The Cossack's Fear: Part Three
In which our three young Cossacks discover the dreaded Andrassy Borisovich is real.
“Everyone! Everyone, help! I saw Andrassy The Red Soldier!”
Katyusha snapped her head up as Benny Andersen came running into the schoolyard, his eyes wide and breathe coming in short, quick gasps. His hands were shaking, he looked like he’d seen a ghost. Everyone crowded around him, demanding what was going on.
Did he say what I think he said?
Katyusha had to turn her back on the crowd of schoolchildren and try to smother her giggles. Andrassy the Red soldier, ha! Her wild tale from two days ago was working better than she’d thought, now they were seeing Andrassy in the streets!
Katyusha calmed herself down and turned back around, coming to join the others while Benny frantically related what had happened.
“I went to see my father at the mercantile and when I came in there were these strangers and, and, then this big, tall guy, he turned around and it was him! Just like Katyusha described!” Benny collapsed in the dirt and pulled his knees underneath him. The poor guy was scared enough Katyusha almost felt bad. Almost. “He was big and huge and scary, and he had really blue eyes and blonde hair and he glared at me. He stared straight at me and—and he even has glasses, exactly like Katyusha said he did!”
Everyone gasped and turned to Katyusha. All eyes were on her to see her reaction. It was all she could do to keep from laughing right there. She looked down at Benny and tried to act like she was being brave, even in the face of danger. “Benny, you sure you no make this up?”
“I didn’t, I didn’t!” he insisted. “You have to believe me! I ran the second I saw him before he killed me!”
“I find it odd that Andrassy would be in your father’s mercantile,” Ilya said, having come onto the scene to listen in. He stroked his chin in thought, looking down at Benny with a serious, no-nonsense gaze. “This sounds rather debatable.”
“I promise you, it’s him! In fact why don’t you come with me right now so you can see for yourself!” Benny got to his feet, his eyes flashing. He dusted his pants off and glared up at Ilya, his previous fear now replaced with self defense. “We still have twenty minutes before lunch break is over; come with me and I’ll prove it to you!”
“What do you think, Katyusha?” Ilya shot a look in her direction. It was clear he, too, was trying not to laugh. Katyusha had to pinch herself to keep the giggles in. “Is it worth our time?”
“What’s this about Andrassy Borisovich?” Anton demanded, coming to stand next to Katyusha. “Michael says Andrassy is here? Is it true?” He let out a small snort.
“It is true! I saw him!” Benny cried out. “Come with me and I’ll show you.”
“I suppose it better for us to be safe than sorry,” Katyusha mused seriously.
“Agreed.” Ilya took in a deep breath, looking around the schoolchildren. “If we’re not back in twenty minutes…”
He didn’t say anymore, his silence saying more than his words ever could.
“You’re so brave,” Abigail managed. “I—I don’t know how you do it.”
“It is simple, we are Cossacks,” Anton told her, taking his cap off with a flourished bow.
Katyusha rolled her eyes. Now he was going too far. It was one thing to scare everyone, quite another to use that fear to make yourself look like a hero in the eyes of your crush. It was no secret amongst the Melnikov siblings that Anton really, really liked Abigail.
“Tell Mrs. O’Connell what’s happened if we don’t return,” Ilya instructed the other children. “We’ll be back. Show us this man, Benny.”
“Oh, you’ll believe me when you see him! Then you’d better run away, before he comes after you!” Benny’s face turned white. “And the rest of us.”
Several of the little girls clung to the skirts of the older girls. Katyusha turned her back to everyone and fell into step behind Anton and Ilya, the humor of the situation proving too much. She smirked. Oh, this is rich.
She felt a pang of guilt, but pushed it aside. Papa would not be pleased.
In fact he’d be furious if he knew anything about this. Yuri Dmitrievich Melnikov had brought his children to America to keep them safe from the Red soldiers, the very men in charge of the motherland. Papa had fought in the revolution on the side of the White Army. Katyusha had only been three at the time when he’d taken them to America, and didn’t understand why “Mama” didn’t come with them.
