Suren Ter-Avakian


    Initiation into Shadow







Georgy (Zhora), a man about thirty five years old

Roman (Roma), friend of Georgy, about the same age

Sergey (Seryozha), a friend of Georgy, about the same age

Nikolai Fyodorovich , retired


(From the other world)


Valentina (Valya) a middle-aged woman ­

Stepan (Styopa), about 40 years old

The old man in the barn

The old doctor

The nurse, a middle-aged woman

Yevgeny Sergeevich (Zhenya), about 40 years old

Zot, young man

Mitrofan Matveevich, an old man

The old woman



Proposed Length 16,500 words 

  SCENE—A small bachelor's room with two windows, a sofa-bed, a table, and a television set. On the table, a partly full bottle of vodka. Opposite the table, a large mirror. The room is in semi-darkness. The tenant, Georgy, is seen lying on the sofa, fully clothed, tossing and turning. He is moaning. Vague shadows race across the wall; mysterious rustling and the sound of soft steps are heard. Suddenly we hear the hoarse voice of a woman; it seems that she is singing or wailing. Georgy wakes up with a moan and sits up, lowering his legs to the floor in a brusque movement. All the sounds stop instantly. Georgy looks around, then grabs his head with his hands and bends it toward his knees. Sounds and shadows fill the room again. Georgy slowly removes his hands and, holding his breath, looks at the dance of the shadows. At this moment the doorbell in the entrance hall rings. The semi-darkness disappears, along with all the other ghostly phenomena. Georgy walks to the door and opens it, and Roman appears on the threshold.

  RomanHi! (He enters, examining Georgy curiously.)

  Georgy—It's you... It's about time. Come in, come in.

  Roman—So how's it going? Are you sick?

  Georgy—Something's wrong with me, I guess...

  Roman—What's that you're mumbling?

  Georgy—(in a stifled voice) what I mean is... My head is splitting. I suppose I've got a cold. (He attempts to cough.)

  Roman—Hmm, that's right... The weather is freezing... So, why did you call? Anything urgent? Come on, tell me!

  Georgy—Hmmm. So, have you changed your mind?

  Roman—About what? Your neighbor, you mean? Don't worry, I'm still in. I said then your idea was a stroke of genius, remember?... I still can't get over it!

  Georgy(with a broad smile and animation in his voice) Nothing to it! You might have come up with the same idea if you'd spent two weeks busting your brains... My head felt ready to burst open. I couldn't sit still after I heard he was selling out. Yes, indeed selling his apartment and car -- so he can buy a house and land. He wants to relax in the fresh country air? We'll show that son of bitch some rest and recreation. You know, I've hated him since I was a kid.

  Roman—He lives in your building?

  Georgy—Sure. Haven't you seen him around? Two flights above me, on the fifth floor. I've been seeing that creep almost every day for the last twenty years. I'm sure it was him that informed on my father back then! And when Dad was arrested, that rat tried to act like he was on our side, always coming by to visit my mother! He even arranged to have our apartment repaired.

  Roman—But maybe he wasn't the one who turned your old man in? How did your Mom feel about him?

  Georgy—She had no feelings toward him one way or the other. She drank herself to death... Not him, you say? Just look at his face. He's a gray bureaucratic rat, not a human being. Thanks to bastards like him, half the country ended up behind bars or barbed wire... And even if it was someone else, I say the likes of him deserve to be strangled. I'd hang them all from the lampposts!

  Roman—How much... How much money did you say he had?

  Georgy—Fifty grand! And then some. To begin with, he sold his car. Then there's his belongings and furniture. And his apartment. (He points his head toward the ceiling.)

  Roman—What's that? He already sold it?

  Georgy—Umhum. I was about to get to that that's the reason I called! The buyers came yesterday. And I know for a fact he got the money from them.

  Roman—You were saying he had two weeks...

  Georgy—I didn't know he'd sell the apartment so soon.

  Roman—So what do you think? Do we still have time to pull it off?

  Georgy—Sure. Almost everything's set up already; we can fill in the details. And nothing can possibly happen to us that's the most important thing.

  Roman—Too bad we have so little time. We could use more preparation.

  Georgy—But think of all the money that old goat is holding. If we don't make our move now, we'll never forgive ourselves. And he's a moron, I'm telling you. Who needs special preparation?

  Roman—So, fifty thousand... It's tempting... Who's he planning to buy his dream house from, did you find out?

  Georgy—That's easy. They live right here, two houses away from us. I watched him go there a few times 20 Bolton Street, apartment 6. Everybody in our building knows about the deal.

  Roman—(thoughtfully) and there's really no risk for us...

  Georgy—What risk? He's got heart trouble; he's been taken to the hospital by ambulance twice. He won't survive. And nothing can be proved; the coroner's report won't show a thing. If everything falls through, we say we were kidding around, and that's the end of that. And if it works... He has no relatives; he's been separated from his wife for ten years; he has no children. It's a sure thing. Money is scarce these days... Besides, I believe in eliminating that type of people on general principles. I'd put my soul in pawn to see a rope around his neck.

  Roman—That method wouldn't work for us.

  Georgy—(with hatred) and it's too bad! I'd give up the money, just to see him hang. Last night I had a dream about it. It was in some strange two-story house. It was so life-like... Next to the house was a barn. I walked up to it, looked inside, and saw him strung up from the ceiling, dead as a doornail. His face was twisted out of shape. And a hog, a big fat one, was gnawing at his heels...

  Roman—Anyway, what you have planned for him is worse than hanging. So, tell me why you hate him so much.

  Georgy—I don't know myself. I never could stand him. Always walking around with that bulldog look on his face. As soon as November 7 rolled around, he'd have the flag hanging from his balcony. On election days, he'd run to the polls at six in the morning, dressed in his Sunday best. He made a point of dropping by on his way out. "Greetings to you on this election day. Aren't you heading out to vote? The polls are open. And you too, you're sixteen now, a full-fledged member of Soviet society." The bastard.

  Roman—Yeah... So, now I guess, now he... What the hell, let's get down to business.

  Georgy—Right, right, we've gotten side-tracked. The first thing is to get those people with a house for sale to change their mind about selling to him.

  Roman—Not so easy to arrange. But maybe... At least we have the address.

  Georgy—Right. We'll have to make a little trip over there. They've seen plenty of potential buyers, so our visit won't be a big surprise. We say we want to buy the house, and then offer two thousand more than he did. Come to think of it, can you go alone? That'll work better, I think.

  Roman—All right... So, what do you think, maybe I should I leave your telephone number with them?

  Georgy—What for?

  Roman—So your neighbor can contact you. Hopefully they'll agree to sell me the house, since I'm paying more. But then they'll have to say no to your neighbor. I'll put it to them this way to make it easier for you to say no to the old fellow, I'll give you the phone number of a neighbor of his who also has a house for sale.

  Georgy—(smiling gleefully) Great idea! He'll get the number from them and walk right into our trap.

  Roman—Will he take the bait? That's what I'm wondering.

  Georgy—Who else can he turn to? He sold his apartment and furniture; he has no relatives. In other words, he has nowhere to live. I sense that. (He looks underneath the table.) You know, I actually sense it. I can sense when he's home. (He points at the ceiling.) And when he's not around, I sense that, too. ... I can practically hear him breathing... (In excitement, Georgy stands up and walks to the middle of the room.) There, do you hear? He's home now, two floors up. I feel his presence. I even know when he's planning to hand over the money for the house. (He opens his eyes wide.) Today! We'd better get moving. Do you hear me?!

  Roman—Whoah there, cool down! Why are you getting all heated up?

  Georgy—Who, me? (He tries to smile.) Who said I was excited? I'm calm, as calm as can be. (He quickly walks toward Roman and sits opposite him. Smiling, wild-eyed, he stares into Roman's eyes.) What are you looking at me like that for? Everything's all right. (He laughs.)

  Roman—Everything's all right... (He averts his eyes.)

  Georgy—Of course. (He stands up and starts pacing the floor.) It's just this pain in my temples from time to time.

  Roman—Take some analgesic, it helps.

  Georgy—(absently) Analgesic... My ears are buzzing. Some kind of sounds. (He jumps to the sofa-bed, glances underneath it, and pulls out a trumpet.) It's because he's feeling fine... Yes, he's feeling good again now... There a connection between us. When he feels good, I feel bad. (Angrily) He probably just    lay     down to get some rest, and now I have to suffer! (He tries to blow into the trumpet.)

  Roman—What, are you going to play? Don't aggravate the neighbors. The last thing we need is attention.

  Georgy—What about the neighbors?... No one knows that the trumpet is mine. (lowering his voice.) It's like feedback. I hear him, so let him hear me. You understand? He must hear me! Now, right now... (He approaches the ventilation shaft in the kitchen, removes the grate, slips the bell of the trumpet inside, and blows a note that sounds like the neighing of a horse. The unexpected noise causes Roman to slip off of his chair.)

  Roman—Are you out of mind or what? The neighbors will be on top of us in a minute.

  Georgy—(gleefully) But you see, everyone in the building hears the same thing, and no one can figure out where it comes from. The old ladies here think it's the house spirit.

  Roman—Oh, yeah?

  Georgy—There we go, the buzzing in my ears has gone down. (He sits down.)

  Roman—Well, I'll get going now. We don't want him to get there before me. (He slaps Georgy on the knee.)

  Georgy—Yeah, you get going, and I'll work on the mask.

  Roman—Maybe a store-bought mask would work better?

  Georgy—Where would you buy a mask now? There's nothing to it. I'll just paste paper on my face till I get the right consistency. We made 'em that way in grade school.

  Roman—(after examining Georgy's face.) How did you bang your face up like that?


  Roman—Right here. (He points at Georgy's forehead.)

  Georgy—(feeling his forehead with his hand.) Yeah, there's a lump here... It hurts... I don't know... I can't remember...

  Roman—So long. (He leaves.)

  Georgy is alone in the room, stroking his forehead and pacing back and forth.

  Georgy—Damn! I don't remember, I can't remember a damn thing... (He enters the kitchen, brings back a small pan of water, and places it on the table in front of the mirror. He takes a pile of white paper and some paste, and begins frantically tearing the paper to shreds.) That buzzing again! (through his teeth) The hell with it, it'll all be over soon. (Dampening the shreds of paper in the water, he begins pasting them on his face. Suddenly he freezes. Then, turning sharply, in a horrendous voice) Whaa? Who's there? I've got a feeling I'm not alone here. (He glances under the table, then under the sofa-bed. Trying to control his nerves, he waves his arm.) Things like that happen, I guess; they can happen to anyone. I was just hearing things. It must come from this buzzing in my ears. It's there still. (continuing to paste paper onto his face) And it won't go away. Ah, the hell with it, let my ears buzz all they want. (Chuckling, he looks behind him.)

