Mythology is a selective virus, bred into temples and churches by an invisible, indestructible fabric. By destroying religion, they thought that mythology would disappear and humanity would continue it’s progress in a rigid plateau.
They did not account for the fact that in Russia, mythology was bred not in icons and on the steps of an altar, but in the very soul and flesh of the people.
“They were taken to the street corner left of the Admiralty, I’d say just below the first floor from the exhaustion of the couriers, and shot there, not beforehand. About the midsection seems the most popular,” said the man from two tables across, to the right, half of his face obscured by the dull silver handle of a samovar.
The man - or student, really - lifted a simple white cup to his lips. The solitary lunch house maid at the corner coughed dryly, wiping a bit of stray ash from a recent cigarette from her sleeve.
There was silence.
The student finished his drink and stood, quietly thanking the otherwise empty establishment for his tea. He slipped on a hat that had been hidden by that same samovar and placed a small sheet of 50 kopecks adjacent to the cup.
John stared after him, his mouth hanging slightly ajar.
The pale grey of the man’s standard issue suit flittered at the lunch room entrance and disappeared into the evening rain.
“What a sense of humour.” The lunch maid muttered quietly, picking up the change and shuffling it into her pocket. She looked at him, the only person left in the hall. The hour was late and the humidity had risen from the rain. A thin sheen of sweat beaded on her slightly plump forehead, “He always says things like that, even when people don’t ask. I’m surprised they haven’t,” she paused. “You know.”
“Does he come here often?” John asked quietly, sipping his own, unfinished drink. His eyes were placid, a calm and very Slavic blue. A komsomol badge was pinned to his chest, the face of Lenin bright red and gold against the dark grey of his well-fitted vest.
John, or Ioan Ioanovich Vatson was not a suspicious figure.
The lunch house maid shrugged her shoulders, absentmindedly twisting the lid of the metal samovar, which sat in the middle of the small cubical room. The cream colour of her clothing melded to the off-white of the concrete walls, her plumpness adding to the room an otherwise nonexistent friendly taste.
“Every day, around this time. Sometimes there are others, sometimes he is alone. But, he always says strange things.”
John smiled, sipping his tea. His questions were grey, his attitude was grey.
A dull, muted tone.
“Who is he, then?” John asked, carefully raising an eyebrow and adding a skeptical chuckle to his question. He almost laughed at how much of a good, no-nonsense Soviet question it was.
The lunch maid looked at him, her expression bemused and clearly appreciative of his normalcy. John emptied his tea cup with a smile and she took it, the porcelain clanking against the wooden surface of the table.
“I really don’t know much. He has a strange name - one of those new party names, you know. Sherlock,” she paused, scrunching her nose in thought. “Sherlock Fyodorovich, I think. Not sure of the last name, though. He forbids formalities.”
“Oh, that’s unusual.”
“The name is fine, really. Patriotic. What’s unusual is that such a boy can be a komsomol, just like you.”
That evening John thanked the grey lunch house maid for his food and opened his grey umbrella against the quiet grey wall of an old Leninist flat.
Here, John thought of the student.
He walked through the rain with his head tucked down and waited in the grey lines of the grey metro station Admiralteyskaya. John boarded a grey train that hummed quietly with the burning of gasoline as it rolled along. He sat in a grey seat and a grandmother looked at him with warm eyes, a mole on her cheek highlighting the wrinkled skin she used to smile.
Here, John thought of the student.
John exited the train at the metro station Petrogradskaya and walked a short distance through a small forested corpus to his solitary communal room on the fifth floor, fourth corpus, which was grey.
John climbed the grey stairs of the commune and smiled at the scattered neighbors he met on the steps. John took out his keys and opened the three locks on his grey door, number seventy-eight.
Here, John thought of the student,
and stripped away exoskeleton like a wolf strips a deer’s flesh from it’s bones.
They grey peeled from John’s body in layers like mud stains and he shuddered at the ripe pinkness of his skin. John licked his lips red as Lenin’s tiny, hard gaze stared sideways at him from the floor.
“Fuck you,” John muttered, and thought about what the student said and wondered if the student liked grey too.
Sherlock Fyodorovich, the grey house maid had said.
A dissident, John had wondered. Because communists don’t speak like he did.
