It's a strange feeling, waking up. Your consciousness trickles back into your body and switches your brain on, and you're suddenly, here, somewhere, receiving information from your senses when a moment ago you were just an inert body.
Olga comes to first. It makes sense, poetically. She's the oldest, the first to come into the world, her female body sliding out, into the hands of a disappointed doctor. But then her surrounds were warm and bright and filled with people, and she breathed for the first time, screaming her arrival to the world. Now there is none of that.
The room is dark. Quiet. There are things, furniture, and paintings, and clothes, piled everywhere. Disordered. A dollhouse with the the neatly ordered objects removed and piled back in randomly. This room looks so different that Olga at first does not recognize it. But then her eyes find a painting. Hanging on the wall, tilted at a haphazard angle.
The face in the painting, a regal looking older man, iis some distant relative, who Olga cannot actually name, but that does not matter, because suddenly she knows where she is, she remembers being in this room, this room at the Winter Palace. She is in her former home in Saint Petersburg. A world away from Siberia. Years of memories flood her brain. Playing here. Learning her lessons. Attending church services. Putting on plays with her sisters. Grand balls. Staying inside as an angry mob stormed towards the palace. Leaving for a safer residence. What is happening? She sits up from the hard wooden floor, why is she lying down, letting her thoughts spill out into words, as she shouts, desperate, "Mama! Papa!"
She begins to walk, turning a corner, running now, where is her family, where are the soldiers, past an ornate chair, where is the basement, we were all in a basement, her feet, those weren't the shoes I remember wearing last, skidding to a stop as she comes upon a mirror. Who is that? A young woman stares back at Olga. It is her. It is not. The mirror woman is dressed in a pretty feminine white dress. Olga used to own it a lifetime ago. She remembers wearing the dress while sitting for a formal family portrait, where is her family. The first time she put it on, she felt like an angel. The dress' fine fabric is nothing like the coarse, serviceable clothes she remembers wearing last. Olga did not even bring the dress with her to Siberia. Angels had no place in the House of Special Purpose.
The mirror woman has long hair. Long thick flowing brown hair. But Olga's hair had been cut short after her illness. What's happened to me? She had cried then, for her pretty hair, in her dazed, sick state, as it was all shorne off. Stroking it frantically, it's real, Olga wishes for her short hair back. How long have I been unconscious for, not years it can't be years, was I even unconscious? The woman in the mirror is Olga Nikolaevna Romanova, Grand Duchess. This woman is not her anymore. This woman has no answers.
Olga turns away from the mirror, resisting the urge to break it, don't, it's bad luck. She must find her family, she must fine her family and then everything will be fine. They will get out of here, and survive whatever game their executioners are playing with them, where is her family. This room is smaller than she remembers, but there are still so many places where people could be hidden. Or so many places where Yurovsky's men could be hiding, waiting to shoot. What if they're here, what if I'm the last one left alive, but why would they bring me here to kill me, why not just in the basement? She yells out their names again, "Mama, Papa, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, Alexei!" As if their names are spell and she is a witch, calling them out, summoning them to her.
And though she was calling to get a reply, Olga almost faints from shock when another figure in white, an angel, runs towards her.
Not an angel. Her sister.
Tatiana is wearing a white dress as well, are we supposed to be brides, what kind of sick game is this, and her hair is long again. Tatiana was always the pretty one, with her slanted eyes and her pretty nose. Now fear and uncertainty is smeared all over her face, blurring her beauty.
Tatiana speaks first, "Where are-"
"I don't know-" The questions are answered before they are fully formed, taken out of the other sister's mouth. These two have always been a team, Olga and Tatiana. The big pair.
"Did you find-"
"Maria and Anastasia." The younger two. The little pair. Relief floods Olga's body, and Tatiana finishes, "But no one else," and Olga feels dread hit her again. Stop this, everything will be fine, we four are fine, we can find the rest of our family.
She is so frightened, but so is Tatiana, and Olga will be brave for her, and Tatiana will know this, and be brave for Olga, and they will both be a little less scared.
