“Come one! Come all!” shouted the raggedy old man. He was standing atop an upturned tomato crate, propped beside a decrepit wooden wagon. “Bring me your sick, bring me your aged.”
Borris Casimir continued his overwrought soliloquy. “I bring you tinctures from the orient! Elixirs from the great Arabian deserts and voodoo potions so powerful.” He paused. ‘They could bring back the dead!”
By this time, the commotion had attracted a small crowd which gathered around the charismatic apothecary and his cart. The group was mostly comprised of women and the elderly. The country’s war machine had press-ganged all men of capable age into service and off to the front lines. This was Borris’s time, his golden window of opportunity.
Now more than ever, people needed a miracle cure, and belief in magic was at it’s peak.
“You madam!” He gestured into the crowd, throwing out a long bony finger. “You look like you need a miracle!” The crowd began to stir with affirmation.
“Take this.” He hoisted a string of fox’s teeth from an old wooden cabinet drawer. “This will bring you fortune and good health.” He said. “All you need to do is hang it from your gable. Only 5 Kopek!”
“Mother!” He shouted into the crowd, using the old country greeting for an elderly woman “‘For you I have a crow’s foot. Place it under your pillow and it will keep your sons safe in battle. And for your husband, here is a potion that will bestow upon him such virility that he will make you lose yourself in heavenly pleasure!” The crowd laughed in unison. “Only 15 Kopek for both!”
Borris gulped from a bottle of cheap whiskey as his donkey slowly hauled the small wagon slowly out of town. He guffawed as he toasted his brilliance and the utter stupidity of the town’s locals. He had made 215 Kopek, a poor man’s fortune in these times. He had sold the wings of a Gamayun for a handsome price to some ailing man which were said to bring those on death’s door back to rosy-cheeked health. Only, Borris knew that the wings he sold weren’t the real deal. They were in actual fact the wings of the kestrel he had eaten for dinner a few nights before. His potions too were nothing more than cheap vodka mixed with the forest herbs and tree bark he would collect on occasion. With enough of a spin he thought, any piece of crap or groggy mixture could be worth it’s weight in gold. He cackled again, revelling in narcissistic pleasure as spittle and booze ran down his bristled grey chin. As his sullen beast of burden meandered through the rocky forest path, Borris faded into booze ushered sleep. He dreamed of fortune and nubile young women.
There was a loud wrenching groan as the wagon came to a halt. Borris was torn from his slumber by his donkey’s loud agitated braying. He jerked his head and swung it from side to side to side, frantic and confused. When his eyes regained their focus and his mind it’s clarity, he discovered the reason for his sombre journey’s end. Blocking his path were three children, two boys and a girl, Kalashnikovs tucked under their armpits, aimed directly at him. A young girl held the reigns of his donkey while a boy looked at him through squinted, accusatory eyes.
“Spy!” shouted the boy, lowering his head in order to line up the heavy weapons sights with Borris’s face. “We have you now Spy!”
Borris rubbed his eyes in disbelief.
“Who…who are you? Where are your parents?” asked Borris, contorting his face and exposing a hideous gold incisor. He squinted his eyes and tried to block the sun with his hand as it broke through the trees.
“Shaddup!” shouted the middle boy. “You are coming with us, we are taking you as our prisoner.”
Borris could tell that this one was the leader, not only was he taller than the other kids but he wore a dusty old officer’s cap on his head, probably a relic handed down from a past war.
Time moved as lazily as the cart that carried them, slowly and painfully, through the bumps and uprooted trees of the forest. After what seemed to Borris like hours, they finally arrived at their destination. The forest began to clear into an opening and Borris was able to decipher the mottled concrete outline of an old army outpost. As they drew closer, more children started running their way, armed to the teeth and apparently excited to see them.
“Captain Ludo!” shouted the one in the officer’s hat to a more sparsely decorated lad, “Take the prisoner to his cell.”
“Okay… I mean… Yes! Sir!” Ludo replied while jumping to attention.
Ludo gestured to the other kids that had now gathered around the wagon. Some carried pistols and some rifles, but they all had their weapons pointed at Borris. They ordered him off the wagon. Faced with a situation so incomprehensible and so utterly terrifying, Borris could do nothing but comply.
Borris sat and stared at the concrete walls of his cell, his head groggy from the after effects of his whiskey binge earlier that day. He was in a small cubicle adjoining the only other room in the outpost. It was damp and dirty, possibly used as a storage area during a past conflict. Wild plants intruded through the windows, wrapping their tendrils around the rusty metal frames where panes of glass once stood. Borris could hear dulled voices behind the dented metal door. There was a loud clinking of the doors large steel bolts as it swung open.
The boy in charge, whom the other children called Bruno, was escorted into the room by two others, Captain Ludo, and the girl from earlier; guns pointed once again at Borris. He jumped to his feet at the sight of them.
“What is the meaning of this!” Borris yelled, desperately feigning authority as the only adult in the room. “Do your parents know what you are doing here?” The two escorts raised their rifles up in response to the outburst. Bruno gestured to them and they lowered their weapons once again.
“Sit down sir.” Bruno said. He walked slowly toward Borris, hands tucked behind his back. “Do you know why you are here?”
