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The Night Witch - Chapter 5

by ImaginaryPoet


Chapter 5: Max (August 1950)

I sit stiff, my back pressed up against the warm train seat. Next to me, my new traveling companion, Nadya Petrova, sits similarly, but with much more of a commanding aura. Our car is fairly empty, save for a very pregnant lady buried deep in her magazine, and an older gentleman who is fast asleep and snoring like a toad at midnight, a drop of drool making its way slowly down his chin. We are on a train headed for Ryazan, a small town midway between Moscow, where Nadya says most of the Nightwitches relocated after the war, and the old Nightwitch airbase, where she says we should be able to talk to someone who knows what may have happened to Smirnova. We spend the first few hours of the ride in silence, me flipping through a book I’d gotten at the station before we left, reading about what to expect in Moscow and brushing up on my Russian. My conversation with Nadya last night had proved to me that a little more studying was in order before I reach the motherland herself.

I’m mumbling the different words under my breath as I read, trying to relearn how to order food, something that is proving to be more and more difficult as the hours go by, when Nadya stops me.

“It’s PURE-eh, not PUR-eh. Like the clear water.” She pauses, frowning to herself. “Why do you need to know how to order potatoes anyways?”

“I don’t know.” I groan and shut it with a snap. “I’m just trying to make it through this stupid book. Has anything I’ve been saying lately been correct?”

“Not much. But I had to stop you before you completely destroyed my favorite dish.” Rolling my eyes, I smile, and, to my surprise and delight, she does too.

“So the great Russian pilot likes - how do you say it - cart-oh-full-noy pure-eh?” She grimaces and pulls the book away from me.

“How about just not saying anything unless it is completely necessary while we are in Moscow, yes?”

“Ouch,” I say, trying to pull the book back and failing. Her grip on the book is like steel, and after a few tugs, I give up and turn to a different topic.. “So, if I’m not allowed to study, then why don’t you tell me more about yourself. I’d like to know something about the mysterious Natalya Petrova?” At that, she flinches and turns away from me.

“Nadya. My name is Nadya. And why don’t you go first? After all, I am the one who paid for our train tickets.” I laugh, feeling myself relax slightly. Maybe Natalya had been the name of one of her friends, dead in the war, or maybe it was her mom’s. It wasn’t my buisness anyway.

I settle back in my seat, getting comfortable. I have a story to tell.

“Well,” I start, deciding what I want her to know. “I had two sisters and one brother, and I was the oldest in my family. I joined the Wehrmacht when I was about 18. I rose a bit through the ranks, well enough to stand out, but not fast enough that anyone knew me past my squadron. One day, well, one day we were ambushed. Most of the men didn’t make it out. I was driving a tank, so I had a bit of protection from the first round, which gave me just enough time to get out and barely escape with my life. I wandered for a bit, a a few of the other men from the battle joining me, until we finally found a German military base. They took us in, and I stayed there for about a month before I was given a 2 weeks leave to celebrate Erntedankfest with my family.”

“Erntedankfest?” Nadya cut in, startling me out of my memories.

“Yeah. It’s a type of celebration during the harvest. People go out and put on parades, music, and there’s a few church services. My family never really went to those, although whenever my Papa’s family was in town, we might go to one. It’s a pretty fun day, under normal circumstances.” I pause, clearing my throat.

“That first night that I got there, my brother was out signing up for the war. I suppose, in a way, it ended up saving his life.” I drop my head into my hands, trying to suppress memories of that God-forsaken night.

“What happened?” Nadya is leaning forward in her seat, staring at me intently.

“Already enraptured in my story, I see.” Forcing a slight smile onto my face, I sigh. “The Nechlexen attacked the town. My house was just inside the area of where the bombs hit. Two of my sisters and both my parents were all killed, along with some of our neighbors. Klaus and I only made it because we had been out walking around and one of the bakers took us down to his cellar to hide. He… he didn’t make it either.”

“Why not? Was he not hiding with you and - what was his name - Klaus?”

“No. He went back up to help others find the safe spot.” Tears well up in my throat, forcing me to stop again. “He saved seven people in total - five adults and two kids. One of the couples were my neighbors, and Klaus and I stayed with them for a week after… afterward. I went back to my squadron early and learned as much as I could about the Nightwitches. I was only allowed home on a dependency discharge because my sister became sick with tuberculosis and the family she was staying with was threatening to throw her out onto the streets.”

