From Darkness to Breaking Dawn

Lavanya P Kesan posted under Melange Short Stories on 2023-06-01

LATE SEPTEMBER, 1945 MOSCOW, USSR - The Soviet Security Office Headquarters “Holy shit!” boomed a high-pitched voice. “Far-fetched. I doubt this would work,” wondered another. “It’s the 20th century, Commissar. Nobody believes in this,” declared the Marshal of the Soviet Union at the other end of the table. His voice oozed authority enough to cast a thick blanket of silence among the four others in the room. The only source of light in that small space at that dilapidated building was from the setting sun on the horizon. It had been a long day for the men, but, that did not deter their spirits. Such had been the Red Army training under the dictatorship of Stalin. “The war’s far from over, Marshal. We’d have to equip ourselves better and prove that our nation is the emerging super-power in every field,” Commissar Malokov paused and looked distant into the twilight sky. “To the damn West,” he spat. “The tension and the race is real.”  A collective sigh was heard throughout the room. “Narrow-mindedness inhibits growth, Marshal. The other world opens up extraordinary possibilities to explore,” added Commissar Valytev. “And, there’s enough proof that the Nazi rule had a complete setup established to delve into it,” Malokov asserted. “We, the Soviets, are also not new to paranormal sciences. We just need to dive deeper into it so that it aids us in our psychic research and… helps expand our arms into the other realm…” Valytev paused for effect and observed the Marshal’s expression. “To top it all, there are people who do it for a bunch of rubles.” His lop-sided grin meant nothing well.  “If we gather information, we win. If not, we kill and make it look like an accident,” sneered Malokov. “We’ve done the groundwork.” “You two bowl me over, Commissars. Let’s bring in those wretched investigators and dig the German graves.” The Marshal’s eyes shone with malice as he thumped his fist on the rickety table. *** “Aleksei, man, are you dead?” A guttural voice echoed across the narrow lane punctuated by heavy banging on the door. Heads turned in curiosity at the commotion and irritated murmurs were heard from the windows above. “A-L-E-K-K…” As a scream left his mouth twisting the name he was chanting for the past fifteen minutes, the door flew open. A lanky young man stood at the entrance squinting to have a better look at the visitor. His shoulder-length dirty blond hair appeared a mess and the chilly September breeze that drifted in made it more tangled. “Vilen! Wassamatter? Why d’you create such a ruckus?” Aleksei managed to ask, all the while rubbing his eyes. He turned around, threw the rug that covered the couch onto the floor and gestured for his friend to sit. Vilen scanned the tiny izba in all its untidy glory and tried to peep into the only other room branching off the living room. While a lot of papers and books were strewn on the living room floor, the other room seemed neater with strange equipment arranged in a rack and compact wooden boxes stacked up in orderly piles on the floor. The windows were all boarded tight shutting off the watery afternoon sun from warming up the little place, but, the izba was very much lit with the yellow light emanating from the many incandescent lamps hanging from the ceiling. “Only a madman like you spends a fortune on so many lamps for a worn-out old cottage,” guffawed Vilen. “And, the lamps seem to be more in number since my last visit.” He clutched his stomach as he fell on the couch laughing his head off. “You know why, my friend. I think I’d never get over my fear of…” Aleksei’s voice trailed away as he observed the shining lamps grimly.  “Darkness…oooooh!! That’s why this man who claims to hunt ghosts and track down supernatural beings stays awake all night mortally afraid of darkness and sleeps for most of the day with the lights switched absurd!” Vilen tried to punch his friend in his stomach, but, Aleksei caught his hand and held it against his back. “Owww!! That hurts, Alek…” “Serves you right, you bastard!” muttered Aleksei. “Now, talk business. I’m sure you’re not here to mock my weakness.” He closed with finality and pushed Vilen away.  “Of course, not, my man,” winked Vilen. “Business, it is. Abroad. Highly classified. My hunch is that it runs up to the Politburo. You know, the aftermath of a big war, the alliances, the tension and all that… Avangard met me this morning and promised to provide more information if I can convince you too to join the mission. He wants us to meet him tonight.” “Abroad? Any idea where? All expenses covered, I suppose?” Aleksei’s brilliant blue eyes brightened at the prospect.  “Covered, yes. Avangard reveals nothing and you know that. But, I’m dead sure I heard him mumble something about Hitler as he left.” Vilen’s face turned pale and his broad forehead crinkled as if in discomfort. Aleksei downed a bottle of beer and ran his fingers into his unkempt hair. He stood up and walked into the other room wiping his thin lips with the back of his hand. He picked up a small device that looked like a sensor and tossed it in his hands. “Making up your mind?” Vilen intruded into his friend’s thoughts. Aleksei turned scratching his stubble and flat cheeks. “Let’s fly to meet the German ghosts, man,” He grunted and placed the device back on the rack. “Looks like big money. Worth taking a chance.” *** “Two of them are into this operation, Marshal,” informed Valytev from across the table.  “Isn’t one enough?” “Yes, indeed. We let one in on the game and mark the other as the bait. The folks are from the public. No scientists or researchers. Easy to wipe them off records if…we fail,” explained Malokov. “Hmmm…I would not want this to fail. Hope we achieve what we intend to.” The Marshal announced and rose from his chair.  “Fail, it won’t. I’m sure,” replied Malokov and stood up. “The team flies this Friday and ensures to keep us posted,” added Valytev. The Marshal nodded and left. “How long do you think we’d have to tolerate this idiot of a Marshal?” hissed Malokov to his trustworthy companion, Valytev. “The walls have ears, Commissar. We may be crushed under red shoes for nothing more than a trace of suspicion,” warned Valytev with gritted teeth. “It’s a show of dictatorship here and not democracy, Malokov. We may have won against another nation, but, we aren’t free within our own borders…yet.” *** Vnukovo International Airport Tontonov TT2 aircraft sparkled in the autumn sunlight of a Moscow morning as it got ready to make its debut into the skies. Being the first among those manufactured for general utility purposes after the war, it would soon turn into a symbol of pride for the Soviets to flaunt their developments to the Westerners.  But, that particular day was all about secrecy. The aircraft had no tag or mark of its nationality and was deemed to be under wraps until the operation was over. Its cockpit, the eight-member cabin, and all of its interior were stark white betraying no sign of the aircraft ownership. Among the six who were ready to board the aircraft, it was only too easy to identify Aleksei and Vilen, for only their faces gleamed with the joy of a high-end flight journey and their gleeful smiles were not too difficult to classify them as the oddest participants of the operation. The aircrew settled down and signalled the others to join in. The two handpicked paranormal investigators among the passengers were made to board first. They were closely followed and monitored by the remaining four who were dressed as commoners so as not to expose their association with the NKVD, the Committee of Soviet State Security. Not even to Vilen and Aleksei. *** BERLIN, GERMANY The five-hour flight to Germany, the country known for its ruthless Nazi principles and mass violence against the Jews, was absolutely uneventful. The NKVD members had maintained a stoic silence. Had there been any plans unknown to Vilen and Aleksei, they seemed to act too well to not raise any doubts at all.  Vilen, in all his boyish charm, boisterously enjoyed the flight travel, only to attract disgusting looks from his co-passengers. Aleksei, on the contrary, appeared too unperturbed, or rather, chose to conceal what was going on in his mind.  As it landed in the south-western part of Berlin at a seemingly demolished tarmac of an airport that had once flourished well during the Nazi reign, the aircrew alerted the members to disembark the flight soon as it stopped. “Let’s get hunting,” whispered Vilen to his partner grinning wide as they dragged their luggage to the taxi waiting to pick them up. As soon as they took their seats, they were blindfolded without any explanation. No resistance from them also proved it an easy job. *** The fellow investigators dropped their luggage with a clink at one of the corners of an old house assigned to them for their brief stay in the country. As they looked around the place, they couldn’t help but appreciate the intricate architecture of the walls and the dome-shaped ceiling. Although significantly destroyed during the war, whatever remained boasted of the royal and affluent lifestyle of that part of Berlin. They stared at the street outside standing near the tall and artistic windows. It was lined with villas and palatial buildings gravely destructed beyond any possible repair, but, those that would have once been epitomes of exquisite architecture and magnificence.  “They look like palaces to me even now. Can you imagine what a beauty they would’ve been before the war?” Vilen voiced out in awe. “Yes, they were. This part of Berlin was supposed to be the wealthiest,” came a curt voice from behind them. “And, in fact, one of those villas is the subject of our investigation.” They turned to look at one of their co-passengers from the TT2 aircraft standing tall at the large ornate doors of the entrance. He introduced himself as Agent-X.  “Don’t you have a name?” gushed in Vilen to which the man simply shook his head with pursed lips. Agent-X didn’t even look remotely tired from the journey and was already ready for the task at hand. Must be the Red Army training, thought Aleksei ruefully confirming their notion that their mission operated right into the stately hands of the Politburo. “Are we doing it tomorrow morning?” asked Vilen throwing concerned looks at his friend. Agent-X let out a loud mocking laugh. “Oh yeah! The ghosts would be ready to welcome you pompously in broad daylight.” His voice resounded off the high walls. “You fools! It needs to be done in the next few hours. Tonight. Whatever it takes. No luxury of time within the walls of an enemy nation,” he responded sternly with a sudden change of expression. Aleksei turned a little pale as he dabbed at his forehead anxiously. Agent-X’s eyes fell on him and his brows furrowed in question. “Is there a problem?”  “None at all.” Aleksei hurriedly ended the conversation before his friend blurted out something that he should not. “Right. Refreshments would arrive soon. Feed yourself well and be prepared by 8 at night,” he announced and left. *** At sharp 8, Agent-X and his team presented themselves at the house occupied by the investigators. They looked too formally dressed up while Vilen and Aleksei were still in their travel clothes. “Ready?” enquired Agent-X. Vilen nodded nervously and glanced at his friend. Aleksei avoided eye contact with anybody in the room and busied himself arranging his camera and other apparatus on a table. A bitingly cold breeze, so unlikely of the warm weather outside, blew in through the open window. He shuddered for a moment looking at the gloomy darkness outside. The house in itself was a little dark except for a couple of bulbs fixed on its walls and one on the table. Agent-X, on the other hand, stood quietly observing Aleksei’s expressions and the arrangement on the table. He ambled towards the large window breathing in the scents of the night. “Not a pleasant night, is it, Aleksei?” he said, tilting his head in his direction. Aleksei braced himself up and gave him a tight-lipped smile. “Need details of the location. The map of the villa: its rooms, balconies, cellars maybe…” “We have nothing at all. You do it on your own. We only pay for your work. We don’t mentor or guide.” He smiled smugly. A flicker of fear crossed his face but he shook his head to clear it up. “Well, we are off then,” he said and zipped his backpack containing his equipment from the table. “Only you, man. Not your friend. He stays and entertains us,” he announced to the shock of the two friends. “But…aren’t you paying for two?” queried Vilen, still reeling under the sudden news.  “Yes, of course. But, we decided later that the work needs only one,” he informed and folded his hands across his chest. The condescending authority and jeering satisfaction that danced on his face only riled Aleksei up. He chose not to react and silenced Vilen with a grim nod. “I need someone to show which villa it is,” he uttered, almost incomprehensibly. “Two of my team members would accompany you until its gates. All yours after that.” Agent-X walked up to his team and gave his orders. A couple of them saluted him and asked Aleksei to follow. With just one look at Vilen whose face was writ large with terror, he turned and marched into the eerie night. *** The two men led the way into the street and started walking to a villa at its farthest end. Aleksei followed without a word.  As the large gates creaked open letting them in, one of them signalled to stop. “We leave you here, Aleksei. We shall be back tomorrow morning and wait at the same spot,” said one as they were about to leave. “I may take more time or come back early. I may also need a day more to explore. Inform your man,” he said curtly and turned around. Tall and untended grass met his sight as he made his way to the vast doors of the villa.  