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Honorable Soldier

The horizon passes at a rapid pace as I stare out the window, the sky flecked with white and gray. The glass pane is fogged by my breath despite the below-freezing temperatures aboard the train. I pull my thick coat closer to my body, shivering profusely. An infant wails near the front of the car, the mother hushing the child with no avail. An officer monitoring the car slaps the woman and scolds her like a child for failing to keep her son quiet. No one acknowledges it. I continue my gaze through the frosted window.
“Several minutes, Arkady.” My partner, Dmitry Alexander, says as he slides into the seat next to me. I nod, trying not to think of what lays ahead. My hand slides to my pocket and feels for my handgun, the steel is cool against my fingers. I hold my hands in my pockets as I realize they are trembling, not from the cold but from the very near future.
Our train finally stops at a small village. Dmitry and I stand to step off the train. We pass the woman and her child who have now scooted closer to the window as if that will make her invisible. The bitter wind makes my hands go numb as we walk through the shabby village, very clearly ravaged by hunger and desperation. Few houses have smoke coming out of their chimneys.
“There, at the end of the street!” Dmitry shouts over the biting wind. He points to a small shack much like the one described in the file given to us. Thick layers of snow and ice make the trudge slow and painful, the main road long buried beneath the storm. The house, gloomy and small, looms ever closer by the second. Tension grows within me, a small core at first but expanding as we get take steps toward the house.
Dmitry reaches the door first, motioning for me to be quiet as he readies his knife and pushes the door open. Once inside, the darkness is like a fog imminent over everything. A small chair sits by the lit fireplace and a bundle of rags atop a straw bed in the far corner. Looking closer, I realize that it is not a bundle of rags at all, but a man sleeping soundly in the corner. The tatters covering his frail body serve as meager blankets. The slight rise and fall of his chest is the only sign that he’s alive. Despite the raging snowstorm just outside, the room seemed much quieter and seemed to be growing warmer due to the tension.
I stand behind Dmitry as he finished the kill with his knife.
“What should we do with him?” I ask as we both watch the blood soak the hay beneath him. Just before his body became a mere shell at the hands of my colleague, his eyes rested upon mine. A million emotions swept through my brain, wiping away the disturbing, unknown and undeterred reason of why this assassination was taking place.
“Who cares? Leave him to the dogs.” Dmitry lights a cigarette chuckling and pushes past me out the front door.
The next few moments pass by in a blur. In front of me, in a doorway leading to another part of the house, I hear a gasp and look up to see a young boy carrying an infant.
“What’s going on? Father? Father, are you okay?” He looks up as if noticing me for the first time.
“Help me. Help me, please.” He pleads, leaning the baby against his now dead father. He tries to shake the man awake, crying.
“Wake up wake up wake up. No no no no no….” He buries his face into his father’s bloody chest, weeping and moaning. A terrible, mournful noise. His hands become covered in the sticky red. The baby wakes up, disturbed by the loud noises erupting from the young teen. The raging blizzard outside mingles with the cries from the baby and the wails of the boy, making my stay in the house unbearable with the melancholy howl. I pause before leaving, feeling sympathy for the boy but regretting it, for this is what we were sent here to do. I move to rest my hand on the boy’s back, but quickly draw away.
“I’m sorry.” I whisper, unsure of whether the boy could hear me over the commotion.
The image of the boy, the infant, and the dead man burns into my mind, painting a permanent portrait within my brain that is impossible to erase. I can’t think, my mind only forming thoughts around this new occurrence. I blindly find Dmitry fixing a truck behind the house for the long trip back to Moscow.
“What took you so long? Decide to talk to the dead?” Dmitry slaps me on the back, laughing at his own joke.
“Of course.” I smile.


