The familiar lieutenant, Alex, asked him to open the van, looked through the empty rusted space with some laminate, cans of paint and film-wrapped carpets piled up closer to the cabin, and took two bags standing at the door.
Something gurgled in the bags, the end of a raw smoked sausage poked out.
“You can go, Sergey Nikolaevich.”
To each his own.
Serge didn’t race, though he had a strong wish. Sometimes he even slowed down as if trying to bring to reason his heart clattering forte, and his thoughts that took already away all the distance. Quiet, man, calm down. There’s no place to hurry.
In Gorlovka he unloaded paint and laminate at a warehouse as humanitarian aid, brought one of the carpets into a kindergarten.
“Where do you go now, Sergey Nikolaevich?” a very young teacher, looking almost like Sveta, asked.
“Home,” Serge smiled, “I’m building up anew.”
He turned to his home indeed, closer to Donetsk, to the ashes that had been a small village three years ago. He drove by a lop-sided, burned fence, by the Frolovs’ house ruined by an explosion, by abandoned kitchen gardens and a feral fruit garden.
Late spring. Everything blossoms as if there wasn’t anything. Everything cicatrized, pulled together, grew with greens. Yet it’s more difficult with people. Besides Serge, no one wanted to lodge on the former place.
He drove in between remains of a shed and the house with yellow patches of fresh wooden bars, moved back to the end-wall, running with a back wheel over a black currant bush. He felt a sudden pain, as if hit a man. He remembered: it was Dimka who planted it, he was small then, about seven... Doesn’t matter, man, it isn’t important any more, he will replant it later.
Serge shut off the engine.
Slight breeze went onto a half-lowered window, a crow croaked, something rumbled somewhere away — not artillery, just a thunder-storm.
He sat still for a while, deciding, adjusting himself. Serge thought: “If he died, he’s got what he deserved. Perhaps, it would be better if he died.”
We have peace. Peace.
Serge held with a palm his lip that started trembling, got out, bypassed the van, opened its doors, then, having tinkered with the lock for a while, opened the heavy basement door. From the cellar came smells of wet iron, wood, marinated tomatoes. Serge went downstairs, groped the switch. But a click gave nothing; there was no light. Most likely, there was a break somewhere again, not a problem with the power station. He sighed and came by feel to the shelves on the left, got a lot of candles from the box, lit the first one by a lighter, then three more, put them in saucers, scattering shadows. The inaccurate light jumped, snatching out from the darkness beaten jars with pickles, a motorcycle frame at the distant wall, the concrete floor with flows. Serge took a stool and some empty plastic canisters off the way, and looked back: ok, with a small turn that will do.
A chair welded from thick steel tubes, with a high back and legs drowned in concrete, stood slightly aside. Serge tried to pull it, took a wire hank, got a hammer, a tiny saw and nippers from a toolbox, spread them out near the hank. He grinded a tomato with his sole, cast away a chip. Well, it seems clean now.
Having returned to the van, Serge threw aside two small carpets one by one, opening the third one, tied up by some twine, with a pair of sneakers looking out from under the edge. He grabbed the carpet and pulled it to the door.
We have peace now.
The man who was rolled up in the carpet didn’t move. However, for some reason Serge was confident in his survivability. Such a spawn couldn’t just die like that.
Having got out of the van, he pulled down the roll. The part with the top half of the body fell considerably upon the ground. The sneaker in his hand twitched.
Serge closed the van doors and stood for a while, having some rest. No hurry. Haste will spoil everything. The nature doesn’t hurry anywhere, and wins every time.
Having snuggled his tired aching fingers, Serge dragged the carpet down the stairs, and rolled it out on the concrete floor with the sneakers to the chair legs.
Chain! There was a chain somewhere.
He rushed to the lower shelves with filters, springs and other stuff of the kind, got agitated, ran to the van and checked under the seats, and only having returned with nothing noticed the chain overhanging from a cross iron beam.
His heart ached. “What a fool I am,” he thought. He had prepared it himself — and forgot.
Just in case, he bolted the cellar door. He passed the chain behind front legs of the chair, slightly pulled legs from the carpet and latched on ankles handcuff rings passed through the end links. He cut the twine with scissors and slightly unwound the victim. The chain stretched.
“I don’t believe it’s not painful,” whispered Serge.
For an instant he wanted to refuse his undertaking, but then he remembered his wife, Dimka, Sveta, clenched teeth and waggled his head: no, there is no place to recede. No need. Three years of peace...
Then Serge worked with the saw — from below, sideways, releasing the lower half of the body from the carpet. He at once pulled the sports pants down to handcuffs, baring hairy legs, and waited for any reaction. There was no.
