Many Versions

There was no reason to stay alive. None. Alexander was standing on the roof of a fifteen-storey building. It was the third time he had come here and was now dead sure that he would not come back to Life. He had lost not one or two but all his stands in life. He turned out to be a loser …

The theme of the past and the future – chronomirages, enchanted him as early as in his adolescence and he wholeheartedly devoted himself to it. Chronomirages are pictures of the past or the future, which can unbelievably appear in the reality of the present, having mysteriously burst open through the time. He happened to witness such a miracle by chance during his university on-field practice in the area of anomalous phenomena. There were not more than 25 such zones throughout the world and seven of them were found on the territory of Russia.

Many scientists have been excited by the village of Khvaschevka for a long time now, where from time to time the inhabitants used to observe war battles that had happened many years before. Armed soldiers would appear more often early in the mornings, and especially distinctly – in the thick fog.

The inhabitants, out of fear being gathered in large groups, walked out of the village, and went there as if to the cinema. The anomalous zone was situated near the birch forest, covering dirty road and a field of wheat. During the whole summer boys from the near-by villages gathered together, took their toy pistols with them and lay into the ambushes. The field moved as if it were alive. Of course! It was such a miracle – the real war, the crash of instruments, the moans of those dying and what was most important – existent things from the past. A soldier’s haversack, some weapon, labial bellows, canned food — it is possible to take everything in your hands, to smell and to feel it. But disappointingly in several minutes, those objects began to slowly melt, and then actually completely disappeared. That very peculiarity of the phenomenon interested the scientists of the entire world, and young physicist Alexander lost his sleep and rest forever. He visited all the places, where chronomirages were manifested. In the majority of cases those were the events of war or funerals. Those were the enormous splashes of energies that had left streams of information at that place, which later were accumulated in the space and the time, and as long as all favorable conditions mixed, they stormily burst open into reality. That very suitable condition was heavy fog and precisely its presence started the mechanism of materialization.

Alexander earned little, and they with his wife Katya huddled in a small one-room apartment. Katya patiently endured all the inconveniences: the chronic shortage of money, the prolonged missions of her husband, his complete impracticality — because she believed in the future of her husband, in his reckless idea to grip and to hold the past. They met each other during their second course of studies at the department of physics and mathematics, at a students’ party.

Plain and petite Katya possessed one merit, but the most important one — she could listen to him for hours. With admiration and her mouth agape. Alexander was happy. Although the theme was interesting, it soon bored the students. First of all, it was a very difficult matter to wait for fog to come down. And secondly, not everybody possessed the ability to see chronomirages. Women and children saw almost everything without exception. But in fact real scientists were nevertheless men. Katya fearlessly and unquestioningly accepted the proposal of her new friend — to live in the tent far from the city. Without any conveniences. In two weeks’ time they quarreled for completely insignificant reason. Katya began to cry, and there — right before her amazed eyes there was moving a strange and long procession — people in the black- red garments, many people, in high and long turbans. It seemed they were men only. The sharp and sad sounds of a trumpet were heard. The dust curled on the road, it clogged Katya’s nose and she tried to restrain herself for as long as she could, but unexpectedly sneezed, and intended to run. Sasha hardly had time to stop her gripping her hand. He silently nodded towards those going, but no one paid any attention to the students. This was a marvellous, improbable, incomprehensible sleep, and Katya pinched herself on the cheek, bit her lips, but the vision did not disappear. Long ruby-colored garments were black polka-dotted and the fabric was thick and glossy, like our brocade. In Katya’s opinion, polka-dotted patterns were associated only with women’s dresses, but for some reason now this clothing was seen precisely as designed for funerals and was connected with the process of burial. They could not see the deceased anywhere, most probably, it was being carried at the very beginning of the procession, or he was not there at all, and they saw only the part of the ceremony. Obviously the deceased was not a commoner, as many were wearing massive gold adornments in the form of bracelets and rings. On the heads there rose, the elaborately twisted two-man’s-palms-high black satin or heavy silk. The men were black-eyed, their black coarse hair, greased, probably, by some fragrancies, and carefully put away under the headdress. It smelled strange, as if one mixed our cinnamon, clove, thoroughly ground fresh peppercorns, and added sharp and spicy aroma of the fermented wine into this mixture.

