she wanted to say. How do you possibly know what it feels like from the inside? That… terror, and loss of control. That madness.
“He was smiling, wasn’t he?” Shy Izigiro said. “They all do. Every single time.”
“Is there… a place where they don’t?”
Shy Izigiro had to press his ear close. “A place where they don’t what, child?”
“Where they don’t smile so… horribly.”
He rocked her on his lap, thinking. “Maybe. Maybe far away. Under a gentler sky?”
Imvura still shivered hours later. But her hands came back clean when she rubbed her face. The rain had washed everything out–sweat, tears, the dancing dust from the earth. And something else. Back there, at the exact moment the first raindrops came, and the rain-maker’s body hadn’t yet fallen, Imvura could swear there’d been something utterly wrong with them.
They were too hot and sticky, and they were all tinged red.
Most of all Imvura hated the blood. Urine, feces, vomit weren’t as unnerving to her, however much time she spent with the sick of Grieving Mary’s hospital. But the touch and look of human blood… its smell. She shuddered every single time and Luise had to kick her in the shin to snap her out of it.
“Did I… space out again?” Imvura asked after they’d scrambled out of the surgery room, up to their necks in spatters of red over the rubber aprons.
“Almost.” Straight out of surgery, Luise beelined to the nurses’ station to change. Imvura drifted after her, all too aware of the dripping red under her feet. “But I know what you look like when you’re going to freeze up, so I decided to intervene.”
Luise’s smile over her shoulder always lifted Imvura’s spirits. The women swerved past cots with the sick, and down into the station. Another nurse told them to carry bandages and morphine to room eight, one of the patients caught her by a sleeve when she passed him, and a doctor whistled her to come to his office in five. To all, Luise replied in her usual, matter-of-fact tone, both dismissive and charming. Some of this charm had even rubbed off onto Imvura these last few months. It helped. A lot.
What she would do here, in this big and bustling city, without Luise, Imvura was too afraid to even imagine.
Luise was near twenty herself, still considered to be too naive by the older nurses. But she was a local Kitega citizen. She spoke German from birth. Germans treated her as one of their own, too, even though they couldn’t be more different.
Then, again, to Imvura, even Luise at first seemed alien and wrong. Everything did, so far away from the highlands and the dry, rough winds.
“Why did you leave your village, again?” Luise once asked her while the two were folding threadbare towels stinking of bleach. Imvura had begun working as a helper to the nurses. She hadn’t known many people out here, in Kitega, but she knew she didn’t want to do anything in her life other than save people from harm. She had no specific skills, but porters and cleaners and cooks were needed everywhere. Even in hospitals.
She latched onto Luise because of that wonderful, fleeting smile of hers. And because Luise was also young and dark-skinned, unlike the rest of the German-speaking nurses. They belonged.
“My husband,” Imvura began, shy. “He abandoned me.”
Luise made a disbelieving noise. “For whom?”
Not for whom. For what.
The dance, the prayers, the heart-pounding rhythm. The awe and horror and the impossible. Despite herself, Imvura felt a tremor deep in her bones. She couldn’t keep her voice straight, so she trailed off. “I don’t know.”
“Ah, I understand.” The folding paused for Luise to pop a hip and pull a face. “He cheated on you, didn’t he? I know. I’ve been through that, myself. Men like that don’t give a damn in the world. They don’t see who they hurt, or if the world even exists around them. All that matters to them is this…”
Imvura had stopped listening because she’d learned well that Luise could babble on for hours. But this time, Luise’s voice sounded strange. Hushed, almost reverent. Imvura turned back.
The other woman opened her hands around her head as if holding a fragile halo. Her eyes glazed with an ungraspable thought.
“…this feeling that engulfs them. It steals all of their focus from them. It’s like they give up. Their choices, their will, their whole lives. Nothing else matters, good or bad. Temporary madness, you know?”
“Yes. He preferred that–to me. It felt horrible, to be left behind with no one to even ask, why.” Imvura felt bile on her tongue. Her hands dropped listless to the folded towels. They trembled. “And he smiled as he did that. As if he didn’t even know or understand what was happening to him.”
The word sounded strange and unpleasant. It sounded dangerous. But the touch of Luise’s shoulder was warm and steadying.
Imvura appreciated that.
“They say euphoria feels heavenly. Like a sort of a drug, only one that comes from inside you. From here.” Luise patted her heart, then swirled a finger against her temple. “That’s why nothing but it matters. Not the pain it causes others. Not the melancholy that comes right after. Nothing.”
“That’s what scares me about it so much,” Imvura whispered.