John stripped to his underwear, and calmly folded his wet costume to save it from wrinkles. He placed it on an empty chair that tilted sideways beneath a small writing desk littered with grey pencils. John peered to his right at a compact body mirror and briefly measured the thickness of his legs. John smiled lightly, flexing the fine skin of a calf muscle in the muted sheen before turning to his closet.
John reached for the bronze handles and opened his closet doors to an array of colour.
During the day, John was Ioan.
He dressed in an issued suit and combed his hair back with silicate; he wore his grandfather’s hat and cleaned the dirt from underneath his fingernails.
Ioan was a good student, he had friends and a good position in the komsomol. He attended the First Medical Institute and ate his food without a shot of vodka.
19:00 hit, and Ioan was dead.
John whistled a tune to himself, waving his blue-clad hips to an upbeat, illegal rhythm.
The floorboards of the commune creaked underfoot as he clipped his nails and slicked back his hair in a style reminiscent of Elvis Presley. He picked up a bow-tie, red, and secured it to the collar of a bright yellow shirt.
John twirled, and pointed his fingers like miniature pistols, jiving to the harsh rhythm in his head and, all at once, snorting at the stupidity of it.
Someone knocked on the door, and John jumped, nearly sending the small jar of wax in his hand crashing to the floor. He peered at the rattling, chipping wooden thing, darting out a pink tongue-tip to lick at his lips.
More knocking, persistent. The sound was familiar, the hidden person beating out some cheery tune by Charlie Parker. John’s shoulders relaxed from where they had tensed.
John jived ungracefully, sliding back into his rhythm, rolling his eyes as he went to save the door from it’s crumbling frame.
“Breaking the property, mate. It is a commune, after all. Be careful.” John laughed, throwing the door open until it smashed into the wall opposite. “Proper ancient stuff.”
The man outside snorted, and proceeded to throw himself on John, wrapping his arms around his neck and crushing his knees against John’s spine painfully. John stumbled backwards, teeth bared in a grin, eyebrow quirked.
“Maaateeee.” The boy mumbled dumbly.
“Sod off Dima, you’re heavier than a tank.” John laughed, paused, and then added. “And you’ll wake up Grandmother Dazdraperma downstairs.”
“Still makes me weight less than any Premier we’re ever had. And ‘sides, as far as Dazdraperma knows you’re a proper slob. Probably just taking that lovely komsomol secretary out on a ‘date’ in the room, eh?”
Dima, or rather Dmitri, or rather Mit, dropped from John’s blockish figure, now preferring to slouch his tall, lean frame against a wall instead. Dima’s face was lit by a persistent grin, and his clothing matched John’s in both colour and style.
At least, when Dima was Mit, and Ioan was John.
John popped into a rhythm suddenly, shaking his hands and sending Dima into a burst of laughter. Dima smacked John’s shoulder lightly, making sure to tap only the right side, and broke through their tandem giggles.
“We really need to get going. The sun’s set and we can jump out of the window without being seen. We can’t take the metro like this, and the show’s on Broadway in less than an hour.”
John smiled, eyes sparkling, his posture recovered. He brushed off invisible dust from his coloured suit, leaving the neon to glow dully in the dim light of the commune.
Broadway was their nickname for the Nevsky Prospect, the main and most important street in Leningrad. It was a dimly lit thing, a far cry from the real Broadway, but the students who participated in jazz, absinthe, colour and other illegal things all kept the fond nickname as a replacement for their unreachable New York.
And who they themselves were was a whole other mystery in itself. Dissidents, some said. Outcasts, others. When the party was built under the face of Stalin and set to life a life of function and duty they were not. They lived on their own, they did illegal things, bad ones also. They wanted colour, jazz, sex and the American lifestyle
(or as John later learned, what they thought it was)
instead of the dreary, expected stuff they were bourn into. They were disliked, naturally, because they were reckless. They wanted to be rich, they wanted poverty. They didn’t know who they were, but they were bright, and stylish. They, were them.
“Yeah, let’s go.” John grinned.
Dima twisted in a circle, shaking his too-thin hips in a way that would make Louis Armstrong cringe, and John as well,
That night when John danced in washes of radiant colour, frilled skirts and painted lips; when jazz hummed throughout the warmth of the dance halls and the abandoned warehouse shook, girls stood behind corners and drew on fake leggings,
here, John thought of the student.
Sherlock frowned disdainfully at the stain on the sleeve of his overcoat, poking at the orange splotch in distaste.
Not so much because it bothered him personally, but because the stain meant difference. The stain would surely be noticed, by people of all things, and said people would surely turn, and look at him.
