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Canopy of Heaven

By Oz Hall All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Canopy of Heaven

небесный свод (Canopy of Heaven)

A lake, so large that one couldn’t see the other shore, lay to the north.  To the south was a forest.  From east to west ran four railroad tracks.  Two for east bound traffic, two for west.  The inside tracks were for the lumber trains that worked the camp.  The outside tracks were reserved for the trains that crossed the countryside. 

The trees to the south provided the perfect barrier between camp and civilization.  Escape through this side of the camp was thought to be impossible.  If one did not freeze to death or starve, he would most likely be eaten by animals.  This area was called the canopy.  It was home to wolves, bears, tigers and lynx that could jump from the trees.  The canopy also was home to 400 pound boars.  The occasional viper, spider, tick or wolverine could also offer an unexpected death.

Howling wolves could be heard at night.  The patrol dogs were frightened to go into certain areas.  An overgrown path that led from the camp to the forest was marked with a simple sign that said, “небесный свод ”, Canopy of Heaven.

The canopy provided firewood for the camp.  Before the crematorium was built, prisoners that were executed were taken there and abandoned to the animals. 

Isidor came to the camp from the east.  He was sent to the camp because of his radical political views.  In reality his only crime was to be a large, strong man.  Laborers were the most important resource of the camp.  When the camp experienced a shortage of men, a call would go out to law enforcement.  Shortly thereafter, young, working age men would arrive on the trains.  Isidor was one of these new draftees.

Unfairly imprisoned, his defiant attitude led to many beatings.  When the guards felt particularly cruel, they would send him to the box.  Barely enough room for two men, the concrete enclosure was cold and damp.  The size of a large coffin, one end was covered while the other was open.  Secured with a metal grate, snow and rain would collect inside.  Drowning in a summer storm was always a possibility.

The torture would go on for hours, sometimes days.  If the prisoner fell asleep, he could drown.  Sometimes the dark and the cold would convince a man to drown himself on purpose.  If he survived, he would be released. Isidor was strong, but how many times could he cheat death.  He made a vow to himself the last time he went to the box that he would escape.

Alisa came to the camp from a small town to the west.  She had been arrested for stealing food from the government farm system.  Alisa was sent to the camp without being able to say goodbye to her children.  The magistrate told Alisa that the camp would provide for her the life she deserved and the life that society demanded for her.  Have no concern for your children she was told, they belong to the state now.  Found guilty, Alisa’s children were sent to a government children’s home for training and adoption. 

Alisa was assigned a job in the camp laundry.  She was able to avoid physical torture but was subjected to mental abuse by the guards.  One guard informed her that he planned to adopt one of her children and raise him as his own.  He told Alisa that he would make sure that the boy learned to hate her.  He teased that he would bring the boy to meet her and the child would spit in her face.

Isidor pushed a cart of dirty sheets to laundry one day.  As he stood by his cart waiting for his escort he noticed a young woman folding clothes.  Smiling at her, he was ignored but every day he continued to reach out to her. 

Slowly Alisa and Isidor began to develop a trust with each other.  She told Isidor of her children and her former life.  Isidor spoke of his torture and his desire to escape.  Alisa asked Isidor, “Is it possible to escape the camp?”

“I don’t know,” Isidor replied.  “It is possible to try, I know that.”

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll die?” Alisa asked.

“Afraid?  No, I’m more afraid of not trying.” Isidor replies.  “It is better to die in the chase than to drown in the box.”

Isidor tells Alisa that he plans to escape from the camp soon.  Alisa asked Isidor if she could go too.  At first Isidor would not consider this.  He knew that he would probably die and did not wish to be part of Alisa’s death.  Listening to Isidor speak Alisa said, “27 prisoners died last week, I washed their clothes and sheets.  My death will come, with or without you.”

Thinking for a moment, Isidor reluctantly agreed to take Alisa with him. Alisa asked but one thing, that they travel west.  She must have a chance of finding her children. Isidor agreed to go west with her.  Their plan was born.  Isidor explained that he planned to go by rail.  It would be a complicated escape but he felt it offered the greatest chance of success.  They needed to get away from the camp as quickly as possible.  The rails offered this chance.

    Parked on the siding west of a platform used for loading lumber was an old double-decker passenger car.  If Isidor could get this car up to speed and push it onto the main line, in front of a lumber train, escape could be possible.  Isidor knew from watching trains pass the camp that the lumber trains were pushed from behind.  This would create the blind spot that he needed to put his car in the front. 

No one would notice the car in front of the lumber train until they were already clear of the camp.  If they were discovered it would take more than a mile to bring the train to a stop.  That would be plenty for a chance at escape, the only problem, getting the car up to speed.  Isidor figured that the lumber trains ran at about 40kph.  His car, he guessed, weighed 40 metric tons.  He needed to push that out in front of a train that probably weighed another 200 metric tons.

Two hundred tons, 40kph, Isidor thought for moment, “This better work or we’re dead.”  But how could Isidor get a car up to speed?  He would need another engine.  The only engines available were the switcher units they used in the yard to move lumber cars.  Isidor knew an engineer on one of the crews.  His name was Misha.

Misha was missing both of his legs.  He had lost them in an accident.  Metal prosthetic legs were attached to his stumps.  Because of his mobility problems he had been trained as a switcher in the yard.  He could drive an engine, but would he help?  Asking a fellow inmate to do something forbidden could be a tricky and dangerous proposition.  If he refused, he could earn himself a reward by turning the other guy in.  Isidor could be dead before the plan even started.

Approaching Misha, Isidor asked him how long he expected to live in the camp.  Laughing, Misha said “Till I can fly like the birds.”

 “Only the dying bird flies alone.” Isidor replied.

 “I watch the birds from atop my metal legs.  I wonder sometimes what it would feel like to be the hawk that dives for the sparrow.  Driving my train past the guards, I know how the sparrow feels. 

“Has the time come to be the hawk?” Misha asked.

“Seize the wings that are laid upon your back,” Isidor whispered.

Misha was in.  He spoke at great length with Isidor. He liked the ideas he presented.  Misha had a schedule of trains and free access to the train yard.  He could move without raising suspicion.  He was confident the plan would work, more so than Isidor.

They chose a late afternoon train, close to sundown.  With the lumber trains heading into a sitting sun, visibility would be impaired for the engineers.  If the engineer found out something was wrong and stopped, it would be dark or close to darkness.  This would make it easier to escape along the tracks as they moved west.  With any luck they could cover 30 miles walking all night.

Isidor and Alisa would leave the laundry at 4:00pm.  Alisa would hide in the clothing basket that Isidor pushed every day.  Once outside, they would move alongside the buildings, making their way to the double-decker.  If they were lucky enough to make it, they would climb inside and hide.  Misha and Isidor agreed, the plan was settled.

 Lying in his bed, Isidor went over every detail he could think of.  Repeating the exercise over and over in his head, Isidor was as ready as he would ever be.  The key would be to remain calm, force himself to move slow, and not attract attention.

Working through the day of the escape was hard for Isidor.  He couldn’t help but be on edge.  Every sudden move or loud noise made his heartbeat rise.  Earlier, after lunch a guard had started to stare at Isidor.  For a moment he thought he was going to soil his pants.  After the guard lost interest in Isidor and moved on, Isidor sat down and nearly passed out on the table.

The time to escape had come.  Isidor pushed is cart through the small doorway and walked down the hallway.  As he approached the laundry room, he casually looked behind him and paused for a moment.  Everything was clear.  He walked into the room.  Scanning the area he located Alisa.  Trying not to make eye contact with her, he bent over and began moving the laundry around in the basket.

Looking around to see if anybody was watching, Alisa came over and climbed into the cart.  Isidor quickly pulled the sheets over her.  Slowly he pushed toward the door.  A woman walked up beside the cart and looked inside. 

“Is there a problem ma’am?” Isidor asked.

Placing her hands gently on the cart, the woman replied, “No…there is no problem sir.”

Slowly, Isidor pushed the cart down the hallway, his heart pounding in his chest.  He fought to control the urge to take off running.  “Relax,” he whispered to himself.

