The Door

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CHAPTER 1: Meet Clio

A good writer should not tell the reader some things directly. «Don’t write that the character is sad, describe it in such a way that the readers draw that conclusion themselves,» a good writer sternly points out a typical rookie mistake. With that in mind, I shudder to think what the reputable writers would say on what I’m about to do.

Anyway, I ask honourable writers, if any of them happen to be reading this book, to understand and forgive me in advance. I, unlike many authors, do not have enough patience. The description of an oak leaf flying in the wind for two and a half chapters is beyond me so far.

Nevertheless, getting to know our main characters is not just a whim, but an absolute necessity.

And here, it would seem, what could be better than looking into a person’s past and living through a few fascinating stories side by side to get to know them better?

But a couple of stories, even the most fascinating ones, cannot paint the full picture of someone’s life. A few of their decisions don’t help to get inside a person’s head and soul, to really understand them.

We will definitely come to decisions, but by then I would definitely like you to understand our heroes. Maybe not completely, but at least as a whole. Understand their way of thinking, understand what stands behind their actions. It is necessary so that at the right moment you would feel if not as a part of their family, but at least as good friends or at the very least as acquaintances.

After all, even the most hardcore mathematicians and philosophers would not, in fact, want their readers to come to despair in a vain attempt to get to the bottom of the books written by them.

Unfortunately, we cannot afford to live next to our characters for their entire lives as well, either in the book or in reality. So we should at least try to make it as easy for you as possible.

Moreover, I would like to save my readers from a situation where, in the middle of the book, the author for the first time mentions the colour of the character’s eyes and the world, already built in someone’s imagination, begins to crumble. We are here to create worlds, not the other way around.

And how much an out-of-nowhere unnecessary description of «his hair, black as a crow’s wing and stiff as straw inside a scarecrow standing in a nearby field, was so beautifully set off by the eyes of the steel and cherry blossom colour he got from his grandmother» can be omitted! It looks too promising, too tempting!

That’s why, once again, please don’t scold me too much for cutting corners so insidiously, treacherously and not at all like a good writer. And I also ask you to notice how, in accordance with the instructions of good writers, I haven’t spoken directly for a long time about how I can upset those same good writers.

Also, please note, that not a single word has been said about Clio in the chapter that is supposed to be about her. Of course, it’s not an oak leaf leisurely twirling in a steamy dance with the air currents for ten pages in a row yet, but who knows what the future holds for me. Someday.

Moreover, I know that people don’t read prefaces. And if even one of those rational guys bought the fact that it was the first chapter and ended up reading the whole thing, that’s a small (but very gloating!) victory for me.

In the meantime, welcome to a CV that any employer would read with rapt attention. But on the other hand, no employer would ever find such a CV on his desk.

About Clio

● Appearance:

Eyes: Brown-green, squinting

As much as Clio would like to believe that her eyes change colour according to her mood, the fact is that most of the time they look brown with some greenery. Only those closest and most attentive to details can see specks of yellow and even occasional flashes of grey and blue in them.

Hair: Colour light green, pastel; hair cut just above the shoulders

The awe some ladies feel over their kilometre-long braids brings a condescending smile to Clio’s face. She herself had long ago decided that hair is not the same with hands — it would grow back. Although, daring to cut off a metre of her hair for the first time was also rather scary. And the decision to be a full-head greenery came to her one new strand at a time.

Skin: Pale

Clio is sometimes sad that even in the height of summer she can’t be as tanned as the many lucky people whose pictures she sees in the newsfeed from time to time. However, this quickly passes. Especially quickly, when she reminds herself that that’s not what makes her sad. More likely, what saddens her is that they have the opportunity to go to the seashore for a month and live the fuller lives than she can afford.

However, she likes her aristocratic pallor. At least, that was the conclusion she drew after an incident with one of her former colleagues. She only clenched her teeth tightly, and with great difficulty resisted an urge to punch the one who asked her so aggressively caring: «Why are you so pale? You don’t leave the house at all, do you?»

Height: 165 cm

Style of clothing: Varied — the main idea is to wear something interesting

She doesn’t like the basic things. Clio is always looking for something unique, something interesting, something that others don’t have. There is only a handful of plain T-shirts in her wardrobe; mostly all of her clothes are covered in prints of different characters or have some kind of interesting story behind them.

Clio doesn’t shy away from running through thrift shops to find something you can’t find in the nearest mall.

● Age: 29 years

Our heroine does not look or feel her age. She is frightened by the big and inescapable approaching three-oh-zero. Clio remembers all too well not believing that there is life after thirty. However, when her back starts to seize up or she gets a headache from a sudden change of the weather, Clio feels being at least seventy-three.

Birthday: 1 February

Being born in the harshest month of the year is not the most fortunate thing. All the more so because, as luck would have it, this is the day on which her city has been experiencing severe frosts for years. Not just «the perfect time to go to the cottage, take a jacuzzi and jump in the snow afterwards» frosts, but «no sane person would go out today» frosts.

Zodiac sign: Aquarius

Some people believe in horoscopes, some don’t, and that’s ok. But it just so happens that Clio’s traits largely match the description of a typical Aquarius.

Education: Higher education, humanities (major not specified)

Why tell what your degree was in if your job has nothing to do with it? It wasn’t that Clio didn’t like her major — she’d honed her skills in masterful cheating and covering up cutting classes, learned a couple of new and interesting things and met a lot of cool people.

But she didn’t enter the university because she wanted to dedicate her life to this unspecified profession.

Work: In the office, call centre

Clio has a hard time talking to people all day long. So the call centre is clearly not her dream job, but we have what we have.

If you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, it’s hard to go into some narrow field. Because to be really successful at something, you have to put your whole life into it. And you don’t want to put it into something that is not you.

And yet you still want to put food on your plate.

Body build: Average — not skinny, but not chubby either

At this point, you’re probably getting a rough idea of what kind of person Clio is. But you don’t know about her laziness yet. And what lazy person wouldn’t prefer ordering pizza and watching a new episode of a great show to cooking a complicated meal?

