Father Grigori was a dutiful shepherd when it came to attending his flock – simple and humble folk who eked out a meager existence as fishermen. His sermons often spoke of the fall of man; how as creatures of base passions and wants, humans always suffered due to the hubris of their actions. “Sin is always present, it never rests. Temptation is its mistress, and if one is not careful you find yourself in her embrace!”, his words carried anger and condemnation, “Pride and ignorance are the Devil’s hands which cover our eyes; blinding us so that we may stumble into Hell!”. A shudder swept across the faithful who huddled meekly in the rows of worn-out pews.
Rays of light pierced cracked and moldy windows, showing shafts of ever-swirling dust that accumulated inside. Like this decrepit church, the town had been slowly dying for years, but Grigori held on to it and to his flock; they are lost without me, and I without them.
“Be ever wary, ever vigilant. As we rise, so we fall. Go in peace.”, the service was over and all the parishioners shuffled slowly out into the cold, windy day; leaving the old brick-and-mortar church the dominion of one once more.
Grigori was a patient man, oh yes he was. Despite his many frustrations that came from living here; in particular the ignorance and superstitious customs of the villagers, Grigori kept his anger in check. Every time he saw someone from the village kneel before the sea after a successful catch (thanking the sea spirits) or carry a fistful of sand in their pockets (ensuring safe return to shore), Grigori would crack the knuckles of his hands loudly and clench his teeth, but he would not berate any of them. Even if sometimes he had a desire, almost a longing, to throttle them. No, he knew better.
His battleground was in his church, “Only beast forever lives in ignorance, because it cannot reason! Are we beasts or men?”, no one ever replied, but they knew what he was really asking. The parishioners lowered their heads and Grigori felt a grim satisfaction in such moments.
Nighttime had found him reading scripture, “I must be ever vigilant. Give me strength, Lord. Allow me to be as good as he was.”, briefly he looked outside his bedroom window into the church cemetery; trees shuddered and swayed violently as the wind raged on. He sighed and felt the weight of years and deeds upon his shoulder. “Ten years; how fast they went.”, he whispered and then cracked his knuckles softly. The day was over and he needed his rest. Grigori donned wool long johns that were worn and somewhat loose on the waist. He poured himself some water in a glass and set it on his nightstand, one of his many rituals (thirst often visited him in the late hours of the night), then got underneath the covers of his bed and flicked the switch to his old electric lamp.
Even in this rustic corner of the World one could have a basic commodity like electricity.
Screams of people often filled his dreams alongside the scraping of metal, he generally slept through them well into the morning, but tonite his nightmares were particularly vivid, waking Grigori with a start. His night shirt was drenched over his chest and back, a few pearls of sweat crowned his forehead. A nightmare, like always, this and nothing more. His mind was still in a haze and he felt thirsty. Reaching out for his glass he only ended up grasping thin air? Puzzled, Grigori reached out and flicked the lamp switch on.
“Sorry, I was thirsty and drank your water. Very refreshing.”.
A woman sat on his chair in front of him. She was putting down the empty glass back on the nightstand with deliberate slowness. “Wh-who…?”, Grigori began, “Hush.”, she commanded. Grigori clenched his teeth hard; how dare anyone disturb him in his private chambers? “My child, this is an improper hour to be in church grounds, specially in my quar-…”, she cut him off, “I said be quiet.”. A vein started to throb in his forehead, his patience grew thin. Then he finally noticed the gun.
The barrel of a gun was staring down at his face. His eyes went from the gun to the person holding it; a tall, red-haired woman with fair pale skin was smiling at him. She wore a khaki trench coat with black buttons, light brown pants and long, black leather boots. Stunning, beautiful, sensual; these and other adjectives swam in Grigori’s mind. Deadly was another adjective that peeked in. Who was this woman and what did she want? He had never seen her before in the village.
“So, the snake knows how to hold his tongue, eh? Good, it will make things easier. And please, don’t even try.”, she pointed with her eyes at Grigori’s pillow; she was good, whoever she was. “I have excellent aim, and at this distance I guarantee a kill.”, her teeth showed slightly as she smiled shamelessly at him. “Now then, I hope we can have a nice little chat, right?”, she sat comfortably in Grigori’s favorite chair. The vein in his forehead throbbed harder and he felt light headed, but quickly regained his grip and slowly nodded – her smile grew.
The woman crossed her legs and leaned forward, placing the elbow from her gun-holding hand on her knee; a more relaxed, but ready to strike, position. “First of all, lets drop the charade. Grigori? As if a name would hide you forever…Vassily Ivanovich.”. A pit opened up in his stomach while the blood drained from his face. She knows. “Yes, Vassily.”, her smile dropped and her lips formed a thin line, “The Butcher of Prazvod they used to call you. Quite colorful, no?”, Grigori closed his eyes and left out a low groan: She knew…
After a moment of silence he noticed the expression on her mouth soften, though her eyes remained cold. Feeling his throat dry, Grigori managed to find words to glue into a coherent sentence, “How did you find me?”, a hoarse grunt. The smile returned to her face, “You’d be surprised how many doors money can open. And if that fails, a well placed bullet is just as good.”, she gently rubbed her cheek with her free hand. “You pulled a Houdini and it worked, for the most part. Everyone in Prazvod thinks you’ve been dead for the past ten years. Well, almost everyone.”, she finished with a whisper, “I’m here to prove them right, Vassily.”
Prazvod, a name that flooded Grigori’s mind with thoughts and voices. Who was this woman? She looked to be in her early 20s, too young to harbor so much hatred, yet Grigori knew that anger cared not about age. His own had begun when he was only 12 as the local hoodlums beat him bloody regularly for the measly few rubles he earned while toiling on the fields of Prazvod. From them he learned that violence was a language spoken by the strong and the ruthless.
