Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 74, Part 2

Major Yurii Marchenko took a few tentative steps and then let fly with a large femur. It hurtled through the air and struck a structure of horse bones, toppling them all perfectly. He cheered loudly for himself and took a bottle of vodka into his hand.

Boris Nemov shook his head half in disapproval and half in amusement. He had been watching his troops bunnock through a window for several minutes. He had been trying to compose himself enough to write a letter home. He sighed. He couldn't think of much to say.

He walked over and sat down at the writing desk. A pen, paper, and envelope, a stamp, and a bottle of vodka were sitting there on the desk. The villagers didn't have much, but they were very generous with what they had.

The Iron Man's troops had holed up in this small village for several weeks. The townspeople were loyal Russians and hard workers, and so they treated every last soldier like a prince. It was the local holiday known as "Tuesday" and so the villagers had cooked up a feast of horse meat, pig meat, and all kinds of produce, milk, and libations.

Because he was bored (and probably very drunk) Marchenko had begun a game of bunnocking with the bones left over from the roasted horses. Nemov was too respectable (or too sober) to participate in such silly occupations. Instead, he was staring at a sheet of paper trying desperately to write.

He wanted desperately to finish the letter tonight. He had put it off for a long time. Tomorrow they would be leaving the little hamlet. He had received a very cryptic set of instructions. He had been hearing shadowy rumors about something called the Winter Offensive. He didn't want to get caught up in another offensive when he hadn't written his wife in so long.

It was a shame he had not heard the terrible news yet. Unfortunately the Russian government was slow in it's mail service. He'd not yet heard, but he would soon.

There came a knock at his door. He was happy for any interruption, mostly because it gave him a real excuse to keep procrastinating. He opened the door.

"Magda," Nemov said, "Oh, come in. Have a seat."

"Spasebo," the girl thanked him.

Magda sat down on Nemov's bed. He raised an eyebrow at this, because there were many chairs in the room.

"How can I help you, my dear?" the Iron Man asked.

Magda was the youngest daughter of the household at thirteen or fourteen. Her family had insisted that Nemov take their master bedroom, though he only asked for a small living space. Nemov could see from the first day he had arrived that Magda had a crush on him. She blushed every time he talked to her.

"Do you think I'm pretty?"

Nemov was taken completely by surprise by the question. She was certainly a beautiful young girl, but the question had seemed to appear out of nowhere.

"I think you're absolutely lovely," Nemov confirmed, still sightly surprised.

"They call you the Iron Man," she said with a certain dreamy air.

Nemov's jaw dropped. Was this really happening?

"I've never..that is, would you like too...I mean..."

"Oh, Magda," he said, trying to let her down easily, "I can't let you go any farther. You have to understand that I'm married. I think you are a wonerful young girl, but I'm just a soldier called away from home. I can't..."

He stopped. She was looking at him with even more lust in her eyes.

"A warrior, loyal to his true love. It's so romantic."

"I hope you're not disappointed."

"Nichevo," she said with a shrug, "I'm sorry, colonel. I wouldn't have suggested it if I'd known you were married. I suppose I had a crush on you. Good night."

She stood up and walked out of the room. Nemov smiled slightly and shook his head. He sat down and began writing.

My Dearest Wife,

I miss you terribly, and though I think of you every day I am so harshly employed on the front that I have had few chances to write you. Recently we've taken refuge in a small village, so I've had more free time to write this letter.

I have read and cherished the letters you have sent me, and keep all of them in a small bundle by my heart. I am certain many of your letters I still have not received, as the mail is often difficult in reaching the front.

I find myself feeling so alone and so cold without you with me. I keep dreaming of you and the children. I can not seem to make myself believe that Marina is already walking. I can only remember her or think of her as a helpless baby in a crib, whom we both had to care for and love. Aleksandr has graduated by now, and Ivan and Surgey are no doubt twice the size they were when I last saw them. In my dreams and wishes all time is frozen, yet I know just because I am not there the children do not slow in their growth one bit.

What I find myself longing for most in the long, gray days here on the front is you, my love. The only thought which bears me forward is the thought of bringing this war to a conclusion so that I can see you again. So that we might again embrace, I would gladly take on the entire Monk army and call myself lucky.

But I ramble on about things which can not be changed. The men and women have taken to calling me “The Iron Man”. I dislike the title. I am no more made of iron than any man who sits and actually faces the Imps every day. It is the common fighting troops who are made of iron, not the overbearing officers such as myself.

No doubt you’ve heard about Sühbaatar by now. It’s been our first and greatest victory. I suppose I am a national hero, but I thank God that I am stuck on the lonely front so that I am not thronged. All I had ever hoped for was a quiet life with you, most beautiful one, and the children. I had hardly imagined I would ever be called into active service after so many years in the peace time army. Well, no things can be expected or predicted. So, with that in mind, I can not hope to predict when I will next receive leave, but I shall savor the hope of it every day, and pray for the deeper hope that this harsh war will end and we will be reunited permanently. I shall have to begin living up to the title “Iron Man” if I am to face so much longer without you.

Your Most Loving Husband,

Boris Nemov

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