Safe Haven, Part 1
By Denis Bushlatov
Complete with hot and cold
‘Semantics’ was the
key word in that early
morning vertigo. Every word, even the simplest, irritated Avdeyev, seemed
fostered, even alien. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, he stared at
his reflection and tried to bring a hint of order to the chaos in his head.
“It seems, I haven’t
woken up yet,” he said to
the mirror, and shivered. Somehow, the words ‘woken up’ reminded him of a lump
of naked infant rats infected with bubonic plague.
“Wo-ken-up,” he repeated,
and shivered again. Av-de-yev woke-up—even his own last name
had unsavoury undertones. Why
Avdeyev? Why not Mamontov, Tirkas, or
Kuchko? Why not Steinman, for goodness’ sake? It must mean something! After
all, there is something behind all this...
He scratched his handsome chin
feature), noting that shaving it would be a good idea. What a spineless, creepy last
Totally confused, he shook his head, dried off quickly, and left the
Semantics worried Avdeyev all
and after, when getting ready for work. With a decadent astonishment he asked
himself why it’s trousers, not trouts,
why jacket and not coverlet,
and why does the word Copenhagen seem
laden with a blunt threat?
“I’m going crazy,”
he whispered cautiously on
his way to the parking lot. “I’m losing it.” If you really listen
to words, their loathsome artificiality becomes
obvious…like a hatch over an abyss one has only to lift slightly to reveal all
its monstrous beauty.
The car coughed and grumbled as
repeatedly cranked the ignition key, trying hard not to think about the
metaphysical repulsiveness of the word key.
Finally the engine revved up, belching a cloud of black smoke.
“I have to get this thing
to a garage, but when…and
for what? It drives fine. I can’t do everything, damn it! I’m not Shiva
Maharaj!” His last sentence was so loud, he worried that the parking guards
would think he was completely crazy.
He drove to the filthy gray editorial
in an awful mood, his revolt against words become black despair.
When he passed the sleepy, semi-blind
he didn’t announce himself, and watched with mean pleasure how the poor old man
bustled about in his glass kennel.
guess who it was, and suffer, just like me! Avdeyev smirked, but halfway up the stairs felt ashamed.
The door of his tiny office was
Judging by the sounds coming from within, Scarabich, the small and inebriated
proof-reader who shared the room with him, had already shown up. Avdeyev made a
sour face. Rat-faced and alienating, Scarabich irritated him beyond measure.
you look at that! Every day, he drinks like a fish and is
still alive. And he probably never has to worry about semantics or meanings. He’s
like a roach.” Feeling his hatred for Scarabich becoming tangible, Avdeyev
kicked the door and stomped in like he owned the place.
Mikhael Nevadovich Scarabich,
sitting at the
table in his usual unbuttoned checkered shirt, slurped his tea. Judging by the fumes
he had already enjoyed a few shots of cheap brandy. He looked up with
expressionless fish eyes, hiccupped, and returned to the frazzled manuscript in
front of him on the table overflowing with paper. But soon he smirked and went
back to staring at Avdeyev.
“So, Vladimir Stepanovich,”
he slurred, “din
your mother teach you to knock on the toilet door before you enter?” and hooted
Avdeyev paused, visualizing how
get buried and how, during the eulogy, his body would fall out of the coffin.
He liked that image, but the word eulogy
seemed disgustingly soft, like an abscess. He winced, looked away, and walked
over to his table.
“Too bad you din answer
sarcastically remarked Scarabich. “Now I’ll harbour an evil design on you, and…one
day…devour you...maybe even today!” He
cackled, looking at foggy-eyed Avdeyev. “Oh, and while you’re digesting this…confession…about
your end...” He fell silent, having lost his train of thought, and, dimly eying
Avdeyev, frowned, and tried the tea, but set aside the cup, smacking his lips. “Well
then, Proskurnya has been looking for you all morning. Seems important.”
“Tell me, Scarabich,”
muttered Avdeyev, “you’re
no teenager. You graduated in philology with honours, got a Masters, and even
taught.., or so it’s rumoured. Why are you such—?