It wasn’t until she’d gotten older that she’d realized Mama didn’t come because she’d died. The children didn’t know how it happened, they just knew she was gone and not coming back. They were so young, so little, and Papa, well, he never talked about it. And here we are playing off that story to scare all the schoolchildren.
She felt a little bad, but at the same time she wanted to dabble in this deceit a bit longer. It made for a good story; it explained why they had no mother, and it made the Melnikov siblings look so brave and bold compared to their schoolmates. She liked that feeling. For the first time since they’d come to Pikeville, she felt important and accepted. She was a brave Kuban Cossack, and even her difficulty speaking English seemed to matter little in the eyes of her peers. It felt good.
We will have to tell them the truth eventually, she decided. Maybe when the fear of “Andrassy Borisovich” dies down.
The three Melnikovs followed Benny down the road and up to the Mercantile, located next to the post office. Benny stopped right outside and didn’t move. “Go in and see.”
Katyusha looked over at the boy just a little over a year older than she was, and for the first time she questioned what exactly he had seen in the mercantile. He was truly frightened out of his wits, he clutched the rail that lead up the steps and stared at the door.
“You not coming in, Benny?” Ilya taunted.
“You not coming in, Benny?” Ilya taunted.
“Ilya,” Katyusha shushed. “That mean.”
“That is mean, Katyusha,” Ilya corrected. “You need to work on your grammar.”
“I’m not going in there,” Benny stated firmly.
“Chicken?” Anton snickered. “I suppose if it really is Andrassy Borisovich, I can see why you would be. He’s more interested in killing us, though, than you.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t go in there.” Benny looked sick. He wiped the beads of sweat that traveled down his brow and swallowed. “I—I don’t want to see you guys get killed. I’m telling you, it’s him. He looks like everything you told us about him.”
Katyusha felt a wave of uneasiness sweep over her. She’d never seen the boy act like this before. And he’d claimed he had nerves of steel, because he was a descendant of the Vikings of Denmark! Maybe there really is someone scary in there.
Now she wasn’t so sure of herself.
Anton, too, looked nervous, but Ilya remained firm and cocky. He shrugged. “Suit yourself. We will never know until we have a look for ourselves. You’re right, you should stay out here so he doesn’t know you’ve talked to us, otherwise your family will probably be next on his list. We’ll be careful. We’re Cossacks, we can fight if we have to.”
“But—but he’s a tiger-man,” Benny whispered. “What chance do you have against him?”
“We’re the Melnikovs, the only ones who have ever been able to elude Andrassy Borisovich before. We can do it again.” Ilya said it with such conviction Katyusha almost believed that they had, in fact, escaped from this evil figment of their imagination before. It was quite thrilling, actually, if not a bit terrifying. “Katyusha, Anton, we go.”
Ilya started up the steps, Anton on his heels. Katyusha looked back at Benny once more and then followed her brothers. Her heart began to pound harder, she tugged at her shirt collar to loosen it. She felt nervous and unsure of herself. Oh come on, Katyusha! You made this story up yourself, none of its real!
Ilya stopped at the door and glanced back at his siblings. He leaned forward and whispered in Katyusha’s ear, “We should probably take our time going in, that way Benny will think we’re being cautious. More of an effect, da?”
“Da, but I think we’re taking this too far,” Katyusha replied in Russian. “Let’s just go in and see this man Benny was talking about.”
“You’re the one who started this whole thing up, Katyusha, if you don’t play along they’ll know you were lying,” Anton pointed out.
“Come on, let’s just get it over with. Katyusha’s right, we’ll just pretend we’re brave and ready to take on danger. It gives us more of a dramatic air, anyway.” Ilya turned to the door and swung it open with vigor and confidence.
Katyusha heard Benny gasp. She looked back to see the boy no longer there, but running across the street to the safety of the livery. Poor guy. We were pretty mean to him.
Maybe she should admit to the kids at school that it was all a joke.
She stepped in behind Anton and Ilya, unsure of what they were about to encounter. Her heart quickened, her eyes swept around the store until they came to rest on—
Mr. Andersen, who was busy writing down something in his accounting book. He looked up and caught sight of the Melnikovs. “Oh, Ilya, Katyusha, Anton, good to see you. Your father just came in a bit ago. Were you hoping to see him?”
