Chat with a Demon

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Nikita was about to disconnect from the chat room, but the photo that suddenly popped up caught him. The angelic face looked as if from a parallel world. Never mind that something sinister emanated from the photo. What mattered was that it was the girl of his dreams.


How else can you begin a dialogue with a stranger? In a chat room all the phrases are simple and short to the point of absurdity.

“Hello!” Nikita typed back the same word with which the stranger had approached him. How come she had addressed him herself! Usually pretty girls didn’t like him. Was the photo on the icon have been heavily retouched or a stranger altogether? Even if it was, Nikita didn’t want to deprive himself of the illusion of contact with the dream.

“What is your name?”

The nickname popped up brightly. The question was only a formality.


“And I’m Nikita,” he sat under the nickname “stranger,” so he saw fit to introduce himself.

“How old are you?” Atenais’s question appeared in the dialog window instantly, as if she could type in a fraction of a second.

Nikita didn’t have that kind of speed. The keys slid under his fingers, skipping typos.

“I am twenty-two years old. What’s your age?”

There was a long silence. What if she is a minor? The tardy answer was a little shocking.

“I am of angelic age.”

“You mean underage?”

“I mean more ancient than the whole earth.”

Sounds like a joke! Athenais must be a couple of years older than him. That’s why she’s joking. Girls take it painfully when they’re even six months older than the guy they like. And why is it that all girls necessarily want someone who’s older? Large age is no guarantee that a man has achieved something in life.

“You look about seventeen,” Nikita typed out a reply that sounded more like a remark. “Is this photo from last year?”

“Yes, but if you took it now, it would come out the same. I don’t change with time. But the landscape around me keeps getting darker. I don’t want to add a picture of the ruins to the chat room.”

“Where do you live?”

There is a long silence in response.

“Are you on a tour of some ruined manor house right now?” Nikita remembered his experience of school excursions to noblemen’s estates and nature reserves. Sometimes they had to spend the night practically in a barracks not far from historical sites, but teachers encouraged such trips. For the sake of broadening one’s horizons one should do anything!

“More like in the pyramids.”

“So you’re in Egypt?”

“It is not exactly.”

“Then where?”

“It’s a mystery.”

“Why is it a mystery?”

There was silence again. No one typed an answer. Nikita’s mouse cursor twitched. He wanted to talk to Athenais again. Why was she frozen? Combine chatting with other guys? With her looks, she sure had a lot of admirers.

“There are no secrets in chat rooms,” Nikita diplomatically remarked, “otherwise no one would be interested in communicating with you.”

Now the silence was awfully long. The electronic clock measured five minutes, and there was no reply from Athenais. Had he scared her off?

“Are you still there?”

“I have to go see a movie,” Athenais typed. “The session is about to start.”

Did she really mean the movie theater session? So it’s daytime where she lives. How far was she from Moscow? Nikita’s heart sank. He had hoped to arrange a date, bring a red rose, go to a cafe for a cup of tea, and take a long look at Atenais across the table. Was she as beautiful as she looked in the angel photo? There seemed to be a sort of black feathery wings flickering behind her back in the tiny photo. It looks like photoshop. But He want so badly to believe that a real fairy or angel is talking to him. This is a fairy tale! Turn on the Internet, and there, on the network, lives a real elf with a golden-blond head, azure eyes, and a divine face. Except that the decorations on Athenais were more museum than fairy-tale. Indeed, it reeked of the culture of ancient Egypt.

“Are you going to the cinema? Are you going alone or with company?” Nikita hoped that the companion had not yet passed out.

“With the company,” she honestly replied.

“What kind of movie is it?”

“It is a movie about a demon.”

“It is a horror movie! And you don’t even know the title?”

“It might change over time.”

“How’s it?”

Silence again.

“Is the show in the evening or at night?” Nikita guessed to ask.

“It is at night.”

So Athenais doesn’t live far away. The clock above the computer table reads exactly three in the morning. At three o’clock at night the movies don’t go on, but at twelve o’clock they can still go on. Athenais probably lives a couple of towns away from Moscow. Then she can be reached in one night by train.

“Where do you live?” Nikita asked again, but Athenais had already passed out. He managed to add her as a friend. Would she still be chatting tomorrow?

It was long past his bedtime. He had class at the university in the morning. He would oversleep again and not be able to attend any lectures or seminars. It was all because of the chat room.”

Athenais had sent some kind of link. Thanks to her sociability, the beautiful photo was able to expand to full screen. Indeed an image of her shoulder-length was mounted with black angel wings. The wings and forearms sparkled with gold chains threaded through the feathers. Such jewelry conjured up thoughts of genies from Oriental fairy tales. What an image Athenais had! It was as if she were preparing to play the part of a demon herself.

“Shall we have a chat?” Someone called Nikita back into the chat room. Probably it was one of those ugly girls who texted him yesterday. Is it Lada or Dasha? And he was waiting for Athenais. Her name must have been made up. Probably her parents had named her after some book character. For example, Nikita’s pockmarked neighbor, a romantically inclined mother had named her Angelica, having read French novels. The intricate name Angelica did not fit in with the simple surname Ivanova at all.

What was Athenais’ last name? What is the girl’s profession? Or is she a student? Certainly she is not a lady of the night, as she did not offer to meet, and did not talk about payment. After a couple of months of chatting on dating sites, Nikita had gotten used to ignoring prostitutes, who sat online as a whole artel. They had pretty pictures, too, but always with bright makeup. Athenais in the photo looked like she had no makeup on at all, aside from the golden lashes. Do lashes and hair have a golden hue in nature? Nikita had only met platinum and natural blondes in his life, but never golden-haired ones.

“Athenais!” He typed her name involuntarily and seemed to fly into someone else’s chat room.

“Chat better with me now,” someone unfamiliar answered. The picture of the head under the red hood could have been either male or female.

Nikita instinctively answered the video call and got impaled. Someone disfigured flashed on the screen. A face with black skin looked burnt. The chains inserted in his nose and lips looked like chains, not jewelry.

Nikita tried to close the video window, but the key on the mouse wouldn’t work. And the demonic face was making faces and breathing ash.

“There was a huge fire,” was a mechanical voice from the chat. “We’re all burned, but you’re not. Unfair!”

Nikita tried to turn off the computer itself and burned his fingers, as if he had touched a bare wire. He did not understand what he could burn himself on a desk that did not even have a lighter. The computer froze and then shut itself down. This had never happened before. The screen with the disgusted face went out instantly. The desk lamp went out, too. The power must have gone out. It happens very often. His father used to get indignant and loud in such situations. Why, he said, does he pay the electric bills when there are regular outages? Fortunately, Nikita lived alone now. Unlike his father, he understood that it was useless to complain. The electricity would turn on by itself after a certain period of time, and consumers’ complaints would simply be ignored.

Sitting in the dark became eerie. Someone’s claws were scraping against the parquet. All the rats and mice in the apartment building had long since been eliminated, but it felt as if animal claws were scratching the cabinets, the table, and even the concrete walls. Could it be the claws of an angel?

It felt like Athenais was near, and her nails were scratching some kind of hieroglyph on his heart. Her fingernails were tearing at his flesh to expose his ribcage and reach his heart. And someone monstrous in a red hood silently watches.


Nikita woke up with the idea of buying a red rose on a long stem, tying it with a purple bow, and presenting it to Athenais.

He wiped his eyes dry and remembered that he hadn’t been able to arrange a date yesterday. But he’d slept through class. Six classes had gone by without him. He was a truant. And who wouldn’t be a truant after sitting up half the night in a chat room?

You either have to study or you have to socialize. It’s not possible to do both. How often his mother used to say that boys who study poorly are bound to go to the army. And the army would be worse than prison.

His mother’s threats were more frightening than all the demons of hell, so Nikita paid no attention to the ugly scratches on the walls and furniture.

It was too late to go to the university. It was five to four on the clock. He wouldn’t even be able to make it to the last lecture, because it takes at least an hour and a half to get there by transport. He has to wait for the trolleybus first. Then he took the subway. He lives on the very outskirts of Moscow. It’s a long way from here to the center. It would be good to switch to online learning, and sometimes it seems that the journey to the libraries and classrooms takes much longer than the classes themselves.

It’s a good thing his mother was on a business trip. Otherwise he would have been in trouble. Mom loved to make a fuss and throw tantrums that made Nikita’s and the neighbors’ ears hurt. In apartment buildings, you can hear perfectly well what they do next door. Here, to keep your secrets, you should talk very quietly or not talk at all, and communicate in a chat room. No one will eavesdrop on chat.

But abusing chat can get him expelled from the university.

Nikita put the kettle on the stove to make tea and started looking for something to make sandwiches with. There were no scratches on the kitchen walls. They remained only in the room where the computer stood, as if a werewolf with claws of steel had prowled there during the night. An ordinary animal would not have been able to scratch through the concrete walls.

As the kettle heated, Nikita studied the scratches. It was as if they were folded into hieroglyphs.

The scratches were blackened around the edges, as if they had been burned.

