Tales of Ghosts

Бесплатный фрагмент - Tales of Ghosts

Playing Another Reality. Edgar Allan Poe award

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 About LOVE and DEATH from the LAND of MISTS

                          collection of short stories

             in the “PLAYING ANOTHER REALITY” series

the winner of the following literary competitions and awards:

                      “SHADOW of a BIRD” 2021

                                after EDGAR A. POE


                              “CASE №…” 2021

                 in Alfred HITCHCOCK nomination

                              (Moscow City Organization

                        of the Union of Writers of Russia,

                               & “Literary Republic”)

                       “TALES for ADULTS” 2022

 after E. T. A. HOFFMANN & H. Chr. ANDERSEN

                   (Open Literary Club “Response”, 2022)

                        “LITERARY OLYMPUS”

                 (League of Writers of Eurasia, 2012)


English edition No.2

The booktrailer: https://youtu.be/L4Oyw98pgaM

The original:

“СКАЗКИ ПРИЗРАКОВ”, ISBN 978-5-0056-2207-5.

The bilingual:

“СКАЗКИ ПРИЗРАКОВ / TALES of GHOSTS”, ISBN 978-5-0059-2520-6.

Amazon.com, Aliexpress, Litres.ru, Ozon.ru, Wildberries, etc.


The author expresses her great gratitude

to all the characters and prototypes of these stories,


                                    numerous ghosts

                                 and everybody else!

D. Nemelstein, “About Love and Death from the LAND of MISTS”

The book of philosophical and mystical stories by Alexandra Kryuchkova “Tales of Ghosts” (about Love and Death from the Land of Mists) is like a jewel box: each page contains something unique, and trying the stories on, the readers will surely find their own! Even those, who are not burdened with a passion for mystification and take with skepticism talk about the Other World, will be charmed by the meanings, skillfully woven by the author into the fabric of a fascinating narrative. These stories not only reflect a high degree of writing skills, they radiate the Light of hidden wisdom and are filled with Divine Love.

Oddly enough, I met the author of “Tales of Ghosts” during the poetry seminar of Eugeny Rein at the Booker Laureates School in Milan 2012, where, as a result, E.B. Rein announced Alexandra Kryuchkova the winner in the poetry class with the award of Sergey Yesenin ‘Golden Autumn’ order decoration and a certificate for free edition of her book from the Moscow city organization of the Union of Writers of Russia. In the same place, in Milan, Alexandra was also marked in the prose course by the writer Viktor Erofeev, who singled out for the seminarians her novel “The Book of Secret Knowledge”, which opens the author’s “Playing Another Reality” series.

“Tales of Ghosts” harmoniously complement the series. The idea of assembling these stories into a book is admirable: all the main characters are already ghosts. Having moved to the Other World together with the author, they find themselves in a long and slow queue to the Heaven Chancellery, located in the City of the Sun, where everyone will be informed about one’s further destiny. To pass the time and warm the soul, the ghosts light up the fire, throwing into it their earthly lifetime stories. By the will of Lord, the author, in fact a listener of the stories, eventually returns from the City of the Sun to Earth in order to write down “Tales of Ghosts” by heart and pass them on to people.

It is no coincidence that the book consists of several parts. Arranged according to the principle from Earth to Heaven, it slowly leads the reader further and further into the Subtle World, to the place where the planet Earth is seen as a barely distinguishable point in the Abyss of the Cosmic Mind.

Part I. “Love me now!” is a collection of philosophical love stories, united by the regret and remorse of the main characters that they could not live for real the opportunity of given to them Love. The reasons are different, but the result cannot be changed: unexpressed love ‘gnaws’ the souls, pulls them into the past, where they can never return. Is it possible to make dreams come true in a posthumous reality? The story “A Cats’ Name” from this collection deserves the highest praise: it is not just touching – the reader won’t doubt a bit that it is being told by… a dog devoted to its owner!

Part II. “The Master of Fates” contains shocking stories about those who imagine themselves to be God: perverted maniacs and quite on their minds – cold-blooded and prudent killers – commit crimes without a twinge of conscience. The author’s incredible ability to penetrate the mind of maniacs culminates in the chilling, purely Hitchcock-like story “Cranberries” and strikes the reader on the spot, causing him to fear not only the swamps, but also the cranberries!

Part III. “Restless Souls” are mystical stories in the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe about ghost apparitions, each one strikingly unpredictable in its plot. The geography of phenomena is vast: London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Moscow, New York… Wherever the ghosts appear – in modern offices or in condemned houses, whether they are walking in the park near the Louvre or unwinding in a seaside resort in Italy – they are looking for an opportunity to complete some unfinished situation during their earthly lives, which haunts them after death, or they come to the aid of still alive relatives and beloved ones. The stories are so touching that they will not leave the reader without empathy: he involuntarily seeks a way of salvation for the main characters, finding it together with them and for himself. And here is another masterpiece – a heart-warming story “The House by the Station” about an abandoned wooden house, in which more than one generation of ghosts gather to drink tea, play chess and relive happy moments of the past. It is the third (central) part of the book that is the doorway to Another Reality.

Part IV. “Nostalgia for the Body” and Part V. “The Land of Mists” contain stories of the inhabitants of the Subtle World: souls not yet incarnated, but preparing for incarnation; disembodied, but longing for physical, as well as stories of other creatures, for example, like the Black Raven, who serves as a Guardian in the Land of Mists, and characters of fairy tales and other thought-forms. Here the influence of H. Chr. Andersen and E. T. A. Hoffmann, O. Wilde and A. S.-Exupery is captured, and the pearl of this collection, in my opinion, is the fairy tale “Water Lily”, by the way, reprinted three times and beloved by readers. The story “A Guest” explodes one’s mind with a trivial tea-party… with Death.

The book “Tales of Ghosts” includes both new stories and previously published ones (from the books “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” and “Water Lily”), which received positive reviews from literary critics even after their first publication. The famous poet and writer Alexander Karpenko rightly compared Kryuchkova’s short stories to the mystical thrillers of Edgar Allan Poe (Poetograd, No. 12 (113), 2014).

The stories from the book “Tales of Ghosts” got the following literary awards: “Shadow of a Bird” after Edgar Allan Poe and “Case No…” 2021 in A. Hitchcock nomination (the Moscow City Organization of the Union of Writers of Russia, NP “Literary Republic”, 2021), H. Chr. Andersen and E. T. A. Hoffman “Tales for adults” (Open Literary Club “Response”, 2022), “Literary Olympus” (League of Eurasian Writers, 2012).

A striking feature of Kryuchkova’s prose is the complete absence of a line between earthly and the Other Realities: while reading, we sometimes don’t even notice that the hero or heroine has already passed into the Other World! And all the characters – decisive and not so much ones, romantic and prudent, loving and hating, smart and naive, happy and unhappy, rich and poor – have one thing in common: they are mortal and, basically, suddenly.

The mystical spirit is masterfully matched by the author with the daily routine and real events of the era. Thus, behind the plot of the “The City of Rains” there is an ominous panorama of the crash of the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001. The story “Stuck Pluto” is about an epidemic of coronavirus. In the story “Disembodied” we hear an echo of the Great Patriotic War. The ghost of a woman, a member of an intelligence network settled in Italy during the war years, with motherly persistence for half a century, has been looking for her son, evacuated to Siberia with an orphanage.

The short novel “Good Night” recreates a picture of the frantic rhythm of life and rotation in the business circles of Moscow in the sinister 1990’s, when there was a demand for such unscrupulous people as Sackman, who robbed the owner of a furniture company, and the lovesick Oksana, ready to do anything for money, who easily sold her friend to the customer of the murder.

The image of Mr. Piggins (in the story “A Photo film”) is also quite remarkable, convex and brightly drawn by the author with obvious sarcasm. We see a state official, who has successfully moved from the Soviet era into the era of radical changes: as he received his “tips” in the form of interest, bribes and kickbacks, so he continues to receive them. And he will never die, because the Piggins are immortal…

It is surprising that many of the works gathered in this book were created by Alexandra when she was a teenager, they are so well “faceted”. Written in pastel colors, lyrical and tender, they contain a slight sadness and a non-childlike understanding of the world beauty, in which Divine Love prevails over everything. A considerable portion of it is produced by the author herself, as if she remained to live on Earth at the age of a teenage girl. However, the character of her “Farewell to Childhood” is right,

“Time doesn’t exist. It is conditional and relative. You will learn to manage Time when you realize that it doesn’t matter how old you are on Earth, the main thing is who you feel you are …”

Yes! To look at the world through children’s eyes, being an adult, is a gift from the Creator.

After reading the book, one gets the feeling that the author is constantly and intently watching her characters – and even the reader! – not from the side, but as if from Above, from different heights, now approaching them, then moving away, but never leaving them … like their guardian angel.

However, answering the question “Do you believe in ghosts?”, I will quote the wise “A Letter from the Astral Tablets”, included by the author in “Tales of Ghosts”,

“Certainly, my dear friend… in my life, there have been also other inexplicable cases related to those who passed into the Other World, but I should confess to you that most of all I have always been concerned about the relationship of living people, because it is what turns some of us into ghosts…”

Dmitry Nemelstein,

poet, writer, historian,

member of the Union of Writers of Russia,

laureate of literary awards

The magazine “CHILDREN of RA” No. №1 (194), 2022,

Magazine’s Hall “Gorky-Media”.




A. Karpenko, “Do you believe in GHOSTS?”

The lyrical novellas of Alexandra Kryuchkova can’t leave anyone indifferent. They tell about the most vulnerable and fragile thing in human destiny – the formation and collapse of relationship between a man and a woman, about different faces of this and Other World life. Kryuchkova’s stories are quite short, no more than two pages, but how many experiences fall to the lot of their characters!

The writer uses the effect of a ‘detective’ ending: everything, as a rule, doesn’t end the way the reader expects. The aerobatics of the dramaturgy of these stories is when one emotion interrupts another and reverses the outcome. Such an inverted outcome sometimes evokes in the reader directly opposite, overwhelming emotions.

The second and third parts of the book are written in the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe’s mystical thrillers. Nowadays ghosts, of course, don’t appear in old Gothic castles, but, for example, in the fashionable offices of well-known firms (the story A Letter”). You see, they, the ghosts, absolutely don’t care where to appear. The surroundings don’t interest them at all. As in the works of past centuries, they are spiritually bound to the premises in which they died. Although, to tell the truth, I prefer stories outside the Otherworld – “A Piano”, “A Cat’s Name”, “See you Tomorrow”.

Without exception, all the short stories of Alexandra Kryuchkova are written at a high artistic level of narration and dramaturgy.

Kryuchkova’s creative biography is full of surprises. She began writing poetry and prose at the age of 11. And not just began, because some short stories were included in the book, which is the subject in my note. This is evidenced by the dates under the works. These stories not only entered the book, they took their rightful place in it. The old works of the child prodigy Kryuchkova, included in her collection, were written by the hand of master. And they say that there will be no more Lermontovs because of the supposedly “slow” maturation of modern youth. However, it is not so! When you read Alexandra Kryuchkova’s stories, you don’t even think that they were written by a teenage girl.

I think that such an early maturation of Kryuchkova, as in the case of Lermontov, is caused by the premature death of both her parents. The tragic orphanhood could not but affect the child’s psyche. For Alexandra Kryuchkova, this resulted in a genuine interest in the Other World. The drama of life entered her soul early. As in the case of Lermontov, everyone learned about the prodigy Kryuchkova in retrospect, when she had already grown up and became a famous poet.

Although the stories, presented in the book, were written by Alexandra at a young age, they have not lost their original value even today. And yet, it’s a pity that our country didn’t care about its brilliant children in the nineties of the last century. And that Alexandra Kryuchkova’s early stories were published only two decades after they were written.

Alexander Karpenko,

poet and writer

The newspaper “Poetograd” No. 12 (113), 2014




                                 I dedicate my book

                                    to every reader!

As well as to:

                                       my parents,

      grandmothers, grandfather and great-grandfather,

                 my son Andrey and our cat Josephine,

                  and all KIND creatures and entities!


0. Bonfire

I walked for a long time somewhere far away, in an endless thick fog, until I suddenly came upon a Man.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized, trying to move on, but realized there was someone there, too.

“Follow me,” the Man said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The queue…”

“What are you queuing for?”

“Everyone gets their own.”

“And how long do we have to wait?”

The Man shrugged. The queue moved a little further. I began to distinguish some voices.

“Do you know what is there?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” the Man replied indifferently. “They say, there is the City of the Sun beyond the fog. However, not everyone can reach it.”

“Are you from the City of the Sun?”

“I don’t think so,” the Man grinned. “More likely, from the Land of Dreams’ Dungeon.”

The queue moved forward a little.

“So, are you an atheist?” I supposed.

“Not anymore,” he sighed.

Suddenly, a girl of about five years old emerged from the fog. She ran between us and immediately disappeared.

“Are the kids in the queue, too?” I wondered.

“I guess so,” the Man replied and shrugged.

The Girl emerged from the fog again, but from the other side. For a moment she stopped next to us and then turned to me.

“There’s a cat waiting for me there! And who is waiting for you?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“Weird!” the Girl said thoughtfully. “There must be someone waiting for you! If there was no one waiting, you wouldn’t be here!”

I smiled, and the Girl disappeared in the fog at once.

Soon we reached a bonfire on the side of the road.

“Well, we can relax until morning,” the Man said.

A shadow of a woman separated from the fire and approached me and the Man.

“Join us!” she suggested.

The Man and I sat down by the bonfire. How many of souls were there? Anyway, I couldn’t count, Mr. Fog clearly didn’t want us to see each other …

“What are they throwing into the bonfire? There is no wood at all!” I asked the Man in a whisper.

“Stories!” he smiled.

“And you both will definitely tell us yours, too,” the Woman smiled, handing cups of tea from a thermos to me and my neighbor.

“What for… tea and thermos?!” I asked the Man, without ceasing to be surprised at what was happening, when the Woman left for the fog.

“It’s more familiar,” the Man answered calmly, and at the same moment a sad female voice sounded out of the fog.

“He told me, ‘See you tomorrow!’…” I heard it and regretted I had nothing with me to write down the stories thrown into the bonfire by ghosts that night …

But… if I ever come back…

1. See you tomorrow!

Natasha adored the theater since childhood and went to premieres almost every weekend. A tall, slender, blue-eyed blonde, with an uncommon power to attract men, she had just graduated from the best Theatre Institute and decided to devote herself to the stage. Late autumn, Natasha played her first major role. Tired but happy, she was walking to the dressing room, when suddenly someone caught up with her and took by the hand.

“Congratulations! You were great!” Sergey, the theatre director, said enthusiastically.

“Thank you,” Natasha replied calmly. “I don’t like compliments. See you tomorrow!”

