Visual Inspiration—Photo Prompt #24

Let this image engage your muse. Write a paragraph, a short story, a poem, a memory, a journal entry…or whatever you feel inspired to create. And share your creations in the comments if you’d like!


6 Responses to “Visual Inspiration—Photo Prompt #24”

  1. 1 herby February 19, 2011 at 3:55 am

    Sorry it’s so long. But I like sharing the things your prompts inspire for me. I have no idea where this came from. I looked properly at the photo this afternoon before a shower. Then these characters and scenarios came to me. I used a baby name website to find proper Russian names and then bashed this out tonight. Sorry that you only get first drafts so there might be problems but am too busy to proof (should be studying tonight 😉 )


    Dmitri raised his hand quickly when Guard Ivan asked for entrants to the lottery. He looked around the makeshift square and saw that only two other men had raised their hands. Boris and Yuri were standing with their hands in the air and sheepish expressions on their faces. Both men were simpletons who had been nominated by the rest of the prisoners as entrants for the lottery.

    The fact that Dmitri had volunteered came as a surprise to everyone, including the guards who had never seen anyone volunteer for the lottery. However, Dmitri didn’t want to live in the prison camp anymore. He wanted to leave, even if leaving meant he would likely die.

    And die is what everyone who won the lottery did. On the first day of every year, in the middle of the bitter Siberian winter when the nights extended long into the day and the temperatures dropped so low that it no longer mattered whether you measured the temperatures in the metric or imperial scale, the guards at the political prison camp broke their boredom by running two lotteries.

    The first was a lottery to allow one man in the camp to walk out the front gate to take his own chances in the Siberian wilderness. The second was a lottery to allow one woman to live in the relative comfort of the guard camp where she would have access to hot meals, showers and a soft bed. However, no one in their right mind would want to win either lottery because the price was high.

    Guard Ivan took the three men’s name and wrote them one three small scraps of paper. But not before he ridiculed the men harshly. Guard Ivan asked his colleague Guard Sergei to draw the name of the successful entrant.

    ‘Which one of you three men has signed your death certificate?’ sniggered Guard Sergei.

    ‘Who will never be heard from again?’ Guard Ivan chimed in.

    ‘Will Dmitri the dimwit be eaten by a wolf? Or will Boris the Boring freeze to death tonight? Or maybe Yuri the yellow coward will cry himself to sleep after he is lost and never wake up.’ Guard Sergei theorised. ‘Yes, Dmitri the dimwit will leave the camp in one hour. He will die a free and stupid man. It will be his body we find tomorrow morning, half-eaten by the wolves that we will shoot.’ Guard Sergei looked pleased with himself as he announced the winner of the men’s lottery.

    Dmitri sighed nervously. He wanted to leave the camp but now that he had won the lottery he was insanely nervous.

    Within the hour, Dmitri had his bag packed. It wasn’t a big bag, just a small tattered knapsack that he’d managed to salvage from the possessions of an inmate who had died the previous autumn. The bag had holes in it, so he had to put the few scraps of bread the guards gave him as his daily ration in the small pocket on the side of the bag.

    In preparation for the lottery, Dmitri had been saving the bread the guards had been dishing out the previous three days. He added them to the daily rations that the guards had given him. The rest of the knapsack was empty. Dmitri had no possessions but the clothes on his back. His brown leather shoes had thin worn leather soles that let water in at the seams. His grey trousers were made of thick wool and offered good protection from the cold. He’d stolen them from a new prisoner just a week earlier. On his torso he wore a faded blue jumper covered by a heavy black coat.

    At the specified time, Dmitri left walked through the front gates of the prison camp.

    ‘Just remember that if we catch you tomorrow or if the authorities in Moscow find you, you will be brought right back here to the camp. You are not a free man anymore tomorrow; only today.’ Guard Ivan warned.

    ‘And you’ll be punished as an escapee too. Our memories are not that good you know. Not that it matters because you will be dead by midnight anyway.’ Guard Sergei concluded.

    For the first few hours, Dmitri made good progress. He walked east, keeping the afternoon sun behind him. He’d decided to try his luck heading for the Orient rather than risking recapture by the Russian authorities. He didn’t know how far he would have to walk before he entered safe lands but he didn’t care. He just knew he had to walk east and to stay alive as long as possible.

