Singh's Nanowrimo stuff

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It’s cold.

Nicholas thought as he rubbed his hands, trying to get some warmth into then before quickly putting his gloves on. A young man in his early twenties, he wasn’t much to look at. Grey eyes looked out at the world from their deep sockets, while his face was lean and thin, with a pointed jaw. His body was tall, but incredibly thin - almost like a skeleton’s in fact.

All of this was of course covered by clothes and rags that were both two sizes too big as well as patched over at least a dozen times in just as many places. The gloves he wore were little but tatters beyond his wrist – but it kept the cold at bay, and his fingers warm. Sometimes that was all that mattered.

Nicholas looked up to the sky above; his grey eyes observing the dark clouds that flew across it with great haste. They weren’t all that many right now, but he knew in a few hours they would be more. Then they would bunch up, gathering together to cover up the rising sun much akin to a shower curtain before depositing their payloads – be it snow or rain, onto the streets of Swift Junction city.

Nicholas sighed, shaking his head. It was a bit too cold, even with the extra layers he’d put on and half of him wanted to turn back and simply crawl into bed. His mind toyed with the idea, realizing he had enough money to last him for today and tomorrow morning. He could afford it, but did he want to?

His thoughts roamed to the Accordion that hung by his side; its weight both comforting and damning at the same time. Nicholas could go back…but he’d go back to an empty house, one whose silence was far more oppressive than the city around him. It hadn’t always been silent. Nicholas tried to remember how long it had been since the voice had been filled with sound – not just of the accordion, but of laughter, happiness, arguments, tears and even the cries of pain on occasion.

I’d give anything to hear that again. Even the tears and arguments would be so much greater than the silence. But he knew it was futile – there would be no sound ever again, save that which was birthed from the instrument he now carried with him. Without a thought, Nicholas turned to the south and headed down the street. He would find his regular haunts and play today, if only to keep the dark thoughts at bay.

He passed by many homes along the way – although where he was headed, he had no idea – some of them empty, dilapidated places that threatened to break down at a sneeze. Others were in somewhat better condition, maintained either by their residents or what little actually worked of the city’s administration. It didn’t matter though – these were the Southern ghettos of Swift Junction; home to all the foreign immigrants and misfits that the city had no idea where else to place.

Not that it was all that bad, though. The community was fairly decent, if significantly segregated. Everyone lived in their own little niches and amongst their own cliques and usually left everyone else alone. That didn’t mean there wasn’t trouble though – and in many dark nights of walking down these streets, Nicholas had feared the shadows in the darkness, the glint of a knife blade, the retort of a gun. His arms bear the scars of many a knife fight with a mugger, as did the Accordion’s frame.

I’ve been lucky. Nicholas mused to himself, shivering slightly as the wind suddenly picked up, lifting the bottom of his coat and causing it to billow outwards. He held onto his hat with one hand, while keeping the accordion bag secure with the other. Glancing around, Nicholas observed that nobody’s house was really open, while the few people that were out and about were either moving at a hurried pace to wherever they were heading or sitting around and conversing in Russian.

There were a lot of Russians in this neighborhood. When Nicholas had first arrived, he wasn’t very welcome and considered an outside – but his meeting with and eventual marriage to Tanya changed all that. He was part of the scenery now; just another human in the crowd of others. Nicholas grasped the accordion with his left hand, forcing on the coarse wood and trying to force his thoughts away from that.

Why am I thinking of her so much? Nicholas pondered. It wasn’t always like this. He thought he had gotten used to it by now…that it would go away. But either it was the cold that was getting to him, or there was something important about today. After all, such thoughts normally don’t serve to distract without purpose.

His attention was drawn to where he was going when he came to the intersection at the end of the road. Looking up he saw the signs. The road in front of him was the end of the main street. It dipped down a hill to his right, heading to the highway while it rose up to the left, going further into the small city. He glanced to the right and saw an unusual sight at the nearby grocery store. Frowning, he turned towards it to get a better look – but realized he was too far. Checking the road, Nicholas crossed it and headed towards the store.

It took a minute, but he eventually reached it. The sign above was white, with large black letters that read “Bayan Grocery.” Within the windows he could see the silhouettes of several shelves and their goods, all of which were now shrouded in darkness. A “closed” sign hung across the door, indicating its current status. It was the old woman that stood looking at him from outside the window of the store however, that most caught Nicholas’ attention.

