Bohemian Stars Excerpt: Blue Mood

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

    ― Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Here is a reading sample from my future fiction novel, Bohemian Stars. This is Chapter One, titled “Blue Mood,” in which you will meet one of our protagonists, Danika Plotz. If you enjoy the sample, I hope you will considered buying the book. You can find more information about it here:

Danika Plotz first found her Way on 20 February 2014 at six minutes past one o’clock under cobalt skies tinged gray by her tears and the dying smoke of Molotov cocktails. The Way was not a thing she had been seeking, as until that precise moment, she was not aware of having ever been lost. Her day had begun like any other—ensconced in the cold darkness of pre-dawn Kyiv but shielded within her two-room apartment from the bitterness of the weather and the country’s political intrigues. Filthy slush covered the sidewalk, although the streets had long been cleared of snow and debris. A few cars ventured by, rumbling beneath her third-story window as though nothing out of the ordinary would happen that day.

The Euromaidan riots had been ongoing for two days, but her flat was miles from the barricades meant to keep anti-government protestors at bay. As far as she could see, it was life as usual. Besides, the protests against Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s pro-Russian regime had been violent since January, so the occasional gunfire or tinkling of breaking glass had melded into so much background noise. No one had dropped a nuclear bomb, and she studiously avoided the crowded plazas where chaos reigned. Her life’s routine had been largely uninterrupted, consisting of wakening too early, dancing at the studio before morning took notice, enduring six hours of soul-murder at her dead-end waitressing job, practicing again in the evening, and then to sleep. Rinse, repeat.

Danika wrestled her dirt-frosted window open to the northern skies and had her morning cigarette, shivering in the lone creaky chair that kept her bed company and blowing acrid smoke out the gap and into the brisk air. She folded one arm across her chest, adorned as it was in a faded pink t-shirt, and inhaled again. Her nipples ached, and she hoped it was only the biting cold and not her impending period. Tampons and ballet did not mix well, especially on those first, heavy days. She flicked the used cigarette butt out the window and slammed it shut. Not bothering to shower, she threw on clean panties, tattered jeans, shirt, and a loose-fitting jumper, donned her only pair of insulated boots, her fur hat, and the scarf her father gifted her on her last birthday and headed out to greet the dawn. She wore her favorite coat, an odd bit of frippery she’d borrowed from the wardrobe department after her last performance and never returned. It made her look as if she were wearing a cloak constructed from autumn-hued maple leaves, but it was warm and matched her earrings, both of which she wore in her right ear. Satisfied that she looked perfect, she grabbed her rucksack and headed out.

She walked the mile and half to the studio, stopping only for a coffee, and arrived just as the sun’s first rays climbed over the sandy bricks of the surrounding buildings. It said hello, temporarily blinding her. She gave it the finger, Roman style, knuckles down, meaning it also as a gay slur. It skulked behind a cloud in disappointment. Her phone buzzed for the third time since she’d awakened, and for the third time, she rejected the call. This time, some thirty seconds later, it buzzed again, announcing a voice message from “Сука,” the nametag she’d assigned to her dear stepmother. Suka, as she pronounced it, was not the woman’s name, but it was the only thing Danika called her these days. She hadn’t spoken to the bitch in eighteen months, not since her then-new stepmom threw her out of the manky flat she’d shared with her father since infancy. Danika saw no reason to break the impasse now. Instead of listening to the voicemail, she dropped the phone back into her coat pocket, pulled out her cigarettes and lit one up, blowing the smoke up and into the troposphere. The sun lit up her private cloud in its disapproval. Danika gave it her second finger of the day.

She stood, shivering and sucking in smoke, standing in front of the main entrance of the Ранкова Зірка Студія, a shabby glass and stone building that looked as though it had been built at the height of the Soviet Industrial Revolution as a facility for manufacturing rivets or vacuum tubes. All of the art the place held was in its name, which translated as Morning Star Studio and was the reason Danika had picked the ballet company in the first place. Her name also meant Morning Star, and she’d been convinced her finding work here was destiny. She still hoped that was true. She’d had to lie about her age to gain employment, but she had good fake papers, and in truth, she didn’t think the company cared one way or the other. She had two legs and two arms and could dance, and that was enough. Besides, she would be eighteen soon enough. It was a small troop, hardly putting her on track to join the Bolshoi one day, but it was experience. With any luck, the company’s director, Lev, would give her the lead role he’d hinted at, and she could leverage that to find work in Moscow or even Saint Petersburg.

