Mark is a fictional story of true events. Not always in the exact form, and never a single country. It was written to cause the read to consider what they may never see.
The Reedsy Prompt was ‘Start your story with your character(s) going to buy some flowers.“
“ я куплю цветы. I’ll buy the flowers.” He cracked his gum and tucked his sunglasses into the neck of his fitted tee. He smelled good. Expensive cologne fused with aniline leather, it smelled like money, a lot of money. He knew it. He did it intentionally.
He was an eight dressed up as a ten. Ten was power and power was what he inhaled. Controlled. Calculated. Clever.
They called him The Wolf. His name was Volkov. Alexander Volkov.
“Add another flower and my Crest,” Volkov commanded.
“Another of the same flower or do you have a specific one in mind?” Natalya asked
“ The chamomile of course.” Volkov winked.
Natalya smiled, “perfect.”
“I will return in an hour. I expect it will be done by then.”
“It will,” Natalya assured him. “And the others? Do you want the others?”
Volkov’s eyes did a second scan, scrutinizing for anything he missed in his initial examination. He brought his left index finger to his lip and tapped gently in thought. He tilted his head ever so slightly. Perhaps the different perspective would reveal something else. It didn’t. He cracked his gum again. “No. I think today, just the flowers.”
“As you wish.” Natalya nodded.
“Prokydaysya! Wake up!” Her mother leaned over, shaking her quickly and whispering curtly into her ear.
“Noooooo…” she moaned. She was fourteen and not a friend of the morning.
“Hurry. Get up. We must go!” Panic torched out of her mother.
Julija’s desire for a slow and languid morning was displaced with a scattered frenzy. She gasped as her thoughts caught up with her consciousness. “What? Why? What?”
Beyond her bedroom window, she heard the rumbling. Her head snapped in that direction.
“Now!” Her mother demanded.
Julija leaped out of her bed and headed to the window.
“NO!” her mother screamed, “Stay away from the window!”
A screech of something unholy screamed across the street, a moment later Julija stood on trembling legs as her bedroom walls groaned with impending doom, “RUN,” they quaked before the top corner cracked open. Leviathan grinned and chomped his jaws ready for the first bite.
Her mother pushed her back heavy and hard. Together both of them flew through the bedroom door into the living room at the same moment as the bedroom wall dropped from the sixth story to the ground floor.
Their minds didn’t work, they just did. They pulled themselves off the floor and ran to get out of the apartment. Six flights of stairs, breathlessly leaping over rubble and dogs and people. They exhaled when they met the middle of the street. Julija and her mom stared at their apartment building. Shock was silent. While the world around them roared and burned and groaned and screamed. Julija and her mother stood as still as statues desperately trying to comprehend what had just happened.
It was February 24, in Kyiv.
“Titka Ameryka, Aunty America, we can go there.” Her mother whispered the words over and over. A prayer? A mantra? A hope? They were crouched on the floor their backs to the wall in the metro stuffed with humans. Fear mixed with body odor penned them in puncturing their senses.
“Aunty America?” Julija asked.
“My sister,” her mother nodded her head up and down. ” My sister. She escaped our father.”
“Yes, mama, I know, you have told me. That isn’t my question, my question is how? How do we get to her?”
Her mother’s head continued to nod up and down, “Yes, how? Visas we need visas, we have nothing, we have nothing. How do we get visas with nothing? A cell phone or a laptop maybe we can ask someone and contact Titka, maybe there is something she can do from America?” She raised her eyes scanning the crowd. Who could they ask?
Natalya surveyed her surroundings in the metro, so many people. She pulled a package of cigarettes from her bag, lit one, and took a long deep draw holding it in for a moment before exhaling the sweet smoke. She closed her eyes for a moment. So much to do, where to start? She opened her cell phone to ensure service was available. Good, nothing had changed. She started scrolling social media feeds. Pictures of the last twenty-four hours assaulted her. She put the cigarette between her lips and took another draw. Using her index finger she clicked through the pages absorbed in the screen in front of her.
“Excuse me.” A voice of a girl, not a child but not quite a woman came from beside her. Natalya looked up.
“Excuse me, would it be possible if I could use your phone for a minute?” She asked.
Natalya cocked her head with interest to one side. The girl before her was covered in dust and dirt. It looked like her hair was quite dark, black like a raven maybe if it was clean but there was a layer of war coating it. The strands hung dirty in company with the filth in the metro. Her skin was clear, unusual for a girl this age Natalya noted surprised. The girl spoke softly.
“What was that you needed dear?” Natalya asked.
“Your phone madame, we have nothing to contact my Auntie in America, we would like to try, we believe she can possibly help us get there. I was wondering if it would be possible to contact my Auntie on your phone.” Julija asked timidly.
“Are you here with your parents?” Natalya looked up and past the girl’s head expecting to see an adult hovering close.
“Yes, my mama, she’s over there..” Julija nodded at the wall next to the bathrooms. Her mother noticed and nodded back in encouragement.
“I see.” Natalya smiled. “You have no phone?”
“We have nothing madame, we barely escaped our apartment with our own skin attached.”
