“Likho,” by Andy Stewart, is a speculative fantasy near-future/alternate present novella about a young woman who goes somewhere she shouldn’t and learns something she shouldn’t… just as she did as a child.
Set in Pripyat, Ukraine, the story follows Sonya as she travels into the Forbidden Zone in search of a mural that is rumored to change on repeat viewings, slowly revealing the story of what happened and the children who were abandoned there. Like the abandoned children, Sonya was adopted. She feels some kind of link with them. And as she studies the mural the link feels ever more real.
“Likho” is a great story, well told. Sonya is an interesting character who is fleshed out fully yet subtly. Although Stewart doesn’t have the space of a novel to introduce us to her, it’s still easy to get a feel for who she is and what motivates her. As bits of her past are unfolded, it makes sense why someone who seems so grounded and full of common sense would trapise into a radiation zone and then take a drug that allows one to see the future (or maybe the past). (the drug is called yaga and it turns your eyes purple)
One of the chilling aspects of the story is the imaginary friend who isn’t imaginary, who is malevolent but who the child sees as only a helpful and loving friend. Yes, it’s a well worn trope, but it’s handled well here and informs a great deal of Sonya’s character. Misfortune and hope so often go hand in hand, after all.
I highly recommend this story and would love to read more about Sonya.