  The room is growing dark. In the mirror there appears the reflection of the white mask, above which long, unkempt braids float. Georgy jumps away to one side and, emitting a scream that resembles a moan, tears the still-wet mask off of his face. The vision that had appeared in the mirror disappears. Suddenly the mirror breaks off of the wall and shatters. At a loss, Georgy stands in the middle of the room. At this point the doorbell rings. Getting a grip on himself, Georgy goes to open the door. Roman enters. He looks with surprise at Georgy, whose face still has some pieces of paper pasted to it.

  Roman—What's up? Everything OK? (He shakes snow off his boots and takes off his overcoat.)

  Georgy says something unintelligible and gathers what remains of the mask from the floor. Walking into the room from the entrance hall, Roman notices the pieces of the shattered mirror.

  Roman—It's freezing out there. (rubbing his hands together) What's this, did you break something? A mirror...

  Georgy—It f-f-fell off the wall... I must have brushed against it... I put the mask together.

  Roman—So quick? Well, well, well.

  Georgy—It's still a bit damp. It needs some work... How did it go with you?

  Roman—How did it go? (He laughs) It's a done deal!

  Georgy—(animated) they agreed?

  Roman—What could they say? The way people are these days, they'd sell out their best friend. As soon as I said I'd pay two thousand more, they practically started licking my boots. What nice people! I love people like that. Anyway, the bottom line is that they're going to say no to the old fellow... I had to leave a deposit, so they'd believe me... Remember, you're paying half of that.

  Georgy—No problem... Did you leave my phone number?

  Roman—Sure, they wrote it down. You should be getting a call any time now. They told me the old man would be seeing them later today. Just like you said.

  Georgy—You thought I was joking, but I really do sense him.

  Roman—Whatever you say... Well, let's get ready for the next step. You already found the place, right?

  Georgy—You bet! Everything is set up. Sergey has what we need, and he promised to help. You know Sergey?

  Roman—The goofy one?

  Georgy—Yeah, that one. He has a little house and a garden... or a dacha, you could call it. He promised me I could use it for two days.

  Roman—Go ahead and call him!

  Georgy dials the number.

  Roman—I know that Seryozha. A real wimp. Once I hit him in the neck. That was long ago, about fifteen years... Maybe longer. He cried, I remember that.

  Georgy—Sergey, hi there! This is Zhora. I'm calling about... You remember what we were talking about. What do you mean you can't?! Wait a second, you promised... (Georgy looks confusedly at Roman.) Listen, old buddy, that's no way to be... Now hold on there... What's this about your tea service? What?

  Roman—Give me the phone. (He takes the receiver.) Seryozha! Hi! It's not important who I am. What are you acting stupid for? What did you promise my friend? You guys had an agreement? Answer my question did you have an agreement or not? Well, then you can't let him down, can you? You get the picture? (He hands the receiver to Georgy.) Here.

  Georgy—Hello, Sergey... Now don't get excited, everything'll be all right... Like I told you, just two days. We'll use the house and be right back in town. It's one of those things, you understand, a private celebration... Hey, we know how to be neat... It's.., it's a friend of mine. You'll be able to drop by? I'll be alone. So, bring the keys. How many sets do you have? Two. So, bring both. And make it quick. (He hangs up.) Whooh!

  Roman—I told you he was a wimp.

  Georgy—Well that's the end of that. The rest will be a breeze.

  Roman—Don't celebrate yet... Your neighbor, what's his name?

  Georgy—Nikolai Fyodorovich.

  Roman—So he really has no place to go, you're sure of that?

  Georgy—Like I told you, he has nobody. He's all alone in the world.

  Roman—He should be eliminated, you know. What right does someone so stupid have to live in this world; he didn't even leave a deposit on the other house.

  Georgy enters the kitchen and looks into the refrigerator.

  Georgy—Hey, there's no vodka. We'll be needing some of that. And a capsule of adrenaline.

  Roman—Adrenaline? What for?

  Georgy—It stimulates the action of the heart.

  Roman—Won't that be overdoing it? Won't he die too soon?

  Georgy—Naw. I looked into it -- carefully, of course. He'll feel weak, but he won't die. Then later, we'll give him a bit more, to make sure... (He smiles.)

  Roman—(looking at his watch) Anyway, I'm going out to buy some vodka... About the adrenaline. I know someone who works at a clinic, I'll get some. Don't play any games with this Sergey. Just get the key and the address and get rid of him. If he starts having second thoughts, tell him that's a good way for him to get his ass kicked.

  Georgy—I'll take care of him quickly.

  Roman—(staring at Georgy) You do that. (He exits.)

Georgy is examining the mask, which has dried. He attaches a rubber band to the back; then puts the mask on and takes it off.

  Georgy—It's ready. Soon the keys will be here. (rubbing his hands) A bit of vodka, a bit of adrenaline... We've got him, we've got him... (He screams, facing the ceiling.) We've got you! You hear? We've got you. You won't escape now... (He grabs his head.) There's that buzzing again! Ooohh... All right then. (He yells toward the ceiling.) Go ahead and buzz, go ahead... (Seizes his head again.) Oohh. I can't take it anymore. Now... Now... I'll show you. (He grabs the trumpet and blows into the ventilation grate, as before.) There... It's better now. There... (He looks around the room .and looks at his watch.) What time is it? Three? Fine, we'll wait... (He turns on the television. Two people appear on the screen, a man and a woman.)

  The man—It's getting hot, couldn't we go more slowly?

  The woman—We must hurry.

  The man—Do you know the way well?

  The woman—Yes. He took us there several times himself. (From the television comes a vague noise the barking of dogs, the wailing of the wind.)

  Georgy—What nonsense! (He changes the channel. The picture flickers, but doesn't change.) I don't get it... (He changes the channel again.) Is it broken, or what? What's up, the same show on all channels. Impossible. No, it must be broken. (He beats on the top.) Take that, you son of a bitch. (He sits down on the chair. The two on the screen walk up to a brick wall. Georgy grabs his head with his hands and emits a sound somewhere between singing and moaning)

  The woman—Well, we're almost there now.

  Georgy—What? (Startled, he removes his hands from his head.)

  The man—How impressive. What do we do now? The woman Just be patient.

  Georgy—What a crazy show...

  The man—We can't do a thing by ourselves. I don't have enough strength, you can forget about that.

  The woman—You don't have enough strength for anything.

  Georgy—What's wrong with my head? (He breathes heavily.) I'm in a fog...

  The man—I don't understand, did you bring me along to ruin my day? Why didn't you invite your old flame, he has enough strength for everything...

  The woman—Lay off, I don't have anyone, how many times do I have to tell you?

  The man—Don't bother...

  The woman—Wait a second... Help is on the way... Don't you sense it?

  The man—You think he's the right one?

  The woman—Why not? He's so nice, so full of passion...

  The man—Oh no, not another one...

  The woman—Oh, your one-track mind again! You know what I mean... (She speaks to one side.) Do you hear us? Put your hand to the screen.

  Georgy—How weird. Is someone talking to me? (He rubs his face with the palms of his hands, looks around.) And why do I feel so weak?

  The woman—Put your hand to the screen.

  Georgy—What for? (He answers like a machine, and rolls himself into a ball.) I must be hallucinating...

  The woman—(speaking to the man) Help me out.

  The man—(in a soft, but insistent voice) Hey, fellow, stretch your hand out to the screen.

  Georgy—(in a weak voice, searchingly) Whaaa? (His hand rises against his will and stretches toward the screen.) What am I doing? (His finger touches the screen and a brick falls off of the wall.) How did that happen? (Out of curiosity he pokes the screen again and other bricks fall out, leaving a hole in the wall. The two on the screen enter the passage.)

  Georgy—Ha! It's the damnedest thing! Were those two talking to me? That's crazy!

  Georgy appears to be drawn physically to the screen. He sits down, and stares at it.

  Georgy—What's this, some kind of hocus pocus? Where are those two people?

  The television set emits the sound of heavy, resounding steps.

  The woman—(hissing with irritation) Get out of my way, you keep stepping on my feet.

  The man—I'm sorry, I can't see a thing.

  The woman—That's it, we're there. (Loud sounds are heard a heavy lock opening, an iron door screeching.) So pull! Don't you at least have the strength for that?

  The man—There you go again!

  The screen lights up and on it we see a room. The two enter it.

  Georgy—(fearfully) Ahhh... They're back!...

  The woman—I always like appearing here.

  The man—What, have you been in his apartment before?

  The woman—I don't know if you're an idiot or you're just trying to wear out my patience. I mean here, on this side...

  The man—Hmmm... The air is pleasant here...

  The woman—The air... Yes, it's the air I love. It's filled with energy. I can feel it with my entire body. A visit here is enough to make me several years younger.

  The man—Well, then, he deserves our gratitude. Incidentally, are you sure he'll be accepted?

  The woman—Who can ever be a hundred percent sure? But I like him. (The man says nothing, but emits an involuntary "hmmm.") That's all I can say. I sensed him immediately, and he pulled me to this side right away. It was only for a second or two, but he made an astonishing impression. You know how rare that is! Sometimes it takes months to tune a person in... I felt like howling with joy, and that's just what I did. (She chuckles.)

  In the kitchen the trumpet loudly clatters.

  Georgy—(shaking) Damn! That lousy trumpet.

  The man—Did you hear? What sound was that?

  The woman—I don't know, but it's somewhere nearby.

  Georgy—What's this, a coincidence? (Tensing up, he stretches his neck toward the screen.) Hey, that room is my bedroom.

  The woman—I think he's guessed.

  The man—It's about time. Frankly, I don't know what you saw in him.

Georgy attempts, unsuccessfully, to rise from his chair. In fear, he looks behind himself, at the open door of the bedroom, but sees no one. Meanwhile the two enter the living room, where Georgy is sitting. Their appearance has changed. Now they look horrifying.

  The man—Where is he? Still here? Maybe he ran to the kitchen? The woman I don't know... No, he's here! Block the exit.

  The man blocks the door, stretching out his arms. The woman, her arms similarly stretched out, walks around the room.

  The woman—Here! (pointing to the chair) That's it, he won't escape now!

  The man moves away from the door and toward Georgy. The woman approaches Georgy from behind, and above his head she joins her hands, which emit a sparkling blue light. Georgy yells in pain and horror. His eyes go dark and he loses consciousness. Darkness, then a gradual return of the light. On the floor, next to an overturned chair, lies Georgy. He is alone in the room. Coming to his senses, he slowly stands up.

