The Cast Stone
Loyd Elmore Jr
Oleg tended to awake at 4:00 am. Many chores must be done before the light of dawn could be seen on the horizon. The sheep needed feeding—the water brought from the river. No water, no tea. And if his day was to start before the sun appeared, he had to have his drink.
But this morning, like the past couple of mornings, had been different.
Oleg had been awake for a few hours. It was hard to sleep when he worried about his wife, Vera. For the past couple of nights, she had been unconscious. She only laid in bed next to Oleg and didn’t move.
All because of the cast stone.
Oleg had looked for Vera for over an hour. She had said she was going to the river to catch some fish for dinner. Vera was an expert fisherman. She had the skill given to her by her father, who never had a son. Everything he wanted to show a son, he explained to her. And catching fish was something she did better than anyone he ever knew. Every time she took the hook out of the caught fish, baited it, and threw it back in, another large fish would find the hook and swallow it down. After thirty minutes, she could catch enough fish to last them a month. It always amazed Oleg. He had seen this when they had been dating. And after they married, Vera’s favorite thing to say was Oleg was the biggest fish she ever caught.
But there had been times she had went to the river without line or hooks. And she would come back with fish. He had asked her on those occasions how this had happened. She would just give him that mischievous smile he had fell in love with and said that they just jumped out of the water to her. She would then ignore any further questions and make the fish soup that he loved so much. He had learned after a couple of years never to ask her that question again. It would never get answered.
Two days ago, Oleg found Vera by the side of the river on her back. There had been blood that had poured from a wound on her forehead and had caked in her hair. He had screamed her name as he ran to her. He kneeled beside her and, in his nervous state, assumed she was dead. But he noticed her chest rising and falling. If it had been winter and not the beginning of summer, there would have had her wool coat on, and he may have never had seen her intake of air. But breathing she was. And then he noticed a bloodied stone just a meter away.
He called her name over and over, but she didn’t stir. He looked around to see if the attacker was still about, but he saw no one. Oleg was a strong man. Many years of hauling wood for the fire and lifting sheep when they needed shearing had made his body healthy, even in his middle age. Vera had always been thin, and picking her up and cradling her like a baby had been natural. But tears streamed down his face as he made the trek back over the hill and down again tricky. All the while, Oleg whispered her name over and over. He carried her the few kilometers through the woods back to their stone hut, and he put her in their bed. He carefully washed and treated the wound, expecting her to awaken. He wanted to make sure she was alright and who had done such a thing.
Now it had been two days, and still, she had not awakened, let alone moved. Oleg watched her lay there and breathe.
Oleg had only left her side twice since. Once to check on the sheep, to make sure they hadn’t roamed too far away from the land that he and Vera owned. The second time, Oleg went back to the river where he had found her to find any clues on what had happened. Oleg noticed the dried blood that still lay on the rocks where she had fallen, but that was it. He looked across the river to the other side. If someone had thrown a stone from that distance, they would have to be…
Then it hit him just like that stone that had hit Vera.
He and his two sons lived in a stone hut about three kilometers from the river. They were Oleg and Vera’s closest neighbors. And, though, they hadn’t had many dealings with them, Iosif and his sons had not been too welcoming. Three times Oleg had been down by the river, either collecting water for the sheep or gathering replacement stones for the rock fences or to fix spots on their hut, and he had spotted Iosif on the other side. Twice with his sons and once by himself. Oleg and waved to them in a kind gesture, which was his way. All three times, they had seen him but ignored his hand communication. The last time, just that late winter, one of the sons, who looked to be the oldest, stuck his fist in front of him and had his thumb between his fore and middle finger, the shish.
Oleg had been shocked. He had done nothing to deserve such an insulting gesture. Oleg had strengthened up and stared at the boy, unsure of what to do. He didn’t want trouble from anyone, which means he always tried to be kind. He saw the boy turn to his younger brother and speak. The younger boy laughed, almost loud enough to hear over the water flowing between them. Iosif must have listened to his son. He reared back his head and laughed. Oleg did hear that. And his heart turned cold. He continued to stare at the three as they walked away, back to their home.
