хоть горшком назови, только в печь не сажай

Old Russian saying: (Call me a pot, just heat me not!)


Starshina Second class Artem Uralavich was ready for his deployment to Syria by the Motherland, so he thought he'd see how he could take advantage of a climate (86° F October 1) that would contrast like day from night from his usual misery in Saint Petersburg, his hometown (50° F). To swim in November! After brave forays into the frozen Volga on a dare, this would be wonderful, He found the official Syrian tourist website, http://www.visit-syria.com/encote.htm, so it couldn't really be all that bad could it? He learned the real name of the country that day, too, Al Jumhuriyah al Arabiyah as Suriyah.

As one of the supporting Naval personnel, (the Russians had a deal with Syria since 1971), he was gong to enjoy this seaside town and port of Latakia, (site of the Syrian Naval Academy) with ancient sites and a beach. It had an almost Russian sounding name, though it was named after the mother of 2nd Century Seleucid King Saluqos Nikator, Laudetia. Ironic that there are ruins of the past reflecting waxing and waning of empires such as the arches honoring the African born 3rd Century roman Caesar Septimus Severus, and relics of the Crusaders; and finally, those from the Ottoman Empire, whose Khan al-Dukhan is a museum.

Artem was proud of Russia's contribution to fine arts and empire, and couldn't wait to expand his cultural and intellectual pursuits. He'd like to see the first attributed alphabet from the Neolithic Caananite Ugarit kingdom in the Damascus museum.  How important his comrades' mission will be to protect antiquities from the 21st Century's version of Vandals and Visigoths. He also hoped he had some quiet time for a good chess game during his stay, after all the best chessmasters were Russian were they not?

The fact that Tsar was derived from Caesar was not lost on him, and also the fact he was part of history -- that not since the 1980's Afghanistan, had they projected such major military presence in the area. Nobody was worried about the West and Mutually Assured Destruction anymore. Those days of pure horror and terror were over, thank the saints, he prayed in earnest. The desire for a warm water port was as old as Russia itself. Starshina Uralavitch, like his counterparts in their reclaimed Crimea base, could be proud, very proud again.

Later in the week, his excitement would have to wait, since looking out the window in the Ilyushin flying him to the Syrian airbase was boring, clouds preventing any view, so, with a little help from the quality Siberian Vodka, Ustianochka, hidden in a demure flask, he napped.

Awakened by wheels touching down, he stood up with everything in a blur. He then saw one of the pilots running down the aisle, some kind of weapon in hand, and another supposed one of Artem's team, standing up menacingly carrying what Artem knew was a 9 mm Skorpion VZ 68, yelling, "Borz, make them all stand up and put their hands on their heads!" 

"Okay, Lom, I got it!"

Borz was Chechen for wolf. Lom was lion. Uralavich and the rest of his previously sleeping mates were taken by surprise. And, before he could react, a bolt of pain raced through his right shoulder like he was injected with Sterno, but nano seconds before he passed out he thought, was he shot by the machine pistol?

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case might be, it was a derivation of the wireless taser, the XREP (Extended Range Electronic Projectile) with extended magazine full of "electric bullets" that subdued him and his companions.

"Is the place ready, Lom?" Borz asked his partner.

"Yes it's all laid out according to plan. It will be more entertaining than the tournaments at our resort of Veduchi," Lom replied with an indifferent tone.

Artem woke up on his back on a searing bed of sand, staring at the brassy sky with a motherland of all migraines, and realized struggling against his being hog-tied was a useless waste of precious bodily assets.  Was he even on or near that beach he dreamed of laying on? 

"Are you ISIS?" Artem blurted out before the butt of the small rifle twisted his jaw abruptly into the ground, sending sand fleas scurrying.

"They are our most gracious hosts, though they might help our beloved Chechnya become a principality in the new Caliphate to come."

Borz added, "But first we have scores to settle. And those points will be based on the most royal of all games, chess."

Veduchi was a showpiece for Russia: a resort complex in Chechna started in 2013 that bested the Grozny Sea Complex. The spring-fed reservoir, Kazenoi-Am, in the Argun River valley had to be cleaned of its collection of gunk, a 48 month endeavor, but it hosted chess tournaments. Of course one had to be careful of the remaining 500 out of 700 explosive mines that were yet to be cleared.

Not caring that his thoughts were trite, Uralavich was beginning to have a bad feeling about this. At least after they would be shot or beheaded the nightmare would be over quickly. The bad blood (much of it spilled) went way back: Chechens were suspected as being Nazi collaborators in WWII, and did not return from Siberia until 1957.  They expected to be able to declare independence in 1991, but that was crushed by various deceits and intrigue. 1999 saw a resurgence in rebellion, but today there is a Russian backed strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov in charge. In a twist of fate he used to be a dissident fighter in the hills before he copped out.

Almost reading his mind, Lom volunteered, "You will be the chess pieces, of course!"

And immediately they all were herded towards a 64 yard square grid. The dark squares were a very dark brown, and reeked of raw sewage, the light ones had some kind of white powder, Heaven or Hell only knew what. He was right when he guessed the Captain and Captain lieutenant would be the Kings, and the next officers in line would be Queens, and the rest of the descending ranks until down to the pawns. The terrorists donned the captives with crudely made masks representing the crowned king or queen; or horses head ecetera; constructed from metal barrels and covered the whole head. But he was wrong when he guessed the large machetes brought out were for their heads, as he saw eight men, who kept their dark blue uniforms on, have their legs hacked off, screams awarded by hard booted kicks to the head. However, in a strange distorted mercy, quick cauterization caused no one to bleed to death.

He knew all of them were going to die playing (yes that was a cruel use of that word,) in the 110° desert, but was in the full throes of trepidation as he was lined up with 7 other sailors and told to take his clothes off. A new version of skins versus shirts from gradeschool gym classes. Excrutiation has the only one consoling consequence: one blessedly passes out. They threw water on his face some hours later when he was told the supposed good news.

"Just think if you make it to the end of the chess board you will be king! The bad news is you will never be the Caliph"  

These were last words they would ever hear as the next hours were unrelentlessly agonizing, and with no choices for avoidance.




* In the Nodes of Madness: The 2015 Halloween Horrorquest

** Note: This format is contemporary (as opposed to what might be considered classic) horror, the worst kind in my humble opinion, because it is a reality, not a fantasy, right around the corner, one knows not when it might be in our neighborhood.

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