“That’s awful, Max,” Nadya says, her face horror-struck. “Did she recover?”

“No. She held on for about a year, but it was horrid. I probably got it as well at one point, but it hasn’t shown up again, so who knows? Right before she passed, about a month before, actually, I received a telegram from the Wehrmacht telling me about - about Klaus.” My voice hiccups, and I can no longer hold back the tears. I thought I had finished mourning for Klaus, for Ruth, for my entire family, but apparently I still had a little more left in me. Small streams of tears tickle my cheeks as they fall, and I don’t push them away, allowing them to drip gently onto my lap.

“I… Max, I’m really sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s fine,” I say, leaning back onto my seat. “It was a long time ago.”

We sit in silence for a while until Nadya finally asks the question that I’ve been trying my best to avoid.

“So how did you find out about Natalya?”

I look away, focusing my gaze on anything other than my traveling partner. The old man across the aisle snorts loudly in his sleep, and the drop of drool that has been clinging onto his chin slips and drops onto the arm rest. I wince and turn back to Nadya.

“It was in a letter from my brother.”

“A letter? But you said that he died before he would have had time to send a letter.”

“Yeah. It wasn’t exactly a letter. Klaus kept a diary, a journal of sorts. As the only surviving member of his family, it got sent to me when he…” I gulp, and then continue on. “The last few pages were filled with entries during his time in the military, and I read through them, just out of curiosity. The last entry had the bottom half of the paper ripped off, but the top of it talked about two women that he had been traveling with. He wrote about how one was kind but injured, and the other was strict and didn’t agree with him traveling with them. Natalya, he said her name was.”

Nadya cuts me off with a confused expression. “If Klaus only wrote Natalya’s first name, then how did you know her last name?”

“At the end of the entry were some letters in someone else’s handwriting, but in Russian. It took me a bit to translate it, but it was a signature, I think. The name that it spelled out was Natalya Smirnova.”

“Glupo, tak glupo,” Nadya mutters.

“I’m sorry?” I don’t understand her words, though I feel like maybe I don’t want to.

“Nothing,” she says quickly, but I notice her foot start tapping the floor at a quick pace. I’m about to say something when a man enters the room and starts collecting tickets. I look down, digging into my pockets, but I can’t find mine. Nadya taps me on the shoulder and I look up just in time to see her hand the man two slips of paper.

“It was on the floor,” she whispers to me and I sigh.

“Thank you.”

“Has anyone ever told you that if your head wasn’t attached to your neck -”

“I would loose it too? Yeah, that one’s not super original.”

Nadya laughs, and I can’t keep myself from letting out a small chuckle too.


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Mon Sep 14, 2020 6:43 pm
EditorAndPerks wrote a review...



Hello there!

I saw that this has been in the Green Room for a while, and I figured I could stop by and give you some advice.

I think I am a bit surprised that Max is so open with Nadya, but I had thought they were both teenagers when I first read through this, judging by their dialogue and how they interact with each other. A drawback from using the first person is that I really can’t get a glimpse of how Max looks/his body behavior/etc, some of those visual tells can be really interesting to read/be able to “see.” Because of that, I kind of want to exaggerate some parts of Max’s behavior, in how he sits/speaks/goes through a thought process, as I want to learn more, if that makes sense.

In addition, I want to se more description! I think trains are fascinating, and I’d love to read more about how this train is: do they see much outside of the train? If they’ve spent hours already on the trip, can they tell any major differences from where they left? Is the train old? New? Long? Often used/regular transportation, or is this a train to a very specific route that not many use? (I feel like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, but I want to know more!)

Lastly, I think I’m just curious about the world build-up here — I know Max is German, and I guess a Nazi soldier. I assume his family/village was attacked by Allies soldiers? Oh, okay, so Max and Nadya are most likely speaking English between the two of them — which also, is an interesting story detail! Even with Max being against the more-often-English-speaking Allies, he learned their language.

Hmm, this was a curious chapter and story. Until next time, and enjoy the banner.

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Sun Sep 06, 2020 10:58 pm
mellifera wrote a review...



Hey ImaginaryPoet!

