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TITLE INFORMATION

MR. HEATHCLIFF’S FORTUNE AND OTHER SHORT STORIES

Temmer, L S

CreateSpace (174 pp.)

$12.00 paperback, $8.99 e-book

ISBN: 978-1482391930; May 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW

Temmer (Throw Granny off the Balcony and Other Short Stories, 2012) offers a collection of five diverse, experimental

short stories.

These tales, ranging in length from the 14-page “The Sentimental Imagination” to the novella-length title story, take

place in disparate settings and time periods, such as the Ottoman Empire, the United States during the French and Indian

War, or Paris in the late 19th century. However, they’re united by their exploration of metafictional elements and the

concept of time. Some stories share common themes such as spurned love, desperation and unfortunate beginnings. “Mr.

Heathcliff’s Fortune” offers an explanation of the title character’s whereabouts during his absence from Yorkshire in the

Emily Brontë novel Wuthering Heights: He was in Louisiana, earning money gambling and wrecking lives. However,

the author’s portrayal of Heathcliff as evil may disappoint readers who see the character as merely haunted and obsessed.

The metafictional final story, “The Cartographer,” begins with the doomed romance of a beautiful courtesan, Guilia, and

Antonious, who she doesn’t know is a eunuch; their story is told within a second story about a fictional romance

between academics Vittoria and James, which is itself told by novelist Marguerite. The novelist’s actions, meanwhile,

are directed by the Divine Mind and the Universal Mind. It’s the most successful story in this collection and the most

amusing as well, with the priceless line: “[A]ll sorts of cruelties exist when women and eunuchs are left to their own

devices.” Interestingly, many stories’ turning points hinge on written documentation, such as diaries or poems. Despite

often flawless prose, the stories tend to suffer from lengthy buildups, with climaxes only occurring in the final pages.

Overall, however, although some stories skirt the fine line between intellectual experimentalism and just plain weirdness,

fans of short fiction will find them well worth their time.

An ambitious, if occasionally uneven, story collection.

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We knew that they would come, but we didn’t know when. They surrounded our village in darkness, silent and wary as wolves. It was late spring, and a soft rain had been falling for days, bringing with it a mist that enveloped our village and obscured the stars.

Our commander was as nervous as a cat and spat curses between drags on his cigarette. He dismantled and cleaned his weapons again and again. It took the edge off. He was worried because the headman of our village had sent some boys out to high pasture with the sheep, and the dogs had gone with them. There would be no forewarning.

Before that, the headman had sent the women and children to the Albanian border and had said whoever wanted to go with them should volunteer now. I wanted to go, but a warning look from my older brother, Rexcep, stopped me, and I hung back, not daring to look when the convoy of cars left.

The commander, a short wiry man, had come to the village with a mission. He had automatic weapons and some combat training, it seems. He never commented on his past, but I heard from one of his team that the weapons and the training came courtesy of the Germans and the CIA, who had positioned themselves on the Albanian side of the border.

‘Hey, you, poet, quit dreaming. Get out there and relieve the watch.’ That was Agim, a man whose coarse choppy haircut made him seem as if he was wearing an animal’s pelt on his head. ‘You too, fat man, back him up,’ he ordered. The fat man, whose one source of entertainment since he had come to our village had been to torment me, stopped snickering.

‘Fuck,’ he said. Agim threw him a weapon.

‘You little shit,’ the fat man said. I could feel his moist breath right behind me, ‘You know why Agim sent you out here, right? Because he can’t afford to lose his good fighters.’

‘You’re out here too, Fat Man,’ I said, not looking back at the others, who were lounging and smoking and talking among themselves. That ought to shut him up, I thought. But he went on, ‘When those overgrown bastards come, I’ll rip them apart with my bare hands and hang them by their -‘ The fat man never got a chance to finish his fantasy, because, at that very moment, he went down in a heap, his skull exploding. I hit the ground.

