The basement was dank and smelt of fear, a mixture of breath, sweat, and urine. It was too small for all of us to fit, my family of seven, a few servants and the Red Army soldiers. Earlier we had been ordered to prepare ourselves for yet another move. There was a threat to our lives, we were told, when the soldiers woke us up at 1 am on that fateful day of July 1918 and huddled us into the room.
Were his prophecies turning true?
My father’s scream jolted me back and that was followed by thunderous rapture of firing. The room filled with black smoke. Shivering in fright, I broke my amulet and drank its contents as I had been instructed by him two years ago. My form started to dissipate as he had promised.
But that did not save me from the horror I saw. I saw my mother and Olga’s chest riddled with bullets, their hands clutching the cross. I saw Anna, my mother’s maid, stabbed repeatedly when she was found clinging on to her dear life. I saw Maria moaning in pain and a kind Red Army soldier putting an end to her misery by clubbing her in swift strokes. I saw a drunk soldier bayoneting the bodies of my fallen family with utter irreverence.
For the next twenty minutes, I saw what I should have never seen. I saw it all because I was rendered formless, thanks to his potion, while my family, weighed down by the 300 years of lineage, was murdered in a ruthless fashion.
My end is nigh. But fear not for I shall never die. I see dark days for your family. They will stare at death soon.
My schwipsig, I cannot save them from what fate has in store. But you, my dearest, are mine and shall join me when the time comes. The enclosed amulet contains a potion that will snatch you away from the death’s clutches. Bite it hard and drink its potion. It is the pinnacle of my alchemy. It will turn you into vapour for a day and you will to be unseen. Use it wisely’
I wore the amulet around my neck and burnt the letter. I could not risk being caught by the Bolshevik spies swarming the palace or my parents, the Tsar and Tsarina, who did not have an inkling about my affair with their ‘dear friend’. Our love was just a few months old, yet passionate and deep.
I cried looking at the disfigured frame of my brother Alexei, that delicate body we had tried so hard to shield from even the smallest of scratches for he had a propensity to bleed unceasingly. I cried looking at Maria’s exposed breasts, her corset ripped off by soldiers looking for hidden heirloom. I cried looking at Tatiana, mangled in a heap, yet her lips, for some inexplicable reason had frozen in half-smile.
I cried as all the bodies were piled up in the truck unceremoniously and driven away. I could cry my heart’s content for his miracle liquid had mutated me into an unseeable being.
While the truck pulled away into the darkness, I slumped, weariness taking over me. I should have died. Now I had to wrestle with guilt for the rest of my life.
Why did I save myself, I bewailed. Why did I use his elixir?
The cobbled streets of Yekaterinburg felt icy at these wee hours. Feeling wiry fingers through my disheveled tress, I startled and looked up to stare at a familiar pair of haunting eyes, his eyes.
He was unrecognizable without his beard.
‘Can you see me?’, I whimpered as he lifted me up.
‘I am tethered to your soul, Anastasia. I have been keeping a watch on you. I have influential friends.’ he said ‘In another few hours, you will gain your form. We need to escape before that.’
The sun was breaking in lazily over the Urals when he reached the train station with me gliding along. Commuters jostled into me, not knowing what they walked into and went away, scratching their heads. A heavy fog had settled on the tracks making trains jump out of its opaque wall every now and then. He stood at the far end of the platform peering into the tracks to see the arrival of the train that would take us to Tobolsk.
I stood behind him imperceptibly and when I saw a train approaching the station in full throttle, I stepped back and with all my might shoved him under wheels of the approaching train. A few were shocked to see a man slip and fall into the tracks, a few shouted out for help. All that and the crunching of the skull were drowned under the clangor of the train.
I, Anastasia, the last surviving child of Tsar of Russia killed Rasputin, the heretic and thaumaturge, who had been revered as a saviour by my family for many years. Alas, we were disconsolate when we learnt, in captivity, that our ‘dear friend’ had betrayed us in exchange for his life. We had cried bitterly for days, for that was all we could do then.
The love I bore him in secret had withered and in its place, loathing bubbled up.
Little did I know that destiny would yield him to my mercies.
His death had been already been orchestrated by the Red Army two years ago when Rasputin had deserted us. Now, nobody would be searching for an ‘already’ dead man in what appeared to be an accidental fall.
I boarded one of the carriages and decided to take myself as far away as possible from this wretched land that rejoiced when my family’s blood spilled and stained their soil.
I was not a prophet. But I did wish upon this land, heaving unrests, fractured geographies, untrustworthy friends and paranoid enemies.
In a word, Damnation!
Photo By: Jared Subia