Safe Haven, Part
By Denis Bushlatov
An all-expenses-paid outing into terror
The stocky clerk emerged from behind the shabby reception desk and
offered Avdeyev his plump hand. Avdeyev, who wished he’d never touched the
lobby literature, let alone the man’s hand, reddened in embarrassment.
“Lampreyin, Anton Pavlovich—almost like Chekhov, but...you
know...Lampreyin. Well, you understand.”
“Avdeyev, Vladimir Stepanovich.” Why
does the boss think his Polish colleagues would tolerate this dump? Trying
not to show his dismay, the writer shook Lampreyin’s outstretched hand, “but
how did you...”
“It has already been done, Vladimir Stepanovich!” Lampreyin began waving
his hands. “Your employer, Proskurnya, sent for a reservation a week ago, and
made a credit card payment.”
“Reservation?” Avdeyev, as a lowly minion, should have felt honored, but
felt queasy. “Excuse me, but...”
“That’s what he said, our Proskurnya,” blurted Lampreyin, “a week past!
By phone! ‘If my colleague has any questions, help him out with 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...” objected Avdeyev.
“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 and dandruff
powdered 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
“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, saying, “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, activated his phone and, selecting his
chief editor from ‘Contacts’, pressed the ‘Call’ button. The phone was silent.
There was neither the conventional sound of connection, nor a polite operator,
nor short beeps. In the buzzing silence, Avdeyev thought he heard 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, land-line.” For some reason
he suddenly added, “I’ll pay for the call.”
Lampreyin snickered unpleasantly. “It’s been broken for about two months
now. Don’t even think about it. I can see that you’re weary of travelling. Let
me get you some brandy.” He winked lecherously, “Perhaps then life will shine
in new colors!”
Growing chatty, he took Avdeyev by the elbow and pulled him to a
staircase. “Let me tell you what we are going to do: we’ll 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. Do not disdain a
piece of this…a piece of that and, in the meanwhile, I’ll warm us some
tumblers, slice a lemon...so we can, you know, like back in good times!”
Avdeyev, stupefied, listened to Lampreyin’s blabbering, only partially
catching the meaning of phrases. He couldn’t help but feel surrounded by surreality.
To top it all off, there was some innate inaccuracy in Lampreyin’s words, a
small detail that did not quite fit into the overall picture. He tried to focus
on it, but to accomplish that he had to stop. Lampreyin, clasping his hand, was
not about to slow down.
“Hold on!” Avdeyev collected himself and pulled out his hand. “Listen to
Lampreyin stopped and turned to Avdeyev with a look of a real
astonishment and even a touch of regret on his face. He raised one eyebrow, and
imploringly leaned his body towards Avdeyev.
“I do not think that our clients will appreciate this...place,” muttered
Avdeyev trying to look over and to the left of Lampreyin. “It is…in a sense…dusty,
and…oh, yes… He heard his voice, as if from a distance, rise up to a near-shriek.
“Those odd, almost obscene magazines in your lobby—just what are they about?”
Lampreyin took a few small chicken steps, quickly covering the distance
between them, and whispered, “They’re not important, Vladimir Stepanovich. Don’t
mind them. We’ll clean up everything…and besides, your chief HIMSELF,
PERSONALLY.... Just look at the rooms. The hall dust is nothing we can’t fix
with mops. You know, oh-so-much, how we desire to bring it up to your
standards.” He shook his clenched fists over his head and unexpectedly dropped
down to his knees in front of Avdeyev.
“I beg you!” he wailed, clutching Avdeyev’s legs. “I have CHILDREN to
Avdeyev moaned in confusion and tried to disengage, to no avail:
Lampreyin held on like a leech.
“Don’t ruin me!” Lampreyin whimpered.
“All right, get up. Get up, damn it. 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 look at your rooms. Really, what nonsense.”
“Exactly!” Lampreyin leapt to his feet, dusted off his wrinkled trousers,
and smiled broadly. “Right on the money, Vladimir Stepanovich! Our whole life
is complete nonsense. All those magazines? Forget about them. They’re just products
of an amateur craft workshop!” He gave a contemptuous hand wave in an
indefinite direction and waddled up the stairs.
Avdeyev followed him, automatically noting the abandoned condition of the
whole flight of stairs—unwashed steps, dirty cobwebs in the corners, peeling and
dirty pink paint on the walls.
What am I doing here? He was
really bothered by the
mutilated magazines on the table and the little inaccuracy in Lampreyin’s words
which he could not quite grasp. It doesn’t
matter. Whatever! It makes things even more interesting. Having decided to
accept these events as a fun adventure, he experienced a considerable relief.
“To the brim?” he heard. He stared at Lampreyin.
“I say, do you want your brandy glass filled to the brim?”