“Oh, but why?” Luise’s shoulder hit into hers and Imvura barely kept her balance not to topple over. Luise pulled her famous grin again. Her voice dropped, coy all of a sudden. “Not all men are like this. Trust me.”
“There are so many German soldiers coming our way soon, I heard. Askari, too.”
Imvura didn’t bother to look scandalized because Luise was already chortling, but muffled, not to make much noise in the echoing, hollow halls. “You are so very predictable, Luise. All conversations with you end the same way.”
“But they all look so pretty in their uniforms, no?” Luise murmured. “You’ll see. And I promise you you’ll forget your cheating husband in a flash, and all the pain he caused you.”
It was mostly silly, talking to the woman, or spending so much time with her. But it helped. Helped her forget, helped her escape.
When Imvura went back to folding, her fingers no longer shook.
There had been many soldiers. Dashing uniforms, boastful discipline. About a couple thousand of young, excited men. An army, Imvura thought. When Luise read to her about the War to End All Wars, going on somewhere far from here, someplace strange and sad, she said there were hundreds of thousands fighting there.
“Ours isn’t that big,” Luise concluded, closing the months-old German papers. “They aren’t even writing about us in their articles.”
Imvura stopped with the carrot-peeling for their meager dinner together. “They don’t know?”
“They do. It’s just that it’s incomparable, what’s going on here to what’s going on there. There are only three thousand people fighting in our country, or in Rwanda.” Luise shrugged and tried to smile. “So it’s… not very serious, to them.”
The last several months had rendered Luise thin, and somehow aged her too drastically. Her smile no more lingered. It didn’t feel warm, or natural.
Imvura didn’t raise her eyes when she walked past the tents of the soldiers. She did it a lot recently, and she hated herself for that. She tried to talk about it to Luise, only to be dismissed. She tried to talk about it to Mlossa, only to be snapped at.
He wasn’t a bad person, Mlossa. He was a German soldier, and a respected Askari warrior, and so he had no temper for conversations. Sometimes, Imvura still wondered how she came to be in his tent so often, but then she remembered.
Ah. Those first few weeks in the camp. The immediate appeal of a handsome soldier’s uniform. The giddiness of new war. The promising speeches about the loot, about the revenge, about the victory and what it would mean–to Germany or to all Germany’s colonies around the world. Both Mlossa and Luise knew German well and could teach more of it to Imvura in preparation for the imminent victory. Could translate the speeches, the news, the dreams both countries shared. Back then, they did it a lot. Talked to her.
Then they stopped.
The intoxicating spell of a wartime rush must have ended. Euphoria always did, whatever form it took. It always, always left you, unless you were lucky enough to die before it could.
“Will there be planes like this here?”
Mlossa stared before him, unseeing. Imvura held newspaper pages to her face, reading them, as much of it as she understood, in the dim light of the kerosene. The tent smelled of hot metal and some nasty pong of chemicals Imvura couldn’t put her finger on.
Mlossa smelled of wine and sweat and gunpowder. An alluring mix to Imvura once.
Slowly, he raised from his bed on the ground, and turned to regard her. “I sure hope not.”
She kept quiet. She knew he was implying the deadly gas attacks that some of the German and British planes carried out in faraway lands. No one had told her about them, of course–neither Luise, nor him. The doctors had taught all the new nurses how to treat those injured in the gas attacks, that was how she knew.
Imvura had always been good at absorbing things through inference. Being told pretty lies and stories instead of full truth wasn’t all too unfamiliar to her.
“There aren’t cars, aren’t trains, aren’t tanks, or even modern rifles in our war. We still use powder, dammit.” Mlossa swept his short hair with his hand, hard and heavy. “Love, we don’t even have horses to carry stuff for the campaign. What are you talking about, asking me about planes?”
True. She’d seen that herself, though she refused to look. There weren’t any horses. Not on this side, among Germans. Not on the other, among the British, Spanish, Belgian forces. Only meager thousands of trained soldiers. Only them, written down, when the losses were counted. Only them, treated in the hospitals.
This wasn’t even a real war, was it?
“What does the word ‘laecherlich” mean in German?” she asked him after a pause.
Mlossa frowned, and gave her a ghost of a toothy smirk. A first, for a long while. “It means laughable. Interested in a language lesson, all of a sudden?”
She was already folding the newspaper closed, careful and thorough. “They wrote it about us here. About the war that’s going on in here. It’s a good thing, to learn new words, isn’t it?”
Mlossa didn’t reply to that. Not that he could.
When she was coming back to the nurses’ tents, she didn’t want to avoid looking any more. She had to look. Had to see.
