*Trigger warning: dead bodies*
There’s blood on my hands. I don’t know when it got there, or how. We were shooting, how am I covered in blood? The volunteer-privates loaded the bodies, but I’m still covered in blood.
“You alright?” Yurovsky grunts, his eyes narrowed on the dark road ahead.
I take a deep drag from my cigarette and exhale through a slit in the truck window.
He swallows hard but doesn’t reply.
My mind is blank. All I can focus on is the cigarette in my bloody, shaking hand.
“Where are we even gonna go…”
He says this more to himself than me, but it sends my head spiralling. What if someone comes upon us? What if some villager catches us and we have to ‘take care of them’? What if no one finds us? What if no one finds them, and this is all just swept under the rug like nothing? It was murder.
I shake my head. I can’t think like that. It’s order – following orders. We’re following orders. Orders from Lenin himself. He knows better than I do. He knows why. We don’t need to question it. It isn’t murder.
The frozen brakes screech as Yurovsky pulls into a dark copse of trees. He’s spotted a patch of ground unburdened by snow. It’ll be easy to dig. He yanks up the hand brake and we sit in silence for a moment, then he turns on me and reaches out his hand. I pass over the slim cigarette and he sucks at it deeply, his cheeks pulled into his slender face. When he’s finished, he flicks it to the floor and secures his ushanka on his head. He looks at me and I do the same.
We hop out of the truck and find the volunteer-privates already leaping out of the back. Though the bodies are fresh, I feel like I can smell the beginning of rot, the yellowing of flesh, the pus and maggots. A private I can’t remember the name of flicks on his torch, and I blink away the nightmares forming in the back of my mind.
“Dig,” I order.
They dig. I try to light another cigarette, but my hand is shaking. I give up and chuck the wasted butt in the dirt.
“We better unload.” Yurovsky’s gruff voice is back, the unease I saw in the cab of the truck replaced with his hard, loyal military persona.
I close my eyes and nod. The first body I come to is the Tsar himself – Nicholai Alexandrovich Romanov. The most powerful man in Russia, now reduced to no more than a sack of blood and bones and muscle and hair. I avoid his glassy eyes and drag him out onto the budding grass.
I meet Yurovsky’s gaze in question, but he stares me down, daring me to object. I nod obediently. I object, and I’m labelled a traitor. I object, and I’ve done all this for nothing. I object… and I end up like him.
I kneel beside the body and barely look as I unbutton his coat and shirt. I hesitate at the trousers, but I can feel Yurovsky watching me. So, I detach. My rational brain, the person I am, leaves my body and I’m just another human, doing what I need to do.
In this state, I’m able to make short work of the Tsar and the doctor, Botkin. But when I reach the body of little Anastasia, tears threaten my eyes. She’s just a girl. Only 17. She’s just wearing her nightgown, the little frills flecked with her family’s blood. When I move strands of long hair from her neck to remove her necklace, I notice a flutter. My heart plummets and I freeze.
There’s no way.
Looking around for watchful eyes, I carefully place my fingers to her throat. It’s faint… but there’s a heartbeat. My mind whirls. How can she not be dead?! Near twenty of us emptied our guns into them in that basement; she should be riddled with bullets.
Panic creeps up my neck and I quickly stand, taking out another cigarette.
“Comrade, what are you doing?” Yurovsky barks, and I jolt.
“Just need a smoke. It’s cold.” I can’t think of anything else to say; I’m too focused on the alive grand duchess at my feet.
I should say something. I should shoot her myself. After all, wouldn’t it be a mercy? She’s obviously injured; her white nightgown is caked with blood. But how much of it is hers? What if she could actually live?
I’m able to light the cigarette, but the tobacco does nothing to calm my nerves. It’s a habit now, a social crutch I use when I don’t know what else to do with myself. I lightly prod the grand duchess with my boot, wondering if she’s faking or if she’s actually unconscious. If it’s the former, maybe I can convince her to run. She may not make it far, but it’s a chance – which is more than we gave the rest of them.
Yurovsky’s eying me now, as if he can smell my disloyalty. I toss my cigarette and kneel again. There’s nothing I can do. I help her, I’m a traitor. I kill her, I’m a coward. At least with the latter I’d be praised, though I doubt I’d ever be able to live with myself.
I disrobe the child and catch some volunteer-privates leering with interest at her naked, bloody body. I sneer at them with as much venom as I can muster, and they quickly return to their digging. They’re almost done now, their pile of soil neighboured by a heap of ragged, regal clothing. Naked, the Romanov family is just like everyone else. Maybe that’s what he wanted – Lenin – to equalise them. Dead, they’re only human. Dead, they’re not a threat. Dead, and the revolution is complete.
Anastasia stirs, and I step back. Yurovsky shoots her in the head.
Our job is done. We have saved Russia.