Nikita looked away from the scratched lines. A threatening phrase came to mind:

“We’re all burned! There was a huge fire!”

It felt as if it was not an ordinary fire that had burned down some building, but a fire that had engulfed the entire planet.

The kettle was boiling. If it hadn’t come with a whistle, Nikita wouldn’t have even noticed. As he reacted to the whistle, there was almost no water left in the kettle. Nikita managed to burn his fingers. You have to be more careful when you turn on the stove, or you’ll end up with a big fire at home, too.

Before leaving for a business trip, his mother filled the refrigerator with food that she personally thought would be good for him. On the shelves were pickled jars of sauerkraut, dairy products, kefir, sour cream. Stacks of canned fish and canned stew were lined up in the kitchen cabinet. Nikita did not consider all this to be edible food. He would like pancakes or hot pelmeni now. He could find packs of dumplings in the freezer, but he would not dare cook them himself. It was his job to fix the computer or fix the furniture, but he had no culinary skills. There was a quarter of a loaf of rye bread in the breadbox, and on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator there was melted cheese. He could make a sandwich.

Nikita casually glanced at the calendar on the wall. The flip pages were torn, as if by claws. The date of his birthday had been torn off. He had lied to Athenais, writing that he had already turned twenty-two. In fact, he hadn’t turned nineteen until this September. But admitting to girls that you are too young is not a good idea. Pretty girls are more willing to meet those who are older.

There are scratches on the wallpaper in the room, too. What the hell! His mother would swear when she arrived, thinking he’d done something naughty.

It quickly became dark outside the windows. Night Moscow lit up with bright evening lights and neon signs. Nikita sat down at the computer. Athenais wasn’t in the chat room yet. But the link she had sent was gone. Nikita decided to follow the link. Maybe Athenais had her own personal website or blog. He was in for a surprise. The link was to a movie.

Could it be her favorite movie? Is it a good sign that she sent the link? If a girl wants to show you her favorite movie, it means she likes you!

Nikita racked his brains and got excited, as it turned out prematurely. The movie turned out to be creepy. It was a horror against a historical backdrop. The plot included kings, wars, extraterrestrial epidemics and a beautiful golden-blond angel, who actually turned out to be a demon. The angel was played by Athénaïs.


Athenais didn’t show up in the chat room until after twelve. Nikita’s head was already spinning from the abundance of impressions. Images of the scary movie were swirling around in his head like a black vortex. The horror movie was addictive and shocking. It was about the magic brought to earth by fallen angels and the leader of the fallen angels who ruled the world through the kings enchanted by him. Athenais had a fateful role.

“What did you think of the movie?” A chatty acquaintance began without greeting.

Should he honestly admit to her that the movie shocked him or come up with a more flattering review?

“Scary! Is this the movie you rushed to see yesterday?”

“No, it’s not. There are a lot of movies in that genre.”

“Is it in the horror genre?”

“It is in the angelic war genre.”

“I haven’t heard of that genre.”

“It’s better to see than to hear.”

The conversation was looking more and more like a game of charades. How agonizing is it to sit at your computer and not know who is communicating with you on the other side of the screen? Yes, there is a dazzling photo, but who is hiding behind it? Is a girl who has made a career in film, ready to communicate with an ordinary Moscow boy. He is penniless. It’s more like a practical joke.

“You don’t think I’m me, do you?” Athenais guessed his fears.

“Answer the video call, and I won’t doubt you.”

“It will be tomorrow.”

“Why it will be not tonight?”

“I’m in too dark a place today.”

“What’s going to change tomorrow?”

“There’s going to be a reshuffle. There will be a feast.”

“You mean a feast?”

“It is a sort of.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Have you ever attended a feast without a table? It is in the manner of eastern traditions or ancient Roman ones?”

The Romans ate on their beds, but in the East it was customary to sit on the floor among the cushions, but there had to be a table. Nikita could not understand his companion’s games.

“Are you talking about some scenery for a movie about the Ancient East, or about Ancient Rome, or even about the Stone Age?”

There was a pause.

“What is your profession?” Nikita said. “Are you an actress?”

“I am a former movie star.”

“What do you mean?” Nikita even got scared. Ambitious movie stars never call themselves exes, and she so easily admits that her career is behind her. She was probably badly injured on the set. If she was crippled or burned, that would explain why she won’t go on video chat.

The pretty picture remains, but the pretty face is gone. He is communicating with an illusion.

“Ex means dead,” Athenais dumbfounded him with the answer.

“What do you mean, dead?” She couldn’t be talking to him as a ghost, could she?

“Everyone thinks I’m dead,” Athenais confirmed. “You can read about it in the press.”

Nikita was stunned. This has got to be a practical joke! She’s either trying to scare him to death or she’s deliberately playing him for a fool.

“Are you dead?” He dared to ask her directly.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. I’m talking to the computer, not you. Let’s meet and I’ll decide.”

“Dating is risky.”

“Why is it risky?”

Nikita had to take his mind off the conversation for a moment. Ex-girlfriends were calling him through a dating site. He had to reject several video calls. Only then did he manage to get back to chatting with Athenais.

“They say movie stars aren’t as beautiful in person as they are in pictures,” Nikita quipped. This is a proven way to get a girl on a date. She has to show up in person and prove that she’s as beautiful as in the picture.

“Well, I’m not in life now, I’m in the realm of death,” Athenais instantly retorted. “Beauty is frozen here, like in the pyramids of the pharaohs.”

“Is there a working computer in the realm of death?” Highly doubtful!

Athenais didn’t answer for a long time. Either she was communicating with other site users, or the insolent question offended her.

“I’m a dead movie star,” she typed again. Perhaps the answer had a metaphorical meaning: ex means dead. Not literally dead! Dead people don’t sit in chat rooms.

After that, she passed out. It was already four in the morning. Nikita had sat with her in the chat room for too long. Now he would sleep through class again. How was it that Athenais was taking up more of his time than even computer games? Talking to her was addictive.

Messages from Lada, Dasha, Dusya, Valya, and Mania went ignored. Nikita also received dozens of messages at once from the “red hood,” as he had already called the scary stranger to himself. His name was Aneh. That, at any rate, was how the nickname was printed. Naturally, the name might have been made up.

Aneh was creepy-looking, and he didn’t want to talk to him at all. He was probably one of Athenais’ acquaintances. Why else would he suddenly be interested in Nikita? His last message confirmed that:

“How do you like communicating with a dead star?”

Nikita ignored Aneh’s questions and deleted all correspondence with him. However, it resurfaced again. A few more attempts to delete it did nothing either. Okay, let it stay, Nikita gave up after the tenth attempt. The main thing is not to start multiplying, like a Trojan virus.

Apparently, he accidentally clicked again and answered the video-call, because on the screen again flashed a video with a black man in a red hood. On closer inspection, though, Aneh is not a Negro. It was like he was all burned up. Gold earring rings were threaded through his large nostrils. From the earrings stretched chains. For some reason they resembled fetters.

Did Aneh want to communicate or scare the hell out of Nikita?

“Sorry, but I prefer to communicate with girls,” Nikita waved him off and left the site.

The computer screen began to crack, as if someone had punched it from the inside. Something burst from behind Nikita. Splinters flew off. The plafond of a lamp shattered. The room went dark. And something rustled in the corners, like rats crawling around.

Press clippings

All night long someone’s claws had been scraping against the couch. Nikita was used to hearing his neighbors arguing through the ceiling at night, but he was not accustomed to animal wrangling. He even checked a couple of times to see if there were any mice in the apartment. Nothing seemed to be chewed off, so it was too early to put mousetraps in.

The lamp shade did break during the night. The shards of the lamp were lying all over the room. It took a lot of effort to collect them. Now he would have to wear slippers to prevent any small splinter from sticking in his foot. Nikita was used to walking barefoot at home. Finding homemade slippers turned out to be an impossible task. His mother told him to vacuum the carpets once a week, but the vacuum cleaner was broken. One week alone has passed. At the end of the month his mother would come back and probably make a big fuss. The house had not been cleaned, everything was dusty, the walls were scratched, the new wallpaper was irreparably ruined, and the lamp plafond was broken as well. What on earth was her son doing?

Answer his mother honestly, and she would raise her son with laughter. He sat in a chat room and made contact with a dead movie star. He could be called a modern day medium. He knows how to summon the souls of dead celebrities over the Internet. Or is the pretty girl just messing with him? Let’s say she really is a celebrity who decided to trick ordinary guys. Why does a monster in red appear in a chat room at the same time as her?

There was no way to call Aneh anything other than a monster. After a short video of him, there should have been cracks on the computer screen, but there weren’t any. They couldn’t have disappeared overnight, could they? A computer isn’t a living thing; injuries don’t heal on it like they do on human skin.

Nikita ran his fingers over the smooth screen. At night he dreamed that the cracks on the computer were bleeding.

He must have thought the computer had crashed yesterday. Good thing it was working properly. The power supply and monitor came on quickly. There were no alarm warnings from the system or demands to reboot.