Happy RevMo! I hope you don't mind if I drop by for a review on this lovely evening :)

I haven't read any of the previous chapters, so if there's anything that I've misinterpreted because of that, I apologise in advance!


Next to me, my new traveling companion, Nadya Petrova, sits similarly, but with much more of a commanding aura.


Rather than telling the reader about the way that Nadya's posture conveys her commanding aura, show them how/why. Does she sit with her back straight, her chin up? Does she put her arms on the backrest of the seat and spread out so she takes up more room? Does she meet everyone else's gaze head on, like it's a challenge? What is it about her posture that makes her posture "commanding"?

an older gentleman who is fast asleep and snoring like a toad at midnight


I'm not sure exactly how snoring could sound like a toad at midnight but I kind of love this anyway?

We are on a train headed for Ryazan, a small town midway between Moscow, where Nadya says most of the Nightwitches relocated after the war, and the old Nightwitch airbase, where she says we should be able to talk to someone who knows what may have happened to Smirnova.


Since this is chapter five, I'm going to push that this should have already been introduced-- and not at all once either. I don't know what happened in previous chapter,s but this is being described like these characters/what's going on in this chapter is a beginning/introduction, and when you're five chapters in, it shouldn't still feel like chapter one. Why wouldn't the reader already know they were going to Ryazan? Why didn't Nadya say, in a chapter, about this information about the Nightwitches? This seems like a premeditated goal, so I'm wondering why it's being introduced as though this is all new information.

(also, because I'm curious, why are the Nightwitches referred to as the "Nightwitch" all one word in the prose, but "The Night Witch" separated in the title?

My conversation with Nadya last night had proved to me that a little more studying was in order before I reach the motherland herself.


You get very long-winded with explaining things? The whole first paragraph could have been much shorter, but just this line for example, could be: "It became apparent talking to Nadya last night that I was due for some touch up." <- the reader already knows they're going to Russia since you've mentioned it, and the way you wrote it has fillers you don't need ("a little more" "was in order"). There are shorter ways to say this!

I say this from the perspective of someone who writes too much, and maybe that's not the case for you! But even so, there should be more substance to what you're writing in your prose as opposed to long-winded filler that doesn't actually have an impact on what's going on (if it can be written in a shorter way). Of course, there are liberties to this, but just keep this in mind!

She pauses, frowning to herself.


"She pauses" isn't really necessary, since the description of her frowning is pausing the sentence already.

“Not much. But I had to stop you before you completely destroyed my favorite dish.” Rolling my eyes, I smile, and, to my surprise and delight, she does too.


Since this part is describing your MC's (Max's?) perspective now and not Nadya's actions, it should be on a new line. When one character has dialogue, you generally put any actions they take right after the dialogue to attach it altogether, and when a new character starts doing anything, you move to a new line. It keeps that perspectives/characters a lot clearer, and while it's not as much of an issue in first person, it's still a pretty good general guideline to follow!

It's the same thing here:

“So the great Russian pilot likes - how do you say it - cart-oh-full-noy pure-eh?” She grimaces and pulls the book away from me.


“How about just not saying anything unless it is completely necessary while we are in Moscow, yes?”


or maybe you could,,,, help him,,,,, just a thought

Her grip on the book is like steel, and after a few tugs, I give up and turn to a different topic.


This is, just as before, an unnecessary edition. By following the line with dialogue that is of a different topic than the one they had been speaking of previously, it's already showing that Max is changing the topic. Writing in things and then following them by actually displaying the described action waters down your writing and makes it weaker, so be mindful of this in the future!

I’d like to know something about the mysterious Natalya Petrova?”


The way this is phrased, I'm really not sure it should end in a question mark. If it had been "Would you tell me more about the mysterious Natalya Petrova?" <- that's a question, but "I'd like to" is more of a statement.

(Unless your character is the kind of person who makes everything a question, but Max doesn't strike me as that kind of character)

Maybe Natalya had been the name of one of her friends, dead in the war, or maybe it was her mom’s. It wasn’t my buisness anyway.


or... it's a nickname?

I have a story to tell.


This is another example of an unnecessary addition to the prose. I don't want to keep hammering on the same point so I won't mention it again unless it's a glaring problem, but I'm just suggesting that you keep in mind the old "tell vs. show rule" (and if it hasn't been explained well to you, I would suggest reading this article over in the Knowledge Base!

