There is a pond is Siberia that never freezes, despite it sometimes plunging to temperatures that could kill a polar bear. A very blue and very liquid pond shines a little brighter than should be possible, given the light in the middle of the frozen tundra.
“Get off of it!” yells a woman in Russian to her colleague.
He is walking out on the liquid surface, arms wide. “Are you kidding? It is liquid water, and I am walking on it. I feel like Jesus.”
“We’re scientists, Nicolae, we don’t get to feel like Jesus.”
“That’s exactly why I take the opportunity any time I find myself near a magic pond! You have to come out here, Marie, it is so bizarre. I think I can see fish swimming below my feet.”
“It isn’t magic. It’s our job to figure out what’s going on! Come back and help me take samples.” She pulls off her backpack and begins to search. In it is a tattered, old American flag, which she pauses on.
Nicolae rolls his eyes and takes a step toward her. Without warning, he plunges in the water. As if by counterweight, another man pops out of the water near the shore, covered in mud. “You Goddamn commies!” shouts the mud man in American English. He fires what turns out to be a gun in his hand before he really gets his footing. The bullet hits Marie’s backpack and she screams. Tubes and papers fly out in all directions. She runs, American flag still gripped in her hand. She dives behind a rock. He fires again and hits the rock.
She screams, which transitions into, “Who are you!” in English, she can’t believe how quickly she remembers.
“My father saw a Goddamn communist pop out of this here magic pond portal during the Goddamn Cold War! When he went to check it out, he was killed! I’ve been waiting 50 years to kill that motherfucker!”
“Sir!” she says, shaking voice. “We are scientists!”
“Scientists! Communists! Same fuckin’ thing!” He shoots the rock again and she screams.
She is hyperventilating and eyes darting all around. They land on the flag she had forgotten in her hand. “I have your flag!” she says. She throws it and holds the other end, so it will drape over the rock. Maybe he won’t shoot his own flag, she thinks.
“Why the fuck do you have my flag?” he says, softening.
“An American gave it to my father 50 years ago! He was killed while they tried to understand how the pond worked! I read about him in my father’s journal. They became friends! My father told me about him my entire life.” She thumps her forehead, trying to recall the name. “Wilford!”
“Daddy…” the man says, lowering his gun. “So, it was your father who killed mine!” he sticks it back up again.
“No, it was an accident!”
“Why would he keep the flag?”
“I don’t fuckin’ know!”
“Please don’t shoot me!”
“I’ve been waiting for 50 fuckin’ years to kill whatever Russkie popped out of this pond!”
She hears something in his voice, and stands, flag in hand.
“I will shoot you, commie!” he screams, tears rolling down his cheeks.
She continues to walk toward him, flag in her open arms. “You can have your father’s flag back,” she says.
He keeps the gun trained on her heart. “Don’t come any closer!” he says, not even convincing himself. He is shaking; covered in mud and in clothes not suited for his new environment.
“Are you cold? Do you need a coat? I have an extra in the bag,” she says.
He drops to a knee and lowers the gun. She drapes the flag over him for a little warmth while she jogs back to her bag to pull out the back-up coat. She trades it for the flag when she returns. He hasn’t moved.
“Are you ok?” she asks. She carefully folds the flag the way her father taught her.
“My entire life…” he says.
“I loved my father too,” she says. She offers the flag to him again, this time correctly folded into a triangle.
He gazes up. “Why couldn’t you have been a man and let me kill you?”
Realization strikes her. “What happened to Nicolae? My colleague?”
“He’s in Kentucky with my wife. In order to get through the pond, you have to exchange something of the same weight on the other side. He’s still there, if my wife hasn’t killed him yet.”
They share a long moment. “Let’s get him back,” he says. “Mary!” he shouts at the pond. “You killed that commie yet?”
“Waiting for your word!” Mary’s voice comes back, causing the surface of the water to ripple.
“Put him on the water! I’m coming back!” He stands, takes off the coat and hands it back to Marie, and steps out on the water. He waits there, triangle of the American flag in his hands, held at his center. They stare at each other for the moments it takes for him to plunge back into the pond.
Originally published at https://www.tumblr.com on January 23, 2020.