November Chill

By on Aug 5, 2013 in Fiction

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Russian soldier and Bible

It was already dusk. The buzz from the street lamps could be heard as they walked down the stairs leading to the underground station. The few other teams of two assigned to the station fanned out down the long hallway, until she and Ryan were the only ones in sight. 

Ryan was breathing fast, and Mikaela wondered if it was from nerves or adrenaline. “Mik, I forgot the scissors.” He was shaking his head. Without scissors, it was nearly impossible to wrestle the packaging off the containers. “I’ll have to run up and get them. You okay, just for a few minutes? I’ll be right back.” He sprinted up the steps towards the van, not waiting for an answer. 

Alone in the station, Mikaela could feel the November chill slicing through her brown wool coat, attacking her already shivering body. Flickering lights, their worn exterior exposing their age, created shadows that appeared and were gone just as quickly. Underfoot, the floor vibrated from the loud, rumbling coming from the deep innards of the tunnel. She felt uneasy, like a small animal spotted as prey by a much larger, deftly moving predator creeping closer and closer. The cold only added to the fear, which she knew was the real reason for her trembling.

A tram appeared, screaming to a halt in front of her. The doors slid open. Standing in the entrance was a seasoned military officer with weathered skin broken by slits of icy eyes now trained upon her. Hands made rough from war and hard times held still next to the rifle at his side. Medals hung in rows on his uniform. He exited the tram with his gaze fixed on the small navy book in her hand. 

If he demanded some form of identification, she was in trouble. The only ID she had was her passport, now locked away in a dark drawer somewhere in the hotel. She felt sick. Her stomach turned, and the knot in her gut twisted tighter, an unwelcome reminder she now had nothing. She had no way to prove who she was, what she was doing or that her actions had even been sanctioned by this man’s own government. 

Afraid to move or even breathe, she imagined a prison cell even colder than the damp tunnel. She remembered the letters she’d written over the past few years, pleading for those taken captive in this country. Thoughts flooded her mind. Would anyone write letters on her behalf? Would the letters even make a difference? Standing still, she could feel fear growing inside her, ripping into shreds any calmness she might’ve had. It made her angry; she hated being afraid. 

Mikaela took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the rancid smell that hung in the dank air. She took a slow step forward. The thud of her boot hitting cement echoed and was almost drowned out by the thump of her heart beating muscle against ribs. Her arms were heavy. Reaching out, she held up the small Bible she’d been clutching. “Ehta padarak,” she said. “Biblia,” hoping to convey it was a free gift, and he could take it or leave it. No strings attached. Just a gift. 

She looked into his icy blue eyes and met his gaze. The man was perfectly still, except for the wrinkled creases on his face, which began to contort slightly, then soften. He leaned forward, and something glinted gold at his neck. It was a chain. His eyes began to warm, then glisten. Watery eyes seeped tears that trickled onto worn cheeks. 

He reached up and touched the book, taking it slowly from her hand. With his other hand, he grasped at his neck, fingers searching. Pulling at the chain, he tugged it out from under the stiff grey fabric of his uniform and held it out for her to see. On the chain was a tiny gold cross, so small, she wondered if it was actually there or just the chain twisting. 

Tears continued to fall as his face warmed. Moments passed until the sound of footsteps in the stairwell broke the silence. At the noise, the man reached out again, taking her hand in his. He held it for a brief moment and shook it tenderly. Then, he walked away into the darkness. Mikaela watched him disappear into the tunnel and for a moment, the light on the wall behind her glowed warm upon her back.

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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.