“—an asshole? Is that
what you wanted to say,
Stepanovich?” Scarabich sampled his tea and grimaced. “Maybe it isn’t me
who’s the asshole? Maybe the world
around us is an asshole? Well…whatever…when you come back I’ll share something
with you,” he said, and winked slyly. “I have some leftover ‘Ararat’, so we can
drown your grief. Since I have to eat you later, at least add some flavor to
the meat.” He burst into series of hoots.
Avdeyev flipped him off and exited
the office. Going
up to see the chief editor, he tried to tune in his feelings. Words no longer
appeared alien, anxiety had passed, and even Scarabich’s idiotic remarks seemed
is an unlucky man, it occurred to
Avdeyev, no wife, no children… He returns
every evening to his bachelor pad and drinks...when he’s got money... I should
be nicer to him.
At the chief editor’s door,
decent-looking one in the whole building, Avdeyev paused, straightened his
jacket, wiped sweaty palms on trousers, coughed, and knocked gently.
“Come in!” boomed
a voice from behind the door.
Avdeyev entered and carefully
closed the door.
Suddenly a wave of weakness washed over him. All his morning suffering,
despair, anxiety, and unexplainable butterflies came back at once. Looking toward
the editorial desk, he was surprised to discover that it was empty. Who, pray
tell, had answered his knock?
There was some groaning below
Proskurnya’s large head of wiry gray hair rose slowly over the desk. The chief
editor’s homely, unshaven face wore a stubbornly dreary expression. Sitting up
at the desk, he eyed Avdeyev from under his frown, and, grabbing a pen, began
to scribble furiously.
“Investors are coming tomorrow,” he
muttered, “but we have nothing...no-thing ready!” He threw his pen aside and
stared at Avdeyev. “No hotel, no banquet, no driver! City Council is silent. City
D-duma …” He chuckled
contemptuously. “Duma is ‘considering’. There is only one state marine
newspaper in the city and it’s too cheap to shell out a shitty five to eight
“B-but they’re coming
in two weeks...” began
Avdeyev, going cold inside.
Support from Polish colleagues
of Sanmar had been absolutely vital for
‘Marine Messenger’. Over the past two years, Proskurnya had been trying
relentlessly to persuade these Poles to sponsor the publication of his book, How
We Sold the Black Sea Fleet, in Russian and Polish. The chief editor had
been strongly convinced that the publication of this monumental work would not
only help to strengthen the shaky position of the newspaper, but also bring in awesome
dividends. Being a man of action, he had involved several competent translators,
who had promptly translated the unpublished book into both Polish and English.
The chief editor believed that demand from politically-conscious western
readers was inevitable. Moreover, there had been a website dedicated to the
book and Proskurnya had repeatedly mentioned the forthcoming sensation in an
editorial column of the newspaper.
With considerable enthusiasm,
he had been
looking for sponsors, both amongst government institutions and representatives
of marine businesses in the area. However, despite all his efforts and
practically fanatical belief in the success of the manuscript, there hadn’t
been anyone willing to invest in the publication and its subsequent promotion
on the international market. Foreign publishers had simply ignored the chief
At first, Sanmar
hadn’t even considered cooperating, but, little by little, Proskurnya’s aggressive
preaching had convinced the board of directors to inspect the project in person.
After that, the chief editor’s
shifted into mania. Over the next three days, he had walked the corridors
visiting accountants and proofreaders, declaiming a great inevitable success.
Collecting himself, he had called an assembly to put together a detailed plan
of the meeting, including the selection of a hotel for distinguished guests,
excursions, and entertainment.
“Damn it!” he had
shrieked in the heat of the
moment, “Get them whores too!” But, after learning the prices of the local love
priestesses, he had dismissed that profound idea.