Almost on cue, as conjured devils do, Lev appeared in a burst of invisible brimstone, barely giving her a sideways glance as he passed by. It was an act, she knew, a stellar performance for his wife who always dropped him off before starting her day without a clue as to what kind of man her husband really was. Danika watched the woman look worriedly at the door and then to her before frowning and driving off. Perhaps she had more of a clue than Danika thought.

“He’s your problem, lady,” Danika muttered, “not mine.”

“How can you even stand that pig?” a voice asked her as she watched Lev cruise through the studio’s lobby. She turned to see the words hanging in the air bathed in the frothy white of visible breath, which somehow gave them more weight. They belonged to her only real friend in the company, Sofiya, who was as tall and lithe as a raven-haired swan come to life. Danika marveled at Sofiya’s ability to make everyone else feel like ugly ducklings while seemingly having no idea she was doing so. Sofiya kissed her on the cheek and then took her cigarette, inviting herself to a puff. When Danika frowned, Sofiya added, “You are too young to smoke these.”

“I’m twenty-two, same as you,” Danika said.

“Yeah, sure you are. And I am fairy princess.” Sofiya exhaled and crushed the thin remainder of the cigarette under her shoe.

“Hey! I was still using that.”

“There was nothing left but filter.” She tapped Danika on the left breast. “Your lungs will thank me.”

“That’s not my lung.”

“Well, your tits will thank me too.” She grinned at her friend. “But later. Right now, we’re late for rehearsal.”

Danika nodded and turned to go inside. Her phone buzzed in her pocket once again, making her frown.

“Your mother?” Sofiya asked.

Danika narrowed her eyes.

“Stepmother,” Sofiya corrected.

“Yes. She’s been calling all morning.”

“Well? So, answer it. What if something has happened?”

“Nothing ever happens to Suka. Things only happen because of her.”

“Well, maybe your father is sick … or hurt. You know how bad those protests have become.” Sofiya lowered her voice to a whisper. “I heard there are busloads of people coming today, maybe ten, twenty thousand.”

Danika whistled. “Coming from where? Why? Just to burn up the shopping district?”

“My father thinks the Russians are behind it. He says they hired groups of thugs to beat up citizens so it looks like we’re fighting each other.” She twisted her mouth and turned to spit. “We only fight the corrupt police and the Russians.”

“Twenty thousand is a lot of thugs.”

Sofiya smiled. “Well, maybe some are good Ukrainian citizens wanting independence from corrupt government.”

“Best move to new planet then,” Danika answered. She idly scratched her thigh, wondering if she had time for another smoke.

Just then, Lev stuck his head out the door. “Are you ladies joining us, or did Bolshoi already come by and steal you from me?”

Sofiya looked at her friend, rolling her eyes and gesturing toward Lev with her head. “Bolshoi. Like I would ever join those Russian tramps.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Lev, patting her on the bottom as she passed.

“Speak for yourself,” Danika said, following her inside.

“So nice of you to come,” Lev said, his mouth twisted into a sapsickly sweet leer. He punctuated his statement by giving Danika’s ass a firm squeeze. She made it a point not to jump. It would just encourage him, and she already had to deal with the other jealous little bitches in the company as it was. They couldn’t wait to get Lev in the sack, and yet she spent most of her rehearsal time trying to keep all ten of his fingers out of her vagina.

She really wished she could have had the last drag on that cigarette.


Rehearsal ended early, and by ten o’clock Danika was in the showers with five other dancers. Sofiya had gone straight to her second job, but Danika had ninety minutes free until the lunch rush would begin and her waitress gig kicked in. She stood to one side, her back to the cackling flock behind her, enjoying the hot water as it streamed down her auburn hair and over her face. Behind her, she heard squeals and playful laughter and turned, covering herself with both hands. She knew what to expect.

“Great rehearsal, ladies,” said Lev.

He was smiling and advancing through the showers like he owned the place, which, in fact, he did. The other five women just giggled and soaped themselves, letting him get as good a view as they could provide. For most dancers, hard work and talent were the way to success. These women knew Lev better than that. The way up always required one to go down first. He ignored them all and walked up to Danika.

“I need to speak to you before you leave,” he said.

She frowned at him and contorted to aim her side toward him, shielding as much as she could from his view. “You couldn’t have waited until I finished showering to tell me that?” she asked.

