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babushkas

In Moscow it is January. It is cold.

V looks up at me from the grocery cart. Her tail is flopped over the side. She’s started using a heavy-duty trash bag so the water won’t leak out. She is staring at the bags of frozen fish.

“Do you know matryoshka dolls?” she asks me.

I nod.

“Do you ever feel like the smallest matryoshka doll?”

I nod again, “insignificant?”

She shakes her head.

“No. Empty.”

I push us faster, past the seafood section.

“Do we need anything else?” I ask.

She looks down at her lap full of beer.

“No.”

We head for the check-out. I can feel something wrong before we get close. A change in the wind, but not. V feels it, too. She is looking toward the check out. We approach, cautious. There is a crunching sound. People are fleeing. My heart stops. Two babushkas stand, head-to-head. Their grocery carts banging into each other.

The cashier is stricken, backed into the liquor shelf. The Babushkas are screeching at one another.

One, in a floral bonnet, lifts her cart and smashes it over the head of the other. Boxes of table wine explode. The cart turns to a heap of metal twigs. Then, they are on each other. Their faces close, noses kissing. They are hollering. It is so loud, my ears hurt. Bags of chips and candy bars rain to the floor around them, blown to bits.

They circle each other. The cashier sees her moment. She tries to run. One of the babushkas turns. Her screech hits the cashier. The cashier explodes, becoming indecipherable from the blanket of red wine. A finger lands in the cart next to V.

The Babushka’s continue their manic dance of death.

“We need to go,” V says. I pick her up. We go back through the entry-way. It beeps, V is still holding the beer. We get outside just in time. The roof of the grocery store caves in. I run. We make it back to V’s apartment. I’m out of breath.

“What the shit was that about!”

V rolls her eyes.

“The one in the floral bonnet was trying to pay her whole bill with one ruble coins.”

She opens a beer. Hands me one. “But,” she smiles, “free beer.”

I take it, open it.

“Okay, then.”

The Fool Recognizes his Fate

babushkas_pt3

“Are you awake?” the voice says.

I try to move, I can’t. I try to scream, it echoes around the helmet.

“That won’t help,” the voice tells me in a reassuring tone.

“What? What is going on, who are you?” I sputter. The suit of armor around me shrugs, my shoulders go with it, I wince.

“I am a knight. At least, that’s what they tell me. I don’t remember anything before they put me here.”

“Why? Why did you take me?” I ask, trying to ignore the suffocating darkness.

The Knight is silent.

“Hello?” I call. It reverberates around the inside of the helmet.

“I—“ the knight whispers, “I don’t know, you looked sad and I wanted to help.”

I frown in the dark.

“I’m not sad. I’m perfectly happy and my friend is waiting for me so, could you let me out?”

An uncomfortable sigh fills the helmet.

“I, I don’t think that is a good idea. If I let you out now, they will get you. Like they did your friend.”

I feel a pulsing in my head. “What do you mean?”

“But!” the knight says, ignoring me. “No reason we can’t have a nice evening together, so!” My leg moves, not of my own accord. I begin walking, the suit of armor controls everything. My hands swing awkwardly, my left leg cramps. My stomach flips twice over.

“Stop! Stop!” I call. The moving stops.

“I feel like I am going to vomit.”

“Oh, sorry.” The knight says. The visor of the helmet slides open. The room is in a dull light, the cold air feels good on my face. I vomit anyways.

“Aww,” the knight moans.

I cough. “Sorry,” I grumble.

“That’s okay,” the knight tells me, moping. I begin moving again. Each step cracks along the marble floor. We stop in front of a wall of what appears to be knights. Except they are made from rusted iron, old broken gun barrels, ammo shells, and all sorts of scrap metal. One even has an empty can of instant borsch as a head. I frown up at them.

“What are these?” I ask, my curiosity taking over for a moment.