…Sergey returned home and, as soon as he crossed the threshold, he heard the usual words.

“Try walking in my shoes! I’m so tired of your nightly returns!”

“We had a premiere tonight. You knew about it. I offered you to come, but you refused! Natasha was amazing! A really talented actress. Not what I thought of her.”

“That bitch must have already confessed her love to you, and you hung up your ears, idiot!”

“Don’t talk like that,” he asked wearily.

“The theatre became everything to you! You care as hell for me and our son! You live your own life in which there is no place for us! And you appear and disappear like a ghost!”

“You’re wrong,” Sergey tried to argue.

“I’m right! Theatre is an entertainment for idlers, a waste of time! Lazybones! You adore doing nothing, and the theatre is your shelter!”

Sergey silently turned around and walked off into the night.

…It was snowing outside. Immersed in heavy thoughts, he wandered along the road, wherever his eyes looked. He had loved his family. And his wife, he had loved. Sergey for the first time realized the gravity of the past tense verb! Yes, he had loved, once upon a time, because everything was long gone. Flat – cottage – flat. To plant potatoes. To buy groceries. To take them there. To pick up from here. To fix the faucet. To give money for a fur coat… When he tried to talk with his wife about something unearthly, she was completely uninterested. So, he withdrew into himself, and the only outlet for his soul became that small experimental theater he had recently established. The theatre was the only thing that kept him on Earth. He plunged into his brainchild and lived in the theatre for real. Sergey caught himself thinking that everything had been turned upside down: he was himself in the theatre, while he became an actor in real life…

Turning automatically to the right into a small lane, Sergey reached the playground and sat down on a swing. Suddenly, as if sensing something, he turned around. Behind him, a girl was sitting on exactly the same swing.

“Natasha! What are you doing here?”

“Don’t you know I live there?” pointing out the house across the street, she asked in surprise.

Sergey remembered that he had paid attention during the interview to the address, indicated in her CV, although said nothing about their shared neighborhood.

“Sorry, I forgot,” he apologized embarrassed, “but why aren’t you at home?”

“I slammed the door outside and then realized to have left the keys inside. The neighbors are asleep, and it’s still a long way till morning. I’m sitting here wondering what to do…”

“Do you live alone?”

Natasha nodded. He wanted to ask something else to keep the conversation going, but…

“When you don’t know what to talk about, it’s better to keep silent,” she suddenly said. “Listen, how quiet it is! What stars! We’re always running and looking down at our feet. And they’re always up there, so beautiful. They are looking at us… There’s the brightest one! When I die, will I reach that star?”

“Yes, you will, surely, but you’ll become a star in your lifetime! Why don’t you ask me how I ended up here?”

“And why should I know that?”

...Sergey opened the door lock with the help of some iron they had found on the road and … returned to his home, having refused even a cup of the kindly offered tea.

“See you tomorrow!” with bated breath he whispered to Natasha at the door.

...And all week they returned from the theatre together, talking about everything and nothing. They seemed to be on the same wavelength, to communicate ‘the same language’ and to understand each other perfectly. However, as usual, all of a sudden, something that would have made Sergey glad just a little while ago, happened, and…

He entered Natasha’s flat for the first time.

“I’m sorry to be uninvited,” Sergey said with a heavy exhale.

She didn’t seem surprised to see him in doors and with a gesture invited him into the kitchen. Sergey sat down on a stool and didn’t know where to start.

“Today I dreamed of my mother,” Natasha turned to him first and, as always, in a completely calm voice. “She told me to live ‘here and now’.”

“Today, the doctor told me… it’s cancer.”

“Tea or coffee?” Natasha asked still calmly.


She was standing by the stove with her back to him. Sergey came over and put his arms around her.

“We all will fly to the stars one day, darling,” Natasha said quietly, addressing him as ‘darling’ for the first time, and added, “There’s a great mystery in it, that you’ll discover soon.”

“It’s funny! My wife started screaming, my friends expressed their pity for me. You are the only one… If you only knew…”

“I know…”

“I would like… the rest of my time… Well,” it was hard for Sergey to speak, and he thought, “God, how much of the precious time we waste in life on all sorts of nothing!”

Natasha held out a cup of coffee.

“I promise you that since tomorrow,” she said slowly and clearly, as an oath, “all the following days will be the best of your life!”

Sergey took a sip of coffee and smiled. It was a childish smile. Open. Kind-hearted. Happy…

At that moment Natasha’s phone rang. Her friend was leaving for a business trip and asked to shelter the black cat for a couple of days.

“Cats are great! Especially black ones! As long as they don’t cross your path! Okay, honey, I have to go,” Sergey winked at Natasha, putting the cup on the table. And already at the door he stopped and asked again with hope in his voice, “So, see you tomorrow?”

“See you tomorrow!” she nodded and smiled.

Sergey left, singing some children’s song. He suddenly felt completely happy for the first time.

They never saw each other again.

That night he was hit to death by a car while crossing the road on his way home…

February 11, 1994

2. A white dance “Ladies’ Choice”

Ivan invited Inessa to a cafe. He was the CEO of a famous company, and she was just a fifth-year student, though, of one of the best universities in their country.

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe you!” Ivan ended their conversation categorically. “Maybe in five or ten years…”

“And what then, in five or ten years?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, okay!” she grinned. “I’ll become CEO as well, to prove to you that I’m not about your money. And then, if you want, you will find me yourself…”

And in a bright red dress, so beautiful, daring, young, Inessa left him.


He saw the same snow and a grey, hopeless sky outside the window. It was very cold, although on TV they had promised a sharp warming. Ivan was out of any mood. That used to happen when the Sun disappeared, and life had made no pleasant surprise for a long time.

As usual, being late for work, Ivan started the car, drove through the archway to the exit to the embankment and turned on the signals, waiting for an opportunity to squeeze into the continuous flow. Yawning, he habitually glanced at the billboard and… couldn’t believe his eyes!

Ivan got out of the car, forgetting to turn off the signals, took out cigarettes and lit up one, staring at the poster “I LOVE YOU!” on the billboard – just that inscription and the familiar face of the girl in a bright red dress! He looked at her, and five years flashed back in the blink of an eye. Ivan had turned gray and was no longer the CEO of either that famous or any other company, meanwhile Inessa had blossomed…

He found her without any difficulty.

Inessa invited Ivan to a restaurant.

“That’s how I became the CEO,” she summed up, not without a sense of pride. “Now I have everything. Except for the man I love…”

Ivan couldn’t believe her incredible success story.

“Let’s get married!” Inessa said finally.

“And where are we going to live?” for some reason he asked, being dumbfounded.

“I was thinking of a flat with some veranda on the roof to buy. Do you remember tales about Carlson?”

“The haunted roof?” Ivan smiled.

“Surely, why not!” Inessa laughed. “Where do you want it, here or in Europe? Or… would you prefer a cottage?”

“An uninhabited island,” he smiled again. “And a private jet as a bonus!”

“Not bad for a start!” Inessa was full of enthusiasm and energy.

“Well done,” Ivan summed up and sighed heavily. “However, I’m no longer the boss, and I don’t have the funds to make your life beautiful. In a couple of years you’ll think, ‘What do I need him for?’ You’ll be still a young, successful, prosperous lady, and I…”

Ivan walked her to the car. The road became a skating rink. After a sharp warming in the morning, it got cold again in the evening.

Inessa was leaving, and he felt that they would never see each other, but at the same time he wanted to see her again and again.

That night Ivan was overcome by insomnia. Reflecting on whether he had been right allowing her to leave, he realized that, on the one hand, he certainly liked Inessa a lot, and he would like such a woman to be next to him. On the other hand… if some years before Ivan had looked at her from the top down, that day – from down up, just as at her billboard at the embankment…

“There is something wrong, unnatural about it. Although, perhaps, I simply wasn’t prepared for her crashing down on me as a sudden snowfall… I’ll call her. Tomorrow…” he decided.

Ivan didn’t want to give Inessa to anyone else. At the same time, he couldn’t overcome his fear and call. So ‘tomorrow’ was postponed for another three days. That night Inessa came to him in a dream, waved her hand with a bitter grin and silently disappeared into the mist.

In the morning, after listening to ‘The subscriber is temporarily blocked,’ Ivan dialed her office number, thinking about the best way to introduce himself to the secretary so that she would connect them instead of answering something like, ‘She is busy, call back later!’

However, the secretary’s answer was unexpected.

“She left us.”

“What do you mean? Did she change job?”

“A dead car crash three days ago.”

...She was gone, but for a long time, every morning and evening, when Ivan left for work and returned home, on that very poster on the billboard at the embankment, Inessa met Ivan and saw him off, smiling and repeating, “I LOVE YOU!”

He saw the same snow and a grey, hopeless sky outside the window. It was very cold, however, on TV they no longer promised any warming.

December 2003

3. God, Barsik and Borsch

Three women were talking in a hospital room. One of them, Lyudmila, a young and beautiful girl, had just been brought in by ambulance for an urgent surgery under general anesthesia. Lyudmila settled down on the bed by the door and didn’t even bother to put out the things, hastily gathered at home, leaving the packages at the bedside table.

“Don’t worry, Lyudmila,” Galina, already operated on, encouraged the girl. “Everything happens to us once for the first time! My first anesthesia was like a dream without dreams! Nothing interesting! And the second one… I relaxed, I thought, ‘I won’t see God, and thank God!’ An-no! Imagine, I found myself flying at a high speed in a dark corridor, like in a pipe. As soon as I noticed the Light at the end of the corridor – at the most interesting moment! – they woke me up!”

“I don’t remember how many times I’ve been under anesthesia,” said Valentina, whose bed was located right by the window. “Each time it was some kind of a new experience. Yesterday I felt as if in reality. There was a light, but such a muffled one, and some voices were heard. Were they calling me? Maybe. The grass in the field was fresh and bright, of emerald color, there were a lot of flowers and beautiful butterflies there. I felt so good, so easy, walking across the field into the distance. As if in my childhood, with parents nearby. I raised my head and saw them waving to me and saying, ‘We love you. We watch you from here, and we know everything about you, and we’ll always help you!’

“Why on earth didn’t you stay in that Paradise?” sighed Galina. “Anyway, it’s easier there than here!”

“It seemed to be a border there,” Valentina replied. “Right in the fields. An invisible one. As I reached it, I just couldn’t go further, that’s all.”

“I believe neither in God nor in Light,” Lyudmila said smiling. “Even if a million people swear on the Bible. I will never believe it, until I see it myself!”

After the surgery, which was a success and didn’t portend any complications, anesthesiologist began to wake Lyudmila up, but she remained unconscious. Her heart slowed down and… stopped. The girl’s face expressed neither sadness, nor pain, nor joy. It was mysteriously beautiful in its unearthly calmness. The anesthesiologist ran out of the room for the resuscitators. Lyudmila’s roommates remained speechless.

An Angel appeared in the room. Lyudmila, sitting by her body on the edge of the bed, involuntarily smiled.

“Wow! So, do angels exist?! Have you come to take me away?”

“Hello, my soul! In fact, everything exists, both real and once imagined by humans. Now you will be taken to the intensive care unit and returned to your body.”

“Oh, no!” exclaimed Lyudmila. “I feel great here! I see no reason to return! No one needs me on Earth, and I’m completely un-adapted to life! Everything fell out of hand! I was always approaching some goal, step by step, and bang! – at the last moment! – the world used to collapse!”

“Every soul has its own mission on Earth. If you don’t complete it, you won’t be able to continue your journey in Heaven.”

“And which one is mine?”

“Just to serve God and people.”

“To serve? What do you mean?” Lyudmila asked, having understood nothing.

“One day you will be a famous nun. Right because you are un-adapted to live as common people.”

“Me? A nun?!” Lyudmila cringed at the mere thought of it. “Are you saying that I am not destined to find earthly love? If you promised me now that I would become the happiest woman in the world, I would probably return! But to become a nun?!”

A Demon showed up in the room.

“Let’s go!” he smiled, holding out his furry paw to Lyudmila.

“Where?” the girl involuntarily moved closer to the Angel.

“Where? On Earth, of course!”

“Have you both agreed beforehand?! I’ve already told that I’m not going back to my body to become a nun!”

“No, no! Come on! Not to your body! And I’m not about the nun!” the Demon chuckled. “Let’s move into a bum!”

“A homeless bum?!” Lyudmila cried out, mentally picturing herself freezing in the slushy mud on the street outside the grocery shop.

“But you don’t want to be a nun!” the Demon laughed.

The resuscitators rushed into the room and took away Lyudmila’s body, while her soul with the Angel and the Demon followed the body to the intensive care unit to continue the conversation there.

“Listen, Valentina,” Galina turned to her neighbor, “our unbeliever must have seen the Light! She liked it there, in Paradise, so much that she decided not to come back! Oh, thank God, I didn’t get to Paradise yet! I might have been a fool to stay there, since I have four grandchildren, they will be lost without me here! Who will cook my borsch for them?”

Valentina sighed, silently nodded in response and looked out at the street through the dusty hospital window.

She had heard the conversation of Lyudmila’s soul with the Angel and the Demon, though she hadn’t seen them in the room.

Valentina had no one left on Earth long ago, except for… the red puss Barsik she had saved last winter.

“Perhaps serving Barsik is my mission on Earth. Isn’t Barsik the reason I am still alive?” Valentina pondered. “Or maybe… serving the Barsiks? I wonder how many cats I could save during my life, while I saved only one … How is he now, without me? Does the concierge remember to feed him? Probably, he has already broken a few pots of flowers, my little prankster!”

Valentina smiled, and she wanted to return home as soon as possible to express her love and gratitude to the red puss, even if he had nothing to do with her mission on Earth…

March 1994

4. The Wind of Changes

“The 1st April street, building 77, entrance B,

the 5th floor…”

I knew that address by heart, having worked for over four years as chief accountant in the office of a small company, located there. The company, which I loved very much, became my almost second home, but it was going through hard times, if not to say ‘its last hours’. The Swiss owners postponed until Monday the release of the already taken decision on liquidation, that would start the painful process of dividing assets, including money, of course.

The working day was already over, but the financial director, George, and I were sitting in his office enjoying a melon.

“Well, tell me, Arisha, have you been conjuring?” George asked, referring to our future.

“Yes, of course,” I muttered grudgingly, aware of his skepticism.

“What way this time? Solitaire or coffee?”

“You see, cards and coffee, and all that stuff are just kids’ play if there’s nothing behind. The Subtle World is called so for being immaterial; its door can’t be opened with earthly keys only, such as cards or coffee. If you can’t read signs, feel with your soul, hear your inner voice, no cards will be useful.”

“Well, okay, let’s say so. What are you feeling right now?”

“A Wind of Changes.”