“We’re almost outside,” Isidor whispered to Alisa.  Suddenly the door opens.  Stopping the cart, Isidor dropped his hands to his sides. The bright light from outside blinded him.  A guard appeared in front of him.

“What are doing prisoner?” the guard asked.

“Laundry sir”, Isidor replied.

Slowly sticking his nightstick in the basket the guard looked at Isidor and said, “The laundry is the other way.  Why are you down here?”

Looking the guard in the eye, Isidor replied, “These sheets are going to the incinerator sir.  They were wrapped around a gut-stabbed prisoner.  The blood and flesh are bubbling with maggots.  Would you like to see them?”

“Nyet, go on,” the guard replies.

“Thank you, sir,” Isidor replies.

Now standing on the rail platform, Isidor scanned the yard.  There were several trains in front of him.  The noise was so loud Isidor couldn’t hear his own voice.  Train whistles sounded all around him.  One whistle was so loud he could feel it in his chest.  On his left was the loud banging of steel on steel.  On his right was the click-ching, click-ching, of train wheels.  Diesel engines could be heard in the distance.

Looking to see if he was being watched, Isidor reached into the cart and pulled on Alisa’s arm.  Quickly she climbed out of the cart and they ran down the platform to the west.  They jumped off the dock and ran between two rows of parked train cars.

    Making their way down the tracks, they look for a double-decker car.  It would be sticking above the others.

“Be very quiet, there could be people out here that we can’t see,” Isidor whispers.

“Over there,” Alisa says as she points.

Isidor sees the legs of a man in the next row over.  The man was wearing knee length boots.  He’s a guard.  Isidor takes his index finger and puts it over his lips.  Opening his coat, he shows Alisa a long knife.

Keeping still, Isidor and Alisa watched the boots for the guard’s next move.  A cigarette butt dropped to the ground.  After kicking the butt one time, the guard walked away.  Isidor and Alisa waited a minute before continuing on their search.

“Over there,” Isidor whispered.  That is our car.”

Forcing the door open, Isidor and Alisa climbed inside.  Looking at Alisa, Isidor said, “When we get up topside, we have to stay low.  We’ll be above the other cars.  We don’t want anybody to see us.”  The two prisoners made their way to the top compartment.  Crawling to the back of the car, Isidor lifted his head just enough to see out the dirty window.  The track was clear, just as Misha said it would be.  Crawling into the last seats, the two waited for Misha.

Isidor whispered, “So far, so good.”

“Yes, so good,” Alisa replied.

Their whole plan depended on Misha.  Only he would know when the lumber train came by the camp.  It would be up to him to control the timing of the push.  Only he could set the switch for them to roll out on to the main.

“Do you think this will work?” Alisa asked.

“I don’t know.  We got a shot, maybe 50%.  If we’re lucky,” Isidor replied.  “Are you having second thoughts?  You can leave now.  Go back to the laundry like nothing’s happened,” Isidor replied.

“I go even if 10%,” Alisa said.

“Listen!  An engine, he’s coming!” Isidor whispered.

Slowly moving to the edge of the window, Isidor saw a yard engine rolling up the tracks behind them.  As the engine got closer, Isidor crawled to front of the car and went outside.  Walking up to the stopped engine Isidor stood at the bottom of the ladder.  Crawling down from the cab, with a wrench in his hand, Misha said, “We have to close the coupler.  We don’t want to connect to each other.  We want to push, not tie.” Misha told Isidor.

After closing the coupler, Misha started to climb back up the ladder.  Looking down at Isidor he said, while pointing at the back of the double-decker, “When we get to speed, I climb out on catwalk and jump to door.  The dead-man brake stop engine before we get to traffic.”

Revving the diesel up to maximum rpms, Misha pushed the locomotive into the back of the empty car.  As the car lurched forward, Alisa is thrown back into her seat.  As the car moved away from the others it picked up speed.  Slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed, the train rolled down the tracks.  As they passed one of the loading docks a guard turned and stared at them.

Now out in the open, the train was moving at a fast pace.  Looking out the back of the train, Isidor saw Misha open the door on the engine.  Slowly walking, his steel legs wobbling, he clung to the rail as he made his way to the door. Reaching the nose of the train he realized he would have to jump 4-feet to the other train.