  Georgy—What was it? Did I fall asleep?

  In the entrance hall the doorbell rings. Georgy jumps, startled. He moans, covering his face with his hands.

  Georgy—Oohh... What is this with my head?! (The bell rings again. Georgy goes to open the door. At the thresholds stands Sergey.)


  Georgy—(confused) Hi.

  Sergey—Are you alone?

  Georgy—Yeah... Come in...

  Sergey—I won't have to stay long, just a minute.

  Georgy—(stepping to one side) For a minute? (at a loss) Hold on... Aha! So you're here with the keys! For some reason

  I didn't catch on at first. Aah... So, did you bring them?

  Sergey—Of course... I did want to explain something to you, you understand... (He looks around the room curiously.) The house, how can I put this..? Well, it's not exactly mine, you see... I mean, yes, it is mine, but it just came into our hands a few months ago, from my wife's parents... (He notices the mask.) What's that?

  Georgy—Oh, that's nothing. (He picks up the mask and puts it into a drawer in the bedside table.) Have a seat. (He nudges Sergey toward the chair.)

  Sergey—I'll just stay a minute. I've got to get going... Say, what broke here?

  Georgy—Listen, don't waste my time. Did you bring the keys? Give them to me.

  Sergey—Oh, I will. (He puts his hand into his pocket.) You see, it's just that you have to understand... How can I put this..? I'm responsible.., and besides, I really can't take a decision like this by myself...

  Georgy—You're not making any sense, my friend. Did you bring the keys or not?

  Sergey—I brought the keys, I brought them... It's just that... There's some genuine crystal in the living room.., and in the kitchen...

  Georgy—Listen here, enough of this, all right? I already told you there's just going to be three or four of us in the house. We'll be quiet. One night-there -- and back to town. We won't touch a thing in the house, and I'll pay you in advance the amount we agreed upon. Here you are. (He takes a number of bills from the drawer, counts them, and hands them to Sergey.)

  Sergey—Hold on, I'm not arguing about the money...

  Georgy—(pushing the money into his face) Take it, I'm telling you! And hand over the keys!

  Sergey—(taking a step backwards) What are you screaming for? What I want to know is why you guys need to meet out there, when four people could easily gather here, in your apartment. You have two rooms, all the comforts of home. The house doesn't even have a toilet or running water yet.

  Georgy—You know, you really get on my nerves. What business is it of yours? We want to spend some time in the country, in the great outdoors.

  Sergey—The great outdoors... It's so cold now... Twenty below at least...

  Georgy—Listen here, are you going to give me those keys or not?! This is the last time I'm going to ask nicely.

  Sergey—(He sighs deeply.) I will, I will. Why are you getting so upset? I want to know some details...

  Georgy—In a few minutes you'll learn all the details you want, when Ro.., my pal drops by. He'll explain everything. Go ahead and have a seat, wait for him.

  Sergey—No, no, I can only stay a minute... (He sighs again.) All right then, if you don't want to tell me anything... Here, take the keys. (He takes them from his pocket with a pained expression, but holds them in his hands instead of handing them over.)

  Georgy—Well, don't just stand there, give 'em to me! Here's the money. (He shoves the money into Sergey's hands and pulls the keys away from him.) Hey, where's the second set? What's this, you only brought one set?

  Sergey—What do you need two for? And what'll happen if you lose 'em all?

  Georgy—(In a rage, he rolls his eyes.) We're not going to lose anything! Hand 'em over!

  Sergey—(He reluctantly digs out the second set.) No, I don't see why. What do you need another set for?

  Georgy—What difference does it make to you? I need them, you see? (He grabs the keys from Sergey's hands.) Give me the address again, I've forgotten it completely. And the phone number.

  Sergey—Oh... You drive through to the very end of the village, and you'll see it it's the last house on the right-hand side. Here's the phone number. (He takes out a slip of paper.) The small key is for the gate, the two large ones are for the front door.

  Georgy—Let me get this straight. The last house on the right.., on the right?

  Sergey—On the right, yes.

  Georgy—Right... We're on the right road! (He becomes thoughtful.)

  Sergey—(hesitantly, undecided) All right then... I'll be on my way...

  Georgy—Go ahead.

  Sergey—I guess I'll get going, then.

  Georgy—So get going already. Thanks for the keys. Now go.

  Sergey—(He slowly walks to the door.) So, it'll just be for two days, right? I'll be by the day after tomorrow.

  Georgy—Sure, sure... You were leaving, right?

  Sergey—Yes, I'm on my way... So long, then... (Sighing, he exits.)

  Georgy—Whooohhh... What a twerp! (He tosses the keys up in the air.) So far, so good. That's half the job taken care of already. Now all I need is for him to call... But he will! Time to pack!

  He goes into the bedroom, opens a cupboard, and takes out some clothes. He separates out what he needs and puts it into a large plastic shopping bag, which he zips up and leans on the cupboard. He returns to the living room.

  Georgy—Owwww, my aching head! The mask... The mask... Where the hell did I leave it? Ahh, here it is. (He pulls it out of a drawer in the bedside table; meanwhile, he looks under the table. Suddenly he stops and sits on the chair.) Wait a second... What's happening? Am I losing my mind? (He grasps his head with his arms.) Didn't something happen to me right here, in this room? Something terrible... Someone was here! Before Sergey... But that's all I can remember! (He stands up and dully examines the mask.) My head feels like it has nails driven into it.

  He walks up to the bag and shoves the mask in. At this moment the front door to his apartment screeches.

  Georgy—What's that? Was the door left open? I thought I locked it... (Scared, he looks out into the corridor of the apartment building.) Who's there? (He tiptoes to his door.) No one...

  He moves to close the door, when suddenly the beating of a heart is heard. The sound, soft at first, grows louder and louder. Georgy freezes in his tracks. The sound is originating somewhere around his building. To the sound of the heart are added the sound of a man wheezing and taking short steps.

  Georgy—(fearfully) What's that? What's that sound?

  The sound becomes louder with each heartbeat. Georgy closes the door, which requires a great effort, as though the door were made of lead, and leans his back against. Meanwhile, the sounds continue unabated and the door vibrates to the rhythm of the heartbeats. Georgy grabs his head with his hands and covers his ears with the palms of his hands.

  Georgy—What's that? Oohhhh... Don't any of the neighbors hear it? (The steps approach.) Who's there? Someone's coming... (trying to force himself to be calm) It's probably someone walking by... He shouldn't know that I hear him... Of course! Except that... Except that he does know that I'm standing here... Yes! He knows! I sense it. But is he walking by? He must pass by! (The steps approach, then stop right in front of Georgy's door.) What is it? He's here! He's standing outside my door! Why doesn't he go away?! No, no, I can't take it! I'll open the door! Let come what may... I can't take that sound!

  Georgy, with fingers that barely obey him, tugs at the latch and throws open the door, moaning. On the thresholds stands Nikolai Fyodorovich. He is panting and looks lost.

  Georgy—(in a hoarse whisper) Nikolai Fyodorovich!

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(at a loss for words) I came about the house for sale... (very softly) I was given your phone number...

  Georgy—(passionately, but with relief) Aahhhaa... Yes, yes... The house. We're selling it. (He laughs nervously.) Come in...

  Nikolai Fyodorovich is hesitant, undecided.

  Georgy—Excuse me... (He buttons up his shirt and smooth’s his unkempt hair.) I'm a bit under the weather... Come in, don't mind me.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich enters cautiously. He looks around the room uneasily. Georgy scurries around, trying to clean up the broken glass, then runs into the kitchen.

  Georgy—Care for some tea, Nikolai Fyodorovich?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—I suppose... Excuse me for dropping by unannounced.

  Georgy—What do you mean? We're neighbors, after all.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—I looked at the phone number and recognized it. They told me to call about a house for sale, and I recognized your number. You gave it to me once. That was... back when your mother.., was still living... Well... Anyway, I decided to come see you right away, without calling. So I wouldn't have to go up and then come back down again.

  Georgy—You did the right thing. So you want to buy a house?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Do I want to buy a house? I almost bought one... People these days... No sense of conscience, no shame! How could they do that? Stabbing me in the back that way! I had to sell everything my furniture, my car, even my apartment. So I did. It never occurred to me they wouldn't sell me the house for the price we'd agreed on... They looked like such nice, decent people...

  Georgy—Who are they?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Oh... (He waves his hand vaguely.) They live nearby.

  Georgy—So, you'd agreed on the sale of a house. And then what, they changed their mind?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—That's right! And the worst thing was that it came at the very last moment! When all I had to do was take them the money. Why, they could have at least given me fair warning. I would have delayed the sale of my apartment for a while...

  Georgy—What, did you sell your apartment, too?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—That's the thing! I did indeed! Yesterday... Any day now I have to vacate the premises... I was absolutely confident, you know? Certain! In the old days I'd have found a way to deal with them... Now there are no rules left... Anything goes! Robbery, double-crossing - anything... The times we live in!

  The bell in the entrance hall rings. Georgy goes to open the door. Roman enters.

  Roman—(cautiously, having assessed the situation) Hello.

  Georgy—Nikolai Fyodorovich, this is Roman. He's the one actually selling the house. You've probably seen him around.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—of course, I've seen you. In the courtyard here; I've run into the two of you together. Your face is familiar.

  Roman—Pleased to meet you. (Smiling, he shakes Nikolai's hand.)

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—I'm very, very pleased to make your acquaintance.

  Georgy—(melting in a smile and rubbing his hands) Well, this is just perfect... Nikolai Fyodorovich just happens to be here inquiring about the house you have up for sale.

  Roman—Oohh! That's interesting. I'll be right back and we'll talk. (He goes to the closet, pulls a bottle of vodka out of his overcoat, and places it on the table.) So you'd like to buy a house? And I've been looking for a buyer... (turning to Georgy) Zhora, do you have any food around here?

  Georgy—Right away! (He runs to the kitchen.)

  Roman follows him there, and, taking a capsule from his pocket, hands it to Georgy without saying anything. Then he takes matches, lights a cigarette, and returns to the living room.

  Roman—(offering cigarettes) Do you smoke?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—No, thank you, I quit a long time ago... So tell me what this house is like... Does it have a big lot?

  Roman—What's it like? It's a good place -- well-built, built solid. It has a nice lot, too. The whole works.

  Georgy enters with plates and tumblers.

