ALEXANDER GRITSENKO from the “Dreams” cycle

from the “Dreams” cycle
Translated by Lisa Hayden Espenschade

It happens often: a morning Metro train somewhere in the middle of a black tunnel between stations suddenly stops for no reason. The car falls abruptly silent. You can hear music playing through some student’s headphones at the other end.

Then someone gets irritated. “Good Lord!” the person says.

People are going to be late for work… But their dissatisfaction sounds meek, modest, hushed.

The train will stop for a couple of minutes and then move along.

Why did it stop in the middle of the tunnel? What was it waiting for?

To let children by. Children were crossing the tracks.

The underground children generally walk around at night.

A little in the morning, very rarely in the evening, and never in the afternoon.

They don’t know themselves where they’re going. They look like a group of kindergarten or elementary school children crossing a street. Except that it’s not a kindergarten or Phys. Ed. teacher leading them but a fuzzy teddy bear with a tom-off paw.

Only the Metro drivers see all this. But the children’s shadows on the tunnel walls are sometimes visible if you ride at the front of the first Metro car. Take a look if you want. When I found out about this, I started to take a closer look and saw them a few times.

That’s why all the Metro drivers drink. After a shift, it’s a full glass right away. It helps you loosen up, you sit for a bit, have a smoke, knock back another hundred grams…

And the children walk around. At night, generally, but sometimes in the morning. Where are they going? It’s as if the children are asleep: they have blissful smiles on their faces. Not idiotic but, well, only a baby can smile like that.

Sometimes they stop on the tracks and look at the train. The driver looks back and can’t avert his gaze. They look at each other: The children smile, the driver cries. Then the teddy bear turns, frowns at the driver, and makes a sign to the children. “Let’s move along,” he says, “there’s no need to stay here.” The bear seems to know, what he’s doing, why and where he’s leading the children.

When an overcrowded Metro train suddenly stops in the middle of a dark tunnel during morning rush hour, don’t be scared, don’t swear, and don’t think about being late for work. Cry a little. Not for the children: they’re happy. Not for the teddy bear: he’s leading happy children. Not for the driver: he cries for himself. Cry for yourself. Feel sorry for yourself.



There’s a secret room in every middle school. Usually, it’s found near the coat room, and if you listen hard, you’ll be able to hear a rustling and the scrape of a goose feather on paper through the wall. These noises come from the Outcasts. They’re banished temporarily, till they reach initiation age, and it is these children who will eventually become presidents, government ministers, oligarchs, or, at the very least, governors. They were chosen to run the world, though they have their own selection process, too, and not all will take high posts — they can’t withstand the competition.

There are Outcasts in every school. Their peers despise them and tease them during breaks between classes. But that’s not so terrible — that’s how it should be. They should experience suffering to learn to be cruel. They should learn about life and science.

Only lucky chosen children become Outcasts. They are already singled out in elementary school by teachers who inspire horror, unattractive women with an apathetic gaze and men with mechanical, lifeless movements. They give the students the choice to either become what is expected of them or to die from a terrible illness. By the way, not all agree. They’re hindered by a primal fear that could only be compared with the fear of the first sexual intimacy. But that’s stronger.

It’s not just the teacher who evokes horror. It’s also his office, cold, soulless, and empty, like the moon.

No matter what a student’s answer might be, the teacher will force a semblance of a smile, then go over and pat the student on the head, causing an absolute vacuum to penetrate his insides, which causes his innards to 

compress and even his heart to jump and stop, and his mouth to go dry. Only if the child is observant will he understand the reason: the teacher’s body doesn’t smell of anything, there’s no scent, and you can feel its absence in the room, too, where it’s quiet and empty, where every object causes severe unease.

And then there is either death or long lessons in a secret room without windows, where people speak only in whispers. Candles are on the walls and floor. The children copy books with quill pens and ink and every day they must tell the educators what they copied. There’s no punishment here for lack of progress: after the third error, the student simply disappears without a trace…

A strange portrait of a boy with banged-up knees hangs on the wall of every Outcast room. The educators teach children to treat the image with awe, as if it were God. Clearly, the solution to the mystery is in the portrait.

Rumors circulate among the Outcasts that it’s not an actual boy but the image of the soul of a dead child, the collective image of all the children who died too soon, all in one picture, where each brushstroke expresses despondency and suffering. The child misses the family and the ordinary life that everyone has.

Some students think it was Lenin who founded the Outcast Society; others claim it was Lomonosov in the eighteenth century. But then what does a boy with banged-up knees have to do with anything? Another version of the story seems more plausible to me: the artist who painted this frightening picture founded the society.

