Dusk in Kalevia: Chapter 5
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #010 back issue.
Toivo made sure that none of the factory workers on the first shift bus to the outskirts of town noticed him, despite sitting alone in the back, a single, fashionable suit amidst rows of blue coveralls. The sky was pitch black, and would be for some hours yet. As his fellow passengers dozed and read, Toivo sat counting streetlights until the bus pulled up to a stop beside a group of warehouses.
“Agri-Distro Center,” intoned the driver, and a handful of men and women rose, Toivo along with them. This was his stop. He didn’t know what to expect from this first rendezvous, but he’d come prepared for the worst, the revolver holstered snugly in his waistband.
He kept to the shadows as he headed toward the loading docks, putting great effort into maintaining his inconspicuous aura. Yellow light spilled out into the night from the bay doors as laborers unloaded the wealth of the communes. He slipped between a row of trucks, wondering how he was possibly going to find his contact among the masses shuttling cargo. He had no idea what “Little Bear” looked like, nor how he could ask anyone without risking both their necks.
It was then that he noticed a youth in a bulky coat and ushanka standing at the corner of the building; the uneasy air about the boy marked him as someone trespassing in an unfamiliar place. Toivo stepped out from the shadow of the truck and took the risk of dropping his camouflage for a moment, as though he were asking a question.
Waiting for me?
The boy looked startled. He cocked his head to the side like a small child, as though considering the sudden materialization beside him.
“Looking for someone?” the youth asked, his manner guarded.
Toivo hazarded a guess. “Little Bear?”
“I got your message.”
“Have anything on you to prove you’re the one I’m waiting for?”
Toivo handed over his passport and waited as Little Bear’s large eyes scrutinized his face, comparing him to his photograph with distinct skepticism. Toivo sensed that this one had seen some rough times recently, judging by the feelings of doubt and anxiety wrapped around him like a cloak of chains. Seeing the opportunity, Toivo took a preliminary plunge into the boy’s mind…and immediately discovered an interesting detail.
Little Bear was a girl. He wondered briefly if she was deliberately masquerading as a boy, or if her androgynous appearance was just her default state. Either way, it didn’t seem the sort of thing that was polite to mention.
“Good enough,” Little Bear said finally. “Follow me.”
She led the way to where a small, covered truck sat idling; a hefty woman leaned against the cab. The driver jerked her head in the direction of Toivo.
“This is him, then?”
Little Bear nodded.
The woman glanced around their surroundings–as though checking to see if anyone was watching–then held up a corner of the tarp in back, motioning them to get inside.
Toivo groped about in the dark, scraping his shin on the edge of a crate as he searched for an empty corner among the sacks and boxes. As he settled himself on the truck bed, he felt Little Bear tumble down beside him.
“Crawl on in behind those empty pallets, there’s a good lad.” The woman said as she buttoned the flap behind them. Toivo heard the engine turn over, and soon he was being shaken vigorously down a country road where every winter pothole translated through the shoddy suspension directly into his bones.
“So, the Americans sent you?” whispered Little Bear, her teeth chattering with the vibrations of the truck.
“It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but yes, more or less.”
“Then they heard us… Someone finally heard us…”
The awe in her voice made Toivo cringe with guilt. He had done his research, of course. He knew that the CIA was well aware of the rebels in Kalevia, but deemed it too risky to get involved in a tiny backwater rebellion that had little chance of success. There had been talk of running arms over the Finnish border to weaken Russia’s influence in the region and give the communists a headache, but that had been abandoned in favor of more advantageous assignments elsewhere in the satellites.
Toivo wore the guise of a foreign agent, with no foreign power behind him. He had no money or weapons–the only thing he could give was motivation. What was he supposed to tell her? I’m a manifestation of your desire for the support that’s never going to come?
He changed the subject.
“What made you join the Forest Clan?”
Her face darkened. “The Communists took someone close to me.”
“It was a long time ago…”
Despite her words, he could tell that she wasn’t suffering the ache of old tragedies, dulled by the years. She was raw with some new hurt, the wound still fresh and bleeding.
If this had come sooner, she could have saved him.
There it was–the source of the guilt and sorrow that wreathed her mind. Although Toivo craved the whole story, he was more a catalyst than an active force, only able to gaze passively at the things people chose to show based on his prompting. As such, searching for specifics was always mildly frustrating.
Now, however, as he opened himself to the flow of her thoughts, the memories were still so rich and intense that he felt them as his own. In an instant, he was snatched away from the chilly truck, suddenly warm in bed with a head against his shoulder, soft breath in his ear. He saw the boy through her eyes–all teenage enthusiasm and naiveté–felt her longing seize his heart in a viselike grip, only to have it all suddenly wrenched away as she watched men snatch the boy from her. Toivo felt that last stab of regret hit hard before he drew back to reality, uncharacteristically embarrassed at having intruded into her life.
