by Denis Bushlatov
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Damn it all to hell, thought Avdeyev, what do I care about the Poles? He even reached for his cell phone, but remembering Proskurnya’s angry face, he smiled nervously and walked up the grassy steps.
The dimly lit hall looked neglected. There was a thick layer of dust and leaves on the floor and on a registration desk. Avdeyev saw two wicker chairs, which stood inappropriately in the middle of the hall. He chuckled and turned to the desk. Having found no buttons, no bell, he knocked on a wooden dusty surface and coughed a bit.
He walked down the hallway, studying the heavy, opaque drawn curtains in the windows, then looking at the low coffee table covered with yellowish newspapers, around which, in fact, the wicker chairs should have stood.
One of the newspapers, covered with dark stains, drew his attention. He approached the table, picked up the newspaper and blew the dust off it. In mute amazement he stared at a headline:
“Olium’s Rats Devour Babies in Their Mothers’ Wombs!” screamed bright huge letters clearly visible on the dirty sheet of paper.
“Bloodbath at the Cemetery! Olium’s Children Are in Danger!”
He brought the paper up close to his eyes and tried to make out the fine text:
Today, October 48, 1612, the Olium’s Sea Sentinel discovered uncountable hordes of rats marching up the main pier. Monsters were carrying banners of the province Dead Calm and possessed significant reserves of firearms. Many of them were under the influence of alcohol and shouted anti-monarchistic slogans. Our reporter...
The following text was thickly covered with black paint so that only a few words peeked through. In utter disbelief, Avdeyev tried to turn the pages over, but only succeeded in tearing them lengthwise.
“Bloody hell,” he cursed and reached out for a glossy magazine the cover of which displayed a picture of unusually fat baby flanked by two men of regular proportions, each of whom seemed dwarfed by the baby. The magazine was called Mnemon of Olium That’s what it said on the cover, anyway.
Someone coughed softly behind him.
Avdeyev jerked, dropped the magazine and spun around. There was no one behind him. However a short, thick man with a large wen on his neck had mysteriously materialized behind the reception desk. He looked arrogant and, at the same time, slightly bored.
“Fooling around with magazines, are we?” he said, as if had caught Avdeyev masturbating. “Would you like me to recommend something for you?”
“For The Poles. Lodgings. Yes,” said the man in a mechanical tone. He walked out from behind the stand and offered Avdeyev his plump hand.
“Lampreyin, Anton Pavlovich. Almost like Chekhov, but... you know... Lampreyin. Well, you understand.”
“Avdeyev, Vladimir Stepanovich.” In dismay, Avdeyev shook Lampreyin’s outstretched hand. “But how did you...”
“It has already been done, Vladimir Stepanovich!” Lampreyin began waving his hands. “Proskurnya sent for a reservation a week ago. A credit-card payment.”
“Reservation?” Avdeyev felt queasy for some reason. “Excuse me, but—”
“That’s what he said, our Proskurnya!” interrupted Lampreyin. “A week ago! By phone! ‘If my colleague has any questions, give him some brandy! Show him the suites, inform him in detail and then he will report to me.’ That’s what he said!”
“But then... I mean, I thought...”
“Well, think about it, Vladimir Stepanovich. This will take twenty minutes, tops. I’ve known your chief since we were schoolboys. I remember how we sneaked pancakes into gymnastics class, and our headmaster, who was very strict,.. But that’s beside the point.”
Lampreyin shook his head slightly, and dandruff snowed all over his shoulders. “In any case, your task won’t really be bothersome. Look over the rooms, go down to the kitchen, taste our cooking and confirm that the level of service measures up to expectations of your distinguished guests.”
“I’ll... just make a call...” Avdeyev dug into his pocket, but as soon as he brought out the phone, Lampreyin leapt away from him by good two meters and buzzed in monotone: “That’s not how we do it here. We don’t even get a signal. We’re used to doing it the old way!”