There weren’t cars or horses to carry all the food, weapons, andammunition for the campaign. But someone had to, yes? In the heat-struck night, with the many war-camp fires hazing the deepening sky, Imvura could see only the glimpse of the fields upon fields of people who stayed at the edges.
They weren’t written down in any records. They weren’t even soldiers, so wore no uniforms. If wounded, if injured, if dying of hunger or thirst, they wouldn’t receive the treatment from the nurses because there was no way there’d be enough medications for all hundreds of thousands of them.
Villagers from distant places, as many as the actual trained soldiers could recruit to their cause. From all over the country. An army of porters. Farmers, their wives. Their small, frightened children.
“Laughable,” she whispered, peering into the impossibly long horizon. Its many ignored mysteries, hidden just out of sight.
She wondered if people who laughed far away knew their smiles hurt so much.
The night she ran from the German army was a mistake. But she didn’t know that yet.
The weather was dry, crackling with the endless static of a long-overdue storm. Imvura packed her things, glancing back when a hidden rustle in the grass came too close to her tent. She counted her breaths, and she prayed.
Let there be rain, let there come rain.
She didn’t doubt she would be able to run away on her own, with or without the cover of storm. But Mlossa… he would be punished harshly if he were caught. All Askari were, and all the porters were. Not that it stopped them. Rain would simply make the escape easier.
She prayed for all those who wanted to flee and were too afraid or too weak to try. In the middle of a dry season, thirst and hunger killed more than disease did, more than gunpowder and rare bullet fire. The majority of people in this war would die of hunger, she knew. She prayed the rain would save at least some of them.
But she stopped herself and held back. A person like her, one who knew the songs and rhythms of the actual rain prayers of old, had to be careful. Back in her hard highlands, the prayer would help a village survive for a year. Here, in the midst of a drought and famine and sickness and war–the lack or presence of rain didn’t even decide much. Only a temporary relief, nothing more.
She prayed solely with her words, now.
The bag was full of morphine. The most important currency during a war, wherever one went. Imvura slammed the bag shut and rushed to her feet.
In the tent’s gap, smoky from the fire burning some feet away, Luise stood. She didn’t say a word, only glanced Imvura up and down. Then she walked around her and to the cot, an empty tool tray in her hands. She started rifling through the supplies. Quiet and timid, so very unlike herself.
“Come with me. Come with us,” Imvura told her, kneeling close by. She was afraid to touch Luise, only staring, only hoping she would maybe glance back. Or smile at her, the way she used to do once.
“To the English. To the Belgians, through Rwanda.”
Luise kept to the silence. The instruments she picked clanged on the tray. “Don’t you think they have a porter army there as well?”
No time to argue. No time to wonder or doubt.
“Maybe. But maybe not,” Imvura said. “All I know is that none of us matter to the Germans. They don’t even notice us.”
Her fingers lingered on Luise’s elbow, almost wishing to pull.
“War is a kind of a drug, too,” Luise said, absently. Then she got up, freeing herself from Imvura’s grasp. “Hard to notice anyone around you when you’re so caught up in the euphoria it gives you.”
“Are you… defending them?”
At the tent’s open flap, Luise stopped. Her profile limned stark against the halo of fire and the darker edge of night. A shiver passed through her. She turned away. “It only ever looks horrible when you’re seeing it from the side. Within, it mostly feels like… giving up. I guess that’s what I’m doing. Not defending them, or myself. Giving up.”
“You don’t have t–“
Her voice was barely a breath. “Bye, Imvura.”
Mlossa’s hand was hot and fevered in hers as they ran. He didn’t know where he was running. Neither did she. They weren’t the only ones doing it. The fires burned in the blackout hollows of the night. Some of the people, in the camps or by the porters’ fires, played music. Drums, or else flutes and strings, but faintly–more so to distract from the stench of rotting bodies and the sick, and from the waving heat that spread the foul winds over to the main camps from the edges.
At one point, Mlossa’s hard touch let go of hers, and she couldn’t even tell. In the darkness, it didn’t register. In any case, she hoped he got to where he wanted–to the English, or Belgians, or whomever. She hoped the same for herself.
For hours, she followed the other deserters. The mess, the tumble, the hiding and the buck-like dashes through the brush and into the thinning thicket.
This night was a mistake. Not because she failed to get to safety–whatever that meant now–or because she’d lost Luise and Mlossa forever during it. No. It was a mistake because she’d been wrong about the German army, and the British army, any army, really.
There was a losing side in this war. Only it wasn’t any of the sides who’d actually begun it.