  Georgy—So what ever gave you the idea of moving?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Well, it's hard to explain, I guess. So many reasons, everything all at once... Just take a look at what's happening all around us. Everything's crumbling... After a lifetime of working for the good of the country, sacrificing my whole life. And then... I can't bear to see… or hear any of this nonsense... I want to get away, to be closer to the earth... And there's my health... It's not so easy to climb to the fifth floor with my heart problem. And then, lately, we've been having... Haven't you heard it?

  Georgy—Have I heard what?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—You must have! It's some strange noise... Haven't you heard it? Everyone in the building has been hearing it. Like the neighing of a horse, but it can't be a horse... The old ladies that sit around and gossip say it's a spirit that lives in the house. That's nonsense, of course, but what is it? Quite inexplicable... Whatever it is, to be honest with you, it drives me up the wall to hear it.

  Roman—Hmm... Hmm...

  Georgy—(gleefully) No, I haven't heard anything like that. What, is it really that unpleasant?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—It's unpleasant all right... Highly unpleasant!

  Georgy—(with a contented smile) Would you care for some more tea?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ah... Thank you. Yes, indeed... How I would love some peace and quiet. So tell me where this house of yours is located. For me, you understand, something near town would be best.

  Georgy—That's just what my friend has, you know. A thirty-minute ride. I can honestly tell you that it's an excellent house. But you'll see for yourself. I'm not making anything on the deal, Nikolai Fyodorovich. I just want to help both of you, my two old friends. (smiling at both)

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—And how much does it cost, the house you're selling?

  Roman—The price? Well, I'm just charging the going rate. Everyone seems to be asking the same these days twenty thousand dollars...

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(knowingly) Yes, yes, of course. That's quite a bit, but I can manage it... To tell you the truth,

  I didn't expect to find anything for less. I had already agreed to pay... But the people turned out to be unreliable... Soooh... The same amount, too...

  Georgy—You should be glad the other deal fell through! Why deal with double-crossers? It's a good thing you didn't get in too deep with them! The best policy is to deal with people you know and trust -- normal, respectable folks.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—You know, I just recently realized how poorly I understand my fellow men... In the old days I never gave the matter much thought, never had any need to... I held a fairly important position... Hmmm... Of course, I dealt with people, and did what had to be done -- you can be sure of that -- and everything was always crystal clear! Everything was straightforward, easy to understand! Now I don't understand a single thing! Not one single thing!

  Roman—How true, how true, Nikolai Fyodorovich! I agree with you. People have changed. Massive social degeneration. Honor, conscience- everything bright and noble has been destroyed... No question about it... Here's my advice tell yourself the hell with other people! The hell with the lot of them! They're not worth your attention. So let's do the best thing have a little drink and everything will work out fine!

  Georgy—He's so right, Nikolai Fyodorovich. Let's each have a little glass. Everything will be fine.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(embarrassed) Oh, no, I'm sorry, but that's impossible. Health reasons, you understand.

  Roman—But there's practically nothing in there. Please accept.

  Georgy—You must, Nikolai Fyodorovich! It's merely symbolic. A toast to us all, to the deal we're about to make.

  Roman—Just fifty grams -- a therapeutic dose. (He shoves the glass into the old man's hands.)

  Georgy—To the success of your purchase!

  The two younger men force the older to clink glasses with them. The old man, extremely embarrassed, sighs.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ehhh... I guess it's just symbolic... (He attempts to swallow.)

  Georgy—No, no. Drink to the bottom. What kind of drinking is that?

  The old man frowns and tries to drink more.

  Roman—Way to go, old feller! You know, I respect someone with a little gray around the temples who can still bend the elbow.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ohhh... It's been so long. But I feel fine, it all went down the right tube.

  Georgy—Everything will go down the right tube. I promise. Everything'll be copacetic.

  Roman—Everything'll be A OK. (He pats the old man on the shoulder.)

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(looking at Georgy) I should have a look at the house.

  Georgy—I'm pretty busy today.

  Roman—Busy? Don't waste the man's time! No problem, Nikolai Fyodorovich, we'll all take a spin out there now. Why put it off? (speaking to Georgy) Have you got enough gas? Then it's settled. We'll be there in a flash. But first, one more for the road. Mmm? You're not going to say no, are you? Nikolai Fyodorovich, don't hurt my feelings. Please join us. Just one and then we'll leave right away.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Oh, listen, fellows... I can't drink very much. My health...

  Roman—Oh, who says you can't? Why not? You sound like a broken record. Anyway, no one makes a deal like this without at least a hundred grams of the good stuff. Go on, grandpa! Take a glass. Here! Zhora, go warm up the motor. And we'll be off...

  Roman—(watching every drop go down) Let's get moving...

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ooof... Hooo...

  Georgy—(moving a plate toward the old man) Eat, eat.

  Roman—What a guy! Ha, ha!

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—So... We're leaving right this minute?

  Roman—Of course! Strike the iron while it's hot. Get your things, Zhora. Zhora and I will just go take care of a few little matters where I work. Until we get back, Nikolai Fyodorovich, you can just wait in your apartment. We'll be right back and pick you up.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ahha, well, that's good. I could use a bit of rest. I feel somewhat run down...

  All three put on their coats and exit. Georgy takes the plastic shopping bag.

  Georgy—We'll be by for you around three in the afternoon, Nikolai Fyodorovich.


 SCENE—Inside the house: In the foyer, there is a staircase on the left leading to a living room on the second floor. To the left of the living room is a bedroom. In the living room are two revolving armchairs, a low coffee table, other furniture. Right by the window is a lamp with a lampshade. In the bedroom is a telephone on a nightstand.

Roman and Georgy arrive by car in the dacha village. Get out. Georgy takes a look around the outside of the house.

We hear Roman and Georgy talking in the background.

Roman—Well, what are you standing there for? Which house is it? You got the address from Sergey, right?

  Georgy—Sure, he told me. Let's see now.., at the end of the village.. The last house, on the right... or was it on the left?... Damn, I can't remember what side it's on.

  Roman—Did you forget already? That's a great memory you have there! Did he say if it was a two-story or single-story house?

  Georgy—He didn't mention that.

  Roman—Hold on! Didn't you visit him there once?

  Georgy—I stopped by for a minute or two one time. I didn't even go inside, though. And that was a long time ago. No, I can't remember. Not at all.

  Roman—All right then, hand over the keys. I'll use the trial-and-error method.

  Georgy—(leaning his head down, rubbing his forehead) Wait a second... It's coming to me. On the right.., the left... What? Did you say something?

  Roman—(surprised) I didn't say anything.

  Georgy—I thought I heard someone say "on the left." (He looks to his left. Then he speaks, uncertainly.) This one looks familiar. (He points to the two-story house.)

  Roman—So he has a two-story house? He lives in style! But it's not too new. I guess it's still all right, though.

  Georgy—I think I've seen that barn somewhere. Yes! I recognize it.

  Roman—So have you finally remembered? Give me the keys.

  Georgy—(getting out the keys) I remember the barn... (He hands over the keys.) This one is for the gate, the other two go to the house.

  Roman—(walking toward the house) Well, where's the gate?

  Georgy—(looking around) Or maybe I'm mixing them up? But I think this is the right one. I remember I said to him"We're on the... left road." I guess.

  Roman—Usually people say, "on the right road." (He inserts the key into one of the two keyholes on the front door.)

  Georgy—Of course, I'm sure I said "right." We're on the right road... So...

  Roman—Hey! It fits! The first fits. Here's the second... It works, too. Great.

  Georgy—Hell! Everything is confused. I guess this is it.

  Georgy takes the plastic shopping bag. Both enter. The men walk up the staircase and look over the rooms quickly.

  Georgy—Everything is ship-shape. It's a pretty nice house. At least there's a telephone, like Sergey said. That'll make things easier.

  Roman—There's been no one living here at least a year. But the house is excellent.

  Georgy—Why is it so hot in here? Does the place have a heating system?

  Roman—We'll figure that out later. For now, give me the car keys, and I'll go pick up the old man. Meantime, you set up the lighting and the rest of it. (He takes the keys and leaves.)


  SCENE—Georgy examines the foyer. It has several doors. 

  Georgy—(having opened one of the doors) A storage closet, that's good. It'll come in handy. (He takes the bag and stand it up in a corner of the closet. Back in the lobby, he clicks the light switch. The light fails to come on.) Aha, the light doesn't work. That's good, too. (He goes into the living room and clicks the light switch. A powerful lamp on the ceiling lights up.) That won't do! (He unscrews the bulb and turns on a night light on the window sill.) That's better. (He takes the rope and ties one end to an armchair, the other to the handrail of the staircase. Suddenly we hear a dull thud and then a sound which could be a howl or a grunt.) What is this now?

  The sound is repeated. Georgy goes downstairs and out into the yard. Again there is a thud, which causes the swinging barn door to vibrate. Georgy opens the door and sees a small, bent over old man with a bucket in his hands, wearing felt boots and a heavy parka. On his head is a beat-up hat with flaps covering his ears. From the depths of the barn, out from behind a barrier, the enormous head of a hog appears and emits a loud grunt.

  Georgy—(Taking a step backward, he speaks in a machine-like voice.) Hello...

  The old man says nothing, but his face opens up in a smile.

  Georgy—Do you live here? (pointing to the house)

  The old man—(putting the palm of his hand to his ear) Ehh?

  Georgy—(yelling) Do you live here?

  The old man—(in a squeaky voice, shaking his head) I look after the animals.

  Georgy—What, are you related to Sergey?

  The old man—Ehh?

  Georgy—Or do you just help out around the place?

  The old man nods his head, continuing to smile.

  Georgy—Deaf as a doornail. Well, the hell with you then. I hope you don't get in the way. (He yells.) Stay right here, don't come out. You understand?

  The old man—Ehh?

  Georgy—Damn! Well, whatever... (Waving his hand, he closes the barn door from the outside.) Another little surprise for us! Hmm... I wonder why Sergey didn't say anything about him. Maybe he forgot?

  Georgy climbs the stairs to the living room. He sits in one of the armchairs and waits.

  The sound of an approaching car is heard. A car door slams. Roman and Nikolai Fyodorovich appear.

  Roman—So here we are. (to Georgy) So, did you get things in shape? (to Nikolai Fyodorovich) I haven't been here for a long time, you understand, there's no time... I asked Zhora here to straighten things up... Anyway, you can see that the cottage has everything anyone could ask for!

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Cottage! Why it's huge!

  Roman—What, you don't like it?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Quite the opposite! But it's sort of hard to believe... At that price... And then, will I be able to handle a place like this? Of course...

  Roman—Well, don't let the price surprise you. I could sell the house for more, I know. It's in excellent condition and is worth more, of course. But I don't have much time, and I don't really want to go to the trouble of finding a buyer. So, take advantage of your luck.

