Pieces of Hell – Black Lada 1500 Special (story and critique)

The Sun retreated behind the buildings, and the night fell in Moscow. Moths were bumping into the streetlights in swarms. A conical beam above slid over the dashboard, flew over my left hand missing three fingers, and climbed the rooftop as I drove. Headlights ran five meters in front of the Lada — enough to see where I was going.

The noise changed the tunes on the radio into a broken sound coming through the speakers. I hummed a song of my own, the one I learned serving the motherland. Except for the Lada engine roar, the night was quiet.

Grey Soviet facades and the road, brightened as I pulled over to the curb. The neon sign above the club said “Pobeda[1]”, but with the first two letters dimmed, it spelled “beda[2]”.

Loud music slid through the gaping door with a girl in a fur coat. She dropped the cigarette butt on the ground and smeared the ashes with the front of her platform shoe. Grasping her coat tighter, she hurried to get in the backseat. Lada rocked as she entered and slammed the door.

I sized her up in the rear-view mirror, shifted the gear stick, and peeled off the curb. Lada cruised down the road; tires hummed speeding. Elegant letter bag, short dress, luscious fur coat ­— she looked expensive. She checked her makeup in the powder-case mirror.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Twenty, Zvereva Street, Krasnogorsk district, please,” she said. “Turn here, please,” she pointed her finger at the intersection, stared at the junction as I kept going forward.

“It’s obstructed with road works. I’ll take another turn,” I smiled and brought my eyes back to the rear-view mirror.

She sat quietly, stared through the window. Whenever the streetlight caught her face, her eyes and lips glistened.

Krasnogorsk district was outside Moscow, worker’s residential area ­— the blocks. For a beauty like her living in a cheaper part of the city, life had to be a struggle. Those pricey pieces of fabric on her could not be the result of a good salary. I had plenty of ferry rides to make an assessment based on how the customer was dressed. And she looked like a goddess Lada.

“Could you hurry, please?” she leaned forward and touched my shoulder.

I nodded and pressed the gas pedal. I noticed her looking at my Soviet camouflage jacket. Our eyes met in the mirror. 

The light went over the dashboard, and my finger-less hand resting on the steering wheel.

“War injury?” She asked.

“Yes. From the Second World War,” I said. “People call me Vasily,” I stuck my hand between the seats, and she shook it gently.

“Ludmila Levchenko.” She said.

Ludmila pulled a fur coat tighter, straightened her posture, and leaned back in the seat.

“Why are you in a rush to get home? Are your parents waiting for you?” I smiled, rechecked the mirror, while her dubious gaze burned the back of my head.

“I need to take my son to the kindergarten and get to work in the morning,” she mumbled, but I understood what she said. “And you? Do you have a family?”

I laughed; warmth overwhelmed me with a surge of memories.

“I never had children. I only have this, Lada. She is my family,” I petted the dashboard.

She got comfortable in the back, laid one of her hands on the door handle, and looked outside.

I noticed the bushes and the roadside rail fading into darkness. As soon as the headlights passed the vegetation by the road, grass blades went oily black and reached for the sky.

The temperature outside dropped to the point of frost spreading over plants, metal, and asphalt. The Blizzard was near. I turned on the heater, felt the warmth breezing through the plastic blinders.

“It feels like you are driving for hours. I haven’t noticed you made a turn. Can you hurry?” Ludmila said.

“We will arrive within minutes. Relax,” I waved away, stepped on the gas, checked the rear-view mirror.

“Where are you taking me? I don’t see familiar alleys. I don’t see the city? Why is it so dark outside?” Ludmila leaned forward, trying to see the road through the windshield.

My patrons often object to the ride when the reality becomes clear. They don’t know that there is no turning back from where we were going. It was the God of the Sun that dictated what had to be done.

I looked at her over the mirror, turned on the long lights, and the road brightened. The path was taken by the ghostly specters crossing the road in masses. Ludmila pulled back to her seat; eyes opened wide. She turned to the side; hands outstretched on the frosted window. Her warm breath fogged the sight of pedestrians.

