I lie awake in the middle of the night and listen to the rain, waiting for dawn.
It's not coming, of course. Belligerently so, daylight refuses to rise from beyond the city skyline dominating the distant, foreign horizon. Like a pagan goddess, she rejects all of her worshippers' pleas without so much as hearing a single word escape their lips, rejects those pleas elegantly, with the world's greatest pretense of kindness.
There will be no dawn for me. What I feel right now is a precise, factory-made, carbon copy of the feelings of a man stuck beyond life and beyond death, imprisoned in purgatory with neither heaven nor inferno willing to claim him. There is simply no future left for me.
God himself has forsaken me.
What should I expect? I did not serve him, no more than I served any prince or peer, no more than I served the Tsar – that would mean I did not serve him at all. Fealty I swore to none save the people and the land, and to no heaven but the one we would make for our children. And yet, I have no regrets. Even if God has forsaken me, I do not regret what I have fought for. I do not regret that I have forsaken Him. I regret nothing but my failure to bring the people a future where no one dares wrong them.
I will see no dawn, and I know it. The enemy is coming; I feel their footsteps shake the ground from miles away. I feel their breath pollute the damp air of the night. I feel their hate, I remember their treason, and I fear for the fates of a million children under their reign. I do not fear for myself. I have no reason to worry about something as meaningless as my life.
Falling to the cold, hard ground, I attempt the meaningless action of a grasp at the floorboards of my apartment room.
They are probably racing down this calm avenue right now, I know as much. Some, who have never been in our situation, might say we were foolish, might say we fought the wrong wars and fought tyrants only for new ones to arise, in no small part due to our own errors. Might say we didn't stop what was imminent even when we knew it was.
But our struggle I would never sell for any price on this earth. We failed, ultimately, yes. So what? Were we wrong? All we wanted was that the children of our children would live better lives than we had. We fought for a better world, a world we thought and still think worth dying for.
My hands, absentmindedly scratching at the wooden floor of my apartment, inadvertely chance upon the loose floorboard under which I used to keep my subversive literature and "revolutionary equipment", back when I still had to hide it. Hastily, as if urged on by some spirit, I removed the boards. There was a copy of Marx's Das Kapital1, and one of Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done?2Two revolvers, one still loaded. And a flag, red and bright as blood, defaced with the words, "In struggle you claim your rights."3
All is silent. My executioners refuse to arrive, refuse to claim their victory, refuse to be merciful. They refuse to let me have my death.
This is Butyrka Prison4 all over again.
The most horrifying thing about that old prison was never the treatment they gave us, no. It was the knowledge that you would, a week later, be executed. Even if that execution never came, the prison guards and leadership created a fantastically vivid image of its inevitability. Every Monday morning, my cellmate, Alexei, himself an SR5 imprisoned for trying to assassinate Tsarist officials, just like me, would sit up in his bed and say, more to God than to anyone else, “Are they killing us yet?”
Death never came. No matter how many days we waited for them to come and kill us, death never came. That, more than anything, drove Alexei crazy. Every waking moment he spent in that cell, every moment that he knew he could die, drove him insane. A month after we came to Butyrka, he had already started talking delusions.
“I hear demons, Yaakov. Every night, they call to me.”
It was horrific to see Alexei that way back then, yes… but now, more than ever, I see just how horrific it was to him. For I, too, hear demons, now. I wish they would just come and deliver me from this horror; end my miserable life, and free me to an afterlife I do not believe in. No God can help me anymore, for all gods I have forsaken. No revolution will free me from this prison of my mind, like it freed me from Butyrka. No revolution will free me from a blade of unfair judgment today. All I was… was a dreamer. And now, the only thing that still clasps me to my sanity is the same thing I repeated before sleep every night in prison.
“’Tis in struggle that you claim your rights.”
I mutter it a hundred times under my nose, my breaths growing weaker as my head spins, my hands desperately clutching at the floor, simultaneously defying the increased sense of gravity that is dragging me ever closer to the ground. I do, it turns out, in fact, fear death. I fear the cold world outside which has betrayed my people and defied my revolution. I fear the cold world outside that, without any regret present in its mind, is driving itself toward destruction, where the masses are coldly guided into killing fields as humanity sells peace and love for blood and iron.
“In struggle you claim your rights.”
I repeat the words, as if they would help me, as tears well up in my eyes. I have no regrets on the type of life I chose to lead, yes. But what of those I loved?
“In struggle… you claim…”
I thought of all of those people, my head spinning so fast I literally thought I was falling. The world seemed to twist and meld, the colors mixing in the strangest fashions as a single lone teardrop of mine landed on the copy of Das Kapital I kept under my floorboard.
