“Is she a real demon or is this just her role?” whispered reporters, waiting in the rain with television cameras. “Sometimes it seems that real.”
Kiril fought his way through the crowd. The fans of Athenais were innumerable. What only makes people jump off their seats and travel many miles to get a glimpse of someone they spotted in an impressive film? Star status gives rise to an idol, for which fans are not afraid to stand without an umbrella in the pouring rain and push each other almost to death. And thus it begins to seem that the star that provoked this whole situation came from hell itself.
Athenais drove the audience into temptation in a way that no idols before her did. Kiril himself, watching films with her, often thought: for her sake, you can kill.
“Are you ready to die for her right here and right now?”
In the huge, roaring crowd, it was difficult to establish who said this. But Kiril immediately determined that the voice, literally whispering in his ear, actually comes from someone who is far away. This someone was wrapped in a red hooded cape, which not only replaced his raincoat, but also gave a certain stately status. It seemed that he was hovering above the crowd, so freely he moved through it. His face under the hood was ugly. Gold earrings in the nose and lips seemed to be inserted into the rotting flesh of the corpse. From the stranger in red breathed with the atmosphere and mystery of Ancient Egypt. It seemed that the tomb in the pyramid had just been opened, and he crawled out, exuding aromas of luxury and decay.
“Anekh?” Kiril himself did not remember how he knows the name of this creature. To call him a man, he just did not turn his tongue. He probably saw him in some film, but could no longer remember which one.
He first saw Athenais herself in a film about Ancient Egypt, and oddly enough, he was extremely impressed. Although Egypt was not his favorite topic, in order to get another look at Athenais, he bought a ticket to a movie about all the eras in a row.
And now, two films about Russian history have been brought to Moscow, where she, of course, played the role of a demon who is present next to the rulers and imposes her will on them. He had already missed the first film, because it was not so easy to travel by train to Moscow from the province where he lived. Finding out where the premiere will take place turned out to be even more difficult. Such information could not be found either in the press or on the Internet. How did all these people know where to gather? Kiril himself would have gone on in an unsuccessful search for the right place in Moscow if some strange disfigured stranger had not shown him where to go. What kind of vagrants you will not meet in the capital! Goodwill was like a creature made of hell. A homeless man, apparently, from which for some reason smelled of ash, not mud. Of course, he hid for days somewhere in a cooled oven, and was not one of the burned fallen angels, about which films were made with Athenais. She herself most often played the role of Lucifer in them, who, after the fall, reincarnated, taking on a seductive girlish appearance.
Kiril did not expect that his star would ever reach Russia, but saved up money in advance for a ticket to Cannes or Los Angeles. The announcement of her arrival appeared so suddenly, as if she had forgotten someone or something here. The premiere was not in Oktyabr, where he was initially advised to go, and even less so in the Pushkin cinema, which had long since been converted into a musical hall. A creepy-looking tramp indicated the right direction, and Kiril did not even have time to shove a change on his bread. He was in too much of a hurry. The cinema he needed was called “Akhetaton” in honor of the long-destroyed Egyptian city. Kiril heard that a chain of cinemas with this name has opened luxury branches all over the world. Near all of them, terrible events allegedly took place, up to the deaths.
It was calm here so far, apart from the crush. Kiril managed to break into the front ranks. He prepared a specially purchased notebook for his autograph. He wanted to get Atenais’s autograph on coated blank paper, not on a flyer taken from the cash register, much less a photo printed on a color printer. Although now the latter has become more fashionable. Many wanted to get an autograph, but almost no one showed up with notebooks. Now they generally prefer selfies. What for? He saw high-quality photos of Atenais in magazines and so. But her name, inscribed with her own hand… there was something mystical about it.
A deafening rumble rolled through the crowd. A black lacquered car with Athenais was already pulling up. Kiril held his breath. Now he will see her, and not somewhere far abroad, but in his homeland. She seemed to have brought with her the breath of other countries, ancient civilizations and something demonic that escaped from the opened tomb of the pharaohs and captured the whole world.
“Don’t go to her premiere!” Kiril’s brother, who was now on a business trip, warned. He himself had already seen Athenais and hinted that she was dangerous. For Mikhail, everyone was dangerous. Carrying out special tasks of the FSB, he suspected everyone and everything. If a star is involved with crime, then for fans she is unlikely to pose a danger. Although Michael said something about the fact that the threat associated with Atenais does not come from the underworld, but from other dark forces. It is curious if Mikhail has not been damaged by his reason, being too responsible for his work. Even his voice on the international telephone line sounded like the admonition of the madman Renfield from the Bram Stoker novel.
“If you look at her, you will perish! Her films have a program of world destruction. More precisely — pushing people to self-destruction. These films are capable of influencing the subconscious, driving the viewer into a complex psychological trap.”
“Why, then, is not an order issued to ban them?”
Silence hung in the receiver.
“There are too influential people behind her.”
“Who? Politicians? Presidents? Dead kings from her films? Or is Satan himself?”
“The latter is most likely,” Mikhail’s voice reminded him of a patient. “The king of kings is the devil. And she is him.”
Delirium of the insane! Kiril hung up the phone, not giving a damn about how much the international call cost, to give him this warning. Emails alone were not enough for Mikhail. It was necessary to tell him that he had already watched all the films with Athenais and was not crazy, did not even acquire any passion for self-destruction, except for freezing to death in the rain, waiting for his star.
Let the limousine that brought her look more like a coffin for a vampire, and the bodyguards look like demons in uniform black suits. But she herself is like the sun. Here is that rare case when the appearance of a star surpasses her photographs and the image in the frame, and not vice versa.
“The sun! Shine! Evil! Dennitsa!”
Who spoke this empty set of words? The crowd chanted only the name of the star. And someone was whispering in Kiril’s ear, like a demon who climbed right onto his shoulder.
“The sun from antiquity shines to destroy us all. It just took him too long to burn our world. It’s already here.”
Someone seemed to scratch his ear with claws. Kiril turned around nervously. What other fans will not come up with to drive him out of the front rows! Only no one touched or scratched him. They only pushed, but it came out spontaneously.
All the fans were eager for Atenais. He himself did not consider himself a fan. He tried to catch her eye from afar. He came because she called him. From the screen! The feeling that she was calling him from the films, like through some kind of window, came long ago. And then he dreamed of her. In his dreams, she was a real demon, not a cinematic one. And he obeyed her, coming to her call.
Atenais was not wearing an evening dress. A long scarlet robe, woven by dragons, he had already seen in films. For some reason, the golden angel head combined with it looked frightening. Kiril caught himself thinking that Atenais, who was nearby, began to scare him, and not just beckon. Some overwhelming power emanated from her. It seemed as soon as she shed her robe, and real black wings would move under it.
He wanted to say “I love you” as soon as she came closer, but now she was already there, and her tongue did not move. The lips were numb. It seemed that next to him a living statue, which shines like the sun, and its beauty hurts the eyes.
As if by magic, Athenais, almost oblivious to the others in the audience, stopped right in front of him and grabbed his hand instead of taking a pen and notebook. Kiril felt how he crashed into the low metal partitions at the aisle. Only they shared it with his dream. Atenais’ face breathed cold, but it seemed that she was now dying in fire, like a real dragon.
Her gilded fingernails ran over his wrist and cut in a way that a knife would not have been able to do. How did she do it? Blood flowed instantly. And the crowd around took everything for granted. Precisely, there are rumors about her that she signs autographs with the blood of fans, Kiril recalled. That’s why she hasn’t given one yet today. When she gives them, blood flows. His head was spinning with blood loss. If such a deep wound is not bandaged, he will die. But no one was in a hurry to call an ambulance, or at least sympathize. Everything was perceived as a special effect, and, frankly, from the outside it resembled a scene from a horror movie.
Atenais, as if nothing had happened, dipped the tips of her nails in his blood and signed an ornate autograph in a notebook. Already losing consciousness, Kiril could not figure out why the coveted autograph scares him off with a thick bright red color.
The cinema was almost empty. And they said that there is nowhere for an apple to fall on these films. Annette was a little disappointed, although solitude was just what she needed now.
Her dreams were quickly crumbling. A career in Hollywood was not for her. The name of Annette Fiore never became popular, although sometimes it flashed on the strips of newspapers. She’s just a starlet and will obviously remain her until her hair is gray. The world of the movie business is cruel. Only those who have grandiose connections are promoted here. The new star, which burst into the screens with a series of mystical films about Lucifer, as a meteor, had these connections.
Annette knew that no one just became famous. Talent doesn’t matter. You can’t go through the casting with him. You, of course, will be praised, but they will carefully look in the questionnaire, what is your pedigree, whether there are star parents or influential friends. The actors are kept under control. Only those who are satisfied with the grandiose promotion in the press and on television become famous. There will be many beautiful false words that the main thing is talent, not the stars’ striving for fame. In fact, the main thing is the influential people who pull the strings and the press, and all the other necessary structures necessary in order to turn an ordinary unremarkable actor into a mega-star.
Anyone can become a movie superstar if they have the connection to do so. Anetta’s trouble was that she had practically no connections. Yes, there were two or three acquaintances who organized her the roles of the second and third plan, once even the first. By acting in films and not having influential acquaintances who organize your advertising campaign, you can expect fame as well as winning the lottery. Annette was much more beautiful than all the vaunted beauties of Hollywood, but no one noticed her, except for young guys who idly scurry about the streets in the hope of meeting at least some pretty girl. On the contrary, nowhere and no one paid attention to movie stars, except at the premieres. All of them were repeatedly abandoned women who bartered with the right people and used them to keep out talented outsiders to fame. Everyone at the film studios was someone’s acquaintances, relatives, lovers, and sometimes the children of some business partners. For someone’s creature, the green light is everywhere. Hence, there are so many mediocre stars who are completely invisible to no one without promotion in the press. Hence, there are so many articles about the legendary beauty of women and men, who look no different from ordinary passers-by in the crowd.
But the rising star could not be said to be devoid of unique beauty. Probably, in connection with her, they used some new special effect not yet known to the masses, which helped to create the impression of a divinely beautiful face. Atenais on the screen looked like a creature from a fairy tale. This is why she favorably differed from all the average stars, whose vaunted virtues exist only in articles. Curious: does Atenais have this beauty behind the scenes when he washes off his makeup? If so, then it is clear why she so quickly eclipsed all the stars who successfully made a career before her. However, if the envious actresses still have not torn her to pieces, then the patrons behind her are very powerful.
“You have no idea how powerful they are,” a hoarse voice whispered in the darkened cinema hall. Annette glanced around, only empty rows of unoccupied chairs stretched behind her. She was not surprised. The sensation was as if the voice was coming from everywhere: from above, below, and to the left and to the right. Probably it seemed.
Several people who were present, besides her, in the cinema, were hardly in the mood to joke. In addition, in order to connect some kind of audio system with insidious phrases in response to her thoughts, they had to first become magicians themselves in order to learn how to read these thoughts.
Her thoughts belong only to her. She is free to think about what she wants. But she would not have dared to tell someone at the film studios in person that he brazenly promotes the creature of people who are beneficial to him instead of selecting actors by talent. People, although they suffer from injustice, are silent so as not to lose what little they have.
“But if people had nothing left but pain, everyone would become criminals and rebels,” someone’s insolent ringing voice rang out. “And the world would have drowned in terror, as in the days of the French Revolution. I remember those times and I want a repetition.”
Annette had already convinced herself that the voice was only heard in her head, so she didn’t turn around. The heads of the spectators in front of her remained motionless. If other viewers, like her, heard the voice, they would also begin to turn around at the sound and hiss viciously.
The film began, and Anetta was involuntarily glad that the audience was few. When the rows are overcrowded, you want to run away from the cinema, like from a nest of hooligans. Someone crunches with popcorn, someone whispers with a girlfriend, some couples kiss with relish, making unpleasant sounds. Those who come to watch a movie, and not to squeeze, become uncomfortable. In the theater, it is different — discipline is the first rule there. But Anette did not like theaters. There is no full-fledged illusion of reality created by the special effects of cinema. Everything is possible in the film: show a bloody war with many deaths, demonstrate ghosts and vampires, arrange an apocalypse, create a demon.
The demon has been created! The most powerful and beautiful demon performed by Athenais. How good she is! Previously, Annette scoffed at the sight of the faces of stars in glossy magazines, which were no different from the average saleswomen and hairdressers. Any young girl who sits at the checkout in a supermarket is more beautiful than all the Hollywood stars put together. So where does so much noise about the beauty of actors come from for inexperienced people in life, it is not entirely clear. With Athenais, the opposite was true. All articles about her beauty could not convey even a little bit of her charm. Either the journalists failed to do it, or words could not convey her greatness.
The film flickering on the screen was called “Angel for Nero.” According to rumors from the film studios, Anetta knew that at first they were going to give him the name “Lions and Angels”, which was changed immediately before the rental. The last name conveyed the essence more accurately. Although the film was about the emperor who persecuted the first Christians with lions, the mass scenes were only a background for the romance between the angel who came from the darkness and Nero. The plot turned the whole idea of good and evil upside down. The fire of Rome was associated with a repetition of the pogrom once experienced by the heroine after the uprising of her angels in the heavens. And there, and here she impulsively staged an apocalypse, but the viewer’s sympathy remained on her side. Although after watching the word “angel” began to scare.