Besides, it’s a great pleasure to eat, and a hedonist can’t do without it.

She also cannot run, squat or lift enough to transform all those unhealthy meals into abs, because she is so lazy (or, as Clio calls it, «self-caring») and extremely convincing when it comes to it.

Additional skills: Partially music, dance, painting, almost any creative activity

Clio is a creative person, who as a child has studied dance, singing, clay modelling and musical instruments, but gave it all up when she got bored. She is talented and, despite not completing all her classes, she can draw, sing and dance quite well.

Ironically, unlike the ancient Greek muse she is named after, she has a big problem with history. Names, dates and events desperately resist being juxtaposed with each other. They are getting mixed up and are refusing to line up in the right order.

Hobbies: Watching movies/TV-series/cartoons, playing games

Movies, TV-series and other visual content are worlds that Clio has always escaped to from ours. There are a lot of these worlds, and in almost every one of them there are characters who are like family to her. She cares about each of them as if they were as real as you and me, and she is more often seen in tears because of what happens in a film or a book rather than because of the real-life problems.

Notable personal qualities:

Intelligence: Thanks to her intelligence and wit, she could afford to skip school and university for many years and still graduate without any bad marks.

Lazy: So lazy that she even puts on make-up quite rarely. Between having extra-time to sleep and preening her feathers, she always chooses sleep. As you can imagine, doing laundry/cleaning/dishwashing/anything else that needs to be done with any kind of consistency is torture for such a person.

Hedonism: After years of philosophical research, Clio has decided that the meaning of life is in the pleasure. Or, to put it another way, hedonism.

Selfishness: For some reason, this word is perceived as a swear word, but Clio considers it a normal self-care. As one example, she doesn’t quite understand when people talk about a job they love — is that even possible?

If they do, they must be the energizer activists who are ready to give up their last shirt «for the common good». But Clio doesn’t want to «give back to the society», she wants to be paid and to buy stuff she wants.

Ok, maybe, her favourite job would be the one where with a minimum of effort she could get the most for herself.

Adaptability: With this set of traits, a person has no choice but to learn to adapt. This includes the ability to mimic the surrounding people, to find a way out of tricky situations, and to fit her behaviours into what the situation demands.

Belief in Miracle: Despite the many times life has tripped Clio up, despite the many times she has vowed to stop believing in the supernatural, it seems to be impossible to squeeze out the magic fairytale of her by any means. Naturally, she is fascinated by witchcraft and sorcery, which makes life in a world without magic a wildly depressing experience.

The torment of choice: Clio doesn’t like to choose. She doesn’t like to choose what to wear, where to eat, or what to be when she grows up.

Longing: All her life, our heroine has felt that she has to be somewhere else. That this world is not really for her. That she can’t learn to fly here. This feeling is not a constant weight nailing her to the ground, but rather a sub-tone, a quiet ceaseless squeaking noise that accompanies Clio throughout her life.

This is why a random song, a thought, or even a whiff of wind can make a person suddenly and inexplicably cry, even though nothing seems to be wrong. But the rest of the time, too, her eyes betray this longing: occasionally Clio can be seen staring off into the distance. To somewhere where she is not.

CHAPTER 2: Tramway

On a Wednesday evening,

After the dinner,

The sleep is for tired moany adults.

We are inviting,

Young daredevils,

To the jungle and into the wild…

Oooh no, now that song will be stuck in my head for a long time. Stop playing. Stop playing. Stop it. Don’t think about anything. Quiet.

Wednesday evening, after dinner…

Oh, for heck’s sake! It’s not even Wednesday. At least it’s not even Wednesday here. And somewhere, maybe it is Wednesday. Probably not in our world, though.


Is life without the internet worth travelling to other worlds?

After all, if you think about it that way, what is the average Gondorian doing on a quiet Wednesday night in Middle-earth? We’re talking about the most boring times, not when it’s time to die heroically in a war for world peace.

Speaking of battles, even Grandpa Tolkien, with all his thoroughness, did not carve in stone the names of thousands and thousands of foot soldiers, even the ones who died more or less heroically.

And he carved more than most authors, alright.

Ok, now I’m just thinking about the Professor snowboarding. Stop! Stop!

Clio’s confused train of thought hit the rock of reality the moment the creaking tram doors opened and let the cold November air in. Admittedly, the cold itself is already pretty bad, but now it was particularly unfortunate.

This tram is an artefact from such ancient times that it was not yet known that the metal seats were uncomfortable for passengers. Plus, as it is such a relic, it wasn’t surprising that heating didn’t work. And in this nasty cold times, there is a real danger of sticking to one of these iron thrones.

It’s time for us, sitting in our warm, cosy abodes, to indignantly cluck our tongues and think patronisingly from the height of our wisdom: «Well, she who cares about her health would rather stand than freeze her fillets. She’s got babies to give birth to!»

But the foretold mothers have no interest in our most helpful advice.

Sitting on a tram is not only an honour and a great privilege, but also a simple matter of survival. Working-class life develops many helpful reflexes, and «if you see an empty seat, sit!» is one of them. The battle for a seat after a work shift is no joke.

Only happy people who are full of energy can afford to bow to ladies of indeterminate-yet-something-close-to-retirement age, cherishing a sense of satisfaction at how well their parents raised them.

People who are mentally and physically exhausted by the pressure of work are ready to get into the vehicle, plunge onto the first free seat they see without a second thought and tell the woman, who does not look old enough, an indecisive and uncertain but still a ’no’ to a demand of giving up the seat.

We, who lie on our smart mattresses that remember our shapes, should, of course, respond to such impertinent reflections with yet another clucking of the tongue. After all, they’re not made of glass, they won’t break, and in general, the youths of today have no respect for their elders!

But let’s not put our eggs in one basket of public condemnation just yet — we can’t do any better than the ladies mentioned above anyway.

