Black Petals Issue #73 Fall, 2015

Safe Haven, Parts I & II

Home
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Journey Starts with a Flower-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Cold Surprise-Fiction by Paul Strickland
Final Run_Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Gift of the Anasazi-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Killer Deal-Fiction by Denny Marshall
Please Remember Me-Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Safe Haven, Part I-Fiction by Denis Bushlatov
Safe Haven, Part II-Fiction by Denis Bushtalov
The City-Fiction by Wayne Haroutunian
The Witch and the Rock-Fiction by Janet C. Ro
Roadside Accident-2 poems by Denny Marshall
Journey to the Devil's Shore-Poem by Grant Tarbard

Safe Haven, Part I-Fiction by Denis Bushlatov

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Safe Haven, Part 1


 


By Denis Bushlatov


 


Complete with hot and cold running horror


 


 


‘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 (his best feature), noting that shaving it would be a good idea. What a spineless, creepy last name...Avdey...Augeas…King...Bling...Baguette…Cranberries? Totally confused, he shook his head, dried off quickly, and left the bathroom. 


 


Semantics worried Avdeyev all during breakfast 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 Avdeyev 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 facility in an awful mood, his revolt against words become black despair.


When he passed the sleepy, semi-blind watchman, he didn’t announce himself, and watched with mean pleasure how the poor old man bustled about in his glass kennel.


Let him 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 cracked opened. 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.


Would 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 happily.


Avdeyev paused, visualizing how Scarabich would 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 me, Stepanovich,” 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 less irksome. 


He really 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, the only 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 and then 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 [1]…” 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 hundred bucks.”


“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 editor’s letters.


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 madness had 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[2], had been in the shop for the third month in a row, and it was embarrassing to use Avdeyev’s Lada[3] or the rusted-out Moskowich[4] of Accountant Bubentsov.


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 there personally in a week, have a look around, and book the rooms.


Proskurnya’s declaration 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 between his 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 hall.


 


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 [5]. 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, Avdeyev 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 few sickly 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. Single-storey 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 Avdeyev’s car, 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 tighter and 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 gear, and 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.


Maybe I am losing it, thought Avdeyev. He smiled in as friendly a way as possible and addressed the man: “Excuse me, sir... Can you help me?”


The man glanced at him and grinned, his mouth 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 pulled away 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 him.


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 and...


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 eyes.


“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.


Is that so? 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 car.


The road led to a spacious asphalt overlook. 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, breathing in 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.


When 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.


Then 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.


We 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’.


To crave graven. Avdeyev grinned stupidly, 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 lowered itself 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 abandoned.


Damn 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. There was 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 story.


“Olium’s rats devour babies in 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 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 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?”


“Actually, I—”


“For the Poles…lodgings…yes,” said the man in a mechanical tone.


 


Continued in Part 2


 


[1] The City Administration in Ukraine


[2][4] Old Soviet car models


[5] Project 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, DENIS!




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