Annette was not worried about the grandiose plan of equating Christian sects with evil and exalting a fallen angel. She, as a starlet, liked the heroine’s lover much more. Is it difficult to take over the whole world if your patron is the most powerful emperor in the world! In those days, Rome was the greatest empire. The demonic heroine Atenais very wisely did, coming from the darkness of nothingness, straight to the bed of the emperor Nero. From his imperial chambers, she could easily rule the whole world.
“I would have such a patron,” thought Annette, “and I would become the number one star, the same as Athenais, because outwardly I look like her.”
Although the similarity is not complete, but a beautiful image on the screen is naturally created with the help of special illumination and the titanic efforts of makeup artists. In addition, when you watch a movie in a dark cinema, everything seems much more spectacular and attractive than later on the TV screen. The same movies in the theater and on the tablet make completely different impressions. It’s all about the visuals.
Annette was struck by the greatness of the demon embodied on the screen. With a less beautiful actress, the film would not be so amazing. Let it just be that she has a slightly fresher and better basis for the efforts of make-up artists than other actresses. But how did such a beauty even pass through the wall of cinematic intriguers? Except as the intervention of the owner of the film studio or the president himself, this could not be explained. Every actress needs her own Nero, or even several, to achieve star status.
Curious who is behind Athenais? Who are her powerful patrons?
“All the demons of hell!”
Annette turned towards the sound. Someone walked behind. A silhouette in a red hood was visible in the beams of the projection booth. Just for a moment! Could it be imagined?
Something vibrated under the floor, as if a whole flock of demons were in a hurry to get out into the world, as is happening now on the screen! It seemed that the leg was touched by someone’s sharp claws. Couldn’t there be rats in the cinema?
The girl turned her gaze to the screen. The winged beloved Nero just had a rival — her twin from the society of Christians. Both roles were played by Athenais. With different hairstyles, she looked great. You can’t even tell who is better: a graceful angel living in a palace or a demoniac beggar who tried to cut her face off so as not to look like the archangel Lucifer. The skin cut from the face turned into a living mask of gold, and the demoniac girl remained a beauty and entered into a conspiracy to kill her divine double. The intrigue twisted abruptly. Palaces, wars and senate disputes were interspersed with witchcraft under the guise of religion. Fallen Angel and Nero turned out to be the perfect match.
Annette stared with envy. One crazy idea was beating in her head.
“I want to be like her! Like Athenais! I want to take away from her everything that she has, like that demoniac Christian woman who was born absolutely like her. I look like her too! I, too, can be a star like her!”
“You’re on time! She just needs a body! She cannot attend social events with wings behind her back!”
Someone touched Annette’s cheek with a black claw. Oddly enough, she was not scared. The closeness of a creature that seemed to breathe fire resembled a fragment from a film. Here in the theater, it was as appropriate as the 3D effect.
“Do you think that fame is just a matter of luck?” mockingly croaked a voice like an animal. “Do you want the same patrons as hers?”
“And who are her patrons?” Annette half turned. A dark-skinned man in a bright red cape with a hood froze in the back row. There was little light from the glare from the screen, but it was still possible to notice that his face was disfigured almost to the point of an animal.
If there is no psychologist nearby, then you can pour out your soul to him — a stranger in red, resembling a monster.
“The same patrons as hers could have been mine. Why was she lucky and not me?”
Someone behind him gave a dull laugh and bent down to Annette. The sleeve of a scarlet cape slapped her cheek. The fabric was hot as fire.
“The king of kings does not need patrons. He himself decides which of the rulers of the world to give power, and from whom to take away. My mistress rules over kings, heads of republics. So it started long ago.”
“This is the plot of her first film ‘And his name is Dennitsa’, for which she became famous and all.”
Annette herself did not watch this film, but according to reviews in the press she remembered that Athenais played the archangel Lucifer there, who after falling into the Egyptian desert took a seductive female appearance and began to rule over the pharaohs.
“It’s not easy to rule people,” rare gold jewelry flashed on the stranger’s black fingers, as if stolen from a museum. “She rules!”
“In her role! On the screen!”
“Everywhere! But she needs you.”
“What for? To play in public the role of her sister or a poor relative who has benefited? — or what other tricks do movie stars have?”
“That there was no second Octavia.”
Annette frowned. Octavia! That was the name of the demon-possessed Christian woman from the film who, with a charmed dagger and a magic mask, entered the palace to attack the winged mistress of Nero. She could win this fight, but she no longer survives. If the stranger speaks symbolically, then she is lured into a trap.
“I’m making you a lucrative offer,” he seemed to object in response to her thoughts.
“And if I refuse?”
Black claws scratched lightly on her shoulder under her thin blouse.
“And what will you be left without Atenais? Dullness of life and emptiness?”
Annette understood the meaning of his words only when she left the cinema on bent legs. Together with the session, the whole life seemed to end. Splendor and luxury remained behind the shabby wall along with the extinct screen. Under the doors of the cinema, only darkness reigned, the daily routine and the ugliness of filthy cities.
Where did the fairy tale go? Gloomy neighborhoods, pale neon signs, ugly faces of oncoming people are all around. The human world has become like hell. She wanted to take a knife and cut everyone, as Octavia tried to kill an angel, and then herself. Now she could be understood.
As a child, Annette read fairy tales about people who visited the land of fairies, talked there with magical creatures, and then returned back to the mortal world and realized that they could no longer live in it. How can you live among people if you have been in the company of fairies!
Annette walked along familiar streets, which suddenly turned into a cloaca of abominations. The masses of people around looked disgusting, like crowds of demons. She wanted to go back to the cinema, even if at the cost of her life. Back to Athenais and her amazing world of emperors and fallen angels.
Annette vomited violently, although she did not eat popcorn or cotton wool in the theater. The girl leaned against the wall of a shop. The vomit left on the asphalt looked like a puddle of blood in which something was stirring. From the outside it could seem that she spit out her own intestines. The whole action resembled a nightmare.
“Even if people return from the fairy world with generous gifts, they still climb into the noose, because they are drawn back to the fairies!” hummed a chorus of children’s voices around the corner ominous counting rhyme. “And there is no turning back!”
What do you mean no? There was a way back to the cinema. You just need to get money for a ticket. Annette suddenly understood the addicts who can kill for a dose when withdrawing. If she didn’t have enough little change to buy a ticket for the session, she would definitely kill someone to take the money. Has the film made her mad? Is there something hypnotic in it that acts on the audience like a drug? Some kind of psychiatric syndrome or an insidious mixture of the twenty-fifth frame with angelic philosophy? All this struck her in the brain like a strong drug.
“Do not go to the fairies to visit even once, if you do not want your soul to remain in their claws forever,” they continued to sing around the corner. “The body without a soul is only a loop. Therefore, those who have left the kingdom of the fairies also leave life. Unless there is a way back. But the doors are usually closed. A narrow gap opens only once in a century, with the arrival of a winged deity.”
The intonations became mocking and threatening. It feels like it’s not children who are singing, but monsters imitating children’s voices. Annette glanced around the corner. Children’s figures were dancing there. In the darkness away from the lantern, they seemed ghostly. It’s not Halloween today, but they’re wearing costumes with wings and horns. Pranksters, in a word! One of the children glanced at Annette. He saw her, even though she was hiding around the corner. His eyes and grin were not childish at all. He could still paint his lips a bloody color, but where did the children get their red eyes?
The shocked Annette turned away and walked away, back to the dark movie theater called Akhetaton. Despite the late hour, the audience was invited to the next session. The ticket cost twice as much as the previous one, but she paid without hesitation.
“In order to get back into the world of fairies, a man of heads at everything,” the children’s choir caught up with her here. “But what are you going to do if the back door is closed?”
The door of the shabby building, oddly enough, really resembled a mythical creature with a hole-mouth, eyes-bas-reliefs and a ring instead of a handle. How did Annette not notice this on her first visit? They said that “Akhetaton” is a chic chain of cinemas, but here only the cast-iron door, decorated under the mouth of a manticore, was chic. When you enter it, there is a feeling that the cinema has swallowed you and will not let you out. And in his womb they show horror films about the rebellion of angels, and how demons take over the world.
For some reason, children on the street sang about fairies, but according to the Atenais films, fairies, elves and all magical creatures are just a cohort of rebel angels who were the least guilty and partially retained their beauty. But there was even more evil and deceit in them than in full-fledged demons. All magic comes from the fallen Lucifer. But for some reason, magic was practiced in the Christian community. To understand everything, you need to watch the film twice, Annette assured herself. In fact, without glancing at Atenais’s beautiful face again, she would definitely fit into the noose.
The house is now lonely and empty. Parents died long ago, and the only living sister Leah, the twin of Annette herself, left for excavations in Egypt six months ago. You shouldn’t wait home any time soon. Leah might not have returned from her archaeological trips for years. Who would have liked the first film with Athenais, because Ancient Egypt and the demons who settled in it were shown there in all its splendor. When demons appear, archaeological secrets no longer remain. Their appearance explains everything.
Annette herself was stuck in the era of Nero’s reign. It was so strange for a frivolous person who did not appreciate history that it was worth laughing. History books and films used to make her sick. She went to this film only because she was in a confusion of feelings. For depression you don’t think about what to treat. Athenais completely healed her and led her into a world from which there is no way out. Because demons live here and the essence of the whole universe is revealed.
“Came again!” a voice called her from behind. Together with him, this time strange sounds were heard, as if a reel was spinning and a film was rustling. Hasn’t the cinema already switched to new display technologies? Although it is old, you can expect anything here. There was also something archaic in the voice behind her, as if he were calling from a tomb in the deserts of Egypt where Leah was now stuck.
“Everyone comes back, but no one breaks out!”
What could this mean? Annette was no longer going to enter into discussions. She was captivated by the film. She wanted to see only dazzling footage, and not listen to an ominous stranger.
Titles flashed across the screen like crawling insects. Scarabs! Leah had a variety of scarab ornaments. The letters glittered like precious beetles crawling out of the box. Strangely, except for the name Atenais, Annette did not remember anyone from the credits. Who is the director of her films? Who are the producers? Who are the production designers and cameramen? Who are the make-up and costume designers? It was as if they weren’t all there. The titles themselves resembled the ligature of hieroglyphs. It seems that they, like an Arabic letter, should be read not from left to right, but from right to left. No matter how hard she tried to read, Annette did not recognize the names of Atenais’ assistants who played all the other roles. Who, for example, is that dark-haired handsome man who played Nero? As soon as Annette tried to find him with a glance in the credits, a severe pain hit her head. She had to close her eyes for a moment.
The film, oddly enough, turned out to be different. She remembered exactly that she had bought a ticket for a repeat session. However, a new film with Athenais was on the screen. It seems “Waters over Atlantis”. The tape showed an ancient fantastic civilization, which was inhabited not by people, but by terrible mythical creatures: winged, terrestrial, underwater. Many of them crawled straight out of the waves to bow to the golden throne of the deity played by Athenais. The deity’s name was Alais. How consonant with the name of the actress. Alais was winged and all-powerful. Once she was the very archangel Dennitsa who raised a rebellion in the heavens and fell. Now her army of angels, turned into monsters, built their frightening civilization on the bones of humanity. All went well until a mirror appeared in the throne room. Where it came from, Annette overlooked.
Alais’s reflection came to life and emerged from the mirror as her double. Such a double could be left to rule in his place. Alais was profitable. After all, she secretly flew away from her monstrous people on business. But her double imagines himself to be her and decided to seize power for herself, as she once tried to take power from the Almighty herself. A fight was brewing.
The view of Atlantis somehow reminded Annette of an old visit to Leah’s dig. Then she met a disfigured madman in the sands. He shouted something about the fact that some sight of magic would ruin her.
Annette did not regret that she came to the cinema, although it was the path to death. The film sucked her in like a whirlpool vortex. From the viewing, there was a painful sensation, as if someone had inserted red-hot needles into her pupils. The session had barely begun, and blood was already flowing from her eyes. She hasn’t looked for ten minutes yet, and there is no way to look further. Everything around is darkening, there are some whispers in her ears.
“When you leave the hall, look around and see how many spectators have already committed violence against themselves and others after they were here before you!”
The disfigured man in the sands was right. The spectacle of magic has driven her to the point that now maddening voices sound in her brain. The red and sticky substance ran down her cheeks, turning into tears of blood. The sands underneath the pyramids at the excavations also cried in human blood, according to Leah.
The film was on. It was difficult to see behind the bloody veil. But the blood from the eyes is still a small price to pay for the fact that you want to see the real biography of the devil himself on the screen.
The cinema is full of creepy creatures, and a minute ago the chairs were empty.
Now all around was a sarcastic giggle, claw scratching and the sound of black leathery wings. Annette wiped her eyes and looked at the row in front of her. Beasts with fur-covered faces, twisted horns and spiked foreheads gazed at her. And all these animals behaved like a civilized public. This is hell!
“Go away, everyone!” Annette stepped on someone’s claws that crawled out from under the floorboards and scratched her ankle. Oddly enough it was worth breaking into a cry, as the hall was empty. Only a few heads of some spectators in front looked at her in bewilderment. These are ordinary people with simple human faces; no membranes, no horns, no claws!
The blood from the eyes stopped flowing, but there were red marks on the fingers. The eyes hurt. Annette had no handkerchief with her, and she stained her skirt and blouse with blood.
The tempting voice of Alais, who won, sounded from the screen. Her double was so severely crippled that he himself turned into a monster, consisting entirely of gold plates. The golden creature was crawling across the screen, overgrown with thorns and tentacles of solid gold. It opened many pairs of multi-colored eyes at once and stared at the audience.
