November Chill

By on Aug 5, 2013 in Fiction

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Russian soldier and Bible

The elevator doors opened and Mikaela stepped out into the dim light of the twelfth floor lobby. An old metal desk blocked the doorway between the small lobby and the hallway leading to her room with only a mere two-foot gap of walkway between.  “Name?” The old woman behind the desk thrust out an open palm for the key Mikaela held in her right hand. 

“Mikaela Reynolds.”  Mikaela handed over the key and stood quietly. Without looking up, the hall monitor scratched writing onto the form in front of her. 

“1204.” The old lady jerked her head to the left, a speechless attempt at directions. Returning the key with a lurch of her hand, she looked up, eyes fixed on the young girl. She watched as Mikaela made her way around the desk and slowly down the hall. 

Mikaela shook her head, sighing as she fumbled the key in the lock. She could feel the lock almost catch, but not quite. The door looked old but was solid. The lock, on the other hand, was ancient. She turned the key again and felt the jittery mechanism snap. She opened the door and entered her home for the next few nights. 

The moment Mikaela stepped onto Soviet soil, she could feel the tension in the air. It was like a string pulled taut around them was ready to snap and give way at any moment. When her team first entered the Hotel Cosmos, they were met in the cavernous lobby by a uniformed guard. He’d pulled Adam aside, speaking quietly to him. Adam was their leader. He seemed fearless. 

“They want our passports,” Adam said. He’d brushed it off, as if they’d been sitting in Annie’s Diner back home in Minnesota and the waitress had just asked if they wanted ketchup for their fries. 

“No big deal. Just procedure. They’ll give them back when we check out.” Adam smiled.

In her twenty years growing up in the Midwest, Mikaela had never been this far from home. She’d never even been out of state. Her mom and dad always stayed close to home. Holidays and summer vacations were spent visiting nearby family. Her parents never dreamed that one day their daughter would be staying a few miles from the Kremlin or that she’d even want to. 

Both born and raised on farms, they loved the simplicity and earnestness of a life spent tilling the soil, reaping the harvest. “Soil cleans off easy, Mikaela,” her dad told her when she turned ten. She’d asked him if he’d ever wanted to go anywhere, do anything else. Deep down he believed, like his father before him, that the simple life of working a farm cleaned off easier than the residue of city life. “Clean hands, clean heart,” was his motto. As if dirt swirling down a drain from hand washings after a harvest translated to souls scrubbed free of sin. And somehow they were closer to God, because they pulled sugar beets from dark soil. 

Standing in the lobby listening, Mikaela had just stared at Adam. She knew enough to be concerned about being in a foreign country without her passport, let alone a Communist one. She watched as her teammates handed theirs over without a care. With no choice, she’d handed hers to the guard, too. Alone in her room now, she felt vulnerable, trapped. 

She’d been reading stories about people in this country. Horrible stories. The stories were always the same. Someone said too much, overheard disagreeing with a government brutal to its people. Some stories were about people whose only crime was having faith, any faith. Don’t mention God, they’d learned or you become a target fast. 

Didn’t matter who you were. Everyone here lived under the same constant threat. Imprisoned and tortured with no word to their families. Some just disappeared. Seen walking down the street one day and then they were gone. Mikaela had seen pictures. Hollow eyes looked out from faces where flesh had been ripped, torn and stripped away. Their scars were an eerie reminder of the hate inflicted on them. 

Hate could eat someone alive, she knew and she wept. Her tears flowed from a deep well of horror, despair and sympathy. The pictures haunted her. How could anyone be so savage? It made no sense.

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Angela M. Shupe received her Bachelor of Arts in English, Cum Laude from the University of Detroit Mercy. In 2011, her essay, "Facing Down Harry," was awarded a Silver SOLAS award for travel writing from Travelers' Tales. Another of her essays, Loss and Nudgings, was a finalist in the 2012 Biographile Short Memoir Contest on Overcoming Loss. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications.