Short Story Collection

This is a collection of short stories I've written. Enjoy!

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4. Behind the Russian Scenes: World War I

“I’m sorry, my cousin, I can’t do anything further.”
Wilhelm’s words stung at Nicholas. It had been his last telegram before Germany had officially gone to war. Now Russia would be inevitably dragged into the fast-growing war. Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a friend of both Wilhelm’s and his, had been shot while in Serbia. The news had deeply effected Nicholas. Most Russians wouldn’t give the relationship Russia had with Serbia a second glance as it was rarely talked about in public by Nicholas, but it was a major ordeal for Nicholas to realize a friend was gone.

“Czar! Snap out of it!” a voice barked. Nicholas looked up to see a servant in front of him, a young girl hiding behind him. A soft smile crept onto Nicholas’s face upon seeing the girl’s face.

“Oh, come here Ann,” he whispered, “Come to daddy.” His young Anastasia (Ann for short) walked over to him. There were tear tracks on her face, a telltale sign he knew well. Nicholas wrapped his arms over his daughter in a hug, letting her cry it out on his shoulder. Ferdinand’s death had hit her hardest of all. Nicholas knew Anastasia thought of Ferdinand as a second father; someone she could go to if Nicholas was busy (which they both often were but they always found time for her).

“Daddy, why’d they have to kill him?” she whispered into his ear after a few minutes of crying on his shoulder. Nicholas sighed.

“I wish I knew, honey,” he said, “but you know what? I’m still here. And I’m not going anywhere. I promise.” He kissed her nose lightly, making his young daughter laugh. Nicholas’s other children was often overlooked by everyone, but Nicholas often made room for them at the dinner table. And one came in now.

“Daddy, there are people raiding the country,” she whimpered out, tear tracks on his face as well. Nicholas retracted an arm from around Anastasia, motioning his second eldest daughter over.

“We will get through this,” Nicholas promised in a soft voice, “I promise.” His two children huddled in his arms. His wife was most likely sound asleep this time of night and acting on that thought, Nicholas picked up his two young children and walked to the room he shared with his wife, Alexandra. “Stay with mommy,” he instructed the others, “I’ll get your siblings.” He quickly ran out, getting Tatiana, Maria, and Alexei. Olga was helping keep Anastasia quiet as to not wake Alexandra, he knew. But the other three sisters were another story. They were arguing over a dress for a dance.

“That dress is mine!” Tatiana’s voice rang out. Nicholas heard Maria reply before Alexei rejected that and said the dress was hers.

“Girls!” Nicholas thundered softly, but loudly enough his girls could hear him, “We’re under attack. This is no time for a fight over something like a dress.” Alexei nodded but Tatiana and Maria still went at it.

Sighing, Nicholas grabbed the dress, then his three eldest daughter’s wrists.

“Dad!” his three girls whined, but followed. When they returned to his shared room, Alexandra was rubbing her eyes. And Anastasia was gone. Olga was on the floor, head bleeding.

“She’s gone, Nicholas,” Alexandra said sleepily, “I woke up too late. And Olga…” He nodded, understanding, before sitting down beside Olga and taking off the military sash he had on his uniform.

“It’s going to be okay Olga,” he whispered, “You’ll live to see this war end. I’ll make sure of it.” Olga smiled a weak smile as Nicholas tried to stop the bleeding.

“I’ll get the doctor,” Alexandra said, “and I’ll be quick about it.” Nicholas nodded.

“Hurry,” he added, “You have to hurry.” Alexandra nodded, throwing him an old nightgown of hers. “Thanks,” Nicholas added, “Now hurry along and get the doctor in here.” Holding the nightgown to Olga’s head, he had Tatiana, Maria, and Alexei help him clean up the blood. If anything, they be able to save some of her blood. But all the while, Nicholas couldn’t stop thinking of his little Ann.

 

Anastasia slowly opened her eyes. Blackness surrounded her. She could see nothing. But heard many voices.