I didn’t have a chance to fire my weapon as a warning to the others before the ground was littered with bullets. I felt a searing pain shoot up my leg as an explosion of light blinded me. I tried to grab my gun but was caught in the crossfire. I heard them coming, and flipping myself over, crawled behind the woodpile. My heart was beating so fast that I thought it would fly out of my chest and over our village, straight into the woods.

I was afraid to look down at my leg, at the sticky blood that I could feel gushing out freely amidst the leafy debris. I peeled off my shirt and made a tourniquet for my leg. All this seemed to happen as if time had slowed, then come to a complete stop. I heard the battle raging, but, it too, seemed far away. All I could think was that I would lose my leg if I managed to survive. I could hear my own blood pulsing with a soft shrrr –shrrr sound that intensified with each passing moment.

Then I remembered the last time I had seen my girl, Aida. She had sneaked out to meet me against her father’s wishes. Her father was a policeman loyal to the Belgrade regime and had big plans for his daughter. He wasn’t going to see her waste herself on someone like me who had nothing to offer. I knew she loved me, but she was an obedient daughter. After we parted, I waited around to see her family leave for Serbia where they would have to start all over again, like thousands of other Albanian Kosovars who felt an allegiance to Yugoslavia.

I think that is where I was going when they caught me. Somehow I thought that I could reach Aida. I was almost in the woods when I heard heavy footsteps. I couldn’t see a thing and found myself near a copse of trees. I put my arms up to shield myself. Two giant men, wearing infrared visors, stood in front of me, their guns loaded and ready to fire.

‘It’s a kid,’ the one on the left said.

‘Kids have an uncanny way of growing up,’ the other replied.

‘He’s been shot,’ the man on the left said, bending down to examine my leg. ‘Pick him up,’ he ordered.

The other man hoisted me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I must have been stiff with fear because he said with a laugh, ‘Don’t worry little Shiptar, you’re going to live.’ He carried me through the village and put me in back of a truck with four other wounded men. We waited for their team to assemble.

‘Finished Dragan?’ I heard one of them ask.

‘Yes,’ the man named Dragan replied, lighting a cigarette.

‘The commander and the others from the KLA?’

‘Finished.’

‘Let’s go then.’

I must have passed out, and when I came to, I was in the hospital. The doctors managed to save my leg, although I’ll always have a limp, they say. When I walk out of here, I’ll keep walking straight to Aida, and then we’ll leave for Canada if we can.

Yakshah

The morning after Yasna disappeared, the Slaveni were in an uproar. They sent a party to search for her, but they did not find her. Morana said her disappearance was proof of her witchery, but most thought she had been taken by the spirits to live in the woods where she had been happiest, gathering her herbs to make medicines.

Yaroslav became an old man overnight, and shrived up and sat in front of the doorstop, day after day, useless, gazing up at nothing. Sometimes he wandered down by the river, looking into the water and one day he was found, drowned, though he had a peaceful expression on his face. People said he had gone mad looking for his daughter.

Mitar and the others sent me far from the Slaveni, to the grasslands, where one day is just like another, unchanging, with no relief on the horizon, save an occasional blackbird that rises on the wind and glides over the empty sky.

Morana found herself a good husband among them, but is unhappy still and spreads her mischief and lies. The people tolerate her, and she sits, fat and content among them, because it is their nature to love gossip and spread envy.

Mitar never let Yasna return to the Slaveni. He bound her with his love and desire, the way I bound the Bee Girl to me. I saw her put the crown of a bride on her head, and they were married, and some say his wounds were healed.

Yasna still tends to the sick. She walks in the woods, but she is no longer poor and barefoot, and Mitar seeks her wise council. I have heard that they are often seen walking, heads together, murmuring in their own special language, the way that lovers who are truly united often do, but perhaps that is a story, because true love never lasts but passes like the seasons.

I think about the Bee Girl’s love, sometimes with regret, before I remember that I am a solitary man, and that it will always be my nature and my curse to love the silence and the wind and the horses more than any other living being.

Vesna

I never left the space between worlds. The memories of that summer and all that had passed swirled in the air, became alive again, and bound me to Yakshah for the duration of his life on earth.

