DORIAN J. SINNOTT - ENGEL
Dorian J. Sinnott is a graduate of Emerson College's Writing, Literature, and Publishing program, currently living in Kingston, New York with his sassy munchkin-mix cat, Scarlette. When he's not busy at his full-time job, he works as a cat adoption assistant at a local humane society-- which he claims is more therapy than work. He enjoys English style horseback riding, playing violin, and cosplaying his favorite childhood characters at comic cons. Dorian's work has appeared in Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Pangolin Review, Terror House Magazine, and The Hungry Chimera.
Nightmares were all that were left after the crash. Nightmares and pain, and the fear of the frost steadily eating away at the remnants of life. The snow fell hard and deep, covering the land bordering the Russian territory in a blinding, eerie white. All was silent on the mountain, except for the occasional wind which pitched its howls to the heavens in rhythmic whirs. At times, the howls almost seemed mechanical. Only when they began to drown out did the faint cries for help rise up from the snow. But they too were eventually lost beneath the ice.
Erich Adler’s eyes didn’t move once from the flickering flames of the fireplace. His shoulders trembled as he held his cup of hot tea close to him, quilt wrapped around his shoulders. Even in the warmth of the village house, he couldn’t shake the bitter cold. Instead, he continued to watch the sparks of fire, trapped in memories he wished he could forget.
The door opened as a young woman entered the home, shutting it tightly behind her. She was bundled from head to foot in her best winter clothing, glazed in ice. Unwinding her scarf, she peered towards the fireplace, only to discover Erich feeding his worries to the flame.
“The winds are picking up,” she whispered. “It looks like another storm is coming our way. At least it will be enough to keep the Soviets from barging in for a while.”
Erich didn’t respond. Not even the slightest movement or acknowledgement of the young woman.
“She’s still up there...” His Russian wasn’t perfect, but still enough for the young woman to understand, even behind his thick German accent. “I can hear her.”
The woman steadily approached him. Her eyes were almost sorrowful as she looked at Erich, his blank expression chilling her as the winter outside had. She placed a hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze before whispering his name again.
“Can’t you hear her, Sonya? She’s crying.”
The young woman slipped the cup of tea from Erich’s hands and leaned in close to him. “I think you’ve been staring at that fire for too long, Erich. It’s messing with your mind.”
Erich’s vision finally passed from the embers and over to Sonya. Now that he was facing her, she was able to make out the deep cuts that still lined his cheeks, a few of which were remnants of burns. Raising one of her shaky hands, Sonya tenderly rested it against his face, feeling him lean into her touch. With a sweep of her fingertips across his cheek bone, she sighed.
“Just be grateful you’re alive, Erich.”
He smiled softly and attempted to pull himself onto his feet, wincing at first. A sharp pain shot through his legs and back, and he staggered towards the doorway leading to the guest room. Sonya watched as Erich dragged himself through the door, settling into the bed he had been assigned.
“If you need anything...”
“I know,” he replied weakly, “I’ll tell you.”
With that, Erich rolled over and drifted off into a deep slumber beneath the blankets Sonya had supplied him.
“He can’t stay here.” Sonya’s older brother said, standing over her with narrowed eyes.
She didn’t answer him right away; instead, she simply sipped some of her tea. Yet, from the look of sincerity on her brother’s face, she knew it would be best to acknowledge him and the situation. After all, she knew he feared Erich. It was only logical. A pilot of the Luftwaffe in the village was one thing, but being harbored in their home?
“There’s nothing to worry about, Andrey. Erich isn’t like the other men we’ve seen. Even you can—”
“You don’t know that, Sonya. Their men come here and act like they need shelter and food, then they stab our people in the back. It’s happened too many times now. You heard what happened in Broniki. Who’s to say it won’t happen again?”
“Andrey...” Sonya’s voice was low now. “Erich was alone.”
“Alone.” Andrey scoffed. “Sonya, don’t you realize it could be a set up? His men could be waiting down there... waiting for him to give them the signal. Then where will we be?”
“I trust him.”
Andrey released a heavy sigh. “We’re not safe. Not here with our own people, not with the Soviets—”
“Then can’t you give Erich a chance? You say we can’t trust the Soviets, so why not the Germans?”
“They want us dead more than the Russians, Sonya.”
The whirring of propellers echoed above the mountains through the falling snow. With the grey skies and thick clouds, it was almost impossible for Erich to see ahead. Nevertheless, he knew he had to keep going. It was an oath he had taken when he agreed to enlist into the Luftwaffe, and he wasn’t going to break it due to some snow.
“Schlitzohr to Engel, come in Engel,” the radio crackled as Erich responded into the mouthpiece.
“Engel to Schlitzohr...”