Annette shuddered. It feels like it looked into her soul. Could some demon see her from the screen? Or is it the nerves are naughty? Even a nosebleed is usually enough to make even the most persistent person panic. And her blood was just pouring out of her eyes. She could have gone blind! But she didn’t go blind just to look into the hypnotizing eyes of the creature, which rearranged the letters of the name Alais and called itself Cialas. Mirror copy Alais became a monster of gold. With its golden limbs, it killed as easily as with knives. It was moving fast, like a centipede, and it seemed that it was about to slide off the screen.
The feeling that the demon from the movie was about to invade the hall was so real that Annette jumped up from her seat. And that’s it! The film ended abruptly. There were no end credits on the screen. The seats in the front rows were empty. Was Annette the only spectator for the entire session? Of course, it’s very late now, but there is always someone in the theater, at least three or four people. For a single viewer, the film is unlikely to be rolled out. But that’s how it happened. No one around. The screen is dark and empty, and the golden creature, as if slipping from it, is already standing next to her in the empty hall. How did it get here? Did it really come off the screen? Immediately, many clawed hands reached out to her face.
“The same!” dozens of pairs of sparkling, like precious stones, rainbow eyes stared at Annette’s face. “One face, but two of you! What you need!”
These claws are like knives. And they all reached out to caress her face. She seemed to be caught in a ball of sharp razors, but managed to recoil. Cialas’s claws slid only along her elbow, and oddly enough did not cut, but only burned. And then a light suddenly came on in the hall. There are only empty rows of chairs around. The golden being is no longer among them.
Many-armed deity of gold
On the asphalt, a man was drawing a pentagram with his own blood. He cut his veins with a shard of a bottle. It seems that Anette saw this guy at the last show in the cinema. Unless she was wrong. Someone was laughing from around the corner.
Several passers-by assured that the young people who came out of the cinema had such a fight a couple of hours ago that they even knocked down a lamp post. On the opposite corner, after the session, there was a terrorist attack. The victims were killed, the criminals were not captured. So many people talked about the suicides that happened under the cinema that they buzzed in their ears. Annette found herself able to hear the dialogues of people standing many meters away. She probably didn’t get enough sleep, since her perceptions were so aggravated.
The world around suddenly turned into a place of fear and madness. There were always people around, either attacking others for no reason, or performing rituals, or on the verge of suicide. Some teenager tried to hang himself from a lantern, some cute young guy was tracing the name “Atenais” with his blood on the concrete wall.
Are all her fans going nuts? This is what a great success is worth! Create one bright star, and it will pull the whole world to destruction. Although the feeling after the sessions is as if the film industry this time did not create a star, but a real demon itself.
Annette rubbed her wrist, which was burned by the talons of the golden creature. 3D effects do not burn. How did it happen that she fell asleep and was burned by something in the cinema? What can you get burned there? She didn’t even have a lighter with her. And no one was sitting next to her.
Films don’t bite or burn! At least until now there have not been such films that come to life. Nor were there those films that drive the masses of people crazy.
Everything happens for the first time ever! Leah loved to say that. Every time, leaving for excavations, she hoped to find something that would become a great discovery. And it doesn’t matter that even before her birth, archaeologists had already dug everything around. Every young archaeologist still hoped to become a pioneer. Leah was the most striking example of this. Suddenly, generations of archaeologists before her overlooked something. And this is something very significant she will certainly unearth! Leah had many ambitions and dreams. Annette loved to make fun of her that someday, like in old horror films about mummies, she would dig up a real living demon instead of a weak-willed artifact.
Who would have thought that instead of Leah, she would find the demon, Annette. And not on excavations in Egypt, but in a provincial cinema. Digging up an ancient deity requires a decent education, archaeological skills, and many years of experience. Annette did not have all these qualities. But she saw the ancient deity with her own eyes. But she could not prove that she had made a discovery. In addition to her, the film must have been watched by millions of people. Many were left under such a strong impression that they would harm themselves and others.
“You want to return to the realm of fairies to take a sip of their magic like a drug,” the children were still humming an ominous countdown. Don’t they sleep at all? Or are they ghosts of children?
Annette walked past the alleyway from which the song was coming. She was no longer drawn to the land of magic, because Cialas was waiting there. It is worth looking at the beautiful angels and fairies, and the claws of the monster will claw in the eyes. The payment for the sessions is blood from your own eyes and phase shifts. Enough for her! The vague image of Atenais beckoned, but the pain in the eyes and in the brain was stronger. She seemed to be burned all over from the inside. Annette staggered home. She noticed that a vaguely familiar girl in an elegant olive-colored dress was walking under the entrance of the skyscraper. It seems she saw this girl in the cinema. Then she was cheerful, flirting with some young man, now she staggered like a drunk, leaning on the base of buildings, leaving bloody handprints on the concrete. Who hurt her? Is she herself or her partner who is no longer around? Annette was not interested in this. But the wounds, like the prints of a dozen razors, were alarming. The girl’s palms seemed to be passed through a meat grinder. Are these the consequences of touching Cialas?
Well! She began to believe that the image from the film could leave the screen! This is absurd! She just fell asleep in the cinema. Stagnation in her career upset her, and her consciousness began to draw her a fantastic world of demons, distracting from the wretched reality.
She and Leah had an apartment on the top floor of a skyscraper. Someone who has not seen how it gets cluttered after Leah’s return from expeditions would call it a penthouse. The only fancy things there were potted palm trees and a small pool with jacuzzi. The antique imitations that Leah adored were not considered luxury by Annette. And the upholstered furniture and carpets had a dilapidated look. Someone pulled the blinds from the windows and scattered a deck of tarot cards on the floor. Perhaps the wind. When she left, she forgot to close the windows.
She was too tired now to clean up the mess. Need to look for pajamas and slippers. As luck would have it, there was neither one nor the other. Maybe she is looking in the wrong place? She no longer remembered where and what she had put. The time spent in the cinema unsettled her. Annette looked at the usual cabinets and shelves, at the fish in a large, wall-mounted aquarium, and saw the heartbreaking scenes of the torture of fallen angels. The frames were spinning in her head. They sucked in consciousness like a funnel.
What to distract yourself with? Can bungle yourself a dinner, forgetting about diet and indispensable fasting before bedtime. There were few items in the fridge: lasagna, a package of frozen patties, a can of caviar and spinach. Well, some more yogurt. You cannot make a feast out of this, as in Nero’s palace. Annette, as luck would have it, was drawn back into the movie. I wanted to get everything that Acte had: feasts, orgies, treasures, power.
“And the screams of fallen angels in their ears, who are being tortured for rebellion,” added the obliging voice of conscience. “You can rule the world and hear them forever!”
Annette turned around, expecting to see someone in red again. The door of the half-empty refrigerator slammed shut itself.
There was no one in the kitchen. The phone was silent. Leah will definitely not call from the excavation site and report on her progress. It seems like there is no one to talk to. Several of Annette’s boyfriends disappeared by themselves, realizing that their pretty girlfriend was not interested in anything but a career. There was no one else to bring home for the night. But there was definitely someone in the living room. Annette felt more of someone’s presence than she saw. In one of the chairs was what looked like a heap of gleaming metal.
Annette didn’t even take a kitchen knife for self-defense. I probably realized that it would be useless.
The silent guest sat in an armchair between the floor lamp and large floor vases. Immediately many short and long limbs entwined the armrests and the carpet. A multitude of pairs of multi-colored eyes sparkled at Annette. If their gaze had not hypnotized, then a feeling of acute panic would have arisen. And so the fear dulled.
It was as if Annette had gone back inside the movie, rather than come home. Or on the contrary, a piece of the film showed up to her.
Cialas sat in her apartment on the top floor of a skyscraper, her eerie clawed paws thrown over one another. It sat in a chair so royally that it began to resemble a throne. Long claws knocked the frames and amphorae off the table. Flowers mixed on the carpet with shards.
The feeling was that it was not able to keep its limbs in a motionless state. Its claws scraped at everything like golden insects. A moment, and they reached for Annette’s face, accidentally touched a tightly curled lock, and it slipped cut off on her sleeve. Anette shook him off in disgust. Wow, the claws of Cialas are really sharper than well-sharpened knives. And it itself is so luxurious that the apartment from his presence began to seem like a royal pyramid.
For some reason, next to him it was difficult to breathe, and there was a feeling of heat, as if from an open oven, where something was burnt.
“The time has come!” the voice of Cialas rang like metal.
“For the film?” she noticed that the TV turned on itself, showing the already familiar footage of the uprising and fall of the angels.
“What?” Annette did not understand, and the claws of Cialas were already playing with her earrings. What if they ripped them out of their ears now, tearing the earlobes? Resisting them is the same as putting your hands in a meat grinder. Annette prepared to endure the pain, but the creature suddenly insinuatingly suggested:
“Do you want to visit the place of Atenais?”
“That is, to become a star?”
“Something like that.”
“It would be cool.”
“But it will be very expensive.”
“Are you offering me a deal?”
There was a long silence. What if all this happens in a dream? There are no monsters that come to your home, even crawling off the TV screen to offer a stunning career. Annette was not afraid of the monster, but that his proposal would be a trick. To promote a starlet into a celebrity, you need not a scarecrow from the movie, but an influential patron from the real world.
“If you were looking for profitable acquaintances, then you found them,” Cialas claws stroked her cheek, slightly scratching, but the touch was pleasant, as if the hot rays of the tropical sun were touching the skin.
The deal also promised to be pleasant. You just need to ask him more about the price, but the multi-pair look of Cialas has already penetrated her brain, informing that she will not be required to join a sect, or trade in drugs, or espionage, as from ordinary worthless stars. Just a little blood.
“But it will not hurt at all,” Cialas embraced her with all his limbs, and on the screen of the dying TV the footage of the fall and uprising of the grandiose winged armies of Alais was still spinning.
“I want to be her,” Annette just thought aloud, when golden claws painfully cut into her chest, drawing some symbols on her flesh.
“And you will!” promised Sialas. “But not forever.”
What does it mean? Not forever! But what’s the difference? She will not live forever. Annette didn’t understand why the multi-colored pairs of eyes narrowed so slyly, but she nodded anyway.
Sam woke up in the dark of the tent. The feeling that someone had called his name was very clear. The hiss still hung in the void:
The face of someone burned was frozen on the retina of his closed eyes, although Sam certainly did not see anyone. Unless only in a dream.
Did he dream about a demon? Or maybe a dead man? Skin burned to a state of black coal is more a characteristic of a ghost than a living being.
They say that before death, people hear that they are called by the name of the voice of the dead. The excavations in Egypt proved to be exhausting. The expedition was exhausted to the point of exhaustion, but so far no one has died. Unless Leah was slightly hurt, but not during the search for artifacts. Some madman tried to cut the skin off her face with a knife. He shouted something like this:
“You have no right to be beautiful when we are all burned!”
If only Sam translated correctly. His knowledge of both Arabic and Ancient Egyptian was limited to a set of dozens of phrases. He could understand some of what was said, but not all. Something had to be conjectured. For example, the fact that the madman was most likely offended by the sight of a woman without a burqa. This is what it means for foreigners to be far from the crowded beaches where tourists rest. Leah, who always carried a can of gas with her, received several minor cuts. The attacker fell into the ground at the first sign of persecution by a group of archaeologists. Sam did not see exactly what happened, because he was busy installing the equipment at that moment. Only one coincidence seemed strange to him — on the eve of Leah found on the sand the corpse of a black bird with clipped wings and the inscription in hieroglyphs on the sand: “While we, creatures of heaven, crawling in the desert, birds have no right to fly.”
Unlike Sam, Leah was a conscientious archaeologist, fluent in several foreign languages, including the dead, such as Latin and ancient Egyptian. But the found bird could hardly be considered an artifact, if not for one curious detail stuck in a dead beak. Some kind of gold item. Leah plucked it out and took it for herself to cleanse and establish its provenance.
Leah was interested in everything down to the smallest detail. If one day the equipment for excavation breaks down, then Leah herself will take a shovel and begin to rummage in the mud in search of the tombs of the pharaohs. Why is this fragile blonde so attracted to Ancient Egypt and all its deceased dynasties? Sam himself was at the dig, because there was nowhere else to go. The place of the curator of the museum, which he was aiming at, turned out to be occupied by some thugs employee. People often find it difficult to settle down somewhere without dating. You have to take on either the job for which you can be recommended by one of your friends, or for the one that turns up.
Sam did not regret that he was in the sultry deserts for only one reason — Leah and Jane were here — two adorable beauties with chiseled figures and doll-like features. But for some reason they cut only Leah because of her beauty. She probably turned up on the path of some crazy or fanatic at the wrong time. In life, everything is decided by chance: someone is lucky to walk down the street a moment before the disaster, and someone gets straight into an accident.
Sam believed that it was worth believing in Fortune alone. It only depends on her whether they will unearth something worthy of a sensation or not. In the darkness, the sands outside the tent entrance looked black. It feels like the desert is full of ash.
Sam closed his eyes for a moment, and it seemed to him that hundreds of mutilated, burned creatures were screaming in the black sand. The picture turned out to be frightening even for a grown man. Sam looked for a flashlight. He used to use the flashlight button on his smartphone, but without recharging the phone turned off a long time ago. Here, in any case, is not the area where you can catch calls and Internet services. So where does the feeling come from that a movie is on an extinct smartphone screen?