These shadows appeared as smoke rolling on the road and in the next second as people walking. Women with scarfs, torn boots, and long skirts moving across the ice-coated meadows. Men in military coats, woolen caps, and baggage riddled with holes accompanied them from behind.

“What is this?” she asked.

I scoffed, tightened my grip on the steering wheel, recalling my day of reckoning.

“That club, ‘Pobeda’, very nice place. You went there with a friend, correct?” I asked.

“How do you know this?” Ludmila asked.

“He wasn’t your partner, correct?” I smiled, but she wasn’t amused.

“What?” she frowned.

“You didn’t see it, but I did. I saw him call a taxi, gave a piece of paper with your address to the driver, and double paid him to get you home. You passed out and choke on your tongue on the backseat. It wasn’t his fault.” I said.

“I’m…?”

“For over two hours now. I am so sorry,” I turned in my seat, looked at Ludmila, shivering in the back. “We will arrive at our destination just before the sunrise. It’s not my first ride. Everything will be all right. Your family moved on. They had a great life.”

“Had? What do you mean?” Ludmila shouted.

She went for the door handle, but I slammed the lock before she opened the door.

“No! Stop it. Xors is not a forgiving God,”

Ludmila kicked the driver’s seat, pulled her hair and screamed to get out. I turned around, jumped over the gear stick and sat in the backseat next to her. She punched me in the chest, and then kept punching until she ran out the energy to strike me again. I offered her a swig of vodka from the Soviet flask I had in my pocket. She took a good gulp, wiped her mouth, and screamed.

Lada carried us forward. The truth was, Lada knew where to take us with or without me. Patrons were peaceful when there was a driver, that’s why I was there.

We sat together, stared at the hazy pedestrians passing the road, spoke about our lives. I tried to explain how I saw this place; this Lada I woke up in one night. Ludmila cried, punched the driver’s seat, and cussed.

I expected such a reaction.

“It is cosmic justice,” I said as if that was true, but that was the only logical explanation I had for the black Lada 1500 Special.

Siberian forests were thick and luscious. Pine trees created a dark front under a clear sky with pale sun rays in the back. Lada stopped near the first trees in the middle of nowhere.

Looking back at the road, the pedestrians were fading into the fog. Ludmila pulled both sides of her fur coat and looked at the forest. A cloud of her warm breath slopped from her lipstick as she clicked her tongue.

“What now?” Ludmila frowned at me.

“We wait for Xors’s messenger to pick you up. This is the end of your journey.” I said.

A grey wolf came out of the forest and Ludmila took a step back. The beast snuff both of us, and stopped next to my left leg.

“You must follow the wolf. He will take you to the realm of Gods. There is nothing else I can do for you.”

The wolf started walking toward the forest, turned his head at Ludmila mid-way, and winced.

“What will happen with my son?” Ludmila looked at me with a teary eye.

“It is in the Svarog’s hands now.” I said, “Every second of our lives is already written, and we are only doing what destiny says. Your worries end here.” I added.

Ludmila nodded and went with the wolf. Her image blended with the darkness of the Siberian forest as the day brightened.

I looked at the awakening dawn, Xors, the God of Sun peeping atop the pine domes. And I felt bliss in his presence. I felt divine, as if this daily ride was an accomplishment. It was my reward for an excellent service, to stand here, look at the Sun once more.

It was a glimpse of what living was like and memory of who I used to be.

I went back behind the steering wheel, turned the key in the ignition, shifted the gear handle, and stepped on the gas pedal. I gently turned the Lada around and entered the fog.

Meter by meter, the color of my black Lada merged with the fog until it faded away. And the engine roar was no more.

***

The Sun retreated behind the buildings, and the night fell in Moscow. An old warehouse light outside helped me adjust my vision, determine where I was. My hand was on the steering wheel of a red GAZ M20 Pobeda. The radio played tunes rattled with noise. I couldn’t hear the song, only a slight whisper telling me to start the engine and pick up somebody. I checked my makeup in the rear-view mirror, and stepped on the gas pedal.

