Siberia, 1919. An army of ghosts called the Czech Legion is in control of the Trans-Siberian. They do not know that the war has already ended, there in Europe; They are still in Siberia, and the end of the world has gone to their heads in the form of delirium: while the good Tomáš Mazaryk tries to get permission from the victors so that the former provinces of Bohemia and Slovakia of the defeated empire can become the Republic of Czechoslovakia, The Legion announces from Siberia that this fish market, three meters wide by nine thousand kilometers long, which goes from the border of Europe to the Pacific Ocean, is Czech soil.
This is happening while in Russia there is a savage civil war. The Bolsheviks have created the Red Army to fight the White Army, of Tsarists, Cossacks and Mensheviks. Both sides need control of the Trans-Siberian to win: without a train it is impossible to move men and weapons across such vast territory. That is why neither of the rivals manages to impose on the other, and the Czech Legion is already filling everyone’s patience. The whites accuse the Legion of having kept the gold of the Romanovs; the Bolsheviks need that gold more than the whites. The Czech Legion is fifty thousand ragged in uniforms of different armies, a leather and fur bestiary scattered in batches of a hundred by the Trans-Siberian stops. They are hopelessly foreigners in that territory that they defend as homeland, they are an incongruity even for themselves, but no one can move them from their strategic position across all of Russia because the train tracks are theirs.
Captain Matula, in command of his one hundred men (which, together, number 945 toes, the rest lost due to freezing), arrived on the train in Yaziky and took the village without resistance, because they were preceded by the news of the massacre. that they came from perpetrating in the neighboring village of Staraia Krepost. Captain Matula’s men have fought, for five years, for the Emperor of the Austrians against the Emperor of the Russians, for the Emperor of the Russians against the Red Terror, side by side with Cossacks, Tsarists and Mensheviks, and then against them, as they went deeper and deeper into Siberia. But what the people of Yazik see in Captain Matula is a new form of the immemorial enemy, the Dark One, and they adopt the same passive tactic they have repeated from time immemorial: close ranks, feign obedience, and wait for a new incarnation of the Dark One to dethrone the Dark One. Captain Matula.
Needless to say, the inhabitants of Yazik were mostly members of the White Doves, a non-violent Christian sect that did not eat meat and believed only in community property and mutual assistance. A kind of Siberian Amish, but castrated: the only bloodshed accepted by the White Doves was the cutting off of their own genitals, a sine qua non condition for entering the sect. Because they were peaceful, they rebuilt the village every time it was razed. Because they were Christians, the tsar tolerated them. As they had contact with the spirits of the forest, the Cossacks did not exterminate them: they only beheaded some from time to time, but they allowed them, each time one died, to castrate another, and thus the sect did not become extinct. Somewhat the same procedure existed in the Czech Legion: each time an officer fell, the next in the chain of command tore off the dead man’s genets and assumed his rank. This is how Corporal Matula had become captain: pulling genets from the dead, or killing them to pull them off. He was twenty-four years old and his eyes had already seen it all.
Or so he thought, until one night, a patrol brought a bearded fugitive, skin and bones, arrested from the forest. The fugitive says he has been escaping from a gulag a thousand kilometers to the north, he has been walking for months. But that does not matter, he says: he is nobody, just a student who came to that camp in Siberia sentenced to ten years. And he would not have survived a winter if he had not been adopted by Samarin, the anarchist Tartar, the convict most feared by all, even by the guards. Samarin made sure that the student was well eaten when they were given the ration, and he chopped stones at his side to protect him from the guards, and slept next to him to protect him from the prisoners, and when spring came he dragged him with him when he left. fled the field. The thaw had not started yet, they were walking through the snow and there was nothing to eat and suddenly the student understood that Samarin had taken care of him and had taken him with him as food.
Since then he had been fleeing, but Samarin followed closely in his footsteps. That was what mattered, the student said: that Samarin was near, and that he was longing for human flesh. Because Samarin was more than just a cannibal: Samarin was destruction itself. Even the spirits of the forest had sensed it, confirmed the White Doves, who had their ways of smelling danger. Samarin was the hundred thousand curses that the peoples muttered daily against their slavery. Samarin came to finish everything. Yazik would not be the same when Samarin arrived. And in fact it was not. The saying goes that the revolution ate his children, but in this case it was Samarin and it happened like this: while the Czechs were looking for him in the forest, they had him inside their own barracks. Samarin was the student. And Samarin was hungry.
The way being paved by it, the Bolshevik troops on the other side of the forest proceeded to enter Yazik, splashing in Czech blood, and that was how the Red Army began to take control of the Trans-Siberian and that was how it won the civil war. But first they waited for Samarin to leave the town, because the Bolsheviks did not believe in god or fear the devil but they preferred not to meet Samarin if they could help it.
The White Doves were short-lived in the Soviet era. Their extinction was not due to ideological reasons: they discovered two thousand cows hidden in the forest and shot them as enemies of the people. But first the Czech Legion was extinguished, which after losing Yazik was hastily giving up positions and staggering back to the east, until it ran into Vladivostok. They managed to embark in a hurry to Alaska, and crossed all of America and then the Atlantic to reach their country. There are those who say that they succeeded because they had the gold of the Romanovs and with it they were paying for their withdrawal. Captain Matula was not among them: his head had rolled in Yazik’s mud; Samarin ate his eyes and tongue and then his heart, according to the only Czech who managed to escape Yazik.
The Tatars of Siberia, when it is summer, and it never gets dark, and the sun punishes without rest and without mercy, they tell stories of terror: they say that nothing soothes the heat as a little cold in the soul. Tatar horror tales must freeze time and freeze the listener’s blood, the only way to survive the heat when the Siberian sun gives you no respite.