The Stones of Years Ch. 04byAdrian Leverkuhn©
(note: part one of the story appeared under the title "Woman in Chains")
The Stones of Years
She was everywhere – and nowhere...
And she came for him – as she never had before – in his sleep.
Clinging to ice, beseeching him, begging him to listen... to listen... to the stars...
Chains around her waist, her neck, her hands and feet; water reaching up from the cold blackness under the ice, reaching up for her, reaching up to take hold of what balance of life it could, to carry her back to the womb of that tormented darkness...
He ran, dove across the ice, reached across the infinite gulf of space and time to feel her skin on his – and there was nothing... forever nothing... everywhere...
She was falling... everywhere... into nothingness...
He crawled to the shattered edge between ice and darkness and looked down into the smoky blackness – at her ghostly face, her frantic eyes – and he watched helplessly as she sank further and further from view...
He pulled himself to the edge and tried to slip in after her but something – no, someone – had hold of his legs and he could not move. He watched helplessly as she slipped into deeper water, the last trail of bubbles leaving her nose as she struggled against her chained fate... to hold her breath against the coming of darkness...
And she was gone.
Gone. Everywhere – just gone.
He sat up quickly, could feel his mother stirring next to him in his little bed and he shot out of the room and bolted outside to escape the crushing weight that gripped his chest. Sweat ran down his forehead and froze in his eyebrow; he gulped down air as he leaned against the hut, his head spinning with images of the her – the Woman in Chains – as she slipped from his grasp and fell away. He fought his every impulse to deny what he had seen – because he alone knew the truth.
"It isn't real!" he groaned as he bent over, his hands on his knees now. He began to feel nauseous, like he was about to vomit, and he fell painfully to his knees. He felt light-headed pin-pricks rise on his scalp and race down his spine, yet even with his eyes closed he saw her... there was no escaping her...
And then she was beside him, beside him in the cold moonlight.
"Misha?" he heard his mother say.
He looked up, but it was Tina standing in the moonlight! And yet she was luminous, transparent, and he wanted to cry and run from her... but all he could do was cringe and wait for the inevitable reckoning...
"Misha?" she said – whoever she was. And wasn't that his mother's voice?
He felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him...
"Misha – wake up!"
"Misha, you're dreaming – wake up!"
He rolled on his side and pushed himself from bed, acrid bile rising in his throat as he stood.
"What is it, Misha?" he heard his brother ask. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah... no. Bad dream..." Was it really him... or was it the dream?
"No kidding," his brother said quietly. "What was it about?"
"I don't know, Lev. I think it was her..."
"Shit. You mean... her?" But there was something in his voice... something untrue...
"Yeah. I feel sick, Lev. Real sick. My head hurts... blind..."
"You want me to get Doctor Lenova?"
"No, no... well, maybe help me walk over there."
Misha stepped uncertainly then leaned against his brother as they made their way outside and across the compound to the Lenova cabin; the moon was full and there was a fresh blanket of snow covering the icy ground. Suddenly everywhere Misha looked he saw glittering diamonds – literally billions of them – like ten billion suns blazing away, spread across the infinite. Everywhere he looked billions of suns glared at him, blinded him with otherworldly fury... and they were calling out to him...
"What the...hell is this?" Misha groaned as he shielded his eyes.
Lev looked down silently, concentrated on his footing as he led them through the field of moon-snow, yet he knew what was happening. The doctor had told him it might be like this...
They came to the cabin and Lev worked the handle, pushed snow away from the entry with his boot and opened the door.
The doctor was sitting on a little wooden chair, reading by the light of a single candle; he hardly glanced up as the boys stumbled into the room; indeed, he seemed intent on finishing what he was reading.
When at last the doctor looked up, it was Lev who spoke first: "Doctor, Misha is not feeling well."
The doctor looked at Lev, then slowly at Misha: "Of that I have no doubt," he said almost to himself
"What?" Misha thought he heard himself saying. "What did you say?" The room was spinning now, and the colors were wrong...
"What seems to be the problem, boy?"
Misha looked at the doctor, then at Lev. "I had a dream – a nightmare – and when I awoke I felt – strange. My head hurts, behind my eyes; it is as if I can't see correctly. Everything is too – bright!"
