The ghosts of mandrake

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Bright, sunny light filled a small room in which, as usual, I was sitting at my desk and drinking a cappuccino recently brewed in a coffee machine.

A routine for today was slowly emerging in my head. The main point was my negotiations with the book publishing house «Eksmo» and for this I prepared questions, of course, in advance.

My son ran into the room out of breath, he was already ten years old this year, he was becoming an adult faster than I thought and was no longer a toddler with a child’s toy in his hands.

— Mom, are you a good writer?

— I write my son correctly, — I replied, not understanding at all what our conversation was tending to.

— And write some very interesting and unusual story about a palace with servants and some fairy-tale characters.

— You don’t like fairy tales, and you once told me that you grew out of them.

— That’s how I grew up. But I just wanted something unusual. So that the characters are fabulous. Such as no one has yet come up with. And you, Mom, take it and come up with it! And yet! Let there be evil and good in the fairy tale. Some evil forces. Maybe even a sorcerer. Ok?

— All right, son.

— And also love and kindness, so that at the very end of the book it wins.

— You’ve given me a difficult task. So that the characters are new and unknown to anyone…

— Promise, Mommy? Volodya asked hopefully.

«Okay, son, I’ll try,» I said, puzzled.

— Well, then I’m waiting for your new book, Mommy, — said the son with a satisfied smile on his face.

— Agreed. You will be the first to read it!


Perhaps I will begin my story with one very cold and fatal winter, it completely changed Philip’s whole life. This happened in 1991, at a time of troubles for Russia, it was the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The sixteen-year-old boy hardly realized then how historically important this year was for the country, but apparently it was the same decisive and important year for himself and for the city of Elbrus, where a girl with a beautiful and unusual name Myrrh Isobel lived.

But more on that later, because everything should go on as usual.

Since early childhood, Philip suffered from osteoporosis. And he was distinguished from his peers by a crooked posture, he even had a small hump. But alas, there was no one to do physical exercises with the boy, because Philip had no parents since birth.

Mom died after giving birth. And he never knew his father.

Because the guy who was making love with his mother Elena was from a rich and intelligent family, his parents found out about everything and strictly forbade his son to marry a girl from a commoner family.

From birth to this day, Philip was brought up by his grandmother Nina Anatolyevna. But now she is chained to the bed by a terrible illness, and Philip spends all his free time with her instead of entertainment and friends.

One day he was coming home from school and he was surrounded by the guys from the class.

— Well, Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame. Am I right, friends?

A circle of five boys formed next to Philip.

«You’re right,» they echoed the most important of the company.

— Such a freak should not go to school and on the streets! Am I right?

«That’s right, that’s right,» they shouted.

The main bully was called Egor, he recently moved from another city and came to study at their 9th Grade, it so happened that from the first days he won authority from classmates.

Why do you ask?

Well, first of all, his dad worked in the city administration, and secondly, his older twenty-three-year-old brother had a black belt in karate and, if something happened, he could pile on anyone for a minor, this was announced in the first days of his studies at Yegor’s school.

Perhaps even Egor was not loved in class, but rather simply feared. But fear often guides people, which did not bypass almost all the guys from the 9th century.

Egor did not love Philip not only for his ugly appearance, but also for his inflexible, wayward character.

«Let’s punish this Quasimodo from Notre Dame now,» he shouted, running up to Philip.

— Hit him! — shouted all around the boys.

Philip fell on the snow and covered his head with his hands, saying the words aloud in a half-whisper.

— Don’t. Please don’t!

The boys started beating him up. They were experiencing excitement, and Egor felt the greatest pleasure and triumph.

All the actions took place in the courtyard not so far from Philip’s house. But he knew that no one would come to his aid now.

He himself had to go to his grandmother, because she already had to be fed lunch by time.

«There’s not even anyone to stand up for you, bastard,» they shouted.

How they knew such details is unknown, perhaps Egor learned it from his father.

At this time, the grandmother’s heart felt something was wrong and she screamed loudly:

— Natasha, come.

So sometimes she shouted to her neighbor, who lived through the wall. And this time the woman was at home and heard Nina Anatolyevna.

The neighbor had the keys to the apartment for this occasion. Natasha went into a small apartment and asked loudly:

— What’s wrong Nina? Philip from school, hasn’t come yet?

— My soul is somehow not calm. Go take a look, maybe something happened?

— Okay, now I’ll just put on my coat and go. And you lie down and please don’t worry.

Natasha, as promised to Nina Anatolyevna, threw on her winter coat and left the entrance. She was walking exactly the same way that Philip used to go to school and return home. Natasha walked, looking at the passers-by passing by her and peering into the distance.