All the more so because today was somehow not an ordinary day. Today the tram was as empty as a library, or so it seemed after the everyday procedure of mass intimate breathing on each other’s necks.

No one was trapped by the half-open doors, everyone could reach the handrail, no one looked with hatred at the lucky people who had taken the seats. It was a miracle. A simple rush-hour miracle. And all its witnesses enjoyed the moment instead of asking unnecessary questions.

However, this miracle did not go unnoticed. It may have given direction to the restless stream of our heroine’s thoughts. Meanwhile, the girl was shaking as she received a gift of a merciless November that crawled through the open doors.

It took longer than it should to focus, but before the doors closed and the tram moved on, the Clio could see the name of the tram station. She was still five stops away from home.

The cold had managed to stall the flow of her thoughts, but now even a February frost probably would not drive her off the icy steel seat. The risks were high, but she was willing to pay the price for the chance to sit forty extra minutes and stare unseeingly at the passing lights.

Beyond the door of the tram, cold but still bright and dry, more of the «joys» of a brutal November awaited: a mixture of mud, gravel and rotting leaves. A bonus was the treacherous knee-deep puddles in the most unexpected places on the seemingly long-explored road through the garages. The lack of street lights along the way and a light drizzle of an ice-cold rain only added to the anticipation of this daily torture by the outskirts of the city.

In the meantime, there was only coldness and an internal dialogue with an internal audience.

It’s cold. At least I have some time to wander through the wilderness of my thoughts. If a person has ever been in such a state after work, they know that at such moments the intracranial space is more like that game in which you need to reach the «Core of the Earth» article on Wikipedia in as few clicks on the links as possible from any random Wikipedia article. To get to the bottom of it, so to speak.

Only, unlike this game, tram thoughts have no goal, they just jump one over the other, like players in the Leap Frog game, and you never know where you find yourself in the end. Maybe yet again in the hot embrace of Mother Earth’s insides, but today I’d prefer something else. I have no energy to work out another theory about the possibility of the Lost World’s existence.

Wait a minute, I’m already thinking about it! Oh, man.

Clio frowned and hummed thoughtfully. She was distracted from further speculation about the structure of the Earth’s crust by a persistent and not particularly gentle poke on her shoulder. She had to collect the rest of her strength in a fist of the power of will and turn to the person behind her. This time the gaze came out being rather surprised.

— Ma’am, pass this to the conductor.

Well, this youngling who’s holding out his fist full of change is either brave, cruel or just plain stupid. Perhaps an unfortunate combination of all three, plus a dozen others misfortunes of a person. But those three are definitely present, because to call me a Madam, basically an old woman, when I’m not even in my thirties yet, must show his readiness to say goodbye to this Earth.

I’ll stop you before we all start click-clacking our tongues and rolling our eyes again, reasonably pointing out that some random teenager doesn’t have to guess the age of people he doesn’t even know. And that Clio probably doesn’t look too well right now, etc.

Take notice that these are the thoughts of a tired, hungry, frostbitten girl who is not yet ready to admit that the heavy-handed «Madam’ is about her.

Ah, the wicked irony, for now there was no more surprise in her eyes. At that moment she gave the lad the exact look those ladies of indeterminate age give the rush-hour sitters. And with that look and calling someone «youngling» came the beginning of the end.

But not all was lost yet, because instead of angrily sending the boy off on a long journey to places where the light doesn’t shine, the novice Madam awoke to remnants of some schoolgirl shyness and confusion — she silently held out her hand and accepted a damp stack of coins into it.

Well, now there is a difficult choice — what to do next? The first option is to get up and walk to the conductor, idly rummaging on the phone on his tram throne, covered in cozy knitted napkins.

Her eyebrows darted up and back down, the lips got pressed together, presenting the look of doubt.

After all, there are no people in the way, the aisle was clear. Why didn’t he just stand up and walk himself? It’s not that difficult!

Her eyes rolled back to where no one had ever come back from before. Lips got smacked into a tube in disapproval.

Oh, and if I go there myself, what a look I could give this idiot on the way back! He’d be embarrassed he hadn’t done it himself.

A malevolent smirk full of anticipation appeared on her face, this time only her left eyebrow made the pilgrimage upwards.

But oooh, on the other hand, is this gesture, aimed at shaming the younger generation, worth the effort? There is always the option of passing the curse on to the next sitter and let him deal with it. Maybe this is not a battle worth fighting at all?

Her eyebrows drew close to the bridge of the nose and froze there in a disgruntled position, a heavy sigh expressing general pensiveness was made.

And then came the realization.

Thoughts took over her facial expression at a completely inappropriate moment yet again. First of all, the other person’s money had been in the possession of the unwitting bidder for too long already.

But the best part was that the man in the cap who was sitting in front of her must have overheard the request of the young gentleman. And as a good Samaritan, he has decided not to waste time and to immediately make a pre-emptive strike by turning around to face Clio.

However, as he turned to take the baton of coins, he witnessed these strange facial gymnastics. The picture was more than impressive. The girl froze in a strange and even somewhat theatrical pose with a half-bent hand clenched in a fist. If the coins had been replaced by a skull, no one would have had any doubt that his name had previously been Yorick.

Clio herself was absent from her head at that moment. Her eyes were staring off into space, with no answers to so many questions that arose.

What is an innocent citizen left to do in such a situation? Nothing. So decided the man who had turned around to his misfortune. His dark eyes half-covered with the puffy eyebrows were scanning the face of the unexpected tram mime expectantly, like the rays of flying saucers trying to determine whether there is intelligent life forms on this planet.

Millions of years have passed in that instant. Stars were being born and were dying. The moment when he could turn away and pretend it had never happened had passed without a trace. Too late. And until now, all that remained to be done was to wait with outstretched hand for it to be over, and to silently move his bewildered grey mustache that had certainly never seen anything like it before.

It was then that Clio came to a realization. The gaze of the newly awakened girl met the stranger’s scratchy eyes. A silent scene. The spark, the storm, the madness — now time had stopped altogether. But despite all the intimacy and drama of the moment, unfortunately (?), this was not a scene from a romantic film, here we can rather name it a psychological thriller.

