Went teaching website-creating for small startups today at the organisation that used to pay out my unemployment insurance, when I was in their program for … startup. I still have a slight queasy feeling of being one of those formerly unemployed people who make a living selling services to the unemployed … like all the consultants that you had to see in the AAK organisation back when I first quit my job.
One of them had a PhD in philosophy, I found out. Yeah, she always dreamt of a career teaching people how to write CVs …
Anyway, I’m over that now. And I know I deliver a good service for these people who want to create their own jobs. Because they need to learn how to create websites. And do marketing. And all that.
I need to learn, too, but more about how to create synergy between my bread-work, my current passion project for writing and, of course, my highest purpose work – which is The Blog.
But in recent days I have found a break, while Char and Jay were sleeping and I just did it – another installment of Hammer and Magic.
That will have to do for now …
“I have 5 rubles … ” Tatiana said and held them out.
That was a lot of money, even for a war cripple beggar. In fact, it was all the money she had in her purse. But with everything she remembered about another war cripple who was her brother, there was really no hesitation in finding the money.
“Come closer … ” the man said.
She did and gave him the money, right into the bloodied, bandaged hand. It clasped quickly around the coins and hid them in the bags that went for clothes. Then their eyes met.
The man’s face was scarred and partially hidden by a hat and a woollen scarf that had once been white. But his eyes were very clear and blue. She had no idea about his age, though. It could be 25 or 35 … or 45 …
“So you are part of the family, then?” he asked.
“I am here to live with the Ladovnas, yes.”
“Too bad … ” he muttered.
“They have been out since before everything went to hell. I don’t know when they will be back but I was hoping you were the wife, when I first saw you.”
“Natasha,” said Tatiana, remembering well the names that Oleg had told her over and over.
“Yes, that’s her,” said the cripple. “She gives me food – one of the only ones here.”
Tatiana eyed the ghostly emptiness of the English Embankment, supposedly one of the poshest neighborhoods of Petrograd …
“Even if people were still here, I doubt they would give much,” she said earnestly. “If the Bolsheviks are right, rich people are mostly concerned with themselves.”
“Well, good that the wife here is not rich, then, eh?” The man coughed and started to smile, but then stopped. She briefly saw rotten teeth …
“But,” he added, “she is the servant, like the man and their son, of a rich family. So she has access to more food than the poorer folks, you see?”
“Well …” the man muttered and tried to move around a bit, and she saw that he – like Yakov – also had a wooden stump for a leg, underneath the big baggy coat.
“Well … ” he said again, and tried to get up, “it is a pity that some of the poor workers are downright assholes, too, you know? You never know how much they will give even if they have hoarded some bread. Natasha is a seldom kind … ”
“Here – ” she said and held out her hand ” – let me help you up.”
“Yes,” the man said, his hoarse voice sounding far away suddenly ” … you can help me a lot more … ”
With a speed that belied his broken body, the man was up and had grabbed Tatiana and pulled her close.
She was so surprised that she did not have time to react before he flung her around and slammed her against the wall beside the door to the silent Ladovna house.
Then she heard – and smelled – the man up close. Very close.
He twisted her arm with his good arm and used his weight to press her against the wall.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had me some … ” the man panted and his bloody, stump hand tore at her dress. But because he had fewer fingers the work was slow and he cursed and pressed himself harder against her to be able to hold her while trying to get the dress off.
“Yes, it’s been so long … ” he said again, voice guttural.
Tatiana felt fought to keep panic down, and she fought him. But he was incredibly strong …
That was the one vulnerability of koldun’yas – sorcerers. She had to have her hands free and be able to concentrate to cast spells. And that was why Oleg had taught her again and again:
“If you ever have to use your power to defend yourself, do it from a distance. Never up close – never.”
Now that was too late. And he was too strong to break free from.
But panic gave her strength, too. She kicked fiercely for his wooden leg, and in the end managed to get her boot behind it and then she pulled her leg back and half-way tripped the man. It was clumsy and did not really make him fall, but it gave her an opening to tear herself free.
As she stumbled back onto the street, she saw the gun in the man’s good hand and he humped down the stairs towards her. She might easily have outrun him now, if it had not been for that.