The girl sighed and bunched into a ball in the darkness, now facing visions Toivo had dragged to the front of her mind.
“He’s probably dead, anyway,” she murmured, her face buried in her coat sleeves.
Toivo decided to tread lightly. “You say ‘probably.’ There’s still a chance.”
“Stop it. It’s easier to assume the worst. Hoping just draws things out.”
“You’re still alive. That’s something, right?” He reached out and patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. “As long as you’re still alive, you have to keep fighting and hold onto hope.”
She didn’t say anything for a long while; he felt his cheeks heat up with a self-conscious blush.
“I’m sorry. That must have sounded juvenile.”
“No, it’s just…” She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, speaking volumes in a pause. “I told him kinda the same thing”
Unable to find appropriate words of comfort, Toivo took her heart and warmed it, coaxing it back to life. He tried to bring as many lovely memories as he could into view, but found himself stymied by the inability to erase the harsh reality of what had happened to her.
In the end, although her fear abated, her anger remained. Toivo felt her start to smolder next to him, a compressed ball of quiet fury, remembering the boy again and all the rest who were gone. He felt a spark of sympathetic anger for this girl who’d had so much taken from her that she’d abandoned tears for rage. She truly believed she had nothing left to lose.
Perhaps this assignment was right for him after all. Toivo didn’t like the prospect of war, but fighting a government so monumentally evil that it crushed the souls of its citizenry and destroyed the world of a blameless young girl seemed a noble enough cause for battle, if there was one. If the status quo was violence, any sort of change could lead to peace. Suddenly inspired, he began to put together what he would say when he finally met the Forest Clan.
The truck turned onto what Toivo assumed was a dirt road before slowing to a stop. Toivo’s ears rang in the wake of the engine’s din; he stretched his limbs, stiff with the cold and aching from the rattling truck. Peering out through the opening in the tarp, he saw that the faintest hint of red had spread across the eastern horizon, adding color to the dark gray of the morning sky. He hopped off the tail of the truck himself in a path in the middle of the woods–an overgrown dirt road piled with wet, sloppy snow.
The girl jumped down beside him, tall and lanky in her winter clothes. He still felt a lingering desire to do something more for her, to supplement her strength in her perilous life. A thought suddenly crossed his mind.
“Do you have a gun?” he asked.
She looked surprised. “Not yet, no.”
“Take this.” He drew his gun and placed it gently in her hands. “For protection.”
Her eyes grew wide as she hefted it, examining the intricate mechanism.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I found it in the drop, but I don’t need it. Please, I want you to have it.”
Without further argument, she slipped the gun into her belt, nodding her thanks to Toivo. He felt a small sense of satisfaction well inside him, despite the lingering discomfort from his knowledge of the thing’s potential.
The driver came around to meet them, shaking her head.
“My truck can’t go any farther. We’ll have to walk from here.” She held out her hand to Toivo. “I’m Marja, by the way.”
He clasped it warmly. “Toivo.”
“Charmed.” She gave a surprisingly girlish smile.
They continued up the buried road on foot until they came to a large meadow. Sapling trees, bare of leaves, cast their jagged shadows on snow blown flat and smooth. At the edge of the clearing slumped the ruin of a house, tumbling in on itself, and the black hulk of an old barn, still standing despite its sagging roof. Toivo realized that this place was once a farm–one of those old homesteads that a family would have lived on for centuries.
The wood of the derelict barn was rotting under paint that peeled off in ribbons; the only new thing about the place was the padlock and chains that crossed the huge double doors. Marja produced a key from her pocket, and in a moment, the barn doors creaked open, releasing a whiff of mold and neglect. She snatched a lantern hanging on a hook inside the door and lit it with a match, casting a circle of light in the gloom. Toivo glanced up at the faintest outline of high rafters where owls nested, drawn by the swarms of unseen mice that could be heard skittering off into hiding.
“This was my father’s place before we were moved off to the collective farm. It’s not much, but it works as a safehouse for all o’ them.” Marja looked over Toivo’s shoulder, and her chubby face brightened.
“And speak of the devil–here they come now.”
Toivo turned to the black line of the woods. In the faint light of morning, he could make out the forms of people coming through the snow in pairs and groups, their tiny, shielded lights like the blinking of winter fireflies.
The Forest Clan.
They didn’t speak until they were all indoors, where they clicked on flashlights and lit lanterns. Toivo was mildly surprised at how small the gathering was. All told, there couldn’t have been more than a few dozen men and a handful of women. They gathered about Toivo, regarding their foreign guest with reverent attention.
“You’re the one from across the wall, eh?”
“The messages made it, then.”
“And Kai! How are you, young’un?” Kai grinned awkwardly as an older man tousled her hair. “He’s like a son to me, our Little Bear.”
