Various Authors, Cover by Tamanna Quddus
The Bell 206 touched down at Lavrentiya Airport, the easternmost airstrip in continental Asia. An old Zil 157 pulled up alongside the helicopter, and the two prisoners were rushed into the back. They joined several convicts and political dissidents bound for a hastily erected, and most unofficial, gulag in Lorino.
- submitted by Edge O. Erin, Canada
You could almost sense the ebb and flow of dread pulsing through each of the fugitives' minds as the convoy began to drift hurriedly through the backroads of the mountains towards the concentration camp.
Have you ever wished for the earth to swallow your feet from beneath just so you could escape from what was about to happen? You know those kinds of moments when you're completely trapped and damned, and you've lost all hope and heart, and you feel completely dejected? That's nothing compared to some of the existential terrors that will soon ensue.
- submitted by Tom Videira, Channel Islands
Among those manacled to each other was Dmitry. His crime had been walking in on a senior official halfway through a compromising situation with his secretary. Though he had sworn he would say nothing, he'd been black bagged in the middle of the night and dumped in with a mixed group of political dissidents, drug dealers, and half-a-dozen arrested at a local gay club. Gay nightclubs had been added to the list of "political undesirables," so enforcement of the law by the morality police was haphazard. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- submitted by Steven Specht, Channel Islands
Dmitry looked to the faces of those imprisoned, the convoy rattling, jolting him into the metal frame as they approached the camp. His first impression of his new confinement was horror-filled fear, a guard tower of crumbling white brick meeting wire mesh leading to the gate. Each person imprisoned along-side him had been black bagged from their home, workplace, or street, now gripped in silence fearful of those in control.
- submitted by AJ Creamer, Newcastle, Australia
Dmitry averted his attention away from the depressing sight of the compounds and glanced sympathetically at a young boy sitting diagonally. His teeth chattered endlessly, as his gangly frame lacked the proper clothing for the merciless negative fourteen degrees. He wondered what the lad's story was and if he was innocent like him. Dmitry remembered hearing the kid's last name during roll call. Petrov, they called him. No older than sixteen, the boy kept his head down low, making zero eye contact. He was smart, Dmitry thought. A juvenile would have to be profoundly careful not to attract attention. Even the strongest of men would have to fight to stay alive in such a deadly barbarous prison. It was no place for boys.
- submitted by A.T. Geiger, USA
The boy, Marcus Petrov, was shivering while thinking about how he got into the labor camp. He did nothing, no crimes, so why should he be in this terrible situation? Only 3 weeks before he came to the labor camp, Marcus was in Sarawak's Gunung Mulu National Park, taking a stroll by himself. Out of nowhere, a strange, very tall man in a black hat appeared.
Marcus had a bad feeling about him but thought it was because a lot of bad stuff had happened to him a couple years ago, and it was those lingering thoughts that made him paranoid.
The man took a lady's purse. A witness saw this action and called the police. The cops came straight away, but they were too late to catch the man. The cops thought Marcus was the one who stole the purse and put him in juvenile detention. Marcus did not fight back at all and just accepted his fate to not get into more trouble. About a week later, they put him with the other prisoners in the compounds. Marcus was a little mad that he was framed but did not want to show it.
- submitted my Leoanna Socci, 9 yrs old, SocciBooks.com, Virginia, USA.
Dmitry noticed the terror-stricken configuration on Petrov's face. He pulled Petrov to the side and asked why he was here. Petrov explained himself while Dmitry looked at him with a sad look on his face. Dmitry vowed to himself that he would do his best to protect the boy from the ruthless depths of the camp.
He gave Petrov his cloak and told him to stay near. Together, they did their best to avoid drawing attention to themselves, as keeping a low profile was their best chance to survive the awful camp.
In the next couple of hours, Petrov started to feel unusual, almost like being watched. He was getting flashbacks to his walk at the Gunung Mulu National Park, but he couldn't understand why. The man with the black hat hid silently in the shrubbery, watching. He was still hiding from law enforcement and being careful not to be seen, but he couldn't help but watch Petrov, excruciatingly slaving in the gulag. He almost felt bad for the boy and thought it might be the right thing to turn himself in.
- submitted by Margarita Socci, 14years old, SocciBooks.com, Virginia, USA.
While Marcus was slaving in the gulag, Dmitry was chained to a chair in a dark, cold room. Two monstrous-looking guards took turns questioning him about a man who was last seen wearing a black hat and walking in the Gunung Mulu National Park. Dmitry had no idea who they were talking about. Every time Dmitry told them he did not know the man, the guards hit him. Dmitry decided to lie to them so they would let him go. He told them the man was a scientist who worked for the government. The guards smiled, released him, and threw him outside, where Marcus was working.
- submitted by Laurence Socci, SocciBooks.com, Virginia, USA.
Dmitry's inner visions were ablaze with memories of his own time at Gunung Mulu National Park. The sense of touch lingered in his heart as he recalled the smooth lines from the limestone, juxtaposed with the tropics' rocky caves. It was a far cry from the rural landscape of Lorino where the friendliest thing was the crumbling white bricks, faintly resembling the raw quarry of livelier days.
The convicts, political dissidents, and other convoy members seemed to have settled in after being brutally escorted to the makeshift labor camp. Their bodies lay limp with exhaustion, eerily vibrating from the cacophony of snores that permeated the premises. It had barely been a day since they arrived, yet it already felt like a lifetime. Dmitry labored intensely to avoid answering questions about the man in the black hat. Only Marcus Petrov knew the truth. The silent bond they held would be their salvation in an unforgiving land with few signs of life outside the blank stares from the guards and the blistering gusts that felt every bit like fourteen degrees below zero.
- submitted by Amanda M. Socci, SocciBooks.com, Virginia, USA.