Nikita got on the Internet urgently. He was interested in the press. The sites of Metro, Vechernaya Moskva, and Zvezdny Boulevard flashed before his eyes. There was only yesterday’s and today’s news. Not a word about Athenais. Probably have to look at last year’s articles.

It’s a good thing he thought of it. Yes, indeed, there was such a star. He read excerpts about her in last year’s press. She had once outshone all the stars. In addition to the glamour publications, serious magazines had written about her. A year ago the star was killed in a terrorist attack. The attack took place at the Blue Lotus Cinema, where the night premiere with Athenais film was taking place. No details of the terrorist attack were available.

Nikita leafed through the Internet versions of newspapers and magazines, copying the articles he was looking for. Dozens of copied pages had accumulated in a separate folder on his computer. Nikita clicked the mouse and typed the name of the folder “Press clippings. Now he had a memo about the movie star and her demise. Athenais was not a dream or a myth. She lived. She was in the movies. She died. It’s all registered in the press. The movie star existed in reality, but now she’s dead.

So who’s chatting with him on her behalf?

Nikita should have chickened out and disconnected from chatting with a con artist or a ghost. However, he was not the cowardly type.

As soon as night fell, he logged onto the dating site and waited. Athenais was gone for a long time. From nothing to do, Nikita exchanged a few minor phrases with Dusya and Valya. He was no longer attracted to mere girls. The beautiful ghost turned out to be more attractive.

Nikita glanced from time to time at the winged photo of Athenais. She didn’t show up online until after one o’clock in the morning, and she didn’t even dignify him with a greeting. He worked up the courage and addressed her first:

“Good afternoon, are you in the middle of the night?”

The keys slid under his fingers and his fingertips were sweaty. Nikita was nervous. The beautiful photo came to life for a moment, as if it had flapped its wing.

“How are you?” Athenais asked.

Did she wonder if she was wondering how he was doing? Nikita answered sarcastically.

“I am still alive.”

“Everyone is temporarily alive.”

Is that a threat? He doesn’t think so, because she’s not exaggerating. All people are born just to live life and die. It’s a philosophy. Many people like to think that somewhere ahead there is death. Nikita had seen a picture somewhere in which death with a scythe was already standing over a baby’s grave. He couldn’t even remember which museum it was in. He’d rather talk about what’s important.

“So, are you really a movie star?”

Silence in response.

She’s dead and alive at the same time. This isn’t a prank.

“Did you somehow survive that terrorist attack?”

“It wasn’t a terrorist attack.”

“Then what was?”

There’s a long silence. He thought the text wouldn’t come through.

“It was a duel.”

“Was it a duel?”

“It was a duel with a man who was in love with a demon.”

It sounds like nonsense.

That’s how people get sucked into the whirlpool of vicious habits. He wished he could tear himself away, but he couldn’t. Athenais, or whoever was on the other side of the chat room, had completely mesmerized him. Whoever was writing on her behalf did so skillfully, as if setting a net on a simpleton. Nikita was caught in that net, and Athenais’ photo completed the job. It was so beautiful that you couldn’t take your eyes off of it. Even communicating with her photo was a pleasure. What would have happened to him if she’d been there?

“I am,” the phrase came out suddenly, like an answer to his thoughts.

“Where are you? Are you in an abandoned movie theater at the end of the world?”

“I am in your room.”

The lights suddenly went out. The computer continued to run on an uninterrupted power supply that would last for fifteen minutes, no more. Time to end the dialogue, but there was something in the room. Something hissed and crawled toward the desk. Someone’s claws scratched at his leg.

The pain was sharp, like a cut with a razor blade. In the darkness he couldn’t even see who had attacked him. Good thing the smartphone was handy. Nikita hurriedly switched on the smartphone’s flashlight. The thing crawled away with a squeal and hid behind the couch. It didn’t look like a cat or a dog, but its claws were the size of razor blades.

Nikita put his fingers to his aching foot. Immediately his fingers bled.

“What the hell!” The boy said.

Who could ever get into a locked apartment? If the balcony hadn’t been glazed, he might have thought some nimble black monkey had got in through it. But are there such things as clawed monkeys?

From the computer screen a buzzer buzzed. Could it be a video chat? Athenais was calling him? She herself! Nikita, without thinking, answered. Now she could see him and he could see her. A winged girl flashed through the unfolding window. Just like in the picture! Just like in the movie!

And what if this is a frame from the movie?

No, it wasn’t. Athenais stared at him point-blank. Behind her, he could see the wall, littered with hieroglyphics. Maybe it was some kind of fancy wallpaper, obviously custom-made.

Nikita shuddered when he noticed the razor blade in Athenais’ hand, dipped in blood. She held it close to the screen and smiled for some reason.

And then the continuous power source hummed nervously. The power supply was running low and the computer went down.

Angel in the chat room

One razor did disappear from the bathroom cabinet. It was the sharpest. It wasn’t found on the floor. But there were deep scratches on the tiles, like some kind of animal had been in here. This animal was definitely not hiding in the apartment. Nikita searched the place. There were scratches everywhere, but no animals.

But the atmosphere in the apartment became ominous, as if a horror movie was about to start on the screen of a long-broken TV set in the living room.

For the first time in his life, Nikita felt as if he were living not in an apartment, but in a funeral home. Loneliness probably had a bad effect on him. He needed to go to class regularly, not just sit inside the four walls. The emptiness of home was beginning to frighten him. Clawed monsters seemed to lurk even on the coat racks in the hallway.

Before, when his parents came home from work in the evenings, he didn’t feel isolated. Plates clattered in the kitchen, his mother’s phone was ringing off the hook. Chatting with girlfriends and going to the theater were her favorite pastimes. Then my parents divorced. My father left me for a younger woman, and my mother became nervous and hysterical, but she remained an incorrigible theatergoer. While she was at home, the phone was bursting with calls from her girlfriends, with whom she discussed dress rehearsals and rehearsals before the premieres. No one was calling now. Everyone knew his mother was on a business trip. The phone bill for the month could be considered paid for nothing. Probably his mother forgot to pay it. Nikita himself never used the old-fashioned phone in his mother’s room. A cell phone was enough for him, but a vintage phone with a roll of numbers instead of buttons was worthy of a museum display case. A stray thought flashed through his mind that Athenaïs would have liked it. It wasn’t hard to imagine her putting the old-fashioned curved handset to her ear, pulling the golden curl away from her lobe to hear better.

As the monster’s black claws stretched from the telephone receiver, caressing her ear…

Stop! That’s not his thought anymore! This is a frame from some horror movie. Nikita suddenly regretted his childhood fascination with horror movies. Athenais was provoking him to return to his former fascination with horror.

He was looking to meet a nice girl, and he found a sinister hobby. Now you can chat about horror for a long time. He really wanted to meet her. What a miracle it would be if she were there, if he could touch her, give her signs of attention, invite her to tea. In the modest surroundings of the city apartment, the beautiful Athenais would have looked like a fairy from a fairy tale.

It was chilly outside now. It was already cold in Moscow in the fall. You couldn’t go outside without a warm jacket. Nikita tried to imagine what Athenais would look like in a half-coat or quilted jacket. For some reason Athenais’ image did not fit with his thoughts of casual clothing. It was hard to imagine her without wings, a top that exposed her shoulders, and massive Egyptian jewelry.

Athenais had the role of an angel. There was nothing to be done about it. Nikita spent a long time surfing the Internet looking for pictures of Athenais in plain clothes. Everywhere there were only pictures of her in the role of an angel. Most likely, they were not even pictures, but pictures from the movie.

Athenais only played angels and only the fallen. It wasn’t hard to click the link again and review the movie with her in it. Nikita acted like an investigator — adding up the details of the mosaic. That’s how his life became a detective. If you watch the movie several times, you start to understand more of the meaning behind it.

Athenais played the most beautiful angel in heaven, who once, at the dawn of time, rebelled against God. The angel’s name was Dennitsa, which meant dawn.

It seems that in Slavic mythology there was also a goddess of the morning dawn with the same name — Dennitsa. He had studied mythology, just as he had studied history. Now that knowledge of history would come in handy for him now. After all, from the fires of the Battle of Heaven, the action took him to the deserts of Egypt, and then to the palaces of the pharaohs. Athenais became a personal angel under the Egyptian kings. At all the ceremonies she was present near their thrones and whispered her advice to them.

It seems that the advice of an angel is goodness. The pharaohs were lucky. Nevertheless, Athenais’ advice awakened evil. All sorts of horrible things began to happen around them. The dead rose from their graves, monsters went to war with people, crops rotted in the fields, poisonous black rye grew on the cold fields of battle and gave birth to evil spirits. The terrible epidemics began. The Pharaohs’ power grew stronger thanks to Athénaïs, but it cost the people their blood.

Athenais, in the footage, drank the blood of the condemned, like a vampire. She didn’t need blood to survive, unlike vampires. He guessed drinking blood from precious goblets is purely symbolic and means victory over her enemies.

By the way, Athenais had an unusual name in the movies, consonant with her own acting pseudonym. For some reason she was not called Dennitsa, as she was supposed to be, but the goddess Alais.