Somewhere nearby there was the rustle of film, as if an old-fashioned camera was filming, and reels were spinning.
Has Leah brought her camera with her to capture the impressive finds she is counting on? If she took something more modern, miniature that can be put in a handbag. It is unlikely that Leah or anyone else from the archaeological group has at least a movie projector with them to show filmstrips. So why does he hear the rustle of film all the time and film footage flashes before his eyes? In the frames, again, the faces are burnt to a coal complexion. Only they don’t belong to people. People have no horns, no thorns on their skin, no wings, no temples that diverge in the form of axes.
Sam still managed to find and turn on the hand torch, which ran out of battery. For an instant, a narrow beam of light snatched out from the darkness something like a working movie camera, over which monstrous winged shadows were brought down. Someone was sitting nearby, but not a monster. Some beautiful golden-haired creature with a girlish body, clawed hands and black wings. She gracefully brought the golden claw to her lips. Sam dropped his flashlight in fright. He was not afraid of the monsters, but the girls were afraid. Why? Because there is something frightening in her eyes, like on film?
“We fell into the sands of Egypt!” hissed someone sneaking into the tent, and immediately the phrase was picked up by hundreds of voices from the desert. Yes, there is a whole army! Sam raised the flashlight, shook it until it started working again. There was no one in the tent. The black sands outside the tent also looked uninhabited.
It’s dark outside, even if you gouge out your eye. Nevertheless, he wanted to walk. The need to warm up had nothing to do with it. It just became unpleasant to lie in a cramped tent alone with an impending psychosis. Ever since he came here, all sorts of devilry has come into his head. This is probably how the hot heat affects him. Even the desert is beginning to be associated with a place burned to ash, like the inside of a furnace.
“We fell into the sands of Egypt,
In the ashes! On fire! In blood!”
A chorus of hysterical voices continued to whisper in their ears. Since the voices followed him relentlessly wherever he went, Sam assumed they were auditory hallucinations.
Nothing, it’s too early to get scared. Tropical fever happens to those who move to a hot zone from a cool climate. And people also have sunstrokes. The heat affected his brain.
The sand crunched unpleasantly under the soles of his sandals. There is nothing under it, although Leah thinks differently. It was she who inspired him that a whole army of ancient immortal pharaohs was sleeping in the sands. You should not communicate with a crazy girl, even if she is very cute. Leah is too fixated on her profession, which has already become something of a hobby for her. All her idols are relics wrapped in bandages, in a word, mummies. They will not rise from the tombs, but something alive in the deserts definitely dwells. Some force gathers here like a cloud. A sandstorm is probably approaching.
Sam was extremely amazed that he had made his way to the structure, something resembling a small pyramid, the entrance to which had been opened. Soft orange light pours from inside the opening. Someone lit oil lamps there? What was happening was like a dream. Only a bird, headlong flying past, scratched his cheek with a claw. The pain was real. It means not a dream.
“Exactly in time!” Someone in a long robe that covered the whole body appeared as if out of nowhere. A powerful figure blocked the passage, reminding of giants. Sam was glad he was boxing. It might come in handy now, but the stranger didn’t attack him. A hand with long, sharp claws, each the size of a razor, delicately beckoned to a pyramid in which something was moving.
“The time for the night session has come. Do you want to watch a movie?”
Movie?! Sam was dumbfounded. This is an opened pyramid, but inside it something similar to a movie projector really works, you can hear the rustle of film. The image is not visible, but obviously, both frightening and attractive sounds come from the soundtrack. And above all this, the ancient Egyptian images and stucco figures of the gods open their mouths.
And this is a session! Inside the mausoleum! No comfy seats, no popcorn, and most importantly no tickets. Judging by the sounds that came, it was clearly not about an educational scientific film about an ancient civilization. There was a spectacular action movie about a grand war and demons. Sam remembered the golden vision in the tent. Will the film feature the same fairytale character? If so, it’s worth the risk.
Just one soul
Moscow city center
“Come in, sit down!”
Kiril’s legs were numb. It was hard to believe that the superstar herself invited him, a simple guy, to her hotel room. And the room did not look like a hotel room. There was a pyramid-shaped fountain at the door. Multicolored lotuses floated in the water. Incense smoked on the tripods, which made his head spin. In the wall alcoves were statues of the beast-like Egyptian gods. They seemed to be squinting at the guest. Probably, this effect is created by smoke and semi-darkness. It looks like it’s not a living room, but a temple.
Only a bed under a thick canopy reminded of palace luxury. But the place for the guest was set aside on the couch. On a mahogany table was a tray of brandy and two rock crystal glasses.
A first aid kit would be more useful to him now than alcohol. He nearly fainted outside the cinema from blood loss. There he was found by agent Athenais, gave him his business card and explained where and when to come. So you can get caught in the arms of the mafia. What if the star keeps drugs, collaborates with criminals and is looking for a fool among fans who can be framed? Instead, Kiril thought only about whether to buy roses and condoms before going up to the top floor of the skyscraper hotel. The hotel was called Akhetaton, like the cinema. The building was somewhat reminiscent of the pyramids. Inside, everything is in Egyptian style, except for amphorae with lush bouquets of red roses. They are more like Roman ones.
Is it the flowers whispering? They are so deep red that they remind of blood. And he was still wondering whether to buy roses for her. There are more of them here than in the flower shop! And the hotel itself inside resembles an ancient temple.
“It was like I got inside the film,” Kiril looked at Athenais. Live she was even more beautiful than on the screen. She didn’t change. A chic scarlet robe with wide, like a kimono, sleeves now replaced the dressing gown. The dragons embroidered on it with gold thread grinned menacingly. It seems that in some old film he had already seen a similar robe. And that movie was not with Athenais.
“I know your brother,” she admitted suddenly.
So that’s why she invited him here! Kiril felt uncomfortable. Everything is decided by connections! And he hoped that he liked her.
“You’re different,” Athenais looked at him appraisingly. “Mikhail always pokes his nose into other things. One day he will run into it.”
What to think and say now? Kiril was effaced. Athenais suddenly got up and walked around him. The dragons on her robes seemed to come to life. Is this some kind of visual effect? Or an optical illusion?
What kind of lighting and effects can be applied in general to make an actress look like a real deity. Up close, there was no trace of makeup on Athenais’s face. She didn’t even have makeup. No mascara, no eyeliner, no brushstrokes of powder or foundation, and the impression is that she’s a statue coming to life! This was impossible to achieve without the efforts of the makeup artist and operator. But he is now not inside the film and not in a dream. His star is really close. This moment is worth enjoying.
Why does he feel that not everything is cloudless? Because this moment will eventually end and be kicked out of here? Is it possible to expose someone from the tomb, which seems to be a hotel? They say that those who voluntarily enter the realm of ghosts remain in it forever. And it doesn’t matter that this idol lured you here. The pyramid is a symbol of death and eternity. And the Akhetaton hotel is a copy of the pyramid.
“I have always believed that one soul can be more important than all the souls in the universe. Once I promised that if I met such a soul, then for her sake I would spare the whole world. But a lot of time has passed since then. I’m not going to keep my promise, although I like you. And the priest to whom I promised this has long been dead. In this era, I am going to act by the method of exclusion, destroying in turn all the souls that might interfere with my plans.”
She did not read an excerpt from the script, although what she said was suspiciously similar to the plot of the first film with her participation. Kiril looked at her slightly dumbfounded. The wound on his wrist opened again. Under it, something like letters, or rather hieroglyphs, appeared on the skin. Athenais grabbed his wrist. She really has marble fingers.
“It’s real,” he guessed. “You don’t act in films, you live inside them, like in this hotel. Therefore, it looks like a pyramid both outside and inside. And I am not sleeping now!”
“People sleep all their lives, and I come to open their eyes to the truth,” a fire flashed in her pupils. Are there any orange pupils? They looked like two bonfires. Visions immediately hit my head: a fire under the pyramids, demons or ancient gods dancing around it. Some are practically indistinguishable from others. They dance to call upon someone, and from the sands of the desert something rises that threatens to destroy the universe. And then Athenais walks with a sickle across the field, killing Egyptian plowmen. Their blood irrigates the fields, from it, as from seeds, instead of the harvest, monstrous figures rise. And above all this, the bloody moon shines.
So who is this movie star in front of him? She came from those ancient times or straight from space. Lufcraft wrote something about strong cosmic beings, which weak people naively mistake for gods and demons. What if she is such a creature? Then who would have thought that aliens are so beautiful and seductive.
But the touch of Athenais was not pleasant. She squeezed his hand, kneading the meat and crumbling bone. The pain would have been enormous, if not for the hypnotizing look of a movie star.
“What did you want from me when you stood in the rain?” Athenais’s voice changed, becoming like a hiss of a cobra.
Kiril himself no longer knew what goals he was pursuing. At first, the fact that she invited him to her seemed like the ultimate dream. Now he realized that he had fallen into a trap, but he did not want to change anything anyway. He had to come here, had to see her with his own eyes. We can say that fate called him here.
“I wanted my routine life to end,” unexpectedly even for himself, he poured out everything that had boiled over the years in his soul, “so that I didn’t have to go to work that I didn’t love in the morning, didn’t have to go back to an empty apartment and see neighbors around who unpleasant to me. Ever since I saw the first movie with you, all people around the world have become disgusting to me. I only wanted to see you once so that I could return home in the evening, turn on the CD with your film and open my veins. Your film is one minute against your whole life. Better to leave this minute and take away everything else.”
“I think so too.” She let go of his wrist. Blood flowed in a stream. “Those who watch films about demons let them into their world, and then they won’t kick us out.”
“Go away!” The roses were still whispering. Now it became noticeable that their petals were indeed in blood, and the warning was not in vain. But he was not going to leave. Better to die in the arms of Athenais today than live your whole life without her. She hugged him with cold marble arms, and it was as if another movie had begun. Only it happens not on the screen, but in real life. Death at the end will be real. The dragons on the robes of Atenais hissed in displeasure. They wanted death right now. But in the beginning it will be a whole night. Athenais smeared herself with Kiril’s blood. Blood is the price of any intimacy with a demon, even an autograph. And he came here because he was subconsciously ready to pay this price from the very beginning. The demon called him from the screen. And now this demon was holding him in his arms. And a demon’s embrace can only end in hell and death.
Payback for self-interest
A new film was starting somewhere. He will not see this film. Anton got an autograph and ran away. Someone in red was chasing him. Although is it possible to say chased about someone who suddenly grows up ahead of the road, wherever you turn. You run, and he just stands on the sidelines. A monstrous black face with rings in its nostrils looks out from under a red hood.
Out of breath, Anton stopped. Many screens in the showcase showed fragments of a film about a beautiful demon who subdued the rulers of Ancient Egypt.
“Kings rule the world, but I rule over kings!” came the cruel voice of Alais. Pharaoh’s torn out heart beat in her palm like a living red flower. Her path was littered with bones and corpses, but she herself lived among gold.
Probably everything that was said about her was true. And the fact that her bodyguards are not people, but real ifrits. And the fact that the owner of the film studio is not its producer, but its slave. And the fact that she herself is a demon.
All these stories were so consistent with the plots of her films and ran counter to everyday realities that Anton did not believe them in the least. Usually, he approached for autographs to all foreign stars who came to Moscow. Friends who worked part-time in the crowd helped him get the necessary information about the location of the events. He managed to arrive on time in the lobby of hotels, to the doors of cinemas or restaurants where eminent guests dined. All he needed was a stroke with a pen in a notebook, so that he could then put up an autograph for sale. Many guys earn money like this — they take autographs from famous singers and actors, so that they can then sell them on Avito or on other sites where you can sell used junk from your hands.
He decided to keep Athenais’s autograph for himself as soon as he saw her, but it turned out that she took something from him. Namely, the blood tax.
Anton winced, remembering how the ballpoint pen, which he held out to the star, fell into a puddle, and something resembling blades stuck into his fingers. For the first time he paid for an autograph himself. His blood was used as ink. And now he was still being pursued.
The wounded arm hurt as if it had been torn apart with a float. Athenais’ focus was not at all like taking blood in a medical office. Her nails are the edge of scalpels and knives. It is likely that they are smeared with some kind of drug or even poison. In any case, when she hurt him, it began to seem to him that she really had not a bodyguard behind her, but ifrit.
It was pouring rain in the center of Moscow. It got stronger and stronger. Streets and highways, oddly enough, seemed completely deserted. There are few cars, there is nothing behind the shop windows. Not typical for Novy Arbat. Many computer centers appeared all around, which he had not seen here yesterday. Monitors, laptops, televisions for sale worked everywhere. A film with Athenais was shown on each screen. And the monster from this movie was walking right behind him.
Where to go? he wish he could meet or call a taxi. But everything is empty, the smartphone does not work. The battery ran out, as luck would have it. Previously, there were telephone booths everywhere, which nowadays do not exist. Their mobile communication survived. The cell phone is empty and there is no connection with the world. And all around is emptiness. Moscow suddenly turned into a deserted desert of asphalt and concrete buildings.
“Athenais turns everything into a desert.”
Did the pursuer say that? Anton nervously turned over his shoulder. The dark-skinned monster in red itself somewhat resembled the shadow of the ancient pharaoh. Why is he so attached?
Anton was not a believer, but suddenly thought to go to church. There was not a single church on the streets of the center. This is also not typical for Moscow. Many visitors from abroad like to repeat that there are more churches here than shops. And whole monasteries meet right in the center. And suddenly not a single building with domes and crosses. But the golden ankh, desert dunes and black angel wings flicker on advertising screens.