“Fucking c*nt … ” the main spat. “This is a little souvenir I took from a dead German. And you know what, it still shoots really well, because I fired it into his fucking face, once I had taken it from him … ”
The crippled man continued to rant as he humped forward, with surprising balance since he did not use a crutch. And his gun hand was not shaking at all. But she saw he clenched the weapon really hard as if he would crush it …
“Wonderful what you can do, when you jump into a trench that has just been leveled by mortar – and how quickly. How quickly you know that since your fucking government hasn’t given you a rifle or even a bayonet you just have to get kick the other guy while he is still reeling from that explosion. Kick him. Take his gun. And do him in. And then all the rest … ”
“Get away from me … ” Tatiana heard herself say, but the man only moved closer while his voice rose to a high pitch:
“I sacrificed everything. I have a right to a little sweetness from a daughter of Russia. Why don’t you show me some sweetness – bitch?!”
“Get away from me!” she yelled and then her words knotted themselves into ancient, arcane twists and hums, and she reached forward, her fingers clawing at the air in just the right position …
And then it was there: The cascade, as she had begun to call it. Like she had torn down an invisible dike to a flood of raw energy that just exploded through the air, searing like heat from a hundred ovens and yet cold as the ice on the Neva.
It all coalesced in 10 single points through her fingers and changed into what she wanted.
And that was fire.
The man did not even have time to mutter an oath before two jets of flame shot out from Tatiana’s hands and engulfed him.
But he did scream … as he tumbled past her, and then fell to the ground. He rolled around, screaming while he burned and Tatiana was shaken from her own shock.
It was the only attack spell she had memorized. The only one …
“No!” she cried and tore off her coat and tried to get to the man and cover him with it, extinguish the flames.
“No – no – no!”
But the man rolled away from her before she could get to him and then right over the edge – of the English Embankment promenade. And into the river …
Tatiana felt something else swim over the panic now – pure unadulterated terror.
Terror about herself.
She had never thought she would use this spell … like this.
But … she had not … she had … just reacted.
The dark waters were semi-frozen but as she understood what she had done, even though it was probably to save herself – maybe even her life – Tatiana did not hesitate. She moved towards the river and began to pull off her dress so she could jump in. Even though it would mean at least a good bout of pneumonia this time of year.
If she made it up again. And with that heavy man …
But she never got the chance to try that.
The armored car from the other side had driven across the bridge as she struggled with her clothes and two Red Guards jumped out as the car reached her.
“What is going on?” the one Guard shouted.
“He – he – ” Tatiana began.
“What’s with that fire?” the other Guard began. “Did he get burned by one of the lamps?” He eyed the two oil lamps across the door to the mansion where the Ladovnas lived and worked. Only one of them were lit.
“I – yes – ” Tatiana started ” … he got burned, yes. But we have to save him – he fell in!”
The first Guard looked at her with sympathy, and she realized she was standing there in the cold autumn with no coat and her dress half down her legs.
“Looks like he got what he deserved, before it was too late,” he said. “We won’t do anymore about this.”
“B-but … ” Tatiana tried and went to the promenade edge and pointed down at the man who was still struggling in the water, even though the fire had now gone out. “We have to get him up”
The second guard found the gun now and inspected it carefully.
“War booty,” he then said and eyed his comrade. “I think we have what we need.”
“Yes,” the other man agreed. And then he pulled out his rifle and … shot the man in the water.
Tatiana threw herself at him: “What are you doing? Are you crazy?!”
The Guard tore himself loose: “Look, little lady – I don’t know what has gotten into you, but I know soldiers who come back and start to beg and steal and rape. We don’t need them. He could have joined us and fought for justice.”
“J-justice … ?” Tatiana was speechless, and then she felt the tears well up. She wanted to flee – to go back home. Right now. But all she could do was stand her, in the cold morning and gather her clothes and try to stop shaking.
“Be glad that you go justice, girl,” the other Guard said. “There will soon be a lot more of it – in this city and in this country.”
And then they left her … alone.
And Tatiana Rasputina limped back to the stair where the cripple had been and slumped down on it herself and began to cry as she had never cried before.
She felt that she had been sitting there for hours, while the cold got ever more under her skin and into her body, but she refused to move.
I will just sit here now … and die for what I have done … I should have been more in control … I should have …
A thought flickered in her, as these thoughts always do, when something terrible has happened … that maybe if she was sitting here long enough somebody would come. Somebody, like her mother … pick her up, tell her everything was all right.
It was only a flicker, though. And nobody came.
The chilly autumn sun rose higher over Petrograd and she could hear more gunfire in the streets on the other side of the English Embankment and in the streets behind her.
Justice was spreading in the city.