“The Devil Comes to Orekhovo” Write Up by Emma H, Henry, and Sydney

Summary Part 1: Emma H

A man in the army during World War 2 named Leksi counts the amount of wild dogs he sees while he marches with his troop of two other soldiers, Nikolai and Surkhov, who are older then him and have been in the army longer. As Leksi holds his rifle and ponders its weight, he thinks about in his hometown he and his school friends had wanted desperately to be a solider because all the girls adored them, and that no able man above the age of 18 wasn’t enlisted. Leksi’s mind goes back to his current surroundings, snow, snow, and more snow, but he can’t complain about the cold because he is the youngest. But  Nikolai and Surkhov complain and are restlessly loud which makes Leksi nervous as he has heard horror stories, but still he says nothing. Surkhov wants someone named Khlebnikov to be put in charge. Leksi then describes  Nikolai and Surkhov. Nikolai says that they will never bring  Khlebnikov there because he is a tank and that this is a game because Nikolai and Surkhov don’t take anything seriously. Leksi recounts last week when they had found a dead dog and Surkhov had pretended is was a dummy and played with it, which Nikolai thought was funny but Leksi unnerving. Leksi fall sbehind the two men and they chastize him for not paying attention. They stop close to the mansion they want to enter and sit smoking a cigarette try to decide weather or not it is occupied. At night, Leksi keeps watch and can hear te wild dogs howling and he thinks back on his life, hoping that he will make it through tomorrow. At three A.M. the trio climbs down the hill to the house, darkening their faces and clothing. When they get to the house, it is unkempt and looks abandonded. The door is unlocked and it’s empty. Still the men search the whole house, but when Leski opens the fridge, he gets slapped by Surkhov because the light could have given them away. When the search was complete, they inform their base and sit in the library. Leksi is embrassed becasue he thinks that a slap is a femmine thing.

Summary Part 2: Henry

Summary Part 3: Sydney

Leksi hands the old woman a shovel and begin on their way. She tries to reason with him as they walk, saying that his fellow soldiers were just trying to test him, and they couldn’t care less whether she lived or died. Leksi realizes that she’s probably right, but still doesn’t want to let her go. She says that her grandchildren won’t know where her grave would be and Leksi agrees to put up a marker even though he plans not to. She tells him to put her hometown and her name, Tamara Shashani, on the grave. She starts telling him a story called “When The Devil Comes to Orekhovo”. In the story, the Devil wanted to marry the most beautiful woman alive. So he starts to go to Orekhovo to meet a girl named Aminah. On his way, he asks a boy for directions before killing him and taking out his eyes. Leksi recalls hearing a similar version of this story before. Continuing the story, the devil asks to enter a fat woman’s house, who turns out to be Aminah’s mother. After he offers her gold in exchange for her daughter’s hand in marriage, he kills her and takes her eyes as well.  The devil meets Aminah at a frozen lake and asks to skate with her. She agrees, but after a while, he asks her to be the queen of his kingdom, giving her a necklace of blue diamonds, which were actually the eyes he took. Instead of taking up his offer, Aminah skates away as fast as she can causing the devil to fall through the ice while chasing her. After the story ends, Leksi panics as he realizes he got lost. Suddenly feeling really warm, he takes off his parka and relaxes. The old woman slips away without Leksi realizing, and as he’s tracking her footsteps, he sees Nikolai shortly before hearing a gunshot close by.

Tensions?

Analysis Part 1: Emma

My first element was significant detail.

The first significant detail that we get is the fact that the dogs have gone feral. This detail is significant because we will see these feral dogs later on in the story, multiple times. They find a dead dog who had been used as target practice, and Surkhov and Nikolai had played with the corpse, but Leski had a bad feeling because he was deeply superstitious.

They came across a skinny dead dog, and Surkhov dragged it by its front paws into the center of the road…Surkhov, one hand on the back of its neck, lifted the dog’s frozen corpse onto its hind legs and used it as a ventriloquist’s dummy to sing, in falsetto, the old Zhana Matveyeva song.