    There were no landmarks to navigate through the deep winter day. Trees, rocks and grasses were covered in a thick white covering of snow. The white that surrounded him was simultaneously blinding and frightening. Dmitri saw no signs of life but tried not to think about what this might mean for his survival. He just kept walking.
    The short winter day turned quickly to night. The temperature plummeted and darkness turned the blinding white of the world into an equally blinding blackness. There was no moon and the stars were hidden behind a shroud of clouds. Usually, the winter skies were clear in Siberia but the night of Dmitri’s release was the darkest and coldest he’d ever experienced.

    The hours passed slowly. Dmitri knew he had to keep moving because stopping meant freezing. He lost track of direction and time. He no longer knew whether he was still walking east or whether he was walking in circles. But Dmitri was too cold and hungry to be scared. He stopped thinking and his body started to feel as numb as his mind.

    Dmitri walked in a daze. He heard strange noises as his mind started to play tricks on him. There seemed to be animals and people all around him. Wolves howled in the distance and sometimes it seemed that he was surrounded by them. Dmitri’s mind created goblins and ogres hidden in the darkness. Everything seemed to have large teeth and glowing red or green eyes. Evil filled the night air. But still Dmitri walked.

    Dmitri almost didn’t notice the sun rising in the east. He thought his mind was playing tricks again, teasing him with the promise of the dawn. He didn’t know how long he had been lying exhausted in the snow, praying that he wouldn’t freeze and trying to force his weary body on. All he knew was that he was hopelessly lost, cold and hungry. He also knew that back at the prison camp the guards would be assembling a hunting party to search for him. He just hoped that the wind and overnight snow had covered his tracks. And that he had travelled far enough to evade capture.

    Dmitri walked towards the sun. No matter how lost he was Dmitri had to keep walking east. The sun was most reliable at dawn and dusk when it was directly east and west of him. For the rest of the day, he would have to guess the time and adjust his course to match. There were still no landmarks to help his navigation.

    Dmitri forced his weary body onwards. He’d eaten a portion of his bread but knew he would run out of food if he didn’t find help by sunset. He didn’t think his body would survive another night in the snow. He walked unsteadily towards the sun, praying for a miracle. He’d heard rumours that nomads sometimes ventured this far west in the winter while their herds were safely encamped in closed in valleys. He hoped the rumours were true.

    The sun rose steadily into the sky. Dmitri kept walking east. He’d not yet passed his own tracks or heard any sign of the guards. His feet were wet from the snow that melted between the seams of his shoes and his toes had gone numb some time during the night. By the time the sun was at its peak, Dmitri’s bread was gone. He only kept the knapsack in case he could use it to keep his head out of the snow during the night.

    At first, Dmitri thought the sight of something red was a figment of his raging imagination. He hadn’t seen colour since leaving the camp. All he’d seen were the blinding white snow and pitch black night.

    But there it was again; a flash of red in the distance. It was just a tiny spec of red that Dmitri could see every so often. The wind was howling around him and the driving snow was cold against his cheeks and nose but he was sure he could see something red. Dmitri walked toward the feint glimmer of colour with renewed purpose. He knew that colour in the wilderness meant hope; even if the red was merely the blood of an animal that had died.

    As he approached the red thing he realised that it was a small children’s toy hanging from the branch of a tree. The toy was a small red hut; the kind a father might make for his son so that the boy might learn the basic techniques for building a structure. Not the kind of toy a nomad would make but the toy of the settled.
    A toy could only mean one thing: people. And close by. Dmitri didn’t know which was to walk to find the owners of the toy hut. He had run out of energy. At that moment, Dmitri’s body shut down and he fell unconscious onto the snow.

    ‘Pappa, he’s awake!’ The sound of a child’s voice filled Dmitri’s ears. It was the voice of a young boy.

    ‘Hello my friend,’ said a man’s voice gently.

    Dmitri groaned in agony. His whole body ached and his vision was blurred.

    ‘Shh … don’t try to speak yet. Here, drink some of this.’
    Dmitri felt a bowl placed against his lips and a warm liquid flowed into his mouth. It tasted salty with a hint of spice. Dmitri moaned appreciatively as his body warmed from the inside.