Some wretched creatures that look like starving vagabonds crawl out from under the sewers, from basements, from dark corners between supermarkets. They look like gray relics, stained with ash. And suddenly, frayed wings open behind them.
“Athenais always wins,” the dark-skinned pursuer whispers already very close, putting his claws on the boy’s shoulder.
“Let it be so, but why pursue me?”
“Self-interest is punishable.”
He already paid for the autograph in blood. Where else to punish? Anton looked around at Moscow crowded with fallen legions of demons. The feeling was that he got inside the film on the same set with Athenais. But she herself was not there. She stayed in a fashionable hotel with people. And he somehow got straight into the heat.
As beautiful as a fresco
Michael woke up with the feeling that he was still in the temple. Many tired people feel even in their sleep that they are still sitting at work. This déjà vu is understandable, as the doctor explained to him. But why is it not connected with the fulfillment of everyday work duty, but with a rare visit to the churches empty after the service?
It’s like someone is waiting there.
But Michael was no longer going to church. What for? After all, the fresco, which he loved so much to look at, was mercilessly mutilated by restorers after renovation. Nothing remained of the beautiful angelic face, except for the picture, layered with fresh colors, mediocre. Sometimes updates are only harmful.
Together with the fresco, it was as if part of him had been destroyed. His soul was empty. This is probably why his conscience once woke up in him, and he did something that a secret service employee did not have the right to do — he forgot about his duty, so as not to feel selfish.
That same night he had a strange dream. Someone winged and incredibly handsome was present nearby.
“You did what no one else would have done. I admire you and owe you,” the divine voice whispered on the verge of reality and dream. “What do you want? Only wish!”
Sounds like drug intoxication as it is described! He himself never tested such euphoria, because he did not use any prohibited substances. He tried not even to drink energy drinks and alcohol in order to have a sober head. Where do hallucinations come from?
What did he do? He went after a strange fakir in a wild country, suspecting him of conspiracy with local terrorists. The man climbed the walls like a monkey. Well, okay. What circus performers do not exist! He went into the temple, smashed idols, overheard someone else’s conspiracy, somehow understanding languages that he had not even learned.
It was like a nightmare. But the agreements and the work done during the day were real. A couple of conversations, strong hints, a few forced killings. The interests of foreign countries, not just the homeland, were at stake, but he intervened anyway. His colleagues would have condemned him if they knew. Perhaps he was able to prevent something terrible, like world war, nuclear attack, destruction of an entire nation. So what? Any Christian would do the same. But he was an employee of a serious organization, not a holy fool from the porch. He needs to remember that even people in robes can be used solely for intelligence purposes, if he took them with him.
What’s done is done. He did not report anything to anyone. There was a risk of being tortured himself if his hastily thought up plan failed. He behaved lightly. He was lucky that he was alone on the trip.
Now he was alone in the bedroom, because the woman he loved had long since died. For a second, a crazy thought arose in Mikhail’s brain: what if he really had one magical desire? Would he have spent it to resurrect Iliana?
He almost wished it, but changed his mind in time. Why remember the traitor? Better to forget. Fantastic desires are still unrealizable. Unless only on the screen of the cinema, but he has not gone to the cinema for a long time.
But the authorities demanded from him that he contacted one outstanding movie star and extorted all her secrets. He was not usually involved in this kind of work, although he knew that sometimes celebrities were used for espionage purposes. Only this time, the hint was a much more serious threat. Mikhail did not believe that because of which actress something irreparable could happen, but an order is an order. It needs to be done. The photo of the star could not be attached to the instructions. Mikhail himself easily found it in the very first newspaper that was handed out in the subway passage. The girl’s resemblance to the drawings of angels struck him unpleasantly. He saw the same face in a fresco in the cathedral that was no longer in existence. Here it is! Printed on cheap offset paper! Here it looks even more beautiful than it was on the wall under the dome. So why isn’t he glad to see him again? Something deathly, frightening came from the face of the movie star. Next to such sublime beauty, a person begins to feel like just an insect.
Why, in connection with such divine beauty, did wars, terrorist attacks, torture and murder climb into his head? He drank all of this. His work was intense. For the peace of the whole world, sometimes it was necessary to show tactlessness and cruelty.
In his free time, he could only sit for hours on the curb of the Friendship of Nations fountain at VDNKh and ponder why people only think about enmity, war and strife. The golden figures of different nations stand together so peacefully, but living humanity needs conflicts. And he has to resolve these conflicts.
So today he went to the main entrance of VDNKh, clutching a newspaper with the fatal photo in his hand, sat down on the edge of the fountain, and almost fell into the water, noticing that the central of the golden figures had turned into a movie star from the newspaper, looking like an angel. The golden wings opened behind her, the golden body arched proudly upward, golden eyes stared at him.
It just so happened that a movie star named Athenais played exclusively the role of angels. But she was definitely not a sculpture. The golden hand reached out to Mikhail. The pool of the fountain, which shared it with the statues, was huge, but there was a feeling that a hand made of gold touched and burned him.
Where did the golden girl in the national Russian costume, kokoshnik and with a sheaf of ears of corn in her fingers go? Why does he see a living winged body of gold instead?
Mikhail pulled out his weapon and scared everyone. He had to explain to the guards and show his ID. He had the right to bear arms, but he did not have the right to hallucinations. When performing, he needs a sober quick-witted head, and he behaves like a mental patient.
He used to have dinner at eateries near the fountain, but today his appetite is gone.
“You want blood,” someone annoying whispered over his ear. “Blood is our food, and you are one of us! You killed the woman you loved because she was not of your race, but of a human race. Your path lies in the Cathedral of Thunder. Your food is the blood of people. You should have eaten Iliana’s heart when you killed her. Then you would already be with us.”
Hot sweat ran down his forehead. Michael brushed it off. He walked at random, passed the Stone Flower fountain and found himself at the pavilions, which had a fountain with a rocket and models of old planes. He needed the other way. From here you can only go to the Botanical Garden, which in former times was the estate of the Sheremetyevs, and from there you can take a bus to the outskirts of Moscow rather than to the center. Now his dwelling is in the center. It is comfortable and convenient there, not like in rented apartments where he used to hang out. He needs to return to the massive arch of the main entrance. Behind it are the planetarium and the road to the metro. He would have driven around the city by car, if not for frequent traffic jams.
As a child, he and Iliana walked around the Botanical Garden and Ostankino Park exclusively on foot. The walk stretched for many kilometers, but it was pleasant. As a child, Iliana was empty-headed and outgoing; when she grew up, she became selfish. She took flowers and gifts for granted. What is loyalty, she did not understand at all. If he had not found her in the arms of a man who threatened the well-being of the whole country, she would have been alive now. It occurred to her to get confused with a foreign intelligence agent. Mikhail did not understand: did his weapon misfire or did he shoot Iliana on purpose?
For a moment it seemed to him that the fountain with a stone flower was gushing not with jets of water, but with its blood. And the corpse of Iliana in a shiny evening dress floats limply between the figures of gilded sturgeons.
Iliana loved dresses with plunging necklines, beaded handbags, which are usually carried with them to the theater, and fashionable haircuts under the bob. This is how he remembered her: slender, dressed in an evening dress, with curls no longer than her earrings and with a bullet in her forehead.
Rip out and eat her heart!
How could such a thing come to mind? Such advice is given only in scary tales to people who want to acquire witchcraft.
Mikhail went back to the fountain with golden sculptures. Plantings of multi-colored roses smelled fragrant around him. Couples hugged on the benches. Flashlights flashed. Here is a favorite place for tourists. After all, the fountain was erected back in the days of the USSR, as a symbol of the unification of sixteen nations into a single state. Each female figure on it is cast in the national costume of one of the states that became part of the country. And in the center of the figures, jets from a huge gilded sheaf are gushing, and the water flows down along the recesses that resemble large shells. The USSR collapsed long ago, but the fountain remained as a monument to its former prosperity. Many people said that this is the most beautiful fountain on the planet. Mikhail liked the meaning inherent in its construction more. All people should love and support each other, blurring the line of interracial hatred. Unfortunately, not everyone shared his opinion. Most of the onlookers came here just to admire the sparkling figures, only a few amateurs walked around the curb, trying to figure out which nationality each figure belongs to. This Georgian woman with grapes, this Moldavian woman, and that gilded girl over there, embodies the Autonomous Republic of Karelia. Michael himself was looking for the golden angel, but he was no longer there.
Someone clicked the camera, in the lens of which a fountain was reflected, surrounded by exclusively golden winged figures. Again obsession!
Mikhail walked by quickly and bought hot corn and a hot dog at a park stall. You need to eat and hurry home. For some reason it was scary to turn around, and at the same time he didn’t want to leave. It seemed that Athenais was waiting for him at the fountain. Alive, not gold. She is wearing a scarlet robe, the color of which is so bright that it burns the eyes, and dragons embroidered with golden thread move on the robe.
“Go to the cinema!”
The voice was definitely not Atenais’s. He was hoarse and unpleasant. The Kosmos Cinema and Concert Hall was located right behind the highway in front of the VDNKh entrance, but Mikhail was not going to go there.
For a long time he had no time for his own entertainment. Work has become for him the main occupation in life, because if you distract from it for a moment, you will die. This is probably why he did not pay attention to the huge posters in front of the cinemas, which depicted Athenais. The same as she seemed to him at the fountain — in a red robe and with a golden sickle in her hand, on which runic symbols appear. She looks more like a deity than an actress.
“Who are you?” Mikhail whispered in the face of a poster hanging on a billboard near the highway. The taxi driver stared at him in bewilderment. Through the rearview mirror, you could see his eyes widen in horror. It’s probably scary to carry dubious types around the city. You never know who will attack you with a knife. It’s easier for bus drivers. They are separated from passengers by a glass partition.
Mikhail leaned back in his seat and pretended to relax so as not to frighten the taxi driver. His thoughts wandered around the boss’s directions.
“What would you do if one beautiful young creature colluded with a whole gang of criminals in order to lay a program for the destruction of the whole world into the mechanical progress of cinema? Find out: did you drag her into this or is she herself the author of the project? Previously, this did not affect us, but now it has reached Russia. This means that soon we will begin what is already happening in other countries.”
These are all the instructions that he remembered, and now he was pondering. What exactly is happening to others? He recently traveled abroad and did not notice any crisis. True, he visited those countries where cinema is not in vogue. This means that you need to take a closer look at the situation in wealthy states, whose residents have funds for entertainment, and not at the third world countries. True, even there he heard something about a movie that drives you crazy and which you can watch for free in the most unexpected places, for example, in mounds, caves or tombs.
Well, almost free. Some poor shaman mentioned that you have to pay with blood and souls. Then Mikhail decided that it was about filming executions and torture, but now he realized that the matter was even more dangerous. Films with Athenais somehow influenced the psyche of people in a special way, forcing them to commit strange and destructive actions.
Divine beauty, captured in frames, brings evil! Who would have thought?
When Mikhail returned home, the TV was on. He definitely didn’t turn it on. On the screen flashed frames from the film with Athenais. She was even more beautiful in them than on the advertising poster. Usually stars are different. One picture is easier to retouch than a whole video.
Athenais either walked through the palace halls of Ancient Egypt, then filmed torture exclusively of priests and clergy with a hand-held camera. What the hell is this? History alternated with modernity, presenting a contrast close to surrealism. The beautiful angel tore out the hearts of modern priests, then ancient priests.
“You only love gold, but I take debts not in gold, but in blood,” she repeated. “You know me! So why did you contact me?”
The footage terrified even an adult man accustomed to difficulties. Mikhail tried to turn off the TV and could not. All buttons on the remote control stuck, the control panel did not work either. And all the bulbs in the chandelier suddenly burned out at once. He fell asleep to the accompaniment of how a beautiful angel tortured the princes of the church. And with this angel he will have a meeting in the morning! Mikhail instinctively reached for the loaded pistol he kept in the bedside laundry drawer. The angel flashing in the frames taught him that even in a dream it is better not to let go of the weapon.
Usually reporters rush to the scene of hot events: terrorist attacks, hostage-taking, fires, robberies, events of political and social significance. The paparazzi besieging the stars is a myth invented by the stars themselves to fuel popularity. None of the paid press and television workers will run after famous actors and actresses of which there are innumerable. Many journalists give free tickets to movie premieres to friends because they don’t want to go to them after working day. If only there is no additional payment from the film studio, then no one will write positively about the filmmakers. Usually the actors themselves besiege the press, not the other way around. But this time it turned out differently. No one paid Rik any extra money. Nevertheless, he began to run after the star, and he himself could not understand why. He despised movie actors with their cheap morals (what a decent person would be for money to stand naked in front of the camera and act in erotic scenes), but Rick fell in love with Athenais at first sight. Now he walked through the forest, looking for her and cursing his own stupidity. He took it into his head to do work that the authorities would not pay. After all, no one ordered a report about a movie star. This can only be assigned to novices and journalists of the lowest standard, and it was usually sent only to the place of especially important events. He talked with politicians, with the military, with representatives of the secret services. Stars are just pawns. So his boss loved to repeat. A decent journalist should not stoop to pass off the flaws of stars as merit, unless paid for it at the highest rate. Film studios’ money often changes attitudes towards their offspring.
