Canada gazed out the window. His head slumped over his folded arms, his eyes listless and dull. Gazing, always watching, and almost never moving.
The scenery was beautiful. Mountainous, snowcapped peaks, mighty evergreens so much like the ones back at his home. The grass was green and thick and wild sunflowers grew everywhere. He supposed by now it was summertime here.
There was movement outside his window.. butterflies flitting about, or other insects. Sometimes a bird would fly by. Matthew's gaze would momentarily focus and follow the bird until it was out of sight.. then would go unfocused and the world was dull again.
Birds and insects were the only things that moved beyond that window. Besides them it was a vast forest of empty nothingness.. not a sign of another person, a house, a car.. anything. Just trees and a lonely mountain range in the distance.
Canada was a prisoner.
He was locked inside a tiny little log cabin exactly in the middle of a huge expanse of Nowhere. It had a bed, a chair, a small washroom with a sink, toilet and shower stall. There was a small window where Matthew sat for long hours staring, and a large, heavy wooden door that was locked from the outside. There was a fireplace with three logs, but no matches. How he longed for matches to light a fire and warm up!
The cabin was chilly, very chilly.. especially at night. Even in summer it was cold here. All he had were the clothes he was kidnapped in - a red hoodie and a pair of light jeans. He took the blankets from the bed, and he wrapped himself in them for warmth. They were made of wool and were grey and dirty and scratchy.
There was a bearskin rug. It's flattened body and intact head, it's great, gaping maw of a mouth still lined with most of it's teeth. It's eyes were open but dead and cold and gave Matthew the creeps.
There were no books, there was no television, no games. There was an oil lamp hanging in the rafters of the ceiling, but even from the chair Matthew couldn't reach it to turn it on. He was not tall enough. He would go long nights in the dark and cold by himself, shivering.
He couldn't understand why he'd been brought here, nor why he was being kept here. All he remembered was a fine early Spring day, months ago, he'd been walking through the woods near his home. He loved to hike through his woods, and it was beautiful and warm outside - the first day after a long, cold, hard Winter.
He'd needed to clear his mind after the last world meeting he'd attended. He hadn't had the chance to say much - he never did - but listening to the rising tempers of the nations around him caused him anxiety. There was dispute over resources. There was anger over failing economies. There was bad debt and pollution and threats of weapons.
Canada worried for the other nations. He always worried for everyone, but most of all he worried for his big brother America. America had been extra pushy with other nations lately. So much so that Russia had become so angry he was now refusing to attend world meetings. Canada had eyed Russia's empty chair and noticed China gazing at it as well. China looked disinterested in everything America had to say. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania looked uncomfortable.. like they shouldn't be there. Ukraine's eyes were red rimmed and tired looking, as if she'd been crying. Belarus looked murderous.
Canada was worried. Things were going so very wrong. He thought a nice walk in the woods would give him time to think about what he would say to his brother. He had to convince him to back off a little bit - give the other nations some space - especially Russia and China. He knew America was unlikely to listen to his little brother.. but he had to try.
It was then that a large figure stepped out from behind a tree. Matthew was startled nearly half to death, but he didn't have time to scream before his head was bashed with something heavy. The world went instantly black and he felt himself falling. And then..
He woke up here. In the little log cabin. In the middle of nowhere. Locked in.
In the first few months he barely saw his captor at all. Once a week perhaps, or maybe twice if he was lucky. And only for a few, brief seconds. Long enough for bits of food - bread or hard biscuits - to be shoved through the heavy wooden door. Matthew would spring up from the bed or the window, his small fists flying, trying to attack the man who brought him here, trying to escape! At best the door was quickly slammed shut in his face and locked tightly and his captors heavy footsteps would fall away without a word. At worst he would receive a beating that left him bruised and swollen and in pain. Once he was hit so hard across the face that he flew backwards onto the bearskin rug. His food was tossed at him, then the door slammed and locked. And he was left alone to nurse his aching head.
He would curl up in the bed and cry himself to sleep every night.
In the beginning Canada gobbled the food scraps he was given greedily and all at once, but then paid for it later when his captor would not return for days. He would grow so delirious with hunger that his mind would begin to hallucinate. He dreamed of a showy rescue by his brother. America would show up and blast a hole in the wooden door. Canada would rush out and crash into his arms, crying for joy. America would pick him up and carry him away to safety and try to feed him full of hamburgers.. but then he would remember how much Matthew loved donuts, Kraft Dinner and pancakes and feed him those instead.. as much as he wanted until the hunger went away.
Other hallucinations sometimes involved England or France.. his two fathers.. coming to rescue him.. or even his own boss.. but none shone more brightly in his mind than his brother, America. America the hero. America, the very often annoying, but powerful brother who protected him and kept him safe at all times. Except for now.
After three months Matthew stopped hoping for a rescue. Perhaps he was completely forgotten. After four months he stopped trying to find a way to escape. The window wouldn't shatter, and his captor was far to big to ever hope to fight. He was beaten back from the door every time, effortlessly. It was hopeless.
Eventually he accepted that he was stuck in the log cabin, a prisoner. This brought an odd sense of peace to him, and the hallucinations became nothing more than fond wishes on stars he saw from the window at night. He filled his days with keeping the inside of his cabin clean, as best he could. He washed his bedding and himself in the small bathroom sink. He began to ration the food he was given. His stomach ached from hunger a little less as he learned to control his eating.
He stopped screaming and fighting for escape when the wooden door was opened and food was thrown in. Instead he kept as far away from the door as he could when he heard the key in the lock, then would whisper "Thank you," to his captor before he left. He would wait until the large man was gone before going to pick up the food and sort it for rations.
Over time he noticed that being quiet and polite made his captor come back more often. And the food got better and more plentiful. Instead of just bread and dry biscuits, he would receive bits of meat and cheese. Hardboiled eggs were just too good to ration and he ate those right away.
One day, he was laying on the bed daydreaming about one of his brothers movies when he heard the lock click in the door. He scrambled off the bed and rushed to the back of the cabin furthest away from the door. He crouched on the floor, his arms around his knees and he watched for what food would be tossed in through long strands of his blond hair.
His eyes widened in surprise and fear when Ivan stepped in, a tray in his hands. His heart stopped in his chest, fear sending awful visions of Ivan beating him with the tray. But no! He was behaved now! He was nowhere near the door!
He hadn't seen more than fleeting glimpses of the Russian in all the months he'd been there. No more than his arms and fists and boots, really. Yet there he was now, standing in the room, tall and formidable, large and gloriously frightening, looming and with a tray. Matthew shivered with fear and shrunk into the wall as far as he could.. but he couldn't help but notice that there was something on the tray. It appeared to be a bowl. A steaming bowl of.. something.
Matthew watched as Ivan focused his eyes to the lower light inside the log cabin. Tho it was daytime and there was sunlight streaming in from the window, it was not nearly as bright in the cabin as it was outside. The Russians eyes found the little Canadian against the back wall and a little smile crossed his features. Matthew began to tremble.
"I brought you good food, da?"
Words. A voice. A sentence. Russia had spoken to him. Canada hadn't heard a single sound other than what nature offered through a muffled window in all the months he was held here. When Ivan had come to the door before he was completely silent, even through the various beatings.
Canada trembled harder, his eyes glued to Ivan's face and nowhere else. The Russian just stood there, smiling, with the tray that had the steaming bowl of.. something. The door was open behind him.. but Matthew didn't take note of that. He was captivated by Ivan and his violet eyes. He clung to the sound of his voice.
The Russian spoke again, and Matthew thought he would lose his mind over the sweetness of sound, of language.
"Good food, for a good boy."
Good boy? The words themselves made little sense to Matthew at the moment. It was only that he was hearing words at all that sent tingles of excitement up his spine.
The smell of the food touched his nostrils. His stomach growled, but he didn't move from his spot cowering at the back wall. His gaze never left Ivan's face.
Ivan bent and put the tray of food on the floor. He turned and shut the door and locked it with the key. He took the chair from the window and sat in it, gazing at Matthew all the while.
Canada stayed where he was. He was terrified. Ivan had been fists and silence all this time, and now suddenly he was so very near and sitting peacefully, watching him after presenting him with food. Warm food. He could see little tendrils of steam rising from the bowl.
"Is ok, Matvey," Said the Russian, speaking ever so softly, as if to a frightened kitten, "Eat the food I brought for you."
Was this a trick? An invitation for another beating? But no.. he'd been good. Hadn't Ivan said so? He no longer tried to fight and escape.
Slowly, carefully, Matthew forced his body away from the wall. Keeping his eyes on Ivan the entire time, he krept towards the food tray. Nearing it, he saw the bowl had a sort of red stew with potatoes carrots, onions and beets. It looked foreign and strange.. but smelled like heaven.
There were no utensils.
Awkwardly, he picked up the bowl to bring it to his lips to sip.. but it was too hot. He blew on it and had to wait patiently for it to cool enough to eat. Gradually he was able to tilt the bowl into his mouth and pour in it's contents in small enough bites that he wouldn't choke on. It was the best thing he'd ever tasted. He forgot about rationing and ate greedily. He slurped at the stew until the bowl was empty, and then licked at the the sides, trying to get any remaining flavour into his mouth and into his stomach.
Russia watched with a smile on his face.
Canada put the bowl down and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He hurried back to the opposite side of the cabin to crouch against the wall again. His eyes were fixed on Ivan, watching him carefully.
Ivan chuckled and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting on his hands.
"Let me tell you a story, Matvey," He spoke, and Matthew found himself hanging on to every word, thrilled, tho frightened, that Ivan would stay and talk to him for awhile.
"I will tell you the story of Morozko. Of Old Man Winter. It is an old tale that my people tell to their children when they put them to bed."
Ivan began the tale. Matthew listened to the heavily accented words as greedily as he'd slurped down the strange red stew earlier.
The story was about a man with a daughter who married a widowed woman who had a daughter of her own. The widowed woman hated the mans daughter and sent her out to freeze in the woods one night. Morozko - Old Man Winter - came to her and she did not complain that she was freezing. He gave her warm clothes and jewels. Her father fetched her from the woods in the morning and the widowed woman was amazed. That night she sent her own daughter into the woods to wait for Morozko. When he came to her she complained and told Morozko that his coldness was making her hands and feet numb. When the father came to fetch her the next morning she was dead.
"And so, Matvey," Said Ivan, "You should always have respect for Old Man Winter. But you know that, don't you? Is cold where you come from too?"
Canada stared at Ivan. He shivered from the story.
"Is ok, Matvey. Talk to me." It was a command, not a request.
Matthew nodded slowly. He had to clear his throat to make it work, and even then he could barely squeak out his answer. It had been so long since he last spoke.
"Yes.. Canada is cold. Some parts are as cold as Russia."
Ivan smiled and stood up. He picked up the tray and bowl and went to the door. Matthew couldn't tell if he was relieved or terrified to see him go.
"We have that in common, da? Our cold. You be good, Matvey, and I will make you warm."
Then Ivan left, locking the door behind him. The sound of his footsteps faded away. Matthew was alone again. The empty feeling in the little cabin grew so big that he began to cry. He felt cold, as if Old Man Winter were about to appear even tho it was Summer. In spite of himself he wished Ivan would come back. He wished he was warm.