2nd Iced Fear

Hanna’s head pounded with the cold, her lungs screamed for air and her ears throbbed from the pressure of the water above her. God, she hated cold water yet here she was at the bottom of a deep dark, fucking freezing, plunge pool.

Her daughter’s words echoed in her mind.

‘Please don’t go Mum. Now is not a safe time to travel in Northern Europe.’

The irony of those words always made her smile. Déjà vu with roles reversed. Amanda was now in her forties with a patient husband, a successful business and twin ten-year old boys but twenty years ago she had been a restless, often reckless world traveler and Hanna recalled beseeching her,

‘Please don’t go to South Africa – it is so politically unstable… Please don’t go to South America – its full of druglords’, but her pleas always fell on deaf ears so her reply to Amanda had been,

‘I am not going hitchhiking, climbing mountains in the Andes or swimming with great whites in Cape Town. I am just going to a little village in Estonia near the Russian border to research by ancestors.’

From the moment of her arrival in Navo, Hanna had sensed the constant anxiety in the local population. All they could talk about was Putin, his insanity and whether NATO could protect them in the event of an invasion. They had lived with this fear for generations but now it was palpable and exhausting.

Tonight, Hanna had left the drapes open to watch the falling snow.  As she lay in bed, luxuriating in the warmth of the floor to ceiling central heating, her feather doona and her favorite flanelette pajamas, her peace was shattered by what sounded like gunfire. A series of ratatats seared the silence. Throwing off her bedding, she ran to the window. There in the snow -covered streets ran many uniformed men carrying guns. Just as it registered that this must be the Russians, a man fell beneath the streetlight in front of her driveway and she could see the snow turn pink in a halo around his head.

‘Oh my God. I’ve got do something.’

Tiptoeing in just her socks, she moved as quickly as she could down the stairs and to the back door. Cautiously, she opened it and peered out. Seeing no movement, she closed the door behind her and ran towards the sauna. She knew her footsteps in the snow might give her away and hiding in the sauna would be pointless. The noises behind her got louder. She had to act. There was only one option. She quickly jumped on the ladder and lowered herself carefully into the plunge pool. Keeping just her head above water, she watched the back door of the little chalet she had called home for just over a month. Suddenly it burst open and she saw the silhouette of a soldier as he scanned the backyard. She took a deep breath and lowered herself into the icy water, holding herself on the bottom by grabbing the metal seat.

Hanna had been a good swimmer in her youth but a sprinter, never long distance. She knew she could maybe hold her breath for thirty seconds.

She heard the thud of three gunshots then the muffled crash of the sauna door being kicked in. She stopped releasing air and counted to ten. Would he look in here? Would he see her? Thank God she was wearing her dark red pajamas not her pink ones.

More shots rang out but further away. She had no choice now, she had to surface, knowing by doing so she could be signing her death warrant. Slowly raising her head above the water, she took a deep breath and waited. Nothing. Just gunshots and screaming in the distance.

Gingerly ascending the ladder, she ran to the back door, leaving it open so it was as the soldier left it. The house was cold from the icy air that had blown through with both doors wide open but the floor was warm under her feet. By now Hanna, was shaking violently from both fear and cold and she knew hypothermia could kill her if a bullet didn’t. She must get warm. Tearing off her wet clothes, she threw them in the bath then wrapped herself in a blanket and crawled under her doona, rolling herself into a cocoon.

Just as her shivering eased and she began to drift into an exhausted sleep, she heard the heavy tread of footsteps on the stairs. Hanna froze, squeezing her eyes tight as the shaking returned and tears formed. There would be no escaping to the pool this time.

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