Katya and Sasha were lying in the grass spellbound, and then, as if having come to, they simultaneously dashed to the deserted road, and were creeping in the dust for a long time, investigating every inch. Katya found a silk pouch, decorated with the beads embroidery, full of heavy rounded objects. While she was unbinding it, pouring out bright gold coins with the unknown hieroglyphs to her palm, hailed Sasha – for he was far, and when he ran up, heavily breathing, the coins began to disappear one after another. First her pink palm became visible through the gold, then three gold snowflakes melted and the last to disappear was the yellow silk pouch. Katya was touching her palm for a long time, tried to scrape the skin, then raised her completely reckless face and shrieked …

There were the long years of laborious research and experimental studies in the laboratory. Alexander had a real luck — Nikolai Valerevich, a professor of physics and mathematics, admitted him to his laboratory. His name was widely known for a number of discoveries in the field of quantum nature. He had never seen chronomirages, but nevertheless he was passionately absorbed in by the idea of the creation of artificial fog. The money for scientific research was enough as this was a man with many connections. It was a simple matter to create artificial fog and they managed to do so only within three years. But the second and last task was a little more complicated and its solution took them many years. Unknown information flow of the Earth, read only the exterior view of the images that appeared out of the fog, as if an invisible magnet attracted the atoms of iron, silicon and gold from the skies … For this very reason obscure at first silhouettes were condensed and soon acquired completely real bright features. But this flow did not manage to rewrite the information structures necessary for long existence — and the objects of the past, which remained on the grass, began to rapidly disappear …

Then Nikolai Valerevich suddenly died, and without him the flow of financing began to run out, and soon it disappeared at all. He failed his dissertation. Once believed as integral and harmonious, as it seemed to Alexander, the mathematically substantiated and brilliant building collapsed and crumbled to dust because of only one question, which Alexander had not known how to answer. This question was posed by his best friend, a physicist. His name was Tikhon and they called him — a “sheep”, or a “dude” behind his back. Alexander was sure that he had taken everything, absolutely everything into account in his dissertation. It was not until he had heard the words “a loser, just a non-achiever, who was trying to catch fog for several years” which followed him, that his eyes were opened. All, everything was just an illusion, and he actually was trying to catch fog and could not see the cliffs of granite … Everything, that he had been aspiring for, all that he had so furiously believed in and that had filled his life with magic and uncomprehended mystery, collapsed at once. He attempted to invent a new dream for himself, some new purpose of existence, and tried to engage with the quantum nature. Nikolai Valerevich had left many notes — those were the pitiful and convulsive attempts of a hopeless drunkard to get cured with the help of the infusion from the meadow grass. Alexander looked around. In search of salvation …

He found out to his great surprise that his wife was no longer that naive and enthusiastic girl, whom he had met once. She got mature, lost some weight, the features of her face were sharpened and suddenly turned prettier. Katya grew her hair and had it coloured chestnut and permed into large shiny curls. She began to exceptionally elegantly dress, eternal jeans and T-shirts had long disappeared from her wardrobe, and there was a colourful show of silk suits and dresses of bright colors. The more Sasha looked at his wife, as if he had recently returned from a long-standing journey, the colder his heart grew. How could he have failed to notice that Katya had her own friends and hobbies long ago? Together with her friends she went to the Russian baths, to the swimming pool, she used to go somewhere in the evenings… Alexander attempted to join her company, but soon he understood how old and outdated he had grown over the years. Or did it only seem to him? He cheered up, had a fashionable hair-cut, attempted to dress properly and here for the first time he found out that money was extremely scarce. How did Katya manage to look and to dress so well? For the first time he was sorry, that they did not have children. Then this even pleased him — nothing could distract him from the matter of his entire life. Now everything has become different. No, it was not a long-standing journey he has returned from, he turned out to get into another epoch, where there was no place for him …