A brawny fellow who towered over the rest approached Toivo and held out a hand, unsmiling.
“I’m Klaus. We’ve been expecting you for some time.”
Toivo accepted the handshake, a little taken aback by the raw power of the man’s grip. The hands spoke of a forceful nature, and when Toivo looked him in the eye, he was alarmed at the coarse intensity of the man’s conviction. Suddenly, Klaus held Toivo’s hand aloft and addressed the assembled partisans.
“Brothers and Sisters, the West has lent its ear to our cause. This is Toivo Valonen; he’ll be the one to speak for us and carry word of our plight to our allies across the border.” He stepped back, gesturing for Toivo to take center stage. “Mr. Valonen, if you want to give us a few words…”
His heart pounding, Toivo looked around at the faces–so serious in the lantern light–and cleared his throat.
“Good morning,” he began. “I come before you today for one reason, one simple word. Freedom.
“Yes, freedom, for with each passing day, the Red Menace grows, casting the shadow of totalitarianism over the land, extinguishing the light of its populace. Freedom is why we must fight for this: your ancient homeland, your beloved Kalevia. The Communists raise the state above all else and fail to honor your basic civil liberties–freedom to speak your minds, to worship as you please, to be free of the constant fear of imprisonment or death–because they see you as interchangeable parts in their machine. But you are individuals: men, women, and children, crying to be set free.”
The words flowed from Toivo unbidden, smooth and fast and flawless, barely leaving him time to catch a breath. He wondered if this was, perhaps, another one of his powers. It felt glorious–as though the hearts of the people around him were all speaking through him, using his person to focus their desires into a white-hot point like a magnifying glass against the sun.
“Now, as we stand in the lengthening twilight of Kalevia’s future and face this dire threat, we stand together in the name of freedom. If we are brought before the firing squad, we shall refuse the blindfold; our backs to the wall, we shall look them in the eye, and they will know that we go to our graves not as numbers but as human beings, and that they can never take that from us. Though we may struggle and bleed, we will not surrender. When your courage is about to fail, and the tenuous flame of hope gutters in the growing night, remember that you are free, and we shall bring back freedom to Kalevia. This, my brothers, is our revolution!”
When he finished, the members of the Forest Clan were silent for a good long while. Toivo felt his nervousness return, wondering if perhaps he had miscalculated.
Then, one by one, the revolutionaries began to clap. The applause was restrained, but he noticed tears rolling down cheeks, heads nodding solemnly in agreement. As he looked into the faces of his small audience, their expressions glowed far brighter than before.
For Freedom, they thought, their minds echoing around him. For Kalevia.
Kaija felt amazing. She’d been so wretched recently, so utterly hopeless and spent–but now she found herself full of glorious purpose. God, what a speech! It had changed her in a way that she couldn’t quite articulate, and she overflowed with gratitude toward the golden-tongued foreigner. She touched the lump of the gun at her waist, and for the moment, she could have sworn she was invincible.
“Thank you for that moving introduction,” Klaus said as he replaced Toivo at the head of the assembled rebels. “Now down to business. Since we’re all here, it’s high time we discuss our next move.”
Kaija joined the others as they tightened into a circle around Klaus. She leaned close to the boy standing beside her.
“Martin, did you hear anything about another attack?”
Martin shook his head. “He never tells us what he wants to do beforehand. It’s easier to arrange when fewer of us are involved.”
Klaus spoke again, and Kaija shut her mouth.
“Punaiset Day, the memorial of the Red Rebellion, is fast approaching, and Chairman Uusitalo is going to be making his yearly speech.” Klaus sneered at the mention of the name. “Only this year it’s going to be…a little different.”
He accepted a small paper from his second-in-command, a subdued man whose face stood as a testament to his time at war. The white slash of a scar neatly split his eyebrow in two.
“We have plans to secure an important hostage to force Chairman Uusitalo to bow to our demands,” Klaus continued. “This should allow us to secure the release of many of our brothers who are languishing in political prison–to raise the call for our cause among a discontented populace. With him in our grasp, we’re poised to strike right at the heart of our Communist oppressors. Our voices will be heard!”
“How will this be done, you ask? Well.” He held up a newspaper clipping with the photo of the chairman greeting his troops in a military parade. “We’re going to kidnap none other than Vesa Uusitalo, the son of our Our Fearless Leader.”
Kaija felt as the world drop out from under her. She stared at the photo, and at the image of a smiling boy sitting beside the Chairman, a familiar face in an outlandish context.
“We’ll stop his car as he’s en route to school…”
Klaus began to explain the details of the kidnapping, but she no longer heard. This had to be a dream. There was no way this could actually be happening.
“Kai, you okay?” asked Martin, his words buzzing distant in her ear.
She ignored the million questions that raced through her head. Only one thought blazed a path to the front of her mind.
I have to warn him.
Proceed to Chapter 5, page 2–>