“Good or bad?”

“Cardinal ones!”

“Anything more specific? Will you finally get rid of the fear of getting fat after childbirth and agree to become my wife?”

“Olga is coming, cut her a piece of melon,” I said calmly, not reacting to his skeptical jokes.

In a couple of seconds, there was a knock on the door, and a cheerful and blooming Olga, the HR manager, appeared on the threshold.

“Hello, friends!” she said and took a seat next to me.

“From our table to your table,” I handed her a piece of melon on a plate.

“Thank you, Arisha! And I have some news for you!”

“Good or bad?” George asked to clarify.

“I’m looking for a job… If we are going to be liquidated, there’s nothing else to wait! It’s better to prepare a straw in advance! So, I noticed a vacancy, published by some recruitment agency. In fact, as it turned out, they have two vacancies!” Olga said enigmatically.

We exchanged glances with George.

“Well, it’s getting more and more interesting!” he grinned.

“In brief, a foreign company with the same sphere of activity needs a financial manager and… chief accountant!” Olga summed up in a solemn voice.

“Wow!” I exclaimed in surprise and exhaled deeply.

“It’s not just ‘wow’! ” said Olga offended. “It’s a sign from Heaven! Destiny! Where else will you both find such a fateful combination to work together further?”

“Perhaps,” George agreed without much enthusiasm. “However, I would prefer not to work with Arisha, but to live! Happily and forever!”

“One doesn’t exclude the other!” I declared. “So, Olga?”

“Yes, yes, Arisha, I’m about to sell you both! With giblets!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “No names yet, of course! I called that agency, without specifying our company. I asked if there was anything for me as well, throwing the ‘fishing rod’… Well, their HR specialist will contact the customer and let me know the result for you! I’ll tell you then! Just don’t forget to take me there when you get the job.”

“Agreed!” George promised.

Olga finished her melon and went home. I washed the plates in the kitchen, anticipating the Wind of Changes, when a strange thought suddenly pierced my mind, and I flew back into George’s office.

“Isn’t it strange that another foreign company appeared in our narrow sector, when…”

I didn’t finish the sentence, as the lights went out throughout the building.

“What difference does it make now?” George sighed, hugging me gently, but…

…the front door to our floor slammed loudly, heavy steps were heard, and my heart began beating with a strange premonition, since no one usually was there at such a late time, except for Olga and us…

“A security guard, probably. Because of the electricity,” George supposed and decided to make sure he was right…

…That evening, saying goodbye – and obviously forever – to my almost second home, regretting only that the first one would never see my babies, which I naturally dreamed of, but constantly put off for ‘tomorrow’, because of my own complexes and fears (what if it didn’t work out, or the child would be born unhealthy, or I would really turn into a fat cake, and George would start cheating on me), I stopped at the ajar door to Olga’s office. She had forgotten her phone on the table, and it beeped, informing about a new message received.

Oh, curiosity!.. I went over and read it.

“Your candidates are welcome tomorrow at 2 pm,

floor No. 5, entrance B, building 77,

the 1st April Street.”

“Oh, my little witch! You were as always right,” George grinned. “And what Wind is blowing now?”

“The Wind of Love,” I laughed, detaching myself from the situation.

Having drawn, like in childhood, two hearts pierced by an arrow, with dripping blood, on that date page in Olga’s business diary, I took George by the hand, and we went out through the window into Heaven, without any desire to think about who had ordered the death to us…

August 2002

5. The City of Rains

It was the other way round: in the City of Rains we were greeted by the Sun!

We stepped out of the express train onto a platform filled with sunlight.

“No one will notice us, there’s no need to rush anywhere, and we can do whatever we want,” Denis said thoughtfully. “It’s so great to be absolutely free! Even if for 24 hours only.”

“Yes, Denis! I feel the happiest in the world!” I said enthusiastically in response.

We walked through the City of Rains in the morning, hand in hand, both of us with small backpacks, wearing blue jeans, dark blue T-shirts and brown boots, just like the day I had got the most important dream. Sometimes we stopped and passionately kissed each other, not ashamed of passers-by.

“Think about it, Yana, this wouldn’t have happened without your dream,” Denis smiled.

“It was Angel the Guardian! He took me by the scruff of the neck like a kitten and poked with my nose in you,” I smiled back.

We walked along my favorite embankment, checked out the temple, and then came to the place where girls used to arrive in white dresses with little bunches of flowers.

“I wish I were here like that, too…” I thought.

“Of course!” Denis immediately read my thoughts. “That’s how it’s going to be, next time.”

We both were not free and owed something to everyone. It was scary to think how many people fussed around us, constantly demanding one thing or another, but offering nothing in return, not feeling even an elementary gratitude, not to mention respect.

Denis and I felt like completely alone beings in the Universe. Perhaps, apart from children, whom we saw too rarely for various reasons, nothing kept us on Earth.

Until I got that dream…

We went into a cafe to have a talk finally!

“Believe it or not, Yana, the world became completely grey, I lost any interest in life. I neither watched TV nor read newspapers or books, I didn’t care what car I drove, what clothes I wore, what I ate. I came home from work late at night and went to bed, and then I had breakfast in the morning and returned to work again. I didn’t want to see or hear anyone, to talk to anyone…”

While Denis recounted his life to me, starting from birth, I listened to him realizing that our destinies were so similar that I could tell him nothing about myself. It seemed strange that for so many years we had been nearby without noticing each other.

“Yes, I liked you, and yes, you were always around, but you looked absolutely happy and never gave me even the slightest hint…”

Until I got that dream…

We climbed to the observation deck and stood in silence for a long time, enjoying the view of the City of Rains, in which the Sun was shining.

I felt at the dead end, too. The real life was whizzing by somewhere outside the windows and at breakneck speed. I could barely keep up with the calendar pages in my business diary.

Until I got that dream…

Sailing in a boat under the lowest bridges of the City of Rains, we were more silent than talking. A stronger and more experienced soul was next to me, and I felt calm, but…

“Are you thinking about what will happen to us after we get back? Yes, Yana? You don’t have to think about anything,” Denis answered, reading my thoughts, and hugged me gently and affectionately, stroking my hair and kissing my neck…

In the evening we wandered along the main street, and I showed him not so much the famous sights as miniature sculptures and other inconspicuous little things that only the locals knew about: there was a bronze cat and his girlfriend-cat at the balcony level, looking at each other from neighboring houses, and a little farther, in a modest courtyard, there was a wish-fulfilling dog…

I was afraid that Denis would disappear, that we were still dreaming, and I was about to wake up, because it all had started exactly in my dream, or rather, three days before, when I had dreamt about us, ended up together in the City of Rains. Waking up that morning, I suddenly felt the taste of life again, and … I found the strength to retell my dream to Denis.

My dream seemed to awaken both of us for changes in our destinies, for a real, full-colored and vibrant life. It would have been the starting point of the next stage, which could let two kindred souls finally find their happiness…

As night returned to the City of Rains, we found a free suite in the most expensive hotel, since we could afford it in the end!

It seemed that we loved each other as people did for the last time in their lives, on the edge of eternal separation, and nothing and no one existed in the whole Universe, except for the two of us, as if we were still alive …

Returning to the station for the express train to the City of the Sun, we recalled our last day on Earth, on the eve of which I had got that dream. The explosion in the high-rise office tower, where we worked, came so suddenly that we didn’t even realize to be woken up already as ghosts…

Our personal files were stuck in the Heaven Office of the City of the Sun. According to the Creator’s plan, we should have been married a long time ago and moved to the City of Rains, where I was born. In that scenario, we would have never ended up in the tower on the date of the explosion.

However, we hadn’t changed our lives in time! We had heard neither ourselves nor our Guardians sending all sorts of signs! Only on the eve of the explosion, when the decision on our return to Heaven had been signed in all instances, since we had stopped going the path destined for us by the Creator, I managed to penetrate that dream … Too late!

Anyhow, the kind-hearted Judges in the City of the Sun, in response to our last request, taking into consideration my dream as the extenuating circumstance, allowed us to return to Earth in the City of Rains already as ghosts, to be together just for a while before the next incarnation, the details of which we’re still not aware of…

August 2006

6. A Wish

We arrived at the river on Saturday morning. It was terribly stuffy, +34C, judging by the news. I could hardly stand the heat, thank God, we had air conditioning in the car.

“Life flows as fast as this river,” Nikolas said sadly, hugging me. “What else would you like to do in your life, Pauline?”

I squeezed my eyes shut, thinking, and he gently stroked me with a plucked blade of grass.

“To get to Paris with you!” I finally decided.

“It’s a must! But not today…”

“Okay, tomorrow!” I laughed.

We both had a lot to do with the ‘city of lovers’, but we had never been to Paris together, only separately and at different times.

“Maybe… Do you know what grandiose plans we have for today? Now we’ll swim, have lunch, then we’ll go for a walk in Kuskovo. ‘Giselle’ is waiting for us in the theater tonight, and then…”

I understood that the cultural program was caused by our Monday’s quarrel. Nikolas wanted to make amends. I had already told him about Kuskovo not once, and he took his employees for ‘Giselle’ to celebrate their company anniversary.

“So what then?” I wondered.

“And what do you want then?”

…Having visited the Kuskovo palace and the exhibition in the Orangerie, we listened to some fragment of a charity concert, and on the way to the Grotto, we stopped at the Italian house-museum.

“Drop in, you won’t regret it!” the hospitable hostess called us. “The house is small but very cozy! I’ll tell you the riddle of the Count Sheremetev. If you guess it…”

We had to find three caterpillars hiding in the leaves on a small metal tree. I saw two of them at once, but the search for the third was hard. Finally, I found it too.

“Now make a wish! I assure you, whatever it is, it will definitely come true!” the woman promised, smiling.

“Then… we’ll be in Paris tomorrow,” I said in a serious voice and… laughed.

We reached the theater and found our seats, the 13th and 14th in the 6th row. Such a dangerous combination of ‘6’ and ‘13’ didn’t bother me at all. That day seemed to be one of the happiest in my life!

Finally, we came to the old and long-empty flat where Nikolas’ parents had once lived. We were greeted by an unbearable stuffiness, but Nikolas said it was better not to open the windows for ‘conspiracy’. What if the neighbors got frightened, imagining that someone had entered inside through the window, and would call the police…

“I’m so sleepy!” I said, yawning sweetly at the thought that it was the first time Nikolas let me stay with him until the morning, instead of sending me home at midnight, and we would finally wake up in the same bed as husband and wife.

“Let’s at least have some tea, honey! I’ve bought your favorite cakes not for nothing! There’s no electric kettle, though, so we’ll have to wait a while…”

I nodded wearily, closing my eyes. Nikolas went into the kitchen, and I followed him half-asleep. He stopped by the stove.

Shit, it’s gas here, and I forgot where the matches are…”

“I have an electric stove at home, too,” I mumbled, falling asleep on the go.

“Where are the matches, where are the matches…” Nikolas wondered, humming softly.

“To hell with tea! Let’s go to bed,” I whispered and hugged him, hanging on his neck helplessly.

…I woke up, looked at the clock on the bedside table, and got horrified! No way I could have slept that long! I quickly moved to the kitchen and found Nikolas standing at the window.

“Look, I’m sorry!” I exclaimed. “Why didn’t you wake me up? You said you had an early morning pick-up at…”

“How did you sleep?” Nikolas suddenly interrupted me halfway through.

“At a new place, you mean?” I wondered, remembering the stupid saying about dreaming grooms in places where girls fall asleep for the first time.

“Yeah,” he looked away, sighing. “Did you dream about anything?”

“Something heavy… I was suffocating, flying in the void through a black tunnel… Why?”

“And there was a roar and rattle in your ears,” Nikolas added sadly.

“Yes, it seems so. How do you know? Did I scream in my sleep?”

“What do you feel now?” he asked, still standing by the window.

“I’m okay! No, not even that! I’m the happiest woman in the world! To hell with Paris!” I smiled, came up to Nikolas and pressed my cheek to his cheek.

“Forgive me, Pauline,” he whispered in my ear.

“What for?!” I was surprised.

“I’ve never said I love you. I love you.”

“Something must have really happened if he said that to me!” it flashed through my head.

“No one will believe it but you,” Nikolas sighed somehow doomed, “although it doesn’t matter much now…”

“What’s happened?”

“I was always afraid of your dramatically leaving the Earth beforehand. And yesterday…”

“I love you too,” I tried to reassure Nikolas, thinking hard about what he was getting at. “I’ll put the kettle on!”

Nikolas tried to stop me with a gesture, I stopped only for a moment, asking myself ‘where are the matches?’, and then I came up to the stove when suddenly noticed that the burner was ALREADY on, but there was NO fire…

“Oh no!” I screamed at the thought that pierced me. “NO! NO! Not now, when everything is so good! Tell me it’s not true!!!”

“Yes, baby, yes,” he whispered, heartbroken. “Please forgive me, you know I didn’t do it on purpose…”

instantly found myself at the door to the bedroom, but Nikolas blocked my way.

“No, Pauline, don’t go in there! It’s horrible…”

I slowly sank to the floor, Nikolas put his arms around me.

“It’s all over now,” he said trying to console me somehow. “Everything will be fine. You’ll calm down now, and we’ll go to Paris. We’ve never been there together before…”

July 2002

7. Stuck Pluto

Pluto, Lord of the Kingdom of the Dead, circling around in the Heavenly Dial of the Zodiacal Clock, froze at the Gate to his own Kingdom at 8 pm.

All the men I had fallen in love with in my life were under Pluto management, and one of them had at his birth as many as 5 planets between 8 and 9 pm on the Zodiacal Clock, or in the Kingdom of the Dead. Such an accent gives away serial killers and maniacs, mafia and financial tycoons, and also great black magicians… and possibly ghosts…

The next day the Sun was going to bathe Pluto in its rays, to illuminate him and turn him on. A strange premonition of something global, ready to crash down on me like an avalanche (or tsunami?), neither bad nor good, but shocking, didn’t allow me to fall asleep. In the morning, when my consciousness finally gave up, two people appeared, as if my guardians, one of them was a ghost, and the other…

The sound of a vibrating phone brought me back to reality.

“Michael is dead,” said the text message.

“We’re all going to die,” I calmly typed in reply to an unknown person.

The Sun greeted me through the blinds.

“Who made you so cynical, Barbara? MICHAEL DIED.”

“Which Michael?” continuing to understand little, I decided to clarify just in case, suddenly realizing that one of the two men I had just dreamed about was named Michael.

“Yesterday I ran by chance into the guy who had assembled furniture for you. He said that Michael, who had been in love with you, died.”

A terrible thought and, forgive me God, not at all about Michael, who had appeared to me in my dream – so sweet, kind, harmless, writing music and really loving me from afar, silently, realizing that there could be nothing but a working relationship between us, flashed through my mind, and I finally woke up, jumping out of bed.