Nikita had to rewind the film to the beginning to understand where the second name came from. It turns out that Alais had given it to herself. Under her first name, Dennitsa, she had lost the war in heaven, so the name was considered tainted.

“The name you lost by once will bring you further defeat,” whispered one of her supporters. “Change it! You can only win with a new name. The name is your banner.”

The main character heeded this advice and wrote the letters of the first names of her fallen standard-bearers in the sand. It was a new name — Alais. It had to become a magical talisman, because the power of the dead heroes lay in it.

Somehow, after the fall, Alais herself remained beautiful, but her armies became burnt monsters. Instead of tearing her apart for leading them to defeat, they continued to serve her. Indeed, Alais is a goddess, since she knew how to keep them all in subjection.

Nikita paused on the film. He thought he heard someone call his name.

“Nikita Goncharov!”

That was how his professors usually shouted at him at lectures if they noticed he was looking sleepy. But now they were not around. Who could call him? He was probably just imagining things.

Perhaps his conscience should have been awakened in him. After all, he was skipping lectures and seminars again. He should be commended this time. He is self-educating.

Nikita goes back to watching the movie. The play icon suddenly froze. The movie switched from moment to moment on its own.

The desert, where legions of monsters dwelt among the golden sands, had disappeared. Alais negotiated something with the first pharaoh of Egypt. It seems that both he and all his descendants were obliged to obey her for helping him win some battle.

“You are helping him in vain,” whispered one of the monstrous legionnaires to Alais. “Men should be exterminated. They are no longer useful on earth. It should be just us. Men will never appreciate us.”

So what are they all? They were a race of fallen angels? Nikita watched and couldn’t get into the plot. Yes, the horror special effects in the film were amazing, but what was the point?

How hard for a two-year old to grasp the wisdom of cinema! He used to just watch movies, not really thinking about the content. Well, flashing around on the screen, and let it go. The pleasure of watching is purely visual. Now he was interested in the meaning embedded in the frames. It was as if Athenais was trying to tell him something through this film. It was not for nothing that she had left a link to a free file for him to watch. Surely you can’t watch such a gorgeous movie on pay sites in a standard subscription. A gorgeous spectacle always comes at a price.

Or did Athénaïs just want to show off? Like, she’s a star and he’s just a guy and should respect her.

Nikita’s father had lost all respect for his mother when he accepted the fact that his wife would never cook or do housework. Instead of cooking lunches and dinners, his mother bought tickets to the theaters and spent all her free time attending operas, operettas, and ballets. Eventually the marriage broke down. Many men are only able to respect women who are good cooks. Only a few are able to get along with female bohemians.

Perhaps Nikita did not go to his father, because he admired Athenais career. She played the angel beautifully. Who would have thought of the soulless winged creatures from the frescoes that they can behave with such regal dignity and they give advice to rulers. Athenais made the fallen angel look like a hero. The image of Dennitsa, deeply worried about his defeated army, captured the heart.

That’s what’s wrong with this movie! All sympathy is on the side of the devil. It is he who is the hero.

“And who told you what was really wrong?”

Nikita turned around in a whisper. There’s no one in the room. Why would anyone be here? Even if his mother returned unexpectedly from a business trip early, he locked the door with a bolt. No one would come in without calling. No uninvited guests to worry about. But for some reason it feels like uninvited guests are already here. He probably couldn’t even call them uninvited, because it was as if he himself was calling them, surfing the Internet.

Nikita has a strong feeling that he is looking for something or someone on the Internet. He just doesn’t know who yet…

Or does he know? He quickly ran the name of the goddess Alais through a Google search engine. The Internet didn’t respond immediately. He had to sweat, twisting the query and searching the sites. The inscriptions remained in some places, but the descriptions were removed. There were no pictures of the statues or images of the goddesses, either. Instead, as if they were icons, beautiful, ominous photos of Athenais as an angel peeked through the sites. The actress was very closely associated with the goddess. As if the goddess existed only on the screen. But was she in history?

After an hour of scrolling through websites, Nikita drew a disappointing conclusion.

Alais is the goddess of Ancient Egypt, who did not exist or who, for whatever reason, they chose to forget about. The second is more likely. If the deity is too evil, it is best forgotten. But how beautiful it is!

Nikita could hardly tear his gaze away from another photo of Athenais, which looked like a golden engraving.

If all angels were as beautiful as she was, he wouldn’t leave theirs temples. It was a pleasure to look at the picture of Athenais.

Suddenly a key clicked under his finger. Nikita did not realize what he had pressed. The Internet reacted instantly, opening an unsolicited window, in which all kinds of horror flashed: torture studios, mutation of people and destruction of temples. Nikita’s eyes began to glaze over. What did all this have to do with Athenais? He was only looking for information about a goddess or a movie star. The creepy information was somehow connected specifically to the star.

Sects, madness, terrorist attacks, mass psychosis, suicides, psychiatric syndrome in movies. Is this really all about her? He must have the wrong website. Those newspapers and magazines he’d recently browsed online didn’t have it all. So where did it come from now? Maybe he was seeing double?

Or maybe it’s all just a clever promotion for the movies? Like: don’t go to a horror movie, it’s so scary it will drive you crazy. After reading such a warning, the audience will come running like a house on fire. It’s all cleverly planned. All you have to do is applaud.

It was getting dark outside the windows. A track of lanterns lit up on the highway, reminiscent of the Milky Way. The car headlights glittered like stars below.

The panorama from Nikita’s window was miserable. There had once been a square below the windows, but it had been gutted to create a playground and parking lot. The rosebushes had been ripped out to make room for the basketball court, which was always empty. Only the highway behind it was lit with electric lights in the evenings.

Evening Moscow glittered with neon signs and lanterns as if they were stars. At night, they made the simplest of neighborhoods seem appealing. Athenais, too, appeared only as darkness fell. Chat came alive as if a night star had flashed.


She started again with a familiar word. Nikita clicked the keys irritably, issuing an accusatory tirade:

“You’re like a vampire, you sleep in a coffin during the day, and you wake up only at night? Only you feed on energy, not blood. You’re an energy vampire who catches gullible guys in a chat room and drives them crazy.”

The wound on his leg suddenly ached. It was absurd to claim that the creature in the chat room was feeding off his energy and not his blood. The razor was missing somewhere, after all, and a lot of blood had gushed out of the wound. Instead of being absorbed into the carpet, the blood disappeared, too. Or was he just imagining it all?

“Are you so angry that I don’t talk to you during the day?” Athenais had accurately noted the reason for his anger. Apparently, she’d already fooled a lot of guys.

“I’m angry that I can’t meet you,” Nikita admitted honestly.

“Maybe it’s for the best.”

“Why it is not? Are you really a vampire?”

“Not a vampire. And even in the movies I did not play vampires.”

“Then what are you? Are you an actress?

“I wouldn’t call myself an actress.”

“But you are a movie star, aren’t you? Or are you not?”

“A movie star, yes! But I am not an actress.”

“It’s a strange combination. How could it be?”

“I wasn’t acting,” Athenais explained.

Did she really think she was a real angel? If you look at her picture, you wouldn’t call her crazy. With her looks, you could consider yourself a goddess. Probably every perfect actress gets so caught up in the role of her characters that she stops to think of it as acting. Let her imagine what she wants.

For Nikita, the most important thing was that Athenais was not a vampire, and therefore would not jump on him to drink blood. He was probably a dreamer, because he still hadn’t given up hope of a date with Athenais.

“Are you Russian or a foreigner?” it occurred to him to ask. On the one hand the question was naive. Athenais knows Russian very well. On the other hand she is marked on Wikipedia as a foreign movie star. It’s possible, of course, that Russians have become accustomed to foreign cinema. And that happens. After all, art is international. Wherever a creative person finds work, that’s where she works. Foreigners were often invited to work in Russian cinema, too.

“And what nationality are the angels?” Athenais, as usual, answered a little arrogantly.

“Don’t fool my head with angels again. You’re alive, you’re real.”

“All angels are alive and real.”

“Do you count the myths alone?”

“You don’t believe in angels?”

“I believe in you, because I see you. By the way, how do I get you to video chat again? Are you in the mood to show yourself to me again? And what did you use the razor for? Don’t tell me the razor is a prop to make a movie.”

“Sometimes a razor is enough to commit suicide,” Athenais replied cryptically.

“You’re not going to kill yourself, are you?”

“No, but others have done it.”

“Who are the others?”

There was a brief silence. Then the chat window was filled with dots. It meant that Athenais was typing a reply.

“Did you know that angels are creepy, cold-blooded, emotionless creatures?”

Communicating with Athenais began to resemble puzzles and riddles. Nikita felt like he was doing a crossword puzzle, not typing the answer.

“You’re an angel yourself.”

“It doesn’t matter?”

“You blacken your own kind.”

“There are exceptions everywhere.”

She’s got a point. Nikita also believed that no one should be labeled or tagged. The quality of people is not determined by gender, age, or nationality. In any category there are both bad and good people. Can the same criteria be applied to the angelic race?