Not even the apocalypse could interrupt this game of staring. And even though the girl’s pupils were magnetized to those of her tram-mate, she knew that everyone was looking at her right now. No, not just everyone in this carriage.

The man behind the wheel of the car, which has just passed the tram, also got one of the best seats. A boy of about ten, watching the show from the back seat of that car, was joyfully gulping down a handful of popcorn.

And Clio also felt the indignant and incomprehensible stares of passengers from other tramcars as well. The stares of the passers-by who the ill-fated tram was passing by also followed. And let’s not say anything about the people in the houses overlooking the tram line! Everyone left what they were doing and stared reproachfully at one point.

And even, damn it, the people on the other side of the planet have witnessed this indelible shame.

No one could ever tell what was going on inside the moustache man at that moment. Even the author wouldn’t dare to pry into the soul of this amazing creature, who still has not moved a single muscle of the stone sculpture of his face. And who has not made a sound, except for the rustling of the grey moustache from his tense breathing — the only indicator that what is happening is not the everyday scene for him.

But we know exactly what was happening to our heroine. Because of the bright colour of the dye it was impossible to tell whether she got a couple of new grey hairs, but the back of her head went numb and her scalp just began to throb and buzz in unpleasant waves.

The last time Clio had felt this way was probably in her school years, at the sound of the key turning in the door after her parents returned from a teacher-parent meeting. Before that moment, she had skipped two weeks of school. Like then, a shiver ran down her spine and gathered in a cold, tickling lump somewhere around her solar plexus.

This has to stop. Somehow. Any way. To get up and run out? To break a window? To open fire? To start dancing to divert people’s attention to something else? To shout and call for help?

— Ahem, ahem, ahem-ahem.

For some reason, coughing always seems to be the perfect way out of an awkward situation. To everyone’s relief, it was accompanied by a handover of cash from one person to another. The planet exhaled. Yes, there were obviously no winners apart from the apathetic conductor, but at least now the participants in the outrage no longer had to face each other.

The lazy flow of incoherent thoughts stopped, all that was left was «AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhhhhhh!» and the desire to undo the last few minutes. But now giving vent to her facial expressions would not only be an acknowledgement of the situation that had occurred, an indication of weakness, but, worst of all, a continuation of that exact situation.

And she didn’t want to continue it. So she just had to pretend that she was a moist piece of bread at the bottom of the quietest of oceans. That it was all meant to be like that, that she was suddenly very tired. And look, there is something incredibly interesting going on outside the window!..

Or I’ll just close my eyes and rest the corner of my forehead against the glass, the freezing effect of which is not bad at all, and it’s probably good for my skin, too. I have to give in to tram rhythms, their rhythmic tgdk-tgdk-tgdk soothes and lulls. We have moved on. We’ve been over all that for a long time already.

Maybe you didn’t know it, but trams are agents of chaos. Unfortunately, their peacefulness is deceptive. They don’t bounce around on potholes, it’s true, but they have their own tricks: they sway from side to side in a way that no other mode of transport can. That’s how they catch those who are careless enough not to expect anything bad from them.

One small manoeuvre was enough for the forehead and glass to part for a moment and promptly meet again. Need I say how many stares the loud exclamations of distress have collected? This time quite real ones!

I don’t think so.

Should I highlight how much relief was in realization that it’s almost her stop now?

I probably shouldn’t.

The tram doors closed with the same long-standing creak. The tram began to move, but the light from its windows for a few seconds illuminated a short girl in a warm coat, with a large backpack on her shoulders and probably even larger and quite fascinating life story behind her as well. In the warm rectangles of light one could see her pale skin, the unnatural colour of her hair, and even the universe-wide sadness in her gaze.

But here, left in the dark, our heroine threw on her hood and began her final dash towards home. There were pizza leftovers, a new film stolen by pirates and some time to herself ahead of her.

At least, that’s what Clio then thought.

CHAPTER 3: Meet the Cranz family

About Arthur

● Appearance:

Eyes: Sky blue, big

Hair: Light blonde, golden, wavy

Skin: Tanned

Height: 189 cm

Body build: Sturdy, tight-built

Arthur’s appearance is best summed up in one explanation, rather than describing each point individually. Take any old slavic legend, find an illustration of a great hero, bogatyr, there — bingo!

Thur does indeed resemble a hero from a myth or a fairytale — a lively, blue-eyed giant with huge arms, shaggy golden locks and a kind smile.

His tanned skin adds colour, as if all he does every day is ploughing fields and sowing rye. All he’s missing is his armour and his horse. But he has, as he should, a beard.

A belly, the herald of a well-fed family life, blurs the picture a little, but in the context of the overall enormity of this character, it doesn’t really stand out that much.

Age: 32

Date of birth: 20 June

There is an expression «sweet summer child», which is used to refer to people who are bright, naive and unencumbered by the harsh realities of our world. For the most part, this could apply to our protagonist. We do not know whether the fact that he was born in summer has anything to do with it.

Zodiac sign: Gemini

Arthur had never shown any interest in horoscopes, so it was hard to say whether he would have considered himself a typical representative of his sign. Rather, the horoscope would have made him giggle in a boyish way and tell some typical dad joke:

«- Darling, I can’t take out the rubbish now, ask the other one.

— Who?

— Well the second one, I’m a Gemini, it’s represented by twins. The rubbish is on my twin then!»

Education: Veterinary College

Ever since he was a child, Arthur was overwhelmed by an immense love for all living things. How and why exactly this happened is unknown. Maybe it originated from the fact that his parents never allowed him to have any, even the smallest and the most odourless pet. This love was leading Arthur by the hand throughout his life and has finally led him all the way to becoming a veterinarian.

The rose-coloured glasses shattered rather quickly — this profession turned out to be quite different from what it had seemed when he was a child. At least somehow our hero hadn’t thought about horse enemas and cow births before, about the blood and pain that all vets have been immersed in since their first training days. But in spite of this, Thur decided to stick with it so that he could be able to help our little fur brothers.

