written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Friday, January 22, 2010

Excerpt from "Beyond the Pale," Chapter 26

Too many months have passed since I last posted on this blog.  Life and my other hobby take up much of my time nowadays.  I want to write, yet I grow so discouraged because I don't make the time (I need more than a few minutes here and there -- I need blocks of time).  Regardless, I am going to bounce back, and as such, I thought that I'd post my final excerpt from Beyond the Pale.  (In other words, if you want to read it in its entirety, please send a publisher my way : ) 

This chapter is somewhat of the denouement chapter in that it sums up the answers to 1) whatever happened to the Tsars (that my hero so gallantly fought against in writing his underground publication), and 2) how did Jov turn out (Jov is the boy that the protagonist raised as his son).  This denouement chapter, #26 takes place 5 chapters after the climax, which I have not blogged (on purpose, in hopes of peaking your interest).  This novel totals 27 chapters plus an epilogue which is probably the actual denouement, but that's for later for those who read it in its entirety. 

I hope you enjoy (though it's quite a depressing topic).  Please comment if you are so inclined.  ACTUALLY, I'M BEGGING YOU.  : )

Chapter 26

1917, Ekaterinburg

“All over by Christmas,” Nicholas II had said. Despite everything a good number of people still had faith in their beloved Tsar. They wanted to believe him. They were let down as usual. They should have been used to it by now. But when you want to believe, no amount of evidence can convince you otherwise.

Instead, Russians saw nearly two million casualties just in the first year of The Great War. By the second year, men who fought so bravely for Mother Russia, thousands of them barefoot most of them starving, were limited to a mere ten bullets a day. At the Warsaw railroad station seventeen thousand wounded soldiers lay unattended in the cold rain and mud. The Tsarina’s gesture to turn the Winter Palace into a surgical bandage factory proved moot.

Thousands of refugees trudged east along railroad lines, their belongings piled in carts. Superiors cut off the hands of soldiers who deserted. Even off those who surrendered. In 1915, Colonel Miasoyedov was executed for spying for Germany. Many fantasized things would surely turn around with the traitor gone. But then, the unspeakable, The Great Retreat – one million Russians surrendered. That was about all he could take. Nicholas II fired the Grand Duke Nikolai and the Tsar assumed Supreme Command of the Army himself.

“Incompetence Abounds,” one writer reminisced of another dissident’s words.

It was a bloody war, that first world war. Trench warfare – dig in and get buried alive. And while world war ravished Russia from the outside, Civil War ate away at her insides. The cancer dug deep. Whole peasant villages were slaughtered. The White armies with too many generals and not enough soldiers fought bitterly against the Red forces, who though grand in numbers had too many infantry and too few generals to win anything decisively. The country had not known a greater time when so many Russians had suffered.

Then finally in the month of March, 1917, Nicholas II, who was always a reluctant tsar, abdicated his throne. Revolutionaries celebrated in the streets. Countless civilians took quickly to their homes in prayer, fearful over what they were in store for next. But for Nikolai Romanov, as Nicholas II was known afterward his abdication, a lifetime burden had finally been lifted. He, his wife, Alexandria, their children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Alexis and Anastasia along with their entire retinue lived quite comfortably under house arrest for some months. For once in his life Nikolai could play a game of dominos unbothered by the demands of Mother Russia. Gardening was just gardening – a tranquil activity that Nikolai had never experienced the likes of. He had after all, been groomed as a Tsar from the day he was born.

In captivity Nikolai finally got to do what he wanted – forget the pressures of the people. He read fine books such as The Count of Monte Cristo. He even had time to enjoy a Russian great, Leo Tolstoy. He read War and Peace for the first time. He played carefree tennis. Wrote in his diary and told stories to his children. In Anastasia he saw a beauty emerging he was sure the world had ever seen the likes of. All of his daughters he imagined finding fine young suitors, perhaps abroad, Great Britain, France, maybe even in Russia where they’d raise their families in the tradition of their ancestors. His young son, Alexis, he prayed daily for his health. This young man who reminded him so much of himself could really make a difference in the world someday. He had a heart of gold. Yes, Nikolai had dreams, dreams that his children could somehow lead happy lives, normal lives, in a world better off than he had left it.

Nikolai always was a dreamer.

