The Lost Village
By E.E. King
“I was kidnaped when I was a baby,” says Omama. “But I was too young to remember.”

We’re sitting in her living room playing Scrabble. Sunlight filters in through gauzy curtains touching her hands as she reaches out, rearranging her letters. They are pale these hands, the veins rising from crêpe skin like blue mountains. I love Omama, but I do not believe she was ever young. 

Omama considers her letters. She squeezes her lips together, turning them into a rosebud of interwoven wrinkles.

“ZOEXLOWN” she spells out, putting the Z on a triple word score.

“That’s one hundred and five points. The X is on a double letter.”

“But ZOEXLWN isn’t a word, Omama,” I say, though I’ve been through this before and know I’ll lose. 

“It’s a Zlovnian word,” she says, rolling the Zlove on her tongue like strudel. “It means beautiful flower, just like you, Puskin,” she reaches out and pats my cheek. 

Puskin is a Zlovnian word, too. I know it because Omama used it last time we played Scrabble. The K landed on a triple letter square, making it worth twenty-four points all by itself.

 A puskin is a small, flakey pastry filled with custard or fruit, rolled in powdered sugar. But it can also be a term of endearment, like honeybun, or sweetie pie. Omama says she used to eat puskins for Sunday breakfast in Zlovnia. 

Zlovnia, she says, was destroyed by evil magicians.

Mom says Omama is getting old, and that we must be patient with her. Dad says Omama lost everything in the war, even her country, and we must be understanding. Jacob, my little brother, says she’s nutty as a fruitcake, and has bats in her belfry, but he’s an idiot. He doesn’t even know what a belfry is.

I’ve looked at old maps and I can’t find Zlovnia anywhere. But there are a lot of places that no longer exist, big, famous ones like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Tibet, and little, obscure ones like Sikkim, a tiny monarchy that once nestled between India and China. Though just a little bigger than Rhode Island, which is tiny, Sikkim had eleven official languages, this must have made playing Scrabble —assuming, that is, that they had Scrabble— a contentious affair.

“Zlovnia was completely wiped off the map,” Omama says. “Most people never even heard of it, so few people know the language. 

“Let’s see,” she says, sucking the end of her pencil, chewing on the rubber as though it was a puskin, “that’s two thousand points for me.”

“No, it’s not, Omama, it’s only fifteen hundred.”

“So, smart you are,” Omama says patting my cheek. Her hands feel soft and powdery as flour. “I missed math class when I was kidnapped and never caught up. Do you want some cookies?” 

I nod. Omama always has the best cookies, bought at Diamond’s bakery on Fairfax. Omama rises slowly, shuffling over the creaky wooden floor that’s mostly covered by intricate carpets. They are at least as old as Omama herself, delicately woven, but so thin, in some places I can see the wooded floorboards shining through. Omama’s furniture is old too, her four petit point chairs and loveseat framed by curving wood whose ends are lightly dusted with gold. 

In the kitchen, she rims a China plate with crispy, Florentine cookies half covered in dark chocolate and fills the center up with tiny, layered cakes topped with almond slivers. She takes out two frosted glasses from the fridge and fills them with lemonade. 

“It was very hard to get lemons in Zlovnia,” she says. “It was a tiny, landlocked country, surrounded by vast mountains, but so beautiful,” she sighs.

“Tell me about when you were kidnapped,” I say, reaching for a cookie.

Omama sinks into a wicker kitchen chair.

“Like I said, I don’t remember it, but I will tell it to you as it was told to me.

“I was a very beautiful baby, though you might not believe it now, with hair like curly gold and eyes like sapphires. 

“Evil sorcerers came to our village. From that day to this, I still don’t know why. We were a peaceful, prosperous people, who never did harm to anyone. Still, the evil ones hated us. They hated so hard, they tried to destroy us. They took my mother, my father, my brothers. After the people were all gone, the evil sorcerers called comets down from the sky. 

“It’s my first memory, that night of falling fire.

“They would have taken me too, they did not care that I was still a baby, but as I said, I was very beautiful, like a fairy princess, I was, though not as lovely as you, Puskin.” She pats my cheek. “One of the sorcerer’s servants had no children of his own. So, he took me away and hid me under the mountain in a cave. That was where he lived, he and his little wife.”

“Little?” I asked. 

“Yes. He was only this big,” she says, holding her hand about three feet above the floor.

“An elf?” I say. 

Omama shook her head,

“A fairy?”

She shook her head again.

“A dwarf.”

“Yes,” she claps her hands. They’re so white, I half expect flour to puff out of them, like when Mama makes bread.

 Omama nods somberly. “The Zlovnian word for dwarf is quaz.” 

I make a mental note to remember to use it in our next Scrabble game.