During one of his toughest exam preparations, Thur suffered from a lack of exercise and action in his life. That all changed when a one of his buddies invited him to a LARP party — to run through the woods, to swing swords. The rest of his college years went very differently for him.

Job: Veterinarian

At work in the big city, fewer and fewer freshly hatched calves passed through Arthur’s hands than in his studies. The city was having more and more cases like an overeating hamster or a depressed parrot.

He didn’t start thinking less about his profession, though — help is help. And if they come to him for help, he will do everything in his power to bring the animal back to normal. What can we say, the small private clinic, where he has settled in, appreciates him as an employee.

Hobbies: LARPer, dog groomer

At this point, not quite morally mature people might start giggling at how incongruous our hero’s interests seem. But if you think so, take a step back and look at Arthur from some distance, then the bigger picture emerges. And now it’s clear that anything else would be even silly to expect.

The fact is that after about five hundred dogs had been examined and cared for, a new passion began to take root in Arthur. Seeing his patients happy was the highest reward for our personal Dr Dolittle, but it is hard to see them happy if they are all covered in tatters and tangles.

And then, all of a sudden, there was a mad desire to see them clean and neat as well. That’s how dog grooming — the art of haircuts for pets — came into Arthur’s life.

Not without the support of his superiors, Thur decided to ask the owners of his most shaggy clients for permission to «chop them up a bit». «Literally snip just the very tips,» he said to the delight of not the most mature of readers and not the most mature of his clients. There were more castration jokes after that phrase than we all would have liked, but that smile was Arthur’s pass to a new hobby.

After a while, people started asking the handy vet for this extra service themselves. After that, their friends, friends of friends and eventually some strangers in general started coming.

The owner of the clinic, being a clever man, was quick to make sure that such a talent would also bring in an extra penny. He gave Thur a small storage room to use, helped with the initial materials and even added a small poster at the entrance announcing the new service.

However, it cannot be said that dog grooming has become a second job for Arthur. For now, it is still a hobby: he has complete creative freedom, no schedule and no plans to follow, no check-ups and inspections from his bosses. He does it for himself and for his furry friends, who, after such a beauty salon, come out looking happy and smiling.

Outstanding personal qualities:

Kindness: Do you know people who, instead of crushing a spider with whatever is at hand, gently take it outside and let it go in peace? If not, meet Arthur again. Given that touching the creature, which has eight paws, with his own hands is beyond him, our hero chooses the path of love anyway and rushes off to find a glass and a piece of paper to help the spider with the move.

Empathy: Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a tricky skill, but Arthur manages it. It’s what nearly destroyed his career in medicine. Thur gave his first injection in tears — he himself had experienced the fear and pain of his patient.

He almost fainted, and after the whole study group leaned him up against the nearest wall and gave him some water to drink, he seriously wanted to go and quit his studies right away.

Arthur is sympathetic to all animate objects. All inanimate objects he animates and then shows sympathy for them as well.

Whereas for most people on this planet it might just be an old spoon, for Thur it will be good old Bon-Bon — practically a childhood friend whom he purposely took away from his parents’ home as soon as he started living on his own.

Thanks to this he has a large family — in addition to his wife and son, there’s also the diva, called Prima Donna, a wayward washing machine, and his faithful four-wheeled friend called Jürgen.

Calmness: It’s not an easy task to get Thur to lose his temper. He is a big man, and given his size, no one has ever tried to make him do so. So Arthur’s nervous system is practically brand new, undisturbed by the people around him.

Conflict-free: Arthur has a big problem with confrontation. He avoids conflict at all costs. Our hero is not the type to bang his fist on the table and bark for everyone to calm down and shut up.

In emotionally heated situations, it is usually the wife dealing with the problems, while Arthur stands silently behind her back, instilling his (or at least trying hard) the most serious face expression.

When conflict situations arise with his wife, however, there is no escape for him. So he tries to keep his wife happy, content and well-fed. Not only because of that, of course, but also because he loves her to pieces in a puppy-dog way.

Fun: Arthur also likes to laugh a lot, and he does it very infectiously. So not only does he make his own jokes and laughs at them, he also drags everyone around him along with him into this maelstrom of incessant hilarity.

Some people seriously avoid spending too much time with him simply because their jaw and stomach muscles ache in the morning after a session of hysterical laughter. But there are far more people who, on the contrary, want to spend their time this way, so Arthur is a welcome guest at any gathering of even distant acquaintances.

About Agatha


Eyes: Black, narrow

Hair: Black, stiff; shoulder blades length

Leather: Olive

Height: 152 cm

Body build: Slim

The contrast in appearance between Agatha and her husband was a usual subject of jokes by friends, acquaintances, and other random people. The already frail-looking girl looked even smaller and more defenceless against the backdrop of Mount Arthur.

With her looks, she would have been nothing but endearing, were it not for the heavy, cold stare of her black eyes, as black as the night itself. That gaze could not only stop a hand from reaching to pinch Agatha’s cheek, it could twist it, and the brute would find himself twisted and broken on the cold floor.

Clothing style: Feminine, economical

Agatha loves dresses. This wardrobe item is the only thing in which our heroine does not prefer minimalism. While all of Agatha’s trousers, T-shirts, shirts and sweatshirts can fit effortlessly on one small shelf, dresses are so numerous that there is nowhere else to hang them — some have to be stacked and even crammed together.

Age: 24

In both appearance and age, our heroine is quite young. Seeing a boy of three next to her, people with no sense of personal boundaries rush to label her as a brat with no higher education and no goals in life. They immediately see a girl who came to her parents with a baby in a belly some day after school. Or who married a man with her belly.

It doesn’t occur to these ignorant people that Agatha graduated school with flying colours at sixteen and university with a red diploma at twenty.

She got married at twenty as well, and eventually gave birth at twenty-one. And all this with an education, work experience and a lot of ambition.