Later, when Leski is keeping watch the night before they storm the house he hears the dogs howling to each other and becomes unerved.

Every few minutes a dog would howl and then his brothers would answer, until the hills echoed with lonely dogs calling for each other.

Even later, towards the end of the story, when the old woman, Tamara Shashani, is telling the story of The Devil Comes To Orekhovo to Leski, telling him of the misdirection that Aminah had used in order to get away from the Devil who prized her and had killed to find her, entrancing him in the story that he had heard as a child, she too leads him away from where it is that they are meant to be going and leading him to a place that he doesn’t know how to go back to the house from and into a pack of three wild dogs feasting on a deer carcass.

Leksi heard growls and turned to see where they came from. In the shadow of a great boulder twenty meters away three dogs feasted on a deer’s still-steaming intestines. Each dog seemed to sense Leksi’s gaze at the same time; they lifted their heads and stared at him until he averted his eyes.

And so he finds himself in a similar position as in the beginning, lost in thought surrounded by the feral dogs, who are eyeing him, but not attacking, despite what seems to be a violent nature.

Another significant detail is Leski’s equipment. These details are significant because they help Nikolai and Surkhov come to the conclusion that Leski is weak and inexperienced. We first see him struggle with his rifle. He has to constantly shift it because it slips off his shoulder, but is too heavy to carry in his hands. Later, when he rushes to speak with Nikolai he nearly trips because of the weight of the rifle unbalancing him and Nikolai notices this.

His rifle strap kept slipping off his shoulder so he ended up holding the gun in his gloved  hands. He still wasn’t used to the rifle. It never seemed heavy when he picked it up in the morning, but by noon, when he was sweating through his undershirt despite the cold, his arms ached from the burden.

He rushed forward, nearly tripping. Carrying the rifle disrupted his balance.

Leski doesn’t wear his helmet because when he does Nikolai and Surkhov throw pebbles at him, because apparently they are considered “unmanly”.

Leksi, whose head was still shaved to regulation specifications, felt vulnerable without his helmet, which he had left behind after Surkhov and Nikolai kept throwing pebbles at it. None of the older. soldiers wore helmets. Helmets were considered unmanly, like seat belts, fit only for U.N. observers and French journalists.

When they enter the house later and Leski opens the fridge, he is slapped by Surkhov, which Leski finds insulting because he thinks that Surkhov doesn’t think he is worthy of a punch.

Later when the men are drunk off of the stolen vodka from the kitchen, the men have a conversation where Surkhov and Nikolai ask him how many women he has been with and when he tells them the number of girls he has kissed, they assume he is lying because they consider him unmasculine.

“But you’ve been with women?”

Leksi burped and nodded. “Here and there.”

“Virgin,” said Surkhov, carving his name into the mahogany tabletop with his knife… “I’ve been with three.”

Nikolai raised his eyebrows as if the number impressed him. “You must be a legend in your hometown.”

“And I’ve kissed eleven.”

Surkhov plunged his knife into the table and shouted,

“That’s a lie!” Then he giggled and drank more vodka.

“Eleven,” repeated Leksi.

When he learns that he must kill her, he wishes to that the whole is an elaborate joke or that she will refuse to cooperate and one of the others must do it, because he is still that young and unwilling, which as the old woman points out later in the woods, is why they have chosen him for the task. They want to see if he is worthy, strong enough. If he will pass the test that they have set for him.

She hadn’t stopped walking, though, and she continued talking. “It’s a test for you. They want to see how strong you are.”

The old woman asks about how will her grandchildren find her when she is dead and Leski replies that he will pt up a marker but he has no intention of doing that, he had just run out of things to say to this woman. Leski describes his fury as having already disappeared, which is bad because he needs to find a way to dehumanize this woman so that he can kill her without remorse. He needs a reason and she isn’t giving him one.