“The quaz said he would only give me up to the evil sorcerers if they could guess his name.”

“Was his name Rumpelstiltskin?” I ask. 

 “Wherever did you come up with that?” she asks. “Such an imagination this girl has.” She shakes her head admiringly. 

“No,” she says, “As it turns out, no one knew his name, which is why I was not given to the evil ones.

“I was raised by the quaz and his wife inside the mountain. They were good to me and raised me with love. For that, I will always be grateful. 

“The quaz’s wife gave me a locket with a tiny picture inside. She told me it was a magic talisman that would keep me safe and help me find my truth. For years, I didn’t know what was special about it. 

 “They told me I was a quaz too, and for many years, I believed them. After all, I was small and lived inside the earth.

“That is why, when Zlovnia was destroyed, I survived.”   

“What about…” I say. But Omama holds up a hand. Her palm is white and only lined like a normal person’s. I wonder why it hasn’t wrinkled like the rest of her. My mother is knocking at the door. Omama never talks of Zlovnia when she is here. I will have to wait.

I’m playing Scrabble with Omama again.

For a little while, I’m winning. I got QUAZ on a double word square, gaining forty-four points.

Until Omama puts QUEKPOXING down, using my q, also nabbing a double word.

“I’ve never heard of QUEKPOXING,” I say, though I know what’s coming.

“It’s Zlovnian,” she says. “It’s difficult to translate. It’s a kind of a sleeping spell. The kind that was put on my village.

“It’s sixty-eight points.”

“Tell me about the sleeping spell, Omama,” I ask.

“Well,” she sighs, “You remember the quaz, the one who raised me inside the mountain?”

I nod. 

“His masters, the sorcerers, were very evil. They were upset that my village was so beautiful, so they plotted and planned to get revenge. 

 “Well, Puskin, revenge is a dish best served cold…”

 “Like ice-cream?” I say. I’m fairly sure Omama has some Rocky Road in the freezer, and I’m hoping she’ll give me some, even though it’s close to dinner.

She laughs, her grin splits her face into a fractured network of wrinkles. I love her so much, sometimes it hurts. She’s old Omama, I’m not sure how old, but fear of losing her tinges certain moments like mist, blotting out the details of the present.

“Sly boots,” she says, getting creakily to her feet and gliding toward the freezer. She serves my ice-cream in a bowl whose edges are delicately scalloped like flower petals and rimmed with gold. It is as beautiful as a princess’s cup.

“The sorcerers put everyone in the village to sleep.”

“Like Sleeping Beauty!” I say.

“Where do you think that story came from?” 

“From Zlovnia?” I say.

She nods her head. “All those old stories, they are not make-believe, but tales of the world before. It was a magical place, filled with quaz, and quorons, and katiezs.”

“Quorons? Katiezs?” I ask. Usually, I only learn new Zlovnian words when Omama is scoring points. 

“There are none here in this land, this America. So, you have no words for them. The old country was full of them full of magic. 

“I think Katiezs are like your fairies, but much more mischievous, and wise.”

“And quorons?” I ask, “What are they?”

She is quiet. “Quorons are no more.” She says at last. “The sorcerers destroyed them.”


“If I knew that, Puskin, I would be wiser than I am. They put everyone in Zlovnia to sleep. Comets rained down from the sky, and when the earth cooled, a forest grew over it. All traces of Zlovnia were erased. It was as if it had never been. I was the only one that survived.”

Tears run down her face, traveling well-worn channels, and I wonder if maybe tears have formed the wrinkles that crease her face, like water carving out a canyon.

The next time I visit Omama, we go to Famous Bakery on Fairfax, because she’s all out of cookies. I’m glad, because every time we go there, Rose, the saleslady, gives me a free cookie. 

Rose even lets me pick out my favorite kind, the one with green cake, raspberry jam, covered in dark chocolate. Rose is almost as old as Omama, I think. Her face is always wreathed in smiles. 

When she reaches out to give it to me the cookie, I see a series of blue numbers on her arm.

 “What are those?” I ask as Rose turns to another customer.

“I will tell you later,” Omama says, patting my hand. She speaks in a hushed voice as though it’s a secret, though anybody could see the numbers if they looked. 

Omama hardly talks on our walk home. Finally, I get sick of waiting and have to ask. 

“Why did Rose have numbers on her arm, Omama?”

“Once, not very long ago, there was a time when people were marked with numbers instead of names.”

“Like a barcode in a grocery store?” I ask. I know about barcodes because when Mom brought me to get new school clothes, they had big white plastic tags with numbers attached to them. Mom said it was so people couldn’t steal them, and that if someone walked out without paying, the barcode would scream until they were caught. 

“Yes,” Omama said. “There was a barcode to tell you who would live, and a barcode to tell you who would die.” 

