The rain keeps pouring down
But there's no solution in tears
I don't believe this. He shot me.
One moment I'm falling into the water, next the cold's seeping into my bones like something possessing me, then I'm soaring far and away, and then the dream.
The dream that has haunted me all my life. I am a girl again, the night wind softly tickling my hair, the stars in their familiar places, the radio softly singing in the background. So peaceful, like my little brother, curled up in his ratty blue blanket, fast asleep, dreaming, I'm sure, his last peaceful dream.
Footsteps, footsteps in the grass, coming, closer, closer. They're trained to be quiet, but the tall grass doesn't know about quiet......
Then the cold comes back in a rush and the water is coming out of my mouth and nose in a torrent. I lay on the bottom of, well, I think it's a boat, coughing, gasping, I finally find my breath somehow.
And I smell the scent of tobacco smoke. I weakly raise my head and peer through the long black curtain of my hair. This is the man that just convinced my brother to shoot me, and he just sits there and smokes and smirkes at me. Bastard. Does he get off on doing this to people?
"Good evening, Anna."
I wish I had the strength to knock him into the water, but it's hard enough to move. I reach up and feel the hole in my shoulder.
Blood loss. Hypothermia. Maybe I'll get lucky and die.
Considering my life, no such luck.
My apartment is empty and so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
The oil lamp on the table beside me flickers softly, bathing me with golden light and memories of my mother at her desk, writing in her journal and teaching Alex and me our Cyrillic alphabet. She always wrote her journal in Russian, even after coming to America, and her script in these slim volumes awakens so much more than the knowledge of how to read it...
Katanya kicked her husband again. "Get up, Sergei. It's time."
He rolled over and moaned something unintelligible. God, a man was so worthless once he'd fallen into a bottle. She felt a faint kick inside her swelling belly as if the child within protested her train of thought. Had to be a boy.
She walked into the other room and gently shook three-year-old Anna. The child whined and moaned but at least woke up, which was more than she could say for her father. <Bastard.>
She dressed her in a hurry, wishing they hadn't been chosen to go. But perhaps it was best that her children never see this hellhole called Tunguska.
She had no idea that both of them would be well acquainted with it in the distant future.
My mother was sent to America as a spy. She was sent with some of the information they had on the black cancer and its vaccine---a fair trade for the information they really wanted-- how close the Americans were getting. A former agent, seeking asylum, in return for what she brought. Now I know that they let her by because they wanted something more out of her. An example. And some guinea pigs.
Katanya moaned softly in pain as the strange nurses sponged her face and encouraged her on. Anna had been bad, but this one was excruciating. Outside the room, her daughter played unconcernedly with brightly colored blocks, the pain of the smallpox vaccination she'd had an hour ago long forgotten.
And then, it was over. A little boy, screaming his little head off. He was big, with a thatch of dark hair, and he wiggled and screamed and balled his hands into little fists. After several unsuccessful attempts to hold him still, the nurses were finally able to cut the cord, wash him, and bring him to his mother.
He gradually calmed down and fell asleep. She held him, smiling estatically, and looked up too late to see the young man who had stood in the doorway, smoking a cigarette and watching her and the infant with predatory, intelligent eyes.
My father wasn't around much longer after Alex was born; it was if having another male in the house had absolved him of any remaining thoughts of responsibility to his family. Not that he was good for much anyway; Mother had said often enough that she would just buy him a bottle and set him in a corner and he wouldn't make too much noise. And one night, he just stumbled outside, half-drunk, and never returned. She wrote that he probably fell in a ditch somewhere, and good riddance.
Or perhaps she turned her back to the light glowing blindingly outside, caring only to shield what she still had from their possession. This would come to haunt her only two days later as she rubbed the tiny smallpox vaccination scar on her daughter's arm and stared at the cradle in the corner, and dread seized her heart, twisting and pulling and squeezing.
The feeling returned to her as she and the others followed the cold, dark-eyed black man through the underbrush. She fingered the stiletto as her heart pounded, her green eyes dark, glossy, and red-rimmed from five years of sleepless nights.
<It's not as if I haven't done this before.> she thought to herself. She considered praying, but would God favor anyone in this group of dark soldiers? <Just have strength. And tomorrow you'll be making piroshki and walnut cookies and singing sweet songs to my beloved little children.>
They entered the compound, as silent as death. Moonlight spilled through the windows of the barracks, illuminating the tiny bodies in their little beds.
<Bozhe moi, they're only children.>
Katanya stripped off her green ooze-encrusted suit and threw it into the fire. The shadows reflected off the flames danced across the trees almost like children playing. She could almost hear their voices...
A tear trickled down her cheek as her mind iced over. And still the flames roared, breaking down the walls of the compound and the walls of her once proud spirit.
Anna returned home from school to a familiar but unpleasant smell and the sound of her brother singing from his upstairs room loudly and out of tune. She felt she probably shouldn't complain, after all, she taught him to sing.
"Split-pea soup hot,
"Some like it hot,
"I hate it hot,
"ALEX, GODDAMMIT, WILL YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!" her mother came out of the kitchen to scream at the top of her lungs.
Anna agreed with her brother privately, but one look at her mother's jagged nails and the bags under her eyes convinced her to keep her own mouth shut.
Alex soon tired of singing, which worried the two females downstairs because it usually meant he was up to something. But unfortunately they didn't think much about it until they heard a loud shout and turned in time to see the little five-year-old hit the ground with a loud thump.
Anna sat quietly next to her mother, who slept in the tiny plastic chair with the help of two tranquilizers and the assurance that Alex had only a broken arm and bruises.
She didn't notice the white-faced duty nurse running down the hall at an estimated speed of Mach 2.
