Welcome back! This week’s story is “The Messenger” by Georgy Peskov, the pen name for emigre journalist Yelena Deisha. A cursory google search doesn’t reveal much about her, which is a shame because her stories are quite good in so much as they sit comfortably alongside The Women of Weird Tales and any of the better than mid-tier stories from Alberto Manguel’s Black Water.
“The Messenger” by Georgy Peskov (1925)
A much reduced husband and wife worry over their son’s fate. He’s away fighting in the Russian Civil War. The son is their parent’s last surviving child, and everyday the parents wish for some word from the him. Grasping at straws, the mother has taken to spiritualism (via automatic writing) and spends much of her time talking with the spirits. She figures that if the son’s dead she would receive some communication from him. The father goes along with this, reluctantly. And the village priest harangues, calling spiritualism blasphemy.
The mother persists, and one winter night while a storm rages outside, she and the father sit down to make a another attempt to learn information about their son. Their efforts have mixed results and the only decipherable words are “The Messenger. A blessing.”
Quite soon after that there’s a knock at the door. The father is suspicious. There’s a storm outside and anyone out at this time can’t be up to any good. But the mother at last opens the door and finds a stranger there. This is a soldier claiming to know her son. He tells her their son lives, having managed to leave the country. He also tells an odd story about two sick friends and the nurse who cared for them. She and the son had a relationship but when it came time to flee the nurse refused to abandon the hospital while a sick patient was there. The soldier gives the nurse’s address, and refuses all hints of help from the couple before going back out into the storm.
The next day the couple writes the nurse and days later she writes back. She does admit to knowing her son. But the soldier they say visited them can’t be alive, because he died when the hospital was taken. The implication for the reader being that the visiting soldier was the ghost come to the couple in order to ease their mind and as a way to pay off his debt to the nurse who stayed behind to care for him despite the likelihood of very awful things happening to her when the Bolsheviks took over the hospital
And here the husband and wife’s opinions of events diverge. The husband is inclined to believe the whole story nonsense and the soldier was a spy. He complains to the priest about his wife’s spiritualist practices, and the priest once again harangues the wife to give it all up as blasphemous. The wife however believes the soldier was a spirit and their son is still alive, yet when she tries to write the nurse again she gets no reply. The End.
This story didn’t so much remind me of the Bulgakov seance story from earlier in the book, as it did WW Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw.” Except Peskov’s story lacks the (somewhat corny if singular) ironic slant. It’s more unsettling. What gets me is that Peskov is writing her supernatural stories not straight from her imagination, but taking scenes from events that impacted her life and that of her associates. It puts a very different spin on things.
Next time, a date with Miss Muerte!