“So…what does the D stand for Captain Myercough?”
“Again you ask Perly and again I’m not going to tell you.”
This dialogue between Captain D Myercough and Morley Persicke had been going on since they met two weeks ago when Morley, or Perly as Captain D called him, arrived in northeastern Russia. Russia…who the hell vacations in Russia in the middle of January. Oh the hazards of closing your eyes and pointing to a globe to decide your next holiday destination. Fate may have been at play and it didn’t want Morley on a sandy white beach drinking fruity beverages and watching bronzed beauties lounging about all around him. He let fate lead the way and settled for snow, freezing temperatures and a run down bar inhabited by the same half dozen men every night. The room he rented was small, cold and had little more than a bed, a wash basin and a chamber pot. At least his meals were included, bland the food may have been but it was hot and hearty. He didn’t mind the Spartan accommodations thinking it was part of the charm of going to a small Russian community.
Morley had found his home away from the inn only 3 hours after getting off the train from Moscow. The pub was easy to find, all he had to do was get a taxi use his broken Russian combined with the drivers broken English and ask for a mellow watering hole. And mellow it was with the exception of a drunk man playing air guitar to The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland,” his high-pitched voice drowning out Roger Daltry. He scissor jumped off the bar, landed unsteadily on his feet, took a shot and fell flat on his back. This was Morley’s introduction to Captain D. Myercough, the stranger who would become his best friend in this frozen hinterland. Captain D laid on the floor noy moving, his eyes fluttering slightly to show that he was not dead. The other patrons made no move to assist the splayed out man and hadn’t batted an eye in his direction throughout the performance. This clearly was not the first performance the man had given. Morley ordered a pint then bent down and lightly tapped his cheek to see if the man was unconscious or merely getting his breath back. Pale blue bloodshot eyes and a broad yellow grin let Morley know the man alright, physically anyway.
“How many days do you have left in our wintery haven Perly?”
Captain D knew his name was Morley not Perly but on that first drunken night of their meeting, he had mashed up his first and last name to form Perly and it had stuck. As far as names, Captain D wouldn’t tell him what the initial stood for but did explain the Captain part. Before arriving in Russia 2 years ago, he had owned a fish & chips shack in a small English coastal town and dubbed himself Captain. Like Perly, it had stuck and he had added the title legally.
Morley held a 5th shot of vodka and replied that he was leaving in 2 days. The plan had been to spend the trip taking in historic and traditional sites and drinking in the local culture…at least he had managed drinking with the local culture. He didn’t feel that he was missing anything having spent the vacation between a tiny room and a bar. He may not have photos or souvenirs but he would have the memory of making a friend who, despite his strangeness, was easy to talk to and didn’t judge Morley for his overindulgence of alcohol.
“Two days, eh Perly. Well then I’ll plan an adventure for tomorrow night.” Captain D picked up a bottle of vodka and placed his furry cap sloppily atop his unruly salt and pepper hair. “Wear your warm woollies and furry boots. It’ll be great fun.” Before Morley could ask any questions Captain D had staggered out into the cold dark night.
“Running with the deviiilll.” So much snow, the pale moon streaking through the trees lighting patches of frozen earth. That one line and the heavy tones of the The Van Hallen tune screamed through the night repeating endlessly like the snow and the trees. He kept tripping over rocks and fallen branches hidden by the deceptively pure white snow. David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Hallen continued to croon about running with the devil but as he stumbled about in the dark it changed to “Running from the devil.” He turned to look behind him expecting to see a great towering form with glowing eyes getting closer but there was no one, nothing. Turning forward too late he lost his footing and went face first into a protruding broken tree branch.
“Holy shit, holy shit!!” Morley was sweating, gasping for breath and feeling hot and claustrophobic. It was a dream, just a dream. What a bloody dream it was though; the cold night air, snow crunching under foot, the music so loud in the silent forest but most of all, the fear was real. It was so intense and clawed at his mind even as he tried to clear out the ’80’s rock melody. Leaning over in the dark he grabbed the bottle of vodka that he had nearly finished before passing out and took a long pull to kill it and calm his nerves. His heart slowed, the cold of the room crept back chilling him. Morley gave himself a shake like a wet dog to throw off the last traces of the dream, pulled up the scratchy burlap like blanket and fell back into a fitful sleep sans Van Hallen.
The next day passed like the previous two weeks – up by noon, hot lunch in the kitchen, back to the room for a sponge bath in the basin and a few drinks and then off to the bar for dinner and more drinks with Captain D. Morley went through the ritual slower today with the feeling of something nagging at the back of his mind, causing him to lag. It was nearly 7 o’clock by the time the dilapidated taxi sputtered to a stop in front of the bar. He had dressed as requested – furry hat, heavy gloves, arctic grade boots and even long underwear.
“Perly, it’s about time you got your lazy arse here. Come drink profusely and quickly and eat your goulash. We have much to do.”
