The ramshackle structure sat in the middle of what was once rolling green fields dotted with red poppies. Spruce trees were scattered in clusters, not quite a forest but a pleasant wooded refuge. Before, it had smelled sweet, like the penny candy store the girl’s visited every Wednesday with their nanny Kate. Before, they took holidays in a quaint cabin on this very countryside, lavender bushes growing next to the doorway helping them dream peacefully as the aroma floated in on the night breeze. That was before. Before the Gish army declared war. Before they unleashed a powerful bomb in the center of Drewry that leveled most of the country with an icy blue halo of frost. Before the soldiers had taken them. Before their parents, King and Queen Newsom had been put to death, hung with barbaric glory like a theatrical production in the center of the kingdom.
Now, Elizabeth, Penelope, and Anne sat secluded in what was no more than an oversized shed. The interior walls were cheap wood hastily nailed together, unfinished and warping due to the wet and cold. A distinct smell of rot was constantly present reminding them of the corpses that decayed in the street after the attack on Drewry. People went from looking like mannequins discarded in the street to zombie Halloween decorations to sticky pools of puss and piles of gray bone. Something about the bomb sped up their decomposition, even nuclear winter couldn’t slow it down.
Nuclear winter meant it was nearly impossible to go outside, unless you were a Gish, they were accustomed to the frozen tundra. They came and went as they pleased wrapped in layers of down and scarves, trampling through the ice and snow. Ash rained down from the sky like black snowflakes. The girls were trapped inside the shack. They stayed stuck to the orange and yellow flowered couch as near to the eternally burning fire as they could be. They were chained there, but they wouldn’t have moved if they could, except to use the restroom. There was a peeling oak coffee table which they used to eat the one meal a day that the soldiers served them. A coffee colored leather arm chair sat at the head of the room where the commander liked to ominously eye them; taunt them. They still wore the frilly lace and crinoline dresses they had donned when they were captured. Elizabeth, the eldest at fourteen, wore blue, Penelope, twelve, wore yellow, and Anne, only nine, wore pink. Each of them had long, chocolaty brown hair which was usually well cared for and tied in a bow. Now, though, their heads were stringy and matted; hair wild like children from before civilization.
Heavy boots stomped across the worn and broken wood floors. Two Gishian soldiers in gray uniforms with blue bands around their biceps appeared in the meager kitchen area. They placed long rifles on the floor against the wall and adjusted their black leather belts from which a long knife and a pistol hung. They were always armed. One began brewing a pot of coffee in a rusty silver percolator.
“Zat’s not enough grounds. Arh! Vill be veak, like you,” the tall bald one, Aleksandr, complained.
“Commander zays rations are in short zupply. Next time you make und deal vith his pitching,” answered the blonde, Bruno.
The girls watched quietly with somber expressions as the two mumbled back and forth about the cold and being tired and how they wished they were on the front lines instead of stuck here in the wilderness.
The coffee bubbled loudly in the percolator like tiny bullets being shot on a battlefield, and when it stopped, Aleksandr poured a cup for his comrade and himself. No sugar or cream; not even the Gish had luxury in the wasteland.
Penelope nudged Elizabeth quietly and stared at her from the corner of her eye. Elizabeth nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Excuse me sirs,” Elizabeth spoke in a voice like a mouse, “may we use the restroom?”
The two men in the kitchen were laughing loudly and slurping their coffee with the manners one might expect from a sow. After waiting in silence for a long moment with no reply Elizabeth tried again.
“Excuse me, will you let us use the restroom or shall we go on the couch again?”
Aleksandr huffed dramatically and slammed his cup on the counter. He marched to the couch removing the keyring from his belt.
“You do zat akain und I’ll make you uze your pretty little lips to hoover it up,” he spit into Elizabeth’s face.
“If you would simply pay attention to us we wouldn’t have to do such horrible things,” she said.
The girls had used the couch as a restroom once before, but it wasn’t because they were being ignored and could no longer hold it. They had soiled both themselves and the couch with the hope that it would force the Gish to unchain them in order to allow them to clean up. Once unchained they would make a break for the door and run into the darkness of night, hiding among the trees, the snow, the ash, and pray for a safe escape. What the three sisters hadn’t planned was the utter cruelty of the commander. He allowed them to stew in their own wet, never offering the opportunity to clean themselves. Never removing them from the couch. As a result, their dresses were stained and the whole room smelled like an outhouse. The girls had small sores on their thighs that they attempted to clean with the icy water that dripped from the bathroom faucet.
