Friday, December 15, 2006
Damn the viruses and glitches--Full speed ahead!
THE BLACK ICON
Russians. The word galvanized the Podolski household. Old Olyna Gregorska had husled into the house with the news, and now Sophia and the woman were excitedly and fearfully discussing what to do. According to Olyna, the front threatened to go through the very centre of the village. "We've got to hide somewhere until the attack is over," decided Sophia. "Best thing to do would be to go into a cellar somehere, where we'd be safe. But we don't have a cellar in this house."
"That's just what I came to tell you," said Olyna. "I've got a potato cellar in my place and we can hide in there, your family and me."
Relieved, Sophia thanked her and began hustlinginot the kitchen. "The battle might last for days, so we'd better bring some food," she said. "Yes, Olyna agreed. "I'll go home and get everything ready. I'll be expecting you in about two hours.
"Better make it three," said Sophia, computing how loing it would take her to bake enough of the tortilla-like cakes to tide the family over.
By sundown, Olyna showed the family into the cellar, a deep shaft scored with planks, mine-fashion, with potato bags lining it perimeter. It smelled dank, but was fresh to the senses of the children. For them, it was the smell of adventure. Olyna closed the heavy wooden doors behind the group as the first rumblings of cannon fire, like an approaching storm, worried the summer evening. Olyna's eyes caught white flashes on the horizon as the artillery and rocket racks began to let loose. The women then lit candles and glanced at each other in their fearr and uncertainty. Hopefully, they would be safe here.
Katerina and Genyk, meanwhile, began playing games with sticks and bits of rock lying on the cellar floor. An hour passed, then two. The children played on, while the women exchanged fearful glances after each thud and tremor that apprroached the village. It seemed as if a giant were walking towards the settlement, each footstep a thunderous tread of ruin. The reports became louder. Now the children had stopped playing and were huddled against each other. Outside, a grinding and grating alternated with ear-splitting crashes. "Tanks," said Sophia, putting her arm around the children.
Cries and screams of men. Stacatto sounds now alternated with the heavy belch of tank cannon.
The battle lasted all night. The children, having passed their tolerance of fear, now slept fitfully, their arms wrapped around each other, with Sophia and Olyna on either side, offering as much security as they were receiving from the sleeipng, wiry bodies of the children.
Soon, sunlight probed into the cellar. The firing gradually died. After a last stuttering burst of machine gun fire, all was still. An hour passed, then another. Sophia and the widow wondered at the wisdom of venturing out.
Olyna cautiously opened the door and eyed the scene. She paused for a moment, then wagged her hand forward, beckoning to Sophia that it was all right to leave. Sophia roused the children, who had somehow gotten to sleep, and talking each by the hand, led them caustiously into the bright sunlight.
An insane, contaminated planet impinged on the senses of the little group. Smoking trees and houses lay obscenely on the ground. Burning tanks lay fuming impotently, like swamped dinosaurs. Most of the village and the nearby highway had the appearacnce of a smoking junkyard. On the road, gutted personnel carriers blazed against the uncaring sun. Machine guns and anti-tank weapons lay near dark pools of blood. Strangely,there were no dead or wonded onthe battlesite. The fight had apparently moved on, giving defenders a chance to clear away the dead and injured.
To Olyna's relief, her house was untouched, save for a few heavy machine gun rounds that carved up the frames of her shattered windows. Exept for a few gouges in the walls, her home was safe.
Sophia thanked the woman for the use of the shelter, embraced her, and made for her own house.
Arrivng at her home, Sophia found the once-proud building pockmarked with light cannon rounds. Holes laced the upper walls. Smoke poured from the chimey and men milled around a newly set-up howitzer in the yard. The house had evidently been turned into a command post.
Cautiously, Sophia approaced the sentry and told him that this was her home. He looked her over, and beckoned her inside. She found the living room filled with German officers in various states, some eating, others barking terse commands into field phone headsets. The wounded were in one of the bedrooms, an attendant administering to them. Equipment, rifles and amunition were stacked against the walls and the kitchen was filled with weary, hungrily eating soldiers.
Sophia searched for someone in authority and approached a cluster of officers huddled around a map, talking intermittently on hand sets. She was soon shooed away by an orderly and hustled into the kitchen, where, to her relief, she saw a captain eating a tin of rations in front of the hearth.
"This is my house," she said to the captain in Ukrainian. I live here. What has happened.
"Ich verstehe nich, meine Liebe frau," answered the captain. "Aber hier ist ein dolmetscher." He beckoned to a ieutenant, a slight blond man with high cheekbones, apparently a lot of Slav in him. The interpreter explained as much as he could to Sophia. During the night, the Russians had launched a heavy attack and had driven the defenders back west along the highway. But the division had counterattacked with panzers, pushing the Russians back past the previous position. Sohia's house was now a command post and hospital until better quarters could be found.
"But where will I stay now?"
The interpreter phrased Sophia's question to the captain. The officer nodded, anbd sent the junior off to find the Oberst. Sopha's German was good enough to understand that the lieutenant had gone to the colonel in charge with her question.
Soon, a dark, stiffly-moving man with grease still on hs cheek and curliqued silver bars with gold pips on his epaulettes appeared in front of Sophia. He seemed harrassed, but his eyes were bron and soft, not without sensitivity.
"You the woman who owns this house?" the colonel asked.
"Yes,.At least I think I do. You people seen t have other ideas.:
The colonel paused before answering and finlally said patiently, "You'll have your house back as soon as we're through. Until then, you can take the small bedroom...Take them into the room, captain." With that he bowed to the woman, turned on his jackbooted heel, and left. Sophia was a woman of stunning, dark beauty.
The captain ushed the family into the smaller bedroom, hustling out the three NCO's who had been sitting there drrinking a curious-smelling brand of coffee. Sophia and the children placed their belongings in one corner of the room and began taking off their outer clothing, preparing to share the rumpled bed.
All that night, the family heard shuffling noises and excited German talk. Then Sophia hard the sounds of equipment being moved.
In the morning, all sounds ceased and Sopha went out to look around. Almost all the men were gone. Only the interpreter lieutenant and an orderly remained in the house, sorting dispatches and a number of satchels. Piles of cigarette butts, tin cans and ammunition casing filled the rooms. But there was also a number of ration cans that caught Sophia's attention and Sophia beckoned towards the food, asking the lieutenant, who was almost certainly part Ukrainian, if she could have the coveted meat and fish.
"But of course, said the officer, at the same time pulling tow cans of meat out of a pack, offering them to Sophia.
She almost kissed his hands in gratitude.
....end first part of Chapter Eleven, THE BLACK ICON