"Alex! Alex! Get back here!" the large man bellows. The streams of angry Russian echo and resound through the forest.
I glance over my shoulder and keep running. The desperation I feel overwhelms me, even though I've done this, been here before. I dodge trees and branches, rushing through the labyrinth of foliage. I know these woods well. The forest, my house, and the farm are the only places I spend my time; and often the forest is the most tolerable. My breathing becomes heavy and labored. It is becoming difficult to keep up this speed, but I continue to run. Eventually, the yelled threats and curses slow down, then stop completely, as do I.
I lean back against a tall oak tree, trying to catch my breath. I bend forward and drop my head between my knees. The sudden rush of exhaustion and lack of adrenaline overcome me. Shakily, I sit down. Taking a deep, unsteady breath, I look around at what some would consider a beautiful Russian forest. I don't think I will ever feel anything but resentment for this forest.
Thoughts fly though my head, too fast to grasp on to. I try to force myself to stop thinking about anything. I feel uninvited moisture welling up under my eyelids. I clench my teeth, willing the stony expression on my face to stay.
I reach up and gingerly feel my face. Blood on my fingertips. I can feel a deep gash on my jaw. I press a corner of my jacket to it, trying to stop the bleeding. It hurts like hell.
I feel around for other injuries. On the other side of my face, I can feel the area around my cheekbone swelling dramatically. I know from experience it will be a grisly shade of purple in the morning. And I can tell without looking that there's a bruise nearly all the way around my upper arm.
I close my eyes and lean my head back against the tree. Tomorrow at the farm, the other workers won't give it a second glance, though. Not anymore. The wary, sometimes concerned looks had ended after the first few occurrences; now they just accept it as typical. The other workers are afraid. They try their best not to cross my father, their supervisor. If this is how the man treats his own son, imagine what he would to do a menial laborer under his power. They stay away from him, especially on days when I look like this; following his agitated, barked commands as well as possible.
I decide to sleep here tonight. I've done it before. It's not really an uncommon occurrence. Whenever my father is having a bad day, whenever he decides to take it out on anything that gets in his way. Which is usually me. I have to put up with it, though. I can handle the yelling, the physical abuse. The wounds heal eventually. But when he starts threatening me, that's what scares me. He'd threaten to turn me over to the prison camp we grow food for. Turn me over for the Test. I'm not sure what the Test is, but I've seen its effects. The prisoners they perform the Test on barley look human anymore.
I know the camp is run primarily for the Test. The prisoners are shipped there from all over Russia. During the day they work in the iron mines that support the camp, but afterward they return for the Test. Once, when delivering a bushel of food to the camp, I passed by the building where they do the Test. I froze when I heard the noises coming from the building. The moans of pain. The shrieks of agony. I hurriedly ran past, not wanting to hear anymore.
The only reason my family is protected from the Test is that we grow food for the staff at the prison camp. These people, they don't care if you're a criminal or complete innocent. They'd do the Test on anyone. That's why I take my father's threats seriously. If he offered me to the camp, they certainly wouldn't refuse.
Trying to clear my mind, I lay down on the forest ground. Pulling my jacket tighter, I bring my knees up closer to my body. The Russian forest is known for its brutally frigid nights. Hopefully, this won't be one of them.
I slowly open my eyes, squinting at the light. My teeth are chattering involuntarily, and my whole body shivers. The coldest time of day is the moment right before dawn. In the sky, beautiful shades of pink and orange seep over the horizon. I hear the birds singing in the otherwise quiet forest, but I cannot appreciate this picturesque morning.
I take in a sharp breath and quickly stand up, brushing myself off. I would be expected to be home soon, to start work. I carefully reach up and feel my cheekbone. It is certainly swollen, and it throbs slightly. The gash on my jaw is surrounded by dried blood and is still open. I take one last glance back at the serene forest, then force my aching, tense muscles forward, starting the walk home.
I arrive at the farm as the sun is peeking over the line of trees in the distance. Workers are gathered in front of the fields, preparing for the day's labor. They stand in groups, conversing with one another. Their camaraderie is apparent. I stand alone, watching the other men talk. I know I will have to talk to my father when he arrives, to find out my day's assignment. He will see me, see my injuries, and never show the slightest sign of remorse, of repentance.
I hate our every contact. The cold glare that always fills his eyes will be directed at me once again, if only for a short time.
Eventually, my father arrives. He drives a weathered, dark blue pickup truck. Almost immediately, the groups of people standing about break apart. The men begin their various duties around the farm. I know they saw me this morning. They want no trouble.
Slowly, I approach the truck. I see another worker walking purposefully in the same direction. He is tall, almost as tall as my father, built up with muscle gained from a lifetime of menial labor. His dark hair and beard are offset against his sun-tanned skin. He reaches my father before I do, and I step away, moving behind the truck.
The man stops just short of my father and angrily growls something. My father responds, his tone equally as irate. Their exchange continues, with the volume and animosity of each person's comment escalating as they progress. I can't hear what they're saying, but both parities seem extremely upset.
