Ferociously tender hands impress needy indentations into the softness of my hips, feeling the fullness of my feminine figure.. Venom squeezes me close, gripping me so tight that almost I lose my breath to his strength.. My body succumbs while my mind empties and all thoughts evaporate into the ether.. Everything melts away until one singular impulse overcomes me entirely..
December 22nd, 2pm
Ryurik Pass, Yabinka National Park, Strysakstan.
200 miles southwest of the city of Al Aqsan.
A vengeful gust of wind pounds at the exterior steel of the vehicle.. The force of it rocking the small missionary bus so violently that the other bleeding hearts on board begin to murmur with alarm.. Nervousness is a spontaneous infection, spreading from passenger to passenger, the symptoms of which are fear and trepidation.. An outbreak of anxiety overcomes the group, feeding off itself and multiplying at an astounding rate..
It's difficult at the best of times not to be influenced by those around you, it is pretty much impossible when those around you are petrified of every shock and shudder that shakes the ground and rattles the windows..
Of course I am frightened.. It's only natural..
Just like me, the others had come from all walks of life, with noble hopes of doing some good in the war torn villages of Strysakstan.. Their intentions are to make a meaningful difference in the world, something I have longed for since I was just a freshman in highschool, spearheading fundraisers to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless..
Philanthropy is my calling..
I had set aside my quiet life in America and left my small hometown in Roan Range County to make an impact in my work as a teacher to the Strysak children, who otherwise would grow up with little to no education.. I could never understand how much potential could be wasted in children cast aside, never to be given hope or opportunity to dream.. The injustice of the current system and its failings has played on my mind forever.. It is the very reason I became a teacher and why I applied for a foreign post with Amnesty Worldwide..
Now of course, I am mature enough at twenty six to know that 'fairness' is not a realistic expectation to have and that what is 'right' does not often apply as motivation.. I know that there is disappointment, grief and heartache.. I have felt it all.. But even still, that knowledge does nothing to dampen my hopes and dreams..
I will be the change I wish to see, I will make a difference..
When I was a young girl my father would warn me of the dangers of idealistic thinking, never coddling me with fantasies of an unattainable utopia.. Konstantin Ivanov was a pragmatic man, with a utilitarian manner and a blunt mouth.. He would always tell me the truth, no matter how difficult it was to face or how painful it might be to hear.. My father instilled in me a sense of truth and honesty that has never left me, not even now that he is gone..
My mother, Lucky, while exceedingly softer in nature than my dad, would often describe me as a 'tender heart'.. But I could never quite tell if she intended it as strength or a weakness.. She was a wary woman, distrustful of the world and it's sinister dangers.. If she could see me now, here in this warzone, I'm sure Lucky would just about lose her mind with worry.. Still, my mother always supported me and my dreams.. She was my biggest cheerleader..
I certainly know anybody peeking in from the outside would call me naive, but I have not yet outgrown believing that the world can and will be a better place.. One day..
I know that I can be a part of something bigger than myself and that kindness is all that matters.. I truly believe that love is the most powerful force on the planet and one day, it will heal all hearts..
I will remain an eternal optimist for so long as I live, though I must confess, since the start of my assignment in Strysakstan several months ago, I have come to see the cruel and unforgiving casualties of war.. This place is not what it had once been and now lies destroyed as a ravaged boneyard.. The constant carnage of shelling and shooting is a side effect of the decades-long unrest and ever mounting tension that has a stranglehold of this nation.. The fighting has taken its toll on the Strysak folk.. Yet there is a quiet determination to be found among the people.. The citizens of this land are a proud and admirable collective of courage, kindness and perseverance..
In this country there is still hope, and so long as it exists, I will do what I can to help..
When an apocalyptic crack of thunder rumbles down the mountainside, a ripple of panic travels between each and every passenger until it reaches my seat at the back of the bus to set my nerves on edge.. The air thickens and the bus shakes as seismic tremors pass through the suspension..