The meeting had been scheduled for
the end of
November. Proskurnya had appointed the ones responsible for a hotel, a
restaurant, and even a rental to pick up their guests from the airport. The
only company car, a Volga, had been
shop for the third month in a row, and it was embarrassing to use Avdeyev’s
Lada or the rusted-out
Moskowich of Accountant
Avdeyev had taken his assignment
of choosing a
hotel very seriously. He had conducted a survey among three- and four-star
hotels in the city, bearing in mind that prices should be reasonable and
service respectable (“Without these modern shenanigans!” had hinted the chief
editor, which had narrowed the search.) Having submitted them for Proskurnya’s
approval, he had been very surprised when, after a moment’s consideration, the
chief editor had rejected them all and suggested making reservations at a hotel
with the insipid name ‘Safe Haven’, located on the shore.
“My friends stayed there
once,” had said the
chief editor. “They were satisfied.”
Avdeyev said he planned to go
in a week, have a look around, and book the rooms.
shocked him to the
core. “In a week!?” bellowed the chief editor. “You have to go now!” He stared
at Avdeyev and suddenly licked his lips (so fast that Avdeyev doubted the
reality of it).
“Drop everything and go
to ‘Safe Haven’. Run,
if you have to. See how it is and book the rooms. Let them write us an
invoice, and we’ll pay for everything. Call me when you’re done. If there are
any problems...oh, Vladimir Stepanovich, I hope there won’t be any problems. Okay,
get there and back in a flash.”
Again his fat purple tongue slipped
lips. It seemed for a split moment that the tongue was forked. Avdeyev
shuddered and pushed the delusion away.
“Don’t worry, Leonid
Petrovich, I can do it.
Everything will be hunky-dory.” He smiled nervously.
Proskurnya stared at him like
a bull. “Hunky-dory?”
he repeated, purpling slowly. “Hunky-dory??? If you do not call me back in a
flippin’ hour and tell me that everything is indeed hunkey-dorey, I... I
guarantee you, Avdeyev, I guar-an-tee you, I...” His face went beet-red. “Are
you still here? Run!”
Avdeyev leapt out of the office
and tore across
The hotel was located on the edge
of the city.
This inconvenience was well compensated by a panoramic view of the sea. At
least that’s how it was described on the website, and Avdeyev sincerely hoped
it to be so.
After leaving the center of the
city, he turned
left and drove for a while along Nikolskaya Street. In the heat of an election
campaign, the mayor had remembered his duties and restored most of the main
streets, as well as several branching ones. Nikolskaya Street was full of cozy
three-storey mansions intermingled with drab, five-storey Stalinkas . Sycamores grew by the side of the road,
sprinkling it with colourful leaves. Rays of the autumn sun, gleaming through
the clouds, painted the landscape in romantic and mystical colours.
Having gone along Nikolskaya Street,
turned right, passed under the bridge, and discovered a completely different
part of the city. Neat Stalinkas made way for ugly concrete constructions.
Seedy and seemingly uninhabited industrial buildings competed in ugliness.
Occasional strollers plodded along the dirty sidewalk among windswept dry
leaves along deserted streets. Pavement had been shattered into upturned slabs
and potholes. Avdeyev reduced speed and focused on the road.
Passing the bus stop, he saw a
children standing around a burlap sack. Without slowing down, Avdeyev looked
into the side-view mirror to see the children kicking the wriggling bag in
turns. He thought he heard a pig-like squeal.
The landscape grew yet more desolate.
storage units lined the road, strewn with industrial waste; most of the windows
were broken, the walls covered with graffiti. Occasional residential housing,
two-storey lopsided buildings, yawned with empty, cavernous openings.
Rare passers-by shied away from
their presence awkward in a place unfit for human habitation.
“Damn it,” grumbled
Avdeyev, chilled by how
alien his own voice sounded to him, “Who would have thought that the road could
be so terrible. Should I tell the Poles jokes on the way? It’s a good thing
that the hotel is at the seaside.”
He gripped the steering wheel
pressed the gas pedal, changing into fourth gear. Deep in thought, he had been
moving too slow. Strange that no one has
honked yet, he thought, and suddenly noticed that there weren’t any cars around.
The district seemed paralyzed.
