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Dusk in Kalevia: Chapter 10

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #017 back issue.

“Where am I taking you, anyway?” asked Demyan.

Toivo turned his head from the window. He hadn’t really thought about it.

“I don’t know,” he finally admitted, and went back to staring at the blankness outside the car.

They had been driving for over two hours, crawling along the icy roads at an infuriatingly slow pace. Even for Kalevia in February, this storm was a heavy one; furious winds buffeted the car and whipped the snow up into a swirling tide that fought them every minute of the trip back to Vainola. Inside the car, another storm raged–the silent anguish of the boy in the backseat battered Toivo to the point where, given the choice, he would have preferred the tempest outside.

At first Toivo had tried to soothe Vesa, plying him with past memories and future dreams, but the strongest memories were all of the girl, and only served to drive the boy deeper into despair. Leading Vesa on–convincing him there was a chance she was still alive somewhere out in the middle of the blizzard–seemed too cruel an option to pursue, for reality would eventually make its grisly return. Toivo’s heart just wasn’t in it, anyway; he was having a hard enough time wrestling with his own regrets to comfort a grieving teenager.

“You can’t go back to the International,” Demyan continued.

“No.”

“My flat?”

Toivo shook his head. He was tired of dealing with Demyan and Vesa–tired of the effort they both took. The car had finally crossed the bridge over the river; he could walk now. “Just drop me off here.”

“In this snow?”

“I’ll figure something out.”

Demyan shrugged and pulled over to the curb.

“Hey.” Demyan reached out for Toivo as he opened the door, tugging on the sleeve of his borrowed State Security uniform. “Hey, you.”

“What?”

“We’re both still alive. That has to mean something, right?”

Toivo looked hard at the man in the driver’s seat, once more trying and failing to understand the motivations of his peculiar adversary.

“Who knows?”

Toivo watched the taillights of Demyan’s car vanish beyond the curtain of snow, and realized he was now truly homeless, a naked agent stranded in hostile territory. His cover blown and his mission botched, he had nothing left to do but find some obscure corner of the city where he could shelter and recoup the tattered shreds of the heart of Toivo Valonen.

He leaned into the wind and fought the storm, clawing at it and butting it with his head. This was fine. He needed a fight to draw the venom from him, and the indifferent violence of the blizzard provided the perfect target at which to vent his unappeasable anger. For a moment, the sting of the flakes on his face slackened just long enough for him to open his eyes and catch a glimpse of the red neon letters that blinked on the marquee above the sidewalk. Perhaps the cinema, emptied of patrons by the foul weather, would serve as a refuge where he could sit silently and warm himself to the nonsensical patter of Soviet cartoons.

The theater had the same stolid grimness typical of Kalevian interiors, the art deco motifs on the walls failing to disguise bare pipes and chipped gilt. There was no one manning the ticket window, nor behind the refreshments counter dispensing packs of salted licorice and lemon soda.

An old man leaned against the wall outside the door to the projectionist’s booth, smoking a cigarette. When he saw Toivo’s uniform, he suddenly grew animated, and waved him into the theater with profuse apologies and the odor of stale sweat and spilled beer. As Toivo seated himself in a stained chair in the back row, he heard the chattering whirr of the projector spinning up. The curtains drew back, and a private screening of the film began.

First, the newsreel–mostly concerned with current events in Russia–was a brassy, annoying celebration of fabricated good news. Grain production was up, polio was down. There were new pictures from the lunar orbiter; hooray for the five-year plan. Toivo wasn’t surprised that in the entire fifteen minutes of footage, not once was there a mention of a rebellion in the state of Kalevia.

By the time the feature presentation began, Toivo’s jaw was beginning to ache from his clenched teeth. The film industry in Kalevia was laughable; most of the films shown in the cinemas were of Soviet make. As he wondered what glorious tales of revolutionary sacrifice he would be forced to sit through, he noticed that the title that flashed on the screen in Cyrillic was not a Russian word, but a name: Sampo.

It had a familiar ring to it–something that resonated pleasingly in the linguistic centers of Toivo’s mind, but he couldn’t pinpoint its origin. He decided not to worry about it; he just sat back and let it all wash over him.

The film told a long, meandering story about the quest for a magical artifact, a mill called the Sampo that could give without limit, erasing the want of humankind. In the course of their adventures, the noble heroes were frustrated every step of the way by the machinations of a greedy witch who wanted the Sampo for herself. Toivo couldn’t concentrate, and he found himself growing more and more restless as the movie continued–the sun was hidden away, the mill was lost at sea, and the hero lay dead on the ground by the water with his mother weeping over him.

