The Ruins and the General
by Chad Smith
Tsarskoye Selo, Leningrad Oblast
German Occupied Russia
Generalmajor Kristof Von Traugott ran for his life.
He careened at full speed through the endless formation of impossibly tall Russian evergreens. Neither the deep snow, his claustrophobic gasmask nor the extra forty pounds of lard which hung from his belt could slow his flight. The repulsive, inflexible contours of the Germanmask bit into the soft flesh of his cheeks; the straps having been over-tightened in fear. The sixty year old Generalmajor’s own breath had fogged the small round windows of the mask completely; the harder he breathed, the less he could see; and the more terrified he became.
Those others; the men of his command staff, had died clutching their throats and drowning in mucus. Generalmajor Kristof Von Traugott envisioned no such fate for himself. He would run. He was a survivor.
To clean the fogged windows of the mask was to expose his lungs to the unknown agentresponsible for the massacre of his field headquarters. Maintaining a clear view would necessitate catching his breath, and for that he would need to slow down or stop. Both options spelled death for the German Officer just as sure as the Russian winter was cruel.
The Generalmajor did not stop. He ran. He was a survivor.
Generalmajor Von Traugott collided with as many trees as he passed, blundering at full speed through the sub-arctic forest. His legs burned… god did they burn… the muscles of his calves and thighs were being dissolved in acid, the bones of his shins felt split apart by wedges; or so it felt.
Terror and panic had long since overtaken the agony.
He simply could not stop, even if he wanted to. It was the kind of mortal terror that shut down the higher brain functions and forced its will upon the body. No composure, no strategy: this was the heart of chaos.
At full sprint, the corpulent field commander careened into a tall, narrow stump. His testicles were crushed against his pelvis and his bladder bruised. Von Traugott collapsed forward onto the snow, his stomach knotting with the boiling urge to vomit.
And vomit the Generalmajor did, filling the gas mask with foul acid.
He tore the gas mask from his face, his eyes and nose both stinging and stinking from the repugnant inundation. He crawled on bare hands in the snow, dragging himself to a tree before using the mighty evergreen as a crutch and leaning post, a friend to help him to his feet. His chest heaved involuntarily, his pulse thudded loudly in his ears.
How long had he been running?
Bark and living wood exploded next to his ear, the bullet striking the tree some time before the muffled gunshot echoed across the snow. Exhausted and desperate, the Generalmajor hobbled forward with a gait swift, if asymmetrical.
The first person he encountered was utterly apathetic to the danger which had befallen Von Traugott.
She was cold and she had no face.
From the back, a shapely figure and a bare bottom, bent low, dipping her amphorae into a waterless, snowy pool. Von Traugott regarded the figure as he hurried past: a single eye mocked him from what was left of her granite expression. Jawless, mouth-less, the former beauty cast rueful myopic distain back in his direction. So was not real, she was a statue… but her hate burned just the same.
No sooner than the Generalmajor had accepted the forest to be infinite, he found himself exposed and in the open. He had burst onto a long, perfectly straight walkway lining a canal surrounded by snow, debris, and dormant fountains. He slipped on the icy walkway as he dashed right to follow the canal, twisting his wrist in an attempt to stay on his feet. He was gasping now, moaning out his exhaled breath in an exhausted, involuntary anguish.
Von Traugott clumsily ambled southward, barely noticing a German infantryman bartering with a local peasant for cigarettes. The German soldier watched in shock as the Generalmajor careened past him, gathering speed. The soldier was unsure if his eyes could be trusted and did not immediately react. The hefty Flag officer, his uniform disheveled and the color drained from his face, did not respond as the Infantryman called to him. The Generalmajor just kept running.
Von Traugott passed no more than three other individuals, one of whom might have been dead and frozen in place, but to those that moved he shouted an unintelligible warning of dire urgency. His brain had sent actual words to his tongue, but his voice had executed absolute gibberish. Rational thought seemed to have left him along with the contents of his stomach.
The Generalmajor ran and ran, down the canal, over a bridge and towards titanic steps: icy, ornate and neglected. The terraced steps were badly damaged and hopelessly large. Each step rose to chest height, clearly designed for giants. The Generalmajor threw his body over the first step and scampered to the next, vaulting his 250-pound mass onto each level as he ascended. He was half way up the structure before common sense directed him to finish the ascent on the hillside, noting a normal stairway cut into the landscaping.
The Generalmajor stopped at the top of the hill, winded so thoroughly that he was unable to carry on. Snot flew from his nose with the milky clouds of breath that were forced from his lungs at a runaway pace. Von Traugott doubled over, desiring greatly to lie down in the fresh snowfall. His heart quaked in his chest. For a moment, he thought he could hear his heartbeat echoing through the czarist ruins which now towered overhead.
The lead bullet tore through his overcoat and passed through a fatty roll in his right side. Blood, lipid and fabric alike streaked from the exit wound as the projectile zipped neatly through Von Traugott’s side.
“FOR GOD SAKE, NO MORE!” He shouted, intertwined with an agonized and labored scream. His command echoed for the ghosts of the Romanovs but remained unheard by the few friendly ears which wandered the grounds.