The Outcasts have to lead double lives. They hardly ever turn up at home but their parents don’t notice. Once they become adults, former Outcasts think a lot about why their parents never suspected anything. Most of them think that the boy in the portrait came to the parents, in their likeness: the dead child took as payment parental warmth, something he received little of during his short life.

Maybe that’s how it is, maybe not… In any case, there’s no solution to all this and, at the end of their education, the Outcasts understand that the mystery they’re part of is more ancient than a person can imagine and that the mystery involves Lomonosov and Lenin and the artist…

But time to think only comes later. Until then, the students copy books during evenings and nights, and come to the classroom during the day. Ordinary children hate and heat them because they can sense that they’re different, incomprehensible. They sense that the Outcasts are more important and that they, ordinary children, are only decorations for their future play, so the ordinary children take vengeance for that while it’s possible. They beat the Outcasts and humiliate them in all sorts of ways. Some of the Outcasts manage to gather their peers around them at school and become leaders. The teachers don’t hinder them.

After graduating from school, the Outcast will enroll at a university or take on something else, but the boy from the portrait will always be a presence, like a guardian angel that prevents misfortune and brings success. And one day the chosen person will occupy a high place in society, earned and cansomed from the strange spirit.

That boy will be a guardian angel until the end of the chosen person’s days. And yet, despite all the success, money, and power, the person will become more depressed and miserable each year. And there won’t be a remedy for that melancholy. All because the dead boy cannot bring joy to a living person. Only grief and sorrow.



It happens like this: you’re a full one hundred percent sure of something, then suddenly someone tells you that white is black. Of course you argue and stand up for what you’re sure of. But you realize that somehow you’ve started to doubt.

The more time goes by, the less confidence you have in yourself. The day will come when black will start to seem like white to you and vice versa.

This is because metaphysical worms have penetrated your brain.

These worms are quite dangerous, and they’re passed from person to person through the ears. The processes that they cause are irreversible for the soul. An infected person spits out these worms in conversation, and some fall onto his opponent and crawl into his ears.

When we say “Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes!” we don’t suspect that this ancient expression is a spell against metaphysical worms. In the past, everybody knew about their existence and tried to protect themselves by saying these words.

After penetrating through the ear canal into the body, the worms devour energy from the brain and soul. People infected with the illness will soon begin to doubt themselves and believe in things they used to deny. This is the first stage of the illness.

Some individuals have lifelong immunity to the illness because their souls and brains are too much for the worms, but they are few and far between. The illness develops slowly in most people, and they manage to die from old age before the worms drain the brain of blood and fully destroy the soul.

Those who are less fortunate lead a half-conscious existence until their bodies die. Their view of the work is distorted and gets more so each day. In the end, they stop distinguishing colors and shades — everything narrows down to black and white. In their understanding, the world is simple to the point of meaninglessness. All attempts to tell them about the colors of the rainbow provoke aggression. That’s how the second and third stages of the illness progress.

In the fourth and final stage, the infected person mistakes black for white and vice versa.

The loss of one’s self and the loss of an understanding of the world lead to the loss of the soul’s immortality: it dies, eaten away by the worms. Individuals infected with the disease feel their own metaphysical decline, which makes them irritable and aggressive. Fear of the Abyss forces them to do the most inept things. A lot try to infect as many people as possible in their last days.

One may be infected by this metaphysical plague in direct conversation as well as by the Internet, television, radio, newspapers, and letters. Be careful. If you have stopped seeing the colors of the rainbow and it is suddenly clear that this is the end,  then my advice is to shoot yourself. That way you cut off one of the chains of infection and save yourself from suffering. But more importantly, you save the souls of those around you from disintegration!


Patches of sky flashed through naked branches. The driver accelerated. No snow had fallen yet this winter, but the cold snap was terrible: twenty-five below. This was the second day of freezing-cold temperatures; winter was just beginning. Oleg imagined how chilly it must be in the woods.

The Tatar driver, withered, lanky, and resembling an evil jinn, turned his head from time to time and said with self- satisfaction, “We’ll get there in time” or “I can make two hundred kilometers in two hours” or “It’s only three in the morning.” Nobody paid him any attention. Oleg and the fleshy, well-dressed woman sitting next to him in the back seat were thinking their own thoughts. “How old is she, I wonder?

“Probably fifty,” thought Oleg.

A double chin and very thin lips coated with violet lipstick… She wore huge glasses covering half of her face, the lenses magnified her eyes. It could have been worse.

Oleg glanced at the woman, trying to be inconspicuous. She answered with a serious stare… The car smelled of stale cigarettes.

A woman like this doesn’t let anything go. Oleg had only worked at the newspaper for three months, but he’d heard quite a lot about her from colleagues. The woman had come to the newspaper as a rank-and-file manager, but soon she had enlisted the support of the general director and editor-in-chief, removed the advertising director, and taken his place ruthlessly!