All those people. My brother. My sister. My father, my cousin, my mother. All of them have suffered way too much for it to be reasonable. Why? What world could do this?
“You are meant for great things, Kapel6.”
The sudden memory of my father hit me so suddenly, so radically that I couldn't help but simply gasp. Within moments, I was overwhelmed by this unexpected image and found myself living through that moment of my childhood, some time long, long, long ago, lost in the vividness of the picture.
“Here’s a thing the rabbi doesn’t tell you, except when he’s drunk and upset about his daughter marrying that Ukrainian kid. God could’ve done much better at making this world. Another thing he will never tell you: people like you, like your brother, like your sister and like millions of others that are there are the ones who will correct his mistakes. Ordinary people. People who try to do what’s right by everyone.”
“You will change this world, Kapel. You and millions like you.”
“… You claim your rights,” I whisper to myself, my tears swept away as if by a hurricane. My eyes pass over the room, and I feel as if I see it for the first time. I was not just a dreamer. I was one of millions of people who try to do what’s right by everyone. I fought against oppression and was victorious! For a moment, I was victorious. That moment the people, the people, that ultimate article of civilization that I truly believe in, rose up and freed me from Butyrka, I was victorious, because like millions of other ordinary people, I had shown the world what I always have believed: that no matter how much power over the people you accumulate, the people always have more! And no one will take that from me! I am not a hero. I am merely one of millions. I may die tonight, but others will always take my place, because while power runs out, the people are legion! And I must not flee, not ever; because it is this cause - justice and freedom for the people - that I have fought for all my life and my loved ones have died for. Their sacrifice, my sacrifices, all Russia’s sacrifices will not be in vain.
I hear them knock on my door. I know it’s them. My first-floor neighbor already phoned me to tell me they’re coming. It doesn’t matter; they will not take me alive. I will only fall of my own volition.
They will start breaking down the door in approximately two minutes of continued knocking. I haven’t much time. Seizing this opportunity, I reach for the red flag under my floorboard and cloak myself with it, clasping it round my neck with a set of good-enough knots.
It is then that the CHEKA smash down the door with a crash, and it is then that I scream three words, just three words. Three words that I think worth dying for.
“Land and Liberty!"7
I scream. I scream as they jump towards me. I scream as I pull the trigger of that one loaded revolver I had, now placed at my temple.
Well, BZPower, what can I tell you? I'm back. It's been awhile since I actually posted anything even vaguely artistic here. It's been a long while indeed. Now, this is, as you may understand (or not) by now, a historical fiction work. It is set somewhere in the time period between 1918 and 1920 in Russia, and as a historical fiction work, I think it deserves a few footnotes to explain the more historical, often subtle, references of this work.
1) One of two of Karl Marx’s most famous works, ‘The Capital’ – his economic analysis of capitalism
2) 1863 novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Significantly radicalized Russia‘s democratic and liberal forces of the time, turned many of the middle class against the Tsar's rule.
3) The Socialist-Revolutionary Party of Russia’s slogan (Russian: "В борьбе обретешь ты право свое!")
4) Tsarist Russia‘s prime prison, used to keep political prisoners.
5) The Socialist-Revolutionary Party was Russia‘s primary democratic socialist force at the time of the February Revolution of 1917, alongside the Mensheviks. Unlike the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, it did not consider itself Marxist (although some of its leaders did) and had huge support in the nation, mainly due to its policy of land socialization (land was to be redistributed from the wealthy landowners to the landless peasants). After the October Revolution, despite the Bolsheviks now being in power, the SRs managed to secure an absolute majority of seats in Russia‘s Constituent Assembly (53%). The Constituent Assembly, however, was disbanded a day later by force and the SRs were continuously marginalized and/or persecuted.
6) Common Yiddish diminutive for ‘Yaakov’
7) Also a popular SR slogan (Russian: земля и воля)
Legal disclaimer: this story was not intended, and I wholeheartedly request, for fear of someone locking the topic, that people would refrain from using it as a reason to start political discussion (as the Bolshevik revolution remains a touchy subject in many places, Russia in particular) - I would prefer if we did not discuss the historical aspect of the story at all (or perhaps discuss it over PM, if someone so wishes?), and instead viewed it as any other short story. And yes, the posting of this story has been approved by the staff, even. This time period was intended as an interesting setting for a story, nothing more.
So yeah, BZPower. Any thoughts?
Edited by Leon Davidovich Trotsky, Feb 18 2013 - 05:35 PM.