I dreamt about both of them… Michael and…

“YOU?!?!?! Pluto!!!” I shouted at the whole Universe to an undefined number. “HOW??!!! YOU ARE DEAD!!! YOU DIED MANY YEARS AGO!!!”

“I emailed you last year, you wondered the way a stranger had got your address. You didn’t recognize me. Maybe you weren’t ready.”

“But… how???”

“Have you forgotten how many debts I had back then? You said it yourself, ‘it’s easier to die’. No one would have been surprised. Yes, I just had to die))) By my own! Would you prefer to find your love killed for real?”

I raised the blinds and the Sun dazzled me. Pluto people, being under the patronage of the Lord of the Kingdom of the Dead, used to survive where everyone else met death…

“I dreamt about you… today…” sinking to the floor, I whispered, remembering how many times in life we had tried to be together, but something happened beyond our control, that left no chance, driving us apart, until one day he…

“Great! You never have dreams without sense… Something happened yesterday. I don’t know how to explain it. So, there’s no need to explain. I just want you to be nearby now!”

“You’re a ghost, and I need a real man!” I said, still refusing to believe in a miracle.

“Surely. I’ll be in Monte Carlo this weekend. I have to sort out some affairs. And next weekend you will fly to me in Venice!”

“We’ll never meet,” I exhaled, remembering that next weekend the Sun would stop caressing Pluto, and he would step into his own Kingdom.

“There are no options not to meet, Barbara! I’ll be waiting for you on your favorite bridge!”

However, the Sun disappeared into the clouds. Some evil stars contributed to the launch of a mass lethal virus epidemic, and the air traffic between countries was suspended.

The world stepped into the Kingdom of Death through the wide-open Gates.

My airline tickets were eaten by the fireplace. Italy was in a fever. The ‘ghost’ of my Pluto wrote to me several times something like ‘it’ll be over soon, be patient … wait a little more … just about …’, and then he disappeared …

As the pandemic was over, I left for Greece and lived on a tiny island opposite to Mount Athos, not far from the women’s monastery of the Archangel Michael, not missing a single liturgy, at which I asked prayers for the souls of Pluto and Michael every time, until that Sunday when I woke up… being foggy myself… and the first step I did was a trip to Venice!

God, I wandered all the bridges, in vain! – Pluto was nowhere to be found!

When I returned to Greece and settled in the monastery of the Archangel Michael, which had become dear to my soul, I was painfully looking for the best way to find the beloved ghost. However, I still had no access to the Universal Data Bank, and no stairs to Heaven were observed anywhere around. I could do nothing but praying.

On the ninth day, right during the liturgy, out of the altar gate, so suddenly and quietly that at first I didn’t even believe in his reality, appeared… Michael!

He came up to me, smiling, leaned over and kissed my foggy hand.

“Where can I find him?” I asked hopefully.

“You don’t have to look for him, Barbara. Besides, he’s… alive…”

“Alive?!” I exclaimed loudly to the whole monastery, thank God, nuns usually didn’t hear otherworldly voices. “What a twist! I prayed for both of you as for dead!”

“God has all alive, don’t worry! Your Pluto was seriously ill then, yes, but survived thanks to your prayers… However, since then, all these years, by the will of Heaven, he’s been in a state to be able only to pray silently by his soul.”

...Another blow!

“Are you saying that if I hadn’t prayed for him, he would have died a long time ago? So, it was me who condemned him to suffer, wasn’t it?!”

“You gave him a chance,” Michael smiled, “to get something better in the Other World than what he deserved. One day, when they consider him fit, he will be taken away. You can help the unfortunate Pluto shorten the time of his painful stay on Earth by continuing to pray for him here. However, you have the right to leave for Heaven with me right now.”

“So, where can I find him?!”

“If you don’t have access to the Information Tablets, then that’s necessary for something and exclusively for the good. Well, you have to make your decision here and now, Barbara. Oh, sorry, I almost forgot! Probably, you won’t be able to be together even after…”

…I staggered … The thought of the impossibility to find happiness with a beloved one, even posthumously, in the Kingdom of the Dead, never crossed my mind, neither during life on Earth, nor after it.

“My God, how unacceptably easy we used to scatter our beloved ones, to exchange the warmth of the soul for material goods! How stupidly we don’t appreciate the opportunity to love and be loved ‘here and now’! Has my Pluto, stuck on Earth at the entrance to the Kingdom of the Dead, rethought his life? And, if so, how many years would it take me to pray his soul out?”

“I will stay here…” I decided, as I couldn’t do otherwise. “Just… promise me, Michael, that one day I will meet him again… on the bridge in Venice, right?”

“You have no chance not to meet him, if you want to meet him,” Michael laughed and added, already dissolving in the sunlight that suddenly streamed through the monastery’s windows, “although, maybe, not on the bridge… and not in Venice…”

April 06, 2020

8. Kailash

We took a taxi to Sheremetyevo airport. The driver turned out to be a cheerful and talkative… tour guide. He knew several foreign languages, worked with tourist groups in Moscow and dreamed of starting his own business.

“I will definitely open a tour agency! I am an Aries, and all Aries always achieve their goals!” the driver exclaimed optimistically, saying goodbye to us at the airport.

Katya was an Aries, too.

As we entered the airport building, we came upon a bookstore. Instantly scanning the contents of the shelves, Katya fixed her eyes on some books and pulled my sleeve.

“Look, here it is, Kailash!!! Let’s buy them all!”

I saw a multi-volume book about the Tibetan ‘city of Gods’. Everything related to philosophy, Tibet and the Unknown mattered much for Katya. Haunted by unusual dreams, mysterious voices and ghostly visions since childhood, she was in the search of the keys to the great mysteries of the Universe. Of course, one can laugh at the otherworldly ‘things’, but Katya’s dreams came true. And even I, a notorious skeptic, began to believe in signs.

“To carry these volumes? What’s the point?” I objected. “Let’s buy them on return.”

I planned for our vacation to read e-book of Katya, her thesis on philosophy “The Sense of Life and Death”, thus, an extra kilo of printed books in my backpack caused me nothing but rejection.

On the plane, Katya periodically recalled and excitedly shared with me some interesting facts about the mysterious Mount Kailash, located in the distant Himalayas, about which I really knew nothing at that time.

“I would give a lot to get to this Mountain! Perhaps even my lifetime! They say there is a point of confluence of parallel worlds there, a portal, do you know? If you’re ready, you’ll be let in! Many people went to Kailash, but not all came back! And some of those who returned grew old instantly! I’m sure, Time flows differently there! Mr. Roerich painted both Kailash and the mountains nearby. He was allowed into the caves where the bodies of giants, people of the previous race, are still kept! Can you imagine?!”

I didn’t understand much of the meanings she put into her words, but the girls’ enthusiastic tirades require encouragement.

“You’re Aries, so you will definitely get to Kailash! But why should you give your lifetime to see it?”


We stayed in a very beautiful hotel, built in the style of a medieval castle, in a place surrounded by mountains, which were growing even out of the sea.

That day we had lunch at a restaurant on the beach, and Katya remembered me again about her ‘beloved’.

“I dreamed about Kailash a long time ago, in childhood, and more than once. I was standing at the entrance to a cave and looking into a large stone mirror, as if someone had polished a piece of the mountain very smoothly. My mother was reflected in the mirror behind me. I turned around, but there was no mum there. I turned back to the mirror, and she was still smiling in the mirror…”

I was about to object to her about the stone mirrors, but at that moment an elderly lady, walking nearby with a bowl of soup, stopped in front of us and passed her hand over Katya’s head.

“The channel is open!” she said in a loud voice. “And the pillar is up to the sky! Your soul is so old! Is this the last time you live here?”

Katya and I looked at each other, and the woman had already gone her own way, obviously not eager to enter into discussions.


I booked a lot of different excursions. That day we went rafting on the river of the 4th level of difficulty. Neither me nor Katya had rafted before, and we were promised an unforgettable experience. We had a long drive through the mountains in an old minibus, listening to beautiful but sad songs.

“If I die, will you be sad?” Katya asked suddenly and clung to my shoulder.

“What the hell are you talking about!” I muttered.

Now, recalling these episodes, I wonder why we don’t say kind words to our beloved ones, don’t support them in their moments of sadness. Was it hard for me to answer something like, ‘Honey, of course, I’m going to be not simply sad, damn sad! Please, don’t die!’ No, on the contrary, I grumbled!

When Katya put on a helmet and a vest before rafting, she looked like a twelve-year-old girl, although she always looked younger than her years. I would like Katya to give birth to my daughter, but all the time – how many years? – I put off the important decision ‘for a while’.

I took a picture of Katya against the backdrop of a stormy river and a boat. We signed an agreement that the organizers didn’t bear any responsibility for our lives and the like. After the briefing, we bravely rushed into ‘the battle’, not yet knowing that in one of the rapids, we were going to face, a tourist like us had recently died.

The instructor’s name was Sam. Originally from Nepal, he spoke English and knew a few words in Russian. I saw Katya’s eyes light up.

“Sam,” she exclaimed, “have you seen Kailash?!”

“Oh, Kailash! This is a great mountain near my country!” Sam said proudly and looked up at the sky.

At that moment we were surrounded by delightful landscapes of towering mountains. And, to be honest, I didn’t understand, what could be so extraordinary in some Kailash! There were a lot of mountains on Earth! I seemed to be the only one who hadn’t sung praises to Kailash yet.

Our boat didn’t capsize in the end, although two men did fall out of it.


We spent the next two days among the ruins of ancient towns.

“I seem to be able to fly over to that column!” confessed Katya, standing on top of a nameless hill with the remains of a temple.

“No, no, don’t try!” I stopped her.

“And people of previous civilizations could fly! Just imagine, with the power of their own thoughts, they moved heavy stones and even mountains!”

“Are you talking about Kailash again?! Change mountain! There are a lot of them in the world!”

Katya pursed her lips in resentment and fell silent, but soon a local resident approached us, offering a parasailing, and I sent her to fly first over the sea, and then over the mountains.

Katya was an outgoing girl. Yes, a girl…

It would seem that her tragic life experience, many times greater than my own, should instantly turn any creature into an old one, however, Katya looked young and remained a child in her soul.

She managed to combine the incongruous, was drawn to everything out of standard, loved extreme sports and sometimes, as it seemed to me, flirted with death. Katya was not afraid of it, she was afraid of… spiders! Can you imagine? Afraid of insects, but not of dying! Strong-willed and kind, smart and beautiful, that was already a rarity, and at the same time completely defenseless, she clearly needed a strong male shoulder nearby.

Probably, I loved her, but I was afraid to admit it to myself … I was afraid of responsibility and of losing my own independence … I neither expressed my love openly nor pampered Katya.

For example, when we went for a walk in the local evening bazaar, she saw a tiny multi-colored onyx pyramid.

“Look, how beautiful it is!” Katya exclaimed. “Pyramids normalize, strengthen and focus energy, turning it in the right direction! They also translate the earthly into the heavenly! Every pyramid is real magic! They say the whole complex of mountains around Kailash is a city of various pyramids!”

That pyramid cost a penny, but I defiantly ignored such a transparent hint. Why didn’t I buy Katya a piece of her coveted magic? I was already jealous of Katya to Kailash with all the fibers of my soul and absolutely indifferent to the pyramids, since I understood nothing in them. Highly likely, that not bought pyramid, as I think now, was my subconscious protest as a refusal to admit that Katya knew something I didn’t, that during our shared life she had become more well-read and advanced in the Otherworld, she had grown a lot, overtaken me in many ways…


Returning to the hotel after a walk along the sea, we heard a sudden shout behind us and looked back. A man in a white T-shirt with the logo of a large travel company for some reason desperately waved his hands, looking at us point-blank. We froze, and the man ran up to us.

“Have you forgotten about our night excursion?” he asked Katya.

“What do you mean?” she wondered.

“You bought it from me half an hour ago at the Sun Hotel!” the travel agent exclaimed and took out his notebook. “Here you are… Svetlana!”

“No, you are confusing something. I’m not Svetlana, I’m Katya!”

“Besides, my friend,” I felt like showing my importance, “we are from another hotel, and we are leaving tomorrow morning. So, we have no time for night excursions!”

“Blimey! Sorry! It means the girl, settled in the Sun Hotel, is your exact copy!”

The man apologized again and left.

“A bad sign,” Katya said and became gloomy. “Copies are met shortly before the death of their original. Or beloved ones see the look-alikes of those who are about to die.”

“Come on! You haven’t seen Svetlana!”

However, it’s no use arguing with women. So, I decided…

…yes, it was my decision! – that’s the trouble! – that’s why I’m still replaying our trip in my head day by day… I decided to cheer her up! Instead of proceeding to the room to get our luggage ready for the trip, I suggested extending the last night of our vacation by attending an outdoor entertainment show.

That night, local dance groups made some performance on the territory of the hotel. Between dances, fakirs and other magicians demonstrated tricks, involving the tourists. Katya was clearly bored.

“Are you dreaming of Kailash?” I asked, barely restraining myself so as not to be sarcastic.

“Anyway, I need to get to it. They say whoever walks Kailash around 108 times will never come back on Earth! And I don’t want to incarnate anymore!”

I got angry… and… – yes, it was me again! – when the fakir started inviting those who wanted to get a portion of adrenaline before going to bed, I pushed Katya to the stage.

“Kailash will wait!” I said.

Two guys in national costumes put Katya on the floor and covered her belly with a wooden board, and the third one, blindfolded, standing with his back to her, began to throw knives at Katya, over his shoulder, one by one, without a break. And they hit the board until another knife, flying by, crashed into the floor, and the one thrown next…

Periodically replaying on my internal screen, like a video, both that evening and our years together, I blame myself more and more… Not for having sent Katya to the stage, because I didn’t wish her death at all! However, I got used so much to the constant presence of Katya somewhere nearby, that I stopped appreciating such a miracle in my life, so they took her away from me…

Perhaps it was Kailash itself…

September 2003

9. A Canary

Svetlana hadn’t been there for ten years, but she went to her old friend’s party with a light heart and absolute peace of mind. It was only out of simple female curiosity that she wanted to have a look at Artyom, what if he still lived there and was at home.

He worked for a commercial company then. At first, everything was great, they had clothes and food exclusively from luxury supermarkets, the most prestigious car, and not a dacha, but a palace. However, soon a bottomless void appeared in Svetlana’s soul, and she felt lonely. She loved her husband, who used to leave early in the morning and return at night, because of meetings, negotiations, friends, partners, clients and business trips, and she missed his attention, care and, probably, love. Repeatedly and in vain, Svetlana asked to devote more time to her.