“I was fascinated by your movie about Lucifer’s rebellion,” Nikita confessed.

Athenais must have thought he was flattering her on purpose.

“It wasn’t the movie that impressed you,” she protested. “You were impressed by Lucifer’s beautiful face.”

That’s true! It wouldn’t have looked as good as it did without Athenaïs beauty. But she was perfect for the type. After all, Lucifer (his Old Russian name was Dennitsa) was revered as the most beautiful angel in heaven. It was his beauty that became the apple of discord. The angel became proud and decided that he had to have the world by himself. After all, his beauty was the brightest thing in the world. Because of it, the angel had to lead.

According to the Bible, Lucifer lost his beauty after he fell. But in the movie, the angel remained beautiful. The screenwriter rewrote the Bible quite successfully.

Nikita never would have thought that movies based on the Bible could impress him so much. He thought the Bible was very boring, and suddenly it became vivid. All thanks to the Lucifer episode that was brought to the forefront. The whole history of the world, judging from the movie, revolved around Lucifer’s fall into the sands of Egypt.

In Nikita’s memory, a phrase he had heard somewhere long ago resurfaced:

“How thou hast fallen from heaven, Denitsa, son of the dawn, to become king of the earth…”

Where had he heard it? Something here seems to have been paraphrased, as in the movie. The history of the world has been rewritten in favor of the fallen angel.

Who came up with this? You have to read the credits.

“How does it feel to be a star? Are you very proud of yourself? Do you feel on top of Mount Olympus? Are you looking down on ordinary guys like me?”

“That’s not what you wanted to ask.”

“How do you know?”

“You’ve got other things on your mind.”

“Like what?”

Does she really think she can read minds? That’s too much.

Suddenly Athenais typed out the questions that had really been plaguing Nikita ever since he’d logged on to the website with notes about how crowds of fans had gone berserk after a visit to a movie, staged massacres and acts of vandalism, killed and burned temples, made sacrifices. That’s what he wanted to ask about.

Athenais caught the trend and repeated his own questions:

“What was really going on in the temples? Why had Lucifer rebelled? What made the most beautiful angel of heaven became the devil?”

“I can answer,” Athenais typed at the end of a very long list of shocking questions. “Only you won’t like the answers.”

“Why is it not?”

“You’re human.”

Nikita felt a slight shock. Was the word human a sort of insult? Like, you’re not of the angelic kind. You don’t understand me.

“So what if I am only human?” He got angry.

“There’s a lot that people don’t understand.”

“So tell me! What was going on in the temples your fans destroyed? Why did Lucifer rebel? And, after all, what exorbitant ambition drives movie stars to trade their bodies to get to the top of show business Olympus through the beds of their directors and producers?”

The last question was an insult. The chat broke off instantly. Nikita waited for a complaint to be made to a moderator and to be temporarily blocked. Nervous girls complained even about a compliment if it came from a different user than the one they wanted to chat with. Athenais didn’t complain. She did the meaner thing — she cut off communication with him for the rest of the night. That turned out to be the worst punishment. Nikita had become accustomed to communicating with her as a kind of drug.

Athenais would appear after midnight, like a fairy tale genie released from a bottle, and entertain him with tales half the night like Scheherazade. But now the chat room was empty and boring. The annoying girls that Nikita used to chat with from nothing to do had long since forgotten about him. Too carried away by the movie star, he lost all his girlfriends.

All that was left was to be amused by movies starring Athenais. Nikita clicked the link again. The familiar video file popped up on the credits. Nikita was taken aback when he noticed that both the director and the screenwriter of the film were Athenais herself. He seemed to have insulted her for nothing.

In the Horror Genre

Athenais had to wait an unbearably long time, but eventually she returned to chatting.

“Are you bored without me too?” Nikita teased her.

“I’m not bored at all. I’m in a really depressing place.”

“Are you making another movie there?”

“Movies aren’t the most important thing in my life right now, so I started going out to chat.”

“Are you looking for friends or one friend?”

“I’ve already found one so far.”

Nikita felt involuntary joy. Responses from Athenais were coming very quickly. That meant she was really communicating with him alone. If she had been distracted by someone else, the answers would have come very slowly.

“I’m looking for a girl, not just a girlfriend to chat with.”

“I know.”

“So what do you say? Do I even get one date?”

“We’ll see in time.”

Athenais’ answer wasn’t particularly encouraging, but it’s a good start. She doesn’t say no right away.

“Are you available?”

“It is not really.”

“You mean you’re married? Or engaged? Or have a boyfriend…”

“That’s what you mean.”

“What were you thinking?” Nikita couldn’t understand her. When a woman is asked if she is available, it means that they want to ask her to marry her. The words “free” or “not free” are synonymous with married — not married. Slaves and serfdom do not exist now. In what other sense could Athenais have understood the word “free”? Her mentality can’t really be shaped from the era of the pharaohs, when slavery was in vogue.

“There’s one place I can’t leave yet,” Athenais typed. “It makes me feel not completely free.”

“So do you have some kind of contract?”

A star can only be kept in a particular shooting location by some kind of contract that can’t be terminated without paying a hefty penalty.

“Did your friends help you to make a career in film? Or do you really edit films with your own hands?”

“I prefer to do everything myself.”

“And you do everything yourself?”

“I am guided by the principle: if you want to do something well, do it yourself.”

The phrase flashed through his mind again: “how you fell from heaven, Dennitsa, son of the dawn, to become the king of the cinema and the earth.

Stop! This is some kind of modernization of a biblical saying. Nikita frowned. He felt as if someone’s black claw was writing this phrase in red paint right on the keyboard.

“Do you like horror movies?” The question came out of nowhere.

Nikita didn’t even know what to answer. He decided to come clean.

“When I was a kid, I loved them.”

“Why did you love them?”

“I don’t even know.”

“Do you like to tickle your nerves? Do you like to be scared?”

“It was sometimes.”

“Does the horror genre help you get through a storm of thrills?”

“Like that?”

“Would you like to be in a horror movie yourself?”

“Not as a victim.”

“What part?”

“I don’t know. I prefer to watch. I liked your movie a lot, too.”

“Would you like to be inside it?

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Would you like to join the legions of demons fighting against the Almighty?”

“I don’t know… maybe… yes!”

“Aren’t you afraid of being burned alive so that you can gain immortality later?”

The eerie questions poured out of a leaky sack. Athenais was testing her partner’s strength. Nikita almost gave up. Each line is one scarier than the next, the mouse moves like a wind-up. This is no longer a chat room, but a duel. Who will drive who crazy first?

There was definitely someone in the room behind Nikita’s back. Someone’s claws were scraping the linoleum. The sound was quiet, but unpleasant.

Nikita didn’t risk turning around, though a low growl could be heard behind him. His nerves gave out.

“Let’s not discuss horror movies anymore,” he asked his chat companion.

“Don’t tell me you’re more attracted to magazines with lecherous pictures than to classic horror,” Athenais said.

Nikita had a few pornographic magazines lying around, but how would she know that? You can’t look into his desk drawers through the chat room and check what’s in them.

While Nikita was thinking about what to answer, Athenais had already received the next question:

“Which is safer: pornography or horror movies?”

“Pornography molests,” Nikita typed diplomatically.

“And horror movies can make you go crazy,” Athenais parried.

“They are not mystical ones, thrillers about maniacs. For some reason, they’ve started calling them horror movies in modern distribution, even though the genre is more of a criminal one. There are no ghosts, no vampires, no demons, just violence and carnage. These films used to be called thrillers. They could make you sick. And beautiful demons are romance. Like Lermontov’s poem of the same name.

“Called “The Demon”?

“Yes, it is!” Nikita was pleasantly surprised that Athenais knew Russian classics. For a star, she is unusually educated and literate. Her text comes out without a single mistake and a typo. Miracles in a sieve! Or rather, miracles in the chat room!

“And do you want me to prove to you that mystical movies about demons can make it worse than violent thrillers?” Athenais asked a question that sounded like a trick.

“In what case is it?”

“It is in case the demons come off the screen.”

“Like you did?”

“Yes, it is”

“Is it only in the chat room? It’s safe. Even if you are a demon, you can’t hurt me through chat.”

Nikita remembered a sadistic movie where the victim’s ghost killed through a chat room. Athenais died in a terrorist attack, too, after all. What if her soul had mastered the same technique as in the movie? What if mystical movies are just a cast of reality?

There you go! She’s confused him. How can you believe that a star has become a ghost or a demon. No matter what the star says. When have actors ever been sincere? And why is he so eager to believe in Athenais’ honesty? All she does is play with him at night. In a chat room!

“Where are you now?” He typed out the question.

“I am on the Internet.”

“Isn’t that what I mean? What country are you in? America? Europe? Russia?”

“Is the fan interested in my geographic location?”

The question sounded like a joke.

“I am not a fan!”

“Then what are you?”

She roused his conscience.

“I’m a fan of your beautiful pictures,” Nikita confessed.

“I need an interlocutor, not a fan.”