Reaching out and embracing her younger sister fiercely, Olga tries to banish all the darkness and the questions hiding in it. And then she hears people running towards them. She looks up, terror spiking through her body, who has found us? But Olga sees no soldiers intent on murder, but Maria and Anastasia. They have been following after Tatiana, and Olga gasps their names, and reaches out, and the little pair is included in their circle, hugging them. They are here, here. Olga is crying, completely overwhelmed by the situation.
Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia. OTMA. They are one single unit. Indissoluble. We are here, we are all here. Everything will be fine.
Eventually they let go of each other, still holding hands, a circle, needing human contact to reassure themselves of their presence. And everyone speaks at once, their statements and questions overlapping and colliding, tangling and breaking apart.
"They were killing us-"
"And now we're here-"
"Did they knock us out and bring us here?"
"But our hair…"
"And why bring us here?"
"Could we have been unconscious for days?"
"Perhaps we forgot the journey? People in traumatic situations can do that-"
"What did they do with everyone else?"
"Are we prisoners here?"
No one asks where they are. At least this is known. No one says killed. No one says dead or shot. But the question coils, unsaid under all their theories, under all their words: What if they killed Mama, Papa, and Alexei, because they were the important ones- the Tsar, the Tsarina, and the Tsarvitch- and left us alive because we weren't? What if our family is gone, and we are the only ones left, but our family line is dead, and we are nothing anymore?
No one says this.
"We have to look around," says Olga. She wants to get out. Out of this room first, then of this nightmare. "We know this place better than anyone. If they're hidden here, we can find them, and if they're not," If they're dead. "We'll look somewhere else.'
No one objects. They cross the room to the drawing room doors, which are huge and and whose hinges have not been oiled in far too long. The hinges scream as the girls put them open, and everyone freezes, like children, out of bed who have just knocked over something very heavy. There is no answer, no shouting, no voices- not the harsh shouting of the soldiers, not their parents either.
The room opens up into a wide hallway. Olga remembers running down it in happier times, chasing her sisters. They were playing some game involving queens and assassins. She does not remember the particulars, but it definitely involved chasing, up and down the floors-newly polished then. Tatiana and Anastasia were the assassins and they had drawn mustaches on their faces with black pencil. Now the floors are dull, and the girls are not queens, or Grand Duchesses anymore, but prisoners of the Ural Soviet Block, and they have met assassins, but they are not men with dastardly mustaches, but ordinary men with evil hiding in their minds.
It is like a game of hide and seek, come out, come out wherever you are, but there is no end, no shouting that you give up, that you cannot find them, no dramatic bursting out from a wardrobe or crawling out from underneath a bed.
The search goes on and on. The girls become methodical about it: opening the door to a room, calling out the names, that the soldiers are gone, waiting to see in anyone emerges. If the room is large, they will advance farther into it, repeating the message. And they wait. And no one comes out. Hello hello hello spreads itself out, ripples in a pond, out with no answer.
The palace is empty, yet there have been people here before. Looters- they find smashed wine bottle, scratches as if things have been dragged across the floor, open wardrobes standing empty, drawers half closed, things are slightly out of place, a few meters to the left of where they should be, crooked, or upended. Others have taken up residence here too. The Provisional Government made their headquarters here; Olga finds a draft of a letter detailing how to maintain peace and order among the citizens written by Alexander Kerensky to one of his ministers. This strategy had been futile, as his government was overthrown a few months later. Bastards, denouncing us and the monarchy, pretending to stand up for the workers while enjoying all the comforts of our palace. She hates the thought of these men here, and drops the letter. It falls to the ground soundlessly.
The rooms are still beautiful. No amount of revolutions and provisional governments can change that. Everything is gilded or embroidered or jewel encrusted. It reminds Olga of the tiny ornate Faberge eggs, ordered from craftsmen to be given as gifts. She had forgotten the opulence of her home. She had forgotten what it felt like to be surrounded by beauty every single day. Even during the War, seeing the horrible effects of violence every day while caring for the wounded men, there was always a palace to return to, always an oasis away from the ugliness of daily life. The gold, jewels, rich fabrics, and bright colors were still bright no matter how many of patients she's seen die that day.
