А потом они пришли за мной

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Write a story involving a character who cannot return home.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction Drama Sad

   The moon’s glare fell across the ripples as the Dons waters lumbered around the river’s bend. 

   Yana saw it before she heard it. A flash of light, that erupted up into the sky, to be absorbed by the clouds.   

   Then arrived the dull bang. Then another bomb fell. 

   Voronezh burned. 

   They will be here soon, thought Yana, pulling a golden strand of hair from across her face. 

   The door behind her opened and she turned to see Bodovskov, stood tall, outlined against the whitewashed walls of the farmhouse, touched faintly by the light of the moon. He grunted as a tiny orange ring of light appeared as he struck a match and lit a cigarette. 

   Yana could see it burning as Bodovskov brought it up to his arid lips and inhaled. 

   ‘Have you watered the horses?’ asked Bodovskov, his voice low.

   He came and stood beside her, Oval spectacles sat perched upon his wide nose, dust-covered their surface illuminated red as he inhaled again. He exhaled a cloud of smoke that wafted on the warm westerly breeze. Bodovskov held it out for Yana to take.

   She took it gratefully.

   ‘Won’t the horses just be taken when they arrive?’ 

   Bodovskov sighed, put his hands in his pockets, and kicked his leg forward to sever the purple head of a thistle. 

   ‘We should shoot them,’ he replied. 

   Yana passed Bodovskov back the cigarette and they stood in silence, their eyes glued to the northern horizon.  

   ‘We should,’ said Yana. 

   Bodovskov inhaled deeply and blew out a plume of smoke. 

   He dropped the end to the floor and stamped down with the heel of his boot. ‘I’ll get my gun.’ 

   Bodovskov disappeared back through the gloom to the house.  

   Yana felt a tear pool in the corner of her eye and gently fall down across her cheek. The door to the house opened and closed. 

   Crickets chirped. 

   Another bomb fell, with a burst of light that floated up into the night sky. She thought it perversely beautiful. Yana shook off the thought as the door to the house swung open with a slam and Bodovskov, haloed by the light from the house stepped out, a rifle held between his hands. 

   Then Yana heard the wails of their mother, Anya. 

   ‘Bod, you can’t shoot them! Your fathe-’ came the shrill cries. 

   ‘Is dead,’ shouted back Bodovskov as he strode towards the stables.

   Anya appeared in the house doorway and staggered forward, reaching out against the door for support. ‘Yana, stop him- please!’

   Yana felt a pang of pain, her mother looked across to her for help, her eyes wide and full of sorrow. 

   ‘Yana,’ whispered her mother as the muffled crack of rifle fire rang out.

   Anya dropped to her knees and wept. The horses began to squeal.

   Another shot came from the stables. 

   Yana’s hands clasped around her mouth as she gasped for breath and slumped down, engulfed by the tall grasses at the river’s edge. 

   The last shot rang out and the horse thudded to the stable floor.

   An uneasy quiet followed before Bodovskov appeared holding the rifle, blood-spattered across his ruffled shirt and coat. Tears streaking down his face. 

   He stood over his cowering mother. 

   ‘Mother- It had to be done,’ said Bodovskov, Yana heard the hesitation in his voice. 

   Anya looked up, the wrinkles and creases of her face contorted into a look of hatred. ‘You wretch!’ 

   ‘Mother-’ began Bodovskov.

   Anya stood and hurled her arms at her son in a fit of rage. 

   He retreated, as she struck his face. 

   ‘Mother stop!’ shouted Yana as she leaped to her feet, her brother had taken Anya by the arms and slammed her roughly against the house. Blood was smeared across his face, falling from his nose. 

   Yana looked on open-mouthed as Bodovskov held the brittle frame of their mother up, her back to the stone wall. 

   ‘They had to die, they’ll have been stolen!’ shouted Bodovskov through gritted teeth, spittle, and blood from his mouth falling across her face.

   ‘Bod! Stop, leave her,’ shouted Yana. 

   Bodovskov sniffled, then dropped his mother to fall heavily.  

   He exchanged a scowl with Yana, then walked up into the house.  

   ‘I- I’m sorry,’ he called back as he disappeared, leaving Anya squirming on the floor, her hands held up to her face.

   Yana took her mother in her arms and held her tightly as she sobbed. The far-off skies above Voronezh had cleared, the constellations shimmered against a blanket of black. She held her breath as up above the sky was alive with stars.