The engine started losing power.  The dead-man brake had engaged.  With a running start, Misha leaped across the gap. Falling short, Isidor grabbed his arm and tried to pull him onto the car.  With his steel legs bouncing on the track below, sparks jumped into the air.  Finally, Isidor was able to pull Misha up onto the platform.

Looking out the back of the car, Isidor could see the lumber train coming up behind them.  Just as they entered the mainline, the yard engine cut in front of the lumber train.  Rolling the 150-ton engine like a ball, the yard engine went off the tracks and flew into traffic coming from the other direction. 

The lumber train flew from behind and hit the double-decker car.  At first it barely touched, then suddenly the locomotive hit hard.  As they were pushed back into their seats the train started pushing their car. Looking over at Alisa and Misha, Isidor started to smile, but just at that moment there was an explosion behind them.  Jumping out of their seats to look, they saw only a fireball in the sky.

Looking out the side window, Isidor saw the eastbound train start to lurch.  It bent like a jack knife, a loose car swung into their path.  In the blink of an eye the front of their car was torn off.  With sheet metal blowing up and down in front of them, debris blew inside the car.  Holding on for their lives they watched as the train next to them continued to crumple.

The lumber engine behind them continued to blow its whistle.  The sound was almost deafening.  Grabbing their ears, the escapees ran to the center of the car.  Another car rolled onto the tracks in front of them.  Bracing for the collision, the double-decker smashed the sideways boxcar and blew right through it. 

Misha, now sitting in a seat, can’t brace himself.  The collision threw him forward, toward the open end of the train.  Sliding across the floor Misha tried to grab something to stop himself from rolling out of the open car.

With debris blowing in his face, Isidor ran to the front of the train and grabbed Misha’s hand to keep him from falling out of the car.  Feeling the train slowing down, Alisa ran to the window.  She saw that the train was slowing down.  The car and engine were now quickly separating.

As they left the train behind, it got quiet.  The only sound was the steel on steel of the wheels and track.  Suddenly the car lurched to the right.  Looking out the window, Misha said,  “They’ve switched us off the main.”  As the car rolled down the tracks the landscape began to turn into forest.

“What is this?” Isidor asked.

“This is an old logging spur.” Misha replied.

Staring ahead, Alisa said quietly, “They’re sending us into the forest.”

The train rolled down the tracks deeper and deeper into the forest until the train rolled to a stop.  Night was upon them. 

“What do we do now?” Isidor asked.

“Staring out at the forest Misha said, “If they find us, they will kill us.”

Looking at Isidor, Alisa said, “Go now, we must.”

Running into the forest the prisoners chased their freedom.  The weather was cool and fall-like.  The leaves were starting to drop from the trees. Suddenly they head a crash.  Jumping behind a tree, Isidor looked back towards the train car.  Lifting his hand, he motioned for silence.

Staring down the track, Isidor could see guards looking around the damaged car.  Pointing toward the forest, the leader started walking down the tracks.  Signaling for the others to follow, the group walked toward the forest.

    Looking down at Misha, Isidor asked, “Can you keep up?”

Misha said while smiling, “Can I keep up?  Can you keep up with me should be the question.  My metal legs working fine, like magic.  If you lose track of me, it’s because I am already there.”

“Well, let’s go before we are all wearing metal legs.” Isidor replied.

“Did you see any dogs?” Alisa asked.

“No I didn’t, they were probably in such a hurry to catch us that they left the dogs behind.” Isidor replied.

“The dogs don’t like the Canopy anyway,” Misha said.

“Canopy?” Alisa asked.

“Yes, the forest, they call it The Canopy of Heaven,” Misha replied.

“Why is that?” Alisa asked.

“It was a very beautiful place before the camp came.  Some thought it was Heaven on Earth.  Now, with all the death in the camp…the name still fits,” Misha replied.

“It is starting to rain,” Isidor said as he looked up into the trees.  “We must go.”

The escapees made as good of time as possible.  Running when they could, walking when they had to, they worked their way deeper into the forest.  After an hour of climbing over fallen trees, large rocks debris Isidor noticed that Alisa was tiring,

“Let’s stop for a moment and catch our breath,” Isidor said to the others.

