Friday, July 11, 2014


V.        Every skiff was soon in the water loaded with provisions and Kabstielers.  Boris found a place in the stern surrounded by cages of clucking poultry and a case bulging with household utensils.   
           Beyond the dock, the swamp was a winding series of narrow water lanes flanked by reeds twice the height of Goliath, meandering courses which only the locals could deftly navigate.  The sun slid behind some brisk moving clouds and the warm, late summer day grew steely and cool.   
           A heavy mist rose from the swamp, smelling sweet and musty like an old, clean root cellar.  It grew so thick that Boris could not even see the bow of the skiff.  But he could hear the pole of the pilot pushing on and off, dipping in the water and out.  And in the far distance, the peel of explosions.

            “You’re lucky, landsman,” the skiff pilot said, all but invisible in the mist, a dark smudge of a man moving in synchrony with the steady moving craft. 

            “How do you figure?” Boris answered.

            “Jews have been hiding in this swamp since Methuselah was at the pup.  We’ve had the French, Russians, Swedes, Mongols… if they ventured in here they either got lost or drowned or both.  Most of the time, they just pass by.  Who wants to conquer razor sharp reeds and water that stinks to the highest Chamber of Heaven, where the Cherubim cavort?”

            “Yeah,” Boris spat.  “I am blessed.  Where does Reb Schulevitz live?”

            “Why do you care?” the captain asked.  “Are you kin?”

            “Sure,” Boris answered, lying.  “He is my distant cousin.”

            “Oh yeah, where do you hail from?”

            “Lodwolz,” Boris said, just picking a small town at random.

            “I’ve known the Schulvitzs longer than I have known myself… don’t remember cousins in Lodwolz.”
            “I’m descended from a mamzer, a bastard,” Boris answered, thinking he was closer to a truth here.

            “Well,” the man answered, whistling through his teeth. “Not surprising, given the family.  Seems like the Schulevitzs are either saints or sinners in entire, [pimps or holy men…”

            “Will you take me to him?”

            “We usually protect the Rebbe,” the man said, thinking for a bit.  Then a few planes, low and swooping, burst below the canopy of clouds.  Both men ducked, although the move was not necessary. 

            “Alright,” the pilot answered with a quiver in his voice. “The worlds coming apart at the seams as it is… it’s every man for himself.  I know a good spot to hide, and you are as heavy as an ox… you're slowing me down.”

VI.       Boris stood on a tear drop shaped island ringed with reeds, and beyond them, a hummock of tangled trees dripping with the moisture of the deep mist.

            “What is this island called?” Boris asked as the man and his skiff backed away up the channel.

            “Nehustan Island,” the man called back.  In the distance, closer this time, there was an explosion.

            “Serpent Island?” Boris shouted out again.  “Are you joking me?”

            “In days of yore the pagan Poles worshipped their snake hag, Baba Yaga, on this very island,” the man said, his voice more distant now, bouncing off the water and skipping like a flat stone expertly hurled.  “They used to sacrifice their children here, like the abomination of the Canaanites.  They merited their destruction by their sins… but our sages have made this island holy now, have no fear landsman…” and then the man was gone.  Then Boris turned around and followed a path toward the middle of the island. 

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