“Adler?” He could barely make out the voice on the radio. “We’ve gotten notice from Goering about the ice storm. He’s commanded all planes around the front to land and wait for it to pass. It looks like it’s going to be too dangerous for flying conditions. What is your location?”
“I believe still over the Carpathians.”
“You need to find somewhere to land. From what headquarters are saying—”
“It’s just some snow,” Erich responded, “nothing I haven’t flown in before.”
“Adler!” The radio crackled more than before. “If the ice builds up on the propellers, she won’t be able to sustain flight!”
“Look, I’m almost there. Besides, with the snow and ice, it would be the best time crossing into the Russian territory. Chances are, they’ve all landed and are waiting for the storm to pass, as well. They’ll be off guard.”
“I’ll be fine.” The radio finally died out.
Erich sighed and slouched his shoulders, continuing to guide the plane over the mountains. Beneath him, all he could now see was the deep white of the snow covering the mountains; and before him, the never-ending grey skies. He was confined within the whiteout of winter. And he knew it.
The ice began to thicken on the propellers, causing them to buzz violently. They sounded pained as flakes of snow continued to pound against them. Only when they locked up and refused to carry the plane at full strength did Erich begin to panic. The Engel steadily was losing altitude, and Erich scrambled in attempts to get her back into the air or at least landed safely. He could feel the tightened propellers raking against the wind as he braced himself, the plane falling faster towards the endless white beneath him. The whiteness appeared to spiral the closer he reached the ground, calling out to him and dragging him down. When the plane finally lost full control and plummeted into the snow, Erich was certain he heard a hissing from the ice, as if demons were cackling for pulling it into the frozen hell.
“Schlitzohr to Engel, come in Engel.” The radio echoed from inside the cockpit. “Adler, do you read me?”
No answer. Erich winced as he tried to drag his body towards the radio to reply, but the pain held him back. He breathed harshly as he pressed his head to the seat beside him, leaving a trail of blood beneath him. In the background, he still heard the radio crackling.
“Adler? Come in, Adler.”
The endless white faded to black.
Erich sipped his tea, watching as Sonya set the table for their morning meal. She placed a loaf of bread and a stick of butter at the center, with small bowls of steamed barley and milk surrounding them. Sonya glanced up once to look at Erich. He nodded back, blowing into his tea again before taking another sip.
“Andrey should be back soon. I hear it’s going to be another cold day; it’s best he gets the firewood for tonight now,” Sonya said.
Erich nodded again. “You’re lucky to have an older brother so willing to look after you.”
“Andrey’s all I have left,” Sonya replied. “Many of our people were left like this after our villages were destroyed by the Ger—”
Sonya cut herself short, biting her lip as she looked to Erich. He frowned, lowering his gaze to the tabletop before clearing his throat. Reaching for a slice of bread, he shook his head.
“It’s fine. You can say it.”
She didn’t. Instead, Sonya watched Erich eat away at the slice of bread, his vision now fixed out the window. After hesitating a moment longer, Sonya tilted her head.
“Why haven’t you turned us over?”
Erich’s eyes slid towards her steadily. “Hm?”
“You’ve had every chance to report us or... to kill us yourself, yet, you haven’t. Why?”
Erich paused and looked back to the window. “Well, what about you? You could have just left me up there in the mountains to die. Why did you help me? I’m the enemy and you had a chance to let me die, but you didn’t.”
Sonya smiled. “My mother always said, that even fallen angels have their chance for redemption. Everyone deserves a chance, no matter what side they’re on.”
Erich shook his head. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“And why not? Look at you, Erich. Had I not, you would have frozen to death. Besides, from what I’ve seen, you’re not at all like the others.”
Erich looked up into her eyes. “...and from what I’ve heard of your people, neither are
Sonya took a seat beside him. “What do you mean?”
“Well…” Erich trailed off. “I can’t.”
“No, please, Erich,” Sonya touched his hand. “It’s alright. You can tell me.”
“None of it is true.”
“I want to hear it. What? What do they say of my people?”
Erich ran his fingers through his hair with a heavy sigh. After a moment of silence, he looked back to Sonya. There was a tint of bitterness in his eyes as he spoke, a resentment towards the words that slithered off his tongue in imperfect Russian.
“They say that you’re uncultured. Uncivilized vermin. They claim that those in Ukraine deserve a punishment worse than death.”
Sonya was silent for a moment. “Then why haven’t they sent men in to get rid of us?”
“They claim that you’re not worth wasting a bullet on.”
Erich glanced away, back to the window beside him. His vision remained fixed on the mountain in the distance, drowning out the silence that had befallen the kitchen with his own thoughts. After a moment of hesitation, Sonya placed a hand on Erich’s shoulder.
