Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Kingdom of Letters, by Veronika Mikulíková

The Kingdom of Letters

When a young post officer Eliska goes to the work in the morning, she thinks it's going to be a pretty normal day (as normal as it can be in a city of Brno during the war) but then she opens one letter and all hell breaks loose. Would she be able not to uncover the resistance and safe her life?

Finally, I thought. You’d think we got used to it, the constant buzzing of destruction. Planes, cars, people with weapons. Everything you could think of gathered in one place in one moment.
Welcome to Brno.
Or rather what remained.
One at a time we carefully left our hiding place, trying not to catch some unwanted attention. One can never be careful enough in the times of war. Who knows what’s hiding just behind those ruins?
“Time to get back to work! Time to get back to work!”
Slowly turning around after the voice of an officer I breathed a sigh of relief. We’re safe for now.
I made my way through the crowds of people eager not to be late. My boss Robert would cut my head off even for one minute.
One to the left, then right, around what used to be some sort of palace (Padok? Paczkov? Padowetz?) and I was there. The post. My mother said it would be a decent job. You gotta help your dad and brothers, she said. I didn’t know what to do so I accepted it. And instantly hated it.
Why? Robert. He watched us like a hawk, always ready to report everything unwanted, sticking his head up the governments... You know, sitting parts. Sign above our heads captured him the best. Every spark of betrayal must be reported.
Just round the infinitive wooden lift in the hall (It still worked after all these years. How possible? I had no idea.) and my office came into the view. A pile of envelopes was already awaiting me on the table. Sitting down I took the upper one. First few weeks I couldn’t bring myself to read the names only the insides. A letter could be mistaken for a part of some book but with a name on it? I was going through someone’s privacy. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Finding nothing unusual I put the letter in an ‘Accepted’ box. Normally it’s full by the time I leave the office. Then there were days... Darker days when all I wanted was to vomit. Days which hunted me in the night. I hoped today was a normal day.
Opening another letter my eyes went wide with shock. Beside a simple wedding invitation lied a small piece of paper. I’ve seen those many times before. People wanted to get married even if (or because?) our future was - decently said - uncertain. But this one was different. The paper was addressed to me and I knew who send it.
Trying to act as usual I unwrapped it. Nothing. Not a single letter, a drop of ink, just a blank piece of paper. That was a surprise. What happened? But it had to wait. Carefully, I slid the small note between my wrist and watches, put the invitation back and took another envelope. Robert was watching me.
The hours were ticking by slowly, maybe too tired of the evil world outside. My only companions were those damned envelopes, rising pile of ‘To be controlled again’ and Robert staring a hole through my head.
Nearing three I could relax. With only 6 lives in the bad drawer (Nothing harmful, these people would just get a not so nice visit and be okay... I hope.) I packed my things to leave. But one thing was bugging me. I was getting anxious. Robert was watching my every move and I knew what was about to happen.
Please, please, not today.
“Eliška? Please, go to my office. Now!” He got that tone. Unwillingly, I followed him inside. White walls in there were blank like his face. Rows of drawers stood in front of them, their handles looking like emotionless faces. Silent witnesses of following disaster. I took the offered chair and waited, going crazy from the ticking of his clock in sync with the scary noise he made with fingernails.
Tagada, tagada, tagada.
“Eliška, my dear. You’ve been doing an excellent job here. You helped the justice a lot with catching those horrendous criminals, you know?” He leaned back in his chair. What’s going on?
“Don’t look so confused, Eliška. Something bad?” He smiled dishonestly. “How could you? I just wanted to thank you. I’m giving you a day off. Go out, buy something nice to support our economy.” Another false smile. With that he dismissed me.
I’ve heard a lot about that feeling, when you know it’s going down. Fate picks up her gun and blows your castle of naivety and faith up into pieces. It’s long, painful. You’re paranoid, scared, angry. But nothing can prepare you for that feeling even when you were expecting it.
What should I do? Where to go? Not home, certainly not there, they would get them, find out everything about it.
I passed the corner of Koblizna and Janska trying to get lost in those bomb-made alleys towards the big crater which used to be a suburb. Now the city ended there with only dried river bed and a few abandoned shacks showing what used to be there. A whole important part of Brno, maybe bigger than what’s left. It was getting dark.
Should I try to find a cover there? No... It’s too obvious.. But maybe that’s where they won’t look. The darkest place is under the candlestick. But.. Nonsense.
I needed time to think – the only thing I wasn’t able to get enough of.
Chilling autumn wind blew my hair into my mouth. I shivered and suddenly stopped dead in the tracks.
Furiously looking around a small hollow caught my eyes. A poor hiding place but it had to do for now. Hiding behind some old wooden door (really exaggerated) I held my breath. I didn’t want to know what the cold smooth substance under my feet was. Let it be only mud. Didn’t smell like it.
The familiar noise was nearing.
Taga, taga, taga.
When I saw the first hint of a uniform, I huddled up even more.
Don’t let them see, please, anyone.
“You said she went this way, Julie.” Rough voice, hard eyes and even harder palm. I shivered when the desperate woman’s shriek hit my ears.
“She did, I swear to everything’s Holy. She crossed the square, turned right and went somewhere here. Please, mercy... Don’t hit me again, please...!” Through a crack in my barrier I was able to see everything. It made me vomit.
Stop it... You’ll kill her.
He didn’t seem to be satisfied, but stopped. Thank God.
“This doesn’t lead anywhere. She’s been lying to us the whole time. We’ve already turned this place upside down and found nothing. We’re leaving. Now!” With that, the loud thudding emerged again, slowly disappearing in the distance. I could finally breathe.
 Waiting minute, two, five I was getting restless. The woman got up and with a lot of sobbing and swearing vanished the opposite way the guard went ages ago. It was well after the curfew when I was brave enough to leave the hiding place with a plan.
My dad told me that when something happens, I should try to find the underground. A system of ancient passageways running under the whole city. You’ll find help here.
It came out of blue. First running. Then rapid breathing. Panic!
Tagada, tagada.
Many shots were fired but only to frighten me. They don’t want to kill me.
My face went white like walls in Robert’s office. Faster, faster, faster.
Tagada, tagada, tagada.

A middle aged lieutenant sat in a chair as comfortable as his appearance. Rough voice, hard eyes and even harder palm. His inferiors feared him, his superiors loved him.
In front of him was lying an open folder. A women’s whole life summed up in a report.
Man in front of him had never seen him so mad before.
“Can you explain this to me?” He punched the table. The man flinched.
“Going against direct orders in an important mission like that must be punished. All of you knew how Eliška Háchová was important. Now we’re at the beggining yet again!” He straightened his back and looked hardly on the man.
“Follow me.”
One of the papers fell down when they were leaving.
It was confirmed that subject helped the resistance.
Killed on a mission. Soldiers will be punished, family was informed that she had fled.
Resistance hadn't been found yet.

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