A log shattered as Aleksei swung the maul down. He had finally gotten the hang of using the bulky tool. He was realising that being a city boy had its disadvantages. His house had been heated with electric radiators, not wood. However, the work was rewarding. He enjoyed watching the logs split every which way. It was nice to find a little joy in something, after the events of the previous day. He lifted up the maul, one last time, on a particularly troublesome log and successfully split it with a loud crack.
Aleksei turned and saw Duscha carrying a vacuum flask and a tin cup. She talked while she poured him tea. “You’ve chopped a fifth of a cord in only an hour. It takes father much longer to do that.”
“It’s not that great of a feat; your father is probably just pacing himself. I spent a long time just trying to figure out how to use this wretched thing. I’m probably only able to lift it because of last year’s gym class.”
“What did you learn in gym?” she sat on a log and rested her chin on her palms.
“Uh, well, actually,” he coughed in embarrassment, “it was more of dance class.”
“What type of dance?” she prodded.
He shrugged, “Kalinka.”
Her face lighted up in a smile, “Would you show me some tricks? You must be really good at flips.”
He hemmed and hawed a bit but finally gave in. “Ok, here’s a bit of a routine we came up with for summer festival.”
Aleksei put his feet together, then bent his knees laterally out. He counted to four in his head. Then he leapt into a back-flip, coming down with his hands, and hopping back up. He landed back in his starting position. Then with his knees bent, he kicked one at a time, bringing each one back in, just before he lost balance, and did a quick jig. Then he ended it with a leap and splits mid-air. He bowed in appreciation for her applause and laughter.
“That’s amazing!” Duscha cried.
“Spasibo,” he replied modestly, “now I should get back to work. Oh and you should be preparing for school.”
“Da,” she agreed reluctantly, “I will leave your tea here. And, as far as school goes, my mother teaches me, so it’s not hard to get ready.” She hurried off, but glanced back at the young man, as he resumed splitting logs. He is hiding something, but he is not bad, or why would an angel have me find him?
She vividly remembered the night before.
She felt a cold hand touch her shoulder. Her eyes opened, but no one was there. Shrugging, she rolled over and closed her eyes.
“Duscha,” someone called to her, causing her to jump, “get up.” ordered the beautiful voice.
The girl crawled out of bed, entranced by the whispers. In a daze, she walked down the stairs and out the door into the cold night. The cold wind whipped around her as she scanned the darkness, hoping to see the source of the melodious summons.
“Over here!” the voice giggled musically.
Duscha ran, desperately not wanting to miss another lovely word. She stopped in the woods when she heard another laugh. It was coming from the trees. Looking up, she saw a dark figure crouched over on a wide limb. She would have screamed in surprise, had the voice not told what to do next.
“Help him. He is a lost one. Wake your parents, they will not hear me.” the voice muttered in her ear.
Duscha could still not tell what the source of the words was. “Yes madam.” she said to the dark sky. Then she ran indoors to wake her parents.
Coming back from her memories, she looked at the boy who the mysterious voice had guided her to. She knew he would be gone very soon, and it would be like he had never come. But it still made her sad. It would have been nice to have gotten to know him.
After Duscha left, Aleksei stared back at the firewood. Thinking back over yesterday, and all the times the mists came to his aid, he wondered if there was a way for him to improve his strange power. It was the only advantage he had, and it would be wise to see its limits.
He made sure he was not being watched before he began gathering moisture from the air. It was considerably harder than usual. He was inland, away from the sea and most of the water was in the form of frost. It was not as easy to generate fog as it had been in damp St. Petersburg.
Slowly a cloud crept in from around him. Guiding with his hand, he spun it around him, gaining momentum. Then he brought the now serpent-like stream up above his head. He eyed the partially split log and then brought the mist down, shooting it towards the crack in the log. It buzzed through the air, like an angry hoard of bees, until it hit the crack full force. The log split down it's length for a few centimetres. Exhaling deeply, Aleksei walked forward and touched the inside of the crack, surprised that it was covered in a frost. The blast of mist had left a thin, frozen layer on the cold wood.
“Huh.” he cocked an eyebrow.
'I knew I could condense and evaporate water, but do I do that by adding and removing heat? In the graveyard I thought my mist only froze because of how cold it was, but the place I struck is much colder than the rest of the log. He carefully considered the notion. So, do I control heat?'
A look of discovery crossed his face. He placed his hand over a patch of ground. Gathering vapour from the air, he made the fog drift down from his hand to the earth. It simply became water droplets. So he concentrated on speeding up the condensation. The fog fell faster to the ground and a frost design immediately appeared, spreading around him, like a giant and intricate snowflake.
He knelt down and touched the crystalline film. It was not much of an effect, but it might come in handy somehow.
