Siberia, Russia: July 16th 1918
"Alyoshenka, you aren't eating." Mama's gentle words pulled me from my reverie. I rolled my eyes and spooned another lump of beetroot into my mouth.
As I was chewing, the lights flickered and gave out, plunging us into darkness. My four sisters let out bloodcurdling screams, startling me into a choking fit.
Mama lunged for me and began to thump me on the back, yelling at the soldiers to find candles. It took me almost a full minute to convince Mama that I wasn't dying.
By this point, Papa had lit four candles in the centre of the table. The flickering light illuminated the faces of my sisters. They were staring at me in concern, worry etched on their features.
"I'm fine." The edge in my voice caused Nastia to lean forward. Wrenching myself from Mama's arms I hauled myself to my feet.
For months I had been confined to a bed, or a chair, unable to move freely. A helpless baby. Ever since the accident. It had been such a small thing. I'd hurt my leg while playing. It started as a bruise. Now I couldn't walk. I'd had enough.
"Alexei!" she cried sharply, reaching for me. I shook her arm off impatiently and took a step forward. The pain was instant and consuming. I pushed past it stubbornly, gritting my teeth. Another step, with my good leg this time. Painless. As my left foot hit the floor, however, it came back in waves. The agony possessed my leg, setting fire to my skin, pressing against the bone and muscle.
Letting out a cry of frustration, I gave in, allowing my legs to buckle. Mama let out a scream of terror, but strong arms wrapped around me before I hit the ground. In an instant Papa lifted me into his strong grip, rendering me weightless.
"Don't do that again, Alyosha," he whispered as he carried me upstairs.
It seemed that dinner was over.
Please, God, give me back my legs. I turned the crucifix over between my fingers, running my skin over the familiar cold metal.
I promise, I won't waste them if I get them back. I'll be careful. I won't worry Mama anymore.
My fingers moved up the chain, twisting it, intertwining with the gold. God could hear me. I knew He could. Papa suggested His reason for my sickness was to strengthen me. I asked God every night if that was true. He hadn't answered yet. It didn't stop me from asking, though. Maybe one day He would send an angel down to heal me. Maybe one day an answer would ring down from the rooftop, clear and pure as freshly fallen snow.
The door creaked open, causing me to jump. I looked up and offered a genuine smile at my four sisters, each of whom bore her own candle. Nastia immediately set hers on the bedside table and sat at the foot of my bed, with the rest following in a more demure fashion. My oldest sister, Olya, placed herself down on the bedside chair, smoothing down her plain brown dress, and smiling over at me tenderly.
"How are you, baby?"
"How does he look, Olishka?" Tania rolled her eyes and pushed my fringe out of my forehead. Nastia bent down and hugged my feet, pressing her full cheek against them.
"Poor Alyoshenka, you haven't seen the sun for months," she lamented, sighing.
"Don't exaggerate so, Nastas, it's been one month," spoke up Masha quietly, clutching the bedpost as though it was all that was holding her up.
"It's been a long one," I added in Nastia's defence. She hugged my feet tighter in response. Tania pressed her cold, bony hand against the side of my face. It felt deliciously cool against my still warm skin. She had lost so much weight in the last year, since we'd been held in prison. The war was going well for none of us.
My eldest sisters didn't stay for long; the night was well upon us, and the cold it brought was bone deep. They longed for the warmth of their beds, and one by one they left the room until only Nastia was left. Instead of heading to her own room, she hopped up next to me and slid under the covers. Her legs were like ice against mine. I kicked her away, laughing.
"Is that any way to treat your sister?" she scolded playfully, pressing her skin against mine again.
I scoffed. "Oh, and freezing your brother to death is any better?"
"You're such a baby."
"According to you. It's only two weeks until I'm fourteen now, don't forget."
Nastia smiled in amusement. "You're right. Keep growing at this rate and you'll have caught up to me."
"You'll always be three steps ahead of me, Nastenka." I raised my eyebrows in what I assumed was a wise manner. Nastia burst out laughing.
"You're too funny, Alyoshenka. Don't you ever change, do you hear me?"
"I hear you. I wish I didn't, though."
"Well, suit yourself," Nastia said. I would have thought she was hurt if I didn't know her better. "I'm getting tired anyway. Goodnight, baby."
"See you tomorrow." My eyes were closed before she had taken the last candle from the room. Despite my exhaustion, I knew I wouldn't fall asleep anytime soon. My sisters had come up with the ingenious idea of sewing jewels into our clothing to smuggle them into the prison. Though it had seemed like a good idea at the time, no one considered how they would feel to sleep on. Nevertheless, I let my head melt back into the pillow, and waited.
"Wake up, Alyoshenka," Papa murmured, gently pulling me from my bed. I let out a groan of annoyance. It was still pitch black.
"What?" I asked, fighting the urge to fall back asleep in his arms.