Leaning against a tree, Alisa looked into the forest behind them.  “Look! Fire!  They have torches.”

Isidor stood up and looked, “Dam, they’re closer than I thought.”

“How many torches do you see?” Misha asked.

“Seven,” Isidor replied.

The crack of a rifle exploded in the night as a piece of bark is shot off the limb above them.  The guards have seen the three escapees.  Running to the left then to the right, they jump over the trees and limbs that scatter on the ground in front of them.  Looking behind, they saw the torches getting closer.

Pausing, Isidor leans against a tree for support.  Starting to feel a pain in his side, Isidor stared at the ground in front of him.  Slowly a few leaves move on a fallen branch.  Then a bush starts to shake, now a tree. Opening his eyes wider Isidor couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  The obstacles laid out in front of them were slowly moving to clear a path in front of the three.

Whistling past his head, another bullet hit the tree beside him.  Breaking into a run, the three went down the path in front of them.  As they reached the end, they turned and watched as the path disappeared behind them. 

Isidor looks into the forest.  Standing before them was a ghost-like figure.  The figure appeared to float above the ground.  He wore a long bushy coat and a tall fur hat.  Lifting his left arm slowly to shoulder height, he pointed them deeper into the forest.

Running ever quicker, the escapees followed the directions of the ghost.  As they crested a hill Isidor got a cold shiver through his body.  He immediately stopped running.  Misha and Alisa stopped too.  Looking over at Misha, Isidor asked, “What was that?”

“I don’t know.  You felt it too?” Misha replied.

“Yes,” Isidor whispered as he stared into the forest.

The rain started of all harder as distant thunder rolled through the night.  Raindrops smacked the puddles around them filling the air with a steady crackling sound.  Alisa pointed out over the edge of a ravine that lay before them.

Hanging in front of them was the ghost from before.  Walking up to the edge, Isidor kicked a rock.  At first there was silence, then after a long pause the rocks hit something and bounced, “click, click…click”.  Looking at Misha, Isidor said,  “We’d be dead if we had kept running.” 

Following the ghost’s long fingers the escapees bolted and ran to the right.  Suddenly a piercing scream broke the night.  Stopping in their tracks, Isidor said, “Someone just went over the cliff.” 

Alisa looked behind them.  “How many torches do you see?” Misha asked as he bent over to pull a vine that had wrapped around his metal foot.

“Five.  Five torches, two are now gone.” Alisa replied.

Lighting cracked the sky again and when the flash was gone a startled owl began to call, “Hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo.”

The escapees continued on until they came to a split in the path.  They had to make a choice.  Run to the right and stay along the ravine or run to the left and go down into the ravine.  Looking over at Misha and Alisa, Isidor asked, “Which one?

Staring for a moment, Misha says, “Stay on the path, what if we get trapped going into the ravine.”

“Alisa?” Isidor asked.

Looking down at the ravine, Alisa said, “The guards think like Misha.”

“I agree,” Isidor replies.  “We take the path with the most obstacles.

Feeling their way down the side of the ravine the prisoners continued on.  After working their way down with their backs against the wall, they came across a cave in the side of the ravine.  This was an opportunity to rest.

Not even the moonlight could make its way into the cold cavern.  Slowly stumbling through the dark, the prisoners felt their way along the walls. As Isidor reaches in front of his face he touches something warm and furry.  “What the hell was that?” he spoke loudly as he quickly pulled back.

Suddenly the cave came alive with the sounds of clicking and humming.  “Bats!” whispered Misha.  Slowly the prisoners started to move backwards.  “The floor is covered in bat dung!” Alisa cried out.

The escapees kept moving until they found themselves on solid dirt.  Huddling for warmth, they waited. The only sound was the water falling in front of the cave entrance and the occasional rumble of distant thunder.

After several hours had passed, Isidor saw the reflection of light on a branch hanging in front of the cave.  “Damn, someone is coming. Quietly the escapees huddled and waited.