  Georgy—(He leads the old man to one side.) Nikolai Fyodorovich! What are you saying? Don't tempt fate. A house like this, and at a price like that? It's worth thirty thousand easy!

  Roman—(yelling from the living room) Come join me up here. Here's the living room.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—It's warm in here. Does the house have central heating? Or a fireplace?

  Roman—It has everything. Even a phone. (He leads them into the bedroom.) Here you are.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(out of breath) That's very good, that there's a phone... And the house is good. I even... Ehh... What I really want is to sit for a minute; I'm a bit tired for some reason. (He holds his chest with his hand.)

  Roman—Here are some chairs.

  They sit at the coffee table. Roman fetches some vodka and food out of his bag.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ohh, where did that come from?

  Roman—I couldn't let all that precious liquid go to waste, now, could I? (He pours a round.)

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—No, no, I can't. I feel poorly for some reason.

  Roman—Well, if you feel poorly... (He and Georgy drink.)

  Georgy—What do you say, Nikolai Fyodorovich?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(with a feeble smile) The house is magnificent, no question. I didn't expect it to be this good, to be honest. I don't even feel like leaving.

  Roman—No need to! Let's take care of the documents today.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Would that be possible?

  Roman—No problem! I had the papers drawn up a long time ago. We just have to write in our names and so forth in a few places, sign, and we're done.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(getting excited) So quickly... The house is a beaut, of course...

  Roman—Naturally, if you can't do it today, we can put it off till a future date. I have to leave town tomorrow, but I'll be back in ten days.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—In ten days? What's this?... So fast... I really don't know...

  Georgy—(bending over to hiss in the old man's ear)

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Make up your mind, for heaven's sake! What do you gain by delay?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(very agitated) It all seems to be so quick, somehow...

  Georgy—Watch out, if you wait too long, you're liable to miss out again.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Whoo! I don't know... Zhora, what should I do?

  Georgy—Here's only one thing to do! Roman, do you have the papers with you?

  Roman—I don't carry them around! They're at home.

  Georgy—Here's my solution. (to Nikolai Fyodorovich) We all drive into town. Roman can pick up the papers, while you and I go get the money. Sign what needs to be signed, pay what needs to be paid, and the house is yours. And both of you are happy!

  Roman—Sounds fine to me.

  Georgy—Well, then, Nikolai Fyodorovich?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(He wheezes at length, finally decides and sighs heavily.) Let's go!

  Roman—Hey, you've still got what it takes, after all! A good decision. Time is of the essence in business. Let's go!

  Nikolai Fyodorovich walks out first. Roman and Georgy are alone for a moment.

  Roman—(trying to talk softly) Come right back as soon as you pick up the money.

  Georgy—You'll have enough time?

  Roman—I'm always on time, don't worry. (chuckling) What are you shaking like that for?

  Georgy—I'm not really shaking. It's just.., the anticipation.

  Roman—Well then, don’t anticipate so much! After all, we set everything up just right.

  Georgy and Nikolai Fyodorovich drive up to the house, get out, walk to the front door. Nikolai Fyodorovich is carrying a fat briefcase. Georgy pulls the door knob, as though he thought it might be unlocked.

  Georgy—It's locked. We must have made it back before Roman. Well, we'll just wait then. (He opens the door with a key.) Nikolai Fyodorovich, you go in, while I move the car away from the road. It's getting dark, and you never know...

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—It gets dark so early in the winter.

  Georgy—Well, what do you expect, it's already past eight. But it's so cold. And the wind...

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Oohh... I feel like a beached whale. We should have waited till tomorrow!

  Georgy—But Roman has to leave town tomorrow. Nothing to worry about; he'll be back any minute. Go inside, it's cold.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich enters. The lobby is dark, as is the entire house, except for a feeble red light coming from the living room.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—It's so dark! (He clicks the light switch, but nothing happens.) What's this, no bulb? (He climbs the stairs to the living room. He clicks the switch and looks at the ceiling.) No light here either...

  Panting, he enters the living room and walks toward one of the armchairs. His leg gets caught on a rope, he stumbles, and at the same moment the armchair swivels around in his direction. On it there sits a hideous, man-sized doll. Nikolai Fyodorovich yells out and takes a step backward. Taking rapid breaths through his mouth, he grabs at his chest. Georgy approaches him silently from behind.

  Georgy—(loudly) Nikolai Fyodorovich!

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(terrified) Whaaaaah?! (His legs give out.)

  Georgy—(He catches the old man before he falls.) What's the matter?

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Good Lord! What's that?

  Georgy—Oh, that! I'm so sorry! It's all my fault. I should have told you. (He helps the old man sit down in the other armchair, which is facing the one with the doll.) It's just a doll. (He takes it by the head and separates the head from the body.) Here, you can see. Roman leaves it here when he's not around. Local boys burglarize these houses. It's not the best method, I suppose, but better than nothing. You see, the punks look in through the window, figure someone's home, and change their mind.

  Continuing to clutch at his chest and breathe heavily, Nikolai Fyodorovich settles back into the armchair.

  Georgy—I really apologize. I'd completely forgotten.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Ohh, take that thing away. I can't stand the sight of it.

  Turning to one side, he takes from his pocket a small glass tube containing tablets. He tries to open the lid.

  Georgy—Let me help you.

  He pushes the old man's arm, making it look like an accident.

  The tube jumps out of the old man's hand, flies to the staircase, and from there falls into the lobby, where it shatters.

  Georgy—(in a distraught tone, concealing his glee) Dammit! Jeez, I'm sorry... I'll bring it right back...

  Georgy runs downstairs. He bends over to the floor and lights some matches. When he sees the tablets, he doesn't pick them up, but kicks them into a corner. At that moment he notices something on a bench in the darkest depths of the lobby.

  Georgy—(in a whisper) What the hell is that?... A pile of rags?

  He walks to the bench. He strikes a match and sees a little old man, the same one that had been in the barn before. The old man stands up. Georgy takes a step backward. The match burns his fingers and he feverishly lights a second one.

  Georgy—(bewildered) What are you doing here?

  In response the old man smiles and moves his hand, in which he is holding some tablets, toward his mouth. He opens his mouth and tosses them in. Continuing to smile, he glides toward the door of the storage closet, as though he were on skis. He disappears behind the closet door.

  Georgy—How did he get here? The front door is locked.

  He sneaks up to the closet door and cautiously opens it.

  Georgy—Hey! There's no one in here... What, am I seeing things? What in the world is happening to me anyway?! (He quickly returns upstairs to the living room.) (sounding desperate, distraught) They've all disappeared, they must have scattered out of sight! I couldn't find a thing. I... I'll take the lamp and look again.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—It sounded like you were talking to someone.

  Georgy—(in a scared, loud voice) No! Maybe I was talking to myself... I do that sometimes... Sometimes... I'll take the lamp.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—No, no! There's no need... If you do, I'll be totally in the dark up here... And I can't stand the dark. In the dark I start feeling all bottled up. Anyway, I feel a bit better now... What you might do instead is take that doll away. I can't bear looking at it.

  Georgy—The doll? Ahha... Right away. (He takes it under his arms and pretends that it's awkward for him to hold.) Would you give me a hand? It's not heavy, just .., just an inconvenient shape.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich, sighing, stands up and takes the doll's feet. They carry the doll to the bedroom, to the bed. On the way, the doll's legs come off, then its head. After loosely re-attaching the legs, Georgy sits it up on the bed. He tries unsuccessfully to put the head back on.

  Georgy—Not a bad job he did! The beauty of it is that it's so simple. He just stuffed a suit full of rags, twisted a towel to create a head, threw on a mask, and that was that.

  The phone rings. Georgy picks up the receiver.

  Georgy—Hello, Roma? We have a bad connection... Where are you? We've been waiting a long time. Everything's fine... Where? I'll drive there right away. (turning to Nikolai Fyodorovich, not concealing his nervousness) It's Roma. He's nearby. He's got the papers. I'll have to go pick him up... By the way, do you have the whole amount?

  They are walking back to the living room.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Yes, of course. Twenty thousand dollars, as we agreed.

  Georgy—Good, good! You wait here and I'll go pick him up right away.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Mmmm... Hold on. Maybe I should go with you? Otherwise I'll be here alone, with all this money...

  Georgy—Why bother, Nikolai Fyodorovich? It'd just be more exertion for you. I'm not going far, and I'll be right back.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Then try to be back as soon as possible, Zhora. I feel uneasy for some reason.

  Georgy—Don't get nervous! We'll be back in five to ten minutes. I'll double-lock the door. Roma and I are the only ones that have the keys. Anyway, at this time of year no one lives around here. It's the wrong season.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(very nervous) Still, try to be back as quick as you can...

  Georgy—(running downstairs) Five minutes. I'll be quick.

  He hastily exits and locks the door. He drives off.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(pulling the briefcase closer) Ohh, how did I get myself into this! (He settles heavily in the armchair. He sighs. Outside, the wind starts to wail.) What weather! It's been one thing after another today! I've got to admit the house is pretty nice... But so big! How will I take care of it? A fine mess I've gotten myself into!

  The wailing of the wind grows louder. Somewhere, shutters bang around in the wind. The house fills up with weird sounds. The lamps flicker.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—When are they going to be back? It's been five minutes, I think... More like ten!

  Downstairs the door squeaks and soft steps are heard.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(straightening his back) Who's there? (Silence. Soft steps. He walks to the staircase and looks down at the lobby. There is silence again, except for the beating of Nikolai Fyodorovich's heart.)

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(loudly, in a spine-chilling voice) Who's there?

  There is no response, but outside the shutters bang and the tinkling of broken glass is heard. Looking around, the old man tip-toes back to his armchair and hugs the suitcase to his chest. The eerie sounds begin again.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—(whispering) I just imagined that... I've started hearing things! Why don't they come? It's been half an hour at least...

  From downstairs comes a weak, but insistent knocking on the door. It becomes progressively louder.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Zhora, is that you? No, he has keys, why would he knock? And Roma has keys too... So who is it? Maybe the neighbors?! But no one comes out here this time of year.

  The knocking becomes even louder. Nikolai Fyodorovich forces himself to stand up and descend the staircase.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—Who's there?! (The knocking stops. Tiptoeing to the door, the old man peers into the keyhole.) No one... There's no one there! So who was knocking? (He cautiously walks back up to the living room and collapses into the armchair, throwing his briefcase onto the floor next to him. His heart is loudly thudding. The knocking at the door resumes. Soft at first, it grows continually louder. Finally it turns into a thunderous drumbeat.) Stop it! (He screams hysterically. The knocking ceases abruptly.) Enough! (Silence ensues, drawn-out and heavy. He speaks in a tremulous voice.) What is this? Mmmmm, what's happening to my heart? Why is it beating so hard? It shouldn't...

