Saturday, March 19
Episode Thirty Six:
Fallen branches snapped underfoot as the three fugitives passed through a dark thicket. The lights of Moscow illuminated the horizon behind them. As they emerged from the brush they saw the dacha, a small country shack, resting atop a low, grassy hill. The siblings looked around, feeling exposed in the meadow.
Iosif lead the way, beckoning them. “Don’t worry, it’s safe!”
The two followed cautiously, and despite their guide’s reassurance, Aleksei still conjured a thin layer of vapour to scan the area for movement as they approached the structure.
Aleksei glanced nervously at his feet as the porch creaked loudly under his weight. Chekhov pulled a spider web from the entrance, checked the lock, then stepped back and kicked. The door swung inwards, breaking the frame.
“Home sweet home,” he said, gesturing them to come in.
Entering hesitantly, Mashka examined the place. It was one room, a potbelly stove, a chair, a kitchen, a coffee table, a bed, a closet, and a minuscule bathroom. “This will be cosy.” she muttered.
“At least we’re not staying here long.” Aleksei added.
Chekhov looked slightly offended, “It’s true the place is small and we’re not going to be here long, but it’s a very nice pad!” he insisted. “When it’s cleaned up, that is.”
“It’s better than a cargo train.” Mashka agreed, hiding her smirk.
Chekhov’s eyebrow twitched in irritation. He walked forward and gestured to the bed. “First point of order, sleeping arrangements; Mashka, you have the bed and I’ll roll out cushions for Aleksei and I. Get a good rest. Tomorrow, or should I say later today I have a favour to cash in with an old friend.”
“Umm,” Aleksei began, “you would not happen to have anything to eat, besides horseradish and vodka?”
Ignoring the bachelor jibe, Chekhov said, “I suppose we should all be hungry.” he scratched his chin, then added, “Aleksei get the firewood. There should be a stack around back. I’ll look for any canned food.”
Mashka used her excellent night vision as she looked for some matches. She found two oil lamps and lit them, allowing her eyes to return to normal. She hung the lamps from hooks on the ceiling. A chuckle escaped her when Chekhov came out of the pantry with a sauce pan and a few cans of beans.
“What? What’s so funny?” he asked looking down self-consciously.
“You look more like a construction worker than a professor.” she answered.
He felt the five o’clock shadow on his face. “I’m going to need to get a razor. I forgot to shave this morning.”
“It might help disguise you.”
“Da, possibly.” He replied, then proceeded to repair the door frame enough to seal out the cold.
Aleksei arrived in with an armload of firewood. He plopped it next to the stove and took the matches from Mashka to light the kindling.
About half of an hour later, the canned beans had been somewhat warmed. Mashka and Aleksei sat down and Chekhov served the food. Aleksei watched while the other two dug in.
“Is something wrong?” Chekhov asked mid-bite.
“We did not pray.” Aleksei replied.
Mashka lowered her spoon in shame.
“Well don’t look at me.” Chekhov said.
“Then I suppose I will do the honours.” Aleksei bowed his head. “Heavenly Father, spasibo for these provisions and for the assistance of our current host. Bless us with this, potentially nourishing, canned food and may we use whatever energy we take in, for your glory. Amen. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”
All of themlet out a quiet chuckle before they began eating in earnest. They found the canned beans tasted far better than they had imagined. After the meal they all fell asleep, the stove’s embers bathing the small room in warmth.
She could feel something wrong, as though a gentle noose was closing in around her throat. A cold shiver ran up her spine and her eyes snapped open. A dark presence seemed to have surrounded her. Mashka sat up cautiously, looking around the quiet shack. She could not hear anything but unnatural silence. The sound of her companions’ breathing was absent. She stood up, looking down at the floor. Two sleeping pads lay empty. But what caught her attention, was a single bloody hand print on the wall, by the door.
Her heart began to race, her voice choked up, tears filled her eyes, as terror enveloped her thoughts.
Behind her, towards the bed, she felt chill air hit her back. She turned around to the wood panel wall behind the bed. The wood turned black and through the blackness, a bald head emerged. Her eyes widened in fear. A wicked grin broke his lips, his cold eyes examining her like a famished wolf, as his shoulder and the rest of the body followed through the portal.