When a pressed to the stomach hand appeared, he turned the cut carpet, twisting this and the second hand behind the back. He cramped sluggish palms together, bit off about 8 inches wire from the hank, wound these inches around wrists. Just in case, it’s calmer this way.
Suddenly he wished some tea. Scalding hot. To the bone. Serge sat down on the floor, feeling squawks of internal tension. Soon, sonofabitch, pretty soon… He couldn’t keep himself and knocked the lying body in the ribs — what a pity, the carpet softened his hit.
He often imagined how it would be. Since that very moment when Ukraine in the person of its president declared all participants of the Anti-Terrorist Operation heroes. First of all he decided to cut fingers. Then the balls. The rest depended on improvisation. But the fingers and balls are obligatory. First of all.
We have peace now. And all are heroes. Everybody who killed, raped, plundered. Everybody.
No court. No investigation. French kisses and general fucking conscious schizophrenia. We are heroes.
No way, boys, only fingers and balls.
Serge dragged out the man from the carpet remains, having strained, raised him and leaned onto the chair. Pressed with a knee. The freak weighed somewhere close to 220 pounds. Thick thighs. Juicy lips. The wire from wrists had to be unwound just to fix the right hand of the hero to an armrest. Eight more inches from the hank — and the left hand was fixed by two turns to an iron plate as well. The body slipped onto the seat itself.
But Serge wasn’t satisfied with that he has done, and rolled up with the wire everything to the elbows, then cut from the freak off the sports jacket, the undershirt and the pants. The lump of genitals in his groin nearly made him laugh. Fucking property of the hero.
Is that all?
The naked man on the chair rested with his chin against his breast. Serge, having thought for a while more, wired his neck to rods of the chair’s back.
“Here you are,” he said quietly, “And now we’re ready to go.”
However, contrary to his own words, Serge just sat down on the opposite stool. Suddenly he remembered Dimka tinkering with the engine of their motorcycle Jawa: “Dad, darn, how did you manage to run it?” Clanking wrenches. Dirty face, wrinkled nose, such sweet folds through his nose bridge...
Everything is away.
Serge looked at the freak tied to the chair, went upstairs, opened the door, went to a well and fetched a bucket of water. For some reason he touched the water — is it cold or not? — and got angry on himself: what the fucking difference?
Below, in the cellar he unloaded all the bucket into the man’s face and breast. Splashes delineated the wall behind the chair. The man twitched. Fingers seized armrests. Veins blew up on his neck. Saliva flew off his mouth.
Serge grinned, having heard a convulsive clanking of the chain being tried for the tensile strength.
“No way,” he said taking seat.
The freak raised his head.
He had a not that ugly, young face, even somehow nice, courageous, with some growth women so like. It was spoiled only by a hematoma, stretched like a birthmark from his temple through the cheekbone. And by the blown-up top lip as well.
“Who’s the host here, I wonder?” the captive asked, examining the cellar with tenacious eyes. “It’s fucking cold here, man.”
Serge kept silent.
The man sniffed and twisted face, touching the lip with his tongue.
“Is that you who worked me, man?”
Serge left this question without answer as well, looking aside.
“Ok, then we’ll get even,” the captive grinned, shaking. “Hear me? We’ll get even, I say. Or are you deaf, man? What for did you fucking take off my pants?”
Serge inclined his head slightly. From his burning with hatred look something scared appeared in the freak’s eyes.
“Be afraid, you spawn, be afraid!”
“Whaddya say, do I owe you any money?”
The captive tried to rise from the chair, but he failed even to half-rise. Just slightly took his ass off the seat and frightened a hedgehog. The wire crashed into his throat.
“Ah, fuck you!”
The freak began to cough, straining shoulders in vain. His skin became covered with pimples. The dick became absolutely small and hid in his inguinal hair.
“Your second and first name,” Serge said.
He troubled with this calmly official tone. There was a terrible wish to add some bright colors to the spawn with a knee.
“Boris Poltorak,” the captive answered with an easy hitch, squinting. “Hey man, you just don’t know yet with whom you’ve got mixed up.”
Serge got a passport with a trident on the cover from his bosom and threw it in the spawn.
“That’s your passport. So, come on from the beginning. Second and first name.”
Candlewicks crackled in silence.
“Mykola Lygun,” the captive answered deafly.
His body was shaking from cold.
“What — Novosvetlovka?”
Serge closed his eyes, overcoming a strong desire to hammer the silly question back into the freak’s teeth.
“Novosvetlovka, three years ago.”
“Hey, man, when did it happen?” the captive was indignant. “Hey, you overtightened my hands, release at least a bit.”
