Book: Nobody's House
“There's a house with no door and I'm living there
At nights it gets so cold and the days are hard to bear inside.
There’s a house with no roof, so the rain creeps in,
Falling through my head as I try to think out time...”
Interesting, who was it that thought of putting down the ties so wrong: either too close or too far away from one another, or sometimes just randomly – what I’m saying is, it’s absolutely impossible to walk on them. Or do they do it purposely, so that no one would walk on them? But people are doing it anyway.
The sand on the embankment was wet and firmly packed, hundreds of times more comfortable than these idiotic ties. Little by little, everybody followed my example and started walking near the rails.
“So, have we got much left to go?” asked Oleg.
“Yes, we have,” answered Andrei indifferently. He was the only one who knew the way.
There was silence. The sand was creaking rhythmically under the sneakers.
“Don’t get down from the embankment, there’s a swamp down there.”
“You’ve already said that.”
“So what? You’ll forget it anyway...”
There began a light, nasty rain. The girls, as if on command, opened up colourful umbrellas. I was too lazy to take out mine, so I simply put on my cap. Gleb, after some pondering, followed my example. Oleg and Andrei continued walking, paying no attention to the cold drops. The area around was gloomily hummocky, overgrown with waste vegetation, some rusty carriages were rotting in the ditch, and the glistening rails continued to the distance and hid there beyond the vague mist of the rain. Stalkers of local importance... Yeah, right, went on a trip. The area and the weather just fit.
“Hell of a guide,” muttered Oleg while lifting up his bag, which was trying continually to slide down to his buttocks. “God damn you, if we don’t find anything there – and we won’t, – you’ll be staying to rot in this swamp here, singing about how you like to be in the Octopus’ Garden for the rest of your life.”
“There, that’s the way down from the embankment,” said Andrei suddenly, interrupting the intended flow of Oleg’s wit. “There’s supposed to be a broken barrier there and a path. Let’s go.”
Helping the weaker sex to get down and sliding on the wet clay, we hardly managed to avoid making appropriate comments. In front of us, at a distance of about thirty metres, we indeed could see a broken barrier, its paint peeling off.
“Hell of a guide...” Oleg didn’t finish the sentence and moved on.
The dirty path was indeed there. The fog was unnerving, forcing us to look around every now and then. My imagination started working extra hours, and my hand found on its own a homemade flare pistol in a pocket of my bag. It was only with a big effort that one could call it a weapon, yet I immediately squared my shoulders and glared heroically through the fog. It’s all just rubbish, nothing more...
“It’s all just rubbish,” Oleg straggled off a little to walk abreast of me. “It’s all rubbish, Redhead! But don’t hide your gun, no need, let it be on top, ok?..”
The fog scattered abruptly and we saw the house. Broken slates on the roof, remains of glass in the windows, stains of water running down the plaster...
An old, abandoned, two-storeyed house.
“Here we are,” exhaled Andrei hoarsely. So here we are.
A little way away there sprouted ruins of some other buildings, but for these we didn’t care – we were led by the ancient instinct of treasure hunters.
In the dim corridor prevailed the smell of moisture and mildew. Oleg pushed the other door, and we found ourselves in a room. Remnants of broken furniture on the floor, shattered glass, peeled plaster, an old stove and torn electric cables hanging atop it. That’s it.
In the next room the outlook was the same, aside from a couple of sagged armchairs, plus a prehistoric clock on the wall, the innards of which were scattered all over the defaced parquet. From here, a decrepit staircase led to the second floor. Only kamikazes could risk climbing it. Well, and us.
Apparently somebody had made a campfire here some time ago – all the walls were covered with almost fresh soot. The remains of the furniture were used as firewood. Only an ancient bureau on curved legs had survived, and from its drawers Oleg produced immediately a pile of various trashes and a pink elementary school notebook, made in Moscow, “Voschod” factory, price 2 kopecks. In gold coins.
The notebook was about half full. Instead of a bookmark there’s a torn piece of a newspaper sticking out of it, dirty to illegibility.
“Let’s rest,” announces Oleg, putting this discovery into his pocket. “Let’s get down, light a fire in the stove and read the memoirs. Come on.”