As the men’s footsteps died away at a distance and as he reached the smooth landing near the door, his six-and-half-foot figure came crumbling to the floor breaking his strong façade. He was drenched with sweat as his anxiety reached a peak. He gazed unblinkingly at the unnatural darkness of the place. It appeared like a monstrous maw about to gobble him up. Tears streamed down his cheeks unabashedly and screeching shrieks from his past began to haunt him all the more. Sounds of bombs and guns wreaking havoc, the piercing cry of his mother finding the mangled body of his father, and his own terrified screams at his endless nightmares descended on him like an overcast wanting to engulf him. And, that’s when he realised why he was afraid of the darkness. The aftermath of his losses from the war were still fresh wounds refusing to heal. Or rather, he chose to dwell in them unwilling to fight. He stood up suddenly arriving at a decision and closed his eyes in prayer. The next thing he heard was one of the doors sliding open as if to invite him in. He opened his eyes and wiped his tears away. “Tonight is mine. Gonna allow nothing to break my will,” he reassured himself and made his way into the wooden doors as a cold breeze welcomed him in. *** Although the huge front garden with masses of shrubs and overgrown trees and the entrance with its spectacular antique doors seemed untouched by the devastating war, the interiors of the villa were a wreckage. The villa in particular, in comparison to its counterparts, appeared to have been bombed multiple times. Aleksei’s suspicions of the government’s involvement in the operation were further confirmed. He shook his head to come back to the present and decided to tour the place first. Switching on his powerful headlamp and balancing his camera in his hands, he ventured into the mansion admiring its architecture. As he trudged into the adjacent chamber from the hallway, a life-size portrait of a bespectacled middle-aged man met his eyes. Beside that lay a picture of Hitler in smithereens. The chamber looked like a study with most of its books burnt and the others scattered haphazardly. He inched closer to the frame to check his name. Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of SS, der Chef of Ahnenerbe Since Aleksei had gathered enough knowledge on Germany’s battle during World War II and its Nazi reign, he was able to connect the dots and understand the significance of the portrait of a military leader like Himmler. Ahnenerbe had been a science organisation surreptitiously operating to aid the nation’s advancement through Occult Sciences. He heaved a sigh and surveyed the place for some occult signs and symbols. He sifted through the remains of the bookshelves for any cues when he heard the noise of something heavy being pushed and breaking on contact with another object.  His heartbeat raced at the sudden disturbance, but, he swiftly gained composure. “Anyone there? Show up. I mean no harm,” he whispered as he exited the chamber through another passageway from where he heard the crashing sound. It led to a different room. He examined it to identify the sound’s source and found that the noise was from a massive wooden mantelpiece, surprisingly intact amidst such rubbles, shattering against the floor. He rummaged through his bag immediately and pulled out palm-sized devices.  “Well…just a thermal imaging device and a magnetic radiation detector. I promise not to disorganise your territory. Who’re you?” He urged nobody in particular and looked around for some signal or a reply. He placed his camera near a closed window for a better view of the room and let it record. “My baby. Please help her. She needs to cross over…cross over…cross over…” A wary female voice squeaked out of nowhere as a bout of cold air blew his way. Strands of hair from his top bun loosened up and fell on his face. He tried to make sense of the electromagnetic radiations using the detector and note the temperature changes in the air using his imaging device. Unmistakably, a bizarre image showed up in shades of yellow and red, and the detector was going berserk implying extraordinary changes in the atmosphere. “Help my baby.” The voice spoke again and threw a doorknob on the floor. A clamour of metal on metal bounced off the walls. As he bent down on all fours to inspect the cause, he found a rectangular metal door with a bronze handle. Summoning all his might, he slid the door open. His headlamp pointed at a flight of steps leading into what he guessed to be the villa’s cellar. Collecting his camera and his backpack, he mumbled a prayer upwards and descended downstairs. It seemed like an entirely different world inside the cellar with myriad equipment and devices, sheaves of documents stacked to the ceiling, and books of all sizes amassed in a heap.  “Her skull and bones…help her cross over,” came the female voice again. That’s when he noticed an enormous pit of ashes in a corner, beside what seemed like remnants of some rites performed within it. He almost puked finding a baby skull and its puny bones arranged in strange symbols around the pit. Realisation struck him hard that Germans had indeed been staunch believers of occult rituals. “Burn or bury. Help her.” The female voice was no more a squeak but sounded so joyful that a wave of warmth flooded through him.  