07 March 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Lenin’s Harem by William Burton McCormick

This week, we're welcoming author  William Burton McCormick, whose latest title is Lenin's Harem. Join us on Sunday, when Bill will offer a free copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb: 


Lenin’s Harem is the story of  Wiktor Rooks, a ruined aristocrat swept up in the chaos of World War I, who by twist of fate finds himself a member of the elite guard of the Russian Revolution, a group of Latvian soldiers known colloquially as “Lenin’s Harem” for their loyalty to the Bolshevik cause. Concealing his aristocratic past from his enemies, Wiktor hides in plain sight from his enemies while the Russian Empire crumbles around him. But where does he go when the revolutionaries win?

“Broad, ambitious, and plenty good.”- The Providence Sunday Journal

**An Excerpt from Lenin’s Harem**

1905

Courland

(Governorate of the Russian Empire)

The stone made a spider-web crack in the glass top of the table, then thudded across the floorboards until it found quieter grounds atop the rug near my desk.  I stood back, away from the window.  Somewhere a woman was screaming.  Mother?  Anne?  No, it was the servant Erene in the entrance way, she had dropped the tray, a flat clang from the platter ringing through the room, the coffee cups in pieces, a puddle of steaming brown liquid seeping over the floor.  
Staccato heart in my ears, I sprinted to the stairwell.  At their base, near the door, I spied Anne, her arms locked around Mother whose face had turned grey as her hair. 
‘What has happened?’ my own voice high and girlish with panic.
Our mother’s words went unheard.  Erene passed me on the stairs so quickly that she knocked me down.  I fell to my knees, holding the banister to keep from falling farther. 
Erene’s words turned fear to stark terror: ‘We’re on fire.  They’ve set the house on fire!’  She looked to Anne, then back to Mother.  ‘Where’s the Master?  Mistresses where’s the Master?’ With each ‘M’ her voice grew shriller.
Anne shouted:  ‘Out. We need to get out.’ 
Erene’s reply was incomprehensible, syllables merging, rising to a scream. My sister cut her off:  ‘We must go.’
‘They’ll kill us.  They will.’ A quick and panicked utterance, it was not my mother’s voice, foreign and cracking, though it came from her lips.
Somewhere off in the hall came the chiming of falling glass. ‘Who will kill us?’ I gasped, hands shaking on the banister.  What bandits, what army of invaders had found its way into our lands?
My head throbbed as I hurried down the stairs.  At the bottom the heat was that of the kiln, my eyes quickly tearing, black clouds caressing the ceiling.
This could not be happening.
A group of servant girls, cries like seagulls on the Libau docks, ran past and huddled about Erene.  She escaped them, pressed up against the door.  ‘We must leave Mistresses, the smoke is growing worse.’
Mother jerked her head around.  ‘Where’s Wiktor?  Where’s my baby?’
‘Here Mama.’ I rushed to embrace her. 
‘We must go, Mother!’ Anne pleaded.
‘No, not until we find Rudolf.  He was upstairs.’  Mother released me, tried to climb the steps, but Anne and Erene pulled her from the stairwell, their calls fading in the choking fumes, cries turning to gravely wheezes.
The thickening billows were over-powering.  The insides of my throat cracking, I could no longer hold my breath, inhaled the searing clouds, my body rejecting each gasp in a spasm of painful coughs. Whoever was outside, whatever band of marauders ransacked our land was the lesser evil.  They might kill us, staying inside certainly would.
Yet, even suffocating, near blinded, I hesitated. What might they do to Mother, to Anne, if we opened that door? It failed my young sense of justice.  Our family had never hurt anyone, why should they want to harm us?  This must be a mistake, some grievance against the wrong victims.
While I cowered at the door, the decision was made for me.  The servant girls panicked, and despite Mother’s command, they broke open the door and fled out into the night.  If the smoke retreated momentarily from the blast of winter air, somewhere close within this new breath fed the flames. The vengeful gloom returned, stronger, doubly thick, carrying the scorching heat of its source.  It burned, the hairs on my arms beginning to glow like embers.
Anne pulled our screaming mother out into the yard, arms still locked about each other they collapsed into the snow.  Cries again and again for Father, nowhere to be seen.  Please, God, let him be outside the house.  Head dizzy, I stumbled to a knee in the ice, finally saw them, the enemy.
An army in rags.  No successor to Napoleon, no endless hordes of Huns, it was nothing but a group of farmers.  No uniforms, no flags, just a bunch of people in peasants’ clothes. The men, hundreds of them, carried shovels, rifles, bricks and stones.  Many shook torches in their hands.  They had a greasy, dirty look to them, as if they were children of the hellish atmosphere that had just released us.  There was no roar, no great swell of sound.  Most stood there silently, letting a few do all the shouting. They screamed fierce words, most too distorted to understand.  But I caught on in their peasant Lettish:
Degt. Burn.

Connect with William Burton McCormick


William Burton McCormick was born in Maryland and raised in Nevada. He holds a degree in Ancient Studies from Brown University and an MA in Novel Writing from the University of Manchester. His historical mini-thrillers have appeared or are forthcoming in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and the anthology “Blood Promises and Other Commitments.” A world traveler, William has lived in seven countries including three years spent in Latvia and Russia to research and write his debut novel “Lenin’s Harem.”

“McCormick takes us inside lives that would otherwise be not simply invisible to us but unimaginable." --Suzannah Dunn, author of “The Queen of Subtleties.”

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