The street he was following ended
in an abrupt
T-intersection. Avdeyev groaned, turned on emergency lights, and stopped at the
curb. The traffic light blinked yellow. An open field of dusty dry grass lay
just beyond the crossroad. A smooth track ran on the left. Judging from the
rusted sign, it would take him back into the city. The road on the right-hand
side was laid out with concrete slabs, withered weeds growing in between. There
was no sign there, but logic indicated that Avdeyev needed to go right.
He shrugged, shifted into second
pulled away from the curb, despite his Lada’s protesting screech. After about
150 meters, he saw a man standing by the road. Impulsively, Avdeyev drew up,
leaned over to the passenger door, and rolled down the window.
The man, standing sideways to
him, did not
budge. He was dressed in a faded sweater and a denim jacket, and, swaying, looked
straight ahead. There was something unpleasant and unnatural about his pose.
I am losing it, thought Avdeyev. He smiled in as
friendly a way as possible and addressed the man: “Excuse me, sir... Can you
The man glanced at him and grinned,
full of rotten, black, but surprisingly long and sharp teeth overlaying each
other. “If you’re looking for the sea,” he buzzed, “after five hundred meters
go right, then another kilometer straight down, and you’ll see it.”
“I’m looking for ‘Safe
Haven’,” said Avdeyev
politely, trying not to notice the hideous grin or gnat’s voice.
“Oh, I see. There will be
a sign—straight to
the ‘Crave Graven’.”
“W-what, sorry?” Avdeyev’s
feet went cold.
“I said, there will be a
sign that will direct
you to the ‘Safe Haven’, buzzed the stranger and, without a pause, walked away
swinging his long arms.
Avdeyev leaned back in his seat.
“He said... he
said...” he repeated, then interrupted himself. “He said nothing. You are
hearing things, Vladimir. It’s just a weird day. Maybe, Vladimir, you should
visit your audiologist?” He laughed, but stopped short; in the oppressing,
hollow silence his own laughter sounded pathetic.
Having closed the window, Avdeyev
and, in a few meters, passed the same stranger. He was standing by the side of
the road like a perfectly flat cut-out of a scarecrow. Avdeyev gave a short
beep and pressed on the gas, trying to avoid looking in the rear-view mirror. It
seemed like the stranger had two transparent wings flapping in the wind behind
He did as he was told, turning
right when he
reached the bend. The road was now going through land quite overgrown,
interrupted only by a few crooked hovels with boarded-up windows. Naked trees
lifted broken branches in prayer to the hulking heavy sky. The roadside was
garbage-strewn. Large but skinny dogs scoured the neighbourhood. At the bend,
Avdeyev saw two of them fighting. They braced each other with sinewy hands
He slammed the brakes so hard
that his car
began to drift. He looked back, but, apart from the piles of garbage, he didn’t
see anything. His body began to shake. After regaining control of his breathing,
Avdeyev pulled down a sun visor and stared at the reflection of his own bulging
“You are going crazy,” he whispered, and winced at the buzzing sound of the word.
It was quite obvious that the
only way the
Poles would willingly enter the ‘Safe Haven’ was if they were passed out drunk.
No matter what kind of ‘panoramic view of the sea’ it had, the neighbourhood
evoked abhorrence and fear. Logically, he should have called Proskurnya to
explain to him that ‘Safe Haven’ had failed the inspection and he was off to
find an alternative.
objected his inner demon. So, call Proskurnya and tell him everything.
What if all other hotels are full or two times more expensive? Moreover,
thought Avdeyev vindictively, I gave him
other choices. It’s his own damn fault.
At the thought that the Poles
might see dogs
with human hands, or something worse, he felt cold. I’ll tell Proskurnya that
I’m sick, then stay in bed for a week, and
come back when things have sorted themselves out.
But his demon suggested to him
that things would
never sort out right.
The Lada pulled stridently away.