“Well...no, nothing at all. I’m driving.” Avdeyev forced the words out,
glancing back. Thinking about it, how had they already reached the second floor?
The stairs led up into the center of a narrow dark hallway, on both sides of
which there were numerous doors. There was a lingering odor of rotten meat.
“Here we are! Please, follow me.” Lampreyin swayed right, making inviting
Avdeyev followed him obediently, trying not to breathe. It seemed that
the entire floor had gone dead quiet. In the echoing silence Avdeyev could hear
his own heart beating and the noisy wheezing of Lampreyin.
“You won’t regret it, Vladimir Stepanovich, believe me,” continued his
guide, “This hotel is like a ‘Hilton’! In fact, it is a notch above! Well, here
They stopped in front of a narrow door, roller-painted brown. Right in
its center, ‘Lux’ was handwritten in black marker.
“Luxation!” shrieked Lampreyin. With a theatrical gesture, he fished out
a heavy key from his back pocket and inserted it into the keyhole. The tight
lock, creaking, had to be forced open. Obviously, the door hadn’t been opened
for a long time.
“We’re going to heat up the sauna, of course. And why not, for
distinguished guests?” rasped Lampreyin amiably, while wrestling with the
Finally, the door opened with an infernal screech. A carrion stench rolled
out of the suite. Lampreyin, like a snake, darted into the doorway, fumbled in
the darkness for a few seconds, clicked on a light switch, and the room filled
with a yellow light.
“Ta-da!!!” yelled Lampreyin. “Welcome to our humble abode, Vladimir
Avdeyev, in a state of deep shock, slowly, on rubber feet, walked through
a small doorway and found himself in the room, in the corner of which was a
sofa with a caved-in back. Two torn tuffets lay nearby. In the opposite corner,
a huge black-and-white television, of domestic manufacture, was standing on a once-polished,
In the center of the room was a large rectangular table on four long,
thin legs. On the table was a bulging decanter, half full of greenish liquid. A
turned-over glass was collecting dust near the decanter. There were also two
chairs by the table—a tattered faux-leather desk chair and a wooden one without
any upholstery. A swear word in large letters was scratched into the back of
the wooden one. The poison-yellow wallpaper was ornamented with small pink
flowers. The ceiling with rusty stains was scary.
But the most shocking of all was a huge picture hanging to his left. On a
fly-specked canvas was portrayed a naked and tortured old man, sitting on a
chair. His right leg was tied to a leg of the chair, and he was stretching out
the left one, cut off at the knee. Around him, standing hand in hand and
smiling affably, were obese and rosy-cheeked babies, each one twice the size of
the old man.
Trying not to show his emotions, Avdeyev turned around and slowly walked
out of the suite.
Cheerful Lampreyin was awaiting him in the hallway. Behind him, Avdeyev
saw a large man with a fleshy, cruel face in a chef’s hat.
“So, what do you think?” yelped Lampreyin. “First class? Just like in
Avdeyev began moving backwards. I
have to say something, he thought feverishly, to put his mind at ease, and
then, run out—to the car, to the police, to the hospital, and to hell away from
A phone rang somewhere far away.
Suddenly, he got it. Before he had time to pull himself together, the
words started flying right out of his mouth.
“The phone!” he gasped, backing away faster. “You said it doesn’t work. A
cell doesn’t receive any signals, right?”
Lampreyin and his sinister companion remained motionless. The distance
between them and Avdeyev decreased bit by bit.
“Of course, Vladimir Stepanovich, that’s what I said,” conceded the
receptionist. “Do my words give you any reason for doubt?”
“Of course not!” Now Avdeyev was almost running backwards, “But, pray
tell me, how could Proskurnya have called you a week ago?
Lampreyin shrugged. “That’s true—how? Hell knows. However, allow me to
explain. You see, your chief editor is not Proskurnya, but Proshrgrnragrnya, and
you ought to listen to the true semantics of
words, Vladimir Offeringovich! The
receptionist stepped aside and his quiet companion rushed forward, moving with
inhumanly fast leaps from shadow to shadow.
Avdeyev squealed, turned around, and dashed for the stairs at full speed.
He’d almost made it when a huge paw grabbed him by the hair and tore him away
from the ground, like a puppy.
“Don’t kill him, Alexey!” heard he, writhing in the air.
With a grunt, the cook threw him headfirst against the wall.
Avdeyev heard a loud crack, and then someone turned off the lights.
Self-realization dawned out of the darkness. He existed. He breathed. He
felt pain and fear. He heard a low growl of voices, and ringing, metallic
clanging…and crunching. He was impaired, yet still felt his naked body—crippled,
broken, and wet.
He knew he was dying.
Avdeyev tried to move his arms, but they seemed to be glued to a
surface. The effort caused severe pain in his forearms. He screamed. Nothing
escaped his throat, save a hoarse croak. Losing all control, he thrashed like a
man possessed, and felt his torso lift off the rough, wet surface. But his arms
stayed in place.
They tied me down, was his first
conscious thought. Lampreyin...and that
cook-thing tied me down, beat me, and... And what?
Sounds around him harmonized into a hubbub of joyous voices, laughter,
clinking wineglasses, and what sounded like a clatter of forks on plates. He
tried to open his eyelids. They opened with difficulty…and then immediately
closed from the glare. He lay still, and slowly opened his gummy eyes to stare
in horror and disbelief at what was only a few meters away from him.
After a while he realized that abhorrent entwinement of claws and
tentacles was only a lamp, a clever metallic construction. He was looking up at
a low stone ceiling at the center of which was a blinding, profane chandelier.
Avdeyev instinctively tried to cover his eyes and again failed to lift
his arms up. He turned his head slowly.
And then he saw them.
He was lying on a long wooden table, stretched out upon the boards. The
monsters stood right above him. They were much taller than human beings—fat,
slick, anthropomorphic creatures resembling gigantic babies. Their toothy
smiles were so wide that it seemed their faces were cut in half. They were
There were some people next to them. In the bright light of the horrible
chandelier, Avdeyev recognized Lampreyin and the gorilla-like cook, who was
standing in a corner, holding a cleaver. And a bit further... No, it was a mistake,
it couldn’t be!
But it could. Standing to the left of the creatures was his boss, the
chief editor of Marine Messenger,
in a full suit and tie, arms
akimbo—Leonid Petrovich Proskurnya himself.
From behind his back peered Mikhael Nevadovich Scarabich, proofreader (and
Avdeyev felt faint. Moaning, he lunged again, screaming in pain and,
looking down, saw himself—naked and nailed to the table with large bolts.
“Would you look at that, our Offeringovich is awake!” squeaked Lampreyin,
bowing subserviently. “All ready for our Distinguished Guests!”
“Oh, goody, goody...” gabbled one of the creatures. It licked its lips,
revealing a fat rotten tongue, and stared at Avdeyev with dull fish eyes.
“Did he...come by himssself?” rustled the second monster.
“Sure... I mean, yes he did,”
reported Lampreyin. “We only showed him the way, direction if you will, but he
inspected the room by himself, and was presented with the likeness of the Young
Ones, just like he was supposed to have been.” He wiped his forehead.
“I would like to add,” added Scarabich, jumpy with anticipation, “that
our Food here was awarded two diplomas, a PhD in Philology, and is my friend!”
He sobbed theatrically and wiped his nose. Proskurnya shushed him and Scarabich
stared at the floor.
“Comrades!” The chief editor saluted with his right hand. “On this
glorious day, on behalf of the Zealots of True Faith Consortium, as well as the
editorial board of the ‘Marine Messenger’, I would like to express my deepest
gratitude to our friends, patrons, and sponsors from the great Empire of Rats,
thank them for their tolerance of our mistakes, their patience and infinite
kindness, generosity and understanding. We, Olium’s Children, vermin at the
feet of the Abiding, your slaves and followers, praise you!” He fell to his
knees in front of the monsters.
“Welcome to our table, gentlemen, and bon appétit!” Lampreyin bowed
Wait a minute! squeaked Avdeyev’s
voice, but the Poles... His practical
side overrode it with Devil take them…and
the Black Sea Fleet! They’re about to
slaughter me like a sheep! He whimpered and collapsed. It is already over.
“GOOOOD!!! VERY GOOOOD!!!” roared the first monster. He snorted and, with
one unnatural movement, wormed over to the table. His fat arms gripped Avdeyev’s
left hand and easily ripped it off with a sickening crunch. Then he opened his
huge black mouth, sent the terrible trophy into the nauseating darkness, and
began chewing with gusto, loudly crunching the bones.
Avdeyev felt an unbearable, animal pain. He opened his mouth to scream, just
as the second monster slithered up beside him, took him by his handsome jaw and
twisted it off, along with a strip of neck-skin.
“In the name of brotherly cooperation between the underground City of
Olium and the Lords of Rats!” roared the creature, waving the jaw.
“And the eternal prosperity of our nations!” replied Proskurnya in sync.
The black world, bleak and dismal, was fading into the bloody mist around
Avdeyev. He was cold, perceived only indirectly, as if all of this wasn’t
really happening to him. He knew that in a moment he’d be dead, bleed out
before those abominable creatures could devour his entire body, but it didn’t
seem important to him now.
Waves of death were gently rocking him. He shuddered only once, sobbed…and
let go, lulled by the waters of the final quiet safe haven.
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!