"What are you reading, doctor?" Lev asked.
"John Donne, 'Forbidding Mourning'. Are you familiar with it?"
Lev smiled; Misha looked down at his hands. "Is that blood on my hands?" he asked himself wordlessly.
"This is the key passage, Misha; tell me what you think of it:
"As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."
"Tell me, Misha, what do you think this means? Given the current situation?"
"The current situation?" Misha said while he looked at the blood on his hands. "What do you mean? Why am I bleeding?"
"Your conversation today. With Sara and Comrade Kushnirenko. What do you think this passage means – in light of your betrayal?"
Misha struggled to break free but Lev let go immediately and stepped away; Misha fell to the floor heavily, all control of his legs gone now. His mouth felt dry and full; it felt like his head was stuffed with cold cotton. Soon everything in the room receded into foggy recesses all their own, even the voices he heard sounded now as if they'd come from miles across a mist-laden forest.
'Everything is running from me, from the blood,' he said, almost out loud. 'It is as if they want nothing to do with me anymore...'
"Will he be alright?" he heard Lev say, and he wondered what they were talking about.
"Oh, yes. By morning, perhaps noon; but by the afternoon, yes, almost certainly."
"The same. We should leave her with your brother. Are you packed, ready? We will have a long walk through this snow. Perhaps twenty miles, maybe more."
"Is Sasha here yet?"
"No..." and even Misha could hear the worry in the doctor's voice. He tried to open his mouth, to say something... but nothing worked now... the blood had covered everything... even his eyes...
"Is Sara..." Misha tried to say, but now even his thoughts betrayed him; he slid into darkness, yet words remained just within his reach.
"The same, I suspect. Sophie is with her. We should leave her with your brother..."
Misha was dimly aware of these words as he slipped further into the darkness, and soon the darkness was everywhere... and nowhere was all around him... waiting for him to speak... waiting to take the measure of his words...
...then came the music...
...he heard it first, then felt it in his soul...
...the music was growing louder, coming closer...
...it was, he knew, coming for him.
"I loved my Sara, you see," Misha Podgolskiv stated – and Todd Wakeman looked away. "I thought if I helped her, you see, well, she would choose me over Lev. I had no idea..." he stumbled while he looked about helplessly for the words he so desperately needed, but they too had chosen to run from him.
Somerfield looked away, squinted to check the flow of tears she knew was coming, then she stood and walked off into the smoky gloom.
The old man turned and watched her leave through gales of blue smoke.
"They always leave..." he said quietly as she disappeared.
"And... do you wonder why?" Wakeman asked as softly.
Misha looked after her for a moment, looked at her as ice closed-in over her imploring face, then he turned to the young man:
"No, doctor, I do not. I know who I am. What I've done."
Wakeman looked at Misha for a long time – they held each others' eye and each refused to turn away, but in due course Judith returned and came between them. Her hands and face were wet; she held a paper towel in both her hands, held it close to her body with talismanic rigidity.
"So. Did Sasha make it?" she said finally.
Misha looked away again; he looked at the voices that chased him as if they were drawing near again. He bunched his lips and furrowed his brow, his shoulders tensed as if he expected her blow at any minute...
"Yes," he said flatly. "He made it. Sara had gotten it all down; when Sasha was coming, with whom - where. Kushnirenko was waiting for them. He waited until they had slipped out, cleared the camp, to spring his trap. There was a spy, maybe American or British – I don't know – but that one got away. Killed a bunch of Kushnirenko's men, some Army men too..."
"Was Lev with them?"
"What did they do..."
"Do you really want to know the details, Ms Summerfield?"
She looked away, steeled herself against this monster and his denials, then looked at Wakeman. He seemed ashen, unsure of himself; she wasn't sure why but she was filled with the impression he'd withdrawn into a landscape of burned trees.
She turned back to Misha. "Can you tell me what happened to your brother, Misha?"
He pursed his lips again; his blue-veined lower lip protruded a bit and he shut his eyes.
"Very well," he said at length. "Some of what I tell you I witnessed; some I learned later..."
"Later? From Lev?"
"No, not Lev." Podgolskiv opened his eyes and examined his fingernails closely for a moment, picked at something he saw there then scratched his lip. Finally, he took a deep breath...