“You don’t understand anything, money rules the world!” Artyom used to say, and nothing changed.

One day Svetlana left him for nowhere, but quickly enough she got a good job, began to earn decent money and to live no worse than before. She stopped being sad, soon got married again and gave birth to charming twins. However, at some point, she caught herself thinking that she no longer cared what time her second husband came home, whether he devoted free time to her or not. Negotiations? Okay. Business trip? Okay as well.

They had money, that really managed everything.

“Just think about it! I became an ideal woman for Artyom,” Svetlana came to the conclusion, passing by his doorway, and noticed light in the familiar window…

Artyom opened the door.

“Wow! What way?!” he said in surprise. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. Come in!”

Svetlana entered the room and looked around appraising. Everything was the same: luxury brand furniture, paintings by cool artists … Although… in a cage on the table by the window she noticed a small bird.

“I bought the canary not to feel lonely,” Artyom admitted.

“Aren’t you married?”

“Can’t married people feel lonely? My wife with kids enjoy the Canary Islands every summer. And how are you? I hope your new husband spends more time with you than I did.”

“No, imagine. I don’t need that anymore. I don’t ask him to come home early so that we spend our free time together … I became what you wanted me to be ten years ago.”

“What time makes of us! Back then, I thought you were too demanding. I wanted freedom. I suppose I didn’t know to love true yet. My second wife is ready to live without me for her own comfort. Now I wish she asked me, like you, to come home early, to walk with her in the park and go to the theater, but money is the only thing she is interested in… So life made me understand how much I had been mistaken… I would pay much to return to the past and bring you back.”

“One can’t return to the past because one doesn’t have to return.”

“So, you couldn’t fall in love with me again, could you?!”

“I have to go.”

They said goodbye and disappeared from each other’s lives again.


Six months later Svetlana found herself in those places once more, already for business.

Having parked the car, she went straight to the office building for a business meeting, not knowing yet that it would end suddenly and simultaneously with the breath of her life, according to the decision of the Judges to transfer Svetlana’s soul in Heaven by thromboembolism. Chances to change destiny in order to remain on Earth are not always given to people in unlimited quantities, sometimes it even seems unfair that, for example, a worthless drunkard lives to a ripe old age, while an admirable business woman is recalled prematurely.

Passing by a liquor store, crowded with not quite sober people, Svetlana noticed the gaze of an unattractive man.

“Hello,” said Artyom, approaching her staggeringly.

“I didn’t expect to see you… here! What’s happened?”

“My canary’s damn dead,” he muttered.

“Who is dead?” Svetlana asked to clarify the unheard.

“My last friend… He used to wait for my returns home from work… He tweeted something in his own language … And … he died, unable to live in our damn family! Now my friend visits me at night. As a ghost … Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Do you mean your canary?” Svetlana asked again, and Artyom nodded.

“Run away from money!” he whispered in her ear. “I’m going to spend all I have not to spoil my children!”

“What are you talking about?!” Svetlana exclaimed, recoiling from him in horror and thinking, “What a blessing our paths diverged!”

“Yes, our paths diverged,” said Artyom as if reading her thoughts. “One can’t return to the past because one doesn’t have to return… However, who knows, if you hadn’t left me then, perhaps it would have been you walking in my shoes now…”

September 21, 1995

10. A Cats’ name

She had a cats’ name that no dog could pronounce, but she never smelt like a cat, so I didn’t mean her any harm. I remember her as pretty: kind dog eyes and dark fur … sorry, I mean, hair! If you count, as people do, she was young, but dogs don’t live that long. I can’t say she looked so beautiful for a dog like me to fall in love with her, but for my master it was a completely different matter! When she was calling, his face suddenly changed, his hands began to fiddle with the telephone cable, and if my master had got a tail, he would have definitely wagged it! It always happens to me involuntarily when I communicate with those I like …

They didn’t talk for long by phone – they made appointments. I don’t know why he took me with him, but I was glad! I found it nice to have a company of good people, and I wagged my tail at her for both of us, me and my master.

I remember every meeting of them. We used to wait for her under the trees in the courtyard. She always smiled approaching us, seemed to be so happy… We walked along the road leading to the park. They talked about things that, in my opinion, were not worth talking about. In fact, dogs are silent, because there is really nothing to talk about. Everything was already said a long time ago. You have to either howl when you are sad, or bark when you are nervous, angry, annoyed, if you want to attract attention or rejoice, it’s your intonation that matters… However, people still talk, they just don’t understand yet a lot of things in life, unlike dogs…

I didn’t know where and when they had got acquainted, however, a long time before my birth. They used to remember the days they had been together. Despite the fact that all conversations of these strange people were limited exclusively to their Past, there was something that connected them in the Present.

At first, I could not understand why they were not together. Imagine my surprise when, during our walk one evening, she took off her gloves, and I noticed a gold ring on her hand! You know what that means, don’t you?! And who on earth would think of such a nonsense as getting married? Dogs never get married, because it’s not serious at all! What does a ring change? A few extra grams on your finger! Rings mean nothing in life, as well as a lot of other things. That’s why dogs don’t wear rings. No kind at all. By the way, not dogs only, mind you…

My master told me the strangest love story I’ve ever heard, that would never happen to a dog, that’s for sure!

He loved her, as you see… secretly! And he never told her about it… Well, they used to call and meet, they wandered here and there, walking around and… walking around! But there are a lot of men among people, and not all of them prefer to love secretly! Someone can call, meet, take a walk and… move on!

One day that someone appeared in her life, met her, went for a walk and offered her an ill-fated ring! Of course, she told my master about it. He was stunned naturally, but he didn’t even lift a finger to stop her! How do you like it? It was obviously not a ‘wow-wow!’ but a ‘woof-woof’! In brief, she never knew he loved her, and I never understood why he didn’t tell her anything. Was he so greedy not to buy her the ring?

The last time I saw her, was late in autumn. We met in the courtyard, as usual, and went to the park. She looked even more beautiful, but quite sad. In the park, suddenly citing tiredness, she sat down on a bench. I watched her carefully. She was about to say something very important. For her and for both of them. There was an excruciating pause. She was silent. And he was silent. I tried my best to make her talk. I was twirling at her feet, wagging my tail, hypnotizing her with my eyes, and then I couldn’t stand it anymore, and, as a result, I even barked! However, she didn’t understand me! She sighed heavily, got up abruptly and said she had to go…

We stood outside her house, saying goodbye. She left us… forever… At first, I thought he would call to say he loved her, because he really loved her! Yes, he did. You should have seen at what speed he jumped up from the sofa every time the phone rang, and how hopefully he said “Hello!”, and how dark he grew immediately, having realized it wasn’t SHE.

Now, tell me, do dogs behave like that? Once I became so brutalized that I walked up to my master and bit him. He didn’t understand why, apparently, and got offended…

I tried to do my best to reconcile them. When my master took me for a walk, I dragged him to her house, and we were wandering under the trees of the courtyard where she had used to come out smiling. I tried to find her by smell, but remember the winds blowing that autumn! Soon the snow started falling, sweeping away the traces of the Past, and winter came. She left us forever. And mind you, without ‘woof-woof’…

I have never understood human nature, and probably I will never do. But why people, who, unlike dogs, have the gift of speech, are not able to understand themselves and each other just to be happy?

August 1996

11. Come on!

I worked at a luxury college as an elementary school teacher. I was twenty-five years old, full of hopes and plans for the future. Life pampered me. I never denied myself anything and got all I wanted. Troubles bypassed me, and I felt happy.

That college was located not far from the city, at the edge of a beautiful small lake in a pine forest. We accepted children whose parents could pay a substantial tuition fee for a year, carried out according to the usual school curriculum, apart from optional courses and extra-activities, and the children lived there for the whole school year, although parents could, of course, take them home for weekends and holidays. We had very tasty food. The dormitories were furnished as well as luxury rooms of the five-stars hotels, just in various fairy tales design. The pupils used to pass their free time playing, going for walks and generally doing whatever they wanted, since almost nothing was forbidden to them.

That year I was recruiting the first class, afraid of being unable to communicate with the kids ‘in the same language’. However, I adapted quickly enough, and everything went perfectly. The class turned out to be friendly, the children were talented.


Before Christmas, I announced the PTA meeting, after which the parents could take their children home for the holidays. Returning to the teachers’ building in the evening, I noticed a little girl in a squirrel coat who seemed to be waiting for someone. It was Christina from my class.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Is my dad coming?”

“Of course, he is! Go to your room, it’s getting late!”

“Come on, Alice… Talk to me!” Christina said almost in a whisper, averting her gaze to the side.

I didn’t know how to react to her words. None of the pupils addressed me like that, and I was about to reprimand the girl, but then, looking into her sad eyes, I changed my mind. Besides, the Christmas atmosphere was already in the air: the blizzard had turned the edge of the forest into a fairy tale, it was still snowing, and the lanterns were winking mysteriously…

“Go back to your place, Chris!” I repeated, but the girl didn’t move and remained silent, forcing me to add categorically, “I have to go, see you tomorrow!”

I told a lie, there was no need for me to rush, I just didn’t want to stay alone with her. After walking about ten meters towards the staff building, I heard her voice calling me,

“Alice! You look like…”

However, I didn’t turn around…


On the eve of the PTA meeting, I planned to take a walk along the lake with my friend, a seventh grade teacher, but she was suddenly called by our chief, and I had to wander alone. As I sat down on the bench, Christina materialized next to me, as if out of nowhere.

“Why are you alone, Chris?” I asked.

“I like it this way.”

“Don’t you like to play with other children?”

“I don’t.”


“I’m not like them.”

I wanted to ask ‘why’ again, but I said nothing.

“Come on, Alice… let’s talk,” Christina added quietly.

“Well-bred girls don’t talk like that to those who are older!”

“I will talk like that only to you!”

I saw tears in her eyes, however, I’d been sickened by crybabies since childhood.

“That’s no way to behave! Join your friends!” I said in a semi-commanding voice.

Christina got up silently and walked away.


I held the PTA meeting successfully enough. When everyone had gone and left me alone in the office, Christina appeared at the door.

“Haven’t you gone yet?” I asked.

“Dad hasn’t arrived,” she said sadly.

“And your mother?”

The girl shrugged.

“Will you call home?” I suggested.

“Come on, Alice…”

“Oh, these familiarities again!” I thought.

Christina dialed some phone number and was answered, but she remained silent and hung up.

“Wrong number?” I supposed.

Christina silently left the room. I made her come back and called to their house myself. Her grandma answered me. She said that Christina’s dad would definitely come to college in a fortnight, after his business trip. I passed that information on to the girl, but got no response.

“Why did you hang up?” I asked again.

Christina got up and silently walked away.

“Chris!” I shouted, and she didn’t even turn around.

I got angry and decided to complain about the girl to her father.


Two weeks of vacation flew by in a flash, and the kids were back to studies. I must admit, my class was excellent! Only Christina made me feel uncomfortable. Willy-nilly, I saw that strange girl every day. She pierced me with her gaze, I lost my temper and nagged her about little things. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t help it.

Finally, Christina’s father arrived. He brought her many toys and sweets. The girl didn’t want to let him go.

“I’ll come back for you in the summer, when your classes are over, and we’ll go to the sea. You love the sea, don’t you?”

Christina nodded in agreement, and I suddenly imagined her as an adult – she would turn into a beauty and drive a lot of men crazy!

After the meeting with her father, Christina behaved much better and didn’t approached me during her free time. However, the girl seemed to become even more withdrawn.


One day, when we were singing a cheerful (although, to be honest, a very stupid) song at a music lesson, I suddenly noticed that Christina wasn’t singing. As usual, she sat at the last desk alone, but with headphones on…

“Is she listening to some music?! What a spoiled girl! What does she allow herself! She can do everything she wants, being only eight years old!”

“Chris!” I yelled in anger, approaching her.

The girl convulsively clutched something with her small hands.

“Give it to me now!”

“No!” she said firmly.

“If you don’t give me your toy, I’ll call your parents today, and you won’t be here anymore!”

Christina unclenched her fingers in helplessness, stood up and ran out of the classroom in tears. When the lesson was over, I turned on her player, but instead of music I heard a pleasant female voice. I realized it was the girl’s mother. For some reason, she had to move to another country for a few years, and before leaving, she had prepared that audiobook with instructions for Christina.


The academic year was over. Parents were taking their children home. I sat on the veranda of the summer building, reading a love story. The next day I was leaving for the sea, not yet knowing that I would no longer teach there, because I would get married and move to another country.

Someone silently approached me from behind and gently touched my shoulder. I turned around and saw Christina. She held out to me a bouquet of flowers she had picked. I hesitated to take them.

“Come on, Alice!” she said.


She didn’t answer and sat down next to me.

“Do you miss your parents?” I asked, trying not to get angry. “Do they often go on business trips?”

“That’s what they say…”

“Anyway, business trips end sooner or later!”

The girl silently shrugged her shoulders and sighed.

Another car drove up, Christina’s father got out of it. The girl threw herself at his neck.

When he came up to me and started thanking me for something, I couldn’t hear anything anymore. I remembered his daughter ugly behavior: she addressed me like a girl, hung up phone, listened to the player, and did whatever she wanted. I don’t remember what exactly I said to her father then, but he listened to me calmly.

“I’m sorry… Don’t take offense, miss Flitch!” he said sadly, when I cooled down.

He left us alone, inviting his daughter to ask my forgiveness.

“Forgive me, Alice! Come on!” the girl said defiantly coldly, clearly feeling no remorse.

I abruptly got up from the bench. Christina even asked for forgiveness, addressing me like that! I took a few steps and heard her voice.

“You look like…”

I didn’t even turn around. Along the way, I remembered that I had left on the bench the flowers, Christina’s gift to me.


I got married and went back to college on the first day of the new academic year to pick up some papers. My kids had grown up, but had hardly changed much. Among them, I didn’t see Christina only. My friend, the teacher, said the girl was present on the pupils list.

My friend and I went to the chief office. I didn’t really care about Christina. I needed the chief’s signature on my documents. However, my friend asked him why the girl was absent.

“Her father is a school friend of mine,” said the chief. “When Cristina’s mother died last year…”

“Oh, did her mother die?” I exclaimed in surprise.

“Yes. The girl was told that her mother had gone on a business trip abroad. Christina’s grandmother, my friend’s mother, liked neither her daughter-in-law nor Christina. So I advised my friend to bring the girl here.”

“And why didn’t she come this year?”

“Christina and her father… disappeared…”

“Disappeared?!” I was stunned.

“They went to the sea and never came back. The police are still looking for them… By the way, Alice, she was in your class, wasn’t she?”

Many years had passed since then, and I disappeared on Earth myself. However, burning various stories of my earthly life in the bonfire of memories, I still can’t let go of this one, because every time my fate gave me a sad lesson, I heard a voice, whispering, “Come on, Alice!”