Speak to him, god.
Sherlock’s lips curved into a very brief grimace, his mind going over all of the possible routes around the Admiralty that would lead him to his cafe without getting noticed, or put into contact with anything with a pulse, really.
Cats, even. Bothersome, Sherlock thought, sticking his tongue out in distaste.
He lifted his nose a half centimeter and sniffed curtly, tucking his dirty sleeve into his pocket, and with it,
(something else that should always, always be kept safe and out of site).
The cafe Sherlock stepped into was familiar, boring. In his own time Sherlock had memorized each crack and chip in the wallpaper.
The tea stain on the right hand side always proved the most interesting, splattered by a violent conflict more than ten years ago and never cleaned away.
Sherlock regarded it quietly and the stain, in turn, did the same to him.
The lunch house was empty, and bland enough to clear Sherlock’s mind while he ate, a brief bit of peace for him since his reliable partaking in the use of illegal drugs had been discovered by his commissar.
“You’re an asset, Sherlock Fyodorovich,” Marina Pavlovna, she, had said.
She’d sat directly before him, hands neatly folded on the warm khaki colours of her lap. Her expression was a lopsided frown, that of someone who had just smelled something properly unpleasant and was now suffering the aftermath.
“We can’t have you putting anything unnatural in your body. You, as much as any of us, know how precious it is to us.”
She’d smiled then, warmly, softly, “To the party.”
Marina Pavlovna was a small, curved woman, but in no way fat. She wore her dark hair pulled back and her tired but once-beautiful face was free from any traces of makeup. She held her shoulders square and sat neatly, with all the grace and poise that was granted to her and all women of high-ranking positions. For Marina Pavlovna, that position was being the secretary of the KGB and a high member of the ruling Communist Party.
And Sherlock, being the kind soul that he was, had angled his mouth and snarled at her, lip curling backwards. His hands had clenched under the influence of a substantial dose of medical cocaine.
He’d been restrained.
Marina Pavlovna had later come back to the isolation cell and stroked his hair with her warm, gentle fingers. Sherlock closed his eyes through the sweat of withdrawal, slacking against his straps to lean his head against her hip, mute.
“They took a sample during your episode,” she muttered, a cold edge of bitterness that only Sherlock could detect in her (usually) warm voice. She spoke differently from before, a tone she reserved specifically for him. “Your genetic structure changed for just that brief moment. The ursine parts of your DNA increased from 10% to 36% in prevalence, but no-one catalogued an exterior change. It got them interested.”
Marina Pavlovna inhaled, her voice shook. Sherlock could feel her sweat on the fingers that gently massaged his scalp. “They want to experiment more. You are authorized to use cocaine again.”
Sherlock had sat, silent, the only noise in the small room being the breathing of two smaller humans. Sherlock’s face was expressionless, grey eyes looking pointedly at the ground. His dark, curled hair was plastered to his forehead from the involuntary heat that came with withdrawal.
As if on instinct, Marina Pavlovna tenderly brushed the strands away. She sighed, wetting her lips, an ageless rigidity returning to her form, “Sherlock Fyodorovich Holmes, are you ready for release?”
Sherlock sniffed once, tossing his head. A stagnant air hung inside the room, smelling of dust and raw cement.
“You can inform the academy that I won’t he doing any more cocaine,” he said quietly.
Marina Pavlovna paused. Her hand had dropped to Sherlock’s shoulder now, rubbing small circles into the skin of his collar bone.
“Please inform the academy that triggering a complete genetic change is impossible. They should’ve gathered enough data on the use of narcotics on us from the Henry Knight incident, but evidently they don’t care to have the last four Deathly Beasts alive and functioning. Even at a peak emotional instability, my body’s biological code will not allow itself to mutate. The maximum result will be an aggressive temperament change,” Sherlock paused, trying to look up against the pull of his restraints. His voice was soft, a quiet whisper he reserved for one, solitary person.
“No more, mummy, I promise.”
“I’m your commissar, my darling, not your...”
Marina Pavlovna looked down at him, and smiled softly, worryingly despite herself. Her chocolate eyes were warm, her fingers played gently on his skin. “..Mother.”
The worn communist's hat that kept Marina Pavlovna’s hair in place was slacking from an evident previous stress, hairs slipping out of their usually neat bun. Sherlock looked up and returned a small but contented smile.
