Petya y volk — rewrite for the 2nd edition of Through the Glass Darkly

1 Oct


Petya i volk

Peter and the Wolf
an adaptation of the children’s story
originally written by Sergei Prokofiev

by L. Stewart Marsden

Isak and Petya Zaslavsky lived a very simple life. Their cabin and small bit of land was tucked into a valley pinched by two ridges that edged down the east slopes of the Carpathians. Isak was Petya’s grandfather, and extraordinarily protective of the boy.

“Don’t go into the woods, Petya.”

“Don’t talk to strangers, Petya.”

“Don’t go to the village without me, Petya.”

Don’t, don’t, don’t.

This strict oversight made life for Petya all the more intense. When he was younger, he didn’t notice. But by age twelve, he had grown into a skinny mop-haired tangle of curiosity and bravado. He was growing up, and Grandfather railed against that inevitable change.

The boy spent the daylight completing a variety of duties that included milking the cow, gathering the hen and geese eggs, and splitting and stacking wood for the fire. He spent all his other time daydreaming about a life of adventure, and devising ways to make those dreams come true.

Grandfather Zaslovsky made sure there was not much free time for Petya.
The year’s first snow brushed the ground and nearby woods with powdery strokes of white. The snow hung to the high branches of the thick groves of elm and oak and hickory. It dropped, spattering softly with each gust of mountain wind that swooped down into the valley to play the trees with a soft moan.

With winter came a reason for increased vigilance – heightened alert for wolves and the occasional bear late to hibernation. Foxes, martens and weasels were worrisome year-round, but wolves followed the elk and the wild boars that descended from the higher altitudes to look for forage.

Grandfather repeated his warning not to go in the forest.

“The wolves,” he said. Volki.

Petya had never seen a live wolf. In the pivnaya –town tavern — stuffed heads of many animals hung from its walls. Each had fallen to a rifle ball, or had trigged snapping iron jaws set by local trappers. They stared wide-eyed with surprise, mouths slightly gaped  — frozen expressions caught at the moment of death.

Petya viewed them from outside the pivnaya whenever Grandfather allowed him to go to town. He pressed his nose against a pane of glass and peered in while his grandfather warmed himself with a glass or two of the local vodka. When Grandfather came out, Petya pummeled him with questions about the various heads mounted on the wall.

“That was a badger,” he would answer his grandson with a hint of irritation in his voice.

“And the one next to it? It looked like a rat – maybe a squirrel?”

“Marten. Wealthy women love its fur. But I call it a rodent. They eat chicken eggs — and the hens if they can catch them.”

Petya would continue to question his grandfather all the way home.

Once there, they both ate a dinner of a boiled egg and a slice of bread, then prepared for bed. The ritual included washing behind the ears and scrubbing their teeth with the splayed end of sassafras root. They donned itchy nightgowns made of burlap, which they had tried to smooth with large pebbles from the nearby creek.

During summer, Petya slept in a hammock that was hung in the corner of the one-room cabin. In winter, they shared the lone bed. Huddled together, they covered themselves with a down-filled comforter, their most prized possession, other than the hens and the cow.

A fire of hot embers glowed a few feet away from within the stone hearth. It was Petya’s job to stoke the fire, which he did whenever he awoke from cold during the night.

“Not too much wood, Petya,” Grandfather repeatedly reminded him.

On the coldest nights, Petya shooed the small goats into the cabin. Especially on nights when the moon was full.

“The wolves,” his grandfather would whisper, pinching together his two massive white eyebrows with a scowl.

Lucky was also allowed in the cabin even though his thick fur harbored him from the harsh cold. Lucky was their dog, whom they inherited with the cabin. He was a Carpathian shepherd, — a cross between a wolf and sheepdog — and had been used by his former owner to hunt bear and wolves. He had once been a formidable hunter, according to the tavern keeper. After one such hunt, Lucky returned to the cabin broken boned and sliced up. The dog lingered at the cabin until the tavern keeper walked out to the cabin and brought the dog back to town. He was too weak to protest.

There he was cared for by various tavern patrons. They fed him bits of bread and meat, and laced his bowl of water with vodka to ease the pain of his wounds. The flesh wounds finally healed, but the dog’s back hip was permanently shattered.

That spring his master had still not returned to claim the dog. A small party of men searched the woods near the cabin and a few kilometers up the mountain to no avail. There were no signs of the man. He was eventually found toward the end of summer by a hunter. A shriveled corpse – mostly eaten — bones scattered by scavengers. His shredded clothes his only grave marker.

Then Grandfather and Petya arrived, looking for a place to stay. They were directed to the abandoned cabin where the missing man and his dog had lived. No one in the village wanted the land, calling it cursed. Grandfather had no qualms about moving in.

Once they were settled, the dog limped out to the cabin from the tavern and flopped down near the stone steps at the front door, from where he rarely moved. Petya named him Lucky because he survived what must have been a terrible battle. Other than his ability to scare a fox through ferocious barking, Lucky was useless.

“He will eat us out of everything we have!” Grandfather complained. But he relented after Petya promised to care for the dog.

He was a welcomed companion for Petya, and the limp wag of his tail every once in a while far exceeded the friendliness of his grandfather.

Winter cleaned out the leaves and brush that impeded a view deep into the woods during the summer. Left were stark gray and black trunks, and limbs that wove into imagined beings and things. A fierce eye. Pointed ears. Sharp, snarling teeth. A claw.