“What was it like?” she asked. “Flying, I mean.”
Erich didn’t respond at first, closing his eyes and releasing a heavy sigh. What was it like?
“It was… the freest feeling imaginable. To be up there, above the clouds, just soaring… I can’t…” He shook his head. “I can’t even fully explain it. It’s just that, when I’m up there, I feel safe and like I’m able to escape what’s going on in the world below. I control my path and fate. It’s… Sonya, it’s beautiful.”
“Is that why you enlisted? To escape?”
“Sometimes I like to think that, yes. Mainly, though, it was to be with my love.”
“Your…love?” Sonya asked.
Erich continued to gaze out the window at the mountain. “My Engel.”
Sonya’s grip tightened on Erich’s shoulder as she bit her lip. At her touch, Erich turned to face her once again. A soft smile painted his lips.
“She is my first love… flying my second.” His smile slowly faded. “I just can’t bear knowing that she is alone up there in the mountains. I feel as though I have abandoned her somehow. You don’t know, Sonya… How I miss her feel… the coldness of her touch, the comfort of when I’m sitting in her… flying. I miss it.”
Sonya stared out at the mountain, trying to see what he had. Nevertheless, all she saw was its shadow starting to creep across the land, and the flurry of snow that descended down it. After a while, she motioned outside.
“Come. There’s something I want to show you.”
Erich’s eyes widened as Sonya pulled the tarp from off of a small plane. It wasn’t a fighter plane like he had been used to flying, but he still found beauty in it. He ran his fingertips over the smooth metal, mouth agape in awe as Sonya approached him with a gentle smile.
“It was my father’s. He used to fly often when I was younger,” she said.
Erich continued to stroke the surface, not once taking his eyes off it. Sonya took a step forward, standing alongside of him. She, too, glanced down at the plane.
“He promised that one day he would take me with him… when I was old enough. He said that he would teach me.” She chuckled weakly as Erich turned to her. “Women don’t fly, he said, they are of the earth. But, I still remember his smile when he promised. He said that he would break that. That his little girl would fly. One day.”
Sonya reached a shaky hand out, resting it against the cold metal of the plane. She bit her lip as her eyes began to well with tears, Erich taking notice of this and touching her shoulder. Sonya shook her head.
“He passed away when I was only eight. He fell ill and there was no cure. Andrey ended up raising me for the most part, which is probably why he’s so protective. I do apologize for that…”
“I understand,” Erich answered. “I’ve got brothers of my own. It wouldn’t be right if he wasn’t protective. I would be, too.”
Sonya remained silent for a moment, still staring down at the plane. “Andrey used to know how to fly. Father taught him long ago, but… after he passed on, Andrey refused to ever go near the plane again. He couldn’t bear it. It’s such a shame…”
She closed her eyes with a sigh.
“I’ll take you.” Eric whispered.
Sonya glanced up at him, blinking back the tears in her eyes. “Hm?”
“Yes. One day,” Erich replied. “When all of this is over; this war. To thank you. For all you’ve done for me. I will show you what it’s like… to feel free. To be free.”
Sonya hurried to set the kitchen table in preparation for dinner, the shadow of the mountain darkening the interior of her home. She impatiently glanced to the doorway, muttering to herself. Erich turned from his seat beside the window, watching her in interest before standing and heading over to her. He reached out, taking the small stack of plates from her hand, and began distributing them in front of each other the chairs at the table.
“Thank you, Erich,” Sonya murmured. “I’ve just been behind today. Would you mind getting some glasses out? Andrey is due to be home any moment.”
Erich nodded, heading towards the cupboard. Just as Sonya turned back to the table, ready to finish preparing it, the door flew open. Andrey entered, carrying a few chopped pieces of wood. Snow clung to his coat and hat, his body trembling, from what at first appeared to be the cold. After he set the wood down, Andrey turned to Erich, a feverish flame flickering deep in his eyes.
Erich blinked uneasily as Andrey approached and pointed a shaking finger at him. Sonya gripped Erich’s shoulders, hiding behind him.
“Get away from him, Sonya. He’s not worth our protection anymore,” Andrey hissed. “I knew you would do it. From the moment I met you, I knew.”
“Andrey, what are you talking about?” Sonya whispered, stepping out from behind Erich and towards her brother.
“A village was attacked last night, burned to the ground, not too far from here. They’re Germans. Looking for a missing pilot that went down in the mountains.”
Erich swallowed hard. “W-what?”
“You led them here,” Andrey glared.
“No!” Erich exclaimed. “It’s not my fault... they... they’re just trying to find me. I swear.”