    Over the days that followed, Dmitri gained strength. It happened slowly. However, by the end of the fourth day, Dmitri was able to focus his eyes. He looked around and saw that he was inside a hut. He was alone in the hut but saw that it was daylight outside.
    Dmitri stood up and walked around the little hut. It contained the main living area and two separate sleeping rooms. The furnishings were sparse. There were two beds with threadbare mattresses and blankets in each sleeping room, and a wooden table with bench seats and the cot that Dmitri had been sleeping on in the living area. There was an open fireplace with pots hanging on hangers and a pile of bowls on a large rock next to it.

    Dmitri opened the door to the hut. A stack of firewood was neatly piled against the side of the hut. He couldn’t see anyone around so he returned to the cot to wait his rescuers’ return.

    An hour later Dmitri heard the door open. He stood to greet the tall dark-haired man who entered the hut.

    ‘Hello,’ Dmitri said.

    ‘Hello. I thought you would never wake,’ said the man, ‘I think you are lucky to be alive.’

    ‘Where am I?’ Dmitri asked.

    ‘You are in my hut. This is my son, Vasily. He found you when he was looking for his toy hut. I think you had been asleep in the snow for a long time because you were almost buried when I came to take you into our home.’

    ‘I am Dmitri. Thank you for rescuing me.’

    ‘Sorry, I forget my manners. I haven’t had visitors since Vasily came to live here. I’m Rostilov. Vasily isn’t really my son. I just call him that because every boy needs a father and every man needs a son. I found him in the snow two winters ago just like he found you this winter.’

    ‘How did you come to live here?’

    ‘I’ve always been here. I don’t know anywhere else. My father built this hut when I was a child. He had been in the Czar’s employment and escaped the revolution. He knew no one in Moscow would ever look for him here. How did you get here?’

    ‘I prefer not to say,’ Dmitri responded nervously.

    ‘We have no secrets here. That’s my only rule. This is my house and I need to know I can trust any man who might also call it his.’

    ‘I was set free from the camp,’ Dmitri responded hesitantly.

    ‘What camp?’

    ‘The prison camp. Haven’t you heard of it?’ Dmitri asked incredulously.

    ‘No, I have no visitors and I don’t like to travel too far because it’s easy to get lost. Why were you in prison?’

    ‘My father was in the employ of the Czar too. When I spoke at my father’s funeral I made the mistake of speaking fondly of his years in the Czar’s service. I was sad at my father’s death and forgot to measure my words. I was arrested before my father’s casket could be taken to the graveyard.’ Tears welled up in Dmitri’s eyes as he remembered the painful experience.

    ‘I was in the camp for four years. This winter I volunteered for the lottery and was released on New Year’s Day. I’m not a free man though and can never return to society.’ Dmitri continued.
    Rostilov looked sympathetically at Dmitri.

    ‘Come. Sit. Vasily and I will share our meal with you. We don’t have much but any friend of the Czar is a friend of mine. You are welcome to stay here if you can help find food and firewood.’ Rostilov said.

    ‘Where do you find food?’

    ‘We will teach you. There is always food if you know where to look and how to save seeds in our short summer. My father taught me and I will teach you. We sometimes go hungry but that’s better than being enslaved.’ Rostilov said.

    ‘I have nowhere else to go. The guards never come here then?’

    ‘Never seen one here yet. I try not to draw attention to myself. We live a quiet life here and there are no roads. You must have walked a long way though because I have walked a full day in each direction in summer and haven’t seen the camp. And guards are lazy. They will not quickly walk further than they need to.’ Rostilov roared with laughter.

    Dmitri smiled and sat on a bench at the table as Vasily set two bowls of food on the table and used the pot as his own bowl.

    • 2 stranglingmymuse February 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      No need for apologies, herby — post anything you like here. I love it when people share!

      Great story! And it’s interesting that it was inspired by that simple photo.


  2. 3 Jake February 20, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Daniel hangs the birdhouse and steps back to admire his work. Red in a sea of white. Daniel sighs, the cold changing his breath to steam.

    He looks over his shoulder toward the house, smoke rises from the chimney and the promise of warmth makes his feet shift in place. The crunch of fresh snow.

    He forces himself to stay, to turn back to the birdhouse. To feel the cold. He rubs his nose on the back of his glove and shoves it back in his coat.

    The silence grows as Dan relaxes. Letting out another deep breath he closes his eyes. The wind whispers. The quiet of snow. The deep calm of winter.

    “I miss you dad.”

  1. 1 Winning the lottery | Living As Herby Trackback on February 19, 2011 at 3:50 am

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