Nicholas had known Ola ever since he’d moved here. She had moved here after she lost her husband and her 12 year old son in Pripyat – but her loss had never made her loose her determination to live or tendered her kindness. She was always smiling; even through the many wrinkles of her face, the slight hunch of her back and the heavy leaning on the walking stick. She would always find time to listen to those with troubles – always find time to help even the most helpless of souls, including Nicholas himself.

Nicholas suspected that it was her quiet influence, her presence as the ‘grandmother’ of the neighborhood that essentially prevented the trouble from broiling over. Of course, she always denied such a question, but she always would secretly smile and chuckle.

She stood facing him, tears running freely down her face even as she looked off into the distance, either not noticing Nicholas’ arrival or not caring. It was odd and gave Nicholas a feeling in his gut he couldn’t quite explain. It was almost as if he knew why she was crying; but simply hadn’t realized it yet. Still, he pressed on. “Ola?” Nicholas asked softly, trying to get her attention. “Ola, are you all right? Why are you crying?” his voice was filled with genuine concern. Ola remained silent for a long moment.

She looked up to him – and it was now that he noticed she was smiling. She then spoke, her voice stammering. “Nikolas, my child…” she began in that thick Russian accent, but always with that warmth and care he’d known her voice for. She continued a moment later, after swallowing and giving a slightly weak smile. “My tears are not of sadness, but of joy.”

Nicholas was confused. It must have shown on his face, because Ola reached up with one hand and stroked his chin even as she leaned heavily on her cane. “Do not worry, my son, I am still sound of mind.” She reassured him, before continuing. “Last night I had a dream, Nicholas. A dream that today I will see Ivan and Adrik again. It was…it was so real, my child – too real to deny.”

Now Nicholas was really confused – Ivan and Adrik had died so long ago; how would they visit her? “Are you sure you are all right, Ola?” Nicholas asked, more than a little concerned for her mind now. Ola simply laughed “I will see my son today and my husband! Oh after so long, after so long I will finally see them…” she whispered, looking off into the distance, her eyes focusing on something only she could see. There was something in her voice that unnerved Nicholas – almost a truth to it that could not be denied. It was unbelievable, but that didn’t change the fact that it was still there.

It sent butterflies in his stomach and caused him to gulp. He wasn’t sure what to make of the entire thing – half of his mind wanted to call the hospital for Ola’s own sake. The other half wished to simply walk away and have nothing to do with it. Yet he knew, his only option was to remain and help how he could. Thus, all he could do was take Ola’s hand – it was unusually warm, even through the gloves. He held it and spoke “Ola, please tell me your all right.” She remained silent, only smiling, tears of joy continuing to run down her face.

Good lord don’t tell me she’s cracked. Nicholas thought to himself. His gut suddenly got a very bad feeling. If Ola was going crazy now…what were their chances like? His thoughts were interrupted though, as Ola spoke.

“My child, will you do this one old woman a last favor?”

“Anything, Ola.”

She reached into one of her jacket pockets and pulled out a sheet of paper, pressing it into his hand. “I have told you of my husband, yes? Of how he used to play the accordion?”

Nicholas only nodded in reply. “This was one of the last pieces of music he played to me. Please…I beg of you, Nicholas, my child, play this one piece for me, one last time.” Nicholas looked down to the sheet, unsure what to make of it. He silently pulled it up, opening the book. There was a title to the top – but it was hand scribbled in Russian.

The notations were…familiar. Nicholas couldn’t place it. Even though they were nothing like he’d seen before, a part of him knew it instinctually. His lips moved to protest at Ola; to tell her that he couldn’t read what she had given. They were silenced however, as Ola placed a finger on his lips. She waved to his Accordian.

“Trust in me, my child…at least try.”

Nicholas was left speechless and wanted to say something. He didn’t though – he was helpless as his fingers moved of their own accords, bringing the Accordion’s bag around and depositing it on the ground. He reached down, pulling it up and into his arms, the weight comforting. Ola helped him, bringing up the small stand and foldable chair from the bag, placing it on the sidewalk next to him and placing the paper on it.

