Short Horror Fiction: ‘Dragunov’s Last Performance’
Ian writes horror, science fiction and fantasy – in short story, novel and script formats.
His short short stories, ‘Monarch‘ and ‘That which covers us’, were published in Brotherton’s Publishing e-magazine in January 2015 and eFiction magazine in February 2015 (and shown on Popcorn Horror), respectively. Brotherton’s publishing will also be showing the continuation of ‘Monarch‘, titled ‘Red Queen‘. ‘Dragunov’s last performance‘ was published in November 2015 in Heater magazine and is currently available on Amazon.
He is currently writing several screenplays and would welcome collaborations with filmmakers and script writers. Please email if you wish to collaborate on any film projects or are on the look out for a script writer.
‘Dragunov’s Last Performance’
The white brute of winter had eaten up most of Kurt Wolfe’s army. Its icy bowels wrapped his unit in a thin blanket, freezing all faith in German soldiers already sunken by hunger and failure. They retreated early, without higher authority, and were well aware of the outcome at home. For those not wishing their end at a firing squad, their manner of destruction, like each of his men fleeing Leningrad, was self-inflicted. Fischer chose the gun. He placed his rifle muzzle against his right nostril and, with one pull of the trigger, ended his torment with a bloodfilled eruption exiting from the back of his head. Meyer, too timid of the bullet, attempted a clumsy knife stab to his abdomen. He howled and bled for so long that Wolfe finished him with a pistol shot through the eye. Schultz had lost his wits long before they departed. He resolved to stay, sit and gorge on the snow.
Penetrating the Ukrainian border, his surviving eight men waved hands with missing digits claimed by frostbite and screamed for rest. A hay barn, reeking of pigs’ piss, served as their hotel for the night. Together, they snored off fatigue and a hay supper.
The blizzard coughed up the last of its fury during the night. Wolfe and his men woke to a fright of white ghosts standing proud above them. When the spectres shook the snow away from their Russian uniforms, Wolfe realised that their weapons had been seized. “Lieutenant Zoln,” said a plump, bald, soldier, lowering the hood of his coat. His oversized build was made more obscene by the lumps of fat around his neck.
“Your weapons have been taken for safe keeping,” he said in German. “Colonel Wolfe,” he replied.
In faultless Russian, Wolfe pleaded for the safety of his men. Zoln offered no words of comfort.
“Our unit is located in a town about a mile from here. Colonel Dragunov will wish to see you.”
Wolfe’s men yelled no words of contempt. Their mouths were occupied filling their bellies with the bread and vodka supplied by their captors.
* * *
Prisoners and soldiers trudged into a town sucked dry of its inhabitants. One girl, of no more than fifteen, lay in a gutter. She looked alive until critical examination caught the green necrosis on her skin. Her skirts were draped across her body, with torn underwear barely concealing the violation.
“Rogue soldiers, Colonel Wolfe,” said Zoln. “We only arrived here two days ago. Colonel Dragunov told the men to keep their needs in their trousers or they’ll be shot off.” He pointed at a young, pimply officer. “Find a spade and bury her quickly.”
The food raid, ordered by Dragunov, had found frozen, rancid meat, beneath the appetites of the ravenous rats that had replaced the town’s populace. Into a cauldron, grey chicken and pork were flung while still on the bone. After many hours of stewing, officer and private alike were fed a muck pot that tasted vile but gratified many days of hunger. With little doubt of his fate, Wolfe was surprised to have been given two helpings of this abhorrent brew. He spat out what he registered as a hard piece of onion, but, on closer inspection, was a curled rat’s tail.
Captain Schmidt looked up at Wolfe with large, mournful eyes. “When will they shoot us? They’ve been without skirt for months. Are they waiting for us to sleep, so that they can sodomize us and slit our throats?”
Wolfe sought to find a valid reason why there was no bullet in his head. His Russian had been good, on account of a maternal Russian grandfather, a family secret due to the Führer’s blood laws. Or, maybe Dragunov wanted an equal to converse with – before they blew Wolfe’s intellect out through his ears. Wolfe recollected the spark in Zoln’s eyes when Wolfe disclosed his piano training in Cologne.
“If they were going to do us in, why not earlier? They had every opportunity.
” Their conversation was disturbed by the appearance of Zoln. “The Colonel now wishes your company.”
* * *
Wolfe was led to the entrance of an abandoned house by Zoln, where a saturnine, dark-skinned man, stood in the doorway. “Colonel Dragunov,” he said, extending a handshake. The roughness of his hand scratched Wolfe’s palm like a blunt razor. His unhinged smile reminded Wolfe of his subordinate, Meyer. Dragunov presented Wolfe with a clean glass of vodka, while his men, sat on the grass outside, drank from the same dirty glass encrusted with stew. To the right of the house, Wolfe saw mounds of snow and earth, resembling the lines of potatoes he used to plant as a child.
“Come inside,” said Dragunov in a tired voice.
Wolfe followed Dragunov through the entrance. The rooms of the house were largely empty, no food on shelves and just a few pictures on the walls of a family who had fled. A moustached patriarch stood in a framed picture with a young girl and boy, who Wolfe guessed to be each of five and ten years, respectively. Down a narrow corridor, Dragunov opened a door with the broken padlock hanging on the door handle. The room behind the door was as sparse as the rest of the house, save for one chair and a Weber grand piano. Wolfe’s hand stroked the walnut veneer and imagined the patriarch teaching the keystrokes of the piano with his daughter and son sat next to him. Wolfe recalled tutoring his own daughter, her face, a portrait of love, clinging to his arm as he played.