   Morning arrived, with the whistle of the thrush. Yana stepped out from the farmhouse to be greeted by a low mist that hugged the many fields of corn and distant hills. She looked up at a sky of radiant pale blue, ashed by a light layer of cloud. 

   A heron flew low over the Don’s surface. 

   With a wooden bucket in her hand, she left the house, the hems of her yellow dress floating over the many blooming flowers and plants; the bright white petals of the Chamomile flower, the fiery orange glow of Wolfsbane, and the fragrant silver flowers of Russian sage. 

   Yana withdrew back into her mind to the memory of her father, he had been a strong man, stout and tall. His eyes had been so full of hope and care. The day he had left for the front he had handed her a gift, a small guide to the flora of Russia. It had not been the most conventional gift to give a sixteen-year-old, but she had cherished it.

   She walked down to the river's edge and emptied the bucket's contents before submerging it, letting the river's current cleanse its sides. 

   A frog croaked.

   Yana rubbed the sleep from her eyes and thought back to the events of the previous night, daring a glance up at the stables. She could still hear the dreaded shots and squeals of the dying beasts. 

   Once the bucket was clean, she heaved it up and carried it up back towards the house. Then she stopped. 

   Beside the house ran a narrow track, lined on one side by tall skyward reaching crops of corn that swayed gently in the wind.

   Yana placed the bucket on the floor and stood, her light blue eyes watching nervously through the deep thickets of leaves. 

   Yana jumped as a crow cawed, she looked up to see its black outline, stark against the blue, swirling and flapping on the currents.

   Then she heard an engine, a low hum, stuttering and choking along, her eyes looked north expectantly. Yana could feel the familiar pang of dread in the pit of her stomach, that she had become so accustomed to since the war began.  

   But no, the noise was coming from the south.

   Yana walked around the side of the house and stood in the road, a cloud of dust rose into the air from behind the corn. She could feel her throat tighten in anticipation, as a darkly painted green truck turned the corner of the road. She could see it more clearly now, it certainly belonged to an army, she was sure. But which one?      

   Bodovskov appeared from the house, rifle held down low by his side. He glanced from his sister to the approaching vehicle. 

   From behind the driver’s cabin, men could now be seen seated, one man, stood up and waved.

   ‘They must be Russian,’ said Bodovskov. Yana let out the air from her lungs in relief and felt a smile come to her face. Her brother crossed to stand beside her as the truck, bumping up and down, drove off the road and into the yard of the farm. Yana noted the small anti-tank gun, rattle to a halt behind the truck. There must have been just under twenty men she thought as the soldiers of Russia, in their olive khaki uniforms leaped out. Most of them clutched rifles and machine guns to their chests as they fanned out and stood to attention around the truck. A large man, who most might describe as a brute, jumped down from beside the driver and strode towards them. Yana noted his gold tooth as he smiled in greeting and how his nose twisted sharply left, most likely the result of a fight. 

   The man wore the cap of an officer, he took it from a polished scalp and bowed his head. ‘Morning comrades,’ he bellowed. ‘I am Kaptin Ivanov.’ He wiped at a bead of sweat on his brow and flopped his cap back onto his head and turned to address his restlessly awaiting men.  

   ‘Yuri, Dima, and Maxim. Unhitch the 45 mm.’ 

   Ivanov’s eyes wandered past Yana and her brother to the edge of the river. He walked between them, his hands resting on his hips, and grunted under his breath. ‘This’ll do- bring it here.’ 

   Yana watched as three of the soldiers unhitched the gun from the back of the truck and in a practiced maneuver wheeled it towards their awaiting captain. Bodovskov was lost for words. 

   ‘What are you doin-’ he began. 

   ‘How old are you?’ interrupted Ivanov. 

   Bodovskov bridled at the question. ‘Twenty-two.’ 

   ‘Old enough to fight and young enough to die,’ said Ivanov. Some of the men laughed. ‘Why have you not joined the army? It is a comrade’s duty to defend the motherland.’ 

   Bodovskov was lost for words, ‘I’m no coward!’

   ‘I could have you shot!’ said Ivanov, his mouth twisting into a wide grin. 

   Yana stepped in front of her brother, ‘It’s his eyes, he-’ she knew she had done wrong as soon as the words had left her mouth. 

   Bodovskov scowled at her as the men around them chuckled and howled. Ivanov chortled. ‘He’ll have bad eyes by the time I'm done with him.’ Yana sensed that these were no idle words, her brother was in trouble. 