A regular abandoned house. Nothing special. The only weird thing – why are there no bottles out of alcohol drinks lying around? In such places there should be more than enough of such stuff, to intensify the mysteriousness. Then again, what kind of a jerk would go all the way here to the swamp for drinking? I hid the flare pistol and get out a tea-filled thermos flask and some sandwiches, and if I was thinking correctly about the contents of Oleg’s bag, then a couple of empty bottles would appear in this far away place surely. The stove deigned to light up from the third attempt, the ruins gradually became warm and even comfortable, we managed to clean the armchairs from mildew – and the girls immediately took out cigarettes, to the disagreeing exclamations of the men, who preferred sandwiches.
“So, what can we get out of a goose?” Oleg waved the newly found notebook in the air. “Out of a goose we can get cracklings... An interesting epigraph, my children! ‘Sinner, to thee I appeal! Make your haste from this place, for a righteous man shall not enter a den of evil.’ And so, gentlemen, you are all sinners. Frankly, I’ve suspected something like this... Well, next we have a diary. Beginning May 16th, year... can’t get the year.”
“May 16. Attempted to get out by the path. Can’t... a stain... We’ve got supplies for about three days.
“May 17. Went to the second house. There are worms all around and other vermin. Pavel is down with a fever, he has fallen into the swamp.
“May 18. Tallguy has disappeared. I’m writing down instead of him. He went to the embankment and didn’t return. I think I’d heard a scream but I’m not sure. Sergei discovered a basement, went down there, the jerk – returned white all over, his hands shaking... Can’t say anything decent – mutters some curses about lights and a shiny box, out of which somebody is looking...
“May 19. Went to the path again. Encountered the marionettes, barely escaped. We’ve decided never to go...”
“Well, enough then?” Oleg removed his glasses and smiled with an effort. “Fantasy club... Let’s write down the rest ourselves, something spooky.”
“Read on,” answered Gleb.
“You’ll do without it, let’s eat, God damn it.”
The intentionally rough tone of his voice eased the tension. Everybody started moving, getting out the food and seating themselves closer to each other.
“Lots of stories are going around about this House of Ushers,” Oleg didn’t forget to chew the nearby lying products while speaking. “One friend of mine became a follower of Krishna after it, while before he would drink vodka from night till dawn and go to the babes. From dawn till night. Or vice versa. Now he can’t stand the other sex, sips rice water instead of beer and shouts ‘Hare Krishna’ out of the window. Got eight kilograms fatter. Meditating.”
“And Pete the rascal made it back from here with a Japanese tape recorder,” noted Andrei. “If he’s not lying, that is. And didn’t become a follower of any Krishna.”
“Well, why Krishna? That ain’t necessary... People just change here, that’s the point. It’s just that nobody tells what has happened to him here. They can’t. Or don’t want to.”
“Pete did,” tedious Andrei wouldn’t give up. “He was walking and walking around here, then he looks – a tape recorder lying about. Panasonic. He took it, walked around some more, didn’t find anything else and went back.”
“And some people didn’t get back at all...” added Gleb gloomily. “And no traces left.”
The girls packed together more tightly.
“Why the hell are you saying such rubbish?!” I attacked Gleb. “So what if somebody told you that? Look at Andrei here, Pete has also told him all sorts of rubbish, about the tape recorder and all...”
Gleb got insulted and shut up.
“Boys, I’m scared...” Christine really was shaking all over.
I got up, intending to pet her on the shoulder and say something extremely manly, and bumped on her gaze – they like to show such eyes in the movies. She’d become white with fear, and was looking through me – or, rather, at what was behind me.
Actually, I don’t complain about the reaction. Having thrown myself backwards together with the armchair, I was already intending to hit the unknown enemy with my hand over the shoulder, but instead of it I hit the back of my own neck – first with the back of the damned armchair, then with the floor, and called myself an idiot in my mind. My side appeared to be soiled with something that looked like fuel oil, I stood up and saw a black, glistening mass of that very fuel oil flowing from under the door and spreading across the room. The door folds that somebody of us had bolted earlier began to creak, Bronya screamed hysterically, and I rushed towards my bag. The flare pistol turned out to be on the top; I leaned against the wall and started pulling the trigger frantically.