“Did you have a number, Omama?” I asked. 

“No,” she said. “Because I had been kidnapped by the quaz. I was inside the mountain when all this was happening.”

 “That was lucky, I said.

 “Lucky,” she repeated. There is no smile in her voice, like there usually is. It’s as flat as lemon cookies.

“How did you escape the quaz?” I ask. “And end up here in Los Angeles?”

“It was not so much an escape as a leaving,” says Omama. “The quaz was a good man. His wife was a good woman. They cared for me well, but I was not theirs and they knew it. Later, when the war was over, I left, and I was lucky, I found my prince.”

“Are you a princess, Omama? 

“Every girl is a princess, Puskin, and every boy a prince, for at least one day. And if the girl and a boy happened to meet on the day when he is a prince, and she is a princess, well that's good luck for both of them. 

“We married, and he took me here to this distant land. And one day, when I was walking down Fairfax, an old woman came up to me. I’d never seen her before, but she grabbed me by the arm. 

“’Where did you get that?’ She asked me, pointing with a trembling finger at the magic talisman the quaz’s wife had given me.

“I told her, and she began to cry and wrapped me in her arms so tight, I was afraid she’d squeeze all the air from me. 

“She was my mother! She had left the talisman for me before she was taken.” 

“Your mother!” I said. I couldn’t imagine that Omama had had a mother!

“Inside was a tiny picture of her when she was young. She’d thought it was a parting gift for me. But she’d escaped the evil sorcerers, too. After the war, she was freed and found her way to Los Angeles. and that is how your great Omama, and I were reunited.

“She was a great, good woman and it was a joy to find her. She lived with me and my prince for many happy years. Then I had your mother, and she had you, my little pushkin.”

When I was nineteen, Omama went to the land of sleep, just like her mother and her prince. I called it that because I couldn’t bear the thought that she was gone. She’s just sleeping, I told myself. In a while, she will wake-up and we will play Scrabble again.

Everywhere I went, I saw her face. In the cookies on Fairfax. In antique rugs, and gold-rimmed China cups. But mostly, in every word game anywhere. And every game I played I lost.

“It’s not healthy,” Mom said. “Not normal to grieve so much for someone so old.”

“It was her time to go,” said my father.

“You’re not normal,” said my brother Jacob. “Freak!”

“But Omama came from a different place,” I said. “A place where there were quaz, and quorons, and katiezs. It was full of magic and sleeping spells. So, maybe she’s not really dead. Not really gone. Maybe she went back to her world of enchanted.”

“You really have lost it,” said Jacob, circling his finger by his ear. “Loony tuney sister.” 

“Omama was a sweet lady,” said Father. “But she was old. She made things up. She was ready to go, and you must let her.”

But something in her fairytales, something about hidden names, and quaz, and hiding under a mountain, called in my soul for explanation. So, after I graduated from high school, I did not go to college as my parents wished and expected. Instead, I took a job as a waitress and scrimped and saved for two years, till I had enough to buy a ticket to Zlovnia. 

It was a difficult two years. I was working toward a goal that might be illusionary and my family thought me crazy.

“Zlovnia,” my father said, “was a country of your Omama’s imagining.”

“She came from somewhere in Europe,” Mom said. “I don’t know why she made up Zlovnia and sleeping spells and magical creatures.”

“You’re saving money to go somewhere that doesn’t even exist, figures,” said Jacob.

Of course, after I’d saved enough to go, there were no flights to Zlovnia, because Zlovnia didn’t exist. But, based on Omama’s description of a place surrounded by high mountains, I found a town that seemed to fit. 

It was a little village called Oradour-sur-Glane, nestled between two peaks. It was landlocked, like Omama had said. And, it had been destroyed in 1944. A new town of the same name had been built next to the ruins. The remains of the original town had been left to stand as a memorial to the dead. 

When I arrived in the village, its beauty left me breathless. Greener than anything I had ever seen. It was a different kind of green than I knew in Los Angeles, more intense, emerald, almost magical. Small trees lined the hills like green lollipops. 

In the distance, I saw the crumbling walls of the ruins. But before exploring them, I went to the new city hall. 

The mayor was in his office, surrounded by pictures, etchings, and plaques of an old stone village.

“Hello,” I said uncertainly. Will he acknowledge me? Does he speak English?

“I think my grandmother, my Omama, lived in this town before the war.” I said, ‘The War,’ as if it was the only one, just like Omama had. 

“I came to find her past.”

 “Well, hello, Puskin,” the mayor, said to me in delicately broken English. His vowels were full and round, his consonants swallowed. Much to my embarrassment, his voice made me cry. He sounded so like Omama. I wondered if he liked Scrabble?

“Sorry,” I said, blowing my nose on a tissue grabbed off his desk. 