Abruptly, the conversation stops. The two men glare at each other. The worker breaks the stare first, spitting at my father's feet. He turns and storms away, leaving the field. Cautiously, I approach my father. I stand before the red-faced man, looking at the spit on the ground as opposed to making eye contact. I wonder what their argument was about, but don't dare ask. He already appears xtremely upset. I am not foolish enough to upset him further. I have enough injuries today.
My father glowers at me. With one hand he indicates the nearby stack of bushels of food. "Take them to the camp," he grunts simply, then turns and stomps away.
By the time I finish my formidable task of delivering almost thirty bushels of food, it is nearly sunset. As I drop off the last bushel at the camp, I futilely wipe my sweaty brow with the back of my equally sweaty arm. I sigh in relief and start walking, finally heading home.
As I walk down the dirt road surrounded by trees, I try to clear my mind but unbidden thoughts keep surfacing. I wonder what my father and that worker were arguing about. They both seemed very upset. I hope my father has cooled down by the time he gets home. I feel bad for the worker. My father undoubtedly fired him.
There is no where else to work in this area. I hope he gets out of the forest before they find him for the Test.
I look up at the sky, seeing the sunset. In the distance I notice a dark cloud of smoke rising. It is in the area of the farm. Perhaps the workers are burning extra stalks or something. I know they were planning to start harvesting today. I see our small house up ahead and my expression softens slightly as I take a deep breath. I can smell my mother's stew from here. I didn't realize I was this hungry. My father's truck isn't anywhere around. He must still be at the farm.
I enter the small cabin and my mother turns around from the stove. She is a petite woman, with streaks of gray creeping into her long dark hair. She smiles slightly at me, and I can see the apology in her eyes. She sees my bruised face, and I know she feels guilty. There's nothing she can do about it, though. Nothing she can do to stop him. I walk up beside her. She gently reaches out to my face, running her fingers over the cut on my jaw. Wordlessly, she shakes her head.
Together we sit at the simple wooden table, eating stew and watching the sky grow darker through the small windows. My father still isn't home yet. This is unusual - he's usually home by sunset. Maybe he's dead. I mentally smile maliciously at the thought. It's possible. He could've been attacked by an animal in the woods. Maybe the worker he was arguing with killed him. Or maybe -
My thoughts are interrupted by the front door slamming open. My father walks in the house. He is sweaty and haggard and streaked with black soot. But these details mean very little to me when I see his face. His expression is indescribable. I had seen it before, during his dangerous rages, but never had it been this severe. Tonight, he looks angry enough to kill me. A rush of fear sweeps over me, sending adrenaline coursing through my body. My eyes widen, and all I can see are his piercing eyes burning through me.
"You!!" he roars, storming into the house.
I stand up and back away, but the wall stops my retreat.
He continues toward me, flinging a chair out of his path. He reaches me and clutches my shirt with one hand, violently slamming me up against the wall. "You should have been there!" he screams at me. Suddenly, a heavy fist smashes into my face, sending shocks of pain across my nerves. The impact would have knocked me to the ground, but my father has a firm grasp on my shirt. I feel warm blood running from my nose. He throws me against the wall again. "Goddamn it, Alex!" I don't respond. Even if I knew what to say, I wouldn't have been able to speak. He raises his arm again, and I feel another blinding flash of pain. This time he lets go of my collar, and I fall to the floor. I lie there stunned, touching my eye where the strike had landed. I have no idea what he is ranting about, or what he expects me to say in response. His rage continues with no sign of waning.
"They're going to kill us now! Do you realize that?!" he bellows. Towering over me, he steps closer. I scramble to my feet and back away. His eyes are wild as he walks slowly forward. Again, I back in to a wall. He grabs my throat with a massive hand. His tone becomes a low growl in my ear. "The farm was burned down," he snarls. "Nearly half our crops. You weren't there. You weren't helping to stop the fires. They're going to kill us, and now I'm going to kill you." With every phrase he squeezes my throat tighter, cutting off the air through my windpipe. My face turns red as I gasp for breath, pulling futilely at the hand around my neck.
Suddenly, he releases me, and I drop to the floor, choking for air. The consequence of the situation sinks in. If we can not provide food for the camp, they have no reason to let us live.
For a moment, I am sorry my father didn't kill me. It would certainly be no worse than a slow, drawn-out death from the Test.
My father looks down at me, perhaps reconsidering his death threat. He reaches down and grabs my shoulder, yanking me to my feet. Wordlessly, he shoves me out the open door and continues pushing me forward. The stars are out in the clear night sky as I stumble over the dirt road in the dark. We pass the road that leads to the farm and I realize where we're going. To the prison camp. He must be planning to give me for the Test, perhaps saving himself and my mother.
I duck out of my father's grip and start running towards the forest. As much as I would like to be away from him permanently, I would rather that he kill me than be given to the camp for the Test. I dash into the woods praying he won't catch up to me. But I realize my efforts are futile. Even if I did get away this time, I'd have to return home eventually. My pace slows as I give up this lost cause.