Aleksandr unlocked Elizabeth and she rubbed the bright pink indentations that encircled her wrists and ankles. Then, he moved to kneel in front of Penelope. He had just pushed the key into the lock when the commander appeared in the doorway, his gray beard glinting with melting frost.
“Tsk tsk tsk,” he wagged his finger, “one at a time girls. You know zee rulez.”
Penelope sighed deeply as Aleksandr stood quickly to salute his senior officer with his left hand stiff, like a blade across his chest. Elizabeth stood waiting, defeated, for permission to be excused.
“Vat are you vaiting for, instruczions? Go! No funny buziness!” The commander shouted. “You,” he turned to Aleksandr, “how many timez do I have to tell you one at a time? Zey get to be a vorze headache ven zey zink zey’re zmart.”
“Apologies commanter,” Aleksandr bowed.
“Go. Make yourzelf uzeful now,” the commander grunted.
Aleksandr scurried off with his head down into the tiny kitchen where he and Bruno picked up their rifles and exited leaving the commander alone with the girls.
Commander Lipsitz was a tall slender man. He had a gray beard and eyebrows, but his hair was black as a raven. It was a jarring contrast when he removed his hat and sat down in his favorite leather chair. He hunched over and rubbed his hands together, blowing his hot breath on them to warm them from the cold. He sat back, the hard leather squeaking and protesting as he dug himself in and found a comfortable position with one leg crossed over the other.
“Von’t be long now mein little princessez. Zoon, zee var vill be over.” He said casually smiling and raising his eyebrows at Penelope and Anne.
“You’re going to surrender, then?” Penelope said.
Commander Lipsitz laughed, “Funny girl. You don’t know. You have been gone too long. Your kingdom iz in ruinz. Your people are freesing, schtarving, dezperate.”
“They will never surrender,” Elizabeth said from the doorway.
“Elizabeth,” he addressed her without looking. “Come und zit. Redo your shackles. Be a good girl. I vas chust telling your zisters, zee people of Drevry are zo desperate zat I hear zey have taken to eating zeir pets! Doggies und kitties are dinner now. Isn’t zat nice, Annie? Vould you like to eat a kitty? I could get you one for dinner.”
Annie’s face remained emotionless, but a single tear trickled down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly before the commander had a chance to take notice.
“If you don’t like kitties,” the commander went on, “zere is also a rumor zat zome farmers on zee countryside turned cannibal und ate a beggar who schowed up seeking schelter. Perzonally, I hear human meat is schringy.”
“That is quite enough!” Elizabeth shouted.
The commander leaned up in his chair, pulled back his arm, and slapped her hard across the face. It felt like hot pin pricks across the surface of her skin and she could feel her blood rush to the surface.
“Hey!” Penelope yelled trying to reach for her sister, but she was ultimately unable due to her restraints.
“Mind your manners,” Commander Lipsitz smiled. “Zee good news: zee Head of State has agreed to zurrender in exchange for aid und your zafe return.” He raised his eyebrows, leaned in with a smile and clapped. Then, he regained his serious demeanor, “Ve vill accept zese conditions, but zey vill get nothing. Zee surviving leaders vill be executed, your people vill be placed in vork camps, und you vill be dead before ve reach zee boarder. Isn’t it lovely ven zings vork out?”
“If you’re planning to kill us, why don’t you just do it now? Why keep us alive,” Penelope asked.
“I don’t like you today yellow one. You know vy you live. I’ll be happy enough to spill your blood ven zee time comes.”
There was quiet for a long while between the three princesses and the commander. The fire glowed and crackled like rubies and oranges being blown in a tornado by a hot southern wind. Yet, the room was still cold enough to see their breath. Cold enough that their skin popped up with tiny little bumps protesting the frigid air, begging for warmth, that refused to go away no matter how much they scrubbed at them. No matter how close the girls tried to huddle together.
Aleksandr had brought them tiny bowls of cold porridge, and although they detested it, they forced it down willing it to fill their bellies. It was sticky and thick like glue. It had no flavor, but it was better than what the people of Drewry were suffering through.
The girls leaned in on each other against the back of the couch. The thing was so old the padding that once propped up the back was useless, and the springs inside must have rusted and stuck in a locked position. As soon as they leaned back, they sunk in. Elizabeth and Anne rested their heads on Penelope’s shoulders. Their eyes were closed, but they didn’t sleep. They listened silently to the activity around them.
There was an order to the evening. Aleksandr and Bruno cooked dinner. When everyone finished the girls were to go to sleep. The men drank coffee and smoked rolled cigarettes. This filled the dwelling with thick musky smoke. It never really cleared out because they couldn’t open a window. Instead, it eventually just settled so that everything was covered in a fine layer of yellow grime. Eventually, the soldiers would tire. The underlings left their belts on the counter and went to a tiny room across from the bathroom to sleep on cots. Commander Lipsitz slept in the armchair in long white underwear with his feet propped up on the coffee table.