The road after
the bend was well-groomed, but the landscape remained dull and unattractive—a wasteland
overgrown with dry weeds. Along the road lay empty bottles, decomposing tires,
and heaps of construction rubble. There weren’t any dogs around, but Avdeyev
felt some movement on both sides of
The road led to a spacious asphalt
Avdeyev stepped on the gas, coming over a small rise, and drove onto it. He
parked his Lada near an old Ford, coated with mud and leaves, shut down the
engine, and got out of the car. The site was enclosed by a short decorative
fence, just beyond which there was a cliff. About fifty meters away, the sea held
sway. On the distant horizon, where a few silhouettes of ships were barely
visible, a lowering gray sky united with an enormous mass of water. Oily waves
rolled over buoys to attack the rocky shore. Cold black water crested in foam.
The view was as breathtaking as it was alien. Black, unyielding, evil—the sea
denied any human association with it. Even ships on the horizon seemed smelted
out of water.
Avdeyev just stood there thinking,
the cool sea air. The silence on the overlook was broken only by the faint
cries of seagulls. Here, on a deserted parking lot, face to face with raging
nature, he felt like the last of all living beings, like H. G. Wells’ time
wanderer who had seen beyond the event horizon.
human beings disappear, when the last intelligent primate kicks the
bucket, the world won’t notice. The great sea will still roll its waves, leaves
will still fall in autumn, and the sky will still cry with rain. Seagulls and
corroded ships will remain in the harbour, the ruined city behind it, the
ragged road leading into those ruins. Autumn will be followed by winter.
Blizzards will come, and snow will cover the peaceful ground.
spring will happen. The world will wake up, and every drop of dew
will sparkle like the rainbow, grass will green up the fields, the first timid
sprouts bursting through the cracks in the pavement.
won’t be there to see it. But the world won’t care.
“Well,” he admitted,
sighing, “whatever makes
the Poles happy.”
He looked to the right and saw
a dented road
sign: ‘To Safe Haven’.
inhaled deeply, got into his car and, having backed up, went in the direction
of a five-storey building located nearby, on a hill.
Behind him, the mud-caked Ford
onto two front wheels, and crouched, waiting. Avdeyev, however, did not see it.
He parked in a small parking lot
in front of
the main entrance, shut off the engine, and got out of the car. Up close, the seedy
hotel did not appear promising. Walls, once grey, had peeled and flaked. A murky
hallway lurked darkly behind wide open doors. The building seemed to be
it all to hell, thought Avdeyev. Who are the Poles to me? He even reached
for the cell phone, but remembering Proskurnya’s angry face, smiled nervously
and walked up the grassy steps.
The dimly lit hall looked neglected.
a thick layer of dust and leaves on the floor, as well as on a registration
desk. Avdeyev saw two wicker chairs, which stood inappropriately in the middle
of the hall, chuckled, and turned to the desk. Having found no buttons or bell,
he knocked on a wooden dusty surface and coughed a bit. He walked down the hall
studying the heavy, opaque drawn curtains in the windows, then stared at the
low coffee table covered with yellowed 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 the title of a cover
“Olium’s rats devour babies
their mothers’ wombs!” screamed huge letters on the dirty sheet of paper.
And below: “Bloodbath at the cemetery! Olium’s children 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 hordes of rats marching up the main pier. Monsters were
carrying the banners of Dead Calm Province and possessed impressive firearms.
Many of them were under the influence of alcohol and shouted anti-monarchist
slogans. Our reporter...” The following text was 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 for a
glossy magazine, the cover of which displayed a picture of an unusually fat
baby flanked by two men of regular proportions, each dwarfed by the baby. The
magazine’s cover identified it as ‘Mnemon of Olium’.
Someone coughed softly behind
Avdeyev jerked, dropped the magazine,
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 slightly bored.
“Fooling around with magazines,
are we?” he
said, as if he’d caught Avdeyev masturbating. “Would you like me to recommend
something for you?”
“For the Poles…lodgings…yes,”
said the man in a
Continued in Part 2
City Administration in Ukraine
Soviet car models
apartments built during the reign of Stalin
Denis Bushlatov, Rege101@yandex.ru,
of Ukraine, who wrote BP #73’s “Safe Haven,”
has had 2 collections of horror short stories published in Ukraine. They are widely
sold within bookstores in Ukraine, Austria, Japan and the U.S.A. and also on the Internet.
“Safe Haven” is his first short story translated into English. CONGRATULATIONS,