There you go! She’s got him stumped again. They go around and around. But the chat is interesting, you don’t want to turn off. Even if an ugly picture of a monster popped up instead of Athenais’ face, it wouldn’t cool him off. He’s communicating with a mystery.

“I’ll be your interlocutor, your friend, your personal free psychologist… whatever you want.”

“Even a victim?” Athenais teased him.

And that’s for his sincere confession! When you tell a pretty girl what’s in your heart, she’s bound to spit in it.

“So you want to be my victim?”

Nikita fell into a stupor. A noose tightened around his throat.

“You’d make a wonderful victim,” Athenais continued.

What a joke! Or is it?

“What really happened at the Blue Lotus Cinema?” Nikita typed.

There wasn’t an answer for a long time.

“Tell me about the terrorist attack. Or what happened there? How did you survive? And why were your fans burning temples? I mean, you played a deity. Aren’t deity worshippers supposed to respect temples?”

“Gods come in all kinds of ways.”

Over the top of the chat room, the message about the call buzzed. Athenais called. Nikita responded instantly. The video chat opened. Athenais appeared to be looking at the laptop that lay in her lap. The image was slightly shifted upward. The winged beauty looked down at Nikita. The dark wings, interwoven with glittering chains, were most likely held on those chains. They couldn’t have been real!

Behind Athenais loomed the same walls painted with hieroglyphs. The room she was in was very dark. The only light came from the laptop.

“You have nice watercolors on the walls,” Athenais remarked.

“They’ve been here since high school,” Nikita muttered. He was embarrassed by his drawings. How come Athenais noticed them and didn’t notice the large claw scratches on the wallpaper next to them. Or had she deliberately missed them? After all, they had strangely appeared in the apartment at the same time Nikita had engaged in a chat with her.

Is it possible to hurt her physically through a chat room? He guesses he can, if there’s a real angel or demon sitting on the other side of the chat room. Can you kill through chat? It’s definitely possible to seduce. Nikita gazed greedily at the gentle angelic face in the video window. Athenais had golden eyebrows and eyelashes, graceful cheekbones, a regular facial oval, lips as delicate as rose petals, and lingering blue eyes. Or were they emerald eyes? They seem to change color from time to time.

“You don’t have any icons in your room,” Athenais pointed out.

“No, I don’t. They were left by my grandmother, but I gave them away to the needy.”

“Did they make you feel negative?”

“No, I’m just an atheist. I don’t like to keep religious symbols at home just as a souvenir. My mom brought a statue of goddess Kali from her business trip to India. She must still have it in her bedroom.”

“I knew Kali.”

“So you’ve seen her statuettes, too?”

Athenais suddenly laughed softly.

“You’re funny.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are very naive.”

“And you are very beautiful.”

“I know!”

Athenais had a rigid self-esteem with no pluses and no minuses. Compliments couldn’t buy her off. How would she feel about a bouquet of roses?

You couldn’t buy roses on a student scholarship, but Nikita worked as a courier during the summer and saved up some money. He would gladly spend it on a lavish bouquet and a box of chocolates for Athenais, if she would agree to a date.

She went out on video chat. That’s already progress. Probably the next step will be a date. All we have to do is get her talking, and maybe she’ll set a date herself.

Athenais looked about sixteen or eighteen. He wouldn’t want to get a felony conviction for seduction of a minor. Nowadays a lot of people look out of their age. Judging by the biography posted on the Internet, Athenais had already managed to act in dozens of movies, where she played not a child, but an adult heroine. So she is definitely twenty to twenty-five years old.

“I wish I were a poet, or I would have written poems about your beauty.”

“Many have been dedicated to me: sonnets, odes, madrigals, ballads, even chants and prayers… More valuable than odes to me is communion with you, a living person. Thank you for your friendship.”

Athenais put her hand to her lips and sent him an airy kiss. Her fingers slid right across the screen.

That’s how the Orientals, like the Arabs, thank you for your friendship on Facebook. Nikita was told about their way of communicating by her neighbor, who learned foreign languages well. She conversed with people from the Emirates, Indians, Turks, and guys from Sri Lanka. It was all for an opportunity to practice linguistics. She was the one who told Nikita that he could find a girlfriend on international sites.

Athenais looked something like a character from an Oriental fairy tale. She looked like an angel, but she reeked of the luxury of exotic palaces, golden deserts, and magical oases.

It seems that in fairy tales, the beautiful djinn are usually called peri.

“Athenais…” Nikita addressed her by name.

She grinned as if he were calling someone who didn’t exist, and suddenly she beckoned him toward her, into the darkness of the room painted with hieroglyphics. As if he could walk through a computer screen and get straight to her!

“Living people are rare here,” Athenais suddenly admitted. “It’s a very desolate place around here.”

“Don’t tell me you’re in the Valley of the Kings, surrounded by the Sahara.”

After all, a room with walls painted with hieroglyphs could be the inside of a pyramid. Few actors or archaeologists could have been stranded in the desert by unforeseen circumstances.

“I’m not far from Moscow. You could say, in the far suburbs of Moscow. But there are no dacha plots here, just wastelands all around.”

“Can I get to you by train?”

“No, the railway line is too far. But sometimes I hear trains rumbling on the tracks.”

“So it’s not too far. Otherwise you wouldn’t hear it.”

“I have better hearing than people.”

There she goes again, flaunting her oddities! How hard it is to communicate with actresses!

“So you’re an angel?” Looking at her, it was hard not to believe it. Even Athenais’ skin was as delicate as lily petals. Only angels could have such delicate skin.

Nikita smiled at her through the chat. A smile helps smooth out any awkwardness.

“Don’t get excited! Angels really are creepy creatures.”

There was someone behind Athenais’ back. Or was that her wing moving? Nikita squinted, trying to see. He needed to get up from the table and light the chandelier. Then it would be brighter and he could see it. Only by the time he reaches the switch, Athenais will have left the video chat. She’s nervous enough as it is, like she’s going to end the dialogue.

“Swipe your finger across the screen,” Nikita guessed to ask.

“Why?” Athenais was surprised.

“Just do as I ask.”

She leaned over and traced some kind of hieroglyph on the screen with her finger.

“Shall I wave my hand at you too?”

“Don’t do that! I’ve already made sure the video of you wasn’t pre-recorded. Otherwise you wouldn’t have fulfilled my request.”

“Are all Moscow guys so suspicious?”

“Are all angels so mysterious?”

Nikita could have admitted to the fact that he’d already picked up a few jokes in the chat room, but it wasn’t comfortable. Athenais was looking at him with serious, wise eyes that changed color every minute. She must have special color lenses with a chameleon effect.

“You’re alive! You didn’t die in the terrorist attack! I’m glad.”

“What if you’re glad for nothing?”

Athenais waved her hand, which was studded with fancy rings.

“Good night!”

“But it would soon be morning.”

But Athénais had already passed out, moving her winged shoulder smoothly one last time, as if in flight. The chat went out, but the feeling that the angel was still around remained.

Demons come along with the angel

Nikita dreamt of a golden winged statue, devoutly worshipped by priests in scarlet robes. It stands on a pedestal in the center of a stone hall, and the crowds of idolaters around it somehow resemble modern fans. Nevertheless, they do not behave in a modern way. They fall down in front of it, they bow down, even smash their foreheads on the stone floor. Only people from ancient times can worship a deity in such a way, so why does he associate the ancient statue of the goddess with a modern movie star, and the priests with her fans? Is he going crazy? Or is it impossible to go crazy in a dream? After all, it is a dream!

Nevertheless, the feeling in the dream is so realistic, as if the dream is happening in reality. It seems that if you stretch out your hand, you will touch the golden goddess. The statue shines like the sun. It hurts his eyes.

Nikita has the feeling that he is inside a movie, not a dream. It’s unaccustomed, like a movie set, but there are no cameras around. The priests are beating their bows, surrounding the statue. And suddenly the statue comes to life, steps down from the pedestal, tearing apart the people who were brought to sacrifice to her. The goddess is not an idol, but a living being.

The dream ended abruptly. Nikita was disappointed to see the dirty ceiling of his apartment instead of the magnificent vaults of the ancient temple he had dreamed of. He wanted to go back to the land of dreams. The dream ended just as the deity’s golden fingers reached for his own throat. Nikita didn’t even realize who he was in the dream: a victim, a priest, or a bystander.

For the first time he had the feeling that he was watching a dream, as if it were a movie.

The apartment was empty. His mother would not return from her business trip for a long time. She rarely called, so as not to waste long-distance calls. His father had started a new family long ago, but at least he was paying his son’s education bills. And that’s good.

But the bills from Moscow Power Supply Company would have to be paid he. The month’s debt would probably turn out to be considerable. The computer was on all night, waiting for another chat with an angel.

Nikita woke up to find that he had forgotten to turn off his computer, and it had been on all night. He wished it had not broken down altogether. He certainly did not have enough money for a new computer this semester.

Actually, the computer was needed to type essays and term papers, but it was not used for its intended purpose. Why write a term paper when you can chat.

