Olga

Growing up in a tiny village on the Russian steppes, where sometimes not even the wheat would grow, left Olga little to feel hopeful for, but when the odd, small airplane fell from the sky, its cargo still intact owing to some engineering genius, she felt like the God she had not been allowed to believe in had smiled upon her.

She looked left, then right, then up into the partly cloudy afternoon. The only witnesses to what had just happened were the hawks that circled overhead, hoping to swoop down for a rodent tempted by the scatter of wheat gone to seed. She snuck up on the wreck, knelt before it, breath held as if some alien being would burst out and consume her.

But it made no noise. There were some markings on the broken craft that she didn’t understand, some crooked letters that didn’t look like the Cyrillic her uncle had taught her. Similar markings were duplicated on the padded carton attached to the device. Curiosity overwhelmed her caution, and she used the end of her scythe to remove the packaging first from the metal framework and then to open the box itself.

She sat back on her heels, unsure of what to make of the second box fitted into a crumpled nest of paper. There was a picture on the box—pretty people staring at a screen and looking happy, and she didn’t know what to make of that either. It was nothing like their old television set. But somehow an instinct told her that one, this thing that had dropped from the sky was something magical; and two, it was something she wanted to run inside and show her uncle.

He was fixing a window in the living room, and in the background droned the one channel they could receive on their tiny old television. His eyebrows rose at the sight of her bursting into the house, for she was normally a quiet girl who did not slam doors. Breathlessly she pushed the box toward him and told him what had happened, and after a moment he relieved her of her burden and set it on the table.

But he didn’t look happy.

“Uncle, what is it?” He had been in the army before settling down to farm, before her mother took sick and sent her to live with him, and he knew far more about the world than she did. “And why did it crash in the field?”

“You left it out there?” He stood up suddenly, frowning. Before she could answer he was on his feet and heading for the door. “Then you will help me,” he said over his shoulder. “And we will tell no one about this. No one, do you hear me?”

Her throat constricted, so she could only nod as she followed him out.

They made quick, silent work of carrying the mangled plane into the shed, of breaking it into pieces. She was afraid to ask why they were doing this, afraid of his tight mouth and narrowed eyes. He sent her to her room when they returned, and when she was called down for supper, the small, magic box was nowhere to be seen.

“I got rid of it,” he said finally. “It’s for the best. Beware of these new devices, Olga. You are a very special girl, and we don’t want them to find you.”

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