After crashing his car on the freeway and nearly drowning in a muddy swamp, Rick began to wonder if something unique had happened. One of the pawns from the film studios suddenly turned out to be for him at the price of a queen. In any case, for her sake, he made his way through the thickets, sparing neither new trousers, nor a jacket, nor even his own skin, scarred by branches. And he almost did not regret that he had wandered into the thicket after her.
The only question that haunted him was: why did she come here herself, and all alone. They said in this very forest, there is a section where people most often commit suicide. Probably, the site was fenced off here for shooting the next horror film with Athenais. In such a wilderness, you can neither pay rent for a place, nor get a special permit. There is no one to control it anyway. The nearest police stations are miles away. The place has too bad a reputation for anyone from the surrounding settlements to wander here.
Didn’t it seem to him that Athenais was heading here? Her golden head had long since disappeared from sight, and he wandered at random. The brushwood crunched underfoot. How many fallen branches all around!
“It would be nice to make a grand fire here to cleanse everything with fire,” someone whispered over his ear, and immediately there was a long dull sigh. “Although not worth it, the first time he fire did not clear anything, only infuriated.”
Rick glanced at the screen of the extinct iPhone. He did not vibrate. The sounds are definitely not from an audio device inside the phone. They rang out from above. Above, only the crowns of trees and a glimpse of the sky, illuminated by a crescent. There are not even birds. Did he hear only a whisper in the rustle of leaves? There are also auditory hallucinations. True, he still did not suffer from them, but fatigue could provoke them. You can’t go that long. He rubbed his feet with blood and calluses. How did Athenais not get tired on the way? A couple of hours ago, he saw from afar her silhouette and how easily she varied between the trees, as if she were flying.
The flashlight in the iPhone went out. Probably out of charge. The total darkness scared him a little. Rick groped forward. A faint light flickered somewhere far away. It feels like roaming lights have settled there. It’s good if they don’t lead to the next swamp.
The shimmer led to a huge, spreading tree that must have taken up tens of meters. Probably, this is a whole group of intertwined trees, and somewhere inside the interlocking crowns, a ghostly light seems to flicker. Carved faces, horned heads and groups of angelic figures stand out along the perimeter of the huge trunk. So this is not a tree, but a dummy for shooting! And the star is here! Rick noticed from afar the curly back of Athenais’s head. The curls of her hair sparkled like solar threads. It couldn’t have all the flicker come from them.
Why is he surprised? There is nothing natural about movie stars. False eyelashes, dyed hair, skillful makeup instead of a beautiful face. So the thicket, where the star mysteriously sneaked into, actually turned out to be a film set. Where are the filming cameras? There is a backlight. But where does it come from? Not from above, as it should be when shooting such scenes. From somewhere inside. Really from the inside of a tree. Or does it just seem so?
“I still love you.”
Athenais was caressing someone who was hidden by a dense century-old trunk. So she has a secret love date here? Who would have thought? It’s a pity he doesn’t have a camera with him. Although the iPhone has a camera. Quality, not very good, but worth a try. The iPhone cracked right in his hand. Why did he become so fragile? He must have touched something sharp with his jacket pocket, and the protective glass on the screen shattered to smithereens. How fragile expensive things are!
Athenais was in no hurry. There were no bodyguards or escorts with her. She’s not scared here alone? And who is this with her? How to consider it and not attract attention to yourself? A branch snapped so inappropriately underfoot, but Athenais did not even turn around. She was too carried away by her lover. Or lovers? A whispering, polyphonic choir was heard behind the tree. Probably an echo. Although where does it come from among the dense branches? Maybe someone has Internet connection on their cell phone in their pocket, and voices come from some audio program. This can explain the fact that they are somehow unnatural.
From the side it seemed that Athenais was gently stroking the bark of a tree with her hand. The gestures were touching and seductive. What would he not give for her affection! But she was not caressing him. Some stranger.
“I love you very much. Do not consider yourself abandoned and forgotten,” she repeated, as if she was reciting the prayer by heart.
“Before you didn’t love anyone,” a handsome male voice was like the rustle of ash.
“Since the tragedy happened, I realized that I really love you,” Athenais pressed her clean forehead to the charred tree bark. Or to someone’s shoulder? Rick rubbed his eyes. He began to see poorly. It was getting darker all around. Only the curls and skin of the movie star, who wandered into the forest, continued to flicker, as if she was all illuminated from the inside.
“What a score! If you had not lost the war, I would not have understood the depth of my feelings. When you really love someone, you realize this, not when he shines in the sky or, for example, even on a modern screen, but when he, burnt and tormented, falls at your feet.”
Rick shuddered. What is she talking about? War? Burns? It seems like it was a long time ago. Her lover returned from Iran, from Chechnya? Where is the war going on now? Stop, lost war. Lost by whom?
What if the movie star is confused with terrorists? Then she and her friend pose a danger, and she herself has nothing to fear. This is probably why she behaves so freely in the thicket at night. Any normal person here would tremble with fear. And on love dates, no psycho will come here. You can expect anything from movie stars. They scurry around the world, communicate with politicians, build intrigues, can become someone’s political pawns.
The dialogue did not resemble a learned role. Every word trumpeted danger. In addition, Athenais spoke without any expression, as if she was remembering pain.
“You were tortured, you were burned, but you became more desirable to me as monsters than you would be angels. Monsters can protect, and they are true. But Michael and Gabriel were not faithful, but our era is coming. I will release you soon. Remember that my love is enough for all of you. And the sacrifice is already coming.”
Athenais leaned over and kissed either the bark of a tree, or someone who had been hidden from Rick by the branches.
“I’ll come again and bring you some stupid guys from the studio: cameramen or extras. Young and pretty. Old flesh is not healthy or tasty.”
Several voices seemed to laugh back at once. Laughter is like the rustle of leaves or the rustle of ash in a cold fire.
“Better bring your fans. The tastiest of all are those who imagine themselves to be the likeness of your first army.”
A knowing smile lit up Athenais’s beautiful face. She understood what it was about, but Rick did not. But no one invited him to participate in the conversation. He was listening because he accidentally wandered in here. He must leave before they find him. Suddenly, her guys will really be bandits or terrorists, armed to the teeth. Too often they talk about struggle and torture. The report would have come out excellent: “a star meets villains.” But life is more precious than a sensation.
It’s time to wash away, but Athenais was already leaving by herself, and oddly enough, no one followed her. Rick waited ten minutes. Not a sound, not a word, not a rustle, not a sigh. There is nobody in the thicket near the huge tree. Emboldened, he came out of hiding, took out a tiny flashlight attached to the key ring. There was definitely something engraved on the trunk of the tree, like on a memorial stone. Some kind of inscriptions, patterns, even images of faces. You need to come back here in the afternoon, and consider everything in detail, even take photos. This is not a tree, but a whole work of art. You might even think that it is not real, but stolen from the museum, if not for its size. Such a whopper cannot be stolen, and the powerful roots, even though partially stick out from the ground, have settled tightly in the soil.
Rick touched the prints with the faces of horned demons, monsters, and evil fairies. Sumptuously! Top class images. What genius carved them right in the bark? And why are they black? After all, the cut tree becomes light. The engravings seem to be sprinkled with ashes. So a dark mark remained on the hand.
Rick walked to where Athenais stood. Was she really talking to a statue made on the trunk in full growth? All movie stars are a little crazy, but not nearly as crazy. Although the statue was amazing. He wanted not only to talk to him, but also to get closer. What is it like to have sex with such a beautiful, albeit terrifying creature? Although you have to be ashamed of your thoughts. After all, in front of him is an angel carved in the bark. His wings and body are halfway into the tree, as if he were in captivity. The frozen face is striking in beauty.
So beloved AtHenais, but he is not alive. He cannot answer. And there are many wooden angels like him here. They are carved in the composition between the monsters, here and there. Rick grew bolder and ran his finger along the graceful lips of the angel he already liked. The bark of the tree at hand was suddenly hot, like red-hot coals. Rick didn’t even have time to be surprised, but he managed to scream at the top of his voice in pain. Woody lips closed on his hand, biting through the flesh and breaking all the bones. Blood spattered onto the roots, bright even in the dark. And they seem to have absorbed it greedily.
The effect of evil
An operator in the studio was not required. Waynes was wasting his time. The cameras seemed to be filming themselves. The setting of the horror movie was too realistic. One day, looking into an empty set, Waynes saw something hunched over and clawed, wielding cameras. Claws touched buttons, untangled wires. And Athenais just walked along the site, decorated in the form of a luxurious Roman colonnade. Where did the massive antique columns come from in the film studio? Waynes even touched them with his finger. Real! Not a fake! It is as if an entire ancient palace was fabulously moved into a modern pavilion.
Waynes heard something about the studio going broke not long ago. Now it flourished so much that it could afford any acquisitions. And all thanks to the star like an angel. At the sight of her, Waynes’s heart rate increased. Athenais, without bending his heart, could be called the most beautiful actress in the history of mankind. But that didn’t explain why Waynes felt like he had been burned up close to her.
Because of this scalding effect, he could not look at her for long. It seemed that she was the scorching sun, and he burned up in its rays and crumbled ashes at her feet. Her beauty was overwhelming, deprived of will and reason. In which case a woman is said to be divinely beautiful. When you want to die at her feet.
Waynes was never a romantic. Like all operators. His work at the studio is purely technical. Let scriptwriters and novelists enjoy the poetry of feelings. His job is to shoot the scene from the desired angle and adjust the scaling. He is the best specialist in his field. Therefore, Honor hired him. The owner of the film studio, which yesterday was on the verge of collapse, and today flourished, was himself a gloomy and nervous man. He drank a lot, looked around the corners, as if in search of house spirits, and was not at all happy about the enormous profit that he was hitting. Either money corrupted him to madness, or the difficult path to wealth cost him a mental breakdown.
The second is unlikely! Honor did practically nothing. The entire burden fell on the fragile shoulders of Athenais. She did not leave the set day and night. That’s really who made himself a star with his own hands. Waynes had long suspected that the large-scale action films that conquered the public were entirely her merit. From somewhere she recruited actors, unknown to anyone, but brilliant. Invisible helpers also grew out of the void. Waynes heard their footsteps, but did not see them. But he once watched how Athenais herself edited the films and did some tricks with the camera with her own hand. She stood behind the lens, dressed for filming. Dark angelic wings seemed to grow from her back. She filmed an empty room on camera. What for? Waynes never got it. Athenais told him to get out, and he obediently got away.
At Honore’s studio, he used to be silent and do nothing. On the one hand, it is a solid lafa to receive money for work that you do not do. On the other hand, a terrible secret beckons you. Waynes just sat in the studio for working hours and, if possible, watched Athenais. Once he saw how the cameras, placed in a close circle, filmed her by themselves and some monster that hugged her with claws. The black devil’s claws looked creepy against the lily-white skin. But the beast and the beauty seemed to be acting in tandem. The angel and the demon gave the impression of a single organism.
Later, he saw this scene in the film “Angel of Dawn” and could not comment on anything to friends who bombarded him with questions about how it was filmed and who was involved in the special effects. All former colleagues were sure that he was the main operator of Athenais. And therefore, he knows all the secrets of how the film was created. How wrong they were! But to admit that he sits in the studio and does nothing, Waynes did not dare. Let them consider him the star’s assistant. If he starts raving about ghosts, demonic claws near cameras and contracts with blank columns for employee names, no one will believe him. Everyone will decide that he is chattering incredible for the sake of a publicity.
Waynes himself did not understand why they were keeping him in the studio, a couple of secretaries, and even some black cripple named Eric, who could hardly walk on crutches. Erik was practically crawling, not walking. What’s the use of it? What is the point in contracts for films, where there are no names of actors and working filming, except for one name — Athenais!
Waynes suspected he was being hired for show. He knew that there were money laundering scams, but could there be a scam to launder a contract with ghosts? If so, he was hired to do just that. One living name among the many dashes in the treaty acts already looked like an excuse. Since there is one live employee at the film studio, it means that not all of it still belongs to ghosts.
Waynes knew a little about financial gambling. Before Honore, he worked with people who used movies and various celebrity charities to launder money from the left. Complete immorality and even criminality was often hidden behind the chic screen of stardom. But Athenais was above that. But her dishonest competitors from ruin were not saved by their adventures.
Waynes stealthily crept into Honore’s office, cracked the codes on the safes, looked through all the reports. No shameless transactions and double-entry bookkeeping! All revenues came exclusively from films. Not even an advertisement! It looks like a fairy tale! Typically, movie stars survive on promotions. Movies don’t make much money. Even if they turned out to be very successful, after the deduction of a share to the distributors and taxes, the creators have only a tiny percentage of the profits left. Athenais became an exception to all the rules. She ripped off the entire cash register. She paid no taxes at all, probably because of her connections with politicians. And the entire network of the latest fashionable cinemas with the mysterious ancient Egyptian name “Akhetaton” has long belonged to her. So who was the owner of the film studio with her? Everyone knew Honore as her sponsor. But is it really so?
There were no guards around, but someone here was definitely guarding everything. Waynes chickened out at the shuffling footsteps and hid all the documents back. He did not take anything with him and did not copy, however, someone started violent attacks on him.
With the onset of dusk, the empty film studio became scary. Someone was crawling along behind Waynes in the dark, and not only on the floor, but also on the ceiling. A couple of times the guy was caught in a black sticky web, which he hardly managed to break. And once, some creatures pounced on him in the dark and brutally tore them with claws. He woke up all in scratches, and for a moment it seemed to him that the same crippled Negro was crawling along the ceiling, which was running like a shadow for Athenais. He looked like a huge, shapeless spider, clinging to the ceiling with deformed limbs. He was angry, but the vision only lasted a moment.