“Quite a rare find, don’t you think? I’d have expected the locals to have burnt it for firewood,” said Dragunov. “I promised to shoot any of my boys who so much as placed one of their smelly fingers on it. I trained at the Moscow academy. Then, I had to join the army to satisfy my father’s ambitions. The Boss invited me to play for him at the Kremlin ten years ago. My mother died the next day. The doctor said her heart gave out, but I knew she’d been overwhelmed with pride. You should have seen the smile on her face when they buried her.”
Wolfe played until night, until he noticed the tears on Dragunov’s face. The man began to weep uncontrollably. Even in the dim lamp-light of the room, Dragunov’s eyes were red with sorrow.
Dragunovov went outside into the corridor where Koln was present.
He lent forward and whispered something so grim, Koln wiped his ear. “Sir, are you sure?”
“Can you listen? Those are my orders.”
Koln nodded and left. Dragunov returned to the room. He produced a gun from under his coat and cocked it. “Don’t worry, this isn’t for now. It’s for later,” he said, noticing Wolfe flinch.
Dragunov’s visible sadness was replaced with a solemn, executioner’s face. “The last radio transmission we received informed me of my son’s execution by the Germans at Kursk.”
“I’m sorry,” said Wolfe, succumbing to a shiver as he spoke.
“He didn’t talk. He didn’t weep. He died like a Bolshevik.” He pointed the pistol directly at Wolfe.
“You may play anything you like and switch to anything anytime. But when you stop…” Dragunov cocked the gun.
“You’re not a colonel for nothing. I wouldn’t let my men make a mess of it. You’ll be shot by an equal rank – a rare honor.”
Wolfe sat on the stool. “I —”
Zoln knocked on the door, the candlelight in his hands, smoothing his porcine features. He enquired if they could move position. “We move when he finishes his performance,” said Dragunov.
“Colonel, if we don’t move soon, we’ll get hit by the bombing.” “I have finished speaking,” said Dragunov. “Bring the young man and myself a coffee.”
“Sir, our position is not safe. We need to move quickly.”
Dragunov moved to his feet, raised his pistol, and shot the lieutenant through his forehead. The circular pattern of blood and brain matter stained the wall behind. As Zoln slumped to the floor, his face bore a look of surprise. Droplets of blood chased each other, running down the wall back towards the owner’s head.
“I need men who listen. Can you hear me Lieutenant?”
Dragunov kicked Koln’s leg. “Get him out!” barked Dragunov. “Now!”
Two silent officers entered. They dragged the carcass from the room, leaving a stream of blood on the floor as they departed.
“Fetch some coffee,” bellowed Dragunov. The coffee never arrived and, when dawn broke, the unit had elected to go rogue rather than frag a commanding officer.
Although Dragunov had relinquished any authority, he still persisted with his campaign of torture. When Wolfe felt sleep pulling on his eyelids, Dragunov fired a shot, so close to Wolfe’s head, it deafened his left ear. Soon after, Wolfe’s bladder gave out, filling the room with the stench of piss.
The aerial bombing, distant at first, became closer as day collapsed into night, starting as little more than rumbles of thunder with firework flashes in the darkness. But the thunder came closer. None of the aerial advancement raised any care in Dragunov. His eyes never blinked from Wolfe’s erratic playing. Soon the town’s streets succumbed to the bombs, purging buildings from existence. The bombardment became an accompanying orchestra to his piano playing. Like an angel finally coming for deliverance, a shell landed next to the window, spearing Dragunov’s face and neck with glass. To Wolfe, Dragunov’s squeals of agony sounded like the laughter of a small child.
* * *
Dragunov woke to a new and excruciating morning, seated at the piano, with bandages garlanding his neck. The whiff of Wolfe’s sweat clung with resilience to the keys.
“Thank my medical training for patching you up,” said Wolfe, sitting in the space formerly occupied by Dragunov. “I could extract the glass from your cheeks, but you had a three-inch shard of glass wedged in your jugular.
The thick oak of the piano rescued me from laceration.” “The allies will be here soon slicing you up for bacon,” coughed Dragunov. “You should have killed me when you could.”
Wolfe motioned to Dragunov with the pistol. “We’ve not finished the performance.” Through the wall cavity, formerly a window, Wolfe observed his surviving eight men gathering in the snow.
“Finish him off and leave,” called Schmidt. “Go home,” said Wolfe listlessly. “Sir, please. It’s over. Go to your─.” “To what? This is my last command. You are now in charge.”
Realising that nothing could reverse Wolfe’s decision, his men congregated around him, each shaking his hand. He bade each one a safe journey.
“Find provisions and leave,” was his last order to Schmidt. Wolfe watched them disappear into the town’s stores, taking what little was left. His bleary eyes noticed the mounds of earth next to the house had been blown open, revealing partly decomposed corpses in German uniform. Wolfe spat on the floor in disgust.
“How many soldiers failed your audition?” Dragunov chuckled and positioned himself with stately poise, the bandages around his neck turning crimson.
“About four or five. Does that answer your question? Your army took out my boy’s fingernails and beat, beat and beat him again. Then they shot him in the head. No one mourns for my boy. Why should I mourn for them?”
“You’re not frightened?” asked Wolfe. Dragunov began playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor. “I have a chance to present the music that made the Boss weep and my mother die of happiness. And soon, I’ll join my lad. Until then, I have a captive audience, one that can never sleep.”
Wolfe, feeling the fatigue seep into his ankles, slipped back onto the floor. Perhaps thoughts of his wife and child might rescue him from this act of retribution. But the furnace of the Dresden bombings had turned his gorgeous, blue-eyed darlings into angels that could only kiss him in dreams. With the darkness of sleep closing in all around all him, he wrapped a blanket around himself, and listened to Dragunov’s last performance.