He would have managed. He would have certainly managed. Alexander was a cheerful and quite a patient person by nature and furthermore Katya stood by him and she was trying to cheer him up as much as she could. Together they went to the swimming pool, they jogged and she tried to arrange it so that he would have no spare minute. “All will be fixed”, she used to say, “please, do not lose your hope and believe, and by no means, never lose hope …”

There came a letter from a distant village, where his old mother lived. Large unknown handwriting said, that his mother, Barbara Fedorovna, was dying and it was necessary to urgently arrive. Alexander was soon ready to go. Indeed, the mother was in grave condition lying motionlessly in bed and breathing heavily. She directed her lackluster, almost senseless eyes on him and then shut them in exhaustion and began to moan. The feeling of enormous guilt filled his entire heart and burnt it out, like fire burns out a forest within a few minutes. When did he last come to visit his mother? But how did it happen so that he had left to the mercy of fate his dearest people, his mother and wife? Every lopsided stake – everything that remained from the once strong fence, was stuck into his burnt out heart of hearts. A ghastly neglected garden overgrown with nettle and covered with branches, those enormous, three times higher than the lopsided house blackish trees — it all looked as if no one had lived there for many years. And only ploughed vegetable garden, living and breathing earth told him that his mother worked and battled for life in her solitude up to the very end.

It was obvious that there was no one to nurse his mother in the village as the village itself was dying and there remained barely any relatives, not considering those, who needed assistance themselves. Alexander brought the mother to the city, into their one-room apartment … To say that life got harder — was not to say anything at all. The camp bed with Barbara Fedorovna was placed in the kitchen. First the doctors assured him that the mother would not live for long, but time went and she put on weight and some intelligent look developed in her face. There was no money to hire a nurse and Alexander had to commit himself to take the entire difficult care of the paralyzed person. Whether she was conscious of the repentance of her son or actually felt really bad, Barbara Fedorovna decided to take full of advantage of being capricious and became absolutely intolerable. She moaned and shouted at night, continually calling her son first to fix the pillow, then to overturn her to another side or to drink some water. She tormented him by her reproaches, and in spite of his desperate requests, loudly called Katya “bad and thankless daughter-in-law”, who was only waiting for her death. Deep down within, in his heart of hearts, without acknowledging to himself, Alexander was waiting for it as well. All recent misfortunes seemed nothing in comparison with this ordeal. In spite of all the efforts, there appeared the unpleasant smell of old age and disease in the house. Katya, who at first had assisted actively, gradually started to keep away. She tried to spend less time at home, stayed at her friends’ and came home only to sleep at night. Sasha got two jobs — a night watchman and a street cleaner, but the money was scarce. The medicine for the mother cost much. They did not take her into a state hospital and there was no money for a private one. Soon Katya left. She apparently wanted to somehow explain why she had left him, to justify herself, but she could only write one word “Sasha” on a scrap of paper, all the other words were crossed out.

However strange it could seem, in spite of her explicit estrangement aggravated by the arrival of his mother, her runaway was like a bolt from the blue for Sasha. Never could he have guessed, not for one second that he would remain without Katya. In the happiest minutes, which were all connected with the laboratory, with chubby and ruddy-faced Nikolai Valerevich, with the white thick fog, which was rising from the bluish gurgling and bubbling flasks in that immense and immortal laboratory, Katya was always invisibly present. She believed in him, they dreamed about the future, connected with the chronomirages, together they took off and flew high above the mountains.

Katya had left him and it was the last drop — the cup of desperation was full, and it began to overflow.

He still continued to turn between