He did as he was told. As he sat there watching the tiny mound of bones slowly feeding the flames, an unexplained peace washed over him as he surreally experienced the union of a mother and her child in a different realm. “Thank you, lady, for the direction,” he said in broken German. With the newly acquired energy, he covered the cellar in his camera and even ran his dowsing rods all over the place to sense underground objects. He made cross-marks as indicated by the rods and gauged the area for one last time. He clambered out of the cellar and ambled out of the mansion with an unusual smile on his face. He had never felt as satisfied and calm as in this mission ever before. *** It was almost dawn when he reached his place of stay. Vilen was delighted to find his friend back in one piece. Apparently, every team member was astonished to see Aleksei back uninjured. After giving him time for cleaning up, Agent-X shot his barrage of questions to which he deposited his camera footage as his response. The rest of the day was spent thoroughly scrutinising the videos, making important voice-radio calls, and taking decisions on how to dig up their discoveries. Finally, the next day dawned early for Agent-X, his team, and Aleksei as they left for the mansion with five other men who arrived that morning. The team left the country loaded with tons of blueprints and information on paranormal techniques. Also, after strictly warning the two investigators with life threats had they slipped out details of their findings. *** MOSCOW, USSR One month later  A crisp knock at the door was all it required for Aleksei to open it. His biological clock had been reset to normal after his return from Germany.  It was not Vilen who had started visiting him often after their return trying to find out more about the German villa investigation and how he had overcome his fears. But, had only been unsuccessful so far. The guest was Agent-X with his trademark smirk playing on his lips. “You? My lips are sealed. I always keep my word,” Aleksei roared in irritation and sauntered into his izba. He lit a cigar, crossed his long legs, and perched himself on the shabby couch. It was his turn to ridicule the man who had commanded over his life for a few days abroad. "Not here on business, but, with an offer from the NKVD," he stated. Aleksei’s jaw dropped. "What? Can you stop that shit?” he snapped. Agent-X raised his brows in indignation. "You have an appointment with the Marshal at 5 tomorrow evening. Just a tip to impress: dress well. These men judge by appearances. Your taxi will be here by 4.” He briefed him and left. Aleksei, still recovering from the shock of his life, ran to the door, only to see the man’s retreating back. *** As much as he loved to live his life carefree, the offer seemed too attractive to neglect. The next day found Aleksei seated opposite an old man who he assumed to be the Marshal and two others in a dingy room. “I’m striking off the pleasantries to come straight to the point. We’ve begun research with the evidence and documents that you’ve helped gather abroad. And, we'd like you to be part of the team. You’ll be paid...well..." said the Marshal. Aleksei simply nodded, totally unable to speak. *** Three years later Psychic research peaked in USSR with the nation developing its powers in every field at lightning speed. After sufficient research and study, Aleksei became an expert in precognition and other paranormal sciences. The inputs from his extraordinary abilities supplied information from the West on building satellites. The data he had helped unearth during his German investigation aided largely in developing indigenous intercontinental ballistic missiles. He realized that the night he had overcome his fears had become the dawn of his new life.  ~~~ Glossary:-
  • USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republic; Russia was called so during WW2
  • Politburo – The policy making authority: Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
  • NKVD – Interior Ministry of the Soviet Union: People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs
  • Commissar - an official of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union
  • Marshal – highest military rank of the Soviet Union
  • Izba  - A small Russian dwelling
  • Tontonov TT2 – fictional inspired by names of utility aircrafts built after the war.
  • Vnukovo airport – one of the first airports in Moscow post WW2.
  • Heinrich Himmler – A high-ranking military leader during Hitler reign in Germany
  • Reichsführer – military leader in German | Chef – Chief in German
  • SS – Political soldiers of the Nazi party: Schutzstaffel
  • Ahnenerbe – A science organisation existent during Hitler’s reign studying occult sciences
  • Thermal Imaging device, Electromagnetic radiation detector, Dowsing rods – ghost hunting devices
  • Precognition – A field of paranormal science: foreknowledge of an event, especially as a form of extrasensory perception.
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