Staring at the entrance to the cave, Isidor sees the head of a torch poke through the opening.  Slowly he picks up a stone.  Waiting for the right moment, just as the guard walked into the cave, he flung the rock at the bats hanging on the ceiling.

Startled, the bats flew to the fire in a mass exodus out of the cave.  Jumping to his feet, Isidor ran at the cowering guard and dove into him.  Pushing him out of the cave, the surprised guard is unable to regain his balance and fell into the ravine.  Standing at the edge, Isidor watched the screaming man and his furiously burning torch disappear into the darkness.  Four guards now remained.

Turning from the ravine, Isidor was shocked by what he saw.  The ghost was inches from his own face. 

“Who are you?” Isidor asked but the ghost said nothing.  Instead the apparition lifted his arm and pointed down the path.

Calling Misha and Alisa from the cave, the three continue down the ledge.  “Did you see the ghost?” Isidor asked.

“We saw nothing.” Misha replied.

Looking up above him, Isidor see four torches running along the top of the cliff.  The other guards must have heard their comrade go over the edge.  Realizing they must pick up the pace, the three escapees start to run faster.  Once again a shot rang out through the night. But this time it was pointed in the opposite direction.  Maybe they were losing the guards.

Sitting quietly at the bottom of the ravine the prisoners waited to see what the guards were going to do.  Suddenly a bright fire starts to burn above them.  The guards were making camp.  They were going to wait until morning to continue the hunt. 

Isidor and the others had to make a choice-run through the night or go back and fight the four guards.  Looking first at Misha then over at Alisa, Isidor considered their fate.  After several minutes, Isidor said, “I will go back, you two will go on.  The guards will be sleeping.  With the advantage of surprise, I can kill one, maybe two, then flee the camp.”

“Why would you want to do that?”  Alisa asked.  “Can’t we flee four as easily as two?  Why risk your life for that?”

“With two gone, maybe the other two will leave in the morning.  If not, then the odds are even for us the rest of the way.  It will be better.”  Isidor replied.

“Wouldn’t the odds be three against two?” Alisa asked.

 Staring back at Alisa for a moment Isidor said, “Yes, of course.  You’re correct.”  But inside himself Isidor knew he would not be joining the others again.  He planned all along to fight until he fell.  He knew the best hope for the group was for him to sacrifice himself.

Looking at Alisa and Misha Isidor said, “Run the river, it must lead somewhere, maybe to a lake.  If there is a lake, there will be people and with people there will be a boat.”  Looking one final time at Alisa, Isidor raised his hand to her cheek.  Bending to her face, he said, “Be safe.”

Climbing up the path, Isidor stopped and looked one last time at the others as they fled along the riverside.  He knew he must be quiet and careful now; surprise was the only advantage he had. 

As he reached the top of the ravine he slowly rose to the edge to look.  Expecting to see a camp around a fire, he was surprised at what he saw.  There was no campfire, just the smoldering torches that the guards had been carrying.  They looked as if they had been dropped randomly across the ground.

Slowly rising with his knife in his hand, Isidor walked towards the fire.  Getting closer, he saw that the four guards were lying motionless on the ground.  Walking up to the one closest to him, he kicked the motionless man in the side, but there was no movement.  Going onto next one and then next one, all the same, dead, but how?  Isidor did not see any wounds or  signs of a struggle.

Bending down closer to one of the guards, Isidor studied his face.  Suddenly he jumped back as he saw an eyelid move.  Holding his knife in front of him he got closer.  Looking at the man’s eyelids, he saw them bubble with movement.  Taking his knife he slowly split the man’s eye open.  ANTS!  The man’s eyes were filled with ants.  Ants started crawling out of the guard’s mouth and ears.  They were inside him, eating him to a shell.

Walking over to the other bodies, Isidor saw the same thing. Tiny, six legged creatures with their razor sharp mandibles, filled with the flesh of the dead guards.  They now form a line and were marching into the forest with their kill.  Isidor knew that nothing would remain tomorrow.  The forest would swallow everything along with the rain.

Grabbing the four rifles, Isidor ran down into the ravine to catch the others.  Excitement and relief filled his heart as he realized that escape was now possible.  Running beside the river he saw the others ahead of him.  As he got closer he saw that Alisa and Misha had stopped.  He heard Misha screaming.