Yes. Iosif. Or one of his sons. Probably the oldest.
Oleg wanted to cross the river and visit them and find out if they had struck his wife. Oleg was a kind person, but when his blood was up, he was unafraid. Plus, Iosif and his sons were small compared to him. But the river was an obstacle. The spring runoff had filled the river, and without a boat, it would have been impossible. And to trek around it to the nearest bridge would take hours, and he didn’t want to be away from Vera that long.
He looked at the other side to the distant hill and willed one or all of them to come into sight. But it never happened. He figured they were in their hut and laughing at what they had done to Vera. His blood continued to boil at the thought but finally started to diminish. He needed to get home to Vera.
Oleg gave one last look across the sizeable flowing river and then turned and walked up the hill toward his hut and Vera.
The light in the sky was barely noticeable on the Eastern horizon. Oleg sat next to his wife, who still lay on the bed, and he looked at her. He wondered what he was going to do. The doctor in the nearest village of Znamensky was more than twenty kilometers away. Plus, the doctor was in his eighties and had become ill himself. Maybe because he was a doctor, he could live so long, even in the harshness of Siberia. He could continue to watch her and pray, but he had no idea about such things, and she had yet to move.
He sighed in the coolness of the hut. The fire he had made in the fireplace when he had awoken had been a strong one, but it had died over the few hours he had watched his wife, and the chill was coming back.
Oleg stood on tired legs and bent near the fire. He placed a few cut pieces of wood onto the dying embers and watched the last of the former flame start to overtake the new fuel.
Then he heard a rustle behind him. His mind was confused the first couple of seconds, and he didn’t move. Another whisper came, and he turned so suddenly, he had to put his hands down on the floor before he tumbled backward into the growing fire that was now behind him.
Oleg looked into the eyes of his wife, his beloved Vera. She was looking into his and was smiling.
He couldn’t move for a moment and then jumped up and sat down next to her and pulled her into his embrace. He kissed her gently on her cheek, the side closest to her wound, and she hugged him back. He started to cry and thanked God above for bringing her back to him.
He then felt her push him away, but he did it carefully. He allowed it and looked into her eyes, waiting for her to speak.
Then she did. And what she said confused Oleg. He figured she must be hurt worse then he had thought, the hit to her head had harmed her internally. But she spoke in her gentle way and told him again. After a few minutes, Oleg understood that she was in her right mind.
And though what she had said sounded crazy, he did what she had told him to do. She had never lied to him and knew in his heart that she was more than just unique to him. She was special.
And the time was short.
Oleg went out to the field in a rush. He looked at the light in the East, and it was coming on. Oleg saw their herd of sheep grazing in front. He ran straight for them. Oleg made a full birth around them and started to drive them toward their hut. As Oleg got closer, he saw to his dismay that Vera had come outside and was urging them on. She kept looking at them and then toward the sky. He wasn’t sure why she was doing this but believed her that this had to be, or their flock would be in danger.
Oleg had had always been kind, even to animals. He never hit them or beat them into coming around to his way of thinking. Vera loved this best about her husband. The sheep followed his commands exactly, and they headed straight to the hut. If anybody had seen what happened next, even the few that knew these two people would have thought that Oleg and Vera had gone insane.
They herded the sheep into their hut. They knocked over tables and jumped onto the bed. One was nearly pushed into the fire by the diminishing space. At the last minute, it jumped onto the dinner table.
By the time Oleg had pushed the last of the sheep into the doorway, there was no room to stand. Oleg closed the door. He then had to lay on top of the sheep to get into the room. Vera had already done this very thing. She was moving on a live bed of white wool.
He looked at her, and she looked at him. They didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds. Then, as the confused sheep bleated all around, Vera held up two fingers.
Two minutes that gesture said.