Misha and Sara stood by the lake, lost in the crowd of people who had been summoned late that afternoon. A work detail was clearing a hole in the ice; several of Kushnirenko's goons milled around watching the laborers and the restless crowd, their gray Kalashnikovs circling lazily around the crowd like ill-tempered sharks.
Misha had been ill at-ease all afternoon; the drugs Lenova had given him had left him nauseous and with a blinding headache, and Sara just wasn't doing well at all. She had vomited and carried-on hysterically for over an hour – when she heard her parents had been captured and were somewhere in the camp. She'd grown pale and quiet after that, and oddly enough Misha hadn't been able to tell if she was happy or sad.
There was movement behind the administration building and everyone turned as one to see guards hauling men and women across the slushy compound toward the lake. Misha turned and immediately saw Lev and his heart grew heavy with ice-borne fear: only Lev's pants remained on his broken, bleeding body. He had been whipped and loose bits of flesh hung from his back, exposing the bones of his left shoulder; a guard had Lev by the hair and was pushing him along with the barrel of his rifle jammed-in at the base of Lev's skull.
Sophie Lenova was bleeding uncontrollably from her exposed breasts; a small stream of blood was running down the insides of her naked thighs, yet she seemed unafraid, almost proud. The doctor was untouched, pristine, and while Misha couldn't see Valentina he knew she was there. The mass of guards in their blanket-like great-coats hid the rest from view, but Misha saw others in the assembled gathering - on the far side of Kushnirenko's men – point and gasp and turn away.
He wanted to turn away as well and run and run, but he couldn't. He felt as if his legs were paralyzed, lost to a spreading numbness...
And something was calling out to him...
He turned his head at the sound, yet he looked at Sara instead. Now her face was roiled with doubt.
He saw her lips move, saw her say 'Papa' once – twice – but no sound came from her broken-hearted mouth. He looked through the sides of her eyes, through the crescent arc of the lens, and the shattering clarity he saw was overpowering, and now he wondered why everything had grown so muddied and riddled.
Was it her?
Kushnirenko walked along behind the escapees, his thin, yellow skin glowing with self-satisfied hatred. Every few feet he stifled a cough, but Misha recoiled when he saw the man's eyes. They seemed almost totally red now, red but with silver gray centers. Those eyes looked inhuman, otherworldly, and Misha stood transfixed, lost in the obscene power of the man's inverted humanity.
And still he heard the voice... calling him...
'Is that you, Mother?'
Someone inside the mass shouted and there was movement – a scuffle; a man Misha had never seen pushed clear and ran toward the lake. Guards turned to Kushnirenko; he regarded the fleeing man for a moment then raised his hand and waved it dismissively. Guards turned and gunned the man down and the assembled crowd moaned and stepped back; Kushnirenko coughed and resumed walking toward the ice.
Misha looked at the broken heap a hundred meters out past the hole in the ice – the form was no longer visible as human – it was just a small gray lump on the infinite white plane of the lake.
But Sara looked at the twisted lump, then back at her father.
The guards were lining-up the prisoners now; they lined them facing the crowd. There were ten left now, Misha counted. Lev and the doctor were closest to him, then Sophie and Valentina and six others Misha had never seen before. Kushnirenko walked down the line, his pistol drawn, and he shot the first one in the face, one of the strangers, and the boy's body crumpled and fell to the ground.
Kushnirenko moved to the next person and fired again.
The closer Kushnirenko came to her mother the tenser Sara became; she trembled and finally she screamed, pulled free of Misha and ran toward the remaining members of her family – and Lev – but pulled up short and fell to ice in front of Kushnirenko's shined boots.
"Oh please-please-please," Misha heard her cries from where he stood – still rigid and mute – and he watched her for a moment, then Kushnirenko – but if the man was moved he didn't show it. Misha looked at Lev and the doctor; his brother was looking up at the clouds, almost smiling, but the doctor was looking at his daughter like she was diseased and beyond his ability to treat. Lenova's face seemed filled with detached sympathy, and Misha wondered if this is what the Christ had looked like as his Roman guards approached.
Betrayed by his own family, condemned for his humanity, soon to die at the hands of a wretched moron, a usurper to the throne of evil.
'And what am I?' Misha thought.
A pawn, really. Nothing more and nothing less than a useful idiot.
