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Emerging – Chapter 24 of The Informant’s Agenda

The Informant’s Agenda

Chapter XXIV (24)

Searing pain in my eyes from the explosion left me incapable of seeing anything or anyone beyond the smoke and debris. Yet, my feet were compelled to take one step at a time.

“The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not…want…” In spite of the oxygen mask I wore I could not contain the sobs that broke as I remembered each word, each verse of the 23rd Psalm, the one I learned as a child and recited to my Sunday school teacher.

My throat felt as if it had been scraped raw. It was difficult to swallow, but with each step feeling my way along I mentally recited it again as if standing before the class.  “He makes me lie down in green pastures…” An image of green pastures on a Nebraska farm where cattle grazed contentedly came to mind. I coughed and felt the sticky bloody mucus make its way up to my lips.

He leads me beside quiet waters.” There was the hiking trail my cousins and I took along the Blue River where the water narrowed in places and we walked across the river on rocks. The water was so still and transparent in places we could count the fish swimming downstream as we sat with our legs dangling over high boulders while fishing.

“He restoreth my soul.”  Tears washed the sting from my eyes when I thought of the time I walked down to the altar in our Lutheran Church to pray and asked Jesus to be  my ‘Shepherd.’ The pastor told us we were like His little lambs following the ‘Shepherd’.

“He guides me in the paths of righteousness.” He spoke about the ‘cost’ of what it meant to ‘follow.’  I knew my faith walk would not be an easy one as I entered college, and hung with kids that partied hard.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” No matter how many times I felt fear and anxiety while here in the former Soviet Union countries I told myself that He was with me wherever I went. And, yet I still went to sleep afraid and dreamed those dreams that came to me each night.

Your rod and your staff; they comfort me.” Though, I kept my bible with me at all times, promising God to read some each night I was too exhausted much of the time from a day of archiving names, documenting records, and photographing cemeteries.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” All those times I  shared meals with Irina, Vasily or ones served by Olga at her Inn I did not know if they were my  ‘enemy’ or ‘friend.’ There were so many strange things that happened during these months that made no sense I continually wondered who it was spying on me.

“You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” Lord, I don’t know if there is anything in my life that seems worthy to be anointed by you, but my cup certainly overflows right now with more than I can handle of bad luck, but I will trust you either way.  I will believe there is going to be good that will come from this, as I follow after you, and dwell in your house, that secret place where you reside in my soul, but I pray that you do not let this stream of bad luck continue if I make it out of here alive.”       

What felt like a nudge came from behind like the arm of someone pushing me. It thrust me upward, forward through a fissure that opened before me.

A rush of sweet, fresh air engulfed my senses. Hands lifted me, wrapping me in what felt like cool, soft sheets under and over my body, and I heard the sounds of sirens and screams everywhere, people yelling, “Over here!

When I drifted off and quiet returned there was a sterile smell and the soft padding of feet, and hands adjusting tubes, IVs and monitors around me in a hospital.

My eyes stung from the effects of the gases emitted during the explosion, my skin still burned like that of a very bad sunburn, and my throat was painful and tender, but knew I was making progress. When I was released to go back to my hotel to rest up and recuperate I decided it was time to prepare for my return home to the states. In my heart I knew I was more than ready, anxious even, but I knew too there was still some last-minute things I needed to see to, or people at least I wanted to say ‘goodbye’ to.

Irina came to visit me more than once to give me news and updates on the investigation of the explosion. And also to inform me that Vasily and the superintendent had both died of injuries sustained in the explosion.

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To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

The Catacombs – Chapter 23 of The Informant’s Agenda

The Informant’s Agenda, Chapter XXIII (23)

 The Catacombs

Odessa, Ukraine

 “Hi, Vasily. I hope you haven’t been waiting long. I’m sorry I’m a little late.”

He smiled. “No problem. If you’re ready then, we’ll go. We’ve a long day. We’ll be using the headlamps. It’s dark and cold down there.”

“I thought the catacombs were not open to the public. Irina told me they weren’t ready yet, that there’s still work being done in the tunnels.”

“We can get into some parts right now if we go down with the engineer on the project. We’ll be meeting him there.”

Two hours later we descended the narrow passageway deep into the bowels of Odessa’s underground city, and pulled on our headlamps adjusting it to the darkness. An oxygen mask was included. The smell of dampness trapped between centuries old earthen layers of limestone and bedrock filled the interior cavernous tunnels. Compressed clay and mortar filled gaps where water or sand from the Black Sea had seeped through openings leaving its salty residue to merge with the mold.

