Categories
Tales

Anastasia

They needed to keep you and your family hidden, so they painted over the glass in the windows, and ordered you to keep them closed.

You opened one, anyway.

What did you think when you looked out into the courtyard, Nastya? Were you surprised to see that the promise of Spring had matured into Summer? Did your heart lift at the sight of the wide sky and birds far above the rooftops, or did your darkest thoughts return when you saw the decrepit wooden door which guards the way to the basement?

When a nervous young soldier fired at you because you had defied your captors and dared to look out on the summer sunshine, did you guess then what was waiting for you in that underground room?

There are no chandeliers here, no fine china or sparkling crystal. The drab uniforms which surround you cannot be compared to the finery of the young officers who vied to be your escort such a short time ago.

This is no light and airy palace, yet, until the garrison was changed, you could laugh and play here. Do you remember when you fell off the swing and rolled across the ground, and found it so amusing that you told the story again and again for days?

Can you remember, or is your mind fixed now on the future, a time when the commander who has been so courteous to you will lead you down the steps into the dim and dusty place where your family will be annihilated, with the din of machine guns echoing around the walls?

Should we grieve for you, Nastya? Is it of any consequence that your privileged young life is to be extinguished just as it trembles at the dawn of adulthood? What will your death be, compared to the thousands who have suffered and died through the ill-considered choices of your father?

Can it be said in your defence that you had no part in his decisions, when your people, whose influence is even less, must daily bear the pain of their ruler’s errors?

Your parents’ deaths will come swiftly. Yours will not. It will be delivered by a bayonet as you crouch, alone and shaking with terror, at the furthermost point of that foul and oppressive room.

Should this concern us, when many thousands will be hunted down and killed simply for showing loyalty to your family?

Perhaps not, but there may be a reason that we should not discard your memory, after all.

When we hear of the massacre of thousands, millions, we cannot comprehend it. We feel no connection to numbers. A number cannot stare defiantly back at us from a fading photograph.

We cannot know thousands, but we do know you, Nastya, we know how you will suffer and we can weep for you, and through you we will mourn every one of the others.

***

Anastasia is written by Victor Smith.

Categories
Tales

Early Harvest 1914

I grip the handles of the scythe and swing it right to left, right to left. I keep the blade low but away from the dulling stones. It slices through the stems and the wheat falls to my left, into a neat row.

The scythe moves easily; I can work like this for hours. It is satisfying to do something well. This is a good day.

Do not mistake me. I do not forget the bad days or the hungry days, or the pain of life and its grief. I do not forget the long, cold, miserable winters, and the tiny coffins going into the ground.

I forget none of these things; they are in my bones, but, with the warmth of the sun on my back and a breeze stirring the leaves of the oaks, I remember what it is to be alive.

I swing the blade, right to left, right to left. I hear the hiss of the scythe as it cuts through the stalks. I hear birds singing in the hedgerow, bees humming.

It will soon be time to rest; I have worked since dawn. I will have some bread and cheese, and a good draught of ale. I will do then what I always do. I will lean back and look up at the sky, and think of the time when I will go with Sarah to the church on the hill to say our vows.

I will dream of Sarah, and her strong brown legs, her clear blue eyes, and that smile. I will hear the laughing and shouting and squabbling of the little ones that we will raise, when we are given our cottage by the hay-meadow.

The sounds have changed.

Now I see that I am wrong. Today is not for dreaming.

It is time for the reaper, clattering behind me, coming closer and closer.

There is no birdsong, now, no plodding or whinnying or snorting from the horses. There is only the rattle of machinery, and the tramp, tramp, tramp of the crop being swept into the blades. It is a blind and heartless thing; it marches across the land, and treads down everything it meets.

I swing the blade from right to left. I look straight ahead; there is no need to turn. I do not have to see it to know that its great iron wheels are pounding the earth.

There will be flecks of red lying amongst the mess that it leaves behind.

These poor scraps of colour will soon be gone. They are petals torn from broken poppies.

***

Early Harvest 1914 is written by Mr. Victor Smith.