July 2003

12. On the banks of the Thames

London had been a childhood dream of mine ever since we were told about its sights in English classes at school. I studied the same sights at the preparatory courses of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then at the University. It seemed that even before visiting London, I already knew it better than any other city in the world. I had little chance of getting the UK visa, so I put off a trip to London to the last page of perhaps my last foreign passport. Nobody knows what turn of fate has already got the very brick that will suddenly fall on your head, or what else would happen to prevent your vacation abroad.

Everywhere I traveled alone. Vitaly threw up his hands, as he always had some reasons not to join me. However, on Christmas Eve, he vowed that we would definitely go somewhere together within the coming year.

I worked as the head of purchasing department, free of job for traveling three times a year: on May holidays, August and Christmas time; and there were just three pages left for visas in my passport.

Vitaly traditionally spent May and Christmas holidays with his wife (whom, like many husbands, he vowed to leave, but would have never done so, because he felt “pity for her”, since “she won’t survive, and you are strong!”), therefore, for our joint trip only August remained.

Knowing my cherished childhood dream, Vitaly told me to go first to London, for May holidays, and suggested having a rest with him in August somewhere on paradise islands. Well, it made sense, didn’t it?

I really enjoyed London! I walked it up and down and returned home with a feeling of complete satisfaction. By the way, the British had released me a multi-entry visa for six months, but I didn’t see much point in going back with limited funds, it was much more pleasant to visit something yet unexplored!

There were clearly more wonders on Earth than the seven encyclopedic ones, and I was already dreaming of where I would go for Christmas after August in Paradise with Vitaly, as the boss urgently demanded to get me a German visa for our business trip to Munich. So, my travel bag got one wonder of the world less! And more, I had already traveled all over Germany, including Munich, in vacation and not during a business trip. Anyhow, my negativity reached the ears of the Universe: as soon as the Germans granted me a single-entry visa for five days in July, the business trip was immediately canceled by the very same boss! However, since the stamp in the passport couldn’t be canceled, the penultimate page turned out to be irretrievably damaged and wasted for nothing! My inner indignation from my own helplessness went off scale, but in the end, it never came out, because… every day brought me closer to the cherished islands with Vitaly in August!

I scoured the Internet, called all the travel agencies that dealt with islands to choose the best Paradise for us, and mentally I was already rather there than in my homeland. Having prepared a bunch of beautiful dresses and bought a couple of charming swimsuits, I signed an application for my vacation, which became more and more problematic every year, because the boss was mutating into a slave owner…

And so, a couple of days before departure, Vitaly called for me, beaming with anticipation of Paradise, to discuss our plans in a restaurant. He listened carefully to all my dreams and wishes for the main course, and ‘for dessert’ he suddenly said,

“Lara, I’m leaving… for London.”

“What do you mean… London?!” I asked, still understanding nothing. “And when are you leaving?!”

“It’s a business trip to London for the whole of August.”

“Yesterday you said you had agreed your vacation! in August! with me! on the islands in Paradise!”

“Yes, but today… everything has changed… Maybe in September…”

“My boss won’t let me go in September!” I was about to die. “As well as in October and in November!!!”

“Go alone to Paradise in August.”

“What’s to do alone in Paradise?! It’s only for couples!”

“Then go somewhere else,” Vitaly suggested calmly, which made me furious.

“Somewhere else, where is that? I have no time to apply for a visa!”

“Go to visa-free Turkey.”

Oh, I wished he hadn’t even mentioned Turkey to me! I turned white with anger!

“Turkey? Where you have been relaxing with your wife for so many years? So that, lying alone on the beach, I couldn’t help imagining how sweet it was for you both there?!”

“Lara, darling! I could tell you to come and stay with me in London, but I will work from morning to night, and you’ll get bored. You’ve just returned from London! Besides, I will live not in London, but in a town about forty minutes away from London by train. In a single room at a local hotel with English breakfasts included only. I figured out how much your visit will cost. It’s very expensive for you to travel to London every day instead of waiting for me in a bare field, to have lunch and dinner, plus the extra charge for a double room. You know how small are rooms in Britain, and the flight is not a penny! I can neither pay for you, nor let you pay yourself, because it’s a throwing money away! By the way, there’s an abnormal heat in London now. People are bathing in fountains! You say you can’t stand the heat. To come to London for a week just to stay with me for a weekend, bathing in fountains?! Remember, it’s bad luck to come back!”

Despair overwhelmed me, and tears were ready to come out from my eyes. I jumped up from the table, threw my napkin into the bowl of my favorite fruit salad.

“I hate London! I hate it! HATE!!!” I shouted.

Deathly silence reigned around. Everyone froze, including the waiter with a cup of espresso, he was about to put on our table.

I grabbed my bag and, noticing nobody on the way, headed for the exit.


I traded a fortnight vacation in Paradise for a weekend with Vitaly in London, landing at Heathrow airport on Friday night.

As soon as I switched on the phone, the bell rang.

“Lara…” Vitaly said as doomed, “I’ve been called away to their office on the weekend… I’ll come in London to see you tomorrow night, okay?”

I traded a fortnight vacation in Paradise for one night with him in London.


On Saturday, around lunchtime, I sadly looked at myself, collapsed into the fountain of Trafalgar Square at +40C.

People didn’t even realize that I felt sick from the heat… and that I was no longer there… I thought, “Truly, it’s bad luck to come back!”

What did I trade my life for?

Can we say that it was Vitaly who killed me?


Vitaly died in a car crash at midnight between that damn Saturday and Sunday, almost reaching London. He fell asleep driving…

Did he trade his life for a night with me?

No, it was me who killed him…


On Sunday… we sat for a long time on the banks of the Thames, making a plan to which countries we would fly without any visa before disappearing forever…

July 2003

13. A Guest

It was raining cats and dogs outside. A girl in a dark cloak with a huge hood was standing at the door to my neighbor’s flat. Her long black curls hid her profile from me.

“He won’t open the door for you,” I said.

The girl shuddered and turned around. She was beautiful. In particular, I remembered the black-night eyes that stood out against her snow-white skin.

“My neighbor died yesterday,” I continued. “Poor old man… You must be his granddaughter! He said he had been waiting for his granddaughter. What a pity you’re late! He loved you very much, he was proud of and constantly talking about you. You know, it’s important for old people to feel that someone needs them…”

The girl sighed, but said nothing in response.

“Come to my place, you’ve got wet,” I suggested, and she followed me into the kitchen.

“No, thank you,” the girl refused my tea, “I’ll just warm up a bit and then I’ll go…”

“What’s your name? Do you have someone else here, besides grandfather?”

“No, I don’t have anyone,” she sighed sadly, “even friends.”

“You are so young and beautiful! You still have a lot ahead of you! The main thing is not to make enemies!”

“Enemies…” my interlocutor said thoughtfully. “I’m not as young as you think. You can’t imagine how tired I am of my life! I work seven days a week, not a minute to rest. Here, for once, I allowed myself to come to you, but then… People make up stories about me, they try in every possible way to avoid me, bypassing, while I’m not at all what they think of me…”

“What do you do?”

“I help people. However, Good in this world is often mistaken for Evil, so I am doomed to human hatred. If they only knew how much I envy them!”


“At least because their life is varied and interesting, it’s tasty, you know! They can feel it with every fiber of their souls and enjoy earthly pleasures to the fullest! I can’t do that. I’m not fit… There’s no person on Earth who is so lonely! I’m tired of life. I feel like a restless ghost who can’t die.”

“Listen to me, my dear! We often curse life and wish we were dead. But when Death suddenly appears on our doorstep, we realize that life is short, and it must be appreciated, because sooner or later Death will surely come for you too…”

“For me?” the girl asked thoughtfully.

The dog began howling in the flat of the deceased neighbor.

“Poor dog!” I sighed. “His devoted friend!”

“I have to go!” my guest exclaimed and got up. “I’m already late!”

“Where are you going now?” I wondered, following her to the corridor.

The girl looked at the door of the neighbor’s flat.

“I was there yesterday,” she whispered, “but I forgot to take with me his devoted friend…”

September 30, 1997


0. Exceptions

Suddenly I felt someone’s gaze on me. I turned around and saw an Angel.

“Hello,” I whispered. “Have you come for me?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

“The bonfire stories are still going on,” I tried to protest, as I felt cozy in the fog that hid the faces of the storytellers, and I was about to share my own.

“Don’t be upset!” the Angel smiled as he read my mind. “The bonfire won’t go out for a long time, and stories will follow each other until the last soul leaves the Earth. Now you have to go.”

I looked at the Man. For some reason, I didn’t want to say goodbye to him.

“Well, go,” he patted my shoulder. “I’ll find you later…”

“In the City of the Sun or in the Land of Dreams?”

“Wherever it is written in the Tablets,” the Man sighed.

The Angel held out his hand to me, and we walked away from the bonfire.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To the Chancellery.”

“What about the queue? Or…”

“No… however, there are exceptions to every rule.”

We stepped abruptly out of the fog and found ourselves on the outskirts of the City, flooded with the Sun, at the entrance to a skyscraper. I noticed several angels bypassing the queue to lead inside the souls guarded by them. We followed them in. The Angel asked me to wait for him on a bench at the ajar door to the Courtroom, next to others like me waiting something out of turn.

“What a pity,” sighed the Boy sitting to my right.

“Pity? For what?” I decided to clarify.

“We are here and not there,” he answered sadly.

“Why?” I asked, not understanding what he meant. “And where is ‘there’?”

“I want to be an angel,” the Boy sighed again. “‘There’ means in the general queue. And we are here… There is almost no chance to become angels from here.”

“Why not?” I wondered, still understanding nothing.

“My grandma used to say that all children leaving the Earth become angels. Outside the queue, only exceptions are served.”

A devil’s head popped out of the Courtroom.

Shit! What the Hell are you talking about?! Shut up you both, exceptions! In this Hall, the most interesting begins! And I can’t hear a damn thing because of your chatter!”

“I’m awfully sorry,” I whispered apologetically and involuntarily walked over to the ajar door.

The Moonlight Sonata was playing there, the lights were dimmed. Frozen in anticipation, the judges were ready to listen. The left bowl of Libra tilted almost to the limit, although it contained only one scroll of jubilant demons. Images from the earthly life of yet another soul started projecting on the screen …

1. The Master of Fates

The world collapsed…

Elena decided to make coffee, but found the coffee jar empty. She helplessly sank into a chair and was automatically flipping through a fresh newspaper, when suddenly a strange announcement caught her eye, “Everyone who decides to commit suicide gets a cup of coffee / tea before death at the expense of our house!”

The door of the mansion, placed on the edge of the city, was opened by an old woman in black.

“I’m on the ad,” Elena said wearily.

“Yes, come in, please!” the Hostess invited the girl in.

In the center of the small hall, in the armchairs by the fireplace, Elena noticed two men. In the corner, curled up in a ball, a black cat was dozing. They must have been drinking tea really, since the cups hadn’t been taken away yet, and the box of chocolates was half empty.

Elena looked around. The furnishings were not rich, but not a speck of dust to be noticed anywhere, and everything was tasteful: embroideries on the walls, curtains on the windows, antique candlesticks and parquet…

“And for you … tea or coffee?” the man in blue jumper asked.

“Coffee … I ran out of coffee at home … Thank you …”

He was about fifty. “Handsome. Obviously not poor. Why is he looking for death?” thought Elena, and the Handsome retired to the kitchen.

The second man, in gray trousers and gray sweater, with a huge green scarf wrapped around his thin neck, looked pale and coughed frequently.

“Sit down at the table, honey!” the Hostess smiled, returning from the kitchen with pies. “Or take a seat on the sofa! It’s up to you. You see, we mean no harm to you. Despite your great desire to leave the world forever, stay for a while in our gloomy but kind company!”

Elena, however, had long been unafraid of anything, and it didn’t matter to her what to drink, tea or coffee. Trying to understand where she’d got to, the girl sat down at the table.

“We are all a step away from death. However, nobody forbids us to allow ourselves something pleasant before losing everything at once. What way did you decide to go to the Other World?” the Hostess asked.

“And what’s your name?” the Handsome added.

“Elena,” the girl answered, gripping a warm cup with her fingers.

“Ernest,” the Handsome introduced himself.

The man with the scarf wanted to say his name, but coughed.

“And Robert is our painter!” the Hostess introduced him. “He is pondering about his scarf. And Ernest planned to…”

“I haven’t decided yet… the way…” Elena said in confusion, without listening to the end.

“Well, that’s not a problem!” the Hostess encouraged her smiling. “Where are you in a hurry now? An hour earlier or later…”

The Hostess gently asked the guests to share their stories about the sudden collapse of the world. Everything, in fact, came down to a few reasons: feeling of uselessness, loss of loved ones, incurable disease and lack of money. Each story they had told really touched a nerve, however, each of them believed that their own reason was much more significant, and what had happened to the others was possible to survive.

“Listen, Elena,” Ernest said calmly. “I have a bag of money. I’ll give it to you. Free of charge. I don’t need it anymore. And you will solve all your problems! You are too young to jump off a bridge into the water!”

“Give her the money, that’s right,” Robert agreed. “But why should you die? You are the only one who’s been saved – out of how many there? – obviously to live! Is that a coincidence? I’m really dying, and I don’t have much time left anyway. I just don’t want to torture anyone.”

“You still have time to paint us!” Elena exclaimed. “And not only us! Create a lot of beautiful pictures! Why are you in a hurry?”

“Elena is right, Robert,” the Hostess agreed. “There is no need to hurry. You can live here. I will take care of you like of a son. It doesn’t bother me at all. My son is dead, and I would give a lot to have someone to relieve my loneliness.”

Word by word, and by the evening they became friends and stopped rushing into Eternity, although it was not voiced out loud.

Suddenly the doorbell rang again. A tall man of strong build in black robes with a huge backpack appeared on the threshold.

“Is it here the suicidal are gathering?” the stranger chuckled darkly.

The Hostess nodded and smiled, but a feeling of anxiety pinched her heart.

“And who are you?” she asked before letting the stranger into the house.

“The one you’re missing here!” the man answered sharply and, throwing the Hostess aside, headed for the room.

A nurse approached the old lady brought at night to the intensive care unit. She lay under a drip, whispering something. The nurse couldn’t hear the words and leaned closer.

“I am a psychotherapist… I wanted to save them, but God punished me! I considered myself to be the Master of Fates! I resurrected them and doomed them to death… He is a maniac… find him! He killed everyone… but me… I must die! It’s unfair if…”

“Everything will be fine, don’t worry! You just don’t have to worry!” the nurse said, understanding nothing of what she had heard.