On the ride back to Moscow, we take turns sitting above the engine to keep warm. We don’t talk much about the reason we murdered the man. Vladislav Koslow was a betrayer of the famous Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin.
The truck crawls slowly to the outskirts of Moscow and finally we arrive at our destination.
Inside, we head to Commander Kudrich’s office to receive orders for our next mission. The nerves make my fingers tingle once again. Dmitry whispers something to the guards outside of his office allowing them to enter.
“Dmitry Alexander and Arkady Petrov, sir.” The guard announces. Commander Kudrich waves him away.
“Ah. Mesolovich and Petrov. Please, sit.” He gestures to one of the expensive leather seats placed in front of his desk. We both sit.
“So, tell me how it went.” Commander Kudrich carefully opens a wooden box and selects a cigar.
“Everything went according to plan. Old Vladislav never made a sound. No one saw anything.” Dmitry leans back in his chair, satisfied. I flinch at his last words, recollecting the sorrowful scene. Kudrich chuckles.
“Good work, boys.” He pours a shot of vodka for us and for himself. I am unsure why this is such a joyous moment, to have seen a boy mourn over his murdered father. My job is to be an unfeeling and heartless soldier, like the rest. Now I find myself challenged to convince myself that I can mercilessly murder another man, despite their opinions of our communistic country. Despite my thoughts, I swallow the vodka.
Soon after the toast, Kudrich dismisses Dmitry.
“Arkady,” Kudrich stands behind his desk, but gestures again for my to sit back down.
“You remind me much of myself as a young officer, capable of anything. When I was younger, I beat my partner in training, ranking myself as the highest in my division. I see that same spark in you.” He winks at me. “I have a special mission for you.” He hands me a file.


“Nikolay Bukov. Take a look at his file. This should be an easy job for you. Make sure it’s clean and done quickly. Hide the body. I don’t care how you do it but I want it done.” His harsh Russian accent makes his words even more horrifying, as if he were telling a child about the monster that lurks in their closet.
“Yes, sir. It will be done.” I make my voice sound confident. I picture the torture cells created for the people who disrespect Stalin in the mildest of manners, making my task of killing this Nikolay all the more of a nightmare. If I fail, it will be disrespectful to the notorious dictator. The inflictions make you wish you were dead. I stand to leave.
“And Arkady, tell no one.” He smirks, holding a finger to his lips making him look like a madman.
“Yes, sir.” I close the door behind me, not prepared for this new mission.


The next few days I study the file, pushing any thoughts of Vladislav and his broken family behind me.
Nikolay Bukov. 33 years of age. Born in Czechoslovakia. Below his basic information reads:
Nikolay Bukov, a former KGB member is charged for killing his wife. His wife was a head agent at KGB, and although he was drunk at the time of her death and therefore unaware of the destruction he caused, he is held accountable and will be sentenced to death.
The words take me aback. I have been ordered to kill a man for killing his wife. The burden of this new mission lifts off of my shoulders slightly, knowing I am doing this murdered woman justice.
I take a few tiring days to plan this assassination out in my head, writing things down, thinking of ways to be discreet. I don’t want to make a big scene with gore and ways to conceal the body, so I decide on a clean way, something more professional and also a way to impress my commander in hope of a higher position.