“Get the girl,” one said, “I need to see her. Make sure you got the right one.” Anastasia gulped. She wasn’t very old, but she was old enough to know trouble. And that was trouble. Capitol T-R-O-U-B-L-E trouble. And it wasn’t good. At all.

Anastasia felt hands grabbing at her arms. A firm push came from behind, almost sending her to the ground. But she regained her balance at the last moment, only stumbling forward. Harsh sunlight suddenly filled her vision. They weren’t in Russia anymore; she knew that.

“I said Olga, not Anastasia,” the first voice spoke again, “You are such incompetent fools!” She heard two distinct smacks as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight. Birds chirped. She heard water running not too far from where they were. Then her eyes adjusted completely, and faces came into focus, as did a small farm tractor. She was sitting in the back of the farm tractor, probably having been hoisted up by the two men on either side of her. A third man was pacing in front of them. He had a strong Serbian build, and a Serbian accent. But wasn’t Russia an ally of Serbia? It made no sense to Anastasia.

“If I may ask, who are you? And why am I sitting hog tied in this dirty nasty truck?!” Anastasia asked, her voice rising at the end as she hit dirty. The third man turned to her.

“Little girls are to be seen, not heard,” he informed her, “Even if said little girl is a grand duchess.” Anastasia was again taken aback. No one had ever talked to her like that.

“You will not talk to a grand duchess of Russia like that,” Anastasia continued, her voice wavering at the end, “My dad will come for me.” The third man just laughed a hearty, but rather unusually dark, laugh. It was almost like he doubted that.

“Him and what army?” the second man asked, “Russia’s been dragged into the war. He’s too busy with the war to come find you.” Anastasia shook her head fiercely.

“He always has time for his children,” Anastasia objected, “Always. Even in a war!” Now she was starting to sound childish, but at the moment she didn’t care. At the moment, all she cared about was going home. She had to be there to support her dad during the war.

“Do you have Olga?” a fourth voice asked from a distance.

“We had a slip shot,” the third man, the one in front of her, called out, “We have Anastasia, not Olga.” She saw another man coming out of the surrounding area, carrying a shot gun unlike any she had seen in Russia under his coat (she could tell by the bulge it made) and a bag.

“Anastasia, huh?” he asked, coming up to her. His breath stank, and he was shabbily dressed. She had heard about men like these. They would take any route to get their hands on royalty, then sell them to the lower of the high classes in some other country. Most were never heard from again. But he looked more like he was from Austria-Hungary than Serbia. He looked more like Count Leopold von Berchtold from Austria-Hungary, whom she knew by sight from seeing her father conversing with him. “She’ll do,” the man said, interrupting Anastasia’s analysis of the man. He motioned to the other two men to do something. Once again, hands grabbed at Anastasia. But instead of throwing her into a farm cart, she landed bum first in the sack. Said sack had air holes, but it was evident it wasn’t going to hold up long. Maybe Anastasia could-

“Just be careful with her,” the first voice rang out, “I’ve heard she’s the hardest to keep under control.” Anastasia laughed to herself. They had no clue just how hard it could be at times to keep her under control. But it was only when she wanted to be hard to control, at least.

The sack started moving. She moved up, and then bumped against something. Anastasia groaned to herself. Whatever was going, she’d have to handle it herself. Being moved from location to location like this was not good. She poked something at the edge of the bag. It felt like a…a military pin. Round…and smooth. Nothing like what her father’s felt like. She had once felt an Austria-Hungarian pin. Smooth, round…like the one she felt behind her. Was it possible it was Count Leopold von Berchtold? But why would he be after her?

“Hold this,” the fourth voice came again. A hard forward shove came to the bag, sending Anastasia head first into something else. A guard, most likely. But the grip wasn’t on the bag itself. Someone had found and taken hold of her right arm. Anastasia bit her lower lip slightly. To call out or not to call out. That is the question. A Shakespeare-inspired question for a non-Shakespeare-inspired situation.

“Is it Olga?” a fifth voice asked. She could just imagine a shaking head, and a disappointed look. “Then may I open the sack?” the last voice continued.

