The Rogue Verbumancer – Feb 2013 Dead Places

She could scarcely believe that she was here. It was like something out of a dream. Not the deep sort you have in the dark, depths of the night but the fuzzy sort you have when you sit on the cusp of waking, where you can feel the sun streaming through the window and warming your skin. And you know, that any second, you could wake up and that this single moment of perfect shadow of reality would shatter. You;d open your eyes and suddenly you wouldn’t be able to remember anything, all of the experience would evaporate into nothingness and you’d be left with only the echoes of feelings. And echoes weren’t enough. Echoes weren’t living.

She could still remember sitting on her Great-Grandfather’s knee when she was a little girl. Even when she’d been young he had been old. Old beyond reasoning. Hair all gone, skin at once taut and also furrowed and wrinkled, skin splotched and more gaps than teeth. Shrunken, he was to a man as a prune was to a plum. It seemed like a lifetime ago. And it was. It was on this knee that she had first heard the tales of the revolution, of a young man full of vim and vigour who was there when the tyrants fell. Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard. He’d been one of those dangerous young men and women who had “ideas” and vision of what “could be.” The sort of people who could only be pushed down so far before they sprang back up, and violently so. Her Great-Grandfather hadn’t been a leader or a figurehead, but he had been there. Right from the very beginning, and that was more than could be said for many people. When her parents and grandparents were away he would tell her the scary stories. The ones filled with the dark deeds of the old government, of the fighting and the blood. Once her mother had caught him telling her one of these stories and had shouted.

“You can’t tell such things to a little girl! You’ll give her nightmares!” he just shook his head and replied.

“These are exactly the stories a little girl needs to hear. She needs to hear the truth. I will not have people forgetting what happened. If we forget then it will happen again.”

It was the very last story he had told her that had really stuck with her. She must have been nearly fourteen and there was little life left in his frail old body. It was the last time she saw him before he died. And it was then he told her a story he had never told her before. He told her of the last push and the place where it all ended. He told her of the day he and his rebel friends had assaulted the parliament building and it had not been pretty. It was not a nice story, but he insisted it was one she needed to know more than any other. So that the real cost of the sacrifices they had made would not be forgotten, the youth of today needed to know that the revolution wasn’t all glory and freedom. He wanted to make sure she knew that his hands were far from clean. Because if for nothing else he had always told her the truth, even if it hadn’t been the whole truth.

Dead Places

And that was how Zsofia Hinova came to find herself on top of a mountain in the depths of winter in front of a building that most of the world seemed very intent on trying to forget existed. After that last, final story she had decided that one day she would come to this place and see where it all ended. Because even if others had, she was intent on not forgetting. She owed her Great-Grandfather that much.

Getting the permits to come here had been difficult enough. “A site of specific nation interest” they’d said, “a historical landmark” they’d said, “people shouldn’t be going traipsing around in a place like that” they’d said. But she’d kept pestering and asking and enquiring and eventually they’d relented. Sitting in a cramped bureaucrat’s office, piled to the ceiling with old box files and dusty concertina spools of yellowing paper she had filled in the permit paperwork; In triplicate. Signed the waiver; duplicate, counter-signed and witnessed. Handed in her various entry request forms; supplemented by a police background check. And been given the details of the committee representative who she should send her photos to when she got back.

The Parliament house sat before Zsofia, a big, squat, grey monster, looming out of the winter fog. It made it look pale and ephemeral, a ghost of a building more than anything solid. As she walked closer she could see the cracks in the facade, the crumbling chunks and great holes and rotten and weather-beaten concrete. It’s great doors lay broken and shattered, the doorway and great gaping hole, a mouth with broken teeth, a wound in its face. Thousands of holes pock-marked its face, at first Zsofia thought it was just decay, but as she drew closer she saw that they were far too regular in shape for that. It didn’t take a genius to work out that they were bullet holes.

Inside, snow had drifted in a piled against the walls. It lay almost a foot deep in the central hall, a vast and soaring circular space. Cold light spilled in through the gaps in the roof; a web of frosted metal; the skeletal remains of some vast and extinct creature of a bygone age.

Zsofia had wondered what emotions this place would bring on when she finally got here. A swell of pride? A burgeoning wonder? Or any of a myriad of other things. But now that she was here she felt very little, only a solemn reminder of her own mortality and how all things, no matter how mighty or grand, will eventually die. Standing as she was, in this palace, a monument to dead dreams and lost ideals. Her plodding footfalls stirred up the white snow and revealed a layer of fine grey dust and off-white ash. Then her foot struck something. Nothing too solid, but something bigger than just a stone. Kneeling down she brushed away the snow and dust. Her brief diggings revealed a skull with a clean, circular hole through the forehead. Then she saw it all, the scattered mounds, the heaps. This was no palace, it was a tomb. She stood amidst snow, dust and the bones of dead men. And she knew what her Great-Grandfather had done.

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