He patted my hand kindly, and for a moment, I felt as though Omama was with me.

“Let me take you on a tour,” he said.

“I will show you the village where I think your Omama was born,” he took my arm. He was frail and bent, at least eighty-nine or ninety years old. He leaned on me as he guided me out of his office. I wasn’t sure who was leading whom.

We walked through the town, over a green, green meadow to the ruins I’d seen on the ridge.

“I was four when my father saw the Waffen SS column approaching and took the children to hide in the forest,” he said.

“We never knew why the SS chose to butcher all the civilians. We were not a center of Resistance. Many villagers had never even seen a German before the massacre.”

He pointed to a barn. It had black, charred stone walls, falling like broken dreams onto the emerald field.

“Here is where I fled, when the Germans came,” he said. “I fell, and a pile of dead and dying men fell over me. Their bodies protected me from the heat. I thought only one other had survived. I am glad that your Omama made it out too.

"It's always difficult to come here. I relive my village in my head, hear its old sounds, put faces to the ruins. But it's important to keep telling the story so it can continue to be passed down when I’m no longer here.

“On the morning of June 10, 1944, only four days after D-Day, we woke to what we thought would be a normal day. During the war, we had not seen much action, and townspeople saw few Germans passing through the city. 

“At 2 p.m., two hundred soldiers encircled the town, blocking all entrances and exits.

“The town crier was sent to tell all citizens, including the sick and elderly, to report to the town market center. Armored cars gathered citizens who were out working in the fields, and within an hour, the Germans had rounded up every villager they could find. 

“Most were unconcerned. They believed the Germans had arrived for a routine identification check. 
“First, SS troops separated the men from the women and children. An officer announced to the men that he knew of hidden weapons and ammunition supplies, and that whoever was hiding them must step forward immediately. This charge was unsubstantiated, as no one in Oradour had taken part in the Resistance. Now, I wish we had.

“When nothing came of the demand for arms, the men were divided into groups and forced into six separate barns. When a signal was given, the SS men opened fire with machine guns, murdering the men lined up before them. The women and children were forced into the village church.

“Once locked inside, the troops threw in grenades. Then, the SS set fire to the building, shooting anyone who attempted to escape. The Germans searched and killed anyone left hiding. They burned the rest of Oradour to the ground. 

“I thought only I and one woman, had survived the massacre.”

 “The woman who escaped,” I said. “I think she was my Grand Oma. I know she survived and met up with my Omama in Los Angeles after the war.”

 “I heard of the woman who escaped,” the mayor said. “After jumping from the church window, she was shot five times before crawling into a garden, where she hid until she was rescued the following afternoon by an American soldier. I am so glad she found her daughter.”

 “Was there a dwarf who worked for the SS?” I asked.

 The mayor looked at me curiously. I’m afraid he’ll call me crazy like Jacob. Maybe he’ll laugh at my question. I don’t think I can bear it.

 “How did you know?” he said. “It was an odd thing, that dwarf. Usually, the Germans killed anyone different. But that dwarf, they kept him as a mascot, I think. He wasn’t a bad man. He took care of the soldiers and was quite a cook I heard. He fed them and they let him live in a kitchen basement with his wife and daughter.”

 “His daughter?” I said. “What did she look like?”

 “I never saw her,” he said. “But I heard she was beautiful, a little Aryan princess.”

 “With golden curls and sapphire eyes?” I asked.

 He smiled sadly.

 I told him of my Omama’s talisman. How years later, Omama’s mother recognized her locket and so found her daughter.

 His face crumbled, folding into itself, becoming a network of cervices and canyons down which tears ran like rivers to the sea.

 “We did nothing,” he said. “We had not been part of the Resistance, but we were punished anyway. It’s a lesson. Ignore evil and it will find you anyway.”

 He wiped his eyes.

 “I will leave you alone to see the museum,” he said, beginning his way back to his office. He was so feeble. I wondered if he could make it alone. But I didn’t go after him. Instead, I turned to face the ruins. Crumbling walls, cars, and household items had been left untouched here for eighty years. I wandered into the small stone building that was the museum.

 There was a case of watches, all stopped at the time their owners were burned alive, the glasses melted from the intense heat.

 Time stops. I see my Omama’s face and hear her voice in the wind that blows through the ruined town.

 “Remember,” she whispers. “Remember and tell my story.”

 I stood there in the silence of recollection. Knowing that truth can be a patchwork of make believe, sewn over realities too painful to be revealed.

I stayed for a while in the quiet. Looking at the melted watches. Hearing the cries of the past, before wandering back to town.

I will look for puskins to eat, and I will write my Omama’s story, and I will share it.

DreamForge Anvil © 2022 DreamForge Press
The Lost Village © 2022 E.E. King