“Nyet, Mr. Andersen,” Ilya replied, once he was sure no one else was there. “Just came to see something Benny told us about.”
“Is Benny here?” Mr. Andersen’s gaze narrowed. He straightened and looked at the Melnikovs with pursed lips. He didn’t look too pleased. “I need to have a talk with him. Did you set him up to play that stunt, earlier?”
What stunt? Katyusha looked around again and knew they were very much alone. Benny had pulled off a stunt? I’ll bet that’s what this is all about—he’s in trouble and made up a story so that when we hear about whatever it is he did, he can pretend that it was because he saw Andrassy Borisovich.
He was a good actor, too. Katyusha was irritated. So much for meeting the man who looked like Andrassy Borisovich. “Nyet, Mr. Andersen,” Katyusha assured him quickly. “We are play game. Making up story.”
“Well, tell Benny I need to see him. Is he outside?” Mr. Andersen looked out the window.
“He’s at the livery,” Katyusha answered truthfully. “But we have to go to school.”
“Right, recess is almost over.” Mr. Andersen cast another long glance at the Melnikovs, but nodded. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“Hmm nyet, nothing is here that we need. Excuse us for intruding, Dobryy den’.” Ilya took off his cap in respect, then ushered his younger siblings out.
“Good day to you, stay out of trouble,” Mr. Andersen called out.
Once outside and out of hearing range, Ilya burst out laughing, bending over to catch his breath. “Oui! Benny really had me there, I almost believed that he’d seen something,” he remarked when at last he caught his breath.
Katyusha rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “What a little snitch, he set us up to get himself out of trouble.” She switched back to Russian for ease.
“That’s Benny for you. He’s smarter than I would have thought,” Anton admitted. He seemed agitated, too. “I’m going to get him for this.”
“The kid’s quick,” Ilya stated. He straightened and waved towards the church that served as their school. “Come on, we need to get back.”
Anton took off running before Ilya or Katyusha had a chance to react. “Not fair!” Ilya yelled, tearing after his younger brother.
Katyusha looked back to the livery to see if Benny was there, but didn’t catch sight of the boy. He must have headed back to the schoolyard, she decided.
Her brothers were going to beat her, too, if she didn’t chase after him.
Katyusha ran after the other two Melnikovs, her shoes pounding against the dirt road as she raced to catch up to them. She was a fast runner, and pretty soon she was coming up on the boys. She was so intent on beating them that it wasn’t until the last second she caught sight of the man stepping off the porch of Mrs. Reed’s boarding house.
“Look out!” she cried in Russian, trying to skid to a stop.
The next instant she ran straight into the man, who caught her by the arms to keep her from toppling over. “Oui! Izvinite!” she yelped.
“Eto ne imeyet nikakogo znacheniya.”
Katyusha froze and jerked her head to stare up into the face of the man—and nearly collapsed. No. No. No! It was just a story! It can’t… it can’t be!
She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. All sense left her. No matter that the whole thing had been made up, that it was a story, she suddenly was looking at the man from her tale, the one she’d named herself.
And he’d spoken to her in Russian.
Before she knew what she was doing she jerked herself out of his hands and ran behind Mrs. Reed’s boardinghouse, not looking back to see if her brothers had witness the encounter. Her mind was numb, she couldn’t think at all. She headed straight for the grove of trees that lead down to the creek and stumbled to the water, her breath coming in hard gasps.
When she was positive that the stranger hadn’t followed her there, she allowed herself to collapse onto the ground and try to make sense of what had just taken place. It…it was him. He spoke Russian. No! It’s just a story! I made it all up! But…but how can this be?
Katyusha looked up to see Anton and Ilya. They slid down the bank to the creek, both panting with eyes as wide as the sun. One look at her brothers and she knew they’d seen him, too.“Boys,” Katyusha whimpered. “We’re so dead. God is punishing us! It—it was him! Andrassy Borisovich, he’s real!”
To Be Continued...