   Ivanov turned to look up the length of the river, as it disappeared up around the bend. Fields of farmland lay on either side, dashed in places by rising hills and boulders. He let out a long sigh. 

   ‘We are expecting the 2nd German Panzer division later today, they’ll drive south away from Voronezh right through here following the river,’ said Ivanov. 

   ‘Has the city fallen?’ asked Yana. 

   ‘It has,’ replied Ivanov. 

   The three soldiers had placed the 45mm in place, overlooking the river, they then took up firing positions as the other men carried over a huge box of rounds for the gun. 

   ‘I can fight,’ said Bodovskov. 

   ‘I hope you can, we’ll need it,’ replied Ivanov. 

It was turning into a beautiful summer’s day, the sun hung high as down below the fields of green were brazen by its light. Yana sat on the step of her house, as her mother wept into the arms of her brother. 

   A butterfly fluttered past Yana’s face, she marveled at its beauty. 

   Bodovskov stepped down and sat beside his sister. The soldiers sat around the gun, chatting amongst themselves, eating what little rations they had been spared. Yana could sense their tension and no wonder, she wondered how on earth such few men were expected to defend against the German army. Bodovskov sensed her thoughts. 

   ‘I don’t understand,’ he whispered. ‘We can’t possibly hope to win.’

   ‘Will you stay?’ asked Yana. 

   Bosovskov took his glasses from his face, then pulled from his pocket a small cut of cloth and proceeded to polish their surface. He did it with such care and love, he ran the cloth around their rims and down again over their lenses in a circular motion. 

   ‘Thank you,’ said Bodovskov.

   ‘For what?’ asked Yana. 

   ‘For standing up for me.’ Bodovskov placed his glasses back across his nose and pocketed the cloth. There were tears in his eyes. 

   ‘I miss teaching.’ 

   ‘You will again,’ said Yana. 

   ‘I don’t think I will,’ said Bodovskov. ‘Father was always ashamed of me.’ 

   ‘He was not,’ said Yana. ‘You were just different.’

   Bodovskovs lips curled into a smile, as he wiped away the tears.

   ‘You were always too kind little sister, I shall miss you greatly.’

   He leaned across and kissed the side of her head. 

   She turned and hugged him. 

   To Yanas' horror the soldiers had dismantled the stables as best they could and had built a barricade from the splintered wood. Ivanov ordered that the dead horses be used as cover, they were heaved out from the blood-covered hay and placed beside the gun. 

   Their mother was grief-stricken, she was unresponsive and merely hobbled along. She held her son close to her chest as if she would never let go. ‘I love you,’ she whispered into his ear. 

   ‘I know.’ I love you, Mother.’

   Yana took her mother by the arm, as on her back she carried all the worldly possessions that they could carry; pots and pans that clinked with every step, bright woven rugs from Voronezh and most importantly, their family photos. Anya held tightly to her breast, the black and white picture of her late husband, stood proudly in his uniform, emboldened, as they began the long walk south. 

   As Bodovskov stood, his arm held high and waved goodbye. A distant bang commanded his attention. Already the Germans were close. A large plume of black smoke billowed in the wind over the horizon. Then another loud explosion erupted upwards. Yana just made out the flash as she pulled her mother forward. 

   She feared that her mother might not make it, the day was hot and her mother was old. She cursed her brother for killing the horses, though she understood his reasoning. She cursed herself for telling him to do it and for letting him stay. 

   She prayed that he was safe.

   A rifle cracked, then another. Ivanov shouted. A machine gun chatted. The 45mm gun fired with a clap. White smoke rose up from above the farm.

   ‘Keep walking mother, we have to keep walking.’ 

   Yana and her mother managed to get some sleep in an old unused barn, Yana assumed that its owners must have fled. 

   The night was hot, aside from the buzz of insects and the distant cries of blackbirds, all was silent. 

   The next day as dawn broke, they saw them. The dust flung high into the air from behind a hundred or more vehicles; tanks, trucks, and half-tracks rampaging onwards across the vast landscape heading south, to continue their crusade of death and destruction. 

   A thought went to her brother. Was he dead?

   She shed a tear. 

   After a few days of following the Don south, they found a crossing point, a narrow bridge, that spanned the river. They crossed and continued on, the roads steadily became busy with other men, women and children fleeing from their homes. 

   Yana’s mother was weak, her feet bled and her back sagged. Several times she collapsed by the side of the road. Luckily at times, there were people to help, but at others, they weren’t so lucky. 