“I’m ready for release, Oldest Commissar Marina Pavlovna Holmes.”
Marina Pavlovna laughed, her weary voice bouncing off of the walls and leaving invisible streaks of vibrant colour in their wake. She reached forward, and touched Sherlock’s littlest finger, gently, reverently.
“My little bear.”
Inside Sherlock’s pocket, (that hidden secret thing) his pinky twitched as if in recollection, the solitary claw that, on a normal human, should’ve been a fingernail catching on the fabric of his coat.
It’s rough, black skin melded with the soft darkness of the fabric, cloaking.
Sherlock sat down at his table with a quick sweep of his coat, indignantly staring at the wall before him.
The large lunch maid was in service today, he noted. The one that drank away problems she’d never experienced but accepted as her own; the one that had suffered from a weight-induced stroke at a young age, forcing her to cancel all plans of prestige and remove herself from her small but renowned humanitarian university.
This maid never spoke to him. She was Sherlock’s favorite, as she knew exactly what Sherlock would say to her if she were inclined to bother him.
Alone, Sherlock smiled. A quiet, content sigh escaped his lips.
The lunch maid brought him his tea in silence, frowning slightly as she handed him his standard one sugar, three-minute brew. A simple, proper thing Sherlock always asked for; all of the four women that interchangeably worked at the lunch house knew his order and brought it to him without pause or question.
Sherlock lifted the cup to his mouth and took a sip, and for one minute and fourty-three seconds, it was bliss.
And then the door creaked open on it’s too-old hinges and the rain poured over the doorway in the quiet way that it did in Leningrad.
Past his impending annoyance, Sherlock noted that five minutes ago there had been a pleasant sunshine, and that this had to be a new weather record for the Baltic Coast.
Sherlock’s eyes drifted over to the newcomer, wearily. On first glance, a simple and well-groomed blondish boy. Typically Russian, with open blue eyes and even more-so typically Soviet, wearing a small komsomol pin on a thin, grey overcoat and presenting a stern, set jawline.
He greeted the lunch maid with a small grin and a raised hand. The portly woman smiled at him and gestured for him to take a seat, in an obscured space on the opposite end of the room from Sherlock.
Sherlock smirked lightly - he was used to the maids trying to protect other customers from his ‘pointedly offensive’ conversations and no longer found any offense in the gesture. Nonetheless, the lunch maid cast Sherlock a brief, stern stare and turned, happily drifting to the silvery mid-room samovar to bring the newcomer a cup of tea.
Sherlock blinked, sipping his own tea quietly as he cast a nonchalant eye over the sharp edge of the samovar that now obscured the boy. Even if this cafe was meant to mute Sherlock’s thinking for whatever brief moment it could manage, a quick bite into this new figure’s visible history would just act as a spare biscuit for his tea.
An extra deduction. Nothing special. The lunch room would return to existing in it’s blank, never-changing state.
Sherlock had him in view.
He was a shortish, lean boy. A dead father, a living mother and a sister; a common and humble type commonly seen living on the city’s outermost metro stations. He was muscled, built by exercise and tanned to the waist by a hot sun during a required annual two month service for the communist party.
Judging by his sand-smooth skin tone, the clean, fresh clipping of his hair, and the dark thickness of the calluses on his fingers, the student’s body had been exported to physical labour. Somewhere south, to a place where the work was hard and the water was scarce.
Krasnoyarsk, Sherlock thought briefly. Cattle farm assistance. In 1956 the First Medical Institute had sent a set of hand-picked komsomol to service in Krasnoyarsk to help prepare the dairy cattle for winter.
A doctor, then, Sherlock gathered. But, there was something else here as well.
Exporting university students to various forms of service was a continuous, unnoticeable occurrence. A state requirement, even. Brigades were sent out daily and their names and numbers were forgotten as soon as they started, but the First Medical Institute’s 1956 Krasnoyarsk expedition had gained particular state-wide attention.
At the start of the expedition’s second month, a tractor had ruptured when gathering hay for the cattle. Two students died instantly from the explosion, and another one suffered for weeks before succumbing to his injuries.
But one student, Sherlock recalled, had been injured and lived. The spare tender who had stood at the back, picking up loose hay.
The one mailed back to Leningrad with a vicious chunk of shrapnel piercing through the muscles of his left shoulder.
Sherlock glanced with interest, observing the gentle slope of the slightly hunched appendage on the man adjacent.