But if there was something Dmitry should have considered before giving that prompt answer, it was that lies are easily detected in gulags. It might look like nobody cares about you – which is true – but they do care about what you say. Therefore, he tried to come up with something. But either the cold, the heavy workload, the pre-existing malnourishment, or all combined, prevented him from creating something convincing.
In the canteen, the next day, he met Petrov. Something told him that he must talk to his only gulag friend, and something else said to him that he should better shut the hell up and keep doing his work. Asking questions, being curious, or even complaining are not features of a gulag-building regime. It was not just the walls which had ears – the establishment had been mobilized to do their best to equip the tables, stools, plates, and even the rusty spoons with ears. Nothing that could harm the well-being of the proletariat would go unheard and un-taken-care-of.
"What's wrong, Dima?" His friend asked as they sat across each other, trying to break the frozen porridge.
"I… uh… nothing," Dmitry said, finally making up his mind not to speak any other word about the man he had never seen, whose identity he had lied about unless told of or struck again.
"Already tired of your fist day, comrades?" A voice came from nearby, sounding like something between a roar and a rumble.
Petrov lifted his eyes towards the man, and Dmitry noticed his friend's face go from rosy with cold to pale, very, very pale with fear.
- Submitted by Iris Çepele, Albania
Dmitry stood up and shifted his eyes from his friend to the guard, who towered above them, one hand tucked in his jacket. He looked back at Marcus, who was still frozen to his seat. "Get up!" The guard commanded. Marcus hadn't moved. Dmitry pulled him up by his cloak, and a rusty spoon fell from Petrov's hand and clattered on the stone floor. The canteen fell silent. All heads turned towards the noise, and the two prisoners sweating despite the cold. Something told him that this could be the end for him and his friend. Little did he know that Petrov was not afraid of the guard, but rather, furious. It was the man in the black hat, only now he wore a fur-trimmed ushanka, and a guard's uniform.
- Submitted by El O’Neill, England
Yet unaware of the guard's true identity, Dmitry watched with trepidation as Petrov's gaunt, haunted expression slowly transformed from one of stunned surprise into a rage-filled snarl. Fearful of what the young man might do, Dmitry immediately reached out a hand to place it restrainingly on the boy's shoulder. But Petrov only shrugged him off and took one step closer to the guard. His hands were fisted and trembling with fury.
"What is it that you want from us?" Petrov hissed, trying to keep his angry voice low enough that it would not carry throughout the canteen. His efforts, though, were pointless. The entire crowd had fallen silent, each prisoner in the canteen holding their breath and riveted on the unfolding scene. It was so quiet, a dropped pin could have been heard, let alone Petrov's hushed confrontation. "Haven't you already caused us enough suffering?" He further demanded, his voice quivering with barely-contained anger.
- Submitted by Morgan Hadden. USA.
"Enough suffering!" The guard replied mockingly.
"Listen carefully, you arrogant welp! You and your friend haven't experienced anything resembling pain until you've experienced the wrath of the Commander!" The guard spoke in this manner because he knew that Dmitry had lied to his captors when he said, "the man in the black hat was surely a scientist, an enemy, and a possible dissident." It was an accusation that could lead them all straight to hell if nothing was done to reverse the situation.
Meanwhile, a secret conversation was conducted by taps on the table - between Dmitry and Petrov. The guard looked at the nearby crowd to see if they were still interested in the scene. As it was the case, he decided to teach Petrov a lesson to serve as an example to others who would have the audacity to challenge him. He immediately started beating the young man. Blood spurted down Marcus' face, who screamed in pain as the guard twisted his arm until his bones nearly broke. The silent crowd had started to squirm in all directions, but no one had come to rescue the young man who was at the mercy of his punisher. Dmitry, unable to endure the scene any longer, decided to take action.
- Submitted by Habi Bamba. Rome, Italy.
Although Dmitry was a prudent man, he could not stand the humiliation of Petrov before him. Invested with all the rage in his body and without thinking of his next move's consequences, Dmitry launched a superman punch to the arrogant guard's jaw. Amid the amazement of those present, the punch was strong enough to knock the guard down to the deck. Blood poured out of his mouth to mix with knocked-out teeth on the floor.
It wasn't possible to count the broken teeth at that moment, for within a split second, the shrill siren sounded, and all the prisoners fell flat with their hands above their heads, desperately trying to protect themselves from the upcoming punishment. At that moment, Dmitry fully understood the severity of the situation.
Instead of doing the same as the other prisoners, Dmitry stood tall with pride, like a mountain that would never waver before winds. He did not want to be involved in a rebellion, not to mention starting one. But it wasn't possible to back out at the moment, for all the prisoners were looking up to him. In their eyes glittered a shy hope, a hope that Dmitry would be their savior.
Amid this chaos, dozens of guards rushed from the corner toward Dmitry. They started beating him up with their iron bars until blood poured out of his head. Although Dmitry knew that he had thrown himself into an additional problem, he didn’t regret it. Even when the Taser's electricity coursed through his body - engulfing every cell with excruciating pain, burning the very core of his soul - he never regretted it.
As his trembling body fell to the floor, silence reigned across the cafeteria. The guard got to his feet, his hand covering his swollen jaw. Slowly, he walked toward Dmitry, eyes sparkling with a malicious look, and a murderous rage spread across his face.
When the guard opened his mouth to speak, Dmitry could see at least four teeth were missing. He closed his eyes in defeat and tried to catch some shaky breaths. For each missing tooth, he could lose a body part.
- Submitted by Asiel R. Lavie.
They were cleared out after that. Some by the ends of their hair; others by the mercy of a bullet.
Dmitry was not so lucky.
- Submitted by C E Hoffman, Edmonton, AB, Canada