Avdeyev, feeling completely lost, still activated the phone and selecting the chief editor from ‘Contacts’ pressed the ‘Call’ button.
The phone was silent. There was neither conventional sound of a connection, nor a polite operator, nor short beeps. In the buzzing silence, Avdeyev thought he heard some creepy hissing on the other end.
He shrugged helplessly and put the phone back in his pocket. “You know what,” he said carefully, “you should have a... uh, a land-line...” And for some reason he suddenly added, “I’ll pay for the call.”
Lampreyin snickered unpleasantly. “It has been broken for about two months now. Don’t even think about it. I can see that you are weary of travelling. Let me get you some brandy” — he winked rather lecherously — “and then perhaps life will shine in new colours!”
He took Avdeyev by the elbow and pulled him to a staircase. “Let me tell you what we are going to do,” he chattered. “We are going to go up to the second floor, where you will inspect the lodgings. Then we will stroll down to the kitchen, where you can admire the skills of our cooks; don’t be picky: a piece of this, a piece of that and, in the meanwhile, I will warm us some tumblers, slice a lemon... so we can, you know, as in good times!”
Avdeyev, stupefied, listened to Lampreyin’s babbling, only partially catching the meaning of phrases. He couldn’t help but feel surrounded by surreality of circumstance. To top it all off, there was some innate inaccuracy in Lampreyin’s words, a small detail that did not quite fit the overall picture. He tried to focus on it; but, to accomplish that, he had to stop, and Lampreyin, clasping his hand, was not about to slow down.
“Hold on!” Avdeyev collected himself and pulled his hand away. “Listen to me!”
Lampreyin stopped and turned to Avdeyev with a look of astonishment and even a touch of sadness on his face. He raised one eyebrow, curved up his back imploringly and leaned his body towards Avdeyev.
“I do not think our guests will appreciate this... this place,” muttered Avdeyev, trying to look just over and to the left of Lampreyin. “It is... in a sense, it is dusty and... Oh, yes! — he heard his own voice as if from a distance, rising to a shriek — “All these... magazines. What is that? What is that supposed to mean?”
Lampreyin took a few small chicken-like steps, quickly covering the distance between them and whispered hotly, “It’s not important, Vladimir Stepanovich, don’t mind it. We will clean out everything, everything. And besides, your chief HIMSELF... PERSONALLY... Just look at the rooms. This hall is nothing, we have mops, we can, you know, oh-so-much!”
He shook his clenched fists over his head and unexpectedly dropped down to his knees in front of Avdeyev. “I beg of you!” he wailed, clutching Avdeyev’s legs. “I have children!”
Avdeyev moaned in confusion and tried to get away, but it was not meant to be.
Lampreyin was holding on like a leech. “Don’t ruin me,” he whimpered quietly.
“All right, get up... Get up, dammit. It’s all too much.” Avdeyev fought an impulse to sit down and put his arm around Lampreyin’s shoulder. “What the heck... I drove for a long time... Let’s go, I’ll take a look at your rooms... Really, what nonsense.”
“Exactly!” Lampreyin leapt up onto his feet, dusted his wrinkled trousers and smiled broadly. “Right on the money, Vladimir Stepanovich! Our whole life is complete nonsense. All those magazines, forget about them... just an amateur craft workshop, bah!” He waved a hand contemptuously in an indefinite direction and waddled up the stairs.
Avdeyev followed him. His eyes were automatically noticing the abandonment that conditioned the whole flight of stairs. Unwashed steps, dirty cobwebs in the corners, peeling dirty pink paint on the walls.
What am I doing here? he asked himself. He was really bothered by the magazines on the table and that little inaccuracy in Lampreyin’s words that he had sensed but could not quite grasp. It doesn’t matter. Whatever! It makes things even more interesting.
Finally, having decided to accept these events as a fun adventure, he experienced a considerable relief.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Denis Bushlatov