The commander had been noisily snoring for over an hour when Elizabeth opened her eyes. She looked around the room illuminated only by the amber glow of the fire. The flames pranced across the sleeping commanders face, but he was still as ice. She poked Penelope and Anne.
Penelope quietly reached under her legs and removed the keyring that Aleksandr had been using to let them visit the restroom. When he had been interrupted by Lipsitz he left it in the lock and Penelope carefully removed it before he had a chance to notice. He had spent the rest of the day cursing and looking for the ring; it never occurred to them to search the princesses.
Anne lifted her head and reached her cuffed wrists over to Penelope. She carefully unlatched all of their locks and the girls were suddenly free to move around. Anne stayed near Commander Lipsitz. She had little interest in fighting or exploring. She just wanted to make a quick exit with her sisters and find the way home. Elizabeth and Penelope, however, crept into the kitchen. They pulled out drawers and inspected dining ware. What they found grew the fire within their angry souls. The Gish had stolen their mother’s prize tea service as well as her silver. They whispered for Anne and started stuffing spoons, butter knives, and forks into their dresses. Their minds longed only for something of their mother’s to keep close to their hearts. In their haste the silver clinked and clattered, causing a much greater commotion than they realized.
Aleksandr appeared in the doorway of the tiny kitchen rubbing his sleepy eyes.
“Stop vith zee noise. I’m trying to sleep,” he mumbled.
When he caught sight of the three girls his slate gray eyes popped open and he ran for them. Elizabeth and Penelope hurled themselves toward the discarded belts that rested on the counter. Elizabeth grasped a long, serrated silver knife, and Penelope a pistol. Anne ran into the small living area.
“Stay back,” Elizabeth warned.
“I’ll shoot if I have to,” Penelope said.
Aleksandr put his hands up but didn’t look at all phased. He began taking slow steady steps toward the girls.
“Stop. Stay back,” Elizabeth said.
He smiled and lunged, but Elizabeth was not willing to give up her freedom. She lunged too and dug the blade into Aleksandr’s soft, fleshy belly. To be sure the job was finished she twisted the knife and he let out a long, loud grunt.
Elizabeth removed the knife, dripping with blood and wiped it on her dress. Aleksandr fell to the ground with a thud. They needed to go now, before the others came. It was too late.
Elizabeth saw a bright flash of light, a reflection on silver, and then Penelope screamed and dropped to the ground; shiny crimson, like nail polish, spilling from her neck.
“Now ve’er even,” Bruno’s voice said in her ear. “Go be good girl und zit back down.”
“No,” Elizabeth said backing against the counter.
She looked for Anne. She was still in the living area. She cried silently, a single tear on her cheek, but the commander was gone. Elizabeth felt something thick and rough wrap around her neck. She reached up with her free hand; a dish towel. It tugged her pulling her backward so that her back arched and she was pressed against the counter. The commander’s face hovered over hers. She waved the knife in the air.
“Naughty, naughty girls,” he smiled. “You can cooperate, or vee can kill you tonight. No schkin off my back. Either vay you die eventually.”
“Kill me now,” Elizabeth said. “I’d rather die fighting.”
“Ok zen,” Commander Lipsitz shrugged.
Elizabeth kept swinging the knife in the air, she kept fighting for breath. She could hear Anne choking and sobbing in the living area. Elizabeth made contact with Bruno slicing his face, which was just enough distraction. She grabbed the second gun out of the other belt on the counter and choked out Anne’s name and tossed it.
“Run Anne. Keep the forks!”
Those were Elizabeth’s last words before Commander Lipsitz tightened the towel causing the blood vessels in her eyes to pop, her airway to collapse, and her oxygen to run out.
Anne fled through the door with the pistol she didn’t know how to use and a dress full of silver forks that stuck frozen against her skin. She trudged through the snow, in the black of night, in the wintery tundra. Smoldering ashes falling from the sky clung to her, gathering on her dress and hair, a reminder that death was rampant everywhere. She attempted to hide among the trees. Attempted to cover her footsteps.
The Gish would come for her any minute. Come to kill her like her parents, like her sisters. Anne was the last of her species. The last of original humanity; who once truly understood what it meant to live with freedom and peace and brotherhood. It was up to her to teach the others. It was up to her to rebirth the world.
#HumpdayHorror #Fantasy #NuclearWinter Copyright Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.