The drum beat of gunfire had no rhythm or pattern. It was better that way, Imvura always thought. Even when she was tired to the point of fainting, this disorganized cacophony helped her concentrate on what needed to be done, blood or no blood.
The battlefield was always soaked with blood. That was why the nurses had to go as far as the bravest of soldiers had managed to go, and seek them out, wounded or concussed, or dying, and drag them back to their lines. Sometimes, out of the smoke and dust rising in clouds, words spoken by an enemy nurse close by startled her, and Imvura stilled, listening. But then she remembered–this wasn’t the language of an enemy. English, Dutch, French, German. It was the language of… confusion. There were no real enemies here.
What side was she on now? Most nurse deserters like her talked local languages instead. Kirundi, most frequently. At least they knew they’d understand each other.
Now, it was the suddenness of German that gave Imvura fright. A German woman’s voice, raspy and colorless, yelling to another nurse to help her lift an injured man. Even through the partial daze of the battlefield’s confusion, Imvura straightened and searched through the shifting, blurry outlines of enemy’s nurses in the distance.
She knew that voice.
At first slow, then braver, Imvura stepped towards it. And after it.
“Luise!” Imvura called, her step quickening along with the rattle of guns echoing over the fields. She tripped over the ridges in the roiled soil, almost fell, but ran nonetheless. The rumble of the distant war machines suppressed most sounds, and Imvura was sure her voice would be drowned out too.
But Luise heard.
She half-turned over her shoulder.
–were right. There is no difference on which side to be. I only ever wanted to be on the side of people I loved. Close, familiar and dear people. My only side.
Her family. Her husband. And Mlossa. And Luise, above all.
Imvura wanted to scream all of this–in any language she knew. But when she opened her mouth, and tasted the air and its strange smoke around her, her skin snapped cold.
Something was wrong.
Luise also felt it. She and the other nurses behind her, in their pristinely-cut German Sisters’ uniforms, turned their heads, wide-eyed. One of the girls whimpered. She pointed up above. She started mumbling–no reason or coherence, at first.
“Green. The smoke that’s coming from those hills. It’s green!”
It was green, the rolling wave of fog coming off the hills and onto the camps and villages behind the battlefield. It took Imvura a while to understand what she was seeing. A longer while to accept.
Chlorine gas attacks had ceased to be used in the wars fought far away. They’d stopped working there because people had become prepared for them. Chlorine was water-soluble. Very easy to guard against once armies learned what to expect. Very easy to guard against in places where water was everywhere, every season of the year.
Where it was almost a disposable commodity.
Imvura didn’t feel her feet as they carried her towards Luise. Her fingers were numb as well when they closed around Luise’s chilly hand. Her heart was drumming, drumming along with the racket of outdated, weak guns the laughable armies shot with. In spite of them.
She didn’t need a chant, or a crowd, or a guidance of elders to have her body respond. Only the pounding of her heart. It beat for those it loved. Unstoppably, without will or choice. The best rhythm in the world.
“Luise…” She pulled the woman close against the paralysis of dread that rendered Luise’s body deathly stiff. Imvura had to lean in, to make her words across. “Luise, I’m on your side. Please, remember that.”
She didn’t know if Luise heard her. She was calm yet somehow giddy at the same time. No fear, no hesitation, no confusion.
Rain never could fix the big things in the world. Not a war, not a famine, not a sickness, not injustice. It could maybe, maybe fix this.
The thought thrashed loud in Imvura’s chest. She found it hard to contain it. A glee, a joy, a song. Almost a madness, breaking out of her in a scream, in the first step in a ritualistic dance, in a smile that spread across her lips. It must have looked horrible from the outside, but she no longer cared.
For now, nothing mattered.
Only a feeling of being under a gentler sky for a brief moment in time. Of dancing and dissolving into it, like a swipe of a mist, crushed by the heavy storm of rain a second later.
Out in the distance, the rumble of gunfire went quiet in the first great clash of thunder.
Amelia Sirina is a Buryat-Russian speculative fiction writer. Before settling in the Washington D.C. area, she used to live in several countries and now can’t stop dreaming about returning to this “nomadic” lifestyle one day. Writing about distant horizons seems like a wonderful way to keep that dream afloat. Amelia’s stories and poetry previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, The Future Fire, Every Day Fiction, Liminality, and in anthologies.
Author of “A Gentler Sky”
1) What inspired you to write this story?