She walked a few more houses and crossed the road. Suddenly I saw a bunch of boys who had gathered in a bunch and were kicking someone.

«Suddenly Philip is being beaten,» a wild thought flashed through her head. But she immediately dispelled it, and the young woman did not dare to approach the crowd of militant guys. She walked around a few more houses, circled around the school. The neighbor’s boy was nowhere to be found.

Natasha began to go back and at the house where the boys used to be, she saw a hunched figure sitting on the snow with her face covered with her hands, and when she got closer, she saw Philip.

— What happened? «What is it?» she asked.

— My classmates beat me now, — the guy answered, wiping his wet eyes with his hands.

— My God, darling, let’s go, I’ll feed you dinner now and look at your wounds.

Philip tried his best to stay in front of Natasha without showing pain and annoyance because he is a man, and this meant for him that he should remain him until the end.

— How’s Grandma? — overcoming his sharp pain under the rib, he asked.

— It’s her, she called me through the wall. I felt that something bad had happened to you.

— Don’t just tell Grandma, is that agreed?

«I won’t say, let’s go home, Ivanhoe Knight,» she said with a kind smile.

And the two of them walked slowly, silently, towards the house.

— Natalia Alekseevna, — said Philip.

— What?

— Tell me, please, we didn’t go to school. And who is Ivanhoe?

Natasha laughed merrily in response and said softly.

— This is a knight who has only positive qualities in his character.

— You know, they called me Quasimodo from Notre Dame.

In response, she said kind words to Philip, and she felt unpleasant for the guy.

When they came to Natasha’s house, she examined him, dark and purple bruises, they lay scattered all over the young man’s body, his ribs also hurt.

The trip to the doctor was decided to postpone for now, there were no serious injuries. Immediately after the inspection, Philip went to the kitchen to have lunch, and then went home.

Silence reigned in Grandma’s room, he went into the room where she was lying on the sofa, on her favorite left side. Grandma was asleep.

Philip did not wake him up and quietly sat down to his lessons.

— Philip,» Grandma’s voice came from the room.

— Yes, Grandma.

— My boy, come to me now.

The guy got up from his chair and went to his grandmother.

— My dear, — Nina Alekseevna said softly, — I just dreamed of a fallen angel with black wings and a frightening abyss covered with darkness, and you are my angel standing next to this abyss, — and then grandma began to cry, tears rolled down both cheeks like hail.

«Don’t cry, Grandma, why are you worrying about some dream,» Philip said softly, taking out a handkerchief and gently wiping Grandma’s tears.

— After all, I have no one else in the world besides you, and I need you healthy.

— I’m so worried about you, you have no idea. It was not good that I had this dream.

— Forget it, Grandma. I’m doing fine. And you will live for a very long time.

— Yes, my son, yes, my darling.

Philip eventually became more and more withdrawn, because every day he spent at school was filled with ridicule and bullying and it really tormented him.

When he came home after school, he tried to forget about all the bad things, he took care of his grandmother, and his only outlet were paints and canvas. He loved to draw since he was three years old and was a genius at it.

And when Grandma fell asleep, he immediately sat down at the canvas and began to work miracles.

Philip’s paintings came to life under his brush as if they had not been painted.

He liked to experiment and draw different characters unknown to the world, it turned out that he was not only an artist, but also a writer of different stories.

And then one day he created an extraordinarily beautiful painting that was different from all his works. It differed not only in its plot, but also in its decorative and detailed design.

Grandmother and neighbor Natasha saw this work and were simply surprised by Philip’s high artistic skill and talent.

The painting depicted a very beautiful girl in a long, antique dress, and in her hand she held a candelabra with burning candles that illuminated her way through the thickening darkness to a huge, gloomy castle.

The girl was very graceful and had beautiful Slavic facial features. Philip has been working on her image for a long time, he lived in his heart. And after finishing work on the painting, Philip looked at the girl for a long time, without taking his sad, loving eyes away.

— Well, hello, my dear,» said Philip.

In response, the girl stared at the painting with her piercing gaze, continuing to hold a candelabra with burning candles in her hands.

— And what did you want, ugly Quasimodo, so that she would come to life now and rush to hug you? the young man said softly aloud and even laughed at this strange thought.

Now, day after day, when Philip came home from school, he sat down next to the painting like a motionless and silent shadow and looked at it for a long time. He felt comfortable and good next to her.

But one day, when he came home from school, he saw that a lot of people had gathered in his grandmother’s room, there were doctors and a neighbor Natasha. They were all fussing around Grandma, and two young guys were standing next to the bed holding a stretcher ready.

