Goombeldt is making his way down the trench. He is bringing
coffee for the whole group. His shield is carelessly swinging on his back, he
does not even know where his spear is – must be down there at the location. A
hunting stick is his only weapon. To be sure, he is not well prepared to defend
himself. The war has been going on for so long that people have become careless.
This is how one can die during the last days of the war. They say these are the
last days of the war, but there are also rumors to the contrary. A stray arrow
pierces a sand bag next to him, confirming his fears. Yet there is no tangible
danger. This is the worst thing about war: the lack of a distinct boundary
between safety and danger.
The coffee must be still hot. He has been walking for about half an hour, or so it feels. Fifteen or twenty more minutes to go: their group is based on the other end of the trench. They should just make their own coffee. Get a pot somewhere. It does not seem impossible. Is it. He knows that tomorrow he will not have as much enthusiasm about changing the accepted routine, since it will be someone else’s turn to go fetch the coffee. These days they have to eat dry food from the emergency supply. Fortunately, there is enough water: a clear spring about half a mile from their location. These days surface water is often unreliable due to the contamination caused by decaying soldiers. Goombeldt would like to avoid becoming a decaying soldier: this is not how he has imagined ending his earthly existence. On the other hand, all regrets about a specific way out inflicted upon us by those around are applicable only before the exit itself takes place, and thus before its mechanism is determined. In other words, one never finds out that one is dead.
“The man with the dog used to seem so helpless, remember,” Zungvilda says. “You can never know what people are really like, can you.”
“You always say that, don't you,” Goombeldt replies.
“You always say that too.”
“It's not my fault.”
“Is it a matter of fault.”
“What's the matter,” Goombeldt asks.
“The man who killed all those people. Did you see the news,” Zungvilda’s voice becomes distant, as though heard from a different time.
The summer sky looks just as usual, but who are these people leaning over the trench with cameras. Is the film crew already here. Goombeldt tries to ignore them: these are people from a different dimension, the access to which has been temporarily revoked. He knows he must pass a test before he can go back there, but he is not sure what in particular this test involves. Is understanding that a part of the test.
A flock of arrows flies by, and a strange suspicion arises in Goombeldt’s mind: what if the camera crew is here because something very unpleasant is going to happen to him. Are they here to capture the moment of his death. Could they be working together with the enemy, coordinating the arrow attack in such a way that his demise is imminent. He cannot think of any other reason to shoot at this hour.
“Who,” Zungvilda asks.
“The man with the dog's wife,” Goombeldt replies.
“I barely remember her face.”
“I don't think you ever met her. She died before you arrived.”
“Are you sure. I seem to remember meeting her, although I don't remember what she looked like.”
“Maybe someone else,” Goombeldt suggests.
“Maybe,” accepts Zungvilda.
Goombeldt feels fear: a sensation never completely absent during the wartime, yet one that he has learned to hide in the inner layers of his conscious. Fear, now! Will he be among those ironically unlucky to die right before the end of the war. He will go unnoticed, and the small grief over his death will melt without a trace in the monumental joy of peace. One person does not mean much, do they.
Another arrow hits the sand bag two yards away.
Zungvilda knocks. The grocery store owner opens. He looks around making sure that no one is watching, then waves for her to come in.
“Do you think he did drugs,” Goombeldt asks.
“The man with the dog.”
“Why do you ask.”
The owner leads the way as they walk through a room or two, arriving in the bedroom. He kneels by the bed and pulls out a suitcase. Opens. Takes out a small size bag, hands it to Zungvilda.
“Do you know that I do drugs too,” Zungvilda says.
“Yes. Don't we all,” Goombeldt responds.
“Do you think it is my fault.”
“Did I say that.”
She is mad at herself. Chemistry has won the short battle that Zungvilda had waged on it. And the reversal of chemistry is known to be a painful procedure. Does she have the resolve to go through it. Does she have the resolve not to. Whom can she ask about it. Goombeldt. But will he really help. He will want to help, that’s for sure, but how successful will his attempts to help be. The recent ratio is not very promising.
“My daughter disappeared two years ago,” Zungvilda says.
“What happened,” asks Goombeldt.
“Nobody knows. She went out to a party, she made it there, then she left – and nobody has seen her since.”
The grocery store owner puts away his suitcase, Zungvilda hands him an indefinite handful of cash, which he accepts without hesitation. Clearly, a regular customer. How regular does she want to be.
“Did they find the body,” Goombeldt asks.
Contact A. Molotkov