"As I have always been," Misha Podgolskiv said aloud as...
...Kushnirenko kicked her in the head. She fell away, scattered across the ice; the old monster stood over her in triumph, looking at her father all the while. He shouted orders at guards who jumped swiftly at his words. Muffled men turned and barked at stooped figures who turned and began hauling the dead out to the hole in the ice; the dead were dumped-in. The living returned to the line of those not yet dead and waited; new orders snarled into the graying air, and gray shadows converged on Sara and Valentina and carried them to the water's edge. They were chained together while Lev and the doctor and his wife were pushed out onto the ice at gunpoint. Kushnirenko strode out behind them, kicked clumps of cruddy slush out of his way as he walked.
Kushnirenko coughed once again and walked up to his doctor.
Grabbing the doctor by his shirt, Kushnirenko turned and walked up to Sophie Lenova and pushed her into the water; while she struggled he shot her in the face. The doctor looked at Kushnirenko, then spit in his face and jumped in after his wife...
...he disappeared under the ice...
Valentina looked at Lev and he held her eyes in his.
"I love you," Valentina Lenova said. "You must listen."
"I will always love you," he replied, then he looked up at the clouds.
Kushnirenko shot Sara in the face and kicked her into the water; Tina fell in behind her and grabbed desperately at the ice. Her fingers dug in but the weight of the chains and her sister pulled at her...
"Well boy!" she heard Kushnirenko say. "Do you think you can save her? Go ahead! Try!"
Lev dove across the ice, slid toward the hole and reached for her hand; his fingers slid into hers and knocked them free of the ice and she slid beneath the water. Lev crawled for the edge, his eyes found hers in the darkness...
She was not so far below... he could see the rocks... the rocks he'd glided over on a summer day not so long ago... the sun on his shoulders... in her eyes... the wind drifting through her hair... her hair wafting as cold water might...
She was reaching out for him now, screaming, her eyes wide with fright and he crawled toward the edge... reaching... reaching...
Hard firm hands had his ankles and pulled him back roughly across the ice and flipped him over on his back... he was looking up at Kushnirenko now, at the very beast Himself.
"You just couldn't do it, could you, Jew?"
Lev looked up at all of the twisted rage and ... what? Snot? Snot hanging off the monster's ear? Doctor Lenova's parting gift? A wad of green snot?
Whatever Kushnirenko had expected, it was not the sneering laughter that ripped through his soul in that moment.
Kushnirenko fell to his knees, the pistol in his hand gripped so tightly his hands shook; he put the barrel up against Lev's temple and pulled the trigger...
He racked another round into the chamber and pulled the trigger again...
Kushnirenko fell back snarling, red faced; he lurched to his feet yelling, then clutched his chest. He staggered drunkenly to Lev once again and raised the gun again and fired; this time the gun discharged and Kushnirenko fired again and again. Misha saw explosions rise from the snow and ice and with each impact he felt his life melting... dissolving... as if all there was left of his soul was...
...cold water falling on a hot stove...
Kushnirenko grew enraged and, now sputtering and clutching his chest tightly, he coughed while he barked incoherently at everyone around him...
...the gun dropped from his hand and bounced into the water...
...Kushnirenko lunged for it, lost his footing and fell into the water...
...He did not come up.
Time stopped, seemed hesitant to resume again.
But in time the crowd dispersed and the guards too turned and walked away – as if someone had thrown a switch and turned them off; Misha remained in place as if someone had cemented him to the slush covered earth. He still could not move.
It was all over, he said to himself... all over.
But the voice still called out to him...
Tentatively he walked out onto the ice. He took one step and stopped, looked his motionless brother and took another step.
With each step his chest hurt more; soon his chest grew tight and he felt short of breath – but he continued, slowly, toward his brother's broken body.
The voice – called insistently now...
Lev moved, rolled onto his side and crawled to the water's edge; Misha ran toward him but stopped when he was a few meters away...
Was it meant for me?
Are we so tightly joined?
... He could hear his brother's cries over the moaning Siberian wind and he looked closely and saw Lev's hand resting smoothly on the very top of the smooth water. Little ripples – as if from Lev's beating heart – spread out across the little hole. Misha remained motionless until the sky turned to darkness once again.