“I see. Here, I’m logged out of my social media, you can log into yours.” Natalya handed her phone to Julija.
“What is your name?” she asked as she did so.
“I’m Julija.” Julija beamed. That’s what hope does, it makes you grin.
“A beautiful smile !” Natalya exclaimed. “You are such a lovely girl.”
“Thank you.” Julija accepted the compliment deeply, happy that even in this terrible environment someone saw the beauty within her. Fourteen-year-old girls are the sponge of flattery.
Quick as a whip Julija logged in, and sent a message to Titka on a prayer, ‘please see it quickly! This phone won’t be here for long.’
Natalya finish her cigarette, dropped it, and stepped on the butt extinguishing it. “Do you need help? You and your mother? I know you are hoping for help from your auntie. I have some friends taking refugees out of the country, is this something I could help you with?”
Julija’s mouth dropped open. From despair to delight in a chance meeting. “Come to my mama!” She insisted.
“There’s one spot left.” Natalya read the message on her phone out loud. “It can be either you or your daughter, you will have to make that choice.” She was looking directly at Julija’s mother. “There’s not much time to choose I’m afraid, my friend says they will be here in a few minutes. They instructed me to be ready at the metro entrance. We must move quickly.”
“Mama?” Julija looked at her mother, panic dropped like a shadow across her face.
“You must go Julija.” Her mother insisted. “You must be kept safe. I can stay. I can figure something out.” Turning to Natalya, a mother’s relief released, “thank you for your kindness.” Her words in transparent gratitude tumbled out.
Natalya nodded “We do what we can. They will be sending in another vehicle,” she assured them both. “It’s only this one that’s full.”
Her mother nodded. “Have you a pen? And a bit of paper? Do you have a bit of paper?”
Natalya reached into her bag, extracted both and handed them over.
18 East 7th Street Manhattan USA was scrawled hurriedly across the paper and then torn from the leaf. She folded the address into a tiny square and opened the locket around her neck. She tucked it in and snapped it shut.
“Titka’s address.” She said as she removed the necklace from her neck and wrapped it around her daughter’s.
They stood for the moment they had and hugged. They trembled as they held each other, as the blur of the day came to this second. Fear and despair clung to hope dipped in anguish and sorrow and their tears dropped as hard as their hearts.
“Cерце моє, my child, my Julija, it isn’t goodbye, it is we will see each other soon.” Her mama held Julija’s head between her hands. Inspecting her daughter one last time. Those eyes, red-rimmed and fearful stared back at her.
“Oh God my God, please please save this girl! My Girl! серце моє! My Heart!”
Her mind screamed what her voice could not.
“We must go.” Natalya whispered.
The mother and daughter released. They kissed each other’s cheeks and wiped each other’s tears.
Julija turned and walked out of the exit. Her mother turned and walked into the crowd.
A leather whip sliced sorrow in their skin, setting its scar raw and red.
“We must shut off cell service, turn off geo tracking!” the driver demanded. “All social media must be deleted immediately! The Russians are tracking us through these and they will hunt us down to stop us!”
Julija clung to Natalya’s hand as they sat in the car. It was full as Natalya had said, they barely squeezed between the others. The ride out of Ukraine was silent. The silence was screaming.
Julija rested her forehead on the black headrest. Hope hanging from a thin gold chain in a locket swung gently as she did so. She closed her eyes as she waited.
So many. So many in so many days. She couldn’t count them all.
She brought her fingers up to the locket and touched it. “Soon”
“You have your Visa it is with Alexander Volkov,” Natalya informed her just moments before. “We are to say goodbye.”
Natalya, her friend, her savior, no more? Her Visa? She had her Visa?
The last year swung from her locket…
Flashing lights pushed the beat in a hundred rooms of a hundred cities. Music lashed deep, a throaty magnet paralyzing and pulsing. Thick neon ink glowed and the heartbeat of invisible drums thumped, beating the air, beating the room, beating her breast. Thump. Thump. Thump.
She stood on the stage alone. Lit up.
Beams of laser blue light sprayed upwards exploding into shards of color on their fingertips. One hot beam danced on the mirror beneath her feet. The heel of her red stiletto caught its edge. A hundred eyes turned to watch.
She wrapped herself around the pole for them.
She wrapped her legs around their groin for them.
She wrapped her dollars in thick, sticky bundles for them.
So many clubs in so many cities blurred together in flashing lights and throbbing men.
White pills, white powder, white lights.
Dance for your Visa!
Fuck for your freedom!
So she did.
Girls marked with bruises and ink. Lines pounded into their skin. Bar codes of ownership were engraved in the soft flesh on the inside of the wrist on some, and the small of the back for others.
Stamped. Tramp. Owned. Traded. Bought.
Juliya’s forehead, still leaning against the black headrest throbbed.
Hope, hanging from a thin gold chain, folded into a golden locket, swayed against her breast.
The tattoo artist leaned his gun on her skin. He started with the wolf crest and finished with a single chamomile woven in white ink within Natalya’s mark engraved on the nape of her neck. A bouquet of flowers.