Birthday: 31 October

Zodiac sign: Scorpio

People do not like Scorpios and Scorpios are well aware of it, even if they themselves are not particularly passionate about horoscopes. The way Scorpios react to this dislike varies: they can be both resentful and angry.

But Agatha had always thought this attitude towards her zodiac sign was a real sign of character weakness. So, instead of worrying about it herself, she tolerated such reactions with a certain amount of pity towards such people.

Education: Incomplete Chemical and Biological Sciences major, complete one in Management

After saying goodbye to school life, Agatha enrolled at the university in a big city. She lived in a dorm, was studying hard full-time, so the most convenient part-time job for her was at a bar nearby. Since she got into biochemistry, she also enjoyed mixing ingredients in containers at her new job, so the work went well.

She was so enchanted by this field that after her first year, she left science and transferred to another field of study: management. This is the field in which she was destined to excel.

Job: Manager in a café

With the help of her connections in the bar business, Agatha got her son into kindergarten at the age of two and started work herself. She also found a couple of useful contacts at work, so for a little over a year now she has been running a café.

As she was a mother now, working in a café seemed a more acceptable option than going back to the nightlife.

Agatha has an iron grip on keeping her establishment clean and tidy. Not all the employees are thrilled with the new management, but the angry looks and sighs don’t bother her. For herself, Agatha knows that her strictness is a necessary measure. That she may be harsh, but she is fair.

Additional skills: Many practical skills

Being a thorough person, Agatha acquired a couple of new skills during her maternity leave. First aid, driving, a couple (hundreds, I think?) of books on pedagogy and psychology, cooking for the baby — that’s where it all started. There’s more to come.

Archery, shooting guns, and at the same time a course in cooking chocolate from scratch and baking cakes. It didn’t end there, and the only question she had in the process was why she hadn’t learned all this before. Except that there were no courses in plumbing and electrics, much to her disappointment.

If it were not for the arrival of her son, our protagonist might soon have to be found somewhere in the middle of Siberia, undergoing a survivalist course. After all, there is no telling what and when in this life might come in handy.

Outstanding personal qualities:

Rationality: Between the call of the heart and what dictates the brain, Agatha always relies more on the organ that was originally meant to make decisions. On the brain, in case it requires clarification. This does not mean that she is insensitive and heartless, but reason should always take precedence over emotion, in her opinion.

This kind of approach and solid logic made Agatha an impossible conversationalist and even worse wife — Arthur has to live with someone who almost always turns out to be right, or at least can prove it calmly and logically.

Observation: Any incident, even the smallest one, requires serious analysis. And in order to do that analysis, you need to be able to notice the small details and see the big picture. Watch and you’ll see — Agatha likes this simple philosophy.

Calculating: Agatha always tries to think through as many things as possible ahead of time. She tries to think of and be prepared for everything. More than once her practicality and prudence have been seen as profit motive and as taking advantage of other people.

Oddly enough, this negative opinion is usually held by outsiders who would have had nothing to take from them, even if Agatha had wanted to. Agatha has had and continues to have a wonderful, at least friendly, relationship with all the «used» people. Networking is what she calls her alleged «commercialism».

Minimalism: Our heroine prefers minimalism in everything. Minimal clothing, minimal gimmicks, minimal furniture. In a cluttered space, Agatha gets stuffy and cramped. She also gets uncomfortable in crowds — the exception was working in a bar, but there was a bar that separated her from the clutter of bodies and tables in the hall.

Steel: Due to her toughness and stubborness, Agatha can be perceived as an ’iron lady’. With her subordinates, this lady is unwavering and stern. But people forget that steel is one of the most flexible materials. Steel can be as cold as it is scalding hot. As hard as it is fluid. Despite her cold head, Agatha is no stranger to intense feelings.

And most importantly, you can try to bend steel with your hands, but you’re unlikely to break it. Such strength of character would be the envy of many. No matter how many times life threw buckets of stones at her, every time our heroine rose again.

Agatha’s family has a legend that their ancestor was Genghis Khan and, frankly, that would explain a lot.

About how they met

When Agatha was in her third year of university, she was still working in a bar. One day, a new employee joined their team and started showing an unequivocal interest in her. Neither the flowers he gave her, nor any gifts, nor the guy himself were really her type. A «come to my place and let’s watch a movie» was out of the question. A couple of months of futile attempts later, he decided to go all in.

Since none of the standard tricks worked, Romeo decided to do something unusual and invited Agatha to a medieval tournament at the renaissance fair held by re-enactors and LARPers in one of the parks.

Agatha thought it would be a good idea to expand her horizons and network of acquaintances, so she agreed. The suitor was immensely pleased with himself until they went on this «date».

The girl was polite but reserved. She was more interested in the event itself than in this poor man’s feeble attempts to put his arm around her waist without being squeezed into the ground with her ice-cold gaze.

The suitor decided to make another move and invited our heroine to meet some of the participants in the tournament — he was acquainted with several of them, although he was not a regular participant in such events. He knew just a couple of people, knew which part of the park they were preparing for and knew how to get to them.

This was his fatal mistake, because among the new acquaintances was Arthur. After five minutes of talking to Agatha, the giant decided that he would never take another step away from her or let anyone else hurt her.

So the three of them were wandering around for several hours until the hapless suitor eventually got lost somewhere on the way, seeing that he could no longer even try to claim her waist or the rest of her body.

And Agatha and Arthur’s romance spiralled swiftly and relentlessly. They were completely different, but found things they did have in common. They were together all the time, and when they were near each other, they shone in a way that could dazzle those around them. Never before had either of them been seen like that.

By now their mutual friends, who were particularly sharp-tongued, were saying that this bogatyr was now under the Tartar-Mongol yoke. And Arthur didn’t mind, as well as Agatha.

About Mark

It is not easy to write a CV for someone who is only three years old. His life history has not yet shaped him as a person, he cannot yet share his views on politics and the environmental situation in the world.