“What is this forest?” Misha shouted.  “Is it the forest of the dammed?”

“I thought it was the Canopy of Heaven,” replied Alisa. 

“Lyuban?” Misha yells.

“What did he say?” Isidor asked Alisa.

“Did you hear that?” Misha yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Hear what?  I didn’t hear anything.” Isidor replied.

“The voice, from the trees, it speaks to me.  It said Lyuban.”

“I hear no voice,” Isidor replied.  “What is Lyuban?”

Walking over to Alisa, Isidor asked, “What is going on?  Who is he talking to?”

“I don’t know, he just stopped and started yelling, he sees something in the trees.” Alisa replied.

“Lyuban is where I lived.  It’s on the Tigoda River.  That is where I lost my legs, at the lumber mill.  THERE! Do you hear it?  It said it again?  Can you hear it now?” Misha yelled.

“Misha! We hear nothing!  Are you ill?” Alisa asked.

Isidor said, “The forest is playing tricks with his mind.  If he goes mad he will surely give us away.”

“Misha!  You must remain calm, please,” Isidor pleaded.

Sitting on the ground with the look of death on his face, Misha clutched his knife against his and started to cry.  Trembling, he dropped the knife and started talking to himself.

Isidor walked over to Alisa and whispered in her ear, “We must kill him before he gives us away.”

“Can’t we just leave him?” Alisa replied.

“No, he will lead the next group of guards to us.  If they catch him alive, they will make him talk.  He will give them names to save himself.  People we knew in camp would be killed.  He must die.”

Reaching into his coat pocket, Isidor wrapped his hand around a knife.  Slowly he pulled it out of his coat as he circled behind the weeping man. 

Lifting the large knife above his head Isidor stiffened himself to push the knife through Misha’s ribs.  Just as he started his deadly thrust, his arm froze in mid-air.  He tried again, but his arm would not move.  Turning his to look at his arm, he saw ghost staring into his eyes.

Slowly Isidor relaxed his hand and dropped the knife to the ground.  The ghost released Isidor’s arm and let the man back away.  Isidor now saw many spirits where there were none before.  Circling a sobbing Misha is was a pale blue mist. 

The mist materialized into the shape of a large man in a hooded cape.  It grabbed Misha by the throat and lifted him to eye-level.

“Misha, do you recognize these people?” the apparition asked.

“No,” a sobbing Misha replied.

Raising his voice, the ghost said, “These are the people you have condemned to the forest.” 

Pointing to a tree, an old woman appears. 

“Remember when you stole food and told the police it was her?  She was condemned to the camp-for a loaf of bread-she didn’t steal.”

“That man over there!” the ghost yells as points to spot where an old man came into view.  “You blamed him for the accident that took your legs, when you knew it was your drunken mistake.” 

“EVERYONE,” the ghost shouted, “is here by your hand! They have waited for the day when you would walk into the forest.”

Weeping, a frightened Misha asked, “What is to become of me?  Are they going to kill me?”

“These spirits will not harm anyone.  They aren’t like you.  No one here is a murderer Misha.  They are just victims of your evil.  All of them were condemned to the forest by you, for crimes you committed.  The forest will judge you, Misha, as it judged them.” 

Turning to Isidor and Alisa, the ghost pointed to a trail that had opened into the forest.  Looking back at Misha one last time, Isidor saw thousands of ants crawling over and into his body.  His metal legs floated across the ground as the ants carried Misha’s legs into the trees. 

Misha started shaking violently, as if he was being torn apart at the seams.  No longer able to watch, Isidor turned to Alisa and grabbed her hand.  They ran in the direction the ghost pointed to.  After passing through several hundred yards of forest they came to a lake.  A lone rowboat sat on the beach. 

Putting Alisa in the boat first, Isidor turned and looked back at the forest one last time.  He heard a distant scream.  Shaking his head in sorrow, he quickly pushed the boat into the lake. 

Alisa silently pointed back to something on the shore.  Isidor turned and saw a small sign hanging crookedly from a tree limb.  It said, Canopy of Heaven.  


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