I take the train again, this time unaccompanied by my usual partner. I am the only one in my car besides an older man and the train monitor who eyes the briefcase sitting next to me. Even though there isn’t a blizzard and the snow has stopped, I pull my coat closer to my body and resume looking out my train window. The snowy world beyond the train tracks is peaceful, as if unaware of the despair and destruction happening upon it. The train slows just outside a village, much like the one that I had recently completed my mission in. I make sure to get off at this village so as to look inconspicuous.
It takes me a few hours, but I eventually find Nikolay’s house located in the country, hidden from the surrounding villages in a grove of trees. This will be easy, I think. I stand, surreptitious in the patch of trees hiding the house from the main road. Walking toward the house, I forget of the boy. I forget of the baby, wailing. I forget of the man whose blood was spilled. I enter the large house through a side door, careful to be silent. My boots leave prints on the expensive rug, but help with making me soundless. I open a door in the hallway, peering in carefully. Glancing around, I find it empty and move on to the next one. The adrenaline has made me feel like a monster and I feel as if there is no stopping me from killing this man. I feel adrenaline pumping through my heart, making every movement fluid and precise. I continue through the hallways with a rush through my veins making everything around me and every thought a blur. I reach the last door, my sense of invincibility falters and something inside me hesitates. Somehow, I know there is something off here. Nevertheless, I crack the door open ready to pounce on whatever waits. Instead of a sitting room or a bedroom, I find complete and utter darkness. It is as if the darkness will swallow me whole and never give me back to the outside world. For an instant, I wonder if it would just be better if I never returned to the hurt and despair of Soviet Russia. The thought disappears as quickly as it came. I step in and realize that it is not a room, but a staircase the shoots straight into the murkiness. The cold consumes my body and it seems to dissolve my bravery and courage. I hear a dull thump somewhere at the bottom and a shiver runs through my body. This is the place. Luckily, the light appearing through the crack in the door barely slices through the darkness. I creep down the wooden stairs, hoping not to make a sound. The stairs seem to go on forever but I finally find concrete at the bottom. A single naked bulb illuminates the room and what is revealed takes me breath away. A woman sits in the corner, unmoving, her hands tied to the stair railing. Her blonde hair covers her face and bruises cover the rest of her naked body to show that she has been beaten many times. Not only is the woman present in the room, but the man I am assuming as Nikolay sits on a stool with several bottles of vodka strewn across the floor around him. I approach him but he only falls onto the floor, foaming at the mouth with his eyes rolled back in his head. I check his pulse and he soon stops breathing, there had been too much alcohol in his blood. There is nothing I can do. Behind me, I hear shuffling on the floor and the woman rests her eyes on me. Fear fills her eyes and she scoots back as far as her restraints allow her. She starts crying and cursing me.
“No. No it’s okay. I can help you. Please, stay right there.” I say as if she could go anywhere. I am surprised at my own words. Behind the bruises, I can tell that she was once a beautiful woman. I rush upstairs and find a knife. I quickly run back downstairs and cut her loose. She curls into a ball and weeps. I pull her into my arms and let her cry.


In a few days after I have dressed the woman’s wounds and let her rest, I am walking her to the train station in Moscow. She hugs me tightly and kisses my cheek.
“Thank you.” Is all she says, in her soft voice. That is the last I see of her before she disappears onto the train. Part of me wants to follow her, wants to see if she is okay. But I don’t. Instead, I dispose of Nikolay’s body, tossing him into a well deep in the woods.
I arrive at the KGB headquarters in the evening. By then, it is already dark. I go straight to Commander Kudrich’s office. The guards announce my entrance and Kudrich motions for me to have a seat. He pauses, thoughtfully. A small smile creeps across his face, barely visible but enough to see that it’s there.
“I am sorry Arkady,” are the first words he speaks to me before these specific events occur.
“You have failed. I am very disappointed in you. The woman you helped to escape was a betrayer of Stalin. The man you found was already dead. You did not kill him like I commanded.. Unfortunately, the woman will not be harmed. She has taken a train out of the country and is already gone. Yes. We know about this. This was a test to see if you could honor your country. But you have failed the test and for this act alone, you will be sentenced to a life in prison. My mistake, I thought you would understand.” He gestured for the guards to pull me away. Away to torture, away to a miserable life in the cells. All I can do is stare in hatred and fear towards the man. A part of me finds contentment at having saving the woman whose name I later learned to be Natalia. But my mind soon goes back to Vladislav, the boy, and the infant.


My breath fogs up the train window as the train stops in a very small village. I watch a thirteen-year-old boy carrying a very small baby trying to gather wood. I don’t know why, but something calls to me and pushes me to step off of the train and greet the boy. So I do.
“Hello,” I call to the boy in front of an old shack of a house. “My name is Natalia.” The boy looks up.
“My name is Yuri, and this is Ivanna.” He seems a little unsure. “Please, do you have food to spare?” He asks, stepping closer. I smile, holding out my arm. “Come with me, you will be safe.” He doesn’t look back.



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