A series of greenish flares appeared where the door was, there was felt a disgusting smell of ammonium chloride, my finger on the trigger of the pistol became numb – and when I finally managed to loosen my grip, it became clear that the door was missing altogether, the doorway was charred and the remains of the smoking aggressive fuel oil were scattered all over the burnt parquet.
“I killed him! Or, I killed it...”
“Where have you got a gun from?” Oleg was standing in the corner, a chair in his hands. I looked at the flare pistol. In front of me there was a handy, smooth pistol, with a long muzzle and a small panel above the ribbed handle. On the panel there was a number 815. For about a minute I was staring at the weapon, puzzled, then shifted my eyes to the guys...
“We need to go and see what’s on outside,” declared Gleb, climbing out of the narrow space between the wall and what used to be furniture. “Maybe there are tons of that crap out there...”
“Will you come with me?” The ghost pistol stuck conveniently in my belt and didn’t hamper my movements.
“Frankly, I’m a bit scared.”
“And if you have a weapon?”
“What, you got an arsenal in your bag here?”
“No, but I will shortly. I think I’m going to start getting it. You, Gleb dear, try to concentrate, imagine yourself something horrid and begin dreaming of a weapon. That you really badly need it. Got it?”
Gleb sat down in the armchair and closed his eyes. After a minute his right hand began rising, his fingers twitched – and I didn’t even notice at what moment there appeared a big pistol, with a thick, phallic muzzle.
Behind Gleb’s back originated nervous chuckles, somebody began to elaborate on a theory of sexual anxiety, there arose a question what that Gleb’s thing is shooting with...
Gleb, frowning, choked at the sight of his creation, then lifted the pistol and shot at the wall. Successfully, one had to admit. Bricks scattered in all directions with a great bang, and when the dust had finally settled, one could see a hole in the wall, about 2 metres wide. There were no more questions.
“Well, so now let’s go.”
Outside, no one was to be found. The fog scattered, and about two hundred steps away one could perfectly see the ruins of another house and rusty metallic constructions.
“Shall we have a look at what’s there?”
“But Gleb dear, let’s have this agreed upon right away – I’m in the front, you’re in the back, about ten metres behind me. If something happens, shoot. Just not me. And shout ‘duck!’.”
About three minutes later we made it running to the metallic constructions. These turned out to be the girders of a colossal bridge. An interesting idea. There isn’t even a river here... Surreal.
“Gleb, you go to the right, I’ll go to the left. We’ll meet near those bricks.”
Moving carefully through the dry weeds I was proceeding forward. A bridge like a bridge, weed like weed. Ruins like ruins. Nothing special.
At some distance, from behind the third girder there appeared Gleb with his gun, gazing around. I stood on my tiptoes and waved over at him. Gleb raised his hand rather clumsily, and the weed near me blazed up, stinking and crackling. I jump behind a wide steel beam and roll over to the side. Above me there blazes a ball of fire, molten metal crawls down the beam.
“Idiot, stop it, it’s me!..”
The weeds are burning. A third blast blows away the side supports of the girder. I’m lying in a puddle, reminding all of Gleb’s relatives to the seventh generation. His head can be perfectly seen from here, and also a part of his shoulder in a worn coat. Perfectly seen. In the sight of my pistol, my handy pistol, with the long muzzle and the panel above the ribbed...
Stick my darned mug into the puddle! The dumb, bloodthirsty mug into the cold, stinking, god damned puddle! Until the very sight of the trigger makes me feel sick! It’s Gleb! I’ve been drinking vodka with him! I’ve...
I’m crawling the roundabout way. I’ll have to throw away my coat and my slacks after all that, my hands are covered all over with dirty, sticky crust, the shoelace on my left sneaker is trying to get loose all the time. The damned neurotic, I am.