   ‘Mother?’ asked Yana. Looking down at her mother’s pale face, her breathing was short. She pulled a leather bag from her pocket and poured several dried cherries into the palm of her hand. 

   ‘You must eat mother.’  

   Yana lifted up her mother and heaved her across into the shade of a tree that stood proudly beside a stream. A thrush sang above. 

   A plane hummed up in the sky. 

   She looked up, a beam of light caught her face. Yana closed her eyes and hummed to herself. 

   When she woke her mother was dead.

   Yana saw the horse lead cart coming towards her down the road, its wheels quivering as it ran over a stone. The horse snorted, wafting its tail at the many flies that hummed in the humid air. 

   The cart stopped. ‘Steady, boy- steady.’ 

   A short man, round in disposition climbed down and knelt beside her, he unscrewed the lid of a metal water canister and poured its contents between Yana’s cracked lips. She nodded thanks. 

   Crouching he looked from her to up the dusty track from which Yana had come. Flies buzzed around the body of her mother.

   ‘Running like the rest of the world,’ he mumbled, before walking over to Anya's body. Yana had closed her mother's eyes, resting her head against the tree's base. 

   ‘My mother,’ whispered Yana. 

   The man nodded.

   ‘We can’t leave her here like this,’ he said as he stooped and lifted her up, cradled between his huge hands, and walked her to the cart. 

   Yana stood wearily, she didn’t know how long she had been lying here. The man gently placed Anya down into the cart's base, placing her head down with care to lay upon a folded rug. 

   Yana noticed the smashed frame, her father's picture lay crumbled within. She wiped away the shards of glass, picked it up and climbed up into the seat beside the drivers seat, sparing a glance back down at her mother's still form. 

   ‘I’m Mikhail.’ He said as he pulled himself up to sit beside her, he took the leather reins in his hands and tugged, sending a subtle wave down towards the patient horse. 


    It wasn’t long before they arrived at Mikhail's farm, a small dog yapping in greeting, it’s fluffy tail wagging with eager anticipation of his master's arrival. A woman stood, a warm smile across her face, she was shorter than Mikhail if you could believe it. Her face was strikingly beautiful, a gift that most would wish for. 

   ‘My wife, Maria,’ said Mikhail. 

    He pulled up the cart beside a barn, then stepped down. The dog bounded across the yard and leaped up, its paws frantically flapping up at his beloved master. ‘You miss me boy!’ said Mikhail as he took the dogs in his arms and squeezed. 

   That afternoon they buried Anya, in a deep grave under a towering spruce, caught in the cascading rays of sunlight. Yana felt sorrow, but she was grateful that her mother was at peace and would not suffer anymore. As the light of day still hung onto the western hills, they had supper, a healthy portion of beef stew and bread. 

   Yana asked ‘Why had they not fled, or why had the Germans not been to the farm?’ 

   ‘They're all to the south, at Stalingrad,’ replied Mikhail. 

   ‘Our sons there,’ said Maria. 

   ‘I’m sorry,’ said Yana.

   ‘He’ll be home, I’m sure of it,’ said Mikhail. 

   And he did come home, three years later. Yana told them what had happened to her brother and then her mother. And it was a story found across the whole of Russia and the world in that year of 1942, and all that had followed or come before. Adrian came home in the winter of 1945, he had fought from the streets of Stalingrad to the steps of the Reichstag in Berlin. He did not like to talk about it, and yet Yana, when lying together all those many years later, as the crickets chirping in the night outside, would hear him weep. 

   She had fallen for his short-cropped blonde hair and piercing eyes of stormy blue, which was like waves crashing upon a shore of black. She had fallen. They raised a family together; they had four children and worked the farm for Mikhail and Maria. 

   She would remember her brother Bodovskov and her mother, Anya with a smile. She still loved them and longed again for her home on the banks of the river Don. But they had been different times, a time before the Germans came. A time she would tell her children about, then her children's children. To make sure that it would never happen again. Every July of every year, Yana would light a candle in the window of her home and remember all those millions lost; all the wives, mothers, brothers, husbands, daughters, fathers, and sons that never got to watch the next day's sun, slowly rise in the east. 

   And she would always remember when in 1942 on that hot July night when Voronezh had burned.


June 17, 2021 15:09

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1 comment

Kurt Burke
19:30 Jun 23, 2021

Nice immersion, well told.


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