Worry prickles to life at the nape of my neck, an uncomfortable, caustic heat clamming up my skin and cramping my muscles as the bitter taste of acid appears at the back of my throat.. Accompanying the awful bile are haunting memories of loss and pain, plaguing me as they so often do..
No, no, no..
Think happy thoughts, Mishka!
I try so hard to suppress the tarnished recollections, but somehow they always find their way to the surface when I am at my most vulnerable..
See, It was a stormy night much like this, on the icy road of a mountain pass just the same, that both of my parents perished in a landslide over six years ago..
In a split second my life was changed, never to be the same ever again..
I had travelled halfway across the world to escape the memory of that fateful night, but it seems I am condemned to relive the brutality of mother nature's wrath once more..
Except this time, I am the one in danger..
Reassuring and gentle, the friendly nurse next to me reaches across to pet my knee, a small consoling smile on her thin pink lips.. "Are you okay, Mishka?"
"Yes of course, I'm fine, Zoya, thank you.." I nod my head politely and give her hand a slight squeeze before she withdraws from my space, turning her compassionate attention to another passenger..
The blizzard outside grows more furious by the second, whipping snowflakes and sleet all around and the ominous orange hazard lights blink ceaselessly against a pristine white backdrop.. At the front of the bus, a woman sings soothing Russian Carols to a crying baby in her care.. Meanwhile, I watch through the frosty glass as the driver speaks to the militant blockade, dressed in dark green, who have barricaded the road ahead..
I have seen many checkpoints over the past few months, travelled through them daily for work, though none had stopped and detained our humanitarian collective quite like this one..
For some indiscriminate reason, something doesn't feel quite right..
An uneasy sensation stirs in the pit of my stomach, churning an unrelenting roil of nausea, so off-putting I could puke.. I pull up the faux fur hood of my overcoat and recoil into the ignorance of my cocoon.. Blocking out my surroundings, to focus entirely on the cell phone clutched in my hands.. I illuminate the backlight with the tap of a button, surprised to find two glowing bars of reception adorning the top right hand corner of my screen.. I scroll through my contacts until I find my older brother, Anatoly's phone number.. My fingers ghost over the letters of his name as I appreciate its appearance..
But I know he won't answer my call..
He never does anymore..
Ever since an assassination attempt against his life had resulted in the tragic death of his girlfriend, my brother hasn't been the same..
He was once a generous and sensitive soul before the nightmare of grief hardened his heart.. He had worshipped Lovey O'riley like the love of his life, I'd never seen him care about anything the way he did her.. I'm almost certain he had plans to propose, marry the girl, settle down and start a family with her..
But he was robbed of that happiness..
And so, mourning had changed him in ways I could never even begin to understand.. It had wounded him deeply and made him cold.. He had distanced himself from me and the rest of our family, moved away and disappeared into an abyss of despair and self loathing..
Still, I never loved him any less.. He had been my fiercest protector and best friend when we were growing up.. So now in my moment of emotional need, I crave a connection with him and to the life we once shared.. To my home and my family..
Anatoly may not answer my calls, but I am sure he listens to the messages I have been leaving.. For me, that is enough..
I hit dial and lift the cell to my ear.. It rings once.. Twice.. Three times.. Before my brother's deep baritone echoes down the line.. As expected, it is his answering service that picks up.. The familiar recording begins to play and I press the receiver to my ear and submerge myself in the comfort of the familiar..
"Iz Anatoly- Leave a message, I'll call you back.."
"Tolya, it's Mishka.. I'm sorry I haven't called in a few days, but I've been out of service.. Reception is spotty in Strysakstan and- well- I figured you're probably getting sick of all my messages.." I pause in awe as a bolt of blue and silver lightning rips across the sky, tearing a trail though the velveteen blackness overhead.. My breath falters at the blinding flash of another threatening strobe as the storm outside swells wildly.. "I guess- I guess I just wanted to say that I miss you.. So much.. And- I wish we could be together for Christmas, like it was when we were kids.. Do you remember that one year Papochka took us out to get a Christmas tree? After we got it home mom discovered that family of squirrels living in it.. You stayed up all night to catch them so we could set them free in the backyard and after that they never wanted to leave.." I am disrupted from my nostalgic musings when a deafening roar of thunder follows the lighting.. Its impact vibrates the entire mountain, sending shockwaves through the granite and I shiver in my seat as the brutal power buzzes deep in my bones..