At the death scene, he was struck by another pang of odd déja vu. He tried to think who that woman reminded him of, and then realized he was remembering Äiti, the station agent. The resemblance was uncanny–it had little to do with the way her face looked, but rather an obscure feeling inspired by the sight of the grieving, nurturing figure.

He’d almost forgotten about Äiti. She’d told him to return if there was trouble; she knew the territory. He was not looking forward to giving her his mission report, but she was his best option by far. His seat folded up with an audible clang as he got up and made for the exit without even bothering to watch the hero return to life.

On his way out, Toivo watched the projector beam, an invention that had fascinated him since his return to earth. He observed it for a few seconds, the dark steaks dancing through it like fingers playing in a stream of water, and then left it to entertain an audience of empty chairs.

**

Even without the dove to guide him, locating the station again was surprisingly easy. Toivo felt his way to the riverbank through the whiteout, the door she had left open broadcasting on an arcane frequency that resonated with a homing mechanism of his own.

In relatively short order, Toivo stood at the top of the slippery steps down to the water. His descent was terrifyingly slow, the wind tossing him to and fro like a plaything, and he tore his fingernails searching for handholds on the rough stone of the wall. In the interest of safety, he sunk to all fours and crawled backward, pride abandoned as he imagined falling through the ice and struggling, undying, in the freezing river water.

As he finally found the handle of the hatch, however, a gust of wind threw him off center, and for a nauseating instant he found himself hanging on the door, feet scrabbling uselessly in the air above the river. It was only by the power of his desperation that he managed to wrench himself back to the edge and stumble through the door, slamming it noisily behind him.

Äiti was sitting by the fire as before. When she looked up at him, standing in her threshold in his gray wool and knee-high boots, she rose, her mouth forming a wrinkled little O.

“It’s just a disguise,” he said, and she sank back into her rocking chair with a hand pressed to her heart.

“So you did find him in State Security.”

“How…?” Toivo began to ask, and then he heard the cooing in the rafters where the messengers waited out the storm

“News travels fast.”

“Well, I found him, all right. Or rather, he found me. How much have you heard?”

“That you had been arrested. Not much more”

Toivo picked some packed snow out of his collar and shifted restlessly in place. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her that he had spent the past few days in the company of an Angel of Shadow. His truce with Solas was too complicated to explain, and so he merely looked around the cabin, searching for something to say, building a wall to block her out of his thoughts. Snow fell outside the frost-laced window, but without fury–powder drifted lightly down through boughs of pine, a backdrop to the scents of smoke and baking bread mingling in the air.

He settled for changing the subject. “I was watching a film before I came here.”

“Oh?”

“It was a legend about this magic mill that was never empty, and this witch, and… I don’t know, it was weird. Forget it.”

Äiti laughed. “The Sampo? You’re supposed to be Finnish in this incarnation–I’d have thought you would know that one.”

“You reminded me of the mother of that hero. The one who died.”

“Something’s happened to you, Agent Valonen. Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?”

Toivo’s eyes returned to the window, unable to meet her gaze. “I saw a man get shot in the head today.”

“We’ve all seen such things,” sighed Äiti.

“His last words were things I said.”

She looked at him with pity and shook her head. “You can’t blame yourself. You served your purpose, nothing more.”

“They thought they could win because I convinced them they could. I’m a liar.”

“So is Courage.”

Toivo’s broken nails dug into his fists. “Why?” he rasped. “Why do they do this? Why do we do this? What’s the point?”

“The point?” Äiti’s voice began to take on a scolding tone. “The point is you have a job to do. The point is to finish what you’ve started.”

“But they’re dead!

“You’re still here–that means the spirit of the rebellion hasn’t been completely broken.” Äiti smoothed the front of her apron. “You were just talking about Lemminkäinen’s mother.  She never gives up, even when her son lies slain by the riverside. After trying and failing many times, she brings him back to life”

Toivo could see it was hopeless to argue with her; her mind was made up. He could sense the forces that had shaped her image over the years into this little old grandmother living in the woods, the fruitless cliché at the heart of Kalevian nostalgia.

Suddenly, he was aware of his own future should he emerge as the victor–he would remain on Earth, doomed to live with blood on his hands. Even if he killed Demyan, a new challenger would undoubtedly appear to keep him trapped in the cycle of strife, one unlikely to be as prone to fraternizing with the enemy. Toivo could already feel himself drowning in the ocean of human fear, and he thought of the Sampo sinking beneath the waves.

Toivo made his decision.

“Thank you, Äiti,” he said as he briskly pulled his gloves back on. “I have to go.”

“Leaving already?” She didn’t sound surprised.

“Something I need to finish.” Toivo forced himself to smile a final goodbye as he threw open the door to the river and fled back into the whirling gale.

Proceed to Chapter 10, page 2–>