While she tells him the story, he doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings and becomes lost at the bottom of the hill. The old woman tricked him, as Aminah tricked the Devil. He lets her go, but it’s all for nothing. Surkhov kills her anyway and without apparent guilt or moral restraint.

When he finally raised his head the old woman was gone, as he knew she would be…A moment later a single gunshot echoed across the valley floor…He turned to find Surkhov marching toward them, singing “Here Comes the Sun,” twirling a silver chain with a black cameo on its end.

My second element was scene vs summary.

I chose a few different things for summary but the ones that chose help to infer the kind of person that each character is (physically, mentally, emotionally). According to Janet Burroway’s “Summary and Scene”, part of a summary’s purpose is to “fill in a character’s background”, and I believe these words do just that for each of the main characters in the story. Like with the old woman. We get two different descriptions of her, one off her younger years, and the other as she is now.

A raven-haired woman stared at the camera. She looked faintly bored yet willing to play along, the same expression Leksi saw on all the beautiful young wives in his hometown. Her dark eyebrows plunged toward each other but didn’t meet.

An old woman sat on a bare mattress. She did not look up at them. Her thinning gray hair was tied back in a bun and her spotted hands trembled on her knees. She wore a long black dress. A black cameo on a slender silver chain hung from her neck.

From this brief description of her looks you can see how her body has deteriorated with time, how she is no longer the same beautiful, bored woman in that photograph, but her will remains the same, willing to play along with the game of whoever is taking the picture and the three Russian soldiers in her house.

But it doesn’t just provide good background information about the character, it also helps to tie together different places in time, like how in beginning Leksi is with Surkhov and Nikolai, in the snow, surrounded by dogs. The same goes for the ending, but a huge amount of character development has occurred.

The dogs had gone feral. They roamed the countryside their claws grown long, their fur thick and untangled with thistles. When the soldiers began Leksi counted each dog he spotted, a game pass. He quit after forty.

…Only the dogs would know where to find him…. He sat in the snow and listened to the countryside around him.

Onto scene. Burroway describes scene to be significant moments, and they “…deal(s) with a relatively short period of time at length.”

I thought that this particular scene fit the criteria well. It contained dialogue, it was a very significant moment in the story and is relatively short containing less than two hundred words.

They were halfway up the stairs when Nikolai placed his two wine bottles on the step above him, drew his pistol from his waist holster, and chambered a bullet. Leksi did not have a pistol. His rifle was still in the library. He held a bottle in one hand and the toy truck in the other. He looked at Nikolai, not sure what was happening.

“Leksi,” whispered Nikolai. “How do they play pool with the table jammed against the wall ?”

Leksi shook his head. He had no idea what the older man was talking about.

“Get Surkhov. Get your rifles and come down here.”

By the time Leksi had retrieved Surkhov from the dining room, their rifles from the library, and returned to the cellar staircase, Nikolai was gone. Then they heard him calling for them. “Come on, come on, it’s over.’

They found him standing above an opened trapdoor, his pistol reholstered. He had shoved the billiards table aside to get to the trapdoor, a feat of strength that Leksi did not even register until a few minutes later. The three soldiers stared down into the tiny subcellar.

As you can see this is the moment when the men find the old woman in the house and it is a very significant plot point in the story. It’s also right before you the reader knows what exactly is happening down in this subceller. Nikolai knows,as he has already seen her and at the very end so do Surkhov and Leski, but until the very next sentence, the reader/audience has no idea. It’s not fast paced at all either. We are eased into this realization through the quiet turn of events that occurs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the author choose not to state Tamaras death explicitly?
  2. Why does the author choose to start the story with the feral dogs line?  

 

 

Analysis Part 2: Henry

The Devil Comes to Orekhovo is an interesting look into the aspects of war. These three soldiers are just boys, they’re still young and impressionable. They were born to a society that glorifies the act of war and of becoming a soldier, and they unwittingly enlisted into the Russian army, not having a clue as to the gravity of what they were doing.

Leksi, along with all of his school friends, had eagerly anticipated enlistment.