“Well,” I start, deciding what I want her to know. “I had two sisters and one brother, and I was the oldest in my family. I joined the Wehrmacht when I was about 18. I rose a bit through the ranks, well enough to stand out, but not fast enough that anyone knew me past my squadron. One day, well, one day we were ambushed. Most of the men didn’t make it out. I was driving a tank, so I had a bit of protection from the first round, which gave me just enough time to get out and barely escape with my life. I wandered for a bit, a a few of the other men from the battle joining me, until we finally found a German military base. They took us in, and I stayed there for about a month before I was given a 2 weeks leave to celebrate Erntedankfest with my family.”


It feels like, from previous conversation, that Max and Nadya aren't exactly familiar with each other/don't know each other well, so I'm kind of wondering why he's telling her his life story? Maybe he's just that open, but when I've known people for only a short while, I'm not going to start telling them everything about what's happened to me. Again, maybe Max is just that open about his life story and thinks this is an appropriate moment to tell her all this, and that's up to you, but I did want to make you think about it.

“That first night that I got there, my brother was out signing up for the war. I suppose, in a way, it ended up saving his life.” I drop my head into my hands, trying to suppress memories of that God-forsaken night.

“What happened?” Nadya is leaning forward in her seat, staring at me intently.

“Already enraptured in my story, I see.” Forcing a slight smile onto my face, I sigh. “The Nechlexen attacked the town. My house was just inside the area of where the bombs hit. Two of my sisters and both my parents were all killed, along with some of our neighbors. Klaus and I only made it because we had been out walking around and one of the bakers took us down to his cellar to hide. He… he didn’t make it either.”


I am going to be a little more pushy here, because this is very personal, and it baffles me that someone would be so honest about such raw and intimate memories, especially without pushing. Why is he telling her all this? Unless it really doesn't bother him. And of course, take this with a grain of salt, since I don't know how long they've known each other and I haven't read anything earlier so I don't have context.

her face horror-struck.


I know I said I wouldn't keep pointing out any telling vs. showing situations, but I just want to suggest this be written as something more akin to "her eyes wide and mouth parted as she stared at me" because it displays Nadya's horror, and we know how she reacts to this kind of information physically, rather than telling us "she looked horror-struck". It's harder to visualise for the readers this way.

But you said that he died before he would have had time to send a letter.”


When did he say that? He just said Klaus died (or rather implied), but not that there was any way that prevented him from sending letters beforehand. Unless, of course, this was from a previous chapter, in which case, ignore me.

Natalya Smirnova


Just to clarify, Max referred to Nadya as "Natalya Petrova", but there's...no connection between the two Natalyas, yes?



One of the biggest things (and I ALWAYS complain about this so you're getting my specialty) that I felt was lacking was setting? Maybe you've already described the train in a previous chapter, although I would doubt that since you described the train as if the reader had no idea they were getting on one at the beginning, but what do Max's surroundings look like? Are there colour schemes? Is there a carpet or is the floor metal? Are the windows clear or frosted or darkened? What does it smell like in there?
Description really gives way to a much more immersive experience for the reader, so I'd would highly recommend you include these kinds of things in your prose to enrich it!


This seemed like a very exposition-heavy chapter just so you could reveal Max's backstory, and if I had to suggest anything it would be that you spread out the details of Max's backstory more? I mean, you can put it all in one chapter in exposition form towards Nadya, but if you need it to give something clarity in the plot that ties into Max's backstory, I'd suggest having him think about it/remember memories at times/casually mention things. Slip it into the flow naturally. Again, I don't know how long Max and Nadya have known each other, nor the nature of their relationship, nor Max's personality enough to dictate what would be best for you here (not that I would be able to do that anyway, since it's your story and you know what your intentions are), but I might suggest this reveal comes later, or in more staggered pieces throughout the novel, so it doesn't feel like exposition to the reader.


Overall, I am curious about the Nightwitches and who they are, and what they're doing! There's not a lot of plot in that chapter (which isn't inherently bad!), so I'm unclear what's happening in the storyline, but hopefully there are pieces of my review that are helpful to you :)

If you have any comments or questions about anything I said, I'd be happy to clarify/discuss anything with you! Otherwise, have a wonderful day :D

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Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.
— Ann Landers