— Wait, — the boy shouted in fright, — Wait. Where are you going to take my grandmother? Don’t you have the right? I’m her grandson!

— Philip, my knight Ivanhoe, Nina Alekseevna has become ill. She called me through the wall, and I decided not to pull, and called an ambulance.

— No, I won’t give my grandmother away. I’ll take care of her myself.

The grandmother looked at her grandson and said softly.

— I’ll stay at home. I’m not going anywhere.

The doctors looked at each other in confusion, and the most important of them said.

— Well, if it gets worse, call us right away. And now here’s a list of medications and rest. Well, you young man keep your word!

Philip cried out joyfully and ran around the room.

— Grandma. I’ll be a better doctor for you than all of them!

When the ambulance crew left the apartment, Natasha sat down next to Nina Alekseevna and almost whispered:

— Philip and I will put you on your feet. You’ll see, but you’re still sleeping.

Then she went up to the boy and took his hand.

— Come on, I’m going to write you the phone number of a famous sorcerer in the city, I’m sure he will bring your beloved grandmother to her senses.

— Come on,» Philip whispered.

He went into the next apartment, and there a twelve-year-old girl greeted him with a kind smile.

— Mommy, where have you been? — she asked Natasha.

— She helped our neighbor. Wait, Philip, I’ll get you the phone now.

The girl at first stood aside, looking carefully, but then she came closer and stretched out her childish, elegant hand, chirped.

— I don’t see you on the street, Philip. Don’t you go for a walk?

«I don’t have time, — Philip replied.

— And let’s be friends with you? You don’t mind?

— I don’t mind. Only I don’t have time to be friends either,» he said even more gloomily.

— Well, we’ll somehow find time for friendship with you. My name is Alla. Well, even if you’re older than me, but I’m also an adult and very smart.

«All right, I’ll try to find time for a walk with you a little later,» Philip replied.

Then Natasha came up and handed me a piece of paper.

— Take this, and be sure to call tomorrow, but do not delay.

Philip thanked Natasha, then put the piece of paper with the phone away in his pocket and went home.

The grandmother, without waiting for her grandson, quietly fell asleep in her bed.


The next day, Philip came home from school sullen and tortured. Today the math teacher called him to the blackboard. Since Philip was well versed in this science, he knew how to solve all these examples that the teacher wrote with chalk on the blackboard.

But he was unlucky, the teacher was called by the head teacher and he immediately disappeared, leaving the guy standing alone in the middle of the class.

Egor, the main enemy of Philip, saw a good situation and did not waste time to show his superiority again and was the first to start a war. He took a dirty rag from the board and threw it at Philip, who managed to dodge, but got a dirty rag again. When the teacher came in, the whole class was already laughing at the chalk-white boy.

The teacher was a young guy after the institute, he thought that Philip really had dirty himself and wanted to dirty all his classmates and decided not to sort it out, put two for his behavior.

— Quasimodo, and you know, the white uniform suits you, you don’t erase it, — Egor mocked.

Philip went into the room trying to forget about all the bad things, because now he had to turn all his attention to his sick grandmother.

— Filippok, my boy, how are you doing at school? «What is it?» she asked gently and quietly.

«I’m fine, Grandma,» he said, turning away to wipe away a few tears.

Grandma croaked something else and closed her eyes.

— I feel bad for my granddaughters. I probably won’t keep my promise to live long Filippok. I’m sorry, bunny.

— Grandma hold on, I’ll put you on your feet, you’ll see, — the boy said firmly and left the room.

Philip took out of his briefcase a piece of paper with a phone number that Natasha had written to him yesterday.

«It’s time to call everything,» he thought decisively and took the home phone in the hallway, then went to his room and closed the door so that grandma wouldn’t hear anything.

Philip dialed the number.

No one answered the phone for a long time, but they still picked up the phone.

«Hello,» a man’s voice said into the phone and fell silent.

— Hello, are you a sorcerer?

There was a slight silence on that wire, then it was interrupted by a deep sigh and the voice continued.

— I have a name, young man, just like you.

— I’m sorry, I was probably tactless just now. My name is Philip, my grandmother is seriously ill. They called an ambulance yesterday, but I didn’t give my grandmother to them. And your neighbor Natasha gave me your phone number last night.

«My name is Celestine. I’m a witcher, I did the right thing by calling me. Describe everything in detail now?

Philip, in a low voice, sometimes even turning to a whisper, began to describe the condition of his grandmother.

Soon Celestine interrupted him:

— I’ll make a decoction for Grandma now and I’ll be there in three hours.

Exactly three hours later, the doorbell rang.

On the threshold, as it seemed to Philip, there was a beautiful woman with long hair.