The Generalmajor… the survivor… stumbled forward, running again. He passed through walls opened by flame and bombardment, tripping on the rubbish at the center of the former palace where it lay open and exposed to the elements. Von Traugott gave his last measure of strength to reach the cover of the Upper Garden, which sat in a massive and neglected expanse to the south. The trees and shrubs were arranged in the orderly, English tradition which supplied a virtual labyrinth in which to hide. With his muscles failing, his lungs unable to keep up and his heart pounding irregularly, the exhausted Officer threw himself into the best cover he could find: a square of gangly shrubbery which was masked from view by several other sets of trees and bushes. There was no shot to be had, no line of sight to his position. The Generalmajor was safe to convalesce, covered by the shrubbery.
With trembling hands, he drew and cocked his Luger pistol, holding the weapon left handed while applying pressure to his wound with the right.
Time passed at glacial speed, his eyes peering through the branches and remaining leaves, darting back and forth across the courtyard. The direction from whence he had come remained devoid of life, though he expected his pursuer to make himself visible at any moment. His eyelids were becoming heavy and his cold, wet uniform now clung to his body, robbing him of both warmth and comfort.
The whine of a motor caught his attention as a German soldier on a sidecar motorcycle sped along the edge of the dilapidated palace. The bike stopped at the center of the building, its rider lifting his binoculars to search the upper garden.
Rescue was at hand. The Generalmajor struggled from his stomach, to his knees. The effort left him weak as his heart continued to thud painfully in his chest. The sensation of injury from his wound grew louder as his adrenaline slowly faded. Nonetheless, he had to stand, lest he not be found until long after he expired. Von Traugott’s legs responded dutifully as he stood, his head cresting the top of the shrub as he prepared to wave and shout with everything he had left.
He stopped and collapsed to his knees. The German soldier now searched the garden through the scope of a Russian rifle.
The Generalmajor cursed his fortune even as his rubberized legs thanked him for lying back down. A short lived relief registered for Von Traugott as the German lowered the rifle without firing. The soldier’s lips moved, speaking well out of earshot. The soldier proceeded to remove her helmet.
Silver and onyx locks cascaded about her shoulders as an animal leapt from the sidecar. With the speed of a race horse, the Shepherd Dog accelerated into the maze of the Upper Garden through an entrance greatly distant from the Generalmajor’s position.
Von Traugott pulled in his legs and wriggled into the bushes as far as he could. The Survivor closed his eyes and prayed to his Christian god; he prayed harder than he ever had in the whole of his combat experience.
Save me from my enemies my God;
Protect me from those who attack me…
The Upper Garden was quiet. The motorcycle’s engine noise was no longer present. Winter wind whistled through the Upper Garden.
Rise, Lord God Almighty, and come to my aid;
See for yourself, God of Israel!
Wake up and punish the heathen;
Show no mercy to evil traitors!
The Generalmajor clenched his eyes in terror, willing faith to displace his fear. Tears began to force their way out of his clenched eyes and down the sides of his face. Memories of his family and grandchildren fought their way in from the peripheral, even as he forced them away.
My God loves me and will come to me;
He will see my enemies defeated.
Long quiet minutes had passed. The Generalmajor opened his eyes to the harsh light ofthe winter’s day. He cautiously inhaled and gently exhaled the cold, crisp, life-giving air. He had finally caught his breath.
The garden was at peace.
Generalmajor Kristof Von Traugott was at peace.
He was a survivor.
The dog’s bite was sudden and crushing. The canine’s incisors split the skin beneath Von Traugott’s pant leg and anchored into muscle and sinew.
The Generalmajor began to scream.
He kicked with his free leg, but in his exhausted state he could barely raise his boot. The dog’s jaws were locked with infallible perfection, pulling with all four of his legs working together in short, powerful surges. The shepherd dragged the Nazi general from his hiding place and into the open between rows of shrubbery. The dog launched himself atop his prey, sinking another bite deep into Von Traugott’s forearm. The more Von Traugott struggled, the more flesh was torn and the harder the animal’s teeth became set. The Generalmajor flailed blindly in pain and terror.
“Ty moloDETS, Volnyi.” A woman’s voice spoke, causing the Generalmajor’s arm to be released. He could hear the tone, the inflection: he knew exactly what she had said despite his inability to speak a single word of Russian:
“I surrender! I surrender! Call off your dog…FOR CHRIST SAKE!” Von Traugott exclaimed in his native tongue. He held his hands in front of his face, his attempt at blocking the dog as well as the cold, bright sun.
The woman made no expression, no words, no gestures. The dog; Volnyi, sat obediently at her side, tail swooshing back and forth in the fluffy snow.
The woman, with her Russian words and German uniform, lifted a short double barreled shotgun, leveling it at the German where he lay. Her right hand clutched the grip and trigger, her left hand braced the top of the modified barrel.
Von Traugott was tired. His will sapped and his energy exhausted. The survivor closed his eyes without protest.
Crows took flight from the ruins of Peterhof as the powerful shotgun blasted the General’s final thoughts to the four winds.
Chad Smith is a US Merchant Marine Officer and accomplished professional scuba diver. He graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy and served as a Deck Officer aboard various ships, eventually being awarded the Merchant Marine Expedition Medal in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a diver, he has explored submerged history worldwide, including work as a divemaster at the former nuclear weapons test site of Bikini Atoll. he also served as a Vessel Operations Chief during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill. Today he manages worldwide scientific expeditions at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and resides on Cape Cod with his wife Victoria and two rescue dogs.