“Well, we stayed there. Long ago.”
“Fuck, I’ll kick the bucket here, man!”
Serge shrugged shoulders indifferently. Having rummaged in his pockets, he found a Corvalol pack, squeezed out a tablet, put it on his tongue and washed down with remaining water from the bucket.
“I don’t care.”
“Hey!” the captive grinned, shuddering. “How can it be that you don’t care if I d-d-die? And what about Novosvetlovka?”
His teeth chattered.
“Listen,” Serge said, feeling the mint smack coming down his throat. “Haven’t you understand yet where you are?”
“Where?” The man, tied to the chair, started turning his head. “A cellar? A prison cell? It’s not summer heat here. What am I to see?”
“Whaddya say, man? Have you gone fucking crazy?”
Serge smiled so that the captive choked with words.
“You have two ways out,” Serge said. “You remember and tell everything, then you die fast. Otherwise I will cut off your fingers, ears, balls, and you will die slowly.”
“Fuck, are you a separ?” the captive exhaled. “So we have peace, hear you? For three years. You have no right...”
“I?! Have no right?”
Serge jumped up, his face terribly distorted. He caught the freak’s throat with his fingers.
“You... to me...”
Hatred didn’t let him speak, squeezed his throat. For some seconds he looked madly into the light and trembling with dreary expectation eyes of the former volunteer of the battalion “Aydar”, then, by some effort of will, unclenched fingers. Calmer, man, quieter.
“You can tell me nothing,” he told, bending to the carpet remains. “You can think I have no right. You can think about peace...”
A small saw appeared in his hands; he cleared it of the fibers stuck in its teeth.
“They’ll find you!” the captive screamed, hardly Serge stepped to the chair.
“Novosvetlovka. Three years ago.”
“Well, Novosvetlovka,” having licked lips, the sitting man started talking hasty. “We stayed there, occupied two houses. Our platoon, I mean. In July, it seems. Yes, exactly, in July. No, in August. I don’t remember. In the summer, exactly. There were apples already... We stayed there not so long, then your militia dislodged us... Here, that’s all. All. What else?”
“Not enough,” Serge said.
He took seat on the stool again, having shrunk, wrapped himself up in a jacket. Agitated rage released him, leaving cold emptiness behind.
“S-s-so, that’s all, looks like,” the captive strummed a long roll with his teeth. “It’s cold, pa.”
Serge grinned. Pa, already. What a quick evolution from a man to quite a relative. Pa. But Dimka called me ‘dad’...
He stooped, hiding the eyes filled with tears. There is no need to show it to the spawn. The saw pricked his finger, tasted some blood. He thought: whom does this freak see? An elderly man about fifty, with short gray hair, a living humane being or a separ-terrorist, a survived provoker? Perhaps, he sees his death? Though, what for the death, he’s a true hero. Heroes don’t die, they join heavenly columns at once, die erste Kolonne marschiert...
Serge raised his head.
Mykola Lygun tried to twist his left hand from the wound wire.
“I see,” Serge said.
“We can fix it up, pa,” having moved as far as the hoop around his neck allowed, the captive started to whisper. “I’ll give up to your KGB or how d’you call it, I’ll admit everything...”
“What will you admit?”
“That I participated. Attacked your republic.”
The fear flickered in his light eyes with candlelights.
“Novosvetlovka. Woman of forty two. Girl of nineteen. Boy of seventeen. Family. My family.”
The captive swallowed.
“There were Poles, and Lithuanians. They were animals. Mercenaries. Maybe, they did it?”
“We dug entrenchments.”
Serge kept silence for a while.
“You know, Mykola, I thought much: why so? What happened to Ukraine and Ukrainians? Why did they decide suddenly that it was good to kill? Why did they decide they could use the deaths of my family, other families, old men, children, women to get into this fucking European Union, as if into a paradise? I’ve found the answer. Perhaps, it is somehow metaphysical, and even disputable, but the only one for me. In any case, I don’t know another one. And the matter is that the Ukrainians sold their souls to devil. Each and every, in bulk. As a collective act. For money, for cookies, for freebies, for things of other people, for the very opportunity to kill without feeling of either guilt or shame.
“But I didn’t kill,” the captive said with a shivering voice.
Serge moved, leaned forward.
“Why won’t you just tell me the truth?”
“Pa, I tell you as if confessing...”
“Do you think I seized you incidentally?” Serge muttered. “I had been hunting for you, sonofabitch, for two months. Everything in Ukraine is for sale, all lists, all those exercise-book sheets with records of payments, all addresses, you’ve just to know the proper person to approach with some money.”