And he kept on dreaming those dreams. They did not die until July 17, 1917. He had noticed a change in the guards for days. They had grown rude, refused eye contact. Butter and coffee disappeared from Nikolai’s luxuries. They even refused Alexis his treatments. Something was up, Nikolai was sure of it. But when he and his family and their servants were roused out of bed at 2 AM, he thought they were just in for a move to another location. But to the basement?

“There’s been a shooting in town,” one of the guards said. He shoved Nikolai’s shoulder to get him moving.

“You’re safer in here,” another said, his eyes downcast.

Anastasia cried that she wanted to bring along Joy, their King Charles Spaniel. At first their guards refused. But somehow Nikolai was able to talk them into allowing the dog. The pup provided comfort in the dark, crowded basement. Her tail was still wagging when the order was read: “Shoot the prisoners.”

Nikolai could not believe his ears. “What? What?” he said. He lept in front of his children. Alexandra screamed. With that the firing began and the room filled with smoke. Young Alexis was finished off with two shots point blank to the head. Anastasia they stabbed several times with a bayonet. The only survivor to the massacre was Joy who whimpered over the pile of bloody corpses until the last one was dragged out.

* * *

Three young Checkists pounded on the door of one Smirnov family, 3 AM.

No Answer.

“Bring it down,” Jov hollered. He gave the door a swift kick. Nothing stood in the way of the Cheka and its duty. Stop the bourgeois counter-revolutionary. Anyone, everyone was suspect. “I said, knock it down.”

The two other Checkists threw their shoulders into the door. It crashed to the ground with just one attempt.

“Please take me, leave my family be,” said a middle aged gentleman who stood in the entryway. He was dressed in suit and tie, not your regular Russian sleeping attire. Behind him on the floor was a suitcase.

“Going somewhere Smirnov?”

“No!” his wife screamed. “Leave him, he didn’t do anything wrong.” The baby in her arms cried and pulled at his mother’s breasts for comfort. She wailed along with the child, then shook him some to try and hush him.

The man turned to kiss his wife. He caressed the child’s head before picking up the suitcase.

“He’s not going anywhere lady.” Jov chuckled. He pulled a pistol from his trousers and shot the man dead on the spot. He landed at the feet of his screaming wife and child where his coat soaked up the pool of blood.

The woman stood in the same spot and screamed hysterically with her child as the three Checkists ran throughout the two story home filling their cloth bags with whatever they could find – silver, jewelry, cologne, flour, vodka. Jov found a silver hair barrette with a single ruby at its center that he pocketed especially for his mother. He also found a cameo broach. Dasha always loved cameos, perhaps he’d start collecting them for her. There were plenty of bourgeois homes to pick through.

All three stumbled out onto the street, laughing, drunk with riches. The air smelled of smoke. A woman screaming could be heard in the far distance.

“Loot the looters,” the Checkists sang out in unison. A couple blocks away another group of young Checkists yelled back the same – a phrase many had heard that Lenin had coined himself.

“Loot the looters.”

Jov reached into his bag and opened a bottle of vodka. He took a swig, and then another before passing it on. The sun was beginning to peek above the horizon as Jov and his comrades moved onward in their search for bourgeois counter-revolutionaries. They playfully jumped over heaps of garbage left in the street. Trash collection had ceased for quite some time now. Taking swigs off the vodka they’d shoot at the rats that scurried about. Cockroaches ran for cover when Jov kicked at the lumps of garbage.

“Loot the looters,” the three drunken Checkists hollered. They laughed uncontrollably, but there was nothing really that they found particularly funny.

Jov whistled a catchy tune as the three danced up the steps to the front door of a large home. They didn’t know who lived there. But it looked suspicious all right – the curtains pulled closed, the porch swept clean, no name plate on the stoop. Looked like the type of home that housed perhaps some fancy cameos.

The three young Checkists pounded on the door. 5 AM.

No answer.

“Bring it down,” hollered Jov. He took another rather large swig of Vodka. He gagged, then wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. “I said, BRING IT DOWN.”

(c)  Lauren D H Miertschin


  1. Nice piece Lauren, I'm glad to hook up with another writer - hopefully we can motivate each other!

  2. You have already motivated me -- I'm right now trying to pump out a quick piece of short fiction for an on-line contest.