By John J. Brady



The word was an icicle in some primordial part of my mind. I pushed open the door and swallowed my disgust at the Scribe’s bitter smell, a mingled odour of vomit and camphor.

It sat behind a desk, holding a quill in the pincered claw of one of its four upper limbs. Its bulbous black head turned towards me and the light of the gas lamp shone back a hundredfold from its compound eyes. Otherwise its face was featureless: no mouth, no nose.

I swallowed and stepped inside. “I need to send a message.”

<Of course. Where is the recipient?>

My own thoughts were peeled apart, made open for the creature to gaze at. It knew me now. My stomach churned but I had to stay; I had to do this while there was still time. “Petrograd.”

The quill was poised over an open book. It turned the pages—all blank—until it settled on one, no different from the others. The creature remained hunched over its desk, thank the Lady, its head hanging forward, partly obscuring a body covered in thick bristles.


I took a deep breath and gave her name.


I closed my eyes, unable to look at the creature anymore, and recited the message I had rehearsed. “Dearest Natasha…”

It wrote, each letter existing for a moment before fading away, leaving a virginal page behind.

“We are undone. Pyotr has…” I choked, consumed by the thought of it, “has been taken to the Lubyanka. Meet me at The White Rose on the fourth, when we will leave for London. With all my love, Nikolay.”

It finished writing.

“Is it done?” I asked.

<The message has been received>

I sighed in relief; I could start my journey.


“Yes, yes of course.” I fumbled through my pockets and found a handful of rubles.

It shook its head and pointed towards a blank sheet of paper on the desk.

<Your name and address only>

I couldn’t give my name. The money I saved would help me escape, but still, nobody could know I had been here. I took the quill and wrote, “Ivan Ivanov, Lubyanka Square.” The torturer. I smiled at my little joke as I hid the sheet amongst a pile of others; the creature would be none the wiser.

“Is that it?” I asked.

<Yes. You may leave>

I started to turn, but not in time. The Scribe sat back, allowing me to see its abdomen clearly. The face! Embedded in its body, contorted in a rictus of terror, it looked so human yet it surely could not be. I locked my gaze with its blue eyes; its expression changed, a flicker of recognition, perhaps. It mouthed something silently and I lost my nerve.

I fled from the room, the Scribe’s laughter burning in my mind, and ran past the waiting line of people until my thoughts were all my own again.

I burst out into the cloister and bent over, retching. There was nothing to come; my stomach was already empty from the morning, when I had heard the news about Pyotr. I wiped my mouth with a handkerchief and looked around.

The open garden space was octagonal, an archway leading to a terrace on each side. A monk—dressed in a black robe with white hood—stood watching beside a tall shrub, a wooden block in his hand. His eyes—the silver of the chosen—were surrounded by an odd yellow tinge, much as I had seen before in inveterate vodka drinkers.

I nodded. “Brother.”

He stared and I turned away, blushing. I put my handkerchief away and left.

At the monastery’s door I passed the warden, standing poised with his staff. Motorised carriages chugged along the street across the plaza, belching smoke while horses trod warily between them.

I looked back at the monastery. Its octagonal towers reached into the sky, capped by onion domes glinting green and red in the April sunshine. It was the first time I had been in one—or any church building for that matter—since I was a boy, and hopefully would be the last.

I pulled my hat on, then buried my hands in my pockets as I hurried down the steps and across the plaza. Two more days and we would be safe, on a ship bound for freedom and a new life.

I reached the bustling street. Two men—thick black coats, hard faces, hands flexed in anticipation—approached. Damn! I turned right and kept my head down, hoping I was wrong. Rushed footsteps clattered behind me. I started to run just as they grabbed my arms.

“What are you—”

Something struck the back of my head...




John J. Brady writes science fiction and fanasy stories in the far north-west corner of Ireland. When not working as a psychiatrist, he wrestles with three overactive sons, plays sport and sometimes casts concrete gnomes. He can be contacted on Twitter @JohnJBrady33.