My father runs behind, and catches me, shoving me to the ground. The blood from my face mingles with the dirt on the ground and I pick myself up once more. I resign myself to the fate of the Test as we move back towards the road and closer to the camp, and my death.
He grips me tightly by my shoulder, pushing me roughly down the dank hallway of the prison. I keep my eyes cast downward, staring at the grimy floor. I clench my teeth tightly, biting back the tears that threaten to show. We stop at a door on the right side of the dim hallway. "Ivan Moskov," it reads. "Camp Supervisor." My father raps sharply on the door.
A middle aged man, head shaved, wearing wire-rimmed glasses pulls open the door. "What?" he spits, obviously annoyed by this intrusion.
My father shoves me into the room, then brushes past me, pulling the director to the side. He speaks lowly, gruffly, gesturing in my direction. The director nods and looks up at me occasionally. Their conversation ends quickly. With one last glare at me, my father turns and leaves the room. He walks down the hallway and leaves the building without another word.
I look at the director, trying to hide my fear. He looks back at me appraisingly. He narrows his eyes, sizing me up. I shudder internally. I don't even want to imagine what they will do to me. The supervisor crosses the small office and sticks his head out the door. "Mikhail!" he bellows, echoing down the grimy hallway.
A young, strong uniformed man appears in the doorway. So this is who they've sent to kill me. The camp director nods at me, then motions down the hall. The guard understands and nods shortly. He grabs me by the upper arm, as if he knows exactly where the bruises are, and shoves me forward into the hallway. I stare at the floor as we walk. I wonder how quickly the test kills you. I wonder if it's a long, drawn-out process, over days or weeks, or if it's only a short time of pain.
We turn left down a different corridor. The walls are the same drab, grey concrete as the floors. The wall is interrupted every few feet by thick, steel doors each with a tiny barred window and a secured lock. I assume these are the cells for the other prisoners. They hear us coming and call out, sounding almost inhuman. Their emaciated hands reach through the tiny window. The smell of death is in the air around us.
The guard halts abruptly at a door nearly at the end of the hallway. He gives me a stern look as he unlocks the door. His eyes are heartless, unfeeling. He looks capable and no doubt willing to inflict pain on another person. The door squeaks loudly as he throws it open. He tosses me onto the cold stone floor, the door clanging shut with a sound of finality. I am in almost total darkness in the empty cell. I sit alone in the corner of the tiny, unlit room leaning my head against the wall. I close my eyes, clench my jaw and take a slow, shaky, deep breath. I feel death is eminent at this point. With that thought, submerged in my solitude, my stony expression breaks and I allow the tears to fall unchecked.
The lack of sleep from the previous night catches up with me, and even though my mind will not stop, my body finally does. I fall into a fitful slumber, breaking into a cold sweat. Voices interrupt my dreams, it sounds like they're coming from outside my door. I recognize what I think is the camp supervisor's voice.
". . . we can use this one. . . . . instrument of hate. . . . . turn him against things that hurt him . . . . to hurt them before they hurt him. . . . . can be our tool. . . "
Lucidity is fleeting. I can't tell what's real and what's a dream. I see images. My father's eyes, his fist coming toward my face, the blood, the fear. The guard's eyes, the hate, the prisoners' begging hands. Their eyes. They were the same. The same glinting rage. The same adamant destructiveness.
The precious nothingness of sleep finally engulfs me. The morning comes too quickly, though. I awake to the other prisoners' cries. I wish I was still asleep. I hear my door being unlocked. My heart races faster. Are they going to kill me now?
The same guard from last night opens the door and steps in. He towers above me, the same expression on his face, the same look in his eyes. I flinch as he suddenly tosses something at me. It lands at my feet. A bundle of clothes. Not the drab, flimsy grey uniforms of the prisoners. But instead, I realize slowly, they are the heavy dark green uniforms of the guards.
"Put them on," he says, not as unkindly as he before.
I look at him, then slowly direct my gaze onto the clothes. Is this some kind of joke? Finally, hesitantly, I take the wool uniform and pull it on. The guard waits for me at the door, and we leave, together.
I look down at the man from my window above. He is in a dim room, lying on a table. A wire mesh covers his whole body and secures him to the table. He struggles, but he is too weak to move. Above his head, a pipe, opening directly above his face.
I reach out my hand to take the lever, never taking my eyes off him. Watching him squirm. I pull the lever abruptly, and the black oil falls from the pipe. My eyes glaze over and my expression hardens. The man, my father, screams as the oil hits his face. A slight smile tugs at my mouth. The camp supervisor steps up behind me, smiling also as he puts his hand on my dark green wool-clad shoulder. And now I know what it all means. I understand the rage in their eyes. I feel it in mine. And most importantly, I understand what it is like to want to hurt them before they hurt you.
So, whadya think? Feedback is really important to me, good or bad! Any other ideas about Krycek's childhood?