The woman got silent. Her kind heart stopped, and her light soul left the temporary abode, rushing towards Heaven, to meet her dead son and those whom she so sincerely had tried to save…

January 29, 1995

2. A Sinner

After a small breakfast of scrambled eggs, taking with him a couple of cheese and sausage sandwiches, and only by chance remembering to take also the Gospel and the cross, the parish priest, Father Alexey, slowly went to confess a certain parishioner Pelageya, who was dying of a terminal illness. Father Alexey didn’t know her, as he had served in that church for a week only.

Entering a shabby little room, he saw a woman about forty. She seemed to no longer react to the surrounding sounds, and her gaze was fixed on the window overlooking the garden, where the birds were singing joyfully, and the cheerful wind was rustling.

Father Alexey came closer to Pelageya. Her features seemed too familiar to the priest, but in vain he tried to remember where he might have crossed paths with the dying woman, so, sitting down on a chair by her bed, as usual in such cases, he asked,

“I was told that you want to confess, my dear…”

“Yes,” the dying woman replied in a weak voice.

“Then tell me your sins and transgressions,” the priest made the sign of the cross and prepared to listen attentively.

Pelageya started her life story from the very beginning: as a child she had broken her mother’s favorite vase, too often she had quarreled with her sister and friends, and she hadn’t believed in God. However, left without a livelihood at the age of fifteen, Pelageya went to play the flute in the streets to get money for food, and by the will of the Almighty, for the first time she found herself in a church, where a completely different world opened up for her.

What the dying woman had told him up to that point was not of particular interest to the priest, he even snored a little, and, waking up, only shook his head periodically. Sometimes it seemed to Father Alexey that he had already heard something similar before, but during his life the priest managed to serve in so many churches that thousands of stories confessed to him by parishioners had long been mixed up in his head and safely forgotten, and new ones were not remembered at all.

“Then I met him,” the eyes of the dying woman suddenly sparkled, and she smiled. “He was kind and caring, he courted me as a princess, but said almost nothing about himself, only that he loved me and we would get married after Easter. Once I found out by accident that my groom was a student at the Theological Seminary, however, the prospect of becoming the wife of a priest didn’t frighten me at all! On the contrary, I was even delighted, since I already believed in God! But soon, when I told him we were going to have a baby, he forbade me to give birth to our son.”

“Son?” Father Alexey furrowed his brow and fiddled with the Gospel.

“Yes, thank God, I didn’t take at least that sin upon my soul! After all, we never got married. My groom got scared, exchanged me for the daughter of a rich and influential official. And my son outwardly is a copy of his father, and I named him Alexey as well.”

“How old is the boy?”


“Did you tell him about his father?”

“No, Father. My son sings in a church choir, he is going to the Seminary. I didn’t want him to change his attitude towards God because of such a father. All he knows is that they are too similar in appearance.”

Father Alexey shook his head and touched Pelageya’s hand. He was silent for a while, but then, sharply withdrawing his hand, said menacingly,

“So, my dear, you seduced a priest, then disobeyed him, despite the fact that a woman should always be in obedience to a man, being created out of his rib, and on the top of that you also concealed the truth from him!”

“Father, but…” Pelageya tried to object.

“Sinner! Isn’t it written in the Bible that everything I have listed is a mortal sin?!”

“I sincerely repent of all my sins and ask you to forgive me!”

“Have that man forgiven you?”

“Where can I find him now?” the unfortunate woman whispered already in tears. “Is my soul doomed to wander the world like a restless ghost?”

“My dear, the Great pre-Easter fast is going on, so you must fast! Perhaps God will forgive you, but not I.”

The dying woman wept silently.

Father Alexey was returning to the church, obviously not in a good mood, but only one thought was spinning in his head, “My God, what does time make with a female beauty!”

That same evening, Father Alexey left his cassock at home and went with friends to a pub. Having drunk heavily, the next morning he skipped the mass and spent the entire Holy Week with friends, remembering the Passion of Christ without parting with the bottle.

On Easter, in order to avoid losing his job again, Father Alexey had to sober up. At the festive meal after the mass, he was informed that Pelageya had been buried on Friday. The deceased had not been served by the funeral vigil due to the lack of money from her son, who nevertheless ordered a special 40-days prayer for the dead mother.

Taking church wine with him, Father Alexey went to the grave of the newly departed and bumped into a handsome young man at the cemetery gate. The priest immediately recognized his son, but the son would have never recognized his father, since he looked too bad…

June 28, 1994

3. Two women

I just loved her too much! Haven’t you ever felt like to sacrifice your life for the sake of your beloved?

…I don’t remember where and when I met Jeanne, because we lived in the same house, played in the same yard, studied at the same school. Everyone liked Jeanne, she was surrounded by crowds of suitors, and at first I was even afraid to invite her for a walk. I’ve had problems with women since childhood. I’ve always been afraid of them. And, as it turned out, not for nothing!

We started dating in early spring, when Jeanne was eighteen. We often went to that lake, with an uninhabited island in the middle. Jeanne used to say she would like to get on it! No one was pulling her tongue, mind you!

I always took my favorite, Junga, on my walks. Just in case. I felt much more confident next to her. Many people even believe that such dogs should not be kept at home for being dangerous to life! Yes, I agree, her character, frankly, wasn’t simple, I couldn’t bring home a friend, not to mention the whole company. Junga would attack anyone who was not a member of our family, and, being locked in another room, she would burst into unbearable barking and “breaking down” the door until the stranger left. Junga, by the way, disobeyed even me, but I loved her very much! Isn’t a dog man’s best friend?

Honestly, I sincerely hoped that my girls would become friends, however, Junga – once it became clear to me! – had scanned the future and hated Jeanne in advance, growled at her and tried in every possible way to bite her. I tried to persuade Junga to accept the situation, in vain! She was stubbornly adamant. Then I realized that she was jealous of me! Finally! Anyway, under third parties pressure, I still made a decision to get married. Must means must. No way to avoid! They would think that I was indifferent to the opposite sex, unlike my own!

Junga, of course, couldn’t forgive me for such a turn of events! Her aggression went off the scale, she began to rush at me as well! No matter the way I tried to explain to her the human ‘must’, it was all in vain: dogs don’t forgive betrayal. How would you feel about someone who betrayed you? After the wedding, I left Junga at my mother’s and moved to live at Jeanne’s.

I really missed my Junga very much, I was awfully homesick, I dreamed about her every night, and, God knows, I tried to visit her as often as I could! With every fiber of my soul, I felt her incredible suffering and, as a result, I asked my mother to make Junga get married as well. One-time, of course… Who would have known how much I was worried about her wedding night! However, self-hypnosis is a great thing! So, if I was cheating on her with Jeanne…

That morning my mother called me to tell the amazing news: Junga was going to have puppies! I jumped around the room with happiness, I would take one for myself! A girl, of course! The spitting image of Junga! I even barked with joy. For the first time. And at that very moment, Jeanne appeared in the room and said that we were going to have a baby.


In the evening we decided to celebrate the imminent replenishment of the family at my mother’s flat. Junga, as usual, began to throw herself at the fragile Jeanne. My mother, in spite of my protests, closed Junga in the room to let us have a quiet dinner in the kitchen.

After the meal, my mother and I retired to the balcony to discuss the upcoming changes. Suddenly there was a roar and screams. The door to the room with Junga was blown off its hinges. Having entered the kitchen, we saw Jeanne. Instead of washing the dishes, she was lying unconscious with a bloody knife in her hand! Roaring menacingly, Junga sprawled on her belly…

We called a doctor and a vet. I was depressed! I howled! Yes, I howled at the Moon, not embarrassed by either veterinarians or doctors. Junga could no longer have puppies, and my wife could no longer have kids. God! It seemed to me I couldn’t survive that!

We were walking by the very lake, with an uninhabited island in the middle. It was already too late, and not a soul around. A terrible picture came back to life and froze on the inner screen: my beloved Junga and the knife in Jeanne’s hand… I don’t remember how that very knife ended up in my hands…

I just loved her too much!

December 13, 1996

4. Frozen

“Hey!” Yuri whispered, glancing sadly at her beautiful cold face. “Today I came late, because I took the child to the cottage… I am sorry, Inna!”

She was silent.

“Well, forgive me!”

Inna said nothing.

So, all summer long Yuri came to her every evening to talk about his current life, and he brought her ice cream. Yes, I will always remember, she loved ice cream, and she froze some berries for the winter to defrost them and eat with ice cream… in the winter.

“God told us to forgive everyone. You’ve always believed in God, haven’t you, Inna? Forgive me!”

She was silent.


Autumn came, and it rained heavily. That evening, Yuri bought her a bouquet of small chrysanthemums.

“I’ve never given you flowers before. I’m sorry… Do you want me to bring them to you every day?.. And ice cream as well! Whatever you love!”

Inna was silent. Yes, she was mercilessly cold!

Yuri often remembered that everyone envied him for such a wife – beautiful, young, cheerful, sociable…

“How long can you be offended, Inna? Yes, I was wrong! Although I’ve been holding back for so long! Just think, only once I was jealous of our child! Yes, because you spent too much time on him and paid no attention to me! I was very hurt, really! Well, I’m sorry!”

Yuri looked at Inna with such a plaintive look, but… she remained silent. And he could hardly restrain himself, since men don’t cry.


In winter, almost every evening, in addition to ice cream, Yuri brought her also tangerines. Inna must have been fond of them as well, but… she continued to be silent. She was so cold… of course…


And then spring came. When everything frozen begins to melt, and it seemed to Yuri that Inna was about to melt, too! He came to her with hope, but she was still cold.

“Have pity on me!” Yuri shouted. “Listen to me! I can’t go on like this! I can’t live without you! I feel like I’m going crazy! I’ll take you away from here and make you happy! Just come back to me please! Well, forgive me!!!”

At that moment, I couldn’t stand it anymore. You never know what one would do in such a state! I stepped away from the surveillance video camera and, fastening my bulletproof vest on the go, went to the client.

Yuri turned around as I opened the door and greeted me with a nod.

“Have a nice evening you too!” I said. “So, have you made your mind? Are we going to renew the contract?”

Yuri was still in a state of trance, fiddling with the edge of his jacket with nervous fingers.

“Have you brought me the money for your ice cream?” I added a passphrase to speed up the process.

Yuri involuntarily shuddered and even somehow cringed, but then he immediately grabbed and opened the briefcase, filled with bundles of foreign banknotes.

“Yes, yes … of course … yes … here you are…”

...And have you really thought that the maintenance of my underground business “Cold Storage at Boris’ garage” is cheap? However, the rich have their own quirks, especially if they are going crazy, I mean, their madness, and, of course, the money is not lying on the road!

“I’m very tired,” Yuri whispered and sobbed, “well, forgive me, Inna, forgive me! I love you! Please open your eyes! Look at me! Give me your hand! Get up! Let’s go home! Come on… Let’s go!”

In the ensuing deathly silence, Yuri cast a desperate glance at Inna to see once more her thin cold hands, which had once gently caressed him; her pale, dear to the point of pain and yet already someone else’s face; her petrified lips, he lacked so much. He couldn’t see only her eyes and the scars beneath her dress, left by his numerous stabbings made in search of a heart…

June 26, 1998

5. Cranberries

I loved my Mummy and cranberries in the swamp, and Masha adored Lapland deer fillet and French snails in a cafe on Rublyovka. How didn’t I guess right away that nothing good would come of it again?

I was ten years older than her, not a bad age difference to make a girl obedient in everything, but I was awfully mistaken! Masha didn’t consider me a genius, and, even worse, she turned out to be completely unlike Mummy, although I checked their birthdays in advance before going on ‘the offensive’, that is, to get acquainted!

Why not? At that time, I was an enviable groom! – unburdened by children and free of alimony, with real estate in a swamp! A handsome man in his prime! Mummy had just died, so our meeting with Masha seemed very appropriate!

As for my ex-wife, everything had gone wrong immediately, because my parents, especially Mummy, didn’t like her. However, we had lived together for several years. Yes, we’d got a son, but I never considered him as my child! Not because I wasn’t his father (unimaginable!), I just didn’t feel anything for him, whether he was or not.

Thank God, I quickly got rid of them both, my wife and my son, and life returned to its previous course… with Mummy! Well, with dad also.

I lived in a beautiful swamp and picked up cranberries. When there were no cranberries in the swamp, I got them out of our fridges, picked in season. If you eat cranberries all the time, you will never get sick! That’s what Mummy said. It’s an axiom! What is life without cranberries?

Masha seemed to be so quiet, so obedient, so … like Mummy! For some reason, she loved Lapland deer fillet and French snails! I couldn’t understand why! And, apparently, I will never do. Why should I sponsor a cafe on Rublyovka? After all, one needs, at least, to work for this. Was I a fool, or what, to work? I had never worked. As soon as I graduated from the institute, or rather dropped out, I never worked! Are you still plowing?

I was a free artist. I created pictures and poems. Like Mummy! Yes, she always wrote something at night in her diary. I used to show her my poems. And she liked them. She always praised me. And once she said that I became a poet. So, I was a poet. Did Pushkin really work? No, he was creating! And so did I! To create poetry, one needs peace, no other work. Therefore, I quit the aviation institute as soon as Mummy considered me as a poet, and bought myself a disability!

My ex-wife, like most people, ‘plowed for her boss’, while I wondered, why the Muse visited me so rarely. However, it would be a sin to complain! In thirty-odd years I had written as many as 200 poems, but, of course, that’s nothing compared to the quantity of cranberries I’d picked up, measured in kilograms or in fridges where they were stored off-season.

So, one day I met Masha. In the swamp. Picking cranberries. I had a house in the swamp. There, you know, it was a huge no one’s land. Well… not no one’s, but wanted by nobody. Mummy was born in those swamps, however, their house hadn’t survived. I decided to make a gift to Mummy, so I built a small house on the no one’s land, almost a hut, but with a stove! For my Mummy and me. Well, for dad also. And when Mummy died, a place for Masha was vacated in the hut. Or rather, for someone who would be like Mummy and love cranberries. So, one day I was picking cranberries and noticed Masha.

I could see through people and immediately realized that Masha was also a poet. She was looking for her Muse in my swamp! I came up to her, we got talking. I suggested picking cranberries together. In cranberry season. And out of season, getting berries from my fridge. Rather, I had several refrigerators, hidden in the swamp, I think I’ve already told you, I’d got them specifically for cranberries.

Masha laughed for some reason. Did I say something funny?! It was the first sign from Heaven that she was not like Mummy! Mummy had never laughed at me! Okay, I supposed that Masha was flirting with me like that and forgave her for the first time.

However, Masha really wrote poetry! I’ve told you I could see right through people! And she gave me her book. About ghosts! Wow! And I immediately passed it to my dad for verification… whether he would like her poetry or not. As a result, dad blessed me, and I went on the offensive!

