Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 165



A Storm, and Koschey

…and not just any storm, either, no. It was not the thick snow that fell around us last night. It couldn’t have been winter at all, come to think of it. Spring or summer, perhaps, and one of those thunderstorms that is ready to break the sky in pieces. Before the rain began to fall, the air felt heavy with water and it smelled of lightning. You practically hope for a storm when it’s like that. You can feel the air ache with need. A threat waiting to be spoken. A hit waiting to arrive.

I wouldn’t say a present waiting to be opened. No.

My father, he was a farmer, and even farmers don’t ask for that kind of rain. It’s no gift. This was the kind of rain that does more than wet the ground. It attacks it. It beats plants, rips leaves off of trees. The lightning, all that’s good for is showing you how much damage the water has done. Strips away the dirt from roots. Trees fall over. Rivers swell and take out bridges.

This Bulat, he was standing outside as the storm rolled in. He could see it. It started as a wind-driven day, high white clouds in a blue sky, but the thunderhead was clear enough. A mean cloud, ready to share its anger with the rest of the world. And it was coming his way. It wasn’t Bulat’s job to tell anybody what to do. It was Bulat’s job to guard. He and another man stood in front of the storehouse. It was their job to make sure that nothing went into that storehouse without Koschey’s say-so, and that nothing came out of it same. Strict orders, those words. Simple enough, you think? Sure. Simple enough.

That’s right, I said it must’ve been spring or summer and it must have been at that because you know what was in that storehouse? Not a thing. Not one single thing. We can wonder all the day long why Koschey had his men standing in front of an empty building, and not on this day alone but on every day. There were always guards in front of Koschey’s storehouses. Sometimes those houses held stores and sometimes they were empty. It made no difference to Koschey and it made no difference to the guards. The orders didn’t change. No, they didn’t need Koschey himself to make an order, no one’s that simple. They had a signal, or a token. Something that let them know that this was an authorized transaction, that things could go in and out of the storehouse.

He’s clever, that Koschey.

The storehouse wasn’t just anywhere, not out by a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t tucked next to a caravanserai in a different middle of nowhere. Sure and Koschey had those storehouses in those places, but this was not one of them. This one was at the edge of a village and no one from that town would have bothered it even if there weren’t any guards, because they all knew about old Rattlebones and they weren’t about to go and look in any of storehouses no matter how hungry they became. No, sir.

But the storm.

When the storm opened up, first thing it did, it ripped leaves from branches. Then it ripped branches from trees and thatching from roofs. Then it moved on to the shingles and the shutters. And that was just the wind.

The water hadn’t even begun.

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