It’s time to get out of this studio! He was not going to endure all this horror for the sake of one salary. Let all these are just the effects of lighting and editing, but after them there is a risk of ending up in a psychiatric hospital.
Several expensive cameras cracked and blackened in the lens, and the tripods felt like fire.
“She was filming the fire of Rome,” a creature lurking in the darkness explained with a snide laugh. “As if we haven’t seen enough of this before, but you haven’t seen it yet…”
Waynes did not answer him. He was not going to communicate with someone who was not officially listed in the staff of the film studio. So you can get confused with a gang of mafia. You never know who brought the diva to the shooting. A success like Athenais’s was probably based on something very risky.
The strange hunched creature twisted the cameras with its claws, as if it were the operator itself. But the broken lenses are no longer removed. It was necessary to warn him about this, but Neil did not waste words on the stranger. In addition, he behaved so self-confidently, as if he knew that broken cameras would be filmed for him, as if by magic.
The time was late. It was already possible to go home, but Waynes decided that he would write a letter of resignation right now. A muted orange light was pouring from the studio head’s office. So Honor is now at his workplace. Fine! And then he rarely appears here.
Waynes stopped before knocking. The door was ajar. Through the gap formed, one could see the golden head of Athenais. What is she doing at such a time in the studio of the owner of the film studio? Is it really the old fashioned way, as is customary in the world of show business — a star and a sponsor lover? Does not look like it. They are separated by a massive walnut table. And at the head of the table is Athenais, not her employer.
Everything around is somehow strange, as if special effects are about to turn on. The tension in the air is growing noticeably. The owner of the film studio is very nervous and scratches his own hands with nails until they bleed. Some unusual black animals are crawling along the curtains. And not cats, and not monkeys, but their skins are like coals. They seemed to be taken out of the oven. And their claws are like knives. There were obviously some special effects. Although why did they give up in the office. They usually negotiate here, not make films. Even a manual camera is not visible nearby.
“Did you really think you could keep the demon under control?”
Athenais’s voice was calm, not in the least mocking, but somehow it seemed that she was about to burst into laughter.
“There were plans…” Her boss was shivering.
“The king of Persia Kambiz also had. He wanted to see miracles, I showed him hell. It all began with the fact that his magician Gaumata reported to him that a deity lives in the desert that can be taken under control. I was poorly oriented then. I woke up for the first time after wearing in Egypt.”
Why is she retelling the plot of the film with her participation? He watched this movie. It was called “Daughter of Sunset”. There was a beautiful scene with King Darius on a bloodied bed after the ritual. He, like his predecessor, sought the love of a fallen angel. Alais was gentle with him, but cold: “I love you, but my passion burned out along with the beauty of my fallen angelic legion,” sounded in the frames. What if she repeats this to anyone who tries to get her favored off-screen? She seems to have gotten used to the role a lot. The sinister demonic makeup has not been washed away yet. Her face looked like smooth alabaster without moles, without wrinkles. What kind of powder does her make-up artist use to achieve this effect?
What she was saying now sounded like a monologue from some new script in the old style of mystical horror. But why was the owner of the film studio playing along with her?
“I, of course, apologize to you,” he fidgeted in his chair, “but I was told that summoning the devil is the same as a genie. There are certain rules.”
“There are no more rules!”
Did Athenais smoke? Somehow it doesn’t look like it. Fire escapes from her lips, not smoke. Neither a lighter nor a pack of cigarettes are visible on the table.
“And they were once? Was there any way to hold you back?” the sly notes in the voice of her interlocutor were hard not to distinguish.
Athenais smiled wryly. How good she is! Despite the pallor and inexpressive features. Her face was like a perfect mask, on which only eyelashes and eyebrows stand out in bright gold.
“You counted on this when you summoned the demon to raise the rating of your ruined film studio? When was blood poured over the Fall Memorial? When were you looking for a many-sided tree in the forest?”
This is no longer a dialogue, but most likely a plot for the next film. Then why does the owner of the film studio look so ashamed?
“Why did you miss the blood of former stars? Did you want mine from the start? Is it only the blood of the one who calls that matters?”
“Your call was hard not to hear. It was filled with such despair. People go crazy for money. And your studio is almost ruined, as well as many others, but only you called me. It doesn’t matter who advised you. You approached me voluntarily, but I did not respond. I wanted to sleep. I didn’t want to return to this world where everything is so gray and unattractive, except for my films. You didn’t need to wake me up. Then these films would not exist. The door to my world would not open through them. And your world would stand for a couple of centuries longer. This is what the Taor society and then the Templars fought for. It was so important for them to knock out this little at the cost of the lives of the elect — to postpone my coming to power by a century or two. They treasured the existence of humanity, no matter how tired and plain it was. And you called yourself. Here is the business risk. Making a lucrative movie for you is more important than saving the planet.”
“Don’t judge people! You are from a race in which they do not know what it means to have a fragile vulnerable body, to grow old, suffer, starve, suffer from thirst and endure the attacks of creditors.”
“Hungry and thirst, perhaps, unfamiliar instincts, but we know what it is to suffer,” Athenais nodded at the creatures that climbed the curtains and even on the ceiling. “And we know what it means to burn alive.”
“Those creatures inside the tree… Will they eventually break free and start acting in your films as burnt angels falling from heaven? Or will they break free for another? Someday one movie will not be enough for you. And they are hungry. They will easily finish off all those whom your films have not yet seduced.”
“The passage from world to world is not a tree of many faces, but screens of cinemas where my films are shown. If so far not all have watched them, this does not mean that it will also be in the future.”
Pass! A door! He felt that someone’s teeth, sharp as needles, closed in the palm of his hand. He looked down. Was the fancy keyhole molded in the shape of the manticore mouth malfunctioning? Couldn’t she bite him? It turned out to be impossible to free the hand.
“I smell blood!” Athenais’s voice caressed the ear. “It is a pity that not near the tree. It would be more reasonable there.”
He expected to see her next to him now. Her scarlet robe was already sliding down the aisle, but something black, scorched and winged, appeared near the door, as if it had come off a movie screen. It was tall, like a giant, with limbs like powerful tree branches. His cracked skin looked like the bark of a scorched tree. It reached out to him with dry black fingers, but there was nowhere to run. The keyhole caught the hand like a trap. And the creature at the door, alas, was not a special effect. And the smell of blood attracted him very much.
Egypt, excavations, Valley of the Kings
Something went wrong. Routine archaeological excavations have become hell. Voices were heard in the night over the tents, vague monstrous silhouettes flashed in the distance.
Several employees disappeared. And Leah was so passionate about her work that she didn’t even notice it. It is much more important for her to dig another discreet artifact out of the sand and mud than to contact the authorities and inform that people are missing from the excavations.
How could a girl be appointed head of the expedition? As expert as she is, she is still a woman. All her academic degrees do not change this.
Neil decided to take matters into his own hands. All you have to do is make a few calls or get to the city.
Leah, although not a white-handed, but a terrible bore. Sometimes you can’t get a word out of it. It’s a pity, she’s a young woman with great prospects and good looks, except for a strawberry patch on her cheek. Neil would have an affair with her, even though he was not a supporter of office romances. At home his wife and son were waiting for him, and Leah turned out to be a real ice statue. She didn’t like men at all, but she was not a lesbian either. She is asexual, like most scientists, who so much burden the brain that the attraction to carnal pleasures disappears. In addition, Leah did not abuse her connections at embassies and consulates. This means, as from a girlfriend, there will be no benefit from her. She also preferred not to disturb the police, holding a weapon for self-defense near her sleeping bag. She is ready to attack the camp. But Neil did not want to become a victim of robbers or terrorists.
He thought that by evening he would reach the settlements. It wasn’t like that. The city of the dead did not seem to let him go. All around are dunes and pyramids. Wherever he went, the road either turned back, or stretched forward indefinitely.
He probably turned the wrong way. When the whole expedition got to the excavation, it took much less time than now. Doesn’t he know how to use a navigator? It was also difficult to navigate the map. It seems that he was driving in the right direction and would have continued driving if the gasoline had not run out.
It was getting dark. Neil had to get out of the comfortable car and walk. Leah was probably right when she didn’t want to let him go. Cellular communication has been interrupted. Neil was left trapped in the sands alone.
The time was too late to receive sunstroke. The sun is no longer at its zenith. It’s getting dark too fast in the desert. So why does he have the feeling that his brains are melting from the sun? A figure in red flickers between the dunes. A monstrous face flickers under the red hood.
It seemed to Neil that real gold jewelry and coins were sparkling in the sand under his feet, but leaning over he found only bones there. He hoped they weren’t human.
Are jackals or some other predators roaming around here? He hadn’t heard the howl yet, but it got dark instantly. The constellations that poured out in the sky resembled bizarre inscriptions.
“Go to the session,” someone whispered. “There are many cinemas. They have films about us.”
If anyone was around, Neil would have punched him. How can you scoff at the unfortunate stray traveler like that?! He, of course, would like to sit in a comfortable chair, eat popcorn and quench his thirst with Coca-Cola. Only all this is impossible. After all, there are definitely no cinemas in the desert. They, for sure, are not present in most of the Egyptian cities. He didn’t check it himself, though. In Luxor he was passing through and did not see a single cinema there. And here lay the desert. It is located somewhere in the Valley of the Kings area, or at least not far from it. It is also called the City of the Dead, because the pharaohs were buried here for centuries. Each pyramid is a tomb, not just an exquisite museum for tourists. This should be remembered. The dead are all around. They must be respected. Well, robbers of royal tombs can also hang around here. Neil remembered them when he noticed something like a party near the opened tomb. A bright electric light poured from the opening that replaced the entrance. Someone inside was laughing. The dancing shadows resembled horned mythical creatures.
Robbers don’t behave like that. Most likely this is an alien group of archaeologists who made an important discovery. And now they are celebrating. It’s worth joining them.
He entered the pyramid and seemed to go to hell. A bloody mess was squelching underfoot. Either creatures, or jackals ate the remains of human bodies. Some bastards were crawling on the sand. Someone was drawing hieroglyphs on the floor. But the most terrible were the murders — real murders and tortures that he saw with his own eyes. A camera was working somewhere. Hence the light. Who has not heard of torture studios, where the real torture of the actors-victims is secretly filmed. And this happens not in some nook, but in dilapidated tombs, where tourists can appear during the day. Bloody debris flopped under his feet, clearly thrown from above. Something was crawling and groaning along the ceiling. The other dexterous creatures on the floor only vaguely resembled charred monkeys. They not only tormented the victims, but also devoured them alive. These are some kind of mutants, not otherwise. A whole horde of sand mutants. One beautiful creature among them nevertheless appeared. It bent over a completely opened and still living body, and cut it not with a knife or scalpel, but with its own claws. It sparkled like gold. All of it was completely phosphorescent, including the growth behind the back, like wings. Even the nails, sharp as knives, were gold. And the victim under them either lost his tongue, or could not scream.
He was dumbfounded. This is a crime, not archeology. Even in the middle of a wild country, which he stubbornly believed today’s civilized Egypt, it is still a crime.
“What are you doing?”
The handsome creature chuckled, and the creatures under his feet giggled insolently, as if laughing.
“Do not you see?” it raised a questioningly golden eyebrow. “We’re making a film.”
He actually noticed several other portable cameras in the corners. One of them seemed to hang in the dark. Shooting is so shooting, but they are documentary. The bodies writhing in agony are not a fake. They are bleeding. The sand absorbs blood. The cameras work, absorbing the scenes of hell like a sponge.
He did not have time to accuse anyone out loud of murder and sadism, but the handsome creature answered his unspoken question with the same mockery:
“Art requires sacrifice, as you can see.”
How easily it altered the meaning of established earthly expressions.
Not such victims, he wanted to say. Although it depends on what art to keep in mind. Something hellish was filmed here.
He didn’t have time to guess, because the golden creature finished with its victim and was there. Long gold nails reached out to his chest.
Russia, center of Moscow
It was pouring rain. Denis quickly clicked on the automatic button on the iron handle, opening an umbrella of a low-key shade. It is strange that it is during the rain that such freshness emanates from the city asphalt, as if you are in nature. If you close your eyes, it seems that there is a meadow all around, and the concrete walls smell of green grass.
Today is a non-standard evening. He goes to a press conference to criticize another arrogant celebrity (far from the first on his long list of debunked movie idols). Why, instead of sober thoughts, he is haunted by illusions? He never drinks during work hours, so where do the visions come from? He sees a fantastic meadow of sedge, reeds and ears of rye, and suddenly a flame falls from the heights of heaven, as if a dragon had died on the field. A huge fire burns out both grass and ears, and the entire surrounding nature. And something bursts out of the ground that has fallen asleep under the meadow, as if under a grassy cap. This polyphonic and multi-armed something has claws and wings.
Denis almost suffered a heartbeat when he noticed that smoke vapors were hovering between the rain streams. How like dragon breathing!
Stop! He is old enough not to believe in fairy tales, and the critic’s education makes him look at the world extremely realistically. There are no dragons or winged figures. The fairy with wings that he sees in the alley is just a play of shadows.
And so it turned out upon closer examination. As soon as Denis came closer, all illusions were dispelled, but he was shocked all the same. The movie star herself, whom he was in a hurry to meet, stood under the canopy of a gloomy building and smoked. Athenais was alone. Exactly the same as on the screen. There were no bodyguards or press agents with her. There was no cigarette in her fingers either. She probably managed to put it out and throw it out. But she still exhaled the smoke. This he took for the breath of a dragon.