I look out cautiously from behind one of beams. There he is, the bastard, stands half-facing me. I put down the weapon on the beam, not to lead myself into temptation, and stand up quietly. Gleb doesn’t see me. I come to him from behind, one step, another – and then some piece of metal clanks joyfully beneath my feet. In my fright I manage to act ahead of Gleb, who is turning around to face me; his sex-blaster flies away into the weed and we fall down dashingly. The next moment I hear hoarse hissing, I turn over on my back and discover above us, at a height of about five metres, an unattractive bare-teethed maw full of slime, with awe inspiring fangs.
Actually, I don’t complain about... What god damned reaction can you talk about when all the words I had wanted to shout out to Gleb stuck in my throat? I choked and covered my face with my hands. Gleb half-risen, and a thin, straight ray shot out from his small, clutched fist. The maw blew up with a wild roar, thick, swampy slime poured from above, and I finally fainted...
“Redhead, are you ok?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I mumbled without opening my eyes. “Yeah, just a minute... you burnt it, Gleb dear, burnt it, you piece of... hell of a guy you are. Burnt it, after all.”
“Burnt it, burnt it, you jerk. Let’s go, it’s a long way to Tipperary. And where’s your gun?”
“There, lies on the beam.”
“Why did you leave it there?”
“So that I won’t burn you by mistake.”
The expression of Gleb’s face showed such sincere childish puzzlement and offense that everything else I’d wanted to say faded away on its own. I lowered my eyes to look at Gleb’s fist, still clutched. Gleb followed my glance and loosened his fingers slowly. In his hand there was an old gas lighter, the one well known to me. So... once in century, even lighters can shoot. Gas ones.
“You know what, let’s get back, maybe we’ll make it.”
We arrived surprisingly quietly. Apparently our limit was used up. In the second storey window there loomed evil-looking Andrei, with a giant automatic rifle on his shoulder. “They armed themselves,” I thought. “Playing Schwarzeneggers...”
“They’ve been shooting here,” noted Gleb, who was up until then depressed and silent. “Here’s a burnt mark over there. And a new break in the wall. Even two of them.”
Andrei in the window clanked dashingly with the lock of his rifle.
“Hold, who goes there?”
“Fix your eyeglasses, it’s Gleb and I.”
“Stay where you are.”
“What are you, nuts?! Maybe you’ll shoot us in addition?!”
“If you get any closer, I will. Sure thing I will.”
“And why the hell have you started shooting at us yourselves?!”
“About ten minutes ago.”
We stared dumbly at the ragged holes with twisted, charred edges that had a place in the house’s faсade.
“Doppelgangers,” said Gleb quietly. “Marionettes.”
From one of the holes there appeared Oleg, tousled. “Let them go in,” he told Andrei, and disappeared again.
Andrei lifted his weapon and aimed it at us. Quite accurately, I might assure. Having tucked our weapons in our belts and raised our hands like idiots, we headed towards the house. The girls were awaiting us at the door.
“It’s ok!” they screamed happily. “It’s Redhead and Gleb, they’re quiet, they aren’t shooting anymore...”
Oleg got down to us. Behind his back, jutting out about a metre above his head, there was a long Samurai sword in a lacquered sheathe covered in hieroglyphs. Set a wolf to keep the sheep... He was obsessed with all these Oriental exotic stuff even before.
“You’d better produced a tank,” I muttered. “What the hell do you need a sword for?”
“I’ll put it on my wall. When we come back.” answered the newly discovered Samurai coldly. “Speak out.”
Gleb could recall next to nothing, so I had to be the one to speak. About the shooting and about the monster. And about the shooting lighter. When we came to the end of my confused story, Oleg, who had been until then walking up and down the room and biting his nails, stopped in a sudden.
“Hush, bandits! There’s a version. How do you like the idea of a test? A test for aggression. Or something of that kind...”
“Can’t you put it more simply?” begged Christine.
“Surely I can. You see, each of us has got some fear inside. And each of us has a different fear. I, for instance, can’t stand worms. And Bronya, suppose, adores worms, but is afraid of vampires.” (“I’m not afraid of vampires!” Bronya attempted to protest, but she was given a new apple, and the protest has thus been annulled.) “Redhead adores vampires, looks like one himself, but he can be frightened by a street fight. And will go ahead to fight out of fear. These are personal fears, all of them. And when we’re together, there appears a collective fear. A ‘crowd syndrome’, so to speak. And it can dictate a lot...
