[community profile] daily_prompt: #2, "The Downward Path to Wisdom"

Oct. 6th, 2013 07:56 pm
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Title: The Downward Path to Wisdom
Author: Wang Xi-feng
Challenge: [community profile] daily_prompt
Warnings: None.
Summary: 1918. Anna does what she wants.

It was a bright cold night in Staraja Jarosna, and Alzbeta Harlova had gone out for the evening. Evka went to bed early, and Kash and Stepka played cards in the living room with Anna. There was a draft coming from somewhere; Anna had taken to sleeping with her windows open lately. Kash didn't share her sister's taste for the Spartan, and huddled down in a layer of blankets, so that she had to poke her hands out again to get to her cards, which made them laugh. "I don't know how you can bear the cold in this weather," she said sulkily to Anna.

"You can bear anything, if you have to." Anna added another card to the pile. "After this round, I'm out. I've got drill tomorrow and then a long day of work after that." She stretched, and winced when her back creaked. "Be sure you don't stay up too late."

"I won't," Kash said. "I have rehearsal."

"I have to work too," Stepka said. "Are you taking the train?"

Anna nodded. "I'll have to. All the com--all my friends with cars aren't welcome here."

"You mind if I go with you?" There was something a little eager and grasping about Stepka's expression that Kash wasn't sure she liked. He and Anna had always been thick as thieves, so it didn't surprise her that he wanted to hitch a ride with her, but Kash had never understood his hero-worship. Anna was a little Napoleon, always telling everyone what to do, and acting as if rules were meant for everyone but her.

"Not at all," Anna said. "I'm leaving at 6 sharp, though. Think you can get up by then?"

"Of course," Stepka said, tossing his hair. Anna raised an eyebrow, and Kash suppressed a giggle. Stepka routinely overslept.

"All right, then, I'm out." Anna tossed down her cards. "Night."

"Night," Kash said listlessly, and then turned her attention to robbing Stepka of his last few points.

The Harlov house was old, having been built sometime at the turn of the nineteenth century, and the windows were not what they might have been; Kash threw another blanket on her bed, checked to make sure her window was closed as snugly as possible, and curled up. The bed was quick to warm up, and she wound the clock and dozed off.

She couldn't have said what woke her: whether it was the creak of the floorboards, or the noise of something moving against the other side of the house. For a minute, she wondered if someone might be breaking in, and lay awake, heart pounding, listening to the soft sound of Evka's breath and the creaks the house made as it settled. Everything was quiet for a long time, but Kash couldn't shake the feeling of unease or the sense that all was not well.

Evka was still only little. She'd have to wake Stepka. He wouldn't be totally useless.

She sprang from her bed, sprinted into Stepka's room, and shook him violently until his eyes open. When she turned on the light, he blinked sourly at her and frowned. "Jesus, Kash! What the hell is wrong with you? It's two in the morning!"

"Something is wrong!" Later, Evka said that Kash had been shouting and woken her up. "Something is going to happen!"

"Come on," Stepka said. "Let's get Anna." They trudged down the hall, only to find her door locked. Stepka banged on it for what seemed a small eternity, only for nothing to happen, and this only made Kash's heart pound faster and the blood rush to her head and--

"Here," Evka's soft voice said behind them. "I found the key. Mama keeps it in the linen closet."

Stepka's hands shook as he turned the key in the lock. Anna's door swung open easily, and Kash gasped when they stepped in.

The window was wide open, and the moonlight poured into the bedroom. Anna's bed lay in its path, but Anna was not there. Kash gasped and reached for her brother's hand; Stepka gripped her fingers, though she was not reassured. "She's gone out the window," he said.

"What?" Kash had to take another step into the room and squint, but she did, finally, see the sheets tied together and secured to one of the shutters. "Oh God. What are we going to tell Mama?"

"Mama's not going to be home before dawn," Stepka said. "Anna will be back by then."

"Well, that's easy for you to say! Where could she have gone, anyway?"

"There's a Party meeting at someone's house," Stepka said. "I think that's where she is."

"Mama said she wasn't to--"

"Since when does Anna listen to Mama, anyway?" Stepka said.


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