The critique

From the start, we get a setting, the tone of the story, and meet the characters. The environment is in Russia, Moscow, to be precise. The tone is semi-dark, with a tendency to become darker. The streets are empty, and it is dead of the night when black Lada enters the scene. For what we can see, it looks like a cab driver picked up a customer, and that’s where the introduction ends. The interactions of a taxi driver with his female customer are the meat of the story. The way the story goes, we get to know the people inside the vehicle, we get to understand who they are. But who are they in reality?

An answer to that question hides in the culmination of the story. The genre the story is written in is between a psychological horror and paranormal fiction.

Symbolism within the story touches base with the Greek and Slavic mythology. To make it clearer for those who are not familiar with the symbolic elements, I’ll try to clarify the motifs. Lada is a goddess of beauty, and she represents the spring in Slavic mythology. She is Xors’s wife, who is a God of the Sun. Another name for Xors is Dažbog, a derivative and similar with his other names like Dan-bog, or Day-god, the god of the Day. There is a god called Jutrobog, Morning god, who rules over Moon and the night. To some beliefs, there are two gods Dažbog and Jutrobog, and then there are different names for them like Xors Dažbog and Xors Jutrobog.

In contrast to the belief that there are two gods to rule over celestial objects, some think that there is only one god, Dažbog and that he embodies two entities that command over Moon and the Sun. So, who is Xors? The explanation becomes complicated too much to tell you everything, so let’s agree that he exists.

You need to know that there are two brothers, Dažbog and Jutrobog, Sun and the Moon. Dažbog and Jutrobog have two sisters: Zvezda Juternja – Morningstar (often referred to as Danica star, Venus) and second sister Zvezda Večernja – Evening star.

All these gods play a role in the background by pulling the strings connected with the moral world. For example, Xors rules over the light and dark, day and night, and he sets the paranormal passage for the taxi driver Vasily who interprets Charon, a legendary ferryman that takes souls across the river Sticks to the Underworld.

Lada is also a Russian brand of vehicles, which is a useful mythology reference for the story. Symbolically, Lada, wife of Dažbog, is bringing souls to her husband. But that is not all that Lada symbolizes. Lada is a brand of cars, 1500 is the edition, while Special is reserved for the vehicle’s unique characteristics. This version of Lada is intentionally made to be cozier and to serve as CEO transportation. On the backseat, there is a cushioned divider that can be knocked down with for extra hand rest. The vehicle has a bit more leg space, leather interior, and ashtrays in the side doors. But why is it so crucial for Vasily? To explain this, and it’s not clear from the story, you’ll have to connect the dots. Vasily was a soldier in a soviet army that entered Berlin. Back then, there were soviet commandos leading the way and clashing with the defensive forces inside Berlin. An urban combat in the streets and clearing the buildings demanded the creation of special raiding teams. Special forces abstractly refer to a special edition of vehicles, and because Vasily is Russian, we have a Russian car. Similar to Vasily, we have the second character Ludmila and her connection with Pobeda bar. Pobeda is a version of automobiles also made in Russia. These automobile tags represent the weight the characters need to carry in their afterlife as a sort of a memory that reminds them of their former life. It’s very thin connection, but it exists.

If we are speaking about the plot and ghost pedestrians the protagonists encounter, I meant to show a great migration toward Siberia. Why Siberia and why forests? Slavic folks are forest and mountain people. The holy three of Slavs is an oak, but then again, threes overall were sacred to Slavs.

Why Slavic mythology? The mythos and pantheon that was lost during time belong to the dark ages, long before the era of civilizations, and it goes well with the tone of the story. Paranormal, horror, ancient, it all speaks about an old and ominous cult rituals. Soul collecting in this story is part of those ceremonies that evoke despair, and it is the reason I optioned to use it in the story.

The end is something you could expect. We get to the loop closing and new cycle opening, much like the day and night change.

I hope you like the story and what I did with it.

Until the next time, take care. Bye.

Shawn


[1] Victory in Russian

[2] Misery in Russian

6 thoughts on “Pieces of Hell – Black Lada 1500 Special (story and critique)

  1. Beautiful composition, descriptions are well done (I was there while reading, feeling the whole atmosphere). Story has many layers, and can be read horizontally and vertically, which makes it complex but readable. Well done kind sir!

    Liked by 1 person

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