Nicholas finally got his tounge. After swallowing, he spoke, somewhat nervously. “Ola…I don’t know how to read Russian – I can’t play this.”

“Hush…trust me, Nicholas. Ivan…Ivan will show you how to play.” Nicholas looked at her for a long moment, unsure what to say. He finally shrugged and looked to the sheet. There was no convincing Ola…he may as well give it his best shot. Pulling off the gloves, he placed them next to the sheet before studying it in detail. He wasn’t sure where to start, but it was just so…[i]familiar.[/i] Nicholas had seen these very words somewhere else. Some other time…but he couldn’t place where.

Finally, instinct took over and his fingers rose to the keyboard. He pressed a key to test the Accordion, tuning it a bit…and then his fingers began to move. They instinctually struck one key, before moving to the other. Soon, a melody was forming, but Nicholas had no idea how. He glanced down to the keyboard, his fingers as they moved across the Accordion’s many keys – but they were no longer his fingers as they brought forth a song Nicholas had never heard before.

It was a slightly sad tune; slow and peaceful yet incredibly melodious and full of life. It filled him with sadness, but seemed to move the old woman in front of him to tears. She leaned forward on her cane, lost to the music. Nicholas too, was lost in it. His fingers moved of their own will, answering to some puppet master and continuing even as he closed his eyes.

The music…it was just so beautiful. Nicholas had no words to describe it, to describe the feeling he was having right now. It was so familiar; as if it beat with the heart of the universe and his own. He opened his eyes to see Ola, whom was just standing there. She was sobbing, her face in her hands. Nicholas wanted to stop, to drop the accordion and just hold her. But his fingers continued, the music continued. Even as it reached its end, his fingers continued, starting over again as they repeated that same cycle. He looked up to the sky, watching as the sun began to rise in its daily path across the sky.

Time seemed to disappear as the streets began to fill with its daily gathering of people passing by; a countless stream of humanity with an occasional coin toss into the open bag on the ground. It was all just scenery though – all just meaningless to Nicholas. All that existed in this world was him, the music and Ola. He looked at her now, standing amidst a puzzled crowd – a sea of faces full of worry and concern that didn’t matter.

All that mattered was Ola, standing there amidst a crowd of concerned people. But he could see her clearly. She seemed different. Her hands were still covering her face while her body shook with uncontrolled sobbing. But with every tear she shed, her hands seemed to grow less wrinkled, to grow younger. There were entire worlds within those hands.

Nicholas could almost see the countless meals they must have prepared over her lifetime; he could see the people that held those hands. Her brother, her father, her son, her husband, himself - the countless other people that had probably held them at some point or the other. He could see through the, with every passing moment, how she would feed her son in the cold ukranian nights…how she caressed her husband or even just how she climbed the stairs every morning.

But there was much sorrow in those hands. She had wept into them before; once so long ago. Nicholas couldn’t help but ask, how many years had it built up there? How many years had it remained hidden away from the eyes and ears of the world around her; the people she knew so well? Did it even matter? For this briefest of moment, Ola’s sorrow was no longer hidden – it was no longer hers. It was Nicholas’ now as well. So a tear too fell from his eyes as the Accordion continued to hum out its music, repeating over and over again.

The sun rose up into the sky; but sure enough the clouds drew up much akin to curtains, hiding it’s face from the procession below. Nicholas could hardly care though; instead his attention was drawn to his fingers, which continued to play even as they began to cramp. He grimaced, but otherwised ignored it.

He could not stop now. He could not stop no matter how painful it got. He had to continue – he had to continue till he could see Ola’s beautiful face emerge from behind those youthful hands. He needed to see that she was happy. It was all that mattered. So he continued onwards, even as his fingers began ache and pain unlike they had ever before.

By now the sun would have reached its peak should it have been visible; but only darkness reigned. The solo voice of the accordion was soon joined by a chorus of lightning and thunder, which strangely only seemed to blend in with the music as he continued. The temperature dropped and his hands went blessfully numb, dulling out the excrutiating pain. Nicholas did not know how, but somehow his fingers still found the right keys and notes and still continued on their own.