Petya often crawled onto the straw-thatched roof, making sure to step only where he knew the rafters to be so he wouldn’t plunge through into the cabin. Grandfather had forbidden him to do it, as replacement straw was hard to be had – especially in winter when it was needed for the cow.

No mention of concern that Petya might possibly injure himself.

Whenever Grandfather was away, he shinnied up a poplar sapling next to the cabin, and clambered atop the roof. Laying flat near the chimney for warmth, he peered into the valley to the east, then turned west and let his eyes follow the limb lines up to the tree tops. From tree to tree he visually traced farther up until the mountain gradually disappeared into blurred grayness.

Petya wanted someday to climb to the top of the mountain, and to range the ridge. To possibly hunt a wolf or bear or elk, and shoot it. Then he would drag its limp body back down to the cabin where he would skin it and hang its hide to dry. Finally, he would take its severed head to the tavern to hang on the head-trophied wall. Perhaps he would even take his first taste of vodka. “Grandfather will be proud of me then,” he thought.

From this vantage, he could also keep an eye on the road that ran a few meters away by his house to the village. Lucky lifted his head lethargically and sniffed the air whenever anyone approached on the road, and then released an apathetic bark. Normally that was when Grandfather neared home. That bark gave Petya time to scuttle across the roof to the sapling, and down into the back yard, where he grabbed the feed bag and began scattering ground corn for the hens.

On a day such as this, Petya was lost in reverie on the roof, dreaming of shooting an incredibly large bear. Lucky barked. It was not a tired nor disinterested bark – but loud and filled with alarm. Petya slid his body down the backside of the roof, then slowly pulled himself back to the top to peer at the road. Lucky had risen to all fours and hobbled out into the yard in front of the cabin. His barks were a mix of low-throated growls and fierce yelps.

It was not Grandfather.

It was four men on horseback, slowly riding along the road toward the village. Each was bundled in fur coats and hats, with leather breeches and knee-length boots. Various bags and gear were tied onto the horses behind their saddles. Each had a rifle, sheathed away on the flanks of their rides, within easy reach. The leader slowly reined his horse to a standstill, as did his company. He stood in his stirrups.

“Hallo?” His voice resonated deeply. It was directed towards the cabin. The word echoed like a howl and mixed with Lucky’s ferocious barks.

One of his group pulled out his rifle and aimed it at the dog.

“Shall I silence this cur?”

Nyet,” the leader responded, sitting back down in his saddle and holding one hand up.

“Wait here.”

With that, the leader dismounted. He walked the short distance from the road to the cabin and approached Lucky directly. At his glare, Lucky stopped barking and cowered to his belly. He then turned on his back and presented his underside in obeisance. The leader crouched and scratched the dog’s belly, then stood again and looked around.

He was taller than his companions. His shoulders were wide and arms long. His hands, large with thick fingers. And he was hairy — the hairiest man Petya had ever seen. Only his nose and thin lips and small areas under his eyes did not bristle with black hair. His eyes were deep-set and dark, and peered like an animal’s, darting back and forth.

When he opened his mouth once more to call out, his teeth stood out in stark contrast to his dark face – white and even and nearly-perfect in shape. Something stuck Petya about the man. Somehow he was vaguely familiar.

“What big teeth you have,” thought Petya, remembering the tale his mother had once told him. “Ah, that was it. He looks like the wolf!”

His upper torso was burly – barrel-chested, his grandfather described it after he had seen the man. But his waist was trim, and his legs, long and lithe.

“Hallo!” he called out again. This time Lucky did not respond, but crept off silently to the edge of the cleared yard area, and squeezed into the underbrush.

The man tipped his head back and closed his eyes. He sniffed loudly.

“I know you’re there,” he announced with assuredness. “I can smell you!”

“What a big nose you have,” thought Petya, trying to make himself as small as possible.

“That’s all right,” said the man after a time. He turned slowly and walked back to his horse and remounted. “I will be back, and you and I shall have a chat then. I can wait.”

His entourage laughed at the comment, and all of the group continued down the road toward the village, geeing their horses to a trot and then to a gallop.

Trembling, Petya peeked back over the rooftop at the road. Nothing but slowly settling dust marked the exit of the pack of men. His heart still beat madly, and his palms were sweaty. He wanted off the roof. He felt like a treed animal. He wanted someplace to feel and be safe. And he never wanted to have that feeling again.

“They were like a pack of wolves,” Petya thought.

And just then he remembered another time. A time long ago he had forgotten.

* * * * *

This is a rewrite of an original story that appeared in my book, Through the Glass Darkly. It is the opening section, and I will post more of the story over the next few days. I plan to use it in the 2nd edition of TTGD, and will edit/rewrite all the other stories as well. Some of the original inclusions will be omitted, and I hope to add new stories since the book was published in October, 2012. I wonder if you would be so kind as to comment on this portion in the comment box below. I want to know:
Did you find it held your attention?
Do you understand the early conflicts?
Do you have a mental picture of Petya and Grandfather?
Of the Leader on horseback?
Of the tavern?
Do you care to read further?

If you respond, thank you. If not, thanks for dropping by anyway.


2 Responses to “Petya y volk — rewrite for the 2nd edition of Through the Glass Darkly”

  1. sharon October 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    I thought the story was well told. I do have a picture of all the characters and understand the relationships. And yes, I would continue reading.

  2. rbruntmyer October 7, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    Yes on all points. Story line is clear and holds my attention, descriptions and relationships are defined well and yes I would continue to read the story.

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