There was a real angel in the chat room. Athenais is an angel. Just as religious people wait for divine visions, Nikita waited for a chat with her.

How nice it would be if she were really winged and could fly to him right now, knocking on his apartment window. He lived so high up that only an angel could reach his window.

Nearby, the wings rustled. This is no longer a dream! Someone winged nearby, and not in the window, but right in the apartment.

“Athenais!” Nikita lifted his head from the pillow and groaned. Someone’s creepy shadow rushed across the room. A floor lamp fell and went out. Someone was treading on the carpet quietly, like a cat.

“Who’s there?”

The question must have sounded silly. Who could break into a locked apartment? He just seems to. Athenais movies gave him an imagination.

The familiar scraping sound reached his ears again. That was the sound of claws scraping against concrete walls.

Nikita tried to see something in the darkness. He should have kept the curtains drawn. Then the glare from the lanterns and the neighbor’s glowing windows would have been enough to see who was in the room.

Nikita didn’t believe in ghosts. Besides, there was no room for a ghost in a cramped Moscow apartment. The room barely had room for a sofa and a closet. The guest would have nowhere to go.

Probably, the guest decided so, because he suddenly sank down on the couch. Nikita shuddered, he could not breathe. Someone heavy covered him with his body. Someone’s claws squeezed his throat. It would have been better if they had left their fingerprints on the furniture, the refrigerator, and the plywood walls, just like before. The walls would take the damage, but a man’s throat was so easy to cut.

“What do you want?” A helpless croak came from Nikita’s lips instead of words.

The creature, nestled imposingly on top of him, descended as if from the ceiling. It was heavy, clawed, and seemingly winged. Something like wings fluttered precisely behind its back.

Something crumbled on Nikita’s cheek. It tasted like ash! Where would ashes come from in a room with no candles, no matches and no lighters? It’s not like an old palace with a fireplace and something was burnt recently. The ashes must have fallen from an unknown creature.

The computer screen, long ago switched to economy mode, suddenly lit up, as if someone had moved the mouse. In the glare from the glowing screen, Nikita saw a hunchbacked or winged creature pressed against the sofa.

It was a demon with wings, burnt and crumbling with ash. At least, that’s how demons are depicted in scary trial paintings and horror movies. Several more of the same creatures wandered around the room. Somehow there was enough room for them. Two of the demons sat on top of the closet, clawing at the teddy bear that had been left as a memento of their childhood. The other demons were tearing off the wallpaper with their claws, as if they were looking for something underneath it. They did not speak, only hissed. One demon’s claws scratched at a keyboard. It looked as if it and its companions had emerged from inside the computer.

How was it that the demons came after the angel? Nikita had been waiting for Athenais, and here they were.

“Young, handsome, not burnt…” the demon’s voice suddenly hissed above him.

Could the creature really be talking?

It ran its claws across Nikita’s chest, leaving holes in his pajamas.

“I was like you, and then I met her,” the demon whispered, leaning very low over Nikita.

Hell was breaking loose in the demon’s eyes. His eyes were red as coal in a furnace and creepy, but there was a modicum of intelligence in them. Somehow that was what made the demon so frightening. If he were just a monster, dumb as an animal, he wouldn’t be so scary. The very fact that an ancient mind was trapped in a mutilated, burnt body was frightening.

The demon’s claws gripped Nikita’s throat again, but for some reason they couldn’t strangle him, only briefly rendering him unconscious.

Nikita woke up quickly, but the words, hoarse from the ashes, were still ringing in his ears.

“I believed in angels. I fought the devil, but the devil became a movie star, and I loved him.”

How strange that sounds! Nikita looked around. There was no one in the room again. The uninterrupted power unit was beeping alarmingly, which meant that the power had been cut again. He should get up and turn off the computer, but he had no strength.

Nikita felt as if he had been put through a meat grinder. There are scratches on his body, scratches on the walls and closet, too. Overall, the room looked normal without the nocturnal guests, but the scraps of gutted bear crumbled from the closet. And why would anyone want to destroy Winnie the Pooh. That, he thought, was the name of the toy when he was a kid.

The room was full of stacks of discs in plastic cases and old-fashioned videotapes. No one had touched them, and for nothing. He had nowhere to put the tapes, but it was a shame to throw them away, too. They had interesting covers on them. Even though the video player had been out of order for a long time, he kept the tapes at home as souvenirs. They are the memory of a bygone era.

His parents had gramophone-type records and players, Nikita accumulated video cassettes as a child, DVDs came to replace them, and they will probably be replaced by something in the future. What else is needed, though, if there’s the Internet. It’s easier to find everything on the Internet than on store shelves. You don’t have to buy cassettes or disks, you just have to click the keys and you’re done.

Nikita downloaded Athenais photos. He is lucky that his girlfriend is an actress. Otherwise her beautiful photos might have disappeared with the deleted account. Any Internet user can delete his account at any time, along with all his photos, but photos of the actress will stay online forever.

“They can change and burn like her servants?” Someone whispered in Nikita’s ear. There was no one behind him, but there was the sensation of a sharp claw pulling his hair away from his ear.

He probably had wax plugs in his ears. They’re the only reason whispers and whistles can be heard. We’ll have to go to the doctor.

For a moment, Nikita thought the downloaded pictures were blackening as if they were burnt.

“What if she’s already burnt and blackened like us? Then would you admire her so much?”

“Yes, I would!” Nikita replied, like a lunatic, to the emptiness.

“And if you find out that the contemplation of fallen angels makes people blind?”

Someone laughed deafeningly above his ear. And that was it! There was no more whistling or noise in my ears. So he didn’t have to go to the doctor. But that didn’t save him from the demons.

Ominous hobby

Demons live in the computer? Or they live in his head?

Nikita examined the scratches on the closet and the wallpaper as carefully as if that would make them disappear. It looked like we’d have to make repairs. The plaster was beginning to chip away, the telephone wires appeared to be chewed up.

Someone had spilled flour in the kitchen. Cracks appeared in his mother’s china that hadn’t been there before. A distillery pot, a thermos, and a set of silver spoons had disappeared. Mom will be very angry about the missing turkey. The arabesque-engraved turkey was a gift from someone important.

The salt-cellar and sugar bowl were cracked, the crystal irons were shattered, and the pots and pans were shattered, as if a giant had stepped on them.

Could it be that the devil had arranged a coven in the kitchen?

Nikita had to take up a broom and dustpan. Only after half an hour of cleaning the kitchen began to become more or less clean.

You can’t let any more bad things into the apartment, or the place will turn into a garbage dump!

Can’t he let anything else in? The demons didn’t ask permission before entering.

“Throw away the computer, then there’s no place for them to come in,” the thought suggested. “Until you got into a chat room with an angel, there were no demons in your life, either. Where there are angels, there are demons. It’s a law of being.”

Throwing the computer away was a reasonable clue, but Nikita wouldn’t dare do such a thing. After all, getting rid of the computer meant getting rid of contact with Athenais. You could only chat with her, after all.

Nikita hid the broom and dustpan, ignored the need to write essays, and returned to his favorite pastime — watching horror movies. He had enjoyed it as a child, then he became weaned on horror, and now Athenais brought him back to his usual hobby.

How had she succeeded? Nikita naively assumed that he had grown up and would never go back to it again.

“Girls do what they want with guys,” he wailed, going through old cassettes and DVDs. The assortment was old-fashioned. He had bought his last CDs about seven years ago.

Wait! He had something much better. Athenais had sent links to his movies, after all.

The first film was called “Mistress of the Pharaohs.” It began with a grand war in the heavens and the fall of the angels into the sands of the Sahara. The very scene of the battle of the winged beings was already the embodiment of horror. How much worse could it get? Already in the battle, the furious angels turned into monsters. Their eyes darted sparks, their lips breathed out flames. Athenais, as Dennitsa, led the legion of rebellious angels. She breathed fire like a dragon. The pegasus beneath her also exhaled flame from its nostrils. Dennitsa’s visor and shield were riddled with runes, the sight of which made him dizzy for some reason. Nikita even wanted to take a pill for a headache. The film’s prologue was filmed in some unfamiliar language. Was it Arabic? It was hardly ancient Egyptian. No one speaks it now. Or do they still teach it in some universities? They still study Latin, even though it’s a dead language.

There were no titles in the film. Nikita didn’t understand what it was about. If you remember the Bible, the blond, handsome man who fought against Dennitsa was supposed to be the Archangel Michael. The movie was designed so that the opponents seemed to be former lovers. Dennitsa could win. Michael was giving up his position. It was noticeable that he was in pain to look at the leader of the rebellious angels. Anger kept him from concentrating. Michael wore the same armor mottled with runes and shield as Dennitsa. Only Michael wasn’t as handsome.

He would have lost, but an unarmed, dark-haired angel was suddenly thrust into the battle. The name Gabriel could be well understood in an unfamiliar language. He tried to separate the warring men. Dennitsa’s sword suddenly pierced his shoulder. From the wound instead of blood grew a lush lily, like a living parasite. The flower took root directly in the wounded angel’s flesh.