 He winked. “Of course I could.” Lev leaned in, speaking softly. “You should shave down there. Hair makes for unsightly bulges in your leotard.” Without further comment, he spun on his heels to leave. “Fifteen minutes, ladies, and then we turn off the showers. Hot water is expensive!” He called over his shoulder toward Danika. “I’ll see you in ten.”

She could feel the other girls’ eyes burning holes in her back. It didn’t make her feel nearly as good as she hoped. Ten minutes later—just enough time to dry off, twist her hair into a bun and don her jeans and a loose-fitting top she kept in her locker—she knocked on the door to Lev’s office. No answer. She waited a few seconds and then knocked again. This time, she heard a muffled giggle and Lev called out, “Come in.”

Danika opened the door and was nearly run over by another dancer, Masha, who must have been the only ballerina ever to headline Swan Lake while having two left feet. Masha gave Danika a sly smile. “Roles are being filled quickly, little girl,” she said. “Maybe he can still cast you as my understudy.”

“Maybe he can cast you out into street with other non-dancers,” Danika answered.

Masha snarled and pulled back her fist as if to take a swing, but Lev interceded, taking her arm and pushing her away. “Be a good girl, Masha. Go home.” Masha growled again but moved on.

Danika pushed her way into his office without looking at either of them. The air stank of tobacco, sweat, and cheap perfume. She stopped at his desk, turning her nose up at a wadded tissue. Lev saw it and tossed it in the rubbish bin.

She couldn’t change the subject fast enough. “You should have let her swing.”

He waggled a finger at her. “I can’t have my understudy injured, Nika. What if my star were to have an accident?”

“You don’t have to worry about my being hurt by that idiot. I’ve been studying martial arts since I was six.” She tried her best not to let him see the sting from the salt he’d rubbed in her wounds by referring to her, once again, as the understudy.

Lev stepped toward her and placed a thick hand on her shoulder. “I wasn’t worried about you, dearest Nika. I meant Masha maybe cannot dance like you, but as understudy, she is valuable.” He bent his head toward her. “That is, if you are interested.”

“Interested? Me, as lead?”

“Of course. Is about time, no?” He grinned. “I always keep promises, Nika … eventually.”

Danika answered him with a scream and then tried her best to listen as he explained that he’d been watching her progress and was convinced that she and only she could do justice to the new ballet he was choreographing. She answered every sentence with an enthusiastic nod of her head, joyous, right up until he slid his left hand under the hem of her shirt and took her right breast in his grasp. She stood there, shocked and quiet while he played with her nipple with his thumb.

“Of course,” he said, “this role could be … how do Americans say? A win-win for both of us.” Danika eased her body away from his grasp. Lev smiled, pulled her closer, and then shoved both hands up her shirt. His hands were soft, slimy, and unblemished, as though he used them only for this purpose. He leaned in, whispering in her ear and squeezing her breasts. The man smelled of rancid olive oil. “Maybe I am not being clear. You dance, as my lead dancer, and in gratitude, you fuck me. Is simple arrangement.”

“What about your wife? Is that simple too?”

Lev stopped smiling all at once, as though someone had shuttered his face and closed off all of its light. He released her and pulled back his hands, wiping them on his shirt as though he’d gotten them dirty. “You let me worry about my family, little Nika. All you have to do is your job, and everybody goes home happy.”

“And if I don’t want to do … my job?” she asked.

“I have ten other dancers who would want that role. You decide. Take your time.” Lev walked to his desk and slid his slender frame into the seat. “You can give me your answer tomorrow.” He fumbled with the same stack of papers that always seemed to crowd his desk and added, “I hope we don’t lose you, Danika. You have quite a gift.” As a threat, that was about as unveiled as they come.

Danika stared at him for several moments, but he gave no indication he knew she was still in the room. Finally, she exhaled and turned to leave, but not before saying, “The zipper in your pants is still open. You might want to check that before your wife comes to pick you up.” She left the office without bothering to see if he checked. She hoped he wouldn’t believe her.

She’d barely made it outside before her phone buzzed again. This time, she was angry enough to answer it.


There was a brief silence while her stepmother gathered herself. Danika realized she probably assumed she’d get voicemail again and was taken aback by the harsh greeting.

“Danicska, have you found him yet?” Her stepmother sounded frantic, which sent Danika into alert. “Him” could only refer to one person, the person the woman had wrapped her entire world around.

“I just got out of rehearsal. What are you talking about? Where is Papa?”