There is a puddle on the road. The rain has just stopped, and there is a freshness in the air. Everything is green and verdant. Clouds are moving rapidly and gather once again. He remembers a puddle, remembers rain drops beginning to hit it obliquely, remembers me running through the rain to meet him, remembers lifting me up onto his horse as we wait out the storm under a canopy of leaves, our skins wet, and feels the heat from our bodies as we turn to face each other.

He remembers the sultriness of the day, the song of the cicadas, the empty blue sky, the scorched grasses, the steam rising off the earth after a passing rain shower; remembers our bodies, ablaze, and then remembers the water, cool, murky, with unknown depths, mud squishing between our toes – green water, green trees, green marshes, blue skies.

He remembers the fall of my hair, the angle of my hip, the arch of my foot, the color of my skin; remembers when he doesn’t want to; remembers when he is alone.

He remembers the leaves swirling, falling off trees – straw and gold, falling in a spiral, remembers sending me away, watching my face fall, my smile fade, my head lower. And he remembers watching me get smaller and smaller, and disappear in the distance.

All this he remembers in the song of the earth, because I am part of it, forever, in the seasons, in the wind and the rain.

Morana

Mitar did not believe me when I said that the truth must be known and thought I had accused Yasna because of my jealousy. He said it was clear to him that it was over the man, Vladimir.

‘If Yasna told you that then she is a fool and knows nothing of the human heart,’ I replied insolently, though I was frightened both of him and the one they called Yakshah.

Then he sat opposite me, and looked at me with those terrible yellow eyes, the eyes of a wolf, and said, ‘It’s terrible not be seen, isn’t it?

‘Yes, it is terrible. It was terrible how Yakshah did not see Vesna, nor how much love she had for him.’

Mitar started and then he understood all. Yakshah was mute, but his expression did not deny it, and I could see that he had steeled himself and would not make excuses.

‘We did not want trouble between our people, Yasna and I,’ was all he said.

Mitar considered this, and asked, ‘Do you still claim that Yasna enchanted Vesna in light of this, Morana?’

I shrugged and kept silent. When they saw I would not say more they left. I went o sleep and did not think about it any more. Fate had already decided what the morning would bring.

 

 

Yasna

 

I could see the Lords had no faith in my power, and did not believe in my word, and so I reconciled myself to my fate, whatever it might be. Both death and exile were unknown lands to me. But then I grew angry. Why should I give my life up? I wondered. There was nothing here but a malicious tongue and an unloving man, both of whom had set the wheels of fate in motion with their selfish deeds. I will speak the truth and let true justice be done, but again I grew afraid that there would be trouble between the two peoples, my own and that of the Outlanders, who could be violent, and who could know where the violence would end?

I could see the moon through the window, and thought I would climb out, past the sleeping guards, past the dogs who knew and trusted me, and make my way down the road before the village wakened.

I was thinking how far I could get when the Lord, Mitar, came to me. He placed his finger over his lips and led me out of the cell and out of the compound, and putting a mantle of fur around me, helped me onto his horse. He led it to the grove of trees where I had called Vesna back and asked if I could call his son, who had died last year.

‘I feel him around me. I know that he is here,’ Mitar said.

‘It is not the season of the moon, and I have no effigy,’ I replied. But Mitar gave me the boy’s horse bridle, and I held in my hands.

‘His name was Urosh.’

The night was dark; the air was clear and cold. I told the Lord to step back, and I circled around, widdershins, inside the grove of trees, faster and faster, holding the bridal up to the sky. I twirled about, until I felt that I was ready, and I called out to Urosh, son of Mitar, to appear. Lightning cracked and the trees shook. Mitar picked me up from where I had fallen, and stood with his arm about me, waiting. No form appeared, only a voice that boomed out of the darkness.

‘Go home, Father. It is not me that you feel around you, but your own thoughts, which are uneasy. I live well here and am eternal. Do not blame yourself for what was done, for I took the risk myself, heedless of your warnings, and drove the horses badly and thus broke my own neck.