The sisters talk continuously. Not of anything important, but just to fill the place with sound. Olga has never noticed how quiet the palace is before. Maria is praying under her breath, a continuous stream of words to Heaven, more for her own consolation than to receive an answer, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, over and over. Tatiana and Anastasia argue back and forth with different theories to explain their circumstances: "What if it was Father Gregori, if his spirit is protecting us?"
"He certainly prayed over us enough, all those visits in our bedrooms-."
"He prayed so much over Alexei too, and Mama-"
"Perhaps he wasn't who he said he was, people always said he was a fraud or even a demoniac-"
"But he's dead anyway, how would even a saint have enough power?"
"Ridiculous, does God care about Grand Duchesses, or only about Tsarevitch?"
"Anastasia!" This verges on blasphemy, and Olga silences her, even though they are far away from the church. The church has lost its power, the soldiers said, people believed in the new government now. Still it is a habit, scolding her youngest sister, and Olga continues it no matter what the circumstances.
They search through one wing of the palace, and find themselves facing the main doors. We only searched one floor in the palace, only one, this is a huge building, they could anywhere, still hiding. Maria darts over to the doors and the handle depresses under her hand, creating an audible click as the bolt slides out. No one has locked us in. So we are not prisoners. There is a heavy iron bar laid horizontally across the doors to prevent them from opening, but four girls standing on chairs could lift it. Maria turns and looks back at the other three. Questioning.
"We shouldn't go out, not yet." Olga tells her. "There are thousands of rooms here."
"It's way too dark."
"Someone could see us."
Tatiana and Anastasia raise their objections. Maria drops her hand and turns away from the doors. She does not really want to go out either. Here is safe. Here is known.
As Olga walks towards the next wing of rooms, something about what her sisters said about it being too dark to search outside bothers her. The palace is not illuminated by any light source, and yet, she can see. It is not quite like seeing with a light on, but rather, wherever she looks, she is able to see. At first she thought it was moonlight, but when she looks out a window, the moon is hidden behind clouds.
Outside she sees the the grounds beyond the palace, unkempt now. It is summer now, and there is no snow, but Olga remembers how it used to look, in winter, covered in snow. She remembers running through the palace gardens, the snow crunching under her feet, the cold air chilling her lungs, her breath coming out in great billowing white clouds. She turns away from the window- her breath- and she stops.
Her breath. And suddenly it makes sense, all of it, why she looks different, why she's back in the Winter Palace, why she can see better in the dark- everything makes sense. She gasps, an involuntary intake of air. Olga feels her lungs expand and then contract, pushing the air out. It does not feel like breathing. It feels unnecessary, a motion that she does not have to repeat. She has not been breathing. She has not needed to. She is dead.
Dead, no longer in need of oxygen. Dead, no longer alive. Dead, but still in the world. Dead, a ghost.
She has been dead for hours. Her corpse is lying somewhere in Siberia, with the bodies of her family. I remember, they took us down to the basement. Her parents were brought chairs, as if we were taking a formal portrait. They told us to wait for a truck, that we were being taken to a safer location, safer from what, who wanted to harm us more than them and then Yurovsky spoke: "Continuing...attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you." Her stomach clenching in fear, I didn't want to die. Yurovsky commanding again, and then her parents were killed, her father shot first under a rain of bullets, then her mother. And then us. Shooting and smoke, so much smoke. I couldn't see, I didn't know which way to run. Maria ran, I think. She remembers crouching on the floor, unhurt. And we still weren't dead. The soldiers, unable to see in the smoke, switched to using bayonets, stabbing blindly. Look at you, want to run the world and you can't even shoot straight! She thought and then nothing. Until waking up here.
"Stop!" She calls out, and her sisters, a small flock of white figures ahead of her, ghosts, we look like ghosts, not brides, halts and turns around to face her. "We're dead. We're all dead."
Yakov Yurovsky was the man leading the Romanov's execution.
Olga and Tatiana worked as nurses during World War One.
The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg was the family's main residence until 1905.
Father Gregori= Rasputin.
Let me know what you think! Please review! Thanks to my beta: ElizabethAnnSoph.