“I knew this would happen!” Andrey continued on, shoving Erich back harshly, the pilot wincing. “We should have just left you in the mountains. At least then, they’d have found you there and wouldn’t be attacking our people. Innocent people!”
“Andrey... it’s not his fault,” Sonya interrupted.
“Oh, don’t give me that, Sonya.”
Erich pursed his lips and stared out the window again. He could picture the troops storming over the hill, firing their rifles as the villagers screamed and ran for protection. He could see the tanks crushing everything in their path, the ground trembling beneath them. And it was because of him. They were looking for him, and would destroy anything and anyone in their path to find him. Especially the Ukrainians.
Sighing, Erich turned to Sonya and Andrey. “I need a plane.”
The argument between the siblings came to a halt when they heard him speak up, causing them to glance over to him, as well. They were a bit shocked by his statement, especially judging by the cuts and bruising which lined his body and the sling Sonya had made for his right arm.
“Plane?” Sonya’s voice dropped.
“If it’s me they’re looking for, it’s best I get as far away from here as I can. If I at least fly ahead, I can stop them and let them know I’m alright. They’ll fall back,” Erich responded. “Please. You have to trust me.”
“Why would we trust you?” Andrey spat. “Our planes are hard to come by these days. Why should I waste one on you?”
“Because I’m your only hope,” Erich said firmly. “Face it, Andrey, no matter what you keep telling yourself, you know it’s the truth.”
“I don’t even know where to get a plane!”
Erich stared at him. “You do, Andrey. I know you do.”
Sonya looked to Andrey, nodding her head to him. Andrey glared at Erich for a few moments, finally releasing a heavy sigh.
“My father’s plane…”
“Yes, I know how much it means to you. But, given the circumstances… Andrey, it’s the only way,” Erich pressed.
Andrey sighed again. “Alright, fine. But your plan better work. If not...”
Erich interrupted him. “You and Sonya and your people will be safe. I promise.”
Andrey yanked the tarp off the small plane, looking it up and down. It had been years, far more than he could remember, since he had last seen it. He turned to Erich, watching as he approached, now dressed in his dark blue Luftwaffe uniform once more; the very uniform that he had been wearing the day Sonya had found him in the mountains. Climbing into the cockpit, Erich smiled up at Sonya and her brother.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Sonya leaned over the side of the plane.
“It’s my only choice. It’s me that they’re looking for. If I go to them, chances are they won’t continue out here and harm you,” Erich replied, adjusting his cap and situating his injured arm so he would still be able to steer the plane.
Sonya was silent for a moment. “Erich... will I ever see you again?”
The young pilot simply looked at her. He could see the sorrow in her eyes. Parting his lips, he smiled.
“Of course you will. When all this is over. We’ll go flying, remember?”
“Promise?” Sonya’s voice was weak.
Erich hesitated, but then nodded in response. “One day. I promise.”
“Be careful, Erich.”
The cockpit shut and the propellers of the plane started to spin as Erich adjusted the seatbelt. He took one final glimpse at Sonya and Andrey, before rolling the plane away and up into the skies towards where his troops had been camping.
It had been about a week since Erich’s departure, and the village remained safe from German invasion. Sonya and Andrey went back to their lives as they were before the Luftwaffe pilot was being nursed in their home. All was as it once had been, until news struck the village.
“They said a plane went down not too far from here, near one of the German camps.”
Sonya, overhearing this hushed gossip, bit her lip. “W-what happened? Was everyone alright? What plane was it?” Her questions trailed on and on.
“They say it was a small, unmarked plane. The Germans were watching the skies and shot it down. They probably thought they were Soviet fighters flying over, you never can trust planes that go unmarked.”
“What about the pilot?” Sonya’s voice crackled. “Is...he...?”
“There are no survivors. You know how well the Wehrmacht has been trained. From what I heard, though, it was one of their men.”
“One of...their men?” Sonya froze.
“A Luftwaffe pilot. Probably just looking for a way home.”
The snow fell hard through the next few months, blanketing the small Ukrainian village. The temperature dropped again, and ice lay thick on the trees alongside the mountain. It was early morning, just before the sun hit the peak of the mountain and shadows still covered the earth, when Andrey noticed his sister beside the window. He frowned and approached her, resting a hand upon her shoulder.
“Shh,” she hushed him. “Listen.”
Andrey didn’t move or make a sound. Instead, he watched his sister, her smile starting to spread across her lips again in a way it hadn’t in the last few months.
“Can you hear her?” Sonya almost chuckled with joy. “Erich was right. She is up there.”
Gazing out the window, Andrey watched the silently falling snow beside Sonya. At first he heard nothing, but then, slowly, from up the mountain, he swore that he could hear soft, mechanical whirs of longing, buried deep beneath the ice.
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