The boy froze in surprise, silently examining his guest. But the witcher broke the silence first.

— So I came, Philip, in three hours as promised.

The witcher’s voice was male, exactly the same as on the phone.

— Come in, — said Philip and let the guest into the apartment.

The boy looked at Celestin in surprise and somehow incredulously, so the witcher understood the situation, and in order to destroy the young man’s doubts, he said:

— There is one rule that will definitely be useful to you and not once. Looks are very deceptive. And as for me, my appearance is always different. Sometimes I’m even… um… an insect.

— Are you kidding? Philip asked incredulously.

— I’m not a simple person, I have huge magical abilities, you can’t even imagine how strong a sorcerer I am, — answered mysteriously Celestine.

«I wish I had that kind of strength,» the boy said dreamily.

Celestin’s smile appeared briefly on his face and soon disappeared.

— Well, my friend, shall we proceed to the magic ritual? «What’s the matter?» the witcher asked.

Philip wanted to answer that he should start, but a quiet grandmother’s voice was heard from the room.

— Philip, my boy, are you at home?

— Y-s-s grandmother, you must not know anything, — Philip took Celestine by the hand and led him to his room. — Stay here for now.

The boy left the witcher alone for a while and went to his grandmother.

«Granddaughters, you’ve done your homework, because you have to go to school tomorrow,» she said softly

— Don’t worry, Grandma, everything is fine. Can I go to my room now?

— Go, honey, go, and I’ll take a nap for now.

Philip found the witcher in his room, looking at a painting that depicted a castle and a girl with a candelabra in her hands and burning candles.

— You draw beautifully, you are a very talented young man, I want to tell you, — Celestin said without even turning his head in his direction.

— And how did you know that I drew it?

— Who did you invite to your place? The Witcher! But you doubt his abilities yourself. Why is that? I know for a fact that this is your job,“ he said. „Now let’s get down to business. Since your grandmother is not sleeping right now, I will not be able to perform this magic ritual at the moment. Therefore, I give you this vessel, in which there is a decoction.

«What am I supposed to do with him?» Philip asked, confused.

— You have to do everything yourself.

— I’m not a witcher. «That’s why I won’t be able to do magic,» Philip said softly so that his grandmother wouldn’t hear him.

«You don’t have to do magic. I brought a decoction, you will lightly apply it on your wrists, forehead, smear your temples and add two drops of tea, compote, jelly to the drink. But I crushed this bag of herbs and roots, and you put a pinch in a metal saucer, hold it over a burning candle and walk around the apartment, but not for more than a minute.

— What if it’s longer?

— Don’t do that, there is a mandrake root added.

Philip did not understand what kind of root it was, he was not interested in it at all and he did not ask anything else.

— Well, how much will I owe for your work?

— And in return, I will only ask for a picture, I need it, which is hanging on the wall in your room.

«Take whatever you want, but not her,» the boy said.

— Since she is so dear to you, then draw me a similar one.

«I’ll try, — Philip said.

At that moment their eyes met, and Philip realized how strong and domineering the witcher’s character was.

— I’ll go, if you need my help, call. «And don’t forget I’ll be waiting for the painting,» Celestine said, hiding behind the front door.

Her voice came from Grandma’s room again:

— Philip… Philip…

— I’m coming Grandma.

Philip quickly put away everything that the witcher had given him and went to his grandmother.

— I just now saw in my granddaughters’ dream a huge, beautiful palace, and in the circle of this palace, right on its walls, huge scary birds were sitting, they looked like gargoyles. Another black crow circled in the sky. And the palace, despite all its splendor, for some reason seemed alarming and dangerous.

«Whatever Grandma dreams about, they’re all dreams and don’t pay attention to them,» Philip tried to calm her down.

«That’s right. Yes, that’s just not the first time I have this dream.

— Grandma, well, where in our city is such a palace, and even with gargoyles? «Well, tell me from where?» asked Philip with a smile on his face.

— Yes, what are you? I didn’t say he was from our city. Our houses are crookedly built, what magnificent castles there can be. The one that I dreamed about, it’s like a fairy tale. And I’m not ready to tell you anything reasonable about it yet. But one thing I can say is that he is fraught with some kind of danger.

«You’re my grandmother’s storyteller,» Philip laughed.

— Go, granddaughter, it’s already late. And you need to get some sleep, get up early tomorrow and go to school again.

— Good night, Grandma.

— Good night, granddaughter.

The next day Philip came home from school, Grandma was lying quietly on the bed, apparently asleep.

He took out the hidden vessel in his room in the table and quietly approached his grandmother. I dripped liquid on cotton wool and anointed it everywhere.