  Against a background of wailing wind, the sound of soft steps is heard once again. The door squeaks again, only barely audible. Suddenly the phone rings a brittle, jarring sound. Nikolai Fyodorovich shudders as though he had received an electrical shock. The phone rings a second time.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—It's just the phone! Why didn't I realize that? I suppose I should answer... I'll have to... (He stands up, hesitantly, and walks shakily into the bedroom. The moment he enters, he emits a muffled scream and takes a step backward. The doll is sitting on the bed.) Ohh, the hell with you! (Overcoming his nervousness, he walks to the phone and gingerly picks up the receiver.) Hello! (In response there is silence, except for the beating of his heart.) Hello... Who is it? Why don't you say anything? (Behind his back a soft knocking sound is heard. He turns around, but sees only the doll. His heart is beating wildly.) What is this? When we put the doll here the head was off, right? How did it get back on? Strange... It makes no sense... And it's so stuffy here! No air at all! Why are my hands shaking so badly? Why am I so nervous? The telephone's broken, that's all. Things like that happen... It's nothing. Ahhh! That doll is sickening to look at, of course, but it's only a doll! Why did he make it? To scare kids away... They peek into the window, get scared.., and run away... There's no air at all in here!

  At this point the doll's head slowly turns toward him.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—What's this? I must be seeing things... It's only a doll, a doll can't turn its head... A doll...

  The head's movement becomes more evident.

  Nikolai Fyodorovich—No! Stop! I need air! (The doll's shoulders shake and it hangs its legs down to the floor. Nikolai Fyodorovich steps back toward the wall, attempting to prop himself up.) The pain! My heart...

  At this point the doll abruptly stands up, and, emitting a piercing howl, moves rapidly toward the old man, waving its hands. Emitting a soft moan, the old man clutches at his throat and slides down the wall to the floor. The doll leans over him. Then it takes the telephone receiver from his hand and says, in Roman's voice "You can come in." The doll takes off its mask and is seen to be Roman. He steps to one side. Georgy runs in. He is shivering from the cold.

  Georgy—(fearfully looking at the body) Is he a goner?

  Roman—He's done for.

  Georgy—Did you check his pulse?

  Roman—It's obvious. His eyes are open and glassy...

  Georgy—(He leans over the corpse.) Well that's that...

  Roman—You should be happy, your dream has come true. You should have seen him... He was already stiff with fright, and then, when I stood up... I can still hear his moans. It was a gut-wrenching sound, as though someone was tearing open his heart. I guess that's what was happening, in a way.

  Georgy—A heart attack?

  Roman—I think so... Let's put him on the bed.

  They lift the old man's body and put it on the bed.

  Roman—What are you shaking like that for?

  Georgy—I nearly froze solid out there in the phone booth. I thought I'd turn into an ice sculpture. I barely made it back.

  Roman—You walked? I thought you were driving.

  Georgy—The motor wouldn't start. The oil must be frozen.

  Roman—(reflecting) That's too bad... Well, so now's when we call an ambulance.

  Georgy—(He dials.) Hello, is this the emergency room?

  From the receiver—(a cheerful, chippery voice) Hospital number fifteen. May I help you?

  Georgy—We've got someone here in bad shape... He's not breathing...

  From the receiver—That sounds just fine. Tell me your address.

  Georgy—Fine? Did you say fine?

  From the receiver—Ha, ha, I was joking, of course. It's a terrible thing. Now, the address, please.

  Georgy—(stunned) We're in a dacha village.., not far from town... Sleepy Hollow, it's called... Do you know it?

  From the receiver—Of course. Continue.

  Georgy—At the very end of the village, a two-story house. It's the only two-story house here...

  From the receiver—(laughter) That's a great way to give your address! Do you think we're Boy Scouts here, with compasses and maps? What's your phone number?

  Georgy—The number is.., twenty-seven, eighteen, zero five...

  From the receiver—Tell me the patient's last name, his age, and what happened to him. And make it snappy, our dinner's getting cold.

  Georgy—His last name?... I know him as Nikolai Fyodorovich, he's about sixty… five... I don't know what happened to him. He's lying still, he doesn't appear to be breathing... By the way, may I ask who I'm speaking to? Your voice sounds familiar.

  From the receiver—(laughter) Maybe we are acquainted, sweetheart… My name is Valentina. Does that ring a bell?

  Georgy—Valentina... No.

  From the receiver—What a shame! Ha, ha... Your order has been taken, now you just wait. We're on our way. (A click is heard, followed by short, repeated tones.)

  Georgy—(softly, speaking to himself) What the hell do they call it an order for?

  Roman—(surprised) What, have you flipped? What a time for socializing on the phone!

  Georgy—(befuddled) I'm not sure... Her voice seemed vaguely familiar...

  Roman—(looking at him with suspicion) Hmm, whatever... Let's go count the money.

Both men look around the room and walk to the living room. They begin to count the money.

  Roman—One, two,..., ten .., fifty thousand!... Hey, what's this?

  Georgy—There's more?

  Roman—There sure is! He brought more. He must have been afraid to leave it in his apartment.

  Georgy—How much?

  Roman—Just a second... Let's see, three... Five… Five thousand more, plus some small change.

  Georgy—He brought us a bonus for good work. Ha, ha!

  From downstairs comes the sound of someone knocking at the door.

  Georgy—(scared) Who's that?

  Roman—(closing the briefcase) The ambulance, maybe?

  Georgy—So soon?! Impossible.

  Roman—Well, if the hospital is close... It's been ten minutes. (He looks at his watch.) or five... Go down and see who's there, and I'll take this off and hide the money.

  Georgy goes to the door. Roman quickly takes off his doll costume and hides the mask and the suitcase. Georgy opens the door. Two people in white smocks are standing outside. One is a nurse, heavily made up in an effort to make herself look younger. The other is a wizened old man wearing a white cap pulled down to his eyes. He is holding a doctor's bag, he is hunched over, and he is looking down at his feet. The nurse is carrying a lightweight stretcher.

  The nurse—(in a singsong voice) You called for an ambulance?

  Georgy—(trying to get a good look at their faces) Yes...

  The nurse—Is the patient upstairs? (Without waiting for an answer, the nurse and doctor both determinedly head to the staircase.)

  Georgy—(though they no longer need-an answer) Yes...

  The doctor and nurse approach the bed.

  The doctor—(in a squeaky but loud voice) Well? How are we doing today? (He slaps the corpse on the cheek.) Where does it hurt? (He pulls out a wooden stethoscope, places it on the chest of the corpse.) Aha! He's not breathing? (He pulls out a wooden hammer, strikes the corpse on the knees, then the forehead.) There are no reflexes! (He takes his cap off.) Nurse, write this down the patient is not breathing, has no reflexes, shows no other signs of life, so is most likely dead... And such a fine fellow, as big strong fellow he was. (He opens the mouth of the corpse, examining the teeth.) He's still pretty warm.

  Georgy—You know, everything seemed fine at first. We had a bit to drink... It's Nikolai Fyodorovich, a friend of ours. We met him along the road, and he asked for a ride.

  Roman—And we happened to be driving past the house of another friend of ours... We decided to stop by for a minute... Who could have known he would get sick?

  The nurse—(smiling broadly) Oh, don't feel bad! It's not your fault. It's a matter of old age. Probably a heart attack.

  The doctor—Oh! A heart attack...

  The nurse—They're so common these days... But we will have to inform the police. Don't worry, it's a mere formality. Your names and addresses, please...

  Roman—Perhaps one name and address will do? I have my documents with me, here they are.

  He hands his documents to the nurse. She looks them over quickly and makes some notations.

  The doctor—Nurse, our dinner is getting cold. (He puts the palm of his hand to the forehead of the corpse.)

  The nurse—Right away, right away... (She returns the passport to Roman.) Thank you.

  The doctor and the nurse work swiftly and efficiently. On the floor by the bed lays the stretcher. They load the corpse onto it and walk rapidly downstairs and toward the front door, with a very satisfied air.

  The nurse—(she speaks while walking, smiling all the time) Well, we're on our way...

  Georgy—(making a movement) Could you use a hand there?

  Both—(the nurse and doctor answer at the same time) No, no.... We'll manage. It's our job!

  Georgy—(at a loss for words) Good..., goodby...

  The nurse—Mmmhmmm, goodby, we'll be seeing you again. Call if there's anything else...

  At the door the stretcher starts to tilt over.

  The doctor—To your right... Turn to your right, I said! (He kicks the door open.)

  After the nurse makes awkward efforts to comply, the stretcher capsizes and the corpse falls to the floor. Georgy looks on flabbergasted.

  The doctor—You pull the leg, the leg...

  They lift the stretcher and run out the door.

  Georgy—They're gone... Did they seem strange to you?

  Roman—Naw. That's the way they are, doctors. For them this is all routine. Actually, I liked them. They didn't ask too many questions. They did their job and left. It's about time we got going, too.

  Georgy looks out the window.

  Georgy—I can't see the ambulance for some reason... Where did they park?

  Roman—What difference does it make? What does it matter to you?

  Georgy—Their faces looked familiar.

  Roman—(skeptically) They did? Mmhmmm... I'm thinking about the car. How can we get out of this place? You said the oil froze.

  Georgy—Yeah, it's frozen. We'll have to heat it up.

  Roman—Now? We'd need a welder's torch. No, we'd better try hitchhiking.

  Georgy—Maybe we should give someone a call?

  Roman—Are you crazy? Get that idea out of your head. We don't need anybody asking questions. You go guard the money,, and I'll go to the road, I've got more clothes on... Why did you dress so lightly, anyway?

  Georgy—I feel uncomfortable driving with an overcoat on… And the car has heating.

  Roman—Right... Well, I'll be back.

  He walks out.

  Georgy—I guess I'll have to wait... Where is that briefcase? Here it is, right where it was. (He looks inside it.) Twenty-five thousand dollars. Yay!!! It's all here. We really tricked that old fool. I'll come by to pick up the car tomorrow, warm up the oil and take it back... No one will bother with it tonight. Now we'll have to wait for a ride, though... There's no traffic now. It's late, around midnight. Mmmmmm... Roma will find something... I wonder if we forgot anything? Damn! The doll! We've got to get rid of it. I think everything else is taken care of. (He enters the bedroom. He looks into the cupboard.) Where is it? (He turns around and freezes in his tracks. The doll is seated at a table.) What the...?! Mmm... Did Roma...? But why? Anyway, he was with me the whole time. We left it in the cupboard. It wasn't here! This is stupid...