She had no children. Long ago she had turned her husband into a pathetic creature who didn’t make a move without her. He often came into the newspaper office. Pale, always frightened and submissive.

Oleg looked at the plastic, long-legged doll with prominent breasts hanging from the rear view mirror and swinging like a pendulum. Right, left. Right, left.

The woman felt sorry for Oleg for some reason. They had met the day he first came to the paper. And the woman began to protect him from that first day. She said only complimentary things about Oleg to the editor. If an advertising article was in the works, she would inevitably assign Oleg to write it, “Nobody else here writes as splendidly as Oleg.” Occasionally one of his articles wouldn’t work out, and the advertiser was dissatisfied, but she always covered for Oleg.

It was a great fortune for a provincial journalist who hadn’t even graduated from the university to work in a well-known newspaper bureau. Oleg received Moscow-standard fees for his articles, so he was able to live large in Kazan… He loved to be generous, adored expensive alcohol, restaurants, clubs, adored women, to smoke in bed with them, to spend money on them.

Oleg had been living it up lately. In addition to the money, he had a sort of recognition. His classmates, for example, considered him a talent, a future star, and respected him very much. There was envy, of course, but nobody did any harm.

The plastic girl swung, and there was a smell of stale cigarettes. The woman placed Oleg’s hand on her hip. He stroked it, thinking, “She planned this whole business trip just for two.”

He remembered that the woman was his mother’s age.

His mother lived in a village near Kazan, only three kilometers from the city, but they hadn’t seen each other for two years.

The woman directed his hand. He felt repulsion but overcame it, unfastened, got underneath, stroked.

She lowered her pants and pulled his head down. Oleg tensed his neck, resisting, but then gave in. Before leaning over for some reason he looked at the girl, swinging under the mirror. “Like a gallows…” thought Oleg. He caught the Tatar’s glance in the mirror.

The woman’s legs were plump and lumpy, and dark blue veins snaked along the skin. Oleg felt nauseous and it seemed that the car spun, tilted, and then fell…

He opened the car door. The water was icy. He gripped the ice with his fingers. It kept breaking.

Oleg felt that he was sinking. He tried to grope for the ice. His hands were numb.

He crawled along the ice. It seemed that the ice was about to crack. The shore. Oleg lay still, and he shivered. He coughed and lay a bit longer. He raised himself up a little and looked at the river.

The car had fallen into the river. The driver had lost control on the bend just before the bridge. “The river is quite small.” He saw the other side of the river distinctly: a sandy slope, dry grass at the top. Silence…

He went to the roadway. Snowflakes melted on his wet clothes. It was cold. The damp soles of his shoes slipped on the slope. To keep from falling, he grabbed onto the sparse dry grass.

The road was completely empty. He didn’t know where he was. There were trees on both sides of the road. He couldn’t remember how many times during the trip he’d seen oncoming headlights. It was the forest.

Should he set out without knowing where he was going?

Headlights appeared in the distance. Oleg stuck his arm out. The headlights lighted his pitiful, hunched figure and unbending arm. The car drove past. Oleg couldn’t believe his eyes. He breathed out a thick cloud of steam and began to cry.

It seemed that even his eyeballs had frozen.

He walked to meet an oncoming car and tried to airn carefully between the headlights. The driver noticed his silhouette from afar and braked, then carefully drove around Oleg.

… He saw more headlights. Snowflakes, snowflakes, snowflakes. He took off running. The car stopped. Oleg tried to open the door, but couldn’t. The driver grinned. The car began moving. The man drove slowly; he was smiling. Oleg beat on the glass with his fist. Snowflakes, snowflakes, snowflakes…

He wanted to press his face against that woman’s legs…

It was getting light. A child and an old man were walking along the snow-covered roadway. The shafts of a wooden sledge carrying brushwood pressed into their shoulders, and the sledge’s runners caught on hummocks. The snow was falling in large awkward flakes.

“Where does snow come from, Grandfather?” asked the girl in Tatar.

“From the sky,” said her grandfather.

“But who throws it?”


“Does Allah throw it with his hands or with buckets?”

The old man didn’t answer. He had noticed a frozen body in the road. The snow had almost covered him. The old man touched the stiffened body with the toe of his boot.

“Allah alone knows how he throws the snow,” said the grandfather.

He lifted the corpse with difficulty and set it on top of the wood. The girl watched with wide eyes.

The wayfarers set out again. The wind tossed around flakes of snow, and the trees nodded joyously at the man and his granddaughter.



Share what you read on social networks:

Добавить комментарий

Ваш e-mail не будет опубликован. Обязательные поля помечены *