'It seems I can change the temperature between ten and twenty centigrade. That would be more than enough of a change to cause this. Come summer, I probably will not be able to freeze anything. But at the same time, the warmer it gets, the easier it will be for me to evaporate.'
He glanced around and decided that it would be best not to risk his practice having witnesses. So he hastened to finish stacking the wood. Once he finished, he ran up to the door and knocked. Beredei answered, “Have you finished the cord?”
Aleksei nodded, “Da. I would just like to go for a stroll, I will be right back.”
“As long as you don’t get lost again,” Beredei chuckled.
Aleksei chuckled awkwardly and walked to the woods. Once he had a few trees between himself and the house, he broke into a run. Searching for some place that was completely sheltered from view, he found a small, bowl-shaped valley covered in ferns. He climbed down into it. The location was perfect. No view from the house, and lots of moisture. For a moment, he wondered what could have made such an odd crater.
History class, the year was 1939 when the German bombing of Moscow took place. It was the farthest the Germans had been capable of advancing before the harsh Russian winter wiped them out, and large areas of eastern Europe were covered in these small pock marks from the bombs and shells. Only nature turned the tide of the war in favour of Russia.
Returning himself to the present, he bent his knees, and raised his hands defensively in front of him, facing the snow on the southern slope of the crater.
Since I can freeze water, perhaps I can melt it, too?
He extended his hand and concentrated on a section of the snow bank. After a moment, he could see a fist-size hole start to develop in the snow, and water began to trickle down and be absorbed into the snow beneath. It took a lot more effort than freezing, but he could do it. It seemed whenever he used his power, he began a cautious fight with a strange kind of weariness that blanketed his body, yet at the same time, made him feel invigorated and more awake than he had ever been.
Embracing the strange sensation, he evaporated the water and beckoned it to him, like one would a falcon. The cloud hovered in front of him, ready to obey his wishes. He split the mist so he had one cloud over each hand. He sent one into the snow-bank, and then fired his other, while simultaneously gathering the scattered vapour with his other hand. It took a bit of coordination, but the more he did it, firing one stream forward and gathering another, he found he could do it faster, and each time he fired, he gathered even more mist than before.
As he hit the bank more aggressively, the snow scattered, the clouds slamming into the dirt. He found it was much easier focusing his thoughts when he moved his body and arms like a puppeteer.
After several minutes of practice, the bottom of the valley had disappeared under a thick layer of mist. He was about to call it a day, feeling more confident in his gift, when a thought occurred to him. He twirled his hand downwards, the vapour twisted up his arm like a snake. Then he aimed his arm at the snowy bank, still twisting his hand as he sent the fog off. It spun through the air like a corkscrew and hit the slope, sending of an explosion of dirt back, causing Aleksei to jump in shock. He wrapped his arms in front of his face as dirt and pebbles pelted him.
Once the dirt settled, he peeked from behind his arms, and cautiously walked up to the slope. He found a gaping, half-metre-deep hole. His fingers grazed the inside, feeling how the twisted dirt and leaves spiralled towards the centre. He was uncertain whether to be frightened or impressed at the accomplishment. Granted, the dirt was loose from the constant moisture, but it could still cause a nasty bruise if he ever used the ‘corkscrew’ against a person.
He shuddered when he heard a rustle from behind him. He gathered a stream of fog, and turned to shoot it. His eyes met Duscha’s. Utter shock was plastered on her face and he could see fear in her eyes.
“Wh- wh- what are you?” she stammered.
Brilliant… He scolded himself. He released the fog forced it to dissipate into the air, hastening to hide the evidence even though the damage had been done. He put out his hand reassuringly, “Hi Duscha, is Beredei ready to leave?" he asked with a warm smile.
She turned and started running for the house.
“No, wait!” he called to no avail then muttered, "Wonderful."
Aleksei dashed up the hill in close pursuit. A frightening realization came to him; he could not catch up with her in time. This girl was surprisingly fast. Then it occurred to him, his fog was much faster. He stopped, and extended his arms towards her.
Duscha looked back to see a wave of fog approach her. She tried to scream, but the air in her lungs seemed to vanish when she was engulfed by the fog. The whole world turned white.
Aleksei ran through the dense screen and stopped in front of where the girl was huddled. Then he pushed the fog away from them so they were in an island of ground, surrounded in a ring of dense, white mist.
She stood shivering in fear, “Don’t hurt me, please!”
He shook his head, “My intent was never to hurt you. I just want to talk.”
Tears started to roll down her face, and Aleksei moaned, “Please, don’t cry! I will tell you the whole story, but please, don’t cry!”
Aleksei dispelled the fog and it condensed on all the surrounding foliage. Then, he evaporated all the water on the ground below them and sent the mist away.
“There,” he said, “Now we have a dry spot to sit. Just let me have my say, and you can go, da?”
She blinked and sat down, nervously awaiting the explanation.