Author : Viktor Kuprin

Father was up late cleaning his long rifle and my old musket. Mother fried biscuits and packed pickle dog for us to take on our trip to Fort Needmore.

No, we don’t eat dogs. That’s just what we called pickled baloney. We always took it when we went into the woods.

I’d only been to the fort a couple of times. Father said we had to go. There was big trouble coming, and the Americans couldn’t help us. They didn’t have enough ships or soldiers.

Some said the Americans didn’t care about our world because we didn’t have much money and they didn’t want our furs and mussels for trade. Instead, the CIS Space Army, the Russians, would be coming.

The next morning Mother put out my best buckskins and boots. But then she bawled something awful when we hit the trail. She cried so hard, Father had to help her back inside the cabin. That scared me.

It was the end of the hot season, so we had an easy hike through the woods. The air was sweet and the ground was dry. We stopped once to watch a big fat rockchuck grubbing around a bunch of wineberry bushes. Father told me to leave it be.

When we got to Fort Needmore, the Russians were there. They wore strange hats and clothes, all dark blue or camouflaged. Even some of their ladyfolk wore uniforms. On their suits there was a weird patch that looked like black noodles with a ball on top. Father said it was the CIS flag. Some of them wore red rocket-and-sickle medallions.

The big meeting was held in front of the distillery. We gathered around, and a Russian with white hair and blue eyes stood on a whiskey barrel to talk to us. He said everyone had to come to the fort, and to bring all our black powder and ammunition. The “Yelgrammites” were coming and we had to fight them.

Father acted like he didn’t believe the Russian. “You mean helgrammites? Like we seine up out of the river rocks?”

The Russian nodded. “Da, but bigger. In spaceships they come, thousands and thousands. They have intelligence, but they don’t communicate with us. They show no mercy. We must make ready to fight soon. Or they kill you and take your world.”

After the meeting, the Russians handed out packages to everyone in the crowd. Father told me to get one. A pretty Russian lady dressed in white handed it to me.

When we got back to the cabin that night, Father let Mother open the package. Inside it was sacks of buckwheat, canned food, medicines, and square blocks wrapped up in silver foil. Mother handed one of the blocks to me. I couldn’t read the Cyrillic letters on the pretty paper, so I just ripped it open.

I thought it looked like smashed skat. It really did, all brown and…well. Father and Mother laughed and laughed. They told me to taste it. And it was heavenly good. Mother thought it was chocolate, but Father said chocolate costs over a hundred dollars a kilo. The Russians would not be giving that away. I know now that it was a carob bar.

I broke the carob into small pieces so it would last longer. Father and Mother both took some. And as we enjoyed that sweet treat, sitting together as a family by the light of the oil lamps, we didn’t know what was coming.

Outside, from high in the night sky, we heard sounds like thunder, the sonic booms. Father ran for his rifle.

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