A few kilometers away, just as Vera and Oleg were welcoming their wooly houseguests, Iosif and his sons were sitting at the table, eating mutton for breakfast. Iosif couldn’t help but smile when he bit into the sheepshank. This particular sheep had belonged to his stupid neighbors and would probably never know they had a sheep missing. He chewed as grease dripped from the corners of his dirty mouth as he imagined that foolish man burying his stupid wife. There was no doubt that she would die from the hit she took from the stone his son had thrown at her. Of course, he did it because he had told him to. He told him there would be no dinner for him or his brother if he didn’t hit her squarely in the head.
His son had always been a dead shot at throwing. He could kill a loon the same distance the woman had been. Iosif smiled at how proud of his son he had been. The couple that lived on the other side of the river had become a nuisance to him. He had come out here to get away from the village and its overbearing rules. His wife, who had died there, never wanted to move so far away. Once she was gone, he took his two boys, who deep down, never forgave him, and they built the home they lived in now. Out here, they had become mean and venomous, and the idea that two people (who had been there long before Iosif and his sons came) would start pushing on their boundaries, a whole seven to eight kilometers away made his blood boil. And how dare that woman to be a better fisherman than him. He had watched her many times, and where his line never got a bite, she was busy hauling them out of the river. It was like she willed them out.
He sat there in thought as his sons finished their mutton, licking the plates like dogs when he felt a nervousness hit his stomach. It hit him so badly; he thought he might empty his guts back onto the plate. He saw his sons felt the same way. Their faces gave looks of pain and confusion.
A sound came then. It was ignored at first as the three worried about losing their breakfast. But it started to become too loud to be ignored. Iosif looked around the hut, trying to pinpoint where it was coming. He slowly looked toward the roof. It was coming from above.
He ran outside with his sons right behind him, and they all stopped and looked up. It was a firey ball. At first, Iosif thought it was the sun, but at that time in the morning, it should have been near the horizon. But he forgot about the sun. His thoughts were only on what was above them. The firey ball got closer and brighter. It rumbled louder and louder.
Before Iosif or his sons could put their hands in front of their eyes or realize this would be the last thing they saw on this earth, the ball exploded high above them.
Oleg and Vera heard the rumbling right before the tremendous explosion. Light so bright appeared through cracks that had been in the walls. And the blast created more and more light. It made its way into the hut that had only been lit by the fireplace just a few moments ago. The sheep jumped about and bleated, causing damage to their things, and the fearful sheep dropped dung in all directions from their fear, but neither husband or wife noticed. They only looked at each other through squinted eyes and hand-covered ears.
The rumbling threatened to bring their hut down on their heads, but just as they thought it would never stop, it did. The reverberating sound seemed to die away, running away from them in all directions. After five minutes of complete chaos outside and inside the hut, there was a calm. Even the sheep had decided everything was going to be alright and started giving only the occasional bleat.
It took a minute before Oleg dropped his hands. He continued to look at his wife with a look of shock and curiosity.
But Vera didn’t say a word. Not then. She only looked back at her husband.
After what seemed like a long time, Vera did something Oleg had not seen for some time.
The corner of her mouth raised, just a little, into a grin.
As time went by, many people came to where the incident happened. As they approached, they noticed how all the trees had laid down from the force of the explosion. The power of it had been forced downward in a circle where, even to this day, trees will not grow. At one time, there had been a stone hut where a father and two sons lived. But it was gone – obliterated. And nobody remembers who they were.
About seven or eight kilometers away, there once lived a man and a woman who kept sheep and did their best to live a quiet life. They minded their business. The explosion was heard kilometers away, across Siberia, and over the entirety of Mother Russia. But, the couple continued to live, thanks to the hills between them and the explosion.
Here’s the funny thing. The meteor detonated a few kilometers above the ground. It should have decimated all the trees and standing structures within a great distance. And it did, except for one area where the couple once lived, and sheep once roamed.
When Vera was very old (she died in the year 1997), and as she lay on her death bed, she had been quiet until right before leaving this earth to join her husband, she opened her eyes and spoke one last time. It turns out, it was a confession, but the people who heard it didn’t understand that.
“Oni brosili v menya kamen’. YA brosil odnu obratno.”
“They threw a stone at me. I threw one back.”
And the Tunguska river still flows where a stone came from the sky. Just like a fish is drawn from the river.