“Did you even hear my messages? Yuri went to protest meeting last night. I begged him not to, but as always, he didn’t listen. Does that man ever listen me? I …”

“Zoya, I don’t have time for your long stories and complaints.  Tell me what’s wrong with Papa.” She’d rarely spoken to the woman who became her stepmother and had never bothered saying her name. Doing so had the calming effect the girl had hoped.

“Your father went out with those idiot protestors. I called and called to get him to come home, but he’s been out all night. Now, I see on the news the police are shooting people and so-called protestors are throwing firebombs at police. I want you to find him and bring him home before he gets hurt.”

“Me? Why haven’t you gone after him?”

“I have sprained ankle, Danika. I cannot walk through crowds with my crutches. I need you to go.”

Danika was barely listening at this point, having switched her phone over to text her father. She got no response. “No answer, she said aloud.”

“I told you he wasn’t answering already,” said her stepmother. “He didn’t take his charger so mobile is probably dead.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No, but news people say there are around 30,000 people on Independence Square. You know your father, he’s probably there, wherever party is the biggest.”

“Thirty thousand? You think I can find him in a crowd that size?”

“Danicska, please, just go. You know his friends. I do not. Besides, your father is 1.96 meters tall and is wearing bright blue coat and carrying Ukraine flag. How hard can he be to find? Just look up.”

“And why don’t you know his friends?”

“Aw, Danicska, you know your father and I like to spend our time alone. Is more romantic.”

Danika shook the phone as if to choke it and pressed the button to hang up, just as she heard her stepmother scream something about gunshots on the television. It was enough to get the girl going. Sprained ankle or no, there was no way her overweight stepmother would make it through those thick crowds in time. If she wanted to save her father, she would have to do it herself.

Danika left the studio and raced through the streets, headed for downtown. Though Zoya had effectively built a cocoon around her father, or more accurately, a spider’s web, he was still outgoing enough that he kept in touch with his work comrades. She called his oldest friend, Igor, but the only help he could offer was his father had spent the night with a group that planned on protesting either at Independence Plaza or near the shopping on Khreshchatyk Street.

That narrows it, she thought as she reached the edges of the protests. The air had soured with smoke from smoldering buildings and cars set alight. It was fortunate that she was fit, since no taxi would have gone anywhere near the outbreak and she had already run nearly two miles by the time she heard the first shots. They froze her in place for a moment before she thought to duck behind some unfortunately parked cars. Behind her, a car alarm suddenly sounded, startling her.

“Move!” shouted a young man whose face was covered by a scarf. She looked up, and he gestured vigorously with his arm, waving her toward him. Danika dashed in his direction, reaching him as the car she was behind exploded, knocking her from her feet.

She was dazed. Her ears were ringing. The young man was speaking, she realized, but she couldn’t make out the words. “What?” she yelled, or at least she hoped she was yelling.

“Police,” he said, pantomiming the words to make her understand. “They are setting off homemade devices trying to make it look like we’re violent. We think they’re doing it to justify moving in and killing everyone. It’s not safe here for you.”

She bit the part of her tongue that wanted to remind him it was no safer for him and inform him that she, at least, could disable three men at once in hand-to-hand combat. Instead, she asked him if he had seen her father or his comrades. She showed him a photo of the group she had on her phone from a prior summer’s football match.

“The old guys, yeah! They were out here last night. It got bad. Two, three dozen people killed, some of them cops.”

“Shit! Do you know where they are? Were they hurt?”

“No.” They both dropped as another explosion went off, this time on the other side of the street. He peered up over the burning car and dipped back down. “They’re moving on.” He was edgy, his head jerking about like a frightened bird, and it looked as if he might fly away any second.

She took his face in her hands. “My father,” she said, keeping her voice as calm as she could. “Do you know where he is now?”

“Probably wherever there are the most explosions.” He pointed in the direction of Khreshchatyk Street. “Try there.”

Danika nodded her thanks and stood to leave. The young man took her arm. “I wouldn’t go there if I were you. I heard there are snipers up there.”

“You aren’t me, and he isn’t your father.” She jerked her arm away.

He took it again as she turned away, this time, gentler. “Be careful. I hope you find him. They are good men. They spent most of the night helping wounded people and trying to calm crazy young guys out of throwing Molotovs.”

Danika kissed his cheek and turned, running a zigzagged beeline in the direction he’d indicated. The ringing in her ears began to ease, at least she thought it did, as the sounds of chanting punctuated by the occasional pinging of gunshots and clamor of explosions surrounded her. The crowd thickened as she turned the corner, and her progress slowed to a crawl. She maneuvered among the throng, squeezing here, pushing her way there, all the while uncertain she was getting any nearer.