‘The girl you will save, for she has done nothing, and it was Yakshah that loved the other, who drowned herself for sorrow.’

Mitar called out and asked for his dead, his wife and infant daughter, but there was no answer, and I could see he was broken. He fell to his knees and did not rise for a long time, and I stayed with him, comforting him. 

Yaroslav

I tossed and turned on my pallet, unable to sleep. My wife had been coughing throughout the night and had woken me up. I looked at her thin yellowed face and I thought of Yasna, alone in that cell, and how she had looked throughout her trial. I rose to dress myself. It would be nothing, I thought, for me to free her, and she could slip away into the woods, and later I could pretend to have some business abroad, and I could take a horse and help her get to a far away village that we traded with where I had friends. But then wrong thoughts came upon me, and I began to think that I would stay with her and make her love me. I was a man among men, robust and vital still. I would give my house to my sons. It was time for them to step out of my shadow and grow into themselves, and my wife would not miss me. She had guilt enough for us both, and I was tired of living a half life.

I had begun to put on my leggings, but then a sudden weariness overtook me, and I fell back on the straw. Was she guilty of drowning my daughter, I wondered and has she enchanted me to see past her crimes and make me lust after her as I did? I closed my eyes and fell into that land between sleep and waking where strange dreams arise and mix with our daily lives.

I knew I was standing at the spot where Vesna had been pulled out of the water, but it all looked different somehow, blue and clear to the pebbles at the bottom. I looked into the water and saw a submerged woman, lying still.

‘Vesna!’ I called out, and she opened her eyes. She held out her arms to me, and I saw it was not my daughter, but another. Her skin was pale, her hair was green, an icy chill surrounded her. She opened her mouth to speak but only air bubbles escaped it.

Across the the span of my forehead, I heard everything she said clearly: Yaroslav, you hounded me, though I did not want you. You were betrothed to another and I was already a mother, but you thought that because I had no man to protect me that you could have me. You caught me in the woods that day, and though you did not mean to, you killed me. I ran from you, and when you felled me, you saw the blood that poured from my head. You were afraid, and you laid me in the water, and thought that no one saw you. I saw and knew, and what I could not forgive is that you let my child grow up wild as she did, without once extending your hand to help her. And now you want justice for your own, while my child, innocent and humble, will suffer for it.

I was moaning and shaking when my wife woke me.

Yakshah

Mitar called me to him and said he and I would go to the girl’s house and see what was what for ourselves. He was expressionless and it was impossible to know what was on his mind. I thought, I’ll tell him about the Bee Girl now and have done with it, but then I will be censured for letting things go this far. I knew him to be a temperamental man, and decided perhaps it would be best to wait until it was certain the girl was doomed. It was just as likely he would come to his own conclusions.

But when we entered the poor hut where she lived, we saw an old woman sitting, nearly frozen, under a pile of leaves near a hearth that had burned out. She was half starved, and Mitar reached under his cloak and gave her a loaf of bread he had with him. She looked at him through milky eyes, and moved her toothless gums to speak, but had lost the words. I looked at the hut and the aromatic herbs and dried flowers that hung from the rafters, and it was as sweet smelling as any meadow in spring. The old woman reached for Mitar’s hand and made to kiss it, but he took pity on her and taking off his cloak put it around her. It was fine, and I was sorry to see it go though he had many such.

‘Where is your child, Old Mother?’ he asked. But the woman was too old and weak to speak. In my mind, I saw a series of images that passed through her memory and if she had been speaking, she would have said the following:

‘She drowned long ago, fine sir. They say the Rusalke saw her beauty and pulled her down to live with them under the waters. But my girl was pure of heart and as filled with light as any that walked this earth. Nay, they would not want her. Someone put her there; someone who saw that light and wanted it for himself.

‘I raised the girl, her daughter, to be a sturdier kind. But her heart is pure as well, and when evil falls on the people, they will seek to snuff out the light, as that girl, Morana, who has none of her own, chose to do. The others will turn their heads away, they will speak with lying tongues and feel righteous and pure, and all the while, they know they are doing wrong, as they did when they let the death of my daughter go unpunished.’