The three of them are still trying to find their place in society, trying to sort out who they are as people. The story almost revolves around a Hero’s Journey, in a way. Leksi is a young boy who enlists in order to become a man. He meets these two older soldiers, who sort of test him and show him the ropes, and give him a strange mixture of tough love and genuine anger. The men show Leksi what it’s like being a soldier for the Russian army, and what he is to expect. But the defining aspect of this story that makes it so on par with the Hero’s Journey is the old woman.

Nikolai sighed. ‘It is not a pleasant thing, but she is old. Her life from now on would be very bad. Give her back to Allah.’

Nikolai shows an abrupt personality change when he is dealing with the old woman, going from harsh and cruel to the young Leksi to warm and agreeable. He does what she says without many complaint, and the reason is revealed to be that Nikolai wants her to be killed. He orders Leksi to do it, something that Leksi is reasonably unhappy with. Leksi does it anyways, and he takes the woman out to the woods. When walking through, the woman gives him a tale about the devil reminiscent of the Greek myth of Persephone. Leksi never does kill the woman, instead, he completes his Hero’s Journey by digging her grave.

Nikolai smiled and held out the shovel. ‘Come here, Aleksandr. You have work to do.’

The immediate answer for the work that Leksi must do is that he must dig the grave of the old woman, but it should also be taken into account that they were planning on having the old woman dig her own grave. It isn’t impossible that Surkhov and Nikolai could have had Leksi dig two graves, one for the old woman, and one for himself. The ending does leave a lot to interpretation, which is what I would like to learn for my own stories.

This story left the ending up to the reader, and I want to include that sort of ambiguity and the unknown factor when writing. Writing something intentionally vague in order to let the reader interpret is one of the best ways to write horror, and this story included some aspects of the horror genre in it, from the Devil story and from the general atmosphere of the cold blanket snow of Chechnya.

Religion is a large factor in many stories, and Orekhovo is no exception. These soldiers are likely atheist, from the way they speak about Moscow and common society. They mention Allah, considering Chechnya has a large Muslim population. And of course, there is also the story of the Devil. Religion is just another aspect of Russian society that conforms these young men into enlisting in the army. Russian society as a whole plays a major part in this story. I did “References to Religion” last presentation too, and I’m starting to think my choices of story subconsciously prefer religious undertones.

Discussion Questions

-What does the tale of The Devil Comes to Orekhovo have to do with the rest of the story?

-Do you think Leksi was killed at the end of the story for betraying his fellow soldiers?

 

 

Analysis Part 3: Sydney

Characterization

The story’s main character, Leksi, is an eighteen year old russian soldier who wants to prove himself the older men that accompany him.

“Of the three soldiers, Leksi, at eighteen, was the youngest.”

Right off the bat, our protagonist is an underdog. He’s less experienced than his comrades and struggles to get used to hiking long distances in the freezing temperatures and much to his annoyance, his heavy rifle keeps slipping off his shoulder, highlighting his inexperience once again.

He was so cold his teeth were cold. If he breathed through his mouth his throat hurt; if he breathed through his nose his head hurt. But he was younger, and he was a soldier, so he never complained. Surkhov and Nikolai, on the other hand, never stopped complaining.

Leksi is younger and feels as if he must prove himself to his comrades. He fears that complaining would cause his fellow soldiers to lose respect for him, despite the fact that they’re the ones actually complaining.

Leksi couldn’t understand why Surkhov and Nikolai were so recklessly loud, but they had been soldiers for years. Both had seen extensive combat. Leksi didn’t question them.

By this point, the readers can all tell that Leksi looks up to these guys and follows them without question. Benioff was smart to characterize Leksi like this early on in the story, so it is no surprise when he agrees to kill an innocent old woman without a second thought.

Only after they began marching again, after Surkhov and Nikolai began singing Beatles songs replacing the original lyrics with obscene variations, did Leksi wonder who was watching his back.

