What I think about, mostly, is the cold. It is incredibly cold here, colder than I have ever felt. A stinging cold, until your face goes numb. And then you start to worry, wondering whether you still have a nose or cheeks or chin. Perhaps they have turned to ice.
I don’t usually approve of wearing fur, but today I am grateful for it.
I look back at the sled, where Tilda, Emma, and Mouse are waiting. They are muffled as well, like small sasquatches in their furs. The driver looks even more like a sasquatch. He is a tall man, at least seven feet, and we have not seen his face. We have not asked to. It is not our job to ask questions, at least not this time.
The dogs are silent, lying on the snow. At least until the truck drives up, across the border. When the men get out of the truck, in their black uniforms, the dogs begin to bark furiously.
The border is only a red post, sticking out of the snow. I will not walk past it to them, they will not walk past it to me. But I am waiting on my side of the red post. Because our furs are white, the dogs are white, it is the only colored thing in this landscape.
Four men in uniforms, two to hold the prisoner, two to point the guns.
“Did you bring it?” one of them, their leader, calls to me.
I hold up the bag I am carrying, which says Duty Free Vladivostok.
“Show it to me.”
I take out a metal device. Its lethality is, to those who understand such things, immediately obvious. I do not understand such things, they do not belong to my world, but I handle it gingerly.
“All right!” he says. “Put it back in the bag, put the bag by the marker, and then stand back.”
“No,” I say. I’m almost surprised that my mouth can still move, it’s so numb. “Bring him to the marker, and as soon as he crosses, I will hand you the bag myself.”
Silence, for a moment. Then, “All right.”
He brings the prisoner. There are now three guns pointed at us. I see him, bland face, black uniform. And the prisoner: with his hood up and a scarf over his mouth, all I can see is a pair of green eyes. He steps over the border, I hand over the bag, and that’s it. It’s happened quickly, silently, with only a suspicious glance from the man in black, the barking of the dogs in the background.
And then we are walking with our backs to the guns.
“They won’t shoot,” he says, the man who is no longer a prisoner. “They won’t shoot across the border.”
“I know that,” I say, as crossly as I can with a frozen mouth.
“Well, you looked worried, Thea.” I glace at him. He has pulled down his scarf and is, improbably, smiling.
“Why did you put me to all this trouble? You could just have dissolved into air, or walked through the walls, or something. I mean, do you know how many days it’s taken us to get here?” And how we were almost killed, twice. And how sick Mouse was, at one point. And what a complete idiot he was, to have been captured in the first place.
“But then he wouldn’t have taken what was in the bag, believing it’s what he wants, would he?”
I stop walking. “You mean it’s not?”
“Of course not.” Still smiling. I want, very badly, to hit him.
Only now do I look back. The men in black uniforms have gotten back into their truck. I can hear the engine. Our journey will be much longer, but we accomplished – something, evidently, although not what I thought. I hate not being told what I’m doing, being left out of plans. Even when they’re Mother Night’s plans.
“Next time, I’m not saving you,” I say. I start walking again, and he follows.
“But you haven’t saved me. You’ve saved the world.”
“What, again?” I sound bitter. But we have arrived back at the sled, and Emma is handing me a thermos, and as I drink the coffee, warm and sweet, I start to feel my face thawing. I say, “Girls, guess what we did.”
Tilda says, “Again? That’s got to be the third time. We should get a medal or something.”
Loved this, Dora. For some reason it put me in mind of Paul Park’s “A Princess of Roumania”.
Aw, thanks, Jeff! I liked that book a lot, and it did remind me of some of the things I’ve written as well. (Plus Paul Park is a super nice guy.)
Here’s to hoping the segment above is part of a larger, greater story.