Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vonka and the Pipe

The sun was getting ready to burn the tops of the birches. Vonka leaned against the plow for a moment to see if the trees would actually ignite, and watched his breath diffuse into mist. The mud clinging to his boots was almost frozen, but he remembered the mud smell from earlier in the year when the flies were still thick in the air. The sun touched the treetops, and made some gold, but there wasn’t fire. Or even smoke, or warmth. He pulled his boots out of the mud, one after the other, and started to make for the izba where he could rest when the day was done. The plow was caught on something. A root, a rock, a sleeping spirit in the muck. He backed the plow out and used the tip to pry the rock out into the fading light. It burped out some wet peat and gleamed a bit. Gleamed? He worked it out with frozen fingers, so he could see some kind of box. The birches were in front of the sun now, so he squinted at this muddy handful and coughed a little more mist. He wiped a little mud off of it, nestled it into his hood, and leaned into the plow to get it back soon.

Vonka let the hot barley and black bread warm his mouth, and dug the gleaming mud out of his soggy hood. There was something in the middle of the mud. He scraped the mud off on his shoe. It was a wooden box, with bronze clasps and bronze corners. It looked older than anyone in the village, so it wasn’t lost exactly, and he didn’t feel like it belonged to anyone who was alive to ask for it. It was like a root, or a rock, or a sleeping spirit, except it had something inside it that wasn’t from the village.

“Vonka! Eat your happy meal and get to bed! Tomorrow we finish plowing the Hetman’s river plot, and we have to bring the plow back to Rodisch before he deflowers your cousin!”

“Misha has deflowered herself a bunch of times awready, Mama. She probly scares Rodisch half to death, with wot she knows.”

“You Vonka!! Misha is pure as winterberry bushes. She waits for her husband even now.”

“Pffft. Ma, let me stay up a few minutes while I figure out how to open this.”

“If you found it in the field, then it belongs to Hetman. He sees all and knows all.”

“Mama! You are old and crazy! Hetman is just another unemployed Mongol knave that Beg Yrma gave some land to lord over. He can’t see anything---”

“What you find thurrr, lit’l farmer boiy?” said Hetman, pressing his huge bearded head through the open window.

“Hain’t found anything, Hetman sir. Just putting some barley away for tomorrow. Big day of plowing, you know. Coming up to Feast of St. Grifkhzisich! Time to gather the barley and such.”

“I smell brass fittin’s. And old Viking wood. Possably ash. You done found a ash box wit brass fittings, an’ I betcha it are got a age-old magic pipe wot in.”

“No, you smell barley I am eatin, and mud on my boot. There be brass fittings on the icon over in the corner. in’t it so, Mama?”

“O Hetman! He done found it in the field! He kep it in his soggy hood and plant to keep it f’r’imself!”

“Mama! You crazy.”

But Hetman had reached a long spidery arm into the izba and teased the wooden box out of Vonka’s hood. He grinned a jack-o-lantern grin, and flourished a long spidery arm about in the light cast from the peat fire out the window, making to open the brass fittings on Vonka’s box.

“Give it back! Ain’t yours tall.”

“If’n you found it in the fields I told your’n ta plow, then’t mine. And it’ve in’t?”

A pipe. Meerschaum, if I didn’t know better, with a long arcing stem of orange wood, and an intensely glowering face as of a judging God, with eyes of pure burning hatred.

“A PEEP! Ceci n’est pas un pipe. This l’l devil is Khoschchei the Deathless, ain’tcha?! Wot a score. I will pack with some tabac, and light ‘er up, and”

Luckily, Hetman was dead before he finished his plan. Afanasy stepped into the light with a cloud of bees, ready for a puff of tabac.

“Ho, Vonka! How is your gelatin collection?”

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