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The Incident at Saint Andrew’s : Part 2

by Justin Pickard


In stark contrast to the warmth of the priest’s temporary study, the main building was almost as cold as it had been outside. Not expecting the sudden change in temperature, my involuntary shudder caused the candle to flicker into total darkness. Muttering a stream of profanities, I turned, about to retrace my steps. Then I heard it. Somewhere between a sigh and a groan, it came from behind me – the main nave of the cathedral. The men whose voices I had heard seemed to have left, presumably with Father Danil.

"Hello?" My query was weak and hesitant, and absorbed all-too-quickly into the dark recesses of the building. There was no echo, and no response. With my heartbeat resonating through my skull, I began to retrace my steps through the black. Apart from the shock of bumping into something solid, presumably some ornate example of masonry, my pathway seemed clear. The study was just as I had left it, with the stove flickering furiously. Another candle was lifted down from the mantle, and – forgoing the taper – proffered to the flames. My mind was racing, spinning off down avenues of possibility and speculation. When the candle did eventually light, the accompanying crack from the fire bought me back to reality with a jolt.

Given depth by the candlelight, I could now appreciate the sheer scale of the building. There was a heavy brown tarpaulin draped over the unfinished roof, and the gaps that would eventually be filled by immense stained glass windows and heavy timber doors were open to the elements. I was looking up at the ceiling, lost in utter wonderment at the sheer scale of the project, when my foot met with something tender and yielding. There was a moment when time itself seemed to come to a standstill as, alongside my horrified squeal, the avenues of possibility came thundering back towards me. Frozen, I pondered which would be worse: looking down or not looking down. Ultimately, of course, curiousity won.

Well, he was dead. Of that much, I was certain. His skin was as cool as the icy wet of the stone tiles upon which he lay. My stomach tightening, I remember listening to the sound of my feet clattering down the cathedral’s central aisle as I ran out into the murky twilight. It has been said in that in times of great stress, the body is capable of more or less running itself and – although this theory is not normally given much credence – it is as good an explanation as any as to how I managed to get all the way back across town to my apartment without even being aware of having done so. One moment, I was knelt next to a dead priest, and the next? I was sitting in a chair in my apartment, staring at the peeling wallpaper, with a mug of sweet tea in a vice-like grip. At some point the last glimmers of daylight had faded, and I was now sitting in relative darkness, with only the faint glow of the corner lamp for company.

What the hell was I supposed to do? Should I alert the Chinese garrison? Who would perform the funeral? What were the voices I had heard? Had he been murdered? Why would anyone kill a priest?

My head swimming with thoughts and questions, I remember making the decision that the best course of action would be an early night, followed by – as much as I was loathed to do so – a visit to my mother the following morning, by which time I would have had a chance to think things through a little. That night I dreamed of landscapes of crisp white snow, thick forests and dry river beds. I flew with eagles, and ran with deer. It was a brief escape from the confused mix of guilt and anxiety that would dominate my nights for the foreseeable future but, for the time being, I was blissfully unaware of what was still to come. Eventually, I was pulled from my sleep by the morning light streaming from behind the moth-eaten curtains.

In 1926, my mother was living with Felix, my brother, in the far south of the Russian district of Yakutsk. Their home was one of a multitude of small timber buildings that had been erected by the Yakutian government to house refugees fleeing the Red insurgency in the West. My apartment, on the other hand, was part of an abandoned warehouse that had been broken up into flats after the docks had moved downriver. Both sets of accommodation were at the cheaper end of the spectrum, but where mine was cheap-old, theirs was cheap-basic. My mother had made a number of attempts to make it feel like our home back West, but they had only served to imbue the building with a certain melancholic atmosphere, and the house was now one of cobwebs, tarnished ornaments, and broken dreams.

So it was that, with the events in the cathedral mingling with the images and emotions of my dreams, I made my way across town. It was a little warmer today, and my breath no longer turned to billowing white smoke as I exhaled. Still, the mist of the previous evening had turned to a thin coating of clear ice on the streets, and the roofs of buildings had been lightly dusted with a layer of frost. The accursed cathedral stood to the south; its massive structure hanging over the Russian district like an oppressive storm cloud. As I turned into my mother’s road, I suddenly felt nauseous and my forehead began to ache. Fiddling with my pocket watch, I made my way to the front porch. As if waiting for something, I hovered for a couple of moments by the front door, anxiously shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I turned as the slowly door swung open, and my brother stepped out.

"Nat" he said, looking up, "What on earth are you doing?"

My stomach doing back flips, I inhaled, and began to tell him about the incident at Saint Andrew’s…


Originally Posted by libraryalexandria.org
The Great March Eastward refers to the four month journey from North-West Russia to Yakutia made by the Czechoslovak Legions and White Russian refugees in the Autumn of 1919. Loosely following the route of the Trans-Siberian railway, these travellers were seeking protection from the Bolshevik Insurgency, having been promised acceptance and a new life by the fledgling territory of Yakutia.

Historians have estimated that one in five people who made the journey died from frostbite or exhaustion. The majority of causalities were children, women, and the elderly…


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