This story is by R. Amieva and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
September 15, 1941
My dear Ilya:
“I want to go home,” I said when we first arrived to Kiev, and your only reply was “And I want to go to the moon. It ain’t happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that.”
I remember the vibration my body felt when I pulled the trigger for the first time. Am I damned for feeling such relief and excitement for wanting to pull the trigger once again?
I remember the disapproval of Father when I joined OSOAVIAKhIM: mother had calmed him, by telling him it was just a club where the soviet youth met. That I was going to learn etiquette as the proper, virtuous young lady I was…
What about the weapon skills, Mama?
I remember the first time I carried a real weapon, its weight and firmness; even its smell. I remember the scream it left behind as it free the bullet. The adrenaline that made my body wake up. I wasn’t playing God…at that time. It was just a sport, wasn’t it?
But war is what happens, and death is what it brings.
It’s a man’s world and, heavens, I know.
“A man will fight for a woman, and men will fight for power,” Mother would have said, “Women should not fight. They should obey and look pretty. We shall remain silent, and keep our thoughts to ourselves. We are meant to stay at home, hoping for the best.”
What if I want to fight? What if I don’t want to be anyone’s protege? What if I’m tired of becoming what everyone expects? What if I don’t want to be only an accessory? What if I don’t want to be a mother or a wife? What if I don’t want to fulfill the pleasures of men? What if I don’t want to be the perfect lady? What if? WHAT IF?!
When one of the boys swanked about his performance at the shooting range, I would take a stand, showing that a woman could do just as well or better. Maybe that’s my secret: practice. Men want perfection? I will give them the perfect shot.
I gained a Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge and a marksman certificate. In the OSOAVIAKhIM, I learnt to be patriotic and ready in case one day I was called to protect our motherland. And that day arrived, to my father’s bad luck.
Maybe war came to me before I came to it. Doesn’t it always? Not for those who start it.
The moment Hitler broke the German-Soviet nonaggression pact, after invading France and the Netherlands, I knew war had turned into our life.
The beginning was a massacre, people falling one by one.
The SS squads murdered hundreds of our people. They came first for those that were ‘impure’.
I’m just 30 feet away from a fallen German unit, and just some minutes ago I was surrounded by fire and chaos. But now, there is nothing. No lights. No voices. Just the sharp scream of emptiness…
No one prepares you for war, not really. No one tells you about the sounds you will hear, the screams of despair from your companions as they fall to the ground to be swallowed by their sins. Or the smell of putrefaction of the bodies under your feet. The impact of seeing a man being tore apart by a bomb, the amount of blood and the corpses of what was once known as men.
We become ghosts, specters of what was once good, now—we are damned, and the touch of holy land burns our skin.
The pleasure and comfort a wounded soldier would feel when seeing a pretty face taking care of him.
Men love beauty. To survive, beauty is what we hope to find after the storm.
I was denied at first the entry to the infantry; a woman would be better suited as a nurse, not a soldier. They laughed at me, telling me that my pretty face shouldn’t be wasted in the battlefield. I was strong to be a woman, but not enough to be a man.
Even after that, I presented my sharpshooter certificate and badge, not ready to be dissuaded; officials still argued with me to become a nurse.
I asked for an audition then. I will never forget the anger in the Sargent’s eyes; for forgetting my place.
“I’m a young lady,” I said, “I’m stubborn and unruly, but I would never take your precious time for nothing, Sir.” I got what I wanted, an audition.
They gave me two targets. Two Romanians who were spying for the German army, betraying the country. I took them down with ease, in two simple shots.
First shot: straight between the brows.
Second shot: the heart.
I can still see them in my nightmares, crawling around and poisoning my mind.
I was accepted into the Red Army’s 25th Chapayev Rifle Division, the 54th Rifle Regiment, and was given the rank of Private. I was assigned immediately to the 2nd company sniper platoon.
As you see, Ilya, I was going to take care and protect soldiers, my team; up in a tree; down on the ground; deadly still; breathless; shifting into a shadow; seeing the enemy before anyone. Taking them down, taking the bloody Germans down.
Today’s my 77th day in the battle field, and my platoon and I have been moving fast. We’ve already been in Odessa and Moldova.
I’ve killed 176 Germans, and people have started to fear me, Ilya. I live in the shadows, I’m an angel of Death: I don’t need a name. Still, my team named me Lady Death. That is how the German’s have heard about me, in such a short time. I’m a target now. If I’m taken down, my team is inevitably going down.
Am I a coward to be scared, Ilya? I want to fight this monster; it follows me at night, taking my sleep away. It makes my heart beat faster, and left me with no oxygen to breathe; I can’t see it, but I can feel it.
You once told me that the world has few good souls, and too many monsters…perhaps what the world needs is a hero, but sometimes, in desperate circumstances, war allows a monster to become the savior. Maybe I’m one of those monsters disguised as a savior.
I don’t sleep; my mind has developed the ability of turning dark and demented. I’m afraid of my own dreams, because I know I’m not just imagining it, but living them.
Oh, my dear Ilya, how much I wish you were with me, Brother. You always knew what to say, no matter how hard it was, you would say it. Because you were strong, and I was not. But, now, I don’t have you anymore. So much blood is staining my hands, weighing on them.
My heart broke the night I realized you were not with us any longer. I had already grown used to see you flying in the skies. Or at least hearing the engine of one of your planes.
Eagle, I remember, was your new name. Now, I’m the avatar of Death, and I have nothing but the screams and the pleads of our people as friends.
Will this ever stop? The uncontrollable shaking of my hands when I’m not holding my rifle. The need to breathe because my throat has closed as I weep when no one is watching. Will my rifle be the only thing that warms and comforts me from now on?
I’m scared. But not of what I’ve done, and that’s what scares me the most. I’m scared of myself…I’ve stopped flinching when I pull the trigger, as my hand takes men away from this world.
I’m playing God, Ilya. But, what about the Devil? Am I playing Him too?
I don’t know where we are going next. For sure Death is following us right behind. It thrills me, yet it destroys me. I wanted to fight, and here I am: Lady Death, trying to defeat the beast and become a hero.
This is war, and it’s a game of resistance. The one who breaks, loses.
I shall not break and become thunder, destroying everything I touch. Letting everything fade away as I pull the trigger again and again.
Even if my words will be burn after I finish this letter that will never reach your hands, brother, pray for me and our people. Pray for all humanity, and for the war. Not for it to be over, because men seek it; it’s within of our nature: to fight and destroy each other.
Pray to find something between war and peace.
And pray for me, my brother, because I’ve been praying for hope and patience, but sometimes I pray for a gun as my sins are drowning me with pleasure.
Who can forgive me now for my sins? I am damned with the thirst of Death.
May we meet again, my Ilya.
Yours, Lady Death