“They are called Dyedushkas,” it informs me. “The Babushkas created them from war-scraps to be their servants. These ones are some of the first models. Today you can hardly tell the difference between them and a normal man. It says here they run on cognac and canned gin and tonics. These models are old. Very volatile. If you were to put, say, vodka in them. Well, it isn’t pretty, boom,” the knight finishes, dramatically.

I stare for a moment into the depths of the twisted barrel of a grenade launcher acting as a forearm. I wonder what L would have told me about them. Then suddenly I realize.

“Wait!” I cry as the knight begins moving me again. “What did you mean they got my friend?”

The knight scratches its own head. It pierces my ears.

“I really shouldn’t say.”

“Tell me right now!” I flounce.

The voice mutters something.

“What?”

“The babushkas,” it groans.

I shudder inside of the suit of armor.

“Let me out right now.”

“I can’t. Not till morning.”

I grind my teeth. “Then take me to where she is.”

“But—“

“No buts!” I growl, channeling my mother.

“Geez, fine,” The Knight pouts. We are moving again. He walks to a wall and presses on the head of an antique mace hanging there. The wall opens. We go through.

TO BE CONTINUED…

For the prequel, click here

The Return of the Fool

I stand in line for the Hermitage. It is frigid. My feet feel like pancakes, oppressed by the cold.

A girl hops out of line. She dashes to a pile of snow, mounded beside a tree. She climbs it and jumps up and down, laughing.

That’s the most fun she’ll have all day, I think.

A woman, I hope is her mother, storms up, snatches her by the arm, hobbles her with a few words, and brings her back into formation, limping.

I turn to L, “that was the most fun she’ll have all day,” I say, confidently.

L nods, less confidently, and laughs, politely. We’d met a few weeks prior and started seeing each other. She agreed to come to The Hermitage with me on the condition that she doesn’t judge my utter lack of artistic spirit.

The line moves slower than I’d like but faster than I expected. Tickets are bought, jackets are stowed; steps, softened.

As we reach the top of the staircase toward the yawn of a door into the main exhibits, I stop.

“What are they doing here?”

“Who?” L asks.

I lean closer to her, averting my eyes.

“The Babushkas,” I whisper.

L looks to the doors. On either side there sits a babushka. Their faces passive, their stone frames braced for conflict. I shudder.

“They are security. There is one in every room.”

My eyes go wide. “Every room?” I gasp.

L nods, frowning at me, “they are fine. They won’t hurt you as long as you don’t try to touch the art or make too much noise,” L pauses, thinking. “Or, run, yeah, don’t run, they don’t like that. And they will catch you.”

I nod. “I know,” I mutter.

“Will you be okay?” L asks. I straighten myself up and deepen my voice, the way you do whenever a pretty girl challenges your manhood.

“Yes,” I say, “of course,” I add. Then, internally, shit myself.

L smiles, “let’s go then.”

She walks ahead through the Babushka guards, fearless. I follow, demanding my legs to stop shaking. The babushkas remain as solid as the statues they guard. I pass them, I take a deep breathe. I choke on it.

In each corner of a vast hall of gold, is another babushka. I swallow hard. I cough. One of the Babushkas gives me a warning look. I cover my mouth. L turns back to me.

“You alright?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I trot up beside her. “Where first?” I ask, looking at her and only her.

She shrugs. She motions to one exit, “through there are the emperors,” she waves to the next, “the main exhibits,” she turns around to face the smallest of the exits. “Through there are temporary exhibits.”

I shrug, “let’s do that one.”

“Cool.”

L leads the way, I follow.

In through the door I stop. I can feel the blood draining from my face. It fills my stomach making me feel as though a need a bathroom. In the center of the room is a hut. It is battered and stuck together from a thousand pieces.

I look along the walls. A hand with a hole through it hangs to the left. A great hen leg is pinned to the wall above and beyond the hut. The hut itself is encased in glass, one hen leg splayed out to the right.

L turns, her face grows concerned. She touches my arm.

“What’s wrong?”

“Wha—what is this? Some sort of joke?” I manage.

L frowns, “No, it’s the Baba Yaga exhibit.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

If you liked this and want to read the prequel, the links can be found here