Captain D dressed as usual in his old brown overcoat, a heavy cable knit sweater, plaid scarf, jeans and fur-lined boots topped off with his trusty cap also lined in fur and complete with ear flaps. Tonight he had an accessory in the form of an overstuffed, bright red duffel bag that he picked up while holding the door open for Morley. He regarded the bag suspiciously for a moment before heading into the bar and then went on to oblige Captain D by pounding back the two shots and pint of beer set on the bar in front of his stool. Yes, he had a stool – a testament of his loyalty to the establishment or rather to Captain D. Morley sipped his second beer and looked from the bag to Captain D.
“So D what’s in the bag, oh and by the way, what does the D stand for?”
Captain D slammed his pint on the bar causing Morley to jump. He looked at Captain D to see if there was anger behind the force. His yellow toothed grin betrayed the hardness that crept into his eyes giving them an icy hue momentarily before returning to their usual happy glassy shine. A hearty laugh burst forth and he throw his shaggy mane back with glee.
“Tonight all of your dreams or questions will come true, errr…be answered Perly.”
Dreams. As if on cue the jukebox kicked in playing Van Hallen’s “Running With The Devil.” Morley choked on his beer and the bartender gave him an insulted glare, mumbled something in Russian and walked away from the foreigners.
“Alright there mate? Finish off that pint, we have a journey to make.” He grabbed a bottle of vodka off the bar and stuffed it in his oversize pocket and proclaimed, “I love this song!”
Captain D started to dance and play air guitar to give some flourish to his exit. The sound of his high-pitched singing pushed Morley to finish his beer and pull him out into the freezing night. During the two weeks they had been drinking buddies, the pair had never actually left the bar at the same time and Morley was surprised to see Captain D stumble to a Cold War era van as he fumbled with a set of keys. Morley was an advocate of not drinking and driving but that didn’t stop him from stumbling after Captain D and plopping down on the deflated passenger’s side seat. Captain D passed the bottle vodka to Morley who took a hearty swig, grimaced than took a deeper pull. The van groaned and clunked a few times then coughed to life, jerking forward once before picking up speed as they heading out of town.
Morley was thinking about his dream and that song, the words replaying in his head. Despite the copious amounts of liquor he had quickly ingested, he began to think about the intelligence behind heading towards the vast Russian forest in the middle of the night with a man he didn’t really know anything about. Being outside the safety of the bar, he questioned the logic of this adventure. He took another pull off the bottle and passed it back to Captain D who had been quiet since his performance in the bar. Morley opened his mouth to say something to break the silence but stopped as Captain D turned off the main road, heading into the darkness of the forest down a rutted snowy road. The van’s headlights seemed to dim to an almost nonexistent glow and Morley started to panic at the fear of a dying car battery and being stranded in the middle of nowhere with this practical stranger. Paranoia crowded his vodka addled brain. About 15 miles in from the main road they came to a small clearing and Captain D killed the engine. The darkness was overwhelming making Morley feel claustrophobic just like he had felt after the dream. The driver’s side door screeched open and echoed through the silent forest as Captain D got out cradling the red bag; it seemed to glow against the white snow and dark trees. Morley was momentarily frozen with a sudden fear of Captain D, crazy questions racing through his head. Why had he brought him out into the woods on his final night, why wouldn’t he tell Morley what his first name was, what was he hiding? Morley stiffly got out of the van looking around the dark night catching glimpses of light from the pale moon as he tried to push through the trees after Captain D.
He caught a red flash out of the corner of his eye as Captain D lit up a flare revealing his familiar grin as he waved to Morley to follow him. The flare gave the snow a reddish hue, providing enough light for them see the rocks and roots hidden under the snow. As they walked, Morley started to unconsciously hum his new theme song with changed lyrics: “Running from the devil.” His mind was so filled with suspicion that he wasn’t focused on where he was walking until he tripped on a branch and stopped his fall by hitting a tree trunk with his outstretched hands. The fall from his dream came back and his heart beat quicker but he stayed calm, not sure how to react but feeling ready to do something if necessary. They continued to walk for a good 20 minutes, Captain D igniting flares as needed until they came to makeshift table, that looked more like an altar to Morley, under a canopy of leaves. Captain D began to unload his bag taking out candles, another bottle of vodka and cans of beer placing them on the altar while keeping his back to Morley the whole time.
“Perly come and give me a hand lighting these candles.” His drunken voice was excited as he beckoned to his friend.
Morley continued to hum his song as he stepped forward. A branch snapped under his foot and he stopped for a moment as something simultaneously seemed to snap in his mind. The snow here was fresh, soft and soundless. He was right behind Captain D, his breath ruffling the fur of his hat. Dropping his gloves Morley reached up with his cold hands and grabbed the ends of Captain D’s scarf and quickly pulled it taunt against the man’s throat cutting off his air supply. Morley started to sing louder, emphasizing the word devil then abruptly stopped and let up on the scarf to ask Captain D in a calm voice, “What does the D mean?!”
With the pressure on his throat momentarily relieved, he gasped for breath and stuttered, “D, De, Dev…”
The scarf tightened again, Morley spat out: “I knew it!!!!! Devil!!!”
With Captain’s D last gasp of breath and as he began to sag against the tightness of the scarf he said: “Devon…”
© 2011, Denise Pasutti