His birth story wasn’t anything special, he was lying in a city maternity hospital just like hundreds of others. He was learning to crawl and hold a spoon, just as billions of others have learned before him and billions more will learn afterwards.

At least we can try and start with his appearance. After he was born, he looked exactly like a potato, as all children except for your own do. To his parents, he was the most beautiful thing from day one, but by the time he was three years old other people could see this as well. Now they could roughly imagine what he would eventually grow up to be.

And he promised to grow up, if not dashing, then at least quite handsome.

Given the range of characteristics his parents possessed, Mark could have turned out rather comical and unsightly, but genetics were favourable.

Somehow, he was born with big sky-blue eyes, which then one day became almost as black as his mother’s, and after that they began to lighten again, resulting in a beautiful dark blue colour on his iris.

His hair, black and stiff like Agatha’s, was wavy, just a bit short of Arthur’s curls.

He took after his mother in many ways, but the huge smile that played across his face so often was clearly his father’s.

The parsing of the appearance has not yet been able to determine what he has inherited from other relatives, but at three years old you can still wait on that.

More importantly, our youngest of the heroes was already showing that appearance would clearly not be the main achievement in his formed personality — the boy was already charismatic. One day he almost organized an escape from his kindergarten, and the whole group was ready to follow him.

All in all, grandparents can safely go on saying that he will break more than one girl’s heart, and they will probably be right.

Except that Mark himself doesn’t like it when people say that. He, to be honest, wouldn’t like to break anything. If he was punished for a broken salad bowl, which turned out to be a bad option for trying to ride it down the corridor, what are the consequences of a broken heart then?

Well, what else? Unlike many other boys his age, Mark did not earn his authority among his classmates by force. He had always been a soft and vulnerable child, which made Agatha sigh heavily and longingly. But time after time she reminded herself that stamina and the ability to stand up for oneself and stand one’s ground were skills that people are not born with, they take time to develop.

As for Mark’s own desires, becoming seasoned and hardened was not one of his priorities. He did, however, prioritize dinosaurs, cartoons and banana pudding, which was also very good.

CHAPTER 4: Jürgen and somewhere around

Jürgen rambled softly as it was warming up. Outside, a snowstorm was howling with its snowiness. It was still chilly, but the heater was already filling the insides of the car with life-saving warmth. At the wheel sat a huge man in an enormous winter jacket — how the pair of them fit into the seat will forever remain a mystery.

He was beginning to feel a little hot, so he decided to take off at least the jacket. He did not want to go outside, which meant that he had to display the kind of flexibility that such a huge human body should not be able to do in confined spaces, to the envy of all the snake-women from Cirque Du Soleil.

Actually, Thur didn’t know if Cirque Du Soleil had any snake-women, but if not, it was clearly an oversight on their part. It didn’t change the point: the man’s body size was too much for taking his jacket off with no assistance, it’s not as mundane as it is for most people. There was only one saving grace: he was the only one in the car, and this time there should have been no casualties.

However, once the jacket was defeated, this loneliness began to weigh on him and seemed to be rather exacerbating. Twenty minutes ago, they should have been already on the road — if nothing changes soon, they can safely wrap it up and not go anywhere at all.

This is where any reasonable reader should be prepared to insert their five cents — why not call? Why not text? Who is better off if the trip ends up being cancelled? And a reasonable reader might be absolutely right, but not this time.

Well, please, let’s live together friendlily.

The bearded man leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to prepare himself for any outcome. He was not very good at it — the blood was throbbing in his temples, and he could not breathe calmly at all.

The big metal front door of their house opened and let two people out into the world. They were immediately swept away by a blizzard, a gust of icy wind with razor-sharp little icicles. The larger figure rushed confidently towards the car, towing the smaller one behind it.

The little person was stubborn and refused to move his legs. Thankfully, the snow had been cleared away and had not yet managed to cover the ice, so instead of ramming the thick layer of icy white powder with his whole body, one could see a comical pair skating element which was not at all in tune with the general mood.

The car door opened, the blizzard didn’t miss its chance and hundreds of thousands of little shurikens of ice slammed into Artur’s unprotected neck. However, the pain of the cold could not overcome the disturbing disappointment that came over the man at the sight of the expression on his wife’s face.

The conflict was not resolved. The miserable hope that the storm had passed had quit of its own accord. The trip promised to be no fun.

While Agatha buckled her frowning son into the child seat and unbuttoned his jacket, Arthur ran his fingers nervously over the rough surface of the steering wheel.

This has never happened before. Today, the unstoppable force ran into an unbreakable obstacle. The scythe found a rock. The wave came upon… also upon a rock.

Like flashbacks from the battlefield, this morning came back to Arthur. Picture after picture began to appear in his mind.

Here was still a good morning. The pancakes for breakfast were delicious, the kettle whistled cosily on the cooker, the plaid lay softly on my shoulders and my slippers hugged my feet gently.

Now it’s time for breakfast for the rest of the household.

Here the cups are already set out, plump crispy rounds have been placed on plates and I need to walk towards the rooms to call everyone in.

No, as it turned out, there was no need to go. I should have stayed where I was and should’ve sat on a chair in the embrace of a plaid and in the company of a friendly mug of coffee.

On the way to the door, something was amiss. My wife’s voice was ringing with metal, and Mark was making a mooing sound, about to turn into a roar.

Never mind that our son is not a morning person, that’s nothing new. More than once in the morning, when he has to go to an extra-curricular activity or to a kindergarten, he wakes up determined to fight for his soft bed and a warm blanket to the end.

It’s all right, after about fifteen minutes of washing up, the world will change dramatically in his eyes. Everything will be nice and calm again.

Why couldn’t things get nice and calm this time?

Can teenage rebellion begin at three years of age?

This time, after washing up, Mark wasn’t distracted by the birds outside the window or impressed by the delicious pancakes. A small scowl and eyes full of resentment continued to follow Agatha until she turned her back to him, reaching the cupboard to get some herbs for her tea.