“Of course I don’t fuckin…” Borris restrained himself and sat back down, steadying his ageing back with one hand as he did so. “No, I have no God damn idea why you have brought me here.” he said.
“You, sir, are a spy for the enemy.” stated Bruno abruptly. ‘You are a spy and we have captured you.’
“What the hell are you talking about!” Borris felt his blood boiling once more.
“You, my friend, are working for our enemy.” Said Bruno, in an eerily calm, authoritarian tone. “This is very brave of you, and I must say, if I were in your position, I would also do anything it took to defend my country…. Too bad you got caught.” Bruno smiled. Borris could see that Bruno took delight in his pre-pubescent overture.
“I respect you sir, and I respect your dedication to your task, but I have been handed my orders.” Bruno paused and turned to leave the room. “You have been sentenced to death by firing squad, orders to be carried out at sunset.”
“Just before sunset sir,” said Ludo.
“That’s right… just before,” said Bruno as the three exited the room to cries of protest from their prisoner.
A few hours passed. Borris was sitting on an old metal chair in the corner of his cell. He stared sullenly at the floor and rubbed his bruised knuckles which throbbed from his near constant pounding on the bulky metal door. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his tangled grey hair, matte and greasy from weeks without bathing. He wanted to escape but the door was thick and rigid and his body old and weak.
The small viewing window on the door slid open. This time it was the girl who stared in at him, her eyes barely level with the thin slot. Her name was Grazia, which meant gracious.
“Prisoner!” Said Grazia. “Tell me what you want for your last supper.” Borris said nothing.
“He wants roast beef and potatoes!” She shouted over her shoulder, slamming the metal hole shut.
A few moments later the huge bolts shifted and the door cracked open once again, this time leaving just enough of a gap for a plate to be pushed into the room. Borris lifted his head from his hands and stared at the food as if it was an intruder. He stood from his chair and walked to the door.
So much for roast beef, he thought as he kicked aside the plate of stale bread and goats cheese.
“Let me out of here!” He pounded the door, grimacing in pain from the still fresh wounds on his hands.
The shadows in Borris’s cell grew longer. He could see the sun disappearing behind a thicket of trees outside his window. There were muffled noises and voices coming from beyond the door. He put his ear to the steel frame but before he could discern what was being said, the door swung open, knocking him back.
This time three different children entered the room. They were quite a bit younger than the others he had seen. The child in the middle approached Borris as the other two covered him with their rifles. He bound Borris’s hands with an old muslin rag, tight enough that the old man’s wrists ached.
“Out!” shouted the smallest one while waving the rifle which was tucked under his arm, the child barely able to support it’s weight. Borris stumbled through the door as he received an hurrying shove in the small of his back from the gun barrel of one of his captors. As he walked through the small adjoining room, he noticed stacks of wooden crates marked ” AMMO -. There was an open crate beside the pile. It spilled sleek brass-backed munitions on the floor. The crate was marked .30 Cal.
Borris squinted his eyes as he emerged into the waning daylight, his worn out boots crunching the sand as he stepped. He noticed his wagon sitting calmly beside a tree, his donkey was being fed an apple by a small girl. A huddle of children gathered around it, rifles and pistols in hand, tugging on cocking mechanisms. The wall against which he was finally set to stand was riddled with tiny holes and caked with grime. Borris felt his heart pounding as if it might give in at any moment .
Another child appeared from his left and tied a blindfold over his eyes.
“Please…” hHe begged. “Please don’t do this, I am not a fucking spy!” He heard mumbling and sniggering from the group as he uttered his profanity.
“Prisoner!” It was Bruno’s voice. “Do you have any last words before we shoot you?”
“What? No! Wait, please…” Borris said, pushing out each word as if it pained him.
“Is that all?” Asked Bruno. “Oh well then, shooters at the ready!”
The line of children raised their weapons in unison.
“10!..9!..8!..” Bruno began the countdown. Borris felt his heart pounding, tearing away his breath and leaving him unable to utter a single word of objection.
“7!..6!..5!..4!..” Borris shivered and felt his legs going weak beneath him.
“3!..” Continued Bruno, his voice growing louder. ‘2!..’ Borris felt his energy leave him and he collapsed to the floor with an audible thud.
“1!” Shouted Bruno, after which the line of children all tugged on their triggers, “Pow, pow-pow!, pow!” They shouted. The line broke apart and the children ran off, guns now pointed at each other, shouting “Pow, pow! You’re dead! Pow-pow.”
“He fell too soon! Aoaned Ludo, waving an open palm at Borris who was now lying on the ground, out cold. ‘Did you explain to him how the game works?’
“No.” replied Bruno. “I thought you did?.. Anyway, it’s getting late. Gotta be home before sunset.”
“Yeah, me too.” said Ludo, scratching his head and staring at Borris who was now beginning to stir. “I hate being late for supper, always end up getting the burnt bits.”
As the boys ran their separate ways up the path, leaving their guns behind them, Bruno cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Ludo! Tomorrow you can be the officer and I will be the prisoner!”
They disappeared into the forest leaving Borris behind, still on the floor, semi-conscious and whimpering like a small dog having a nightmare, the front of his pants wet with urine.