At first, Alex had been fascinated with the hospital, with its beeps and blinking lights, but after all the pretty nurses left and the halls grew dark, he became bored and decided to go exploring.
So he cheerfully scampered down the hall, his tiny stocking feet making nearly no noise on the cheap carpet, sneaked quietly by the duty nurse reading a magazine, and curiously peeked in the open door that let to the furnace room. He cheerfully hopped down the stairs.
The room was nice and warm, but that wasn't the best thing. He peeked under the furnace and discovered an entire horde of black furry creatures!
The rats were at first leery of the tiny child, but as his eyes closed and he fell asleep, they curled their little furry bodies around him, accepting him as one of their own.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, HE'S GONE, YOU CAN'T JUST LOSE A LITTLE BOY?!?" Katanya shrieked, her mind frantically pulsating with the thought of men in black carrying him off. Her daughter stared at the floor, worried and embarassed.
The doctor sighed and closed his eyes. They apparently could, and had. His mind whirled with different thoughts. He could have fallen down the basement stairs. He could have have wandered out into the twenty-degree weather outside. He couldn't retire for fifteen more years. He had a blinding headache.
So they searched every floor, top to bottom, and finally found him in the furnace room, the terrified and irritated rats fleeing in every which direction, waking the little boy.
"Aren't they nice, Mommy?" He asked. "Can we have one?"
Mommy had fainted.
It had been a harrowing day, but it still hadn't spared them from the split-pea soup. In a way, it was a much more torturous punishment than a spanking for Alex as he twisted his little face into interesting contortions.
"Eat, Alex." his mother snapped.
Then suddenly there was a quiet but insistent knock at the door. Katanya turned her head and her son flicked a piece of bread into her hair. She brushed it off irritably as she got up. Alex giggled.
"Brat." his sister murmered as she choked down another mouthful.
Katanya opened the door only to be assaulted by a mouthful of carcinogens. "What are you doing here?" she said softly, her skin turning ever so slightly pale.
"Might we talk?" he asked quietly.
"In my study." she replied, turning and walking upstairs.
As they walked upstairs, the children stopped bickering and stared as if their very destiny had just passed before their eyes.
Three minutes later, their voices echoed loudly down the stairs.
"No, no I won't....."
"All of us must make sacrifices. I would have thought you understood that very well."
He turned and started down the stairs, not noticing the wild reddish glitter that had surfaced in her eyes.
In one wildish lunge, Katanya kicked him down the stairs.
At first, all he could do was lay at the bottom in shock as she filled his vision, her eyes dark, wild, and murderous. "Get out of my house." she growled.
Once, in an endless steam of sleepless nights, he had turned the television to a National Geographic Special on African lions, and for an instant he saw her as one of the lionesses, about to rip his throat out for attacking her cubs.
Then his mind broke through the curtain of emotion and he smiled quietly as he rose, but she had already seen the fear flash through his eyes, and was not afraid.
"As you wish." he said as he turned and disappeared into the night.
Katanya walked into the kitchen and looked at her open-mouthed children.
"Eat your supper." she said quietly, and turned to the sink.
Two years later
The children brought the blankets and the radio out on the porch. The July breeze blew through the night, still containing faint traces of heat. They watched in wonder as the fireworks exploded across the sky, red, green, blue, purple and finally climaxing in a glorious rain of silver and gold.
Anna curled up in her blanket, warm and contented.
<sigh> "What, Alex?"
"Oh, go to sleep you whiny little brat."
After a while, he did go to sleep. Anna wondered how he could be such a little tornado when he was awake and such a peaceful little doll when he was asleep. Her eyes closed as she realized that she was sleepy herself.
Then suddenly the sound of the tall grass being crushed went through her skull and she was wide awake. Her mother's paranoia had influenced the eleven-year-old in ways she couldn't even begin to comprehend. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck raise as the sound grew closer, closer. She opened her mouth and a glove closed down on it. She gasped.
"You don't want to wake him up, do you?" A smooth voice she hadn't heard in years asked as the men dressed in black walked by her and a light, brighter than any fireworks, glowed blindingly as he turned her to face it...
As he led her toward the glowing light, behind her Alex stirred, yawning, his little eyelids blinking against the blinding light. He saw glimpses of his sister being led away, wondered what was happening, and softly slipped back into sleep.
The sun rose as it did every morning, giving the landscape light and warmth. Alex stirred and rubbed his eyes, and a flash of the dream <was it a dream?> echoed through his seven-year-old mind. Anna, and the light...
He walked sleepily through the house, calling for her, for his mother, but his only answer was his own voice, echoing off the walls. He walked up the stairs, the blue blanket trailing after him, brushing softly on the stairs.
Except for the fireplace's crackling, his mother's study was as silent as a cathedral. Katanya lay on the floor, her long dark hair like a black shroud around her motionless body. "Mommy, wake up." Alex said, shaking her. <Come on, Mommy, stop playing!> he thought desperately as he shook her, but she remained cold and lifeless. Then he felt the hand on his shoulder and turned, his eyes wide.
"She's dead, Alex." He only stated the fact, his expression giving no emotion, not even when the tiny seven-year-old's eyes filled with tears. His only response was to pick him up and quietly carry him out of the house.
Two hours later, the smoking man walked down another hall and peered through a glass window to see the young girl lying on the stainless steel table, rose his eyebrows, took another drag on his cigarette, and passed on.
Anna drifted somewhere through a syrupy state of unconsciousness, barely above the pain that shrieked from every cell of her body. Her mother brushed back the syrup from her mind for a moment. Anna reached out for her, crying softly in desperation.
Her voice echoed from the ethers: "Oh, devotchka, I'm so sorry....."