A tall man with Ukrainian flag. That is very helpful. There were flags all around her, but none showed the way to her father. She checked each one and thought she’d spotted his bald pate beneath one and charged him hopefully. It turned out to be a boy her age wearing a headwrap. Despondent now, she spun in circles, not knowing where to go. Behind, to her left, a large explosion set off, and the crowd around her stooped together as though they were interconnected parts of the same organism. Close by and coming from an alley in the direction of the blast, black smoke began to rise over the nearest building, dancing west and east with the wind. There were the intermittent pops of gunfire, their reports washing over the crowd and sending it scattering like a dense school of frightened human fish. Danika swam upstream, against the swarm, headed in the direction of the fire.

She reached the entrance of the alley in what felt like hours, too long, far too long to reach her Papa. For a moment, the bright winter sun faded into an eclipsed darkness as smoke from a burning building to her right blanketed the sun. She shielded her eyes, squinting and trying to see in the darkness. Just then, as if in answer to her call, the sun burst through in a narrow stream, illuminating the end of the alley. There huddled a small group, maybe a dozen people or so, all shouting and waving. They were throwing rocks at the buildings. One young idiot stood in a doorway with an air rifle, portending to use pellets to match the police snipers’ high-powered bullets. She watched as he stepped out of the shadows, his gun to his shoulder, and then screamed as a sniper’s bullet took off the top of his head. He fell where he stood, and she found herself wondering whose son he might have been.

A man screamed. It was an ordinary sound, no louder than the cacophony that surrounded him, but she heard it, knew it, felt it.


There he stood, gripping his bald head with both hands and screaming at the dead boy before taking off in his direction. Danika simultaneously sprinted after her father. Halfway there, Papa met a young man in a hooded jacket and a mask. He was holding a Molotov cocktail aloft in his right hand and a lighter in the left. Papa reached him just before he managed to light it, pulling the bottle from his hand. Danika closed in. Five steps away. Three. A gunshot sounded and the Earth slowed enough in its progress to allow her to see. The bullet slowed, life slowed, time eased to a stop, and she traced the projectile with her eyes as it left the policeman’s rifle. Two steps away. The bullet zipped at a forty-degree angle along its path, striking Papa full in the chest just as Danika was a solitary, eternal step away. The bullet tore through his thick frame, breaking ribs along the way and ripping through his aorta before tumbling out of his back and near to her feet. Papa’s blood splattered onto her face and hair, ruining her favorite fur hat.

She assumed she was still deaf, because she was certain she was screaming but could hear no sound. She called his name again, shouting louder, just in case no words came out the first time. To his right, the young protestor whose cocktail had gotten her father killed stood shaking, drenched in Yuri Plotz’s blood. Danika blinked at him, gently took the lighter from his hand, and then bent, not to embrace her fallen father, but to take the bottle of accelerant from his lifeless hand. She looked up at the sniper who’d shot him. He was watching, resetting his rifle, daring her to try. They were on the roof of the building she faced with the doorway clearly in view. The police were defending their post, shooting at anyone who dared try to breach the entrance. Danika accepted their challenge.

She darted left, then right. She rolled as a bullet whizzed over her head and then came to her feet in one move. She headed not straight to the door but along the right wall, directly under the snipers. They would have to lean over the side to hit her, an almost vertical angle, and she was fast, far faster than they. She heard the clatter of a rifle being reset—perhaps only in her head because surely these would be semi-automatic weapons—and ran two steps up the side wall before coming down to earth and darting at a sharp angle towards the doorway.

Behind her, she heard her new comrades cheering, could see their fists wave from the corner of her eye. Gunshots sounded again, and her fans ducked but she did not. Something told her hand to light the cocktail, so it did, but she was still running. The doorway was mere steps ahead and she cocked her arm … no, she wouldn’t throw it, she would take it to the police, ram it deep into their gullet so they would burn as she was burning, die as she was now dying.

A single bullet tore through the rustling leaves of her coat, missing her flesh by inches. The bullet pierced the frosted pane of the old glass door, shattering it into a thousand pieces. It would save her having to open the door. The entire frame was covered in graffiti, and above the entrance was a single tag in red lettering that read, #КосмічнийПортал, which translated from her native tongue meant, roughly, #SpacePortal. She had just enough time to be amused before she crossed the doorway’s threshold and winked out of sight with the Molotov cocktail falling harmlessly to the ground behind her.