The smoke was atypical for cigars with an orange hue and sparks. The smell is also not tobacco at all.
“It seems that smoking on the streets of Moscow is prohibited,” Denis reminded cautiously. Such a law really existed, but was almost never observed, because lazy law enforcement officers were in no hurry to incriminate anyone.
“I don’t smoke,” said Athenais.
She speaks Russian as her mother tongue! Who would have thought? Denis was ready to take off his hat in front of her out of respect, if he was wearing a hat now. But in Moscow in the summer season it is not fashionable to walk with your head covered.
Athenais wore real gold jewelery with rubies worn on his arms and forearms. And she is not afraid that she will attract the attention of the robbers?! For such jewelry they can kill.
Denis belatedly wondered where the smoke came from if she didn’t smoke. Burnt holes are visible in the canopy frame. Maybe there was a fire? But now nothing is burning. This means that calling the firemen is probably no longer worth it.
He focused on the lips of a young movie star. They were as delicate as rose petals and did not match the memories of acrid smoke at all.
“Never smoke?” Denis still expected that she would laugh impudently and breathe a new stream of smoke or even flame into his face, but Athenais behaved with royal dignity.
“Never. I don’t like tobacco. Wine is another matter. When you drink it, you feel like you are flying again with your former brothers. Their souls were left to live in wine. But this revelation is not for the press. You understood me?”
He nodded. Wow! She knows who he is. And he thought he had a privilege before the stars. After all, he saw their photo, but they did not. And now the usual incognito criticism in front of a movie star is broken. Did someone tell her about him? Some of the ill-wishers? Although, if she has already been notified of how evil his style of expression is, then why is she acting so confident?
Denis could not take his eyes off her. Athenais is like an unearthly creature that gradually enslaves you, without making any effort at all. She has something of a queen and an angel at the same time.
“Write about me!” She suddenly demanded.
“That’s what I came for.”
The movie star shook her golden-haired head.
“Write the truth about me,” she clarified, “the truth that no one dares to tell, but everyone sees.”
“That I am a demon!”
To say that the answer dumbfounded him is to say nothing. She really wants him not to go to the press conference at all, but to write only one insane denunciation. But Athenais had already passed him and seemed to dissolve in the rain. Her slender figure in silvery streams of moisture began to seem ghostly.
Although the umbrella was new and durable, it suddenly broke. Denis felt copious drops with solid hail on the back of his head and shoulders. And Athenais suddenly turned around and exhaled a whole stream of fiery smoke that did not go out even in the rain.
You could convince yourself as much as you wanted that this was a clever trick, but the heat from her breath reached Denis’s cheek, leaving a painful burn. As if the beauty branded him.
Many burned hands were stretched out from under the umbrella. They grabbed its lapels, ripped off its cufflinks, left traces of ash on a brand new shirt. Denis was trying to throw away the umbrella.
Something is wrong here. The world was changing, becoming like a horror movie.
“Let us in!” whispered rustling voices. “Let us recover from the greatest fire in the entire universe.”
The feeling was that he was on the other side of the screen and was participating in a horror movie himself. He threw the umbrella onto the high benches in front of the TASS building. Let yourself lie in the rain.
Nothing unusual was happening in the building itself. The journalists were carefully searched after they were passed through a metal detector. Ordinary situation. All measures are being taken to prevent the entry of terrorists. But the impression was that the terrorist had already entered. And his name is Lucifer — the same terrorist who staged the first act of rebellion in the entire universe.
Denis shook his head. He’s just seen enough creepy movies. The girls at the reception and the guards looked at him suspiciously. It was necessary to drag the umbrella with you and throw it on the table in front of the guard. What would they do if they saw the crippled hands inside? Or would they not see anything at all? What if its hands seemed to him?
As in a dream, Denis went to the second floor to the press conference hall. He usually never used the elevator. Why wait for an elevator when you only need to climb a couple of flights of stairs. But Athenais will definitely use the elevator. What if she’s already in the conference room?
A gloomy narrow corridor led forward. The walls were decorated with simple framed gray photographs. And this is the place that many celebrities and politicians have seen! For some reason, the feeling was that the true star came here only today. And from her presence here the whole building will burn.
What did he actually know about her? Denis remembered. She played Lucifer in such a way that it shocked the whole world. At the same time, she made the head of the fallen angels not a villain, but a victim. The heroic image of the devil, presented by her on the screens, deserved a prize for uniqueness. If the audience hadn’t started dying. How many young men and adolescents have already committed suicide at the exit from the cinemas. Nevertheless, Athenais continued to spin like a star. As if she needed this promotion! Someone, but she does not occupy popularity! She is the number one diva in the whole world.
Denis took his place at the edge of the side exit, as if he feared that she would see him. There were ash traces on the gray carpet by the chairs. It feels like something burned down here. Athenais’s voice, pouring into the microphone, was like a siren singing. Denis could not understand the words, because the dazzling visions hit his brain.
They were brighter than the stills from the movies. Archangel Michael brings a fiery sword to her neck and realizes that he cannot kill her. Lucifer in maiden form is too beautiful to be destroyed. These frames were not in the film. So why are they spinning in his head, as if some devil’s reel is spinning, inserted right into the brain.
He is a rational, sober person, and now his brain is inflamed from some kind of nonsense of filmmakers. Denis made urgent notes in a notebook. No, he won’t call it nonsense in the article. Otherwise, the crowd of angry fans will tear him apart! He will make an objective assessment. These are all horror films with a biblical bias. Only the Bible is upside down in them. Lucifer is deified, the brightest of whose names is Alais — the ruler of demons and pharaohs.
These horror films turned out to be sensational, because they portray Lucifer not as evil, but as a leader who was the first in the whole world to fight for his independence from the highest tyranny. This is a hero like Spartacus… Or rather a heroine, because the role is female.
Athenais! Just a name. No surname, no hint of one. It’s like the name is taken from the Bible, but it’s not there. Although who knows what they could have done in the modern edition. Something is always crossed out, something is added.
Fact — each of her films is the glorification of Lucifer. The names change, the essence remains.
The press conference was not over yet, but Denis hurried out with the knowledge that he would write and publish everything about her that she herself wanted.
Demon at a press conference
A severed head with blond curls and a delicate girlish face lay on the table between microphones and plastic cups of coffee. This head had ears, pointed in the shape of wings and such azure eyes, when looking into which thoughts of the sky began to frighten. After all, the sky was associated with their azure and with the fall. Looking into the eyes of this head, Constantine seemed to wake up from a dream. Boredom and laziness instantly disappeared. He felt the sensation was near.
Athenais brought the severed head with her and tossed it casually on the conference room table. Just a dummy? A trick to impress the TASS guests, which the press was usually called. Konstantin almost lost his plastic pass, without which it would be impossible to leave the building. There are capricious turnstiles and meticulous guards who search the things of each invitee with a flashlight. You never know: what if the journalist turns out to be a terrorist! Athenais’ safety was the most worried about. At the entrance, the operators sent from TV channels were searched several times and forced to open the bags with portable cameras. He himself was carefully checked, and he was sure of one thing: people need protection from the star, and not vice versa.
Athenais not only tempts. It suppresses by its mere presence. The head she brought as a toy suspiciously resembles the face from the icons. This is how Constantine always imagined the Archangel Michael. Do others see this head? He looked back at the hall. Nobody seems to panic. Only a correspondent named Denis unexpectedly ran out of the hall in the middle of the press conference. Probably rushing to another event. Many colleagues try to get to several places at once. What can you do? This is the job of a journalist. There are so many events happening in the world that there is not enough time and space for everything in the newspaper. But Athenais for some reason everyone paid special attention. It suddenly turned out to be more important than floods, fires and terrorist attacks. Nobody except Denis thought to leave.
Was the head on the table really alive or was it imagining it?
Athenais took her place in the center. The feeling that she left the screen was a little shocking. Trailer footage spun in his head. It is good that he did not watch films with her, otherwise he would have fallen into a stupor now, like other media representatives. All the seats in front of him were occupied. There is rarely such a rush here. Usually full of free places. Even those journalists who have been accredited in advance do not always come. Too many interesting things are happening. There is always room to rush instead of meeting pop stars, but for some reason everyone considered meeting with Athenais as an event of paramount importance.
Whom did she play there so stylishly that she suddenly became the idol of everyone? The head of the rebel angels. Simply put, Satan. Looking at her now, one could admit that she justifies her title of the most beautiful angel by more than one hundred percent.
The beauty of Athenais burns and freezes and makes you shiver. The ancient inhabitants of the planet felt something similar in relation to their gods. The roots of antiquity and there were stories about it.
By the way, who is the director of her films? In the credits it was not specified, otherwise he would have known. With Athenais came a producer, PR-agent and two strange gloomy subjects, apparently former bodyguards.
Their capes reminded him of ragged wings. All these are methods of promotion. From thoughts did not go the scene of how Athenais in the film cuts off the head of the Archangel Michael with a sword. Does it seem to him that some thing on the table in front of her is a severed blond head? A moment, and the head opened its eyes, preparing to breathe fire into the conference room.
He turned away. It just seems to him as if he was sitting on some pills. You need to focus on what the star is saying. And she said something about her films that no one expected from her, but everyone listened with bated breath.
Konstantin felt dizzy. The words reached him like a tape being played somewhere far beyond the world.
“The art of cinema is a kind of magic. It is capable of letting some forces into the world. It seems to viewers that the plot of the film was born out of nothing. But he comes from the side where eternity began. Cinema is a way of influencing minds. A drug, for the distribution of which, you cannot be attracted. But they can poison everyone.”
Is she really saying that or is he ringing in his ears? Someone annoying, sat down behind, and squeaked something in the back of the head. Constantine turned around. An empty chair in the back. Probably, the annoyance left or moved to the front rows. All journalists today were in a hurry to move to the first row, which, as a rule, was intended for photographers.
Athenais reeked of magic. He wanted to believe in her words.
“Making a film is a unique art. And not a picture, and not a book worth the effort to read. A film is something that is clear and pleasant to everyone. We do not always think about the meaning put into it without looking at the last frame. And then it no longer makes sense to look back and regret. The movie has already been watched, the demon has already been released.
The film is like a gilded lamp releasing a demon like a genie. As soon as you turn on the screen, the demon flows from it into your minds, settles in your head. You can’t drive him away.”
Konstantin looked around the serious faces of his colleagues from the press and television. No one smirks sarcastically, or scribbles offensive comments in a notebook or laptop. Everyone listens as if spellbound. Athenais impressed them despite all the delirium of what she said. Do they believe her?! This is probably because they watched her films, but he did not. All of them, wise and experienced, managed to fall under her charm. So what to expect from the general public, teenagers, punks and outsiders who usually go to cinemas? That’s what she’s easy to control.
Does it seem to him, or is the cape behind her slender back two large folded wings? And where did the cape come from? Athenais came in a lace one shoulder top and exquisite bracelets with ancient Egyptian symbols. Even with the naked eye, you can determine that this is real gold. And it seems that the jewelry is ancient, museum, and not bought in cheap jewelry stores, where gold is of the lowest standard, and diamonds are often replaced with cubic zirconia.
Athenais was perhaps the only star who never wore jewelry or bragged about the value of her jewelry. And their cost was probably exorbitant. Who gave them to her? The star herself, even the most successful, hardly earns enough to buy rarities from a museum showcase.
Athenais suddenly looked straight at him, and he drowned in her eyes, began to slide into some kind of terrible abyss, like into the funnel of the twenty-fifth frame.
Her words sounded from somewhere above, like a golden echo in hellish darkness.
“Cinema is a kind of magic. The film captures what is happening on the set, someone’s claws are adding special effects to the frames. We do not shoot, but we conjure, we recreate the knowledge that is forbidden by the Bible, but now there are no fires of the Inquisition to burn us on them along with all our works. You can only submit to us.”
After all, there is a live broadcast of all this on dozens of TV channels. Is the audience seeing a well-staged mini-horror film or a press conference? What do the gloomy companions of Athenais drink: water in plastic cups or something red, thick. In front of her was not a plastic bottle with mineral water, but some rare precious goblet. The thing looks like a sleeping dragon coiled in a bowl. Its walls are its wings, a tail stand, decorations made of rubies, emeralds and sapphires are its many eyes. And they seem to be looking at the conference room, winking slyly. A magnificent vessel intended for a museum showcase, and not for a white TASS table, decorated on the side with only an inconspicuous globe! He saw a picture of this cup on a poster for a movie. Athenais seemed to have sipped red wine from it. How fortunate that red wine is the same color as human blood. Thus, it seems that wine is blood.
“I create, and you watch! I cannot guarantee that any of you will survive or remain sane, but I guarantee that the truth will be revealed to all of you. It’s not my fault that heavenly revelations are too painful for the human mind. I saw civilizations being destroyed and created. The film is created as a separate window into another world, but with the help of a single film you can destroy absolutely everything that was created by the god with whom I am in conflict. And what you see so far only on the screen will eventually become reality.”
What was there? In the frames of her films? He remembered only the cuts from the trailer: the battle of angels, the burned troops rising from the ashes, the demons living in the treasuries, the golden entrails of the pyramids and angry genies, the fallen angels seducing and killing people, the clatter of the black horses of hell and the bloody sickle. The sickle seems to represent a sign of cruel fate.
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