When Nikolai unfairly scolds him for ‘not watching his back’, Leksi acts guilty and submissive despite the fact that nobody was watching his own back. He’s a complete doormat to these two men. This inability to think for himself also gives him room to grow and change as a character, and I personally was very anxious to see him finally stand up for himself.

Leksi’s face was still flushed from embarrassment. He knew that he deserved the slap, that he had acted stupidly, but he was furious anyway. He imagined that Surkhov slapped his girlfriends that way if he caught them stealing money, and it burned Leksi to be treated with such disrespect, as if he were unworthy of a punch.

Leksi embarrassed himself in front of Surkhov and it eats him up. He feels as if he’s being treated as a child and obviously desires Surkhov and Nikolai to treat him as an equal. Being slapped for misbehaving makes him utterly furious. However,

Leksi was unable to hold grudges. He extended his hand and said, “I’m sorry.”

He directly states that he doesn’t hold grudges, making him seem even more like a doormat.

Later in the story, as the old woman is telling him the story, he fails to see the parallels between the fairytale and his current predicament. Benioff establishes a connection between these two characters before they even meet, when Leksi was questioning why strangers would want to kill him.

In a few hours he might be fighting for a house he had never seen before tonight, against men he had never met. He hadn’t insulted anyone or fucked anyone’s girlfriend, he hadn’t stolen any money or crashed into anyone’s car, and yet these men, if they were here, would try to kill him. It seemed very bizarre to Leksi. Strangers wanted to kill him. They didn’t even know him, but they wanted to kill him.

His internal monologue makes his lack of empathy to the old woman very ironic; neither she nor he can understand why someone would want them dead even if they didn’t do anything wrong. By this point, we can pretty much tell that Leksi isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. He even says it himself;

‘They don’t care if I live or die, you must know this. Why should they? Look at me, what can I do? They are testing you. Can’t you see this? You are smart, you must see.’

‘No,’ said Leksi. ‘I’m not smart.’

Even when the old woman clearly tells him that his comrades are testing him, he still refuses to acknowledge it because of his blind trust in the more experienced soldiers. In the end, its this lack of self awareness that cause the old woman to escape his clutches.

Setting

Setting played an important role in this story, providing external conflicts for our protagonist. In the beginning of the story, the freezing temperatures of Russia make Leksi very uncomfortable and cause him to question what he’s fighting for in the first place.

Instead he had this: snow, snow, more snow, snow. It all looked the same to Leksi, and it was endless. He never paid attention to where they were going; he just followed the older soldiers. If he were ever to look up and find them gone, Leksi would be lost in the wilderness, without any hope of finding his way out. He could not understand why anyone would want to live here, let alone fight for the place.

One strength I found in the text was Benioff’s ability to help the readers infer when and where the story was taking place by using subtle clues and references rather than saying outright that they are in Russia during the 1960’s or 70’s.

…after Surkhov and Nikolai began singing Beatles songs replacing the original lyrics with obscene variations..

So, by referencing things like the Beatles, readers can use their prior knowledge to guess when this story is happening.

Setting also helped give us more information on the woman who lived in the house Leksi and company decided to take over.

A heavy black dresser· with brass handles stood against one wall. On top of the dresser were pill bottles, a brush tangled with long gray hairs, a china bowl filled with coins, a cutglass vial of perfume, a jar of pungent face cream, and several silver-framed photographs. One of the photographs caught Leksi’s eye, an old black-and-white, and he picked it up. A raven-haired woman stared at the camera. She looked faintly bored yet willing to play along, the same expression Leksi saw on all the beautiful young wives in his hometown. Her dark eyebrows plunged toward each other but didn’t meet.

Leksi had the eerie sense, examining the photograph, that the woman knew she would be seen this way. As if she expected that a day would come, years and years after the shutter clicked, when a stranger with a rifle strapped to his shoulder would point his flashlight at her face and wonder what her name was. 

Leksi thinks back to this photograph quite often, giving him a connection to the old woman and giving her entire character a feeling of history.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the author set this story in Russia during this time period?

  2. Why did the author have Leksi think of himself as unintelligent?

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