“Much of this area that is decayed will be sand blasted and redone using a composite of granite and marble, eventually. Electricity will run throughout and plumbing put in. Shops, museums and such will be added in time.”

“Do you wonder if there were any who ever went mad while confined down here under the earth for months or years at a time?” I said.

Vasily nodded. “Possibly. But, it was a fortress designed to shelter them from many things, including their enemies. The alternative was death or captivity. Dating back to the late 1700’s under the reign of Czarina Katherine the Great it would make the Zemlyanka seem like a mere anthill or dugout in comparison. The catacombs are as old as Odessa’s history. Their tentacles stretch for 1,500 miles, the largest and longest on record in the world.” he added.

Our voices seemed to bounce off the walls of the open chambers we entered but when we came through the narrow pass we could hear other voices reverberate through the tunnels we navigated through. We were not alone. Assuming they were the voices of the construction crew Vasily and the engineer did not seem overly concerned we had come so close to encroaching upon their work site.

We continued on, while he told me more of the catacombs’ history.

“Over time leaks and slime deposits from the Black Sea formed the smooth surface on the stone floor beneath giving it that slick, wet finish, so step carefully when coming down into the interior chambers.” He pointed to what looked like hieroglyphic symbols and ancient drawings on the limestone walls. “Early inhabitants of the tunnels used tools to carve pictures leaving their deep impressions for the generations after of the things that went on. All of it tells a story, stories of war, their adversaries and the life they led while in hiding.”

As I stepped from one chamber into another Vasily and the engineer stopped to talk. When I turned back to them to wait for their lead Vasily said, “It’s OK, Monica. I’ll catch up. I just need to speak to the engineer for a moment.”

Nodding, I turned a corner to view another wall. Unaware of any concern, or their conversation I walked through the chamber studying the pictures carved on the walls.

“Oh, this is amazing, all these symbols, drawings and signs. There is one of the Czarina Katherine in a carriage, or troika with a caravan of sorts, wagons following, and Cossack soldiers guarding it.” I mumbled to myself.

It was all so surreal, like De ja vu all over again, the dream I had the night before. The sound of the train with its screeching wheels rolling along the tracks. But, it wasn’t.

It was a hissing sound coming from the direction of a connecting chamber. Then I heard what sounded like an explosion from inside the tunnel and it started filling with a cloudy substance. When I yanked on the oxygen mask and tried to run back towards Vasily and the engineer I could not find them. Walls buckled as if straining under the weight of the earth, large sections broken, lying everywhere.  Scared out of my wits and thinking they might not be able to reach me, or worse that they were caught in the explosion, or cave-in where I’d left them I felt vulnerable and alone in a cloud of sickening fog that smelled like gas.

The dizziness, fatigue and nausea I experienced grew stronger as I braced myself against the walls for support. I screamed for Vasily, the engineer, anyone who could hear, but no one answered or came back. The blackness rushed like a wave, surrounding me. It soon grew quiet, eerily quiet.

There was little I remembered about the turns and passages we came through earlier. Everything happened so fast I could not think clearly, but knew I needed every bit of strength I had left in me to make my way out of there. The tunnels seemed to branch off in all directions and I could not be certain which way to go as I could barely see anything beyond the cloud that smothered what air there was left to breathe. My legs felt heavy, unable to move. My eyes were burning from the gas or smoke emitted in spite of the headlamp and the oxygen mask I wore. My lungs were stinging. Struggling to breathe I yelled again for help. But, no one came. Running my hands along the wall I felt cool air drafts wafting down from fissures nearby and stumbled about following it as I breathed in the fresh salt air and tried to make my way back the way we had come, praying as I went. God, help me. I don’t want to die here. Show me the way to go.

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The above story and characters is fictional, but the Catacombs do exist under the city of Odessa, Ukraine. They hold mysteries and stories as old as the city itself. There is information and images available on Wikipedia and the internet of the catacombs. The above image is one I took from the internet. When I visited the former soviet republics and Russia in 1989 and toured the city of Odessa our tour group was able to see parts of the catacombs open to the public. This  is chapter 23 of, THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA, a novel and work still in progress to be continued as new chapters are drafted and edited. Thank you for following the story if you have been, and for any comments.

Joyce E. Johnson  (2014)

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