Vsevolod. After an hour of trying to forget, his name still danced in the elfin shadows on the walls. It scraped Peter’s brain like cocoons of dried leaves on splintered wood. His face—amplified by the reverie-world between wakefulness and sleep in which Peter was suspended—glowered at Peter through the window.
Peter shifted restlessly in bed. With the pads of his fingers, he lightly pressed his left shoulder, wincing to the touch. He would have a bad bruise tomorrow. His eyes traversed the room beneath the loft, searching for reassurance in familiar figures. The icons hanging on the east wall. Elena’s painted rocking horse. The samovar rattling on the stove which gave way to a shrill whistle. Yet they rang hollow—unable to penetrate the perturbation that burdened his soul.
“Did Peter mention Vsevolod?” Even whispered, Vsevolod grated on his ears. What impelled him to draw closer to the word? Peter craned his neck, as if seeing his parents sitting at the table could help him make out the fragmented wisps of conversation that brushed his ears.
“He wouldn’t tell me anything.” Peter’s mother wasn’t embroidering tonight. Instead she turned an empty porcelain teacup in her hands. “I tried to ask the militsiya if Vsevolod—”
“The militsiya was there?” The flickering candlelight illumined deep creases lining Peter’s father brow.
“Yes—I already told you that.”
“No you didn’t. What did he tell you?”
“I tried to ask him if Vsevolod was the one who started it, but he didn’t let me speak.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He told me not to let my son engage in a fight. Peter’s not the kind of boy…”
“Was Igor Kolodov there?”
Shuddering, she set the teacup down. “Too many questions unnerve me.” Her hands began to twitch; she picked it up again. “He came out of nowhere, said something to the militsiya, grabbed Vsevolod, and hurried off.”
Not before the militsiya spoke to Mama. The image returned with chilling clarity—Igor Kolodov’s lynx-like eyes flashing with still and intent expectancy from the militsiya to Mama.
His father’s jaw tightened. “The militsiya didn’t stop him?”
“No, I don’t know why.” Her thin fingers nervously twisted the gold band on her ring finger. “Peter’s not the kind of boy…”
He looked her straight in the eye. “Peter wouldn’t start a fight, but he isn’t afraid to stand up for his beliefs.”
She sighed. “I wish Peter would talk to me about it.”
He leaned back in his chair. “Don’t press him. He will come to you in time. You want to protect him, but you must let him grapple with this.”
“He’s so young.” She fingered her long, thick braid pensively. “At least Vsevolod started it.” She nodded to herself in her simple manner.
“The fight, yes—the vandalism…it’s doubtful. He’s too young.”
“Nobody in Vidanovo supports Nikolai Lenin. Who could possibly…?”
“It disturbs me that the militsiya didn’t confront Igor Kolodov.”
“You don’t think…” Peter’s mother glanced warily around the room. What was she afraid to utter—and why?
“I don’t know.” He stared into the crackling flames. “The world is changing, Dunya. Peter will not be a child much longer.”
“Peter, wake up!” Garish light flooded Peter’s face.
“Why…?” Squinting, he rolled over. Dull pain shot through his shoulder. Vsevolod. The fight. Remembrance rushed upon him.
“Get up immediately.” Was it the candle’s spectral glow that made his mother look so pallid?
Peter propped himself up on his elbows to see the through the window. Inky black. “What time…?”
Her eyes darted distractedly through the room. “No questions! Get dressed.” Her vocal cords visibly pulsed under the skin. She shook her other son. Why was she waking Sergei up too? Rubbing his eyes, Sergei scrunched his face and mumbled unintelligibly.“It’s time to get up.”
Twisting in bed, he groaned, “I don’t want to.”
“Peter, help Sergei get dressed.”
“Sergei Dmitrievich!” The inflection of her voice heightened. “Obey your mother!”
Peter sucked in a short breath. She never argued with Sergei. Why now, in the dead of night?
Whimpering, Sergei stuck out his lower lip, but quieted. His mother put her hands on her head. “What was I doing?” She looked around the room, blinking vacantly. “Elena!” she recollected. Lifting her daughter from the crib, she stared wistfully at the sleeping figure cradled in her arms. Suddenly, she burst into a fit of violent tears.
“Mama…” Peter touched his mother’s arm.
“Keep moving!” she snapped.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed and hastily pulled Sergei’s shirt over his head.
Breathing rapidly, she fumbled to button a coat over her daughter’s nightgown. The door creaked. His mother whirled around with a shallow gasp, then covered her watery eye with her free hand as her husband walked in. “Dmitri—” the word caught in her throat.
“Dunya.” Crossing the room, he clasped her hand in both of his. “Courage.”
“Courage,” she repeated through tearful sobs.
“Papa, what is happening?” Peter tugged his father’s coat sleeve.
“Dmitri—don’t!” The wild look of protest made his mother’s puffy eyes look delirious.
“He must know. Lenin’s secret police force is raiding Vidanovo.”
“Yes. You know the way to Aunt Lana and Uncle Evgeny’s house. Don’t take the road; stay parallel to it—near the pond. Go as fast as possible. Make no noise. Hide if…”
Horses’ hooves clattered upon stone.
“Aren’t you and Mama…”
“Dmitri!” she gasped.
“Go! There’s no time!”
“Hold onto Elena!”
The clicking of men’s boots.
“Don’t let go of Sergei!”
The snuff of a candle—darkness. Gripping his siblings’ fists, Peter stumbled out the back door. He never saw his father and mother again.
What our judges thought:
I like the chosen period here. I think it's a great time to revisit this through fiction. Great use of foreshadowing and tension! Well done!
I loved this. Loved it, loved it. It's just the kind of story I want to read.