He took from his bosom and threw to the trident-marked passport some photocopies of printed and hand-written pages.
“Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t be engaged in it,” Serge said dimly, “but you weren’t judged, you were declared heroes. It became very painful to me, very painful for my daughter, my son, for all, you... It is impossible to let that go. Even in peace. Peace...
“Afterall, that’s the evil,” the captive said ticking with teeth. “You’ll k-k-kill me, and increase the evil. You cannot fight the evil with the evil.”
Serge’s cheek tugged.
“Don’t tell me about this bitches’ philosophy. Increase of the evil happens when it remains unpunished. And punishment of the evil is called justice, you see, Mykola? Or do you think the justice is only there?” He showed with his eyes to the ceiling. “No, it’s here. And in the whole world. It is just necessary to help it be executed.
His pulse went very rapidly again, and Serge became silent, covered his eyes.
The wind began to breathe in his nape, brought smells of the soil and the growing greens, killing the smell of marinade poured around.
“Hey, pa, you are mistaken, pa, you don’t…” the captive twitched, ringing with the chain. “You have no proofs.”
“There are testimonies, and as for the proofs...”
Serge came closer, and brought a laminated photo to the captive’s face.
“Look, look very attentively,” he said. “All that memory — here it is. Here are your jolly mugs. You are the third in the row. Dimka... Dimka lies aside looking in the sky, already dead, you have tortured him for two days... And Sveta...” He scratched the print with a nail. “They are dragging my daughter on the background, you see, the white dress?”
“No, that’s not me,” the captive uttered indistinctly.
“How comes that it’s not you? You are!”
Hatred blasted, stroke the head.
“Fuck, now I cut your fingers first...”
Serge caught the man’s palm and twisted a forefinger aside.
“A-a-a!” the freak began to shake on the chair.
The saw slashed the skin. Blood began to flow. Serge pressed. Deeper, Deeper! The teeth cut through the flesh and pierced into something firm.
“A-a-a! Fuck! A-a-a!”
The captive shouted continuously. His forefinger slipped out from Serge’s hand, blood dripped quickly from the armrest.
“So what did you think!” Serge shouted. “What did you think?! We have peace! Peace, and you’re alive! That is not correct!”
He passed the saw several times. For Dimka! For Sveta! For Anna!
“Should you at least confess...”
“I do, I confess!” the captive screamed. “A-a-a! Whatever you want...”
The bone grew white inside the incision of the finger section, surrounded by skin tatters. The saw got stuck. Serge pulled it out, in splashes of blood, with the stuck rag of flesh. Disgust came. Nothing terrible, he can overcome. He is able to...
Cut him alive, fuck.
“Well, not a moment earlier.”
“I cannot fucking saw it,” Serge threw the saw away angrily and, having shaken, picked up a hammer. “Now I’ll fix it.”
He struck blindly several times, beating more iron, than the man’s hand. There was no sense in it. Neither there was peace.
Sonofabitch. So deep was his wish for this creature to learn, to experience all that his children did...
Tears and snivels shone under the captive’s nose. A drop of blood stiffened over the eyebrow. Serge, having grinned, threw the hammer away.
“Why?” He shouted with all force he had in mad eyes with expanded pupils. “Why cannot I torture you, and you could? Why can you, beasts, and I cannot?! I just cannot! You see how all this is arranged!”
He began to grind his teeth.
He was out of words. His felt stitch in his fingers, his heart seemed to fill his full thorax — it banged in his throat, and guts, and ribs. The cold rose from his stomach.
The naked captive whined, grasping nothing.
Serge got out of the cellar and went upstairs to the house, raised some floor boards in a corner. The handle of a Makarov fitted his palm.
“I am not the evil,” Serge thought wearily. “But I am justice. And I need peace.
A small peace in my soul.”
© Andrey Kokoulin, 2015
Translation © Vladimir Samarin (that's me, the blog's author)
Original publication in Russian, made on March 22, 2015.
The translator's notes:
Die erste Kolonne marschiert... — (The first column marches on...) — Serge quotes the famous plan of Pfuhl, a German General on Russian service, from Tolstoy's War and Peace.
Dimka — diminutive for Dmitry (male name)
Makarov — Soviet semi-automatic pistol PM, being the standard side arm of military and police since 1951, widely spread across the former USSR (except maybe for the Baltic states).
Separ — from 'separatist', a derogative word used by pro-Kiev people for those who act against the regime. Within the Ukrainian Nazis informational warfare the first step made was a change of senses; initially, people in the East wanted federalization of the country, but the process of federalization does not mean separatism.
Sveta — diminutive for Svetlana (female name).