It was at that moment that everything changed. One! And the cup on the table was in the little boy’s hands. Two! And there it goes on the floor. Three! And it’s gone.

No, it didn’t shatter dramatically. Little hands couldn’t give it enough acceleration to make it break into small pieces, hitting the linoleum. But it cracked and a small part of it even bounced so that it disappeared somewhere under the fridge. The damage was done.

Agatha buckled up. Arthur buckled up. The ride began.

It seemed that nothing could be worse than the oppressive atmosphere that now prevailed in Jürgen. Thur briefly took his eyes off the road and slid them to the mirror. Agatha was looking out the window with a furrowed brow. Mark in his turn was staring in the opposite window with his red, puffy after weeping, eyes.

Arthur almost let out a heavy sigh, but stopped himself halfway through. He wanted to be breathing as inconspicuously as possible.

Just don’t be too late.

In fact, punctuality was only a cover for Arthur’s real, sincere motive. This trip had to be over as soon as possible.

As luck would have it, every traffic light turned red as soon as Jürgen approached it.

But they were not going to be late for class anyway. Thur drove up to the entrance and by this time Agatha had already unbuckled, zipped up and started to unbuckle and zip up Mark.

During all these manipulations, Agatha cast a questioning glance at Arthur, who was still sitting motionless.

— You guys go ahead, I have to run an errand. I’ll be done by the end of class.

Agatha didn’t seem happy about this sudden mystery errand. It meant there was a risk of being stuck here longer than she would have liked. But what could she do? Not persecuting a man for having to do things for sure. She nodded and opened the car door, getting a handful of bracing fine snow in her face.

After a few more seconds of fumbling, the two figures rushed to the entrance of the building, above which hung a sign that looked really bright against the white of the rest of the world.

Arthur exhaled.

Being alone in the car was once again a pleasant feeling.


— Stomp your feet to knock the snow off.

The phrase came out too harsh. The tone did not match the content at all, but there was nothing Agatha could do about it.

— Change of clothes now.

The next phrase was said only when mother and son, reddened by the cold wind, made their way to the changing room.

Mark only let out a sullen «uh-huh» in reply. Once he was in full readiness to go to class, he headed right towards the door to the hall without a word.

— Go.

Agatha said it in his back, but as if he went because she told him to, not because he was out of control.

Automatically, the young woman began to gather and roll up her son’s clothes, and meanwhile tears began to gather in her eyes unabashedly.

No, you can’t. There are too many people around, you don’t want to spoil children’s mood before class. And I don’t want to draw too much attention either.

There were indeed still a few kids in the locker room, mostly with their mothers. Some had even just arrived, at the risk of being late for the warm-up.

Agatha packed her clothes and shoes into bags and went out into the hall. Fortunately, no one was here now, and this saved the girl from being torn from inside by her tears.

She fell on the seat, her head fell on her hand, and then the tears from her eyes fell into her palm. But most importantly, her heart. It had held on all the way here, and now it too had fallen. It had even rather fallen out and rolled somewhere under the radiator.

He did it out of spite. On purpose.

Agatha gave herself a full thirty seconds of weakness. Then she inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again. Fingers pressed her eyes to stop the salty flow, wiped surroundings.

Just in time — the locker room door opened and someone’s mother headed to the exit.

He knew this cup was my favourite. My cup. He deliberately wanted to hurt me. He could have reached for any cup, but he broke mine.

As soon as the front door began to close, the tears made another foray. This time Agatha could no longer afford this, so she carefully began to regain her breath again.

Well, he wanted to hurt me, and he did. Everybody does. Sooner or later. To one person or another.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

There are no people who have never encountered the cruelty in themselves. Only people who lie outrageously to others and to themselves can convince you otherwise. The question is what we do about it.

Even many adults do not know how to manage their anger. It has to be taught. Again, the question is how to teach it properly.

Breathe out. Breathe in. In. In. In.

We’re quite lucky, in fact. Lucky it was a cup.

My favourite bloody cup!

A nasty lump of irrational resentment stirred in the back of her throat again and began to creep up.

But a cup nonetheless. Could have been someone’s head in the kindergarten. Could have been a stray puppy. Could have been a wounded pigeon.


Hasn’t it already been?


No, it couldn’t be. We couldn’t have missed it.


Mark is definitely not on the way to be a sociopath. Not with his genes. One only has to look at Thur.

She was out of breath.

And anyway, my son is the kindest of creatures. But he is a living and breathing being. A creature with a whole spectrum of emotions. A creature with vices. Yes, like everyone else in this world. It’s just that he’s really just learning to be human.

Breathing has been restored.

When Agatha opened her eyes, she found that she was no longer alone in the hall. On the opposite side, someone’s father was sitting, absorbed in the newspaper.

Great, it’s not like his attention could have been drawn to these wild breathing exercises.

From the corner where the vending machine stood at the end of the corridor, a group of moms came out, languidly holding plastic cups of coffee at the edges.

— ...so interesting!

— ...the best life coach I’ve ever had, I tell you!

Two of this elite moms were clearly sharing some mind-blowing wisdom with the third one.

— So he told us that all vaccines are pure poison! They poison our children on purpose so that we spend more money on medicine and because it benefits the state! And in fact, they can make you autistic and disabled!

— That’s right, and it’s nothing compared to the microchips they put in there. He just showed a video of them taking a huge chip out of a syringe! It’s a nightmare!

Agatha closed her eyes again and leaned the back of her head against the cold stone of the wall.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Unsurprisingly, she was not particularly pleased with her husband’s sudden escape on some mysterious errand. The hour here would have been much more pleasantly spent with him. Besides, she wouldn’t want these ladies to think she needed some company.

In fact, even if he made up this errand, it’s understandable. He’s obviously suffered a lot today.

Not only can he not be in the conflict zone as it is, but on top of that we were preparing to go to a beloved children’s cafe after class.

Naturally, after what happened, this is out of the question. And there is not a single person who is happy about this decision.

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