Masha lived in the city. Sometimes in summer she stopped at a cafe on Rublyovka to eat a fillet of Lapland deer or French snails, and she came to my swamp by chance, while visiting distant relatives.

So… I accomplished a feat! I had to come to the city from my swamp in order to walk Masha along Tverskaya street in the evening. You see, in winter, Masha was ‘plowing for her boss’ in a bookstore… to eat Lapland deer fillets and French snails occasionally in summer!

I remember we walked from Mayakovskaya to the Kremlin, discussing many details important to me. I asked where her mother had been buried and told about Mummy’s funeral. On the stretch from Mayakovskaya to Pushkinskaya, we discussed cemeteries, where the Muses were found, like in swamps, and from Pushkinskaya to the Kremlin, we talked about cranberries.

I must have awakened Masha’s appetite, but – God forgive me! – I didn’t pay much attention to the second sign from Heaven, I mean, Masha hinted that it would be nice to go to a cafe! To eat near the Kremlin or even on Tverskaya?! Thank you! Mummy had never eaten outside at all, not to mention Tverskaya or near the Kremlin! However, instead of saying goodbye to Masha immediately and forever, I pretended not to notice her desire to have a bite. I brought her to the subway and returned to my swamp. By the way, I drive an antique parent’s car! Mummy loved it very much, so do I!

The cranberry season was still far away… and I felt sad. I sent Masha a letter from the swamp. And she dared to write me back… nothing!!! Then I got angry and sent her a postscript, “And just dare to say something bad about my mother! I will kill you!”

Okay, Masha hadn’t said anything bad about Mummy at that time, but I decided to warn her in advance, just to let her know! I hadn’t warned my ex-wife. And when, after several years of our life together, she dared to say that Mummy should finally let us live separately… Imagine! Who would have thought! How many years I had endured her!

However, Masha was silent again! I saw that she had received and read my message and the postscript to it!

I got furious!!! Mummy had reacted to all my messages with lightning speed! So I decided, knowing where and until what hour Masha worked, to secretly follow her in the evenings – from her office to her home – to see if my passion had anyone to eat together Lapland deer fillets and French snails!

Thank God, Masha and I had nothing special at that time, I mean, I hadn’t even touched her with a finger, not to mention all sorts of snails tenderness. Anyway, I had accomplished a whole step, driving Mummy’s favorite car from the swamp to the city and back only to walk Masha along Tverskaya that evening!

I settled in with some homeless bums in the basement opposite Masha’s house. Well, it was okay, I could bear it, since I started it for a good cause, to get know what to do with Masha… I told my dad that I was on a secret mission of special services, so I would be absent in our swamp for a while.

And so… a week later… I noticed that Masha met some sort of a girl of her age!.. And they went to a cafe… near the Kremlin!!!

“What a shit?! How did she dare to change me for a girl??? Mummy! Forgive me! Sorry! I dared to imagine that Masha is like you!!!”

I returned to the swamp and wept! The bright memory of my holy Mummy was instantly desecrated by the mere thought of a possible connection with such a dirty and vicious Masha! How could I have allowed such a sacrilegious black stain to appear?! Shit! It needed to be removed immediately! Once and forever!!!

That evening I went to the city and ambushed Masha, who was returning home from work, at the entrance to her house. She even smiled at seeing me and said “Hi”, as if we had seen each other the day before. I suggested talking in Mummy’s car. And – how lucky I was! – she agreed.

Of course, Masha said I was crazy, because that girl of her age had been just her cousin. But did Masha’s words give a 100% guarantee that there had been nothing between them – well, you know, what I mean! – when I returned to the swamp out of grief…

I didn’t go to a cafe even with my brother! I hadn’t seen him in ages. Since he got married. Yes, he was a traitor! Left Mummy! Swapped her for some…

Sorry, I was distracted from Masha!

She could tell me anything just to escape, as I had caught her like a bird in a cage, locking in Mummy’s favorite car, but Masha was completely different from Mummy! And I couldn’t… just couldn’t do otherwise! After all, Mummy had promised to watch over me from Heaven and to be always nearby! So, she knew that I… fell for Masha and imagined her in the place of Mummy!!! Oh, my God!!! Just the thought of it drove me crazy!

I took Masha to the swamp (naturally, we didn’t go into our family hut, so as not to desecrate it!), and then, when that disgustingly vicious woman was already dead, I got myself cranberries from the fridge and ate, and ate, and ate them so that not to catch a cold after another stress! – as Mummy had always advised…

April 02, 2021

6. Coffee

I was composing an important letter in the office, when the phone rang again. An excited female voice asked for Vladislav.

“Excuse me, could you introduce yourself?” I asked.

“His wife…”

I tried not to show up my surprise and keep calm at least outwardly. Firstly, she used to call him on his mobile, never to the office. Secondly, Vlad planned to spend that day negotiating at the bank since morning. Didn’t she know? But there was no time to think.

“Hello, Marina! It’s Vika. Vladislav is at the bank. I’m not sure he’ll show up in the office. Can I help you?”

“Yes,” she said, still excited. “I called on his mobile, it’s switched off, I left him a message. The alarm went off in our flat. I’m scared!”

“The negotiations won’t be over until lunchtime. Anyway, Vladislav will certainly listen to your message. Of course, I can call him too, but if the phone is switched off …”

“I’m so scared, Vika! Could you come over right now? Please!”

“Okay,” I reluctantly agreed, since they lived a couple of minutes from the office, and it would be more expensive to resist.

“I am waiting for you at the entrance! Thanks!” Marina breathed a sigh of relief.

I called Vlad, but the answering machine turned on.

“Your wife’s called. She’s asked me to come to your house immediately. Well, I’m going…”


“Hello, Vika! I’m very embarrassed! I met our neighbor, and he helped me with this damn alarm! So, everything is fine, it just went off by accident! Sorry for disturbing you!”

“Not a big deal! I am glad that’s all right! To be honest, I understand nothing in alarm systems,” I exhaled and was about to turn back and leave, as Marina stopped me.

“Vika, I don’t feel comfortable! Come in for a while! Let’s drink coffee! I’ll treat you to something delicious!” she offered smiling.

“No, no, I have to go back to the office!” I said, squeezing out a smile in return.

“Your office can wait! Moreover, your boss is at the bank! Let’s go, come on! I won’t let you off so easily now!”

I wasn’t too keen on going into their flat, although I had never been there before. I was even more embarrassed by the prospect of the upcoming conversation. A couple of years ago, when Marina and I had got acquainted, I tried to chat with her on general topics, but, as it turned out, we had really not much to talk about, besides, I was afraid to say something extra, so we ended up drinking coffee in silence.

However, she almost dragged me into the entrance.

We got up to their flat. Marina invited me into the kitchen. I was looking at the collection of souvenirs on the open shelves without much interest, while she brewed coffee.

“How are you?” Marina suddenly broke the silence.

“I wonder who she means saying ‘you’? ” flashed through my head, but I tried to respond neutrally, “Everything is just as usual.”

“Vlad said that a business trip to Finland is planned.”

“Yes, but no dates have been set yet.”

We sat down at the kitchen table. Marina silently offered to clink the cups. I didn’t resist.

“When are the negotiations supposed to be over?” she asked, taking her first sip and glancing at her watch.

“I don’t know, probably soon,” I answered and felt a sharp pain in my stomach, once again remembering the doctors’ advice to forget about such a wonderful drink.

“Vika, do you believe in life after death?” Marina suddenly asked and picked me up, as I was losing consciousness from pain. “Come with me!”

The pain left me as abruptly as it had appeared. I got up from the floor and followed Marina into the living room. She stopped by the window.

“Now there is nothing to fear and lose,” she said without looking into my eyes. “Why did you need him?”

“I don’t know what to answer you…”

I knew what to answer her. I loved Vlad. Not for anything. And that’s why I didn’t care what status to be next to him. Did Vlad love me? A great question. Anyway, I had never asked him to divorce his wife, realizing that he got used to her. I didn’t wish them any harm.

“God sees everything, Vika. He should have punished you both. You can’t imagine how much I hate you! However, God will forgive me for what I’ve done,” Marina began to sob like a kid.

“What have you done?” I got surprised and, from a bad feeling, I immediately turned to Vlad mentally, “Please, come here quickly! Your Marina is going to eat me now!”

“I know he wouldn’t leave you! Yes, I’ve never loved him, since it was a marriage of convenience, but he had no right! No right!!!”

“Calm down, please!” I didn’t know what to say in such cases.

“I couldn’t live like this! Could not! He had to lose us both!!!”

Suddenly we heard rushing footsteps on the stairs, and the front door slammed.

“Marina! Vika!” Vlad shouted out of breath, “are you there?”

Marina froze in silence, turning to the window, and I ran out into the corridor.

“It’s nice of you to come!” I exclaimed.

Vlad didn’t seem to hear me, heading for the kitchen quickly.

“We are here!” I shouted again. However, frozen at the ajar door, Vlad didn’t even turn around.

“Marina!!! No, you couldn’t!” he exclaimed without turning to me.

“God must forgive me!” she said coldly, approaching us.

I stood between them, trying in vain to figure out what had happened. Vlad turned around, slammed the kitchen door in my face, and, not paying any attention to us, started pacing back and forth down the corridor, frantically dialing someone’s number on his phone.

“Vlad, what’s wrong?!” I wondered.

“I’ve calculated everything,” Marina said, patting her husband on the shoulder. “It’s too late!”

“Ambulance?” shouted Vlad, getting through.

“What damn ambulance?! What’s wrong with you?” I screamed in his ear.

“He doesn’t hear us,” Marina stated. “However, life after death exists indeed.”

May, 2002

7. Intergalactic Union of Writers

The path to my glory was easy enough, since I was incredibly lucky!

However, it all started with the fact that I was born exceptionally ugly and short. My twin sister, Maya, on the contrary, turned out to be pretty, and short stature for a girl is more of a plus than a minus. Everyone liked Maya and turned up their noses at me. No matter how much I tried to please people, to get their attention, it was all in vain. Even heavy shoes with thick soles didn’t add to my weight or height.

That’s the way I became a writer. I got myself a vest in the form of a diary, to which I trusted my intimate sufferings from non-reciprocity, but after the first rhyme that came to mind, I changed my shoes into a poet. Soon I discovered plenty of websites where one could post one’s masterpieces. As a result, after painful swings between pros and cons, because at that time I wasn’t sure yet of the excellence of my works, I nevertheless registered the profile, uploaded a picture of a handsome man and my first verse, the “Unrecognized Genius, or The Rejected”.

Incredibly, I was instantly hit by a flurry of positive responses, including declarations of love from women of all ages, suits and calibers!

They began to invite me to events at literary associations and circles, to performances in museums, libraries, schools and even kindergartens, which at first I was naturally embarrassed, because the picture of a nameless handsome man, posted by me on the Internet, was radically different from my reflection in the mirror.

However, Pushkin, you know, was outwardly also for an amateur…

So, I got onto stage! I was applauded by the arenas! Women asked for an autographed book, composed and sang songs based on my poems, snuggled up to me in collective photos and hinted in every possible way that they wouldn’t mind getting to know me better. Anyway, there were no men in literary units, with the exception of a few pensioners and chronic alcoholics, against the background of which I looked like a fairy-tale prince. And yes, I enjoyed it! That was something quite different from being home, among relatives, or in the office at work…

Soon, a retired lady in love with me gave me a recommendation to join the Union of Writers of the City, I printed two books of the ‘chosen lyrics’, submitted them with the recommendation, to the admission committee, and… was accepted! Wow! Accepted! They said that my lyrics shocked them to the core, especially the poem “Unrecognized Genius”.

However, the second old woman in love with me was jealous of the first one and invited me to join the City Union of Writers. You may ask, what’s the difference between the Union of Writers of the City and the City Union of Writers? I still don’t understand that myself, but the old lady said that the City Union of Writers was quoted higher. So I deserved the best!

Within five years, I was accepted into all the existing literary associations and Writers’ Unions, which headquarters were located in our city and on its outskirts, each of them considered itself much cooler than all the others put together.

I dutifully paid my annual dues. And more and more often, I received letters with nominations for numerous competitions, in which I always… won! Traditionally, each selection of my poems for any competition began with the “Unrecognized Genius”, already a 100% verified masterpiece, my calling card in contemporary poetry. And rather, in literature in general, what is there to hide, since my “Unrecognized Genius” was awarded not only the Alexander Pushkin Prize, but also won the Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol and Anton Pavlovich Chekhov competitions! Of course, I asked the organizers of the competitions to take into consideration for prose writers’ awards my diary prose instead of poetry, but I was immediately assured that my poetry was so large-scale and profound that the greatest prose masters of the world would have been happy to give me all their orders and medals!

And after these words, I finally discarded the last doubts in myself!

After five years of rotation in literary circles, there was no free space left on my jacket! It glistened with gold, pleasantly rang with glory and, like a magnet, attracted almost every literary woman without exception. And once I wore this jacket to an office party. And – wow, yes! It was my ‘minute of glory’!

Only stupid Maya laughed at me! She considered my poems worthless in meaning and ugly in rhymes! She said that Tolstoy, Gogol and Chekhov, together with Pushkin and others like them, had long dreamed of meeting me in the Other World in order to send me to Hell for a frying pan, because all my awards were given not for the quality of works and not for me alone, but for money to everyone.

I tried to explain to my sister that we lived in a commercial society, the writers’ unions had not been funded by the state for a long time, so they were forced to encourage authors at the expense of the very same authors. Victories in national competitions and government awards were given only to “their own”, and, for sure, they cost much more. However, Maya wasn’t lazy to calculate how much money I had spent on my literary activities in five years, and assured me that a cottage by the sea in Europe cost much cheaper!

Oh, Europe… Okay, Maya was right: it was time to conquer Europe, and then Asia, and … the whole world! And – unbelievable! – I found out the Union of European Writers, and then the Union of Writers of Asia, the Union of Writers of Eurasia, and later the Union of Writers of North and South America, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Easter Island and the Fiji Islands, Papua and New Guinea, Antarctica and Arctic…

I ended up reaching the North and South Poles in the next five years!

Yes! I became a world famous poet! The number of decorations as orders and medals didn’t fit even on ten jackets, nothing to say about diplomas! I posted each new award on my pages in social networks and got more and more likes from other poets and writers, who, following me, conquered the peaks that I had already conquered. I felt like a pioneer! The first one! The commander of contemporary poetry and – let’s face it! – the real God of the Literary Olympus.

At the same time, I was keeping track of my competitors’ diplomas and awards, and as soon as I found something new, I immediately sent the “Unrecognized Genius” to the next competition and… won it!

The whole world lay at my verses!


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