He could’ve stopped there, he figured. Addressing the bodily history of the vessel and putting the newly acquired information away somewhere. Sherlock could’ve ignored the rest, the little details, finished his tea and left like he always did.
But Sherlock didn’t.
Because there were details. This pretty exterior was merely the figure’s starting point, a small riddle to enter a big maze.
How unusual, Sherlock smirked, sipping the warm black water of his tea.
The doctor was a fraud.
Not in the medical sense, no. But in the empty pride he held for the button pinned over his heart.
This youth was not a communist, from the uncomfortable rigidity in his posture even when he relaxed. From the slight grease stain on his collar and the teeth that were stained by coloured liqueurs and too-strong cigarettes.
A hipster, then.
A dissident, but not an extremist. Extraordinary dissidents never wore the customary clothing, never went to university or sat in party lunch rooms. And certainly, never, ever joined the komsomol.
So then, a supporter of honesty and a more open society. Oh, an intellectual. Sherlock braced his chin on his hands, a small smile on his lips, pressing his thumbs together
(he wrapped his pinky in a stray tissue, covering the black skin like a cut).
Sticking from boy’s coat pocket was a loosely torn corner from a notepad page. Something was scribbled in quick shorthand in black ink, a thin, calligraphic citation. Sherlock could only make out two words, but from their spacing and order, he didn’t have to be a genius to figure out the literature from which they’d originated.
‘...freedom or prison.’, or:
‘Freedom or prison - what’s the difference? A man must develop unwavering will power subject only to his reason.’
Solzhenitsyn, In The First Circle.
Impossible, illegal literature. The smiling boy fingered the paper absentmindedly as he waited for his tea, and his eyes betrayed him. Sherlock watched, following the moving cornea from the high ceilings to the drainage pipe to the stain.
Sherlock watched his gaze freeze there. The student briefly frowned, his fingers twitching against the wood of his table.
He knew. He came here for a reason.
The quiet optimist had been a mask from his first smile, but Sherlock hadn’t realized just how deep.
He wanted to thank the boy for walking into the cafe, thank him for this delicious inedible treat.
Because this boy, this student had not come to the small, street corner lunch room looking for a shelter against the rain and a quick meal.
This boy had come here looking for bodies.
Corpses, the blood of prisoners that not eighteen years ago had spilled over the clean tiles of the floor.
The executions that were carried out by the KGB towards dumbly declared ‘enemies of the people’ were set in forty eight cells across the city (including a small room hidden below a building on the corner of the Admiralty).
For two hundred and sixty three days, they’d come on thin legs, trembling in trucks and carts. They’d be taken into the buildings and a few short hours later, they would come back out. The officers would tuck them back into those very same trucks and carts, and leave.
Sherlock remembered, as Marina’s fingers had gently wrapped around squeezed his tiny hand, telling him not to make a sound. He had watched the bodies, perplexed. A dead silence was covered by a thin blanket, safely out of view in the still darkness of a Leningrad night.
This student was fatherless, a dead father.
A murdered father.
With a briefly mentioned location detailed in the messy, hand-copied pages of Solzhenitsyn’s book, the student had come searching, wondering, he had come looking.
Sherlock smiled, a very tiny thing.
This person was a very interesting figure indeed. But as interesting as he was, this room had been cleared of all of it’s incriminating evidence so long ago that only Sherlock’s memory held any proof as to what had happened here.
The student would leave, unsatisfied, finding nothing.
Therefore, it would be a shame, Sherlock concluded, not to help him.
Just a brief little puff, giving affirmation to what the boy wanted to find and nothing more. Nothing to upset the party, of course. Just a simple thank you for all of the boy’s intrigue.
Sherlock set down his cup of tea, cleared his throat, and spoke.
That night Sherlock lay in his compound on the Nevsky Prospect, staring at the fine glow of the lightbulb in his ceiling. He hung from the edge of the bed, black curls tickling the ground just below.
Sherlock tapped his fingers against one another methodically, and thought about how he would never meet the interesting boy again.
His sitters came three minutes past the hour, followed by a brooding commissar. The sitters scribbled useless notes and adjusted their glasses, asking him if he had ‘experienced anything new in his condition’ in hushed, breathy voices.
Distractedly, looking at the softness of the glowing yellow light, Sherlock muttered a ‘no’.
Here, John thought of the student.
Here, Sherlock thought of the student.