And oh, how quickly he learned to speak it. Ambushing and sticking a knife in his tormentors’ necks, one by one, he caught the attention of the local mob boss, Volksho.
Even in a small place like Prazvod the crime syndicates squeezed the little people: no place was too unimportant for their business. With his newfound penchant for violence he quickly rose through the ranks while gaining a notorious reputation for dismembering his victims with a butcher’s cleaver he nicknamed ‘Ivan’.
With time, the Butcher (as everyone started calling him) became too unruly and violent even for the syndicate’s standards. Vassily would easily kill someone just because they looked at him in the wrong way. One day he had a row with his immediate superior that ended with Vassily burying Ivan on his superior’s face.
Volksho had had enough and sent out a hit on him. Vassily was a violent man, but he was also a distrusting one; he knew that his actions were a death sentence, so he had planned ahead and faked his own death.
A couple of matches, a corpse and some kerosene and poof, the Butcher was no more.
Vassily could not tell you with precise detail how he had ended up at a small fishing village. He only had vague recollections that after leaving Prazvod he had been drunk quite often until his savings ran out. He did remember a boat he took from somewhere. Then came the waves, a dark and turbulent sea,; finally he had a vague recollection of falling and then darkness. He was close to shore, so his unconscious body washed up to a nearby beach
That’s where the old priest found him
When he awoke with the face of the old man in front of him, he found himself in the old man’s private quarters, asking who he was. He introduced himself as Grigori. Simply Grigori, a man with no past. The old priest smiled and nodded, as if that explanation was all that was needed. He offered him shelter in the church if he would help with the chores and mass. He had taken a liking to the old priest, and seeing how he now had no money, he accepted.
Every day they talked at great length about the folly of man as the priest taught him about holy scripture in their spare time after mass service. In time, Grigori realized he found the Word of God inspiring as well as comforting. Reading about sinners finding redemption always put him in a good mood.
“The Lord put you in my way, you are His instrument, as am I. We all have a purpose.”, the priest told him when he had asked why he had accepted an unknown man into his life. Grigori was humbled by this revelation and he devoted himself mote fervently to reading the scriptures as a way to show his gratitude.
Alas, time stopped for no one, and one day the old priest simply did not wake up. Grigori was devastated by the loss of his one true friend in the World. He buried him by himself in the church’s cemetery and officiated a small service with the village folk gathered there. He got drunk for the first time in four years since he had arrived.
After five days of mourning, and drinking, an old woman timidly entered the church as Grigori sat on a pew lost in thought. “Father…”, her voice trembled slightly -the villagers had soon started to call him that and treat him like a priest, even though he was not ordained, but he did not correct them-, “Yes, my child?”, his voice was flat, emotionless, but he paid attention. “Will there be mass today? It is Sunday and we have never missed Sunday mass before…”, she trailed off, as if letting Grigori fill in the blanks. He looked into her small, watery eyes for a brief moment, pondering how mysterious the ways of the Lord were. “Yes, we shall have Sunday mass. Tell the villagers to come by my church in an hour.”. His real work had now begun.
This had been his life for the following years, and he had been content. He had purpose, but now his past had somehow caught up with him. Yet he was not Vassily anymore. He was Grigori; She needed to know that.
“Grigori.”, he whispered.
“I don’t go by Vassily anymore. I am now Grigori. Father Grigori.”.
“Heh. You can be the Tsar for all I care, but I’ll humor you…Grigori.”.
“Thank you, and not that it really matters, but may I have your name?”, his eyes looked straight into hers.
She wasn’t smiling, but a curious expression arose on her face, “Sure, you’re a dead man anyhow. No harm in telling. I am Nadia.”. Grigori nodded, “Nadia.”, he repeated slowly. “I suppose we should wrap things up soon, so if I may ask one more question: How did I wronged you?”. He was genuinely curious.
Nadia bared her teeth as she uncrossed her legs, the gun now held with both hands, “You killed my father. His name was Dmitry Ivanovich Volk. He worked at a paper mill and one night he simply didn’t come home. We found what was left of his corpse a week later.”, she trembled slightly. Grigori kept looking at her and rubbed his chin, “No, I don’t remember him. Sorry.”, he shrugged his shoulders.
“You basta-!”, Nadia’s shout was interrupted as Grigori quickly folded both his legs and kicked Nadia on the chest, knocking her off the chair. Grigori leapt from his bed and rushed to grab the gun. Panting heavily while clutching her chest, Nadia shakily steadied herself into a sitting position on the ground. “Should have….shot you, but I waited too long. W-wanted to see…fear in your face, Vassily.”.
Grigori pulled the knocked over chair into an upright position and placed it at a comfortable distance from Nadia. He sat down, gun in hand pointing at her, “I told you, I am Grigori. Grigori.”, his voice was calm as he explained, it was important to clarify this. “Go to Hell, Butcher.”, she spat at Grigori’s face, but he did not move nor flinch. He considered her words for a moment, “In due time. Goodbye, Nadia.”
The gun’s bark was forever lost in the shrieking wind outside – the bullet penetrated Nadia’s forehead, making a clean exit on the back of her head. Blood and brains created an odd pattern on the floor. A rush of energy had filled Grigori’s body. Violence was like a muscle he remembered having when he flexed it after a long while of rest. There was something pure about it. His fingers slightly trembled as he instinctively cracked his knuckles. It had been too long since he truly let his anger loose, it felt good.
He looked out through his window. Still dark. He sighed and with no real hurry walked over to his bed as he reached underneath his pillow; despite a few notches, the cleaver was still as sharp as ever. He made sure of that. “It’s been a while, eh Ivan?”, a brief smile flashed on his lips. Grigori raised the machete over Nadia’s lifeless body, then brought it down hard.
Mass would be cancelled for the day.