The battery on my cell phone beeps its final warning, signalling its demise and I breathe a sigh of irritation at myself for having forgotten to charge it at the solar station before leaving camp yesterday.. "Anyway, I don't know if you will get this, or if you even care- but I wanted you to know that I love you, Big Brother.. I will always love you, no matter what and just like those pesky squirrels, I'll never leave you.. Merry Christmas, Anatoly.."
I finish leaving my message and make an attempt to dial my uncle's number next, but before I can make the call my phone dies.. "Damn it.." I mutter, almost too distracted to notice the ascending shake of the seat.. Suddenly a shrill scream punctures the eerie quiet and in a matter of seconds, full blown pandemonium erupts..
There is shrieking and shouting of all kinds ringing out around the bus.. Instinctively I turn to see what all the commotion is about and it is then I come face to face with fear.. A towering tsunami of snow, crashing and rolling like a wave, picking up speed and size, comes hurtling at a rip-roaring pace towards us..
Ducking forward on instinct, I grab hold of the seat back in front of me, but I have barely enough time to brace myself before the full force of a moving mountain hurtles into the tiny tin can that contains us..
Tumbling, crashing and rolling, my world is sent spinning upon a powerful explosion of white noise, powdered ivory and landscape debris.. The wall of ice slams into the side of the bus at full force, plunging the cabin into total blackness as I am thrown so violently sideways that my body ragdolls.. My head collides with something glass and sharp before a veil of liquid red trickles into my vision.. After that, I feel the restrictive weight of compression, a burden crushing down on me until my breath cuts out and everything is quiet.
❄️❄️❄️SOME TIME LATER❄️❄️❄️
The thick, furry fabric of my winter coat is saturated through to my underwear, chilling me to the marrow where I lay, half buried, beneath the slushy ice.. I blink my bleary eyes several times over in rapid succession, trying to clear them of the scarlet stain before I realise it is not my vision that is painted a sanguine hue, rather the surrounding pile of snow.. A strawberry pool of blood encompasses me, colouring the sleet a sickly red..
"Ngghh- shit!" I cuss aloud with groan of agony as I roll onto my side, exhausting myself in the act.. Forcing movement through stabbing pains to sit up, I emit an involuntary animalistic howl of anguish.. I glance down to find my dislodged arm hanging limply at my side, paralysed and protruding at an odd angle from the joint.. "Owwwwwh!"
Gasping for breath, I scan my surroundings for any sign of my fellow travelling companions or the bus.. But there is nothing except vacant white as far as the eye can see one way and the steep face of a glacial wall behind me..
Jesus Christ, did I fall all the way down into this ravine?
How am I still alive?
"H-Hello? Help!" I rasp weakly, the sound of my voice swept away by the wind as the throbbing in my head increases and I feel the oozing warmth of my fluid vitals as they seep from the tender cut atop my head..
Oh god.. The air is so deathly frigid, it penetrates and permeates throughout my every frightened fibre.. What is worse, night will fall soon, bringing with it subzero temperatures and an impenetrable darkness..
I am lost, and I am all alone.. And I am probably going to die out here..
''Gotta get up, Mishka.. You gotta move.." I mumble to myself, hyper aware that I will freeze in a mere matter of minutes if I don't do something.. Witless and dizzy, I make a feeble plan to move.. Without direction or a clue where I am going, I push up to fumbling feet before I take a few staggered steps, collapsing back to the ground moments later.. My legs are too weak.. Each step is like wading through the thickest of sticky tars.. Still, I try again and again, making it just a little farther each time until my body fails me and I am forced by unconsciousness to a stop..