Leaping away from The Czech, she flinched when she heard a wheezing chuckle. Her heart seemed to stop. She turned to be confronted by a bent-over and hooded figure, whose hatred was so great, she felt its malice caress and bite her arms. Behind the figure was a mirror, and in it, she saw her own face change horrifically, the eyes turning yellow and filled with killing intent, her teeth becoming sharp and elongated.
She roared like a lion and pounced onto the hooded figure. She hit it against the floor, but it was too strong. She rolled twice until she ended up on her back. The creature’s hands were reaching for her throat. The Czech stood in the corner, amused by her struggle.
After a rigorous facial washing, Aleksei filled a cup as he stared out at the early morning sky, not yet graced by the sun’s rays. He was tempted to watch until the sun rose. He had actually never seen a sunrise from start to finish, especially with all the buildings in the way. Since there was nothing else to do in a run-down shack while one was in hiding, it seemed like a perfect time to cross something off of his bucket-list. However circumstances destroyed his plans.
He stood up rigidly when he heard loud thumps from the main room. 'What was that?' He opened the door to see Mashka pinned to the floor by a terrified Chekhov. Stunned, Aleksei dropped the cup of water. 'What’s going on?'
Chekhov looked at him panicked, “I can explain!”
Aleksei blinked twice. His mind had two trains of thought. The first, he would grab Chekhov by the collar, and serve him a solid right hook. The other, was an overwhelming sense of curiosity about how the scene had come about.
The fog in Mashka’s mind melted away as she woke up. The Czech changed to a stunned Aleksei, and the hooded creature became a panicked and confused Chekhov.
“What happened?” she asked, wondering why on earth she found herself in such a compromising position. “Get off,” she casually ordered.
Chekhov scrambled up, “Umm, err,” he murmured, scratching the back of his head. “Well, ah, you see, it’s a funny thing, um-”
Before Chekhov could stutter anymore, Aleksei smacked a fist into his palm as realisation spread across his face, looking at the dishevelled bed, the knocked over coffee table, and the scattered cushions. “I’m guessing you had a nightmare,” then he nodded towards Chekhov. “He went to wake you up. You were surprised, and lashed out, leading to the awkward, and vaguely amusing, situation we have before us. Now we should forget it ever happened and avoid further discomfort.”
Chekhov sighed, relieved at Aleksei’s intuition. He was about to apologise to Mashka, but she was too preoccupied to pay any further attention.
She looked up at the mirror on the wall, glad to see her face was normal. 'Why do they frighten me so much?' she pondered, 'And am I just another monster?'
“Well,” Chekhov cleared his throat, “I got in contact with an old friend of mine. He works on the railway and can arrange for a passenger suite on a train to Karelia.”
“I assume this arrangement accounts for security?” Aleksei inquired.
“As long as we pay in cash, we’ll be fine.” Chekhov replied. “Security is very low and he’s giving us a car near the back. We’ll probably have it all to ourselves.”
“How do we get to the train station from here?” Aleksei asked.
“It’s about thirteen kilometres. You think you’re up to walking that? It’s going to be quiet country road most of the way.”
Mashka nodded, “Could we get a change of clothes, too?”
“Well, as you can see,” Chekhov pointed to Aleksei as he spoke, “your brother already does. But I’m afraid I don’t have any women’s garments in here. I think we’ll find some at the railway’s lost and found.”
“So we’re going to steal them?” Mashka asked.
“You want to have some fresh clothes, right? Besides, they will never be claimed, anyway.”
Mashka reluctantly nodded her consent, since she had no better solution.
After eating breakfast, they all made their way out the door and down the road. Mashka felt a momentary pain and glanced to her left hand. There were one inch claws extending from the fingers. She gripped them tightly and concentrated. The claws sunk back into the fingers and she held the hand to her chest, shuddering. It felt as if a beast was within her, wanting to break out of its cage.
As she gathered her composure once more, the trio walked out into the twilight, even before the sparrow or mockingbird would sing their soulful “good mornings", the path ahead leading them to a new life.