November Chill

By on Aug 5, 2013 in Fiction

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Russian soldier and Bible

Mikaela had even written letters on behalf of the “disappeared,” pleading with the government for their release. High school had kicked off a new phase in her life, almost a rebellion. When other kids were getting drunk and falling off tractors at parties, Mikaela was sitting by her radio listening to concerts in Johannesburg sponsored by human rights organizations. She loved the music and their passionate pleas for help wormed into her heart a desire to learn how she, a young farm-girl from the Midwest, could help free some unfortunate soul on the other side of the world. It became a passion of hers, one she brought with her into college, when she finally moved off her parents’ farm and into the dorm.


When the opportunity came to go on this trip, she knew she had to be a part of it. Sitting in a rickety pew on a warm, spring morning at the church near her dorm, she nearly leapt off her seat when Pastor Cullins told the few young congregants about the opportunity that had just been presented to him. It was an opportunity to help people on the other side of the world. Just giving the call out, he said. And if you’re interested, come talk to me. Interested? When he finally closed, wishing everyone a blessed day, she bolted out of her seat and was the first to speak to him.  

Now here she was, part of a delegation given special clearance by the Soviet government to bring Bibles printed in the Russian language into the country once closed off by the Iron Curtain. It was November of 1990, and this attitude of openness was so new, many people she encountered seemed unaware of the change. They were understandably suspicious. 

Standing in her room, Mikaela set her luggage down and walked over to the window. The view morphed into a cloud of grey — the sky, the buildings, even the few trees in front of the hotel. Bolted into the window frame were screws locking it shut. Picking at one of the screws, Mikaela laughed, her nerves spent. She placed her suitcase on top of the bed. There was a dull, once gold throw haphazardly slung across it, its fringes ragged and stained. 

She opened the suitcase and rummaged through it to find a brush, then walked over to the ancient armoire that stood in place of a closet. She looked into its double mirrors, one on each identical door, and wondered if anyone was looking back. Maybe there was a camera, and on the other end, some young soldier was watching her while sitting in a damp, cement room from the basement of the hotel. She shivered at the thought, and on her arm, her hairs prickled upright. 

Back home, she’d always thought her faith was strong. But here, for the first time, she knew her faith was being tested. She was at war with fear, and its lurking presence was unnerving. She finished brushing her hair and said a quick prayer. They were to meet in the main lobby after getting settled. After resting the brush on the nightstand, she walked to the door, grateful to leave the room.

In the hallway, Mikaela could hear the faint ticking of the old clock sitting on the monitor’s desk. As she approached the desk, she held out the key knowing the woman would demand it. Name, time and room number scratched onto the paper recorded her coming and going. They really don’t trust us, she thought, stepping into the elevator as it creaked underfoot. The dark wooden doors squeezed together, shutting out the dim light of the hall, and she was left standing in near darkness.

Stay alert, they’d been told during their prep meetings. Some people want us here, and others would rather we’d stayed away. So far, no one in this country had been overly welcoming, a noticeable difference from the last few days they’d spent in the small towns of Romania and in Budapest, Hungary. The generosity and welcoming spirit of those people was surreal amidst the backdrop of rubble and soldiers walking around rifles in hand.

The elevator doors opened, and Mikaela walked into the lobby in time to hear Adam attempting to corral everyone into a circle, so he could begin with their assignments. She was always one of the last, her name falling far down the list. 

“Mikaela, you go with the team to the subway. Ryan will be your partner.” Adam continued, his voice booming, as he finished laying out the plan for the night. 

“Mik, you’re with me,” Ryan said. She felt a tap on her shoulder. 

“Subway, huh?” 

“Always wanted to see the Soviet underground.” Ryan grinned at her. “A bit clandestine, don’t you think?”

Mikaela shrugged in response. 

“Stay with your partner,” Adam reminded them for the umpteenth time since the trip began. 

“No problem here.” Mikaela walked towards the hotel entrance, leading the way to the van. “Let’s just go.” 

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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.