“If you must,” the fourth voice replied. Harsh sunlight filled her vision once more as the sack opened and she was dumped onto the ground. Her head banged against the grass as her knee banged against a rock. Drip. Drip. Drip. Anastasia looked to her knee, blinking in the harsh sun, and saw three drops of blood trickle down her leg. A fourth followed, then a fifth. Then it became too many to count.

“That hurt!” Anastasia whined. Let the games begin.

“You’re not here to whine,” the fifth voice said, “You’re here to help make Serbia surrender before a war even starts.” Anastasia raised an eyebrow. She was a Russian grand duchess, and yet she was expected to help the enemy?

“What?” Anastasia asked, “And why am I on the ground?” Nothing was making sense to her except for the fact that she was a long way from home. The man that had carried the sack in the first place got down to her eye level. Up close, she confirmed it was indeed Count Leopold von Berchtold. But why?

“Listen, Ann,” he whispered, “I don’t like this any more than you do. But I have my orders.” Berchtold helped her up, but rather harshly. He was just doing as he was told, and Anastasia guessed she’d have to do so as well. Until she could get away.

 

Wilhelm sighed. Olga was in the hospital, Anastasia was missing, and he was stuck in Germany with war business to attend to. And even if Anastasia showed up here, he’d have to take her as a prisoner of war. Russia and Germany, though he and Nicholas were related, were enemies at war now. And he’d have to do something like that for Anastasia’s safety until Nicholas could come get her.

“This isn’t fair…to anyone,” Wilhelm muttered, “Why did Serbian assassins have to kill archduke Ferdinand anyway?” The question plagued all the leaders’ minds. And Wilhelm knew Nicholas and his daughters well enough to know that Ferdinand’s death had hit Anastasia the hardest. It was like she had lost a third father. And Wilhelm wanted to help, but he couldn’t in this time of war. Not directly, at least.

“Sir, there’s a visitor,” someone behind him said. Wilhelm nodded in acknowledgement before going down to the main parlor. And there stood the missing Russian grand duchess Anastasia.

“Help me, Wilhelm, please…” she said before collapsing to the ground. Her leg was bleeding badly, and Wilhelm just managed to catch her before her head hit the ground.

“Call the nurse,” he told a nearby maid, “and get a guest room ready.” The maid nodded as Wilhelm gently spread Anastasia out on the carpet of the parlor, tying his sash around her leg to stop the bleeding.

Standing up to go brush the hair out of her face, he realized how scratched up she was. Whatever happened to her had been quite the ordeal, he could see that now. Her face was pale; she had a cut up leg; she was sweating profusely, and she was out of breath.

“Yes, sir?” the nurse’s voice cut into his thoughts, “What is it that I may assist you with?” Wilhelm turned to face her, Anastasia’s face still hidden under the hair.

“Fix her leg,” he instructed, “I’ve tried to stop the bleeding.” The nurse nodded, bending down to get onto her knees. Wilhelm went to wet a rag to put on Anastasia’s face.

The whole time he was doing so, questions ran through his head. Why is she here? What happened to her? What should I do? Do I put her in as a prisoner of war? Or do I take her in as family for the time being? Wilhelm took a deep breath. He was so nervous his hands were shaking. Shaking so much, in fact, that he could barely hold the water pitcher. He set the water pitcher down on a nearby washboard and wet the rag. Drip. Drip. Drip. Each water droplet shone in the setting sun out the window. Drip. Drip. Drip. A couple ran over his shaking hand. Drip. Drip. Drip. They plopped onto the washboard. The rag was considerably damp now.

Still shaking, Wilhelm returned to Anastasia. Her poor father was probably worried sick about her. And Wilhelm couldn’t blame Nicholas for that. As soon as he had put the rag on her forehead to try and wake her up, he sat down to write Nicholas a telegram. His fingers stalled, the words forming the sentences and the telegram in his head, but nothing came out on the machine. He stalled for five minutes before a finger finally started to type.