He looked to Ola. Her face was still buried underneath those hands. Those beautiful hands. They shone; as if made of gold – but Nicholas knew they were pale in comparison to the face that lay behind it – a face that he needed to see. Her sobbing had almost stopped now; but her face remained covered. And so Nicholas continued to play.

He continued even as the crowd that had gathered around them fled the scene as the sky disgorged its content on the pair. At first it came down as rain; its freezing cold temperature causing it to almost immediately steam on contact with his skin. Time seemed to slow as Nicholas observed it fall – he couldn’t feel anything as it touched his skin though. Soon the rain turned into snow; falling more gently. It filled up the box that stood by his feet; turning the rain into a mixture of snow and slush and burying any and all coins that were inside of it.

It was bitterly cold, going through even the heavy clothing Nicholas wore. But he couldn’t feel it no matter how hard he tried. He could only feel himself continue, his fingers dancing across the Accordion’s keys. He didn’t even know he had fingers anymore. Maybe the Accordion was playing itself? He looked down and found that they were in fact, still there and still moving with a will of their own. They were slowing down, though.

Nicholas looked up and noticed Ola had stopped crying. Her face was still buried behind those hands…but she had stopped crying. She moved; raising her head. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Nicholas slowly stopped as he reached the end of the song. He waited for her face to come out of the hands; for her to look at him with those beautiful eyes, her untarnished skin.

Her old, wrinkled face stared up at him once more as she looked up. It was wet with the tears she had shed for so long…but her smile was the most beautiful of it all. It was one of happiness; pure joy and understanding. It was there in her eyes as she met Nicholas’ gaze. For once in his life, Nicholas truly understood her. He understood everything. And it was beautiful.

The Accordion fell silent as Ola moved forwards, staggering. Her walking stick was lost somewhere in the layer of snow that lay all around them. She fell forwards at the third step, but Nicholas caught her in his arms. The old woman looked up at him, tears in her eyes and the same smile in her face. She reached up with her hands, caressing his cheek. She then spoke; her voice ringing in Russian that Nicholas understood perfectly, even though he’d never heard them before.

”Thank you…thank you my son.”

She stammered the words, before moving her hand down and grabbing Nicholas’s. She pulled it up and with her other hand reached to something around her neck. She closed her fist around it, before pulling it off and then shoving it into Nicholas’ open palm. Ola then looked up at Nicholas, the smile once again there – but there was something else behind those eyes – something…different. It was as if she knew something of what was going to happen – especially to him. It sent a chill down his spine – but not as much as her next few words.

"This…this was Ivan’s. But you will need this soon more than I." She spoke once more in Russian. Nicholas couldn’t explain how he understood, but he just did. He gulped nervously, but didn’t say anything. Indeed, what could he say? Instead, Nicholas just watched as Ola stepped away. She staggered, to her walking stick, reaching down to pick it up before turning to walk down the street. Ola didn’t look back, instead continuing onwards across the road. Nicholas looked down to his palm and saw what the object was for the first time: it was a small cross; golden in color and barely the length of a finger.

He lifted it up in front of his face, studying it. It had some writing scribbled in Cyrillic, but he couldn’t figure out what they said. He placed the cross back into his pocket before looking up to where Ola was. It was then that time seemed to slow as Nicholas watched, in horror.

Ola was still walking across the road – she hadn’t noticed it. He could see from her pose that she was still sobbing, still crying and too distracted to notice the truck that had come out of nowhere. Its tired screeched in protest as it tried to brake on the slippery snow to no avail. The horn blazed away like a banshee; filling the empty street much like the roar of a maddened beast. But through it all Ola didn’t notice.

Nicholas let out a cry, letting go of his Accordion as he brought a foot forward. It slowly dropped to the ground as his cry rang out across the road. Unlike the truck though, Ola heard him. He watched as she turned towards him, ever so slowly as the Accordion moved closer to the ground. Her eyes met his for the briefest of moments and saw the horror that lay behind them. She understood instantly…but in that one moment, Nicholas did not see any fear behind her eyes. Only understanding…only regret.

The Accordion hit the ground; letting out the air held within. Nicholas could have sworn he heard it play the entirety of that song once more in that one moment as the truck hit Ola, dragging her body underneath. Her cry of pain reached his ears and stabbed at him only a moment later, before it – like her, disappeared into the snow underneath.

Chapter 1