Athenais feigned horror. She herself was stunned that she had struck an unarmed man. And she’s a good actress! She plays it so naturally! It’s like it’s really not an act.

The special effects are over the top. The angels grow claws. Their wings turn black. Angels fight in flight like birds of prey. Angels transform, becoming monsters.

Nikita’s eyes dawned on him. The sounds of an unfamiliar language somehow made his ears hurt. He watched Dennitsa’s legions fall, but the torture scenes had to be replayed later. The angelic bodies writhing on the stakes were shocking.

In the following shots, the bloody desert was replaced by a valley of ashes. The sands absorbed the ashes. The angels were recovering. Centuries of torture must have passed before they rose from the sand already monsters. There was nothing beautiful or graceful left in them.

But Athénaïs is still beautiful. She’s a maiden, no matter how you look at it. And according to the Bible, Dennitsa was male, like all the angels. Athenais must have been aiming for a strong female role.

Nikita once watched an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Metzergenstein.” There, too, the main male role was turned into a female role to make the story more expressive. But there it did not look sacrilege. Using his meager knowledge of the Bible, Nikita remembered that all the angels, even though they had maiden beauty, but for some inexplicable reason, people appeared in the guise of boys. Are there any exceptions? Or is religion adjusted to the patriarchy? Strange, then, why angels are ascribed feminine beauty.

Making Lucifer a girl turned out to be a very successful plot move. And for Athenais, it was a sensational role. Such a role is worthy of all the awards. The actress underwent a metamorphosis that not everyone could play. The haughty look of the ringleader was replaced by an all-consuming sorrow. When the angels fought for her, Athenais disliked them, though they were beautiful, but now that they had become burnt monsters, she realized that she deeply sympathized with them.

Her name is now Alais. For Nikita, it was hard to pronounce. The “a” sound was unaccustomedly hard. He couldn’t twist his tongue to pronounce it that way. It sounded like the name of an Oriental genie. It meant something. Nikita missed that, although starting with Fall of Angels, the movie was dubbed into Russian. Underneath the dubbing, English phrases were guessed.

In English, Nikita knew only the most mundane lines, so he was glad that the film was dubbed. Reading the credits is quite tiresome, live dubbing is better.

Something squeaked outside the window, as if someone hit a pigeon with a slingshot. Nikita was distracted from watching for a second. It seemed that some dead bird had actually crouched on the balcony. What an abomination! How many neighborhood boys could bully. If he were their father, he would have taken away their slingshots long ago and taught them decent behavior. It’s a shame that some parents are irresponsible about their children’s behavior and raise juvenile bullies.

He was spoiled for a romantic moment. Alais wandered across the barchans. Not flying, exactly walking. In the Sahara she realized for the first time that she could walk. Her wings had become a mere decoration. From her feet Alais left a path in the sand. Where she walked, the sand turned golden. Soon the entire desert glistened with gold, but a sad fate awaited the robbers who entered it. Hungry monsters tore them apart.

And then a wounded warrior wandered into the desert. His blood attracted the fallen angels, but Alais recognized him as the defeated Pharaoh, and something in her snapped. Before, she had watched emotionlessly as her monstrous legionnaires tormented men; now she felt pity. She seemed to see a reflection of herself in the defeated ruler.

“Your troops are dead,” she said. “My troops are almost dead… or worse than dead.”

The monsters hissed unkindly. They swarmed across the desert. Never mind that the sand is full of gold and jewels. Above all these riches roar the legions of death.

“I will raise your armies from the dead, I can do it. Here on earth all is in my power. It’s a pity the enemy I want to get is left in heaven.”

She must have meant Michael. She ended up with him quite tragically. She was a split second away from victory. Maybe she didn’t need to win in heaven, though. Falling into the wilderness, Alais realized that she was now mistress of those sands. The place of exile became her kingdom. And then suddenly a human king was dying at her feet. Why had she decided to help him?

Could she love him? She didn’t seem to. Alais kissed Pharaoh on the forehead only to be branded a slave. Her kiss froze a red seal on his skin. Did Pharaohs only wear oureaus to conceal such a seal?

Alais had managed to raise entire armies from the dead. It had cost her nothing. All she had to do was recite a spell! Upper and Lower Egypt were united. Pharaoh Menos became a debtor to the demon. All his descendants became slaves of Alais. An era of terror began.

The movie lasted about two hours, and the action managed to go all the way through eternity. The screenwriter managed to cram an entire list of kings and queens into the script, running their stories through Dennitsa’s biography.

Back in the desert at the dawn of time, Alais heard someone dark and disembodied calling to her. The creature from the black mist assured her that it was the black part of Alais. Then a black statue appeared in the pharaoh’s palace. From it the same voice was calling. Only Alais could hear it.

Nikita missed the frightening scenes of bloody rituals and sacrifices. Even for him, it was too much. And he still thought his nerves were strong.

The movie was slowly starting to drive him crazy. He should choose another hobby instead of watching the horror movie, but Nikita could no longer tear himself away from the movie. The mysteries of Ancient Egypt were fascinating.

After the first movie, “Mistress of the Pharaohs”, he started watching the next one, “And His Name Is Dennitsa.” The title was a little overwhelming. Why him and not her? Maybe it was the wrong translation? It turned out that the translation was correct. The plot drew a parallel between the sun god Aton, the black creature sleeping in the sands, the pharaoh Ehnaton, and Alais. But the main character was a handsome young man named Taor. It was around him that the intrigue was built. Taor became a warlord at a very early age. He quickly gained the status of a hero and made many influential enemies, who made intrigues at court to drive him out of the world. Taor had to fight tribes of savages who strongly resembled monsters. Somehow he won. It seems his patron was someone from heaven. Michael, Nikita thought. How strange!

A Christian archangel became the patron saint of a pagan Egyptian? Something didn’t add up. Taor had no intention of embracing Christianity, but he behaved according to Christian canons, that is, he was ready to sacrifice himself unselfishly, even for the enemy. Every Christian should be like that, but, alas, they are harder to find than a needle in a haystack. It was only on the screen that such a guy was easily found and began to beg Pharaoh to spare his enemies. Not a guy, a hero. If all people were like that, the world would be a kind and safe place where nothing bad would ever happen to anyone. Taor didn’t want to hurt anyone. He was perfect in the literal sense of the word. He was truly the chosen one of heaven.

And such a guy fell in love with the devil!

The epic drama was rapidly turning into a shocking horror movie. Taor spotted a beauty with wings behind the Pharaoh’s throne, and all his good intentions went to hell. Though he saw that Alais was cruel and made bloody sacrifices, he was willing to compromise all his principles for her sake.

Only Alaïs was not ready to accept the sincere feelings of the commander in love. It seems that Taor was so good-looking that it is simply impossible not to fall in love with him. He’s handsome, and a great warrior, too. Alais had made kings her slaves, branding them with the magic mark of submission. So what was it about Taor that displeased her? That he’d been chosen by the Archangel Michael? To win him over to her side would be a victory. Alais could have taken her revenge, but she was in no hurry.

As it turns out, she was put off by the young man’s love. Angels, after all, are by nature insensitive. They do not know what love is. Passion is too dirty for their taste. In a word, Taor remained ignored and unsatisfied. He wandered through the desert just where the armies of Alais had once fallen and stumbled upon his heavenly protector, the archangel Michael. Strangely, Michael wore the same bracelets as the noble Egyptian. They braided around his forearms like fetters. There seemed to be some sort of symbolism involved.

Michael cleared Taor’s mind by expounding that Alais was evil and should be hunted down. Thus the two abandoned zealots organized the first order of ascetics fighting the devil. At that time, no one knew about Christianity yet. Could this order be called the foundation of Christianity? Terrible rituals were performed there. Michael branded the recruits as brutally as Alais branded the pharaohs. Each had its own principle and its own set of gruesome special effects. The film was rife with monsters and metamorphosis. While Alais was raising her fallen warriors from the ashes, a secret war was being prepared against herself. It seems that if a beautiful girl refuses to satisfy their lust, they will eat her alive. That must be the meaning of the movie.

Alais, like any deity, was immortal. But Michael invented a way to kill her. He managed to make a sacred dagger and handed it to Taor. Looks like angels are good at killing with other people’s hands.

Nikita read somewhere that maniacs try to justify themselves by being forced to kill by heavenly voices. That was exactly what happened to Taor. He had been pushed to murder by an angel.

Alais ignored Taor’s attacks, even though she knew what he was up to. She was sure of her invulnerability. She was immortal! The sight of the sacred dagger made her laugh.

“Are you going to kill me with it?” She was so genuinely surprised that for a moment she seemed completely innocent.

One swift stroke with the dagger, and her head flew off her shoulders. The head was alive. The winged body was cowering, trying to put it back. The killer was terrified. It wasn’t until after he’d killed her that he realized he hadn’t meant for it to happen at all. But the deed was already done.

“An angel’s head is the greatest value. Give it to me,” Mikhail whispered, coming out of nowhere. For some reason he couldn’t take the glowing head.


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