My dear Nicky,
Today Anastasia arrived at my doorstep. I have no idea as to why she’s here. But I can promise you I’ll do all I can under these circumstances to keep her safe. As soon as I can, I’ll send more information about what happened to her. Come to Germany as quickly as you possibly can, Nicky. She needs help. If I had a picture, I’d attach it, but since I do not, I will do my best to describe her injuries. First off, her leg. There is some sort of cut on her right leg, on her knee. She collapsed as soon as I got to see her, so I do not know what happened to cause the cut. That was the second point. She collapsed, and was out of breath when she arrived. I believe she had been running. Whether from guards of some sort or from soldiers, I do not know, but I do not believe it was soldiers as no one escorted her up to my quarters. I was only told I had a visitor. She does not look at all like herself. And I hate to say it, but I fear the worst. She may not live to see the end of this war. I sincerely hope Olga’s recovery is going along well, and if I must, I will watch Anastasia until the war is over.
Best wishes,
Your cousin Willy

Wilhelm pulled the finished piece of paper off the table and handed it to a servant.

“Have this message telegrammed to Czar Nicholas,” he instructed, “It’s of urgent news.” The servant nodded, and almost ran off. Wilhelm chuckled to himself before returning to see Anastasia, partially out of family concern, and partially because he was curious as to how she had ended up so bruised and battered.

“Wilhelm, she may not come out of it,” the nurse informed her, “All we can do is wait.”

“No,” Wilhelm said, “All we can do is hope she comes to on our way to Russia. We leave immediately. With any luck, my telegram will reach Czar Nicholas before we do.” The nurse nodded, picking up the frail-looking Anastasia before helping Wilhelm get her into the car. Wilhelm sat in the back, a small box with water in his lap to rewet the rag on Ann’s forehead. “It will all be all right, Ann,” Wilhelm whispered, “I don’t make empty promises. If you die, you died while I tried to save you. And that’s all that’ll matter in the end to Nicholas. I lived up to my promise.” Even just saying the word ‘die’ brought tears to his eyes, but he blinked them back. Showing weakness would not do well now.

“We’ll get there, Wilhelm, and with Anastasia alive and well, I promise,” the nurse cut into his thoughts, “We’ll do it. And if we don’t, we tried.” Wilhelm didn’t say anything. He couldn’t. He was tongue-tied at the thought of losing a close family member. All he could do was nod, and sit while waiting in the horrible traffic. It’d take a couple days to reach Russia at the least.

 

Wilhelm was startled awake by a jolt. He hadn’t even realized he had fallen asleep, Anastasia’s head still resting on his lap. What had happened, though, was something he was going to find out.

“What happened?” he inquired of the nurse, “And when did I fall asleep?”

“War business and things,” the nurse replied, “We’ve been stopped by the Russian army for a minute.” Wilhelm almost smiled. The Russian army had stopped them. That meant Nicholas would come to check out the car. And would see Wilhelm and his little Ann in the backseat.

“Alright, who’s in this car?” Nicholas’s voice rang out a few minutes later, knocking on the passenger and driver windows. Wilhelm rolled his down first, popping his head out the window.

“Come on Nicky,” he joked, “You know my car.” Nicholas smiled slightly, and waved them past.

“Wow,” the nurse commented, “Where do I go now?”

“Just go up the hill a bit and then stop on the side,” Wilhelm instructed, “Once we’re stopped safely, help me get Ann out of the car.” The nurse nodded.

Nicholas came over to them just as he was lifting Anastasia out of the car.

“You found her!” Nicholas said, overjoyed. Wilhelm nodded.

“But she hasn’t woken up in two days, Nicky,” Wilhelm continued on as they walked, “I fear she may not wake up at all.” Then he heard a groan from Anastasia’s general direction and stopped.

“W-Wilhelm?” her voice came, “Where are we?” Nicholas’s eyes now had tears.

 

But that had been months ago, Wilhelm thought, months ago. Now he was sitting here, at their grave. How could Russia go so wrong after such a short time in the war?

“Bless you, Nicky and family, bless you,” Wilhelm whispered before getting up. He had things to attend to, but his cousin Nicky and his family would always be in the back of his mind…as a reminder of what war could do to a country.

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