"The war's come too close. We're being moved."
It took me a moment to take this information in. We were being moved again. In the middle of the night? There had to be some sort of danger. I was fully awake by this point, enough to absorb the fact that Papa had carried me into the cellar.
The only light in the room came from the four thin candles that had adorned the dinner table earlier. The electricity was still out. My sisters and mother had already assembled. Mama ordered me a chair, and before long one was brought for me to be placed in. There was a large group of soldiers gathered before us, and all looked very grave.
Nastia, offered me an excited grin, leaning forward in her seat. I turned my attention back to the front. A squat, darkly featured soldier with a crooked nose, who introduced himself as Yurovsky, cleared his throat.
"As you are all aware, it is now necessary to evacuate you from Siberia," he began.
Masha let out an excited giggle, and Tania told her to hush. Nastia mouthed the word 'England' to me, her eyes alight.
Yurovsky continued. "As proof you remain in captivity, we require that you line up for a photo."
Papa placed his hand on my shoulder to keep me still, and my family soberly formed a line either side of my chair. Yurovsky again walked ahead of the soldiers and surveyed us carefully, before speaking.
"Nicholas Romanov, your relatives have tried to save you, but they have not. We, as the Uralispolkom, are forced to shoot you ourselves for counter revolutionary activity."
"What?" Papa asked. I stared at him, unable to move. Realisation formed in his eyes. He took a step towards me. There was a bang. His head exploded in a spray of red. It rained down like a waterfall. There was another shot, and mothers hand fell from my shoulder.
"Alexei!" It was Nastia. I threw myself to the ground, a bullet narrowly missing my right shoulder. The floor rushed towards me, knocking the breath from my lungs. I couldn't get to my feet. The world was collapsing around me. The only sound was the endless gunshots. They surrounded me. Masha screamed shrilly, and I buried my head with my hands, squeezing my eyes shut.
"God, please," I whispered desperately, trying to still the wild beating of my heart. "Please, save Maria's soul. Save her, please."
Another gunshot. I began to crawl across the floor with my good leg, clawing ahead of me. I stopped, and crossed myself. My eyes were open now, but all vision was lost. The candles had blown out. The metallic taste of gun fumes filled my mouth. No oxygen could be drawn from the air. My fate must have been to suffocate here.
It was silent.
There were no more gunshots. Somewhere far away Tatiana said something to Olga. They were safe. God was keeping us safe. He was protecting us. It was a miracle. Then it hit me. The jewels. The miraculous diamonds we all had in the lining of our shirts. They guarded our skin.
"Alexei? Alexei? Where's the baby?"
"Anastasia!" I called for her.
Nastia's voice rang back, filled with relief. "Alexei, come here."
I didn't. I continued crawling forward, digging my nails into the wooden floor until my fingers made contact with material. Papa's sleeve. Papa. God, bless his soul. Tears poured down my face, and I buried it against his arm.
Something slammed into my back with such force it knocked the breath from my lungs. And again. Something pulled on the chain around my neck. I grabbed at my crucifix as it cut into my skin, pulling it away from my assailant.
I was retching.
There was a man.
It was stabbing repeatedly against the diamonds.
I instinctively held up my arm. A sharp slice. Blood slid slickly down my skin. It wouldn't clot. The bleeding wouldn't stop. It had to be bandaged, or it wouldn't stop. Even a bruise was enough to cripple me.
I tried to back away, but the bayonet crashed down again. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to fall back limply. The stabbing stopped.
God, please, save me. Save my soul.
The fumes had cleared. My eyes opened. There was blood. Too much blood. I couldn't scream. God, don't let me scream. I was shaking. Visibly. They would see it. I tried to stop. The shaking grew more violent.
Dear God, bless Mama and Papa.
The pain in my arm was the only thing keeping me there. My breathing stopped.
Keep my Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, Maria.
"Burn the bodies."
Please, God, bless my soul, take my soul for your own.
Oh, God, please take me from this. Please.
I opened my eyes. Yurovsky was before me. My eyes flickered to the gun in his hand. His eyes were black with hatred.
He lifted the gun.
I closed my eyes. My head turned.
As the explosion of noise hit my ears, I gave myself over to God.
A/N: Okay, I'm really hoping for you guys' help here! This is my short story for English Studies, draft number three. The word limit is 2000, the current word count is 1839. AKA I only have 150 words to make the changes I need GOOD! I need to describe the setting more, establish the symbolism of the chair as Alexei's helplessness, the candles as life, the crucifix as the holding onto of religion through hard times, and now my teacher has decided she wants the jewels to be a symbol of lost hope. So I need words!
Please, guys, what isn't necessary here? Anything I can cut out?
It's so hard, cause it's so short, and everything in there is there for a reason! I've already cut out thousands of words worth of story!
*sigh I hate short stories