Then he took a pinch of the mixture out of the bag and put it on a metal saucer, lit a candle and walked quietly around the apartment. Philip walked around his grandmother’s room, then he slowly wandered into his own and stood by his favorite painting.

Suddenly, a purple mist appeared in the room, it completely covered the floor from below, and then began to rise even higher and soon it just covered Philip.

The smoke penetrated his lungs, he felt a burning pain at first, and then it became easier for him and the fog dissipated.

Before Philip appeared a huge forest, with its tall, sturdy trees and mighty branches.

— Where am I? Philip said unexpectedly to himself, he was so confused that he even began to talk to himself.

«You’re a young man in Elbrus,» someone from the forest immediately answered him.

— Who’s here? The young man croaked in fright.

— Turn around,» a voice answered him.

Philip turned around, but there was no one around.

— What kind of jokes are you having,» Philip said sternly and took the stick that was next to him.

— Yes, what kind of jokes can there be, look in front of you and you will see me.

The young man was taken aback when he saw a huge living eye in front of him. He was looking right out from under a large root of a tree that looked like an oak.

«Wow, how did you get in there, — Philip said.

— And you, young man, think less, eat more. In our country, it’s only like that. And this place is called the Kingdom of Shadows, which is located in the city of Elbrus.

— That’s how it is. Even the castle. It turns out that my grandmother predicted me correctly.

«Is Grandma here too?» — the eye was surprised.

— No, I’m alone. And you’re generally who and how you talk to me, you only have one eye sticking out from under a tree.

— My name is Wise Zri and I am already two hundred and ten years old.

Philip laughed.

— And don’t be afraid of the inhabitants of the castle. Go straight down the path, you’ll see a small bridge, cross the road, and you’re already there.

— Thank you, — Philip said.

But the Wise Man did not answer him, he lowered his eyelid and became completely invisible.

Philip confidently went on and then he felt lightness in his body, the old stooping posture was gone, his body obeyed and it was easy to breathe.

I’m not a hunchback anymore! — it was spinning in his head. I’m not a hunchback!



Philip walked along the path that led to the river, it stretched along the high and dense grass. As the Wise Zri said, she led him to a small bridge that connected the two banks, and on the opposite side stood a gloomy and majestic castle.

Of course, Philip immediately realized that he had fallen into the picture that he had painted, and not so long ago hung it on the wall in his small room.

Here in this environment that now surrounded him, only one thing is missing, his beloved girl with a candelabra and burning candles. Philip, despite the soul-searing cold that this place exuded, went forward to be closer to the lonely, gloomy castle.

The young man walked up to the castle and raised his head high up. It was a high castle, it consisted of a donjon — a high tower and several small towers. And on the walls sat like living gargoyles made of steel.

— Well, well,» said Philip in amazement. — How could it happen that I ended up in my painting?

But most of all he was struck by the silence and silence that reigned next to this strange and frightening castle.

Philip passed by small towers, between them there was a drawbridge on chains with a falling lattice. Then he walked along a smooth stone path that led to the main entrance.

He took hold of the handle and pulled the huge, iron door towards him, it creaked loudly and began to open slowly, obediently. The door was so heavy that he had to put a lot of effort.

When the young man went inside, he opened his mouth in amazement, so luxurious was the castle inside. But in all this fabulous splendor there was only one thing missing — life.

«Is anyone here?» The young man shouted, looking around.

And only his last words echoed.

— Anyone…

A huge table with many chairs attached to it stood in the center, a crystal chandelier hung on the ceiling, it was turned on and illuminated the hall.

— The owner of the house or the hostess! Philip shouted loudly again and went forward, there was a white door at the end of the hall, he easily opened it and entered the room.

There was no response.

There was a cozy bedroom in the other room. The bed was covered with a dazzlingly beautiful pink bedspread and the room itself was in artificial colors. The owner of such a bedroom had exquisite taste.

Alerted in all this decoration that it was not at all cozy.

And a huge spider web hung in clusters in the corners, and the spiders were the main owners of the castle.

The young man saw a staircase at the exit of the room, which led to the second floor. He slowly climbed it and froze.

There was a picture of him on the wall next to the stairs, but his clothes were not the same as they are now, but old, similar in style to the 18th century.

«How can this be,» Philip said softly aloud.

After walking up the stairs a little higher on the wall, there was another portrait, only it was of the beautiful young girl he had painted.

— Hello, my beautiful stranger, I could not even think that I would see you here, — said Philip and ran his finger over her beautiful silhouette of the picture.

He went up to the second floor, it was empty. It seems that there was absolutely no one in the castle.

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