Subject: For your consideration: Red Hood, Red Country (a original short story by yours truly)
Posted on: 2023-07-11 04:57:03 UTC

The following story was written by me for my Introduction to Creative Writing course I took this semester at uni. It is based off the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, but in an entirely different context and setting. Enjoy!

It was a cold day in Neo-Moscow, colder than most. The streets, usually a drab grid of grey prefabricated concrete surrounded by equally drab buildings, were covered in snow, the only colour coming from the flickering lights of the traffic systems that had not succumbed to the sub-zero temperatures. Mixed in with the snow drift this day were the black ashen flakes that still rained from the sky, even thirty years after The War. The old men, the last survivors of a bygone era, called them “Disgusting”. “Vile”. “Poison”.

Vera Kozlova didn’t think the flakes were disgusting. In fact, they bought some stark contrast to an otherwise drab city, at least to her. They certainly weren’t something she’d get close to her skin though, which meant that she needed to avoid the large patches of ashen snow as she trudged through the knee-deep snowfall. She wore battered rubber boots to protect her feet, and a bright red plastic cloak to prevent the contaminated flakes from landing on her hair or neck. There were few others out during this weather, but Vera had reason to be out here.

She was going to go see her babushka.

As she trudged through the snow, she looked up at the grey sky, and wished she could have lived before the war. Her babushka told her often about the old days of glory, where Russia was a world power, where mankind built great works of technology, where man headed towards the stars. A time before the yadernoye oruzhiye, the bombs, destroyed the world that was. A time before the snow was poison. She often spoke of how Russia was amongst the greatest nations in the world, and of how they were feared by many of the western powers. Vera often asked her why her teachers still claimed that they were a great power if Russia was no longer what it once was. Her grandmother always responded the same. She would smile a toothless grin, wrinkle up her eyes, and tell her that teachers say many things to young minds. But that not everything that is said in school is true, just as not everything that is said by the Great Leaders is true either.

Vera’s mother disapproved of this. She often tried to prevent Vera from visiting her grandmother, telling her that it was too dangerous to go out in the streets, that Vera’s babushka was a fool for saying such things. But Vera couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her beloved grandmother by herself. She argued to her mother than her grandmother was wiser than her, that what she said made sense, that maybe this country was less than it once was. Her mother always looked scared when she said those things, even when they were alone in their tiny flat. Her father, as usual, was too tired to weigh in, his work at the local power station sapping both his time and energy to the point of muteness. Her mother would try to get him to weigh in, but he was never able to muster more than a weak affirmation of her mother’s arguments. Vera didn’t hate him for this. At least her father had work, and at least that work didn’t involve backbreaking labour in the mines or in the oruzheynyye zavody.

Vera rounded the corner, waiting at the crossing for the lights to turn green. She didn’t need to do so. Very few people in the city were wealthy enough to own a vehicle, and fewer still would have a vehicle that could make it through this weather safely. But if one of the gvardeytsy caught her jaywalking, the punishments would be severe for both her and her family. Once, her neighbour had been arrested after he was accused of distributing “illicit propaganda”. He had run a bookstore in the market district, and had been found peddling some old book about pigs and other animals on a farm. Vera didn’t see how that was propaganda, but she had never seen the old man again, and the next time she passed by his store, it had been torched and boarded up. Her mother refused to tell her what their neighbour had done, but had given her a warning to avoid breaking any laws, no matter how minor they might be. So, Vera stood at the crossing, not wishing to bring down the wrath of the men in the black suits.

Vera crossed the road, and continued on through the city’s market district, usually bustling with people, but deserted due to the weather. The market stalls that lined the footpath were absent, small indents in the snow the only evidence they had even existed here in the first place. Shops were closed, roller doors blocking access. A few were boarded up, the wooden planks spraypainted with the symbol of Enemies of the People, a big Z in red. Vera noted that one of the newly boarded up shops was the store once owned by Maxim the Tailor, who had been strung up in Red Square the previous week for harbouring traitors. Maxim had always been so nice to Vera, and had even given her the cape she wore now after her last one got thrown away. He was a refugee from the European states, after they were devastated in the war. The rumour was that he had been harbouring natsistskiye terroristy, remnants of the Old Enemy who had once dared to stand up to Russia before the war. Vera’s teachers said that their great nation had been forced to launch their missiles to defeat these upstart rebels, before they could bring ruination to the Motherland. Vera had been caned once for asking how a small nation like that of The Old Enemy could bring Russia to the brink of destruction. She hadn’t asked questions like that again. At least not at school. Vera stopped for a moment to pick up a small object lying half-buried in the snow. It was a pair of worn scissors with red tape wrapped around one of the handles. Maxim’s scissors. She noticed a number of other objects lying in the snow, items she recognised from her visits to his store. She thought about gathering the items, but decided against it. She had already spent too much time idling, and she was risking exposure to radiation if she stayed out here much longer. It wasn’t too far to her grandmother’s apartment now anyway.

As she exited the market district, and rounded the corner, her heart felt like it had stopped beating. There, in front of her grandmother’s apartment building, was a large windowless armoured vehicle marked with a wolf’s head. It was the gvardeytsy. Two of them stood outside the rear doors, clad in their black overcoats and woollen hats, their gloved hands clasping submachine guns. She ran through the snow towards her grandmother’s apartment, screaming to the men to leave her babushka alone. They looked her way impassively as two other men dragged her grandmother out through the gaping door of her flat, her frail old body contrasted against their hulking frames. One of the men standing outside the van moved to open the door of the vehicle, while the other aimed his gun at Vera, barely shifting from his stance as he did so. Vera froze, tears streaming down her face, and dropping into the dirty snow as they did. Another two men came out from her grandmother’s flat, pouring gasoline behind them from a large jerry can. They threw the empty can into the house, and tossed a lit match in behind them. The two men dragging her grandmother paused to speak to the man holding open the rear door.

As they did, her babushka glanced up, one eye swollen and bleeding, and smiled at Vera sadly. Then, she was gone, tossed into the back of the vehicle like a sack of potatoes. Vera screamed as the men climbed into the vehicle and drove off, her grandmother’s home burning behind the departing vehicle. Vera crumpled to her knees, collapsing into the dirty snow as new black snow rained from the sky. Snow that sizzled and glowed, melting holes into the snow around her. She didn’t think the ashes gave contrast anymore.

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