“And now look. Somebody provides the crowd with moving, nasty fuel-oil. Most likely inanimate, but who has thought about that?! The collective fear gave a premise – save yourselves! – and the result didn’t fail to appear. Redhead burnt the enemy with the so conveniently found laser gun. The fear demanded a weapon, it is the dominant of every fear – and a weapon appeared.
“But with the appearance of a weapon, the fear increases automatically, it demands actions – and Gleb, not realising this himself, begins shooting at Redhead. Please note – without actually hitting him! That is, nobody needs our death at the moment. Redhead didn’t shoot him back – and won. Both of them stayed alive.
“Only that Gleb’s shooting echoed over here – their doppelgangers are shooting at the house, and we do the same in response. Gleb was lifting his pistol without realising what he was doing. We, however, did – and atop the explorers there appears a monster, a result of our aggression, of our fear, and this time the result is animated, it is alive, but inhuman.
“If we had killed the doppelgangers, then the monstrosity would have devoured Gleb and eaten Redhead as a snack, but we were smart enough to shoot above their heads, what caused Gleb’s lighter to perform quite unorthodox functions. Everyone is still alive, the experiment continues. Just don’t ask who’s running it. I don’t know... and don’t particularly want to, either.
“But the third step... The fear must force us to shoot a human being. This is not a monster, let alone fuel-oil. And we won’t be able to walk away – the fog won’t let us.”
“It’s hard to be a humanist with a pistol in your hand,” I noted. “Very hard. And scary.”
“Doppelgangers,” said Andrei, in a somehow very dull voice. “Doppelgangers are coming. It’s us.”
We all stood up without a word, and went out of the house silently.
There were seven of them, like us. There were seven of us, like them. Oleg, Bronya, Gleb, little Christine, silent Dina, always frowning Andrei. And me. With such a wonderful pistol, handy, long, simply... I saw the black hole of the muzzle, and grabbed my pistol with both hands. What goddamned humanism can you talk about here?! It’s suicide...
When somebody’s chasing you in your dream, your legs turn into cotton wool, your body doesn’t obey you and the time is running very slowly, you keep escaping and there’s no end. In the corner of my eye I noticed that Andrei’s finger which had been lying on the trigger started pressing against it. My leap lasted for eternity, my boots didn’t want to leave the ground, and I understood that I wasn’t going to make it. But it wasn’t me who made it.
The sword shrieked leaving its lacquered sheathe, the cut off the muzzle of the rifle fell to the dirt with a plop, Andrei didn’t keep his balance... We fell down together.
Lying on Andrei’s bony back, I felt that my hand was unusually empty. The pistol. The pistol was gone.
Interesting, who was it that thought up putting down the ties so wrong?.. I was jumping over them, cursing, listening for the hundredth time to Oleg’s blabbering about how beautifully his oh-so-wonderful sword would look on his oh-so-wonderful carpet on his oh-so-wonderful wall. The sword was the only object that hadn’t disappeared along with the doppelgangers and the fog. Oleg slowed down and approached me.
“Interesting, what did Pete the rascal get his tape recorder for?” he said thoughtfully.
“They just gave him a ransom to get rid of him,” I muttered, pulling my boot out of the dirt. The lace finally got itself untied...
...Bluish grey flocks of fog were closing behind their backs, and back there, in a grey, pulsating cocoon, within its silent depth, there awaited the Nobody’s House. It was satisfied. Its state spread in all directions in invisible waves, reaching other Houses, conveying the acquired information. No, not information – images, feelings, sensations; – nevertheless, it was quite enough for communication. In an unstable situation, the first need of a man is a weapon. Rare exclusions only confirm the rule. Having acquired a deadly gift, a man relaxes and begins perceiving the situation as stable. A gift is an object. Weapon is also an object. That is all.
Weird, dead life was falling asleep in the gentle embrace of the fog, submerging into steady waiting, free from hopes and disappointments. It hurried nowhere, this abandoned house, which was Nobody’s...