The Lord Mitar heard her as well, and clicked his tongue, but he did not say what he was thinking, save to order me to see the old woman was looked after. But as we were leaving, we saw someone standing in the shadows, and Mitar called him out. It was the man they called Vladimir, the one who had been the lover of Yasna.

‘I’ve brought the old woman some food,’ he said, holding up a bundle for us to see. Mitar nodded and asked, ‘You believe in the innocence of the woman. You seem to care for her still, but you gave her up for the one who is dead. Why is that I wonder?’

Vladimir looked at Mitar straight in the eyes. ‘It is said that I am greedy for riches, and the patronage of Yaroslav, but that is not the reason why. Yasna is a free woman and will never never be able to settle into a domestic life. There is too much of her to contain, and though I loved her and care for her still, I would never make her my wife. I did not understand this at the beginning, but only later did the idea grow in me.’

I could see Mitar was intrigued by this though he remained silent. He mounted his horse and we rode away. I thought we would retire for the night, but he said we had one more stop to make.

Yasna

‘Morana, how could you accuse me of this, when you know the story?’ I ask, grabbing her arm.

‘I know nothing for sure,’ she says innocently. ‘If you are blameless, you will have no cause for worry.’

‘We’ve been friends our whole life.’

‘Hunh, friends. Yasna, the good and pure. She thinks little of herself, yet she tells everyone else what to do.’

‘Is this about Vladimir? I know you think you love him, but love is not something to be gotten by trickery.’

‘Yasna, you’re so wise. But men fall for women’s tricks and can’t tell goodness and nobility from evil as long as a pretty face and a plump figure is presented before them.’

‘You can make choices how to live your life,’ I say.

‘Can I? We all have our natures and mine is such.’

‘To be malicious?’

‘We’ll see who will win, ‘ she says, shaking off my grip and flouncing away.

Morana

The trial was set. Yasna was taken and held in the pens. The Outlanders arrived, great Lords on their fine horses, clad in mantles of sable and fox and armor made from silver filigree and pared horses hooves.

Yasna wore her only fine dress, the one that Tsveta had given her, and though she was dirty and her hair matted, a hush came over the men when she walked in the room.

She said nothing when the charges were read. She looked at me with frank contempt and refused to look at the Outlander, the one they call Yakshah.

The Lords asked her if she had a hand in Vesna’s death, and she said, no, she had neither cursed her, nor pulled her into the water.

They say there are tribes who subject the guilty to trials by fire or water, but there is no such thing here. We swear our oath which is considered holy. She swore to her innocence and said nothing more.

The chief of the Outlanders, the one with the ferocious yellow eyes they called Mitar, called me to testify, and I said I had found the doll and knew Yasna had the powers and could have easily willed Vesna into the water where she was drowned.

‘Why would Yasna do that?’ Mitar asked.

I replied, it was all for the sake of Vladimir. But Vladimir stood and shouted, ‘Yasna would never do such a thing.’ And all the Lords could see that he still loved the woman, and it made the case against her stronger. The one called Mitar said they would take time to discuss this.

When they retired, Vladimir caught me by the arm and called me a little bitch. ‘Everyone knows what you have done.’

‘Then why doesn’t everyone stand against me, ‘I replied. ‘No. It is you and Yasna they suspect,’ for now I could see he loathed me, and I would never have him.

When the Lords returned, they called Yasna and asked her about the doll, and she said, ‘I called Vesna back from the dead to hear her story. She told me she died of grief for one unnamed, whom she loved deeply. Yet he did not return her love.’

The Lords exchanged looks, and Mitar said, ‘This is a great power to have, one like no other. Can you call Vesna forth again so that she may tell her story?’

Yasna said, it only worked if the dead chose to return, and Vesna had chosen to go to the light and would not come back now.

I could see the Lords did not believe her now, and she was taken back to her cell.