When The Tundra Calls (Finish The Story #58 Entry)
Opening by @f3nix
"СКБ Прогресс". Space Missile Center Progress.
The writing stood out on the roof of the latrine, indelible against the cobalt blue metal, sparkling under the dirty white sky of a first spring attempt.
Gennadiy waited impatiently, hopping from leg to leg in the mud and throwing stones at the door of the makeshift bathroom.
Not far away, Drogol pointed to a litter of kittens wagging his tail, the snorting nose pressed between the mesh of the net surrounding one of the last houses before the forest. From his sharp eyes and outstretched ears, a curiosity shone halfway between the festive and the ferocious.
"Stop it with these stones, Genna, or there's no deal."
The Siberian husky slipped off his nose from the net, the time to direct a dry bark in the direction of the voice filtered by the rotten wooden boards.
"Even Drogol is annoyed with your complaining, Anton. The sun sets quickly." Gennadiy said, throwing another stone with a theatrical gesture as if he were casting a dark curse. The dirty pebble ended up right in the crack above the door.
"You're a bastard, Genna. Forget me leaving this pisshole”.
Perhaps, it was better to leave him in peace, free to concentrate. It was not only the hours of daylight but also their fathers, who in a few hours would be home with the day's loot and would certainly have wanted to find them ready to help with the recovered material. The boy stared at the makeshift latrine with the mark of the nearby Pleseck's cosmodrome: a missile and a satellite with its orbit in evidence stood out against the blue background and the white silhouette of a planet.
That symbol often appeared in the most unthinkable places of Dolgoščelę, an insignificant village in the Russian region of Mezen, a stone throw away from the Arctic circle. It seemed as if over the years millions of spores from the nearby cosmodrome had taken root and proliferated among the simple urban elements of that group of houses between tundra and sea.
From the time of the cold war, when the launch program intensified, for the population of the region to recover the pieces of the rockets embedded in the snow became an essential second job. One that, eventually, could replace the traditional activities of hunting and fishing and grant those poor families better odds against the sublime yet sharp immensity of nature. Sifting through the snow of the tundra in winter was easier than in summer when even the streets flooded and boats built with rocket shells came back to use after the seasonal dormancy.
Recovered metals such as gold and titanium could be sold to Arcangelo's black market. The activity ended up involving all family members, each with a task in an efficient recycling chain.
The door of the latrine opened wide. Anton, the son of the country's pastor and Gennadiy's inseparable friend, now stood out against the shining metal like a war hero.
"Anton, if they discover us because of your endless shitting, I swear this time your bike is mine."
"Stop worrying and think, instead, of their faces in front of our loot," replied Anton with a seraphic expression.
"East, beyond the lake. Where the caribous' footprints stop," said Gennadiy absorbed, his mind already gliding on the untouched expanse of snow of that spot deep in the forest.
"Aha. Today we go hunting for the wrong pieces," Anton urged hinting a smile.
Both friends nodded solemnly before answering to the tundra's call.
The spill of houses that spread along the stretch of tarmac had their backs, slipping into the distance unseen.
An arctic wind picked up, bringing with it a steady tussle of competing flakes.
The edge of the lake drew closer, scavengers rarely went east, not even reindeer ventured past that pane of frozen sky.
Their parents had grown up picking the bones of rocket parts, the fallen scraps of soaring dreams. Neither friend could resist the call.
The woods enveloped them, sparsely at first; dark, bare limbs underlining glistening snow. Then they came closer together. A baitline of trees becoming a lustrous catch. The deep forest - the one they'd seen from the chopper to Arcangelo.
As Gennadiy reached it, he braked, powdery snow dusting Anton behind him. They’d have to search on foot, that's why no one really bothered hunting for scrap up here, or so Genna had spent the best part of the summer claiming.
Gritting his teeth, Anton exposed his wrist to check the time, Drogol seized the chance to lick bare skin, the large husky nosing him needily.
“Two hours, then we head back.”
Heavy gusts of wind carried a fresh swirl of clinging flakes, Gennadiy dismounted his bike, peering into the forest.
“Years, years of unclaimed loot…”
Gennadiy trailed off, stepping closer to the trees. His hand traced a scar in the trunk, a deep gorge in the bark, scored in black, flecked with astral blue. His eyes following the line, wide wonder spilled down his cheeks.
Gennadiy looked away, turning towards whatever it was that had made the mark, stepping after it into the darkness. As the shadow enveloped Gennadiy’s face, Anton saw lips part, words escaping them, yet in the silence that fell heavy between the flakes, Anton heard nothing.
In that moment, Gennadiy disappeared.
Anton never took his eyes off him. He leapt off his bike rushing towards Gennadiy, but his friend, whatever he'd seen, were gone.
Anton searched the woods, looking for hours, light fading overhead.
Drogol wandered off unnoticed, desperate hands clawed numb through ice, refusing to give up.
Gennadiy's father had been back too long for there to be no sign of the usual welcome wagon. The uneasiness itching over his skin turned to cold horror when Drogol appeared alone, pointing east, past the Lake. He went straight to the Pastor's house. The colour drained from the older man’s face as he told him, yet those dark eyes held steady with a resolve that had hoped to never be tested.
Dolgoščelę had kept Pleseck's secret through worse. It had to. This was the only way.
The two men set out together, alone, despite the other. Each knew it was already too late for one of them.
That starry ride through the endless stream of white held only the question of which.
Hands fumbled over Anton's jacket, dragging him half conscious from the forest. They both knew what it meant. The search would stop there.
Gennadiy's father faltered, stumbling in the snow, salty tears soaking deep into the silence.
The call of the tundra lay quiet, subdued once more.
I don't know how much of what I was going for here came across but I am hoping it carries one way or another as it is. I'm not feeling so much myself at the moment, so forgive me if i don't come off like I normally do. It's been really hard losing little Moko bunny, the house doesn't feel right without her, I didn't have the heart for something adventurous or scary, but something in this opening caught me so gave it a go anyway.
This is an entry to @bananafish's #finishthestory contest which is out every week! We have the endlessly gifted @f3nix opening for us this week, and with an opening like this, prime for so many different genres, and plenty of time left to enter, how could you not! Check out the latest round for all the details!Marco Verch