With “The Gentler Sky”, what inspired me to write it was history, mainly. Or better to say what’s left out of history. World Wars always fascinated me with how complex, intertwined, and impossible to unpack their many cultural ties and legacies were — especially in places the World Wars weren’t culturally associated with in our collective perception. Everything that’s not Europe, North America, Middle East, or East Asia. They weren’t called World Wars for nothing. They touched all corners of the world, even if the mainstream storytelling doesn’t view it that way.
In most media of the previous decades, these places tended to be sidelined in favor of the more widely-expected narratives. So it’s no wonder audiences overlook such places to this very day — their history has simply never been taken seriously to begin with. In many ways, it was left unwritten. Of course, for any fiction writer, such dismissiveness to real pain and real stories in favor of the more acceptable ones, can be a major push to read, research, then write about such stories by themselves. Which was what happened to me.
2) What do you hope readers take from this story?
For me at least, the gist of this story is that war, and famine, and disease — any brutal misery of the world can make people lose themselves in trying to counter it. Lose any sense of scale, or the human sacrifices necessary, or the endless perpetration of pain they cause others in the process. What my main character, Imvura, does at the end if the story, though made out of love and compassion for others, will also cause pain to those she loves. But then, she can’t help it. Her sacrifice is personal, and it is done to save people. Her story is beautiful precisely because it’s so personal, but once the same mindset is held for an impersonal cause, all those bloody sacrifices people make while blinded to the results, start looking horrid.
I found it frightening that storytellers of the period “The Gentler Sky” takes place in — the newspaper journalists, the politicians — were so caught up with what they deemed important for themselves (the war in Europe) that they simply ignored the terrors that went on in other places under their control (the African countries). I wanted to compare these feelings all people share — getting lost in pursuing a cause to such a degree, one can no longer care about the consequences. On the individual level, such stories can be beautiful and moving, like Imvura’s. But on the level of war-mongers and impersonal political gestures, such stories become ugly. I wanted to explore these contrasts, and how they intertwine in history.
3) To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?
I’m a panicky person, so I tend to do many cuts and edits of the same story when I’m submitting it. As soon as a rejection comes, I start revising. Though this particular story was lucky to not have gone through many rejections (and therefore edits, apart from the latest update to fit in with the Euphoria theme better). But it was shelved for a while after only two rejections. Like I said — I panic easily, and get dejected fast, then spend months, if not years being too scared to try again.
Fortunately, the call for thematic submissions in Apparition Lit came, and I thought I’d like to try this story out again. And it was accepted. I guess it might not sound all that inspiring if it only received two rejections before being accepted, but then again, it did lie abandoned on a far shelf for a significant amount of time before I took another risk with it. For me, such accounts are also inspiring. For a person who suffers from chronic bouts of depression, the fear of rejection after rejection and the overcoming of this fear always feels like defeating a dragon of sorts. Every time I manage to be brave, and succeed because of that, it’s nothing short of magical.
So my advice would be — don’t let your fears put you and your stories in the dark corner. Even if I can’t easily follow this advice myself, trying and losing is still infinitely better than losing because you never even tried. This story would have lost automatically had I never sent it out again like I planned to do at some point.
4) Recommend something to us!
My biggest recommendation would be to be spontaneously curious. Read more, read randomly, read everything, read history most of all. For example, the most recent “random” realization I had was that I know so little about the authors of the 19th century other than the perennial darlings. Curiosity led me to discover not only hundreds of writers otherwise largely unknown — sometimes even in the academic circles! — but to their works that can be found in the physical libraries and online for free. In particular, my latest obsession is the female writers of the 18-19th century Russia, their works and the critiques the mainstream media had given them. And how much their writing, themes, and their treatment by their contemporaries (quite condescending, usually) is so reminiscent of our modern times! The similarities are uncanny, and yet these authors are forgotten, and so are their works and their struggles. It feels unjust, to read their books and poems and letters now and know that the majority of people don’t even know these artists existed, let alone had stories to tell.
That’s my biggest recommendation, I suppose, and it’s in the same vein as what inspired me to write “The Gentler Sky” — for everyone to be more curious every day, even if the subjects may seem spontaneous with how unrelated to each other they can be. Look for more people of the past, wonder about stories they told, and what stories they weren’t allowed to tell or weren’t allowed to share with the audience as big as some other, luckier, storytellers of their eras. There’re always going to be vastly more people whose voices are drowned out in the white noise of mainstream history, and only we, the non-academic readers — the enthusiasts, can counteract that by being curious and looking out for them on our own. After all, we will all end up in the distant past one day, too. We can’t be sure history will treat us nicely either, so the least we can do is look back and engage with those who are overlooked, and maybe even share what we find about them with others.