  He slowly approaches the doll, examines it from head to toe.

  Georgy—This makes no sense... (He takes the doll and drags it into the kitchen. There he takes it apart and packs it into the plastic shopping bag.) We've got to get out of here. This place is sickening! How can that jerk live here? The walls are sickening, the rooms... And that weird old man... Hey! I forgot all about him! What, does he live in the barn?... Or in the house...

  He goes downstairs to the lobby. He lights some matches, and looks behind the closet door.

  Georgy—Not here... (As he closes the door, it gets caught on something, and he tugs harder. Something whizzes by, and an axe with a broad, recently sharpened blade lands near Georgy's feet, sinking into the floor. Georgy is dumbfounded.) Now this... (He looks behind and up.) Did it fall off of a shelf? I must have knocked it over with the door... (He kicks the axe on the handle, tosses it into the closet, and loudly slams the door. He returns upstairs, warily looking in all directions.) In a minute we'll be out of here...

  In the living room the doll is sitting in an armchair.

  Georgy—(whispering) Hey! Who's there? (Trembling, he runs on tiptoes to an adjoining room. He takes a look inside, returns. He speaks louder.) Where's the practical joker?(screaming) What do you want?! Huh?! (Timorously he approaches the doll. He kicks the doll's leg. The boot falls off. He, stretches his trembling hand to its head, and tears it off. Then he tosses it aside. He screams hysterically.) I'll show you, you son of a bitch! Thinking you can show up where you want! (He tears the doll into small pieces, throws them, around the room.) You stupid bastard! (Out of breath, he looks around the room.) The money... Where's the money? (He runs to the briefcase, counts the money.) Here.., where it was... Damn! That buzzing again. And the back of my neck is throbbing... and my temples. Oohh... When will it stop? He's gone! He's dead! They took him away...

The house fills up with eerie sounds. From somewhere come the sound of soft steps and the creaking of doors. In fear, Georgy rushes from room to room. Finally he runs into the bedroom, to the phone. He dials.

  From the receiver—(a loud female voice) Hello!

  Georgy—Hello. May I speak to Sergey?

  From the receiver—Just a minute, I'll see if he's here. (yelling) Styopa, do we have a Sergey? (to Georgy) What's the last name?

  Georgy—His last name? Hold on, isn't this his apartment?

  From the receiver—(laughing) Apartment!? This is the morgue.

  Georgy—The morgue?! Sorry... I have the wrong number...

  From the receiver—Oh no, you don't, Zhora! You made exactly the right connection. Though you are a little ahead of schedule; we expected you later. Anyway, there's no use worrying about Seryozha. I don't think he'll be any help to you now.

  Georgy—What kind of a morgue is this? Stop kidding around and tell me who you are.

  From the receiver—You didn't recognize me this time either! Why, that's downright uncivilized of you. Say, I heard you became a rich man today.

  Georgy—(scared) Who told you that?

  From the receiver—What, did I scare you? (laughing) You'll have to answer!

  Georgy—(In fear he throws down the receiver.) Made the right connection! Who was that? Maybe just a wrong number. After all, no one could possibly know... Who could know? No one. (He tries to dial a different number.) Damn! (He beats the dial with his hand, and the phone falls to the floor, where it breaks in two. Georgy picks up both halves.) Hollow inside! But it was working!!! The whole world's gone crazy! (He pulls the wire toward him. He ends up holding a ripped-out wall connection in his hands.)The cord is broken... So how did it work? (Suddenly the phone rings. Georgy timidly picks up the receiver.)

  From the receiver—(a male voice) Zhora, do you hear me?


  From the receiver—Zhora, I need your help. This is me, Nikolai Fyodorovich. I'm in bad shape. I died. Do you know what became of my heart? It broke into little pieces. I know you were behind everything. But I'm not mad at you, and I even want to give you a present. Listen

 From the receiver comes the sound of a heartbeat, which grows louder and louder. Georgy hurls the receiver onto the floor, and the rest of the telephone goes with it. On the table, where the phone had been, Georgy notices a blood-red, pulsating heart. Screaming, he overturns the table and races out of the room. Then he freezes in his tracks on a chair, by the lamp, sits the doll. Walking backward, cautiously but hurriedly, Georgy leaves the house.

  Georgy—(at the roadside, shivering and shrinking from the cold) What's happening? Hallucinations? And where am I running to? What really happened, anyway? What was that I saw a minute ago? Something hideous... Oh, yeah, a heart... That's right.. So what? An ordinary, everyday heart. True, it was alive... And there was something else... Oh, yeah, the doll. Why get scared of a doll I made myself? (He laughs nervously.) It's so dumb! Someone's playing pranks, that's all... The neighbor boys! Of course, it must be them! They peer in through the windows and burglarize the houses... Burglarize... Wait! The money! Where's the money? I left it all inside! Damn! How could I forget?! (He turns back toward the door.) I'll just run up and get the money. Just the money... (He enters cautiously.) There's no one here anyway. Not a soul. (He goes upstairs to the living room.) And the doll is gone... Then I must have been seeing things! So, what about the briefcase? In the bedroom?

  He looks into the bedroom and freezes in his tracks. Sitting at the table is the doll, with the briefcase in its lap, holding the telephone receiver in its hand. Suddenly the doll leaps up and moves toward Georgy. Moaning, Georgy walks backward. He falls. The doll approaches. A long knife shines in its hand. Howling with fear, Georgy crawls toward the armchairs, and as he is crawling, his hand comes into contact with an axe, the same one that fell at his feet in a previous scene. He takes it and attacks the doll, cutting it to pieces.

  Georgy—(He jumps to one side and looks at his hands.) Blood? Since when does a doll have blood? (He lifts the doll's head off the floor and takes off its mask.) Roma?! (He drops the head, and starts taking backward steps.) So that's who was trying to drive me crazy! Now I see it! You! You wanted it all for yourself! You knew my nerves were shot, I'd been seeing things, and you thought you'd finish me off. You scum! No such luck! Though you might have, if not for the axe being conveniently... Wait a second, where did it come from? It looks like the one from downstairs in the closet... Well, who cares now? What the hell! I've got to act quick... What comes first? Finding the money? No, cleaning up this blood and getting rid of the body, all the little pieces... (Georgy packs the pieces of the body in the plastic shopping bag.) I'll wipe up the blood later. (He runs downstairs.) A shovel... Where did I see a shovel around here? There in the shed, I think.

  He leaves the bag in the yard, approaches the shed. He opens it, and several shovels fall at his feet.)


  He takes a shovel, goes out into the yard.

  Georgy—The bag is gone!? Where's the bag? It was here a minute ago.

  Georgy looks into the barn and sees... The wizened old man is taking pieces of meat from a bucket and tossing them to a hog. Next to him, hanging from the ceiling on a telephone cord, is the naked corpse of Nikolai Fyodorovich; the receiver is near one of his ears, and his legs have been gnawed off to the knees. Georgy is stunned, paralyzed with shock. The old man takes Roman's head from the bucket, removes the mask and throws the head to the hog. The hog lifts its head over the barrier and opens its mouth wide.

  The hog—(in a thick voice, as though speaking through a barrel) He'll suit us fine.

  The old man nods his head, and shakes with crow-like laughter. He picks up the bag with the remnants of the doll costume and moves toward Georgy. Breathless with fright, Georgy waves the shovel back and forth and chops off the old man's head. But the old man does not stop; he continues to move toward Georgy. He takes away Georgy's shovel and shoves the bag into his hands. At this point the corpse of Nikolai Fyodorovich comes loose from the rope and moves toward the two men. Georgy runs out of the barn. The two monsters pursue him. Suddenly, they are joined by a blue witch with long, loose-flowing hair... Georgy tries to flee down the road; he is pursued by the three creatures.


   SCENE—Georgy sees a light coming from one of the other houses. On the veranda a woman is standing, holding a steaming pot in her hands. Georgy runs up to her.

  Georgy—(catching his breath) Help me! I'm being chased!

  Valentina—(She takes a step backward and yells.) Stepan!

  Georgy runs onto the veranda and closes its door after him. Stepan comes out.

  Stepan—What's up?

  Georgy—I'm being chased!

  Stepan—(looking out into the yard) There's no one there.

  Two others come from the house onto the veranda. One, Yevgeny Sergeevich, is a middle-aged man wearing glasses. The other, Zot, is a powerfully built young man.

  Georgy—Three.., were chasing me.

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—Who was chasing you?

  Georgy—Three.., people.

  Zot—Well, I'll go see. (He puts on a parka, grabs an axe, and runs outside.)

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—See anything? (He looks outside.)

  Stepan—(He shrugs his shoulders.) I didn't see anything. Maybe Valya saw something?

  Zot runs up.

  Zot—It's deserted, I don't see anybody.

  Valentina—Styopa, come in, all right?...

  Stepan—(He slaps Georgy on the shoulder.) You come in, too. (He looks outside again.)

  Everyone goes into the living room, furnished very simply. A rectangular table, stools. On the ceiling, a light bulb in a lamp shade shaped like a plate. On the wall, a small grandfather clock. In the room are two people an old woman and an old man, Mitrofan Matveevich.

  The old woman—(She straightens out her apron.) What ever happened, Styopa?

  Stepan—Oh, nothing, everything's fine. Someone was chasing this guy. (speaking to Georgy) Come in, have a seat.

  Valentina—Hold on, what do you have there? (Georgy notices he is still holding the bag that the old man from the barn had put in his hands.) Give it to me, I'll put it on the veranda for you... All right?

  Georgy is at a loss as to what to do. Valentina takes the bag and goes out.

  Stepan—(to Georgy) Have a seat. Valentina, bring another plate.

  Georgy goes to the table. The old man, staring at him, moves a chair to the middle of the table.

  Stepan—(taking Georgy to the chair) So what's your name?

  Georgy—Georgy... I dropped by with a friend of mine, he owns a house out here... We started back, and the motor in my car went dead. He went to try to flag down a ride.... Then, when I was alone, these people attacked me...

  Valentina enters and places a plate of dumplings in front of him.

  Mitrofan Matveevich—Who were these attackers?

  Georgy—I don't know, I didn't get a good look at them... (The others, now also seated at the table, exchange glances.)

  Stepan—Well! (He takes a bottle from the table, and pours its contents into glasses.) Go ahead, don't be shy. You must be freezing.

  Georgy drinks, as do the others.

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—he days we're living in! People have turned into animals! Crime is way up. Hold-ups, murders -¬you name it. It's even gotten bad in the city now.

  Stepan—So true, so true. Life has turned into total chaos. In the old days, people might do a bit of pilfering, looking over their shoulders the whole time. But now everyone under the sun steals. Here, by the way, help yourself something from the pest control department. Bedbug fluid. Ha, ha.

  Valentina—Yeah, you're a fine one to talk! Bragging-about what you stole! Silence is golden.

  Stepan—What did I say? Others take the stuff home by the barrel. What I take is nothing a couple of quarts here and there to poison myself with. Hell, there's nowhere for an honest man to buy vodka these days. Why should the bedbugs have all the fun?

  Valentina—Someday you'll kill us all with your damn bedbug poison.

  Stepan—What are you griping about? If you don't like it, don't drink it. Anyway, it's pure alcohol.., almost pure...

  Zot—Yeah, why complain? After all that stuff we've had, we're all still here. There was Mishka, but he drank it down undiluted. Even he's all right, though... He's alive, anyway.

  The old woman—Well, he's not in such good shape. He's in the hospital.

  Zot—That's for something else. Some hoodlums worked him over.

  Valentina—That doesn't make sense. What did he have worth stealing? Nothing.

  Zot—That's what you think! For your information, he has over a hundred liters of pure alcohol in his basement...

  Valentina—Where'd he get it? And what does he need so much for?

  Zot—You ask what for? It's obvious... He brings it from work. For his retirement, he says...

  Stepan—What do you say, another round? (speaking to Georgy) What are you so quiet for? Tell us your story. Where you're from, who you are.

  Georgy—Oh, I live around here, nearby... (He looks around at the others and sighs deeply.) I didn't give you the whole story before... (An expectant hush descends on the group.) You may not believe me. You see... Actually I did get a pretty good look at the... the creatures that were chasing me. They weren't human. I'm not out of my mind... I didn't say all this at first, I was afraid you wouldn't believe me. They were ghosts.., or some damn thing... They were running around without heads on their shoulders!

  Zot—Hey, buddy, that's quite a tale there! Not bad! (He guffaws.)

  Stepan makes a "hmm" sound, and pours another round of drinks.

  The old woman squirms with fear, opening her mouth wide and covering it with her hand. The others are silent.

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—No, Zot, things like that do really happen. I have no doubt about it, nor do I doubt your sanity. (Saying the last, he nods at Georgy.) Do you know anything about parapsychology? I've had the opportunity to get rather well acquaint anted with the subject recently. Well, it so happens that this particular scientific discipline gives very original answers to many obscure questions. Of course it doesn't answer everything. But the most important assertion it makes is that there is a world beyond the grave.

  Valentina—So you're saying, Yevgeny Sergeevich, that Satan and hell really exist?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—You know, they do exist, but not exactly in the way they are described in fairy tales or superstitions.

  Zot—I don't know, I don't know. It's all nonsense, in my opinion. All this business of palm-reading, witchcraft, and ESP.

  Valentina—No, Zot. There's something to it all. I remember when I was a girl, we used to summon the spirits. And got scared out of our wits! We lit candles and gazed into a mirror. If you look long enough, you see some kind of...

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—No, no, no. It is possible to summon the forces of darkness, or spirits, as you called them, but you don't need candles, mirrors, or incantations. Those things are for child's play.

  Georgy—Then how is it done for real?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—It's so simple, and yet it's not simple at all. You see, what is really necessary is to have truly evil thoughts. For example, to wish death upon someone. But it's not enough to just want the person to die; one must wish it fervently, with one's whole heart and soul.

  Georgy—(He repeats, as though hypnotized.) One's whole heart...

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—You see, when that kind of a desire becomes part of your life, when you feel it in your body, beating alongside your heart, that's when these spirits, as Valentina calls them, appear. (He laughs.)

  Zot—You tell a smooth story, but where's the proof? Are there really any people who can summon the spirits?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—There are people like that, oh yes! But they're not about to talk about it out loud. Anyway, who'd believe them? Look, you didn't believe our friend's story! Besides that... Besides... (He turns to Georgy.) They get taken away.

  Georgy—Where to?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—To hell, if you want to call it that. Of course, it doesn't quite look like what you might imagine. No steaming kettles, no flames. The spirits simply take the people back to their world. In a way, they do this out of gratitude for the opportunity to penetrate into this world. Of course, all this can only happen if the candidate is suitable.

  Valentina—What do you mean, suitable?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—Well, how should I put this? People are all different -- in character, temperament, internal energy, if you will... And then, there are those capable of returning later to gather another harvest.

  Georgy—A harvest? What kind of harvest?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—Didn't I mention that? Hmmm.... The way it works is that people living in this world are food for the spirits that live in the other world.

  Valentina—(licking her lips) What do they eat?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—Blood, flesh... But the main course is the soul, the tastiest morsel of all.

  Valentina—Yes, the soul...

  The old woman—Oh, Zhenya, what tales you tell!

  Mitrofan Matveevich—Yeah, why don't you stop these cock-and-bull stories and start making some sense.

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—What cock-and-bull stories?

  Valentina—Oh, Mitrofan Matveevich, really! I found it interesting!

  The grandfather clock on the wall strikes three.

  Georgy—(surprised) It's already three in the morning!

  Valentina—What's wrong, does your mommy usually have you tucked in by this hour?

  Georgy—It makes no sense... (He is stunned.)

  Stepan—(He guffaws loudly.) Well enough of that. Now it's time for dessert. (He claps the palm of his hand against the table, making the plates rattle. Valentina jumps up and runs to the kitchen.) Don't look so sad, my friend! You can stay with us till daybreak, then take off wherever you need to go.

  Georgy—Thank you...

  Zot—There's something I don't understand, Yevgeny Sergeevich. You say they are taken back out of gratitude. Maybe they don't really want to. Do they get to say anything about it?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—(His voice is suddenly loud and angry.) Why would anyone ask them? What can mere mortals understand of the world?! They earned their fortune, so let them collect! After receiving such a great honor, what right have they to back out? If you only knew how the spirits go out of their way for the bastards -- they give them welcoming parties, they give them explanations about their world! There can be no second thoughts!

  Zot—(He laughs.) You talk as though... How do you know all this?

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—(His tone becomes much milder, he tries to smile.) Where I learned this?... (He laughs in embarrassment.) Like I said, I've done lot of reading... I've read.., a lot.

  Zot—I still don't get it. Now, you talk about wishing evil on another person, having murderous thoughts. But what about people that don't feel at all -- thugs who'd kill you just as soon as look at you.

  Yevgeny Sergeevich—(He smiles slyly.) You think they don't feel? Believe me, even people like that have feelings. Oh yes! Slightly different, of course, but feelings nonetheless. Something like what dogs feel...

  The old woman—(She nods with the air of an expert.) Yes, yes, they feel. Like dogs, that's quite right.

  Valentina enters the room carrying a large tray. On it lies an enormous, stuffed hog's head. The old woman rubs her hands together vigorously, moves a plate toward where she is sitting, and makes a loud click with her tongue.

  Georgy—(in a hushed voice) What kind of a dessert is that?

  Mitrofan Matveevich—(He snarls, rolling his eyes.) Why don't you like it? It's a fine dessert, and if you don't want any, you can get lost. No one asked you to be here.

  Stepan—Cool down, grandpa... (He taps the old man on the hand. The old man, scowling, remains silent.)

  Georgy—Excuse me, I meant no harm.

  The old woman—(loudly and very clearly) Well, I like this fellow. (She points to Georgy.) Let him stay. (She takes a glass from the table and downs its contents in a single gulp.)

  Zot—Don't pay any attention to them. The old folks aren't quite in their right mind, they rattle off the first thought that comes to them.

  Valentina—(to Zot) So what do you think?

  Zot—What do I think?... He's all right. As a drinker he can't compare with Mishka, of course. But he's all right!... Help yourself to those dumplings, help yourself, don't be shy. (He himself bends over the table and licks up some crumbs with an incredibly long tongue.)

  The old woman—(somewhat tongue-tied) You are such a go-getter, Valentina. (She stands up.) I propose a toast to Valentina. You're a great hunter, Valya. You caught such a fine male in your noose! Ummm, delicious. (to Georgy) Drink with us, sonny boy. To your health!

  Mitrofan Matveevich—(in an offended tone) Well, I ain't drinking no toast to his health. If you drink to a damn fool, you might turn into one yourself.

  Stepan—You're in fine form, granddad! What did he ever do to you? He's not bothering a soul, just sitting there batting his eyes and beginning to doze off.

  Mitrofan Matveevich—Well, I just don't like him! I say slit his throat and we'll eat him here; why haul him all the way back with us? It's already so crowded there you can't see your own shadow.

Yevgeny Sergeevich—Mitrofan Matveevich, you're wrong. We wouldn't be able to eat another bite at this point, after the dumplings and .., and all the rest... Anyway, it's not for us to decide such matters.

  Mitrofan Matveevich—(He has become quite angry, he yells, waving his arms and spraying saliva.) What the hell do I care... who decides, who doesn't! I'd like to take him by the throat this moment and.., break him in two. Who says I can't decide? After all those years spent dodging bullets at the front,., so that some whipper-snapper can come along and... Why, I...

  Valentina takes a ladle and, bending across the entire table, smacks the old man on the head. Drops of saliva spray over everyone. The old man becomes silent instantly and slumps back into his chair.

  The old woman—Good job, well done! It was about time. (She licks up the liquid which is now spreading across the old man's forehead.)

  Georgy—(He is trembling with fright.) Thank you very much... (He gets up and pulls himself away from the table.) for your assistance... But I have to leave now.

  Valentina—(in a hostile tone) What's that?

  Georgy—(in a hushed voice) I have to meet my friend. By now he must have found a ride...

  The others, as if obeying an unspoken command, guffaw thunderously. Georgy sits back down despite himself.

  Valentina—(starting to stand up) So who will eat the dessert?!

  Again there is general laughter. Valentina stands up, casts aside her chair. She raises a long, shiny knife, waves it and thrusts it into the hog's head. The eyes on the head light up, and its mouth opens wide. A voice is heard.

  The voice—We need you, brother. Bring in the costume!

  Valentina runs out to the kitchen and immediately returns with the shopping bag that Georgy had brought along. She opens it, takes out the mask, gloves, and all the rest of the bloody doll costume. She throws it all on top of Georgy and it attaches itself to him; he is now in the costume and cannot get rid of it. An opening appears in the wall; a flame bursts out and pulls Georgy in. The others rush in after him.


(The Curtain Falls)






Copyright © 2013 Suren Ter-Avakian