Gareth Hewitt_Motherland_1

Motherland

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Spring had come to Derevnya.

The river had thawed, though the late snow remained. Settled on an open ridge, Anatolii Vasilev primed his musket and gazed across the frozen landscape. A dozen thin plumes of smoke pointed skyward, ephemeral banners marking the village’s location in the wilderness.

Anatolii had arrived first, driven eastwards by promises of a new beginning in unclaimed lands. The Urals, the crease of mountains dividing east and west, proved plentiful. He had settled, hunting elk and trapping sable. Others followed and Derevnya became their home. The village was growing, a smokehouse and workshop supplementing the prettily painted wooden houses. In the coming months, they would build a chapel and his first child would be born.

A lone deer roamed onto the grassy plateau and the contemplation dissipated. The wind shifted; the hind tensed. Anatolii squeezed the trigger and the gunpowder ignited, the bright flash accompanied by a deafening crack.

 

*          *          *

 

Oleg Vasilev lowered his rifle, the echo of the shot hanging in the autumnal air. He shouldered his weapon and gathered the felled rabbit, the simple task hampered by reluctant knees stiff with arthritis. The pervasive chill, a vanguard of the coming winter, exacerbated the ailment. The season was changing, making this the year’s last foray into the mountains. Guided by a centuries-old trail, he headed home.

Merged with the history of Derevnya, Oleg’s existence was imprinted on the landscape: the power station constructed by his grandfather, the disused ironworks in which Oleg had smelted ore – the industry’s collapse coinciding with his retirement. Near the village, he passed the rusted husk of a T-34 tank. Abandoned during the Great Patriotic War, the vehicle had been ransacked, the gun salvaged and cockpit stripped. Finding refuge from the German advance, its Ukrainian manufacturer had thrived in the shadow of the mountains, before returning to the city of Kharkiv. It was a tale that resonated through these lands.

Oleg entered the empty village, passing vacant houses and the crumbled walls of a chapel. He retrieved vegetables from the dry store, before skinning and paunching the rabbit. The pitiless cold left his fingers numb and he hurried home.

His dwelling, its painted walls faded and flaked, offered little respite. With warmth a priority, he kindled a fire in the belly of a blackened stove, then fetched his daughter’s discarded blow-dryer. The warm air provided instant relief. One hand, then the other. He removed his boots and socks, aiming the heat towards his frozen toes. He smiled. A memory of Zarya’s voice echoed through the room, chastising its misuse. There was a time he would have bemoaned the rebuke. She had begged him to join her in Yekaterinburg, but there was no honesty in that life. He missed her, but he belonged here. This was his motherland.

Oleg closed his eyes, embracing the recollection. Hours passed and the fire in the stove flickered and waned. Outside, it began to snow.

Winter had come to Derevnya.

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Consumed by wondrous tales of fantastical worlds since childhood, Gareth Hewitt writes fiction inspired by mythology and legend. On occasion, he enjoys an irreverent foray into the mundane. He lives on the cusp of Lancashire and Merseyside, where he works on his first novel between school runs. Happiness is an autumnal walk on the beach, a victory for Everton Football Club or writing in the local coffee shop. Follow Gareth on Twitter.

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