The slimy straw fell away to reveal the old babushka wielding a threshing scythe. As she raised the blade to strike again, Putin leapt back.
The Poodle was gnawing at his leg, ripping at the calf muscle like a thing possessed. Putin began to grow green with rage: A trap!
Of course! No peasant would own such a splendid beast! Putin ducked as the woman swung at his neck and the scythe whooshed over his head.
The dog squealed and let go as his mouth was burned by the heat of Putin’s radioactive putinescense. “Sorry, Der’mo,” he thought.
Just then a blow struck his back with such force that he was pushed forward, past the old woman, spoiling her aim as she sliced at him again.
Putin wheeled about to see another old woman waving a mattock, and three more emerging from the shadows with pitchforks and a rake.
They were the ones who had tried to kill him in the containment building! Years of living in the forbidden zone had surely driven them mad!
As the old babushka brought her scythe across again, Putin grabbed her wrist and twisted. Her arm came off in his hand.
The old woman made no sound, but continued lumbering toward him. The other one swung her mattock and hit the first woman in the face.
Her head fell off and rolled into the corner, where the little dog was whimpering in pain. Her one-armed body kept coming at him.
Over the next half hour, the five old women did more damage to each other than to the nimble Putin, as he continued to evade them.
They stumbled about, swinging their weapons, seemingly without any definite target. Body parts—some still animate—piled up on the floor.
Putin thought of Mila, scooping the twitching bits of the Commander into bin liners. “зомби?” he thought. But how could that be?
And how could these old farm women be connected to the Commander? Only if he had an enemy who was able to reanimate the dead, he thought.
It did not seem likely, and yet … The headless, legless trunk of the first old woman began clawing at the floor with her remaining hand.
Beneath the scattered straw, Putin spotted a trap door. He kicked the babushka’s torso out of the way and pulled at the edge of the cover.
At first, looking down into the darkness, Putin saw only water, some kind of cistern beneath the barn.
Gradually he made out several large forms, submerged and hanging motionless. Another moment, and he recognized them: more babushkas!
Putin decided he had had enough. He took one last, lingering look at the little Poodle, still cowering in the corner of the barn.
The he turned, stepped to one side to avoid a swinging pitchfork, and released the full power of his radioactivity.
The flames of the burning farmstead rose high into the twilight behind him as Putin rode away on the Yunker, once again headed north.