Raymund Eich

On the Road to Sibiu


1944. The Red Army pursues the retreating Germans. Across Transylvania.


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Romania. August 1944. The Red Army pursues the retreating Germans. Captain Khavanov’s orders: occupy an old fortress on the road to Sibiu, to secure the Red Army’s supply line.

In the fortress lived a frail old man. What about him drew the interest of a commissar from division headquarters? And why did Khavanov’s men disappear one by one?

A historical vampire short story, by the author of Carnival in Sorgenbach.

Sample of “On the Road to Sibiu”

On the Road to Sibiu

The only light in the courtyard came from the moon, which stood one-third empty high in the clear sky. The moonlight made the whitewashed walls a pale gray and the doors and roofs near black. An observatory rose from the northwest corner of the two-story keep whose walls defined the courtyard in which they stood.

B Platoon’s runner, a fellow with big ears who must have stood on tiptoe to meet the Red Army’s height requirement, emerged from a door near the base of the observatory and looked around for a moment, before walking quickly across the cobblestones. He stopped and saluted. “Captain Khavanov,” the runner said with a Ural accent.

Khavanov returned the salute. “You found the master of this keep?”

“Yes sir!” The runner smiled. “In the observatory. Please follow me.”

They entered the keep, twisted through corridors, and climbed a set of stairs. The runner opened the door for them. The room was circular, eighteen feet in diameter. There were no windows, only a stair which curled up along the wall to Khavanov’s left, steps and scaffolding of exposed wood over an unsafe-looking collection of cracked and holed floorboards.

Three guards and the interpreter snapped their heels at attention, and Lt. Zubov of B Platoon saluted. Khavanov returned the salute absently. The prisoner had caught his eye.

The prisoner was an old man, with a pale bald head too large to hold upright. He sat in a creaking chair with his back against the scaffolding of the stair. He glanced at Khavanov with sunken eyes. He wore a black cloak, and his chest labored with each breath.

“What do you know about him?” Khavanov asked Zubov.

“His name is Tepes.” Zubov took off his helmet and scratched the back of his head. “He doesn’t speak Russian, only Romanian and German. He says the Romanian Army has fled and the Germans have retreated up the road to Sibiu.”

Exactly what Khavanov wanted to hear… except in the past three years the Red Army had learned not to underestimate the fascists. This keep stood on a high point overlooking the road, and was the perfect place for Romanian soldiers loyal to the deposed dictator Antonescu—or worse, a desperate German rear guard—to wage a delaying action and buy time for the enemy to dig in up the road. Khavanov’s men had found no Germans so far in their search, but how many tunnels lay under this keep? Enough to hide a company of infantrymen who could erupt from their holes when Khavanov’s company grew complacent? “He said this in German?”

“Yes,” the lieutenant said.

Khavanov stalked closer to Tepes the prisoner. “Hitler spoke German when he swore the non-aggression pact with Comrade Stalin, didn’t he?” he said loudly, and the interpreter repeated the words. Tepes squirmed away from Khavanov’s gaze, and pursed his lips to reveal canine teeth. He looked like a rat, like the butt of a rifle would do him in. “It will not go well for you if you lie.”

Tepes looked up. “It is no lie. There are no Germans here. Only my few servants.” As the interpreter spoke in Russian, Tepes cocked his head. “Sounds as if you have found them.”

Khavanov frowned. How could the prisoner hear anything in this sealed room? The interpreter had misunderstood, he decided. Tepes guessed at the servants’ fate. “How did you come to be master of this place?”

“It was granted to me by the Romanian government, for the purpose of astronomical observation.”

“The Romanian government.” Khavanov stroked his chin in an exaggerated gesture. “The Germans are fascists. The Romanian government is allied to the Germans, and is therefore fascist. You received this place from the Romanian government, so that makes you a fascist too.” He rested his hand on his holstered pistol’s butt.

“I am no friend of the Germans.”

“You speak their language.”

“I am old. The Austrians ruled Transylvania in my younger days. Otherwise I would not know it.”

Khavanov made no reply, and instead stepped closer to Zubov. “What should we do with him?” the lieutenant asked.

An old man spending his nights with a telescope… if dead, he wouldn’t be missed. He glanced coldly at Tepes, who met his gaze for a moment. Khavanov blinked and shook his head. “We’ll keep an eye on him to make sure he isn’t communicating with the Germans. So long as he doesn’t hinder us, he can live.” Khavanov turned to Tepes. “Go about your business. We’ll search your quarters, and don’t try any tricks on us.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Tepes said. He blinked, and pulled a pocketwatch from his cloak. “All I seek now is sleep.”

“Where do you sleep?”

“I have a basement room below us. If I may?”

Fears of Germans in tunnels returned to Khavanov. “We will go with you and search.”

Tepes’ bedroom was almost square, about ten feet by ten, with one stone wall curving into the space and making it even smaller. Thus they were outside the observatory tower proper, abutting it in the main building of the keep. Flashlight beams played over the space. No windows, one door, small bed, a wardrobe, a chest. The guards dug through the wardrobe and smashed the chest’s lock. They found dark clothes and a sheaf of yellowing papers replete with sketched nebulae and planets. Khavanov had them move the bed to check for trapdoors in the floor. None underneath the bed. The walls were in good repair, except for a few mouseholes in the corners.

“Let’s leave a guard on Tepes,” Khavanov said to the lieutenant. They shut the door on him. Lucky for the old man to sleep so soon. Khavanov rubbed his eyes and stared at nothing for a moment. “I have to radio battalion with our status. Find me a place to sleep.”

“Of course, sir,” Zubov said. Khavanov walked back into the courtyard and found his radioman and two other privates in a corner smoking American cigarettes. The moon had set, and the eastern sky was tinged pale blue. Khavanov checked his watch: almost 0600. He spent fifteen minutes reporting on their occupation of the keep and their interrogation of Tepes. From a door to one of the keep’s basements came a woman’s grievous sobs and gruff laughter from multiple men.

A few minutes later, Zubov emerged into the courtyard and led the captain to a room high in an inner corner of the keep. The room’s window showed the entire courtyard and Tepes’ observatory in the far corner. The bed was lumpy but softer than many places he’d slept during the war. He thought briefly of Susana, his wife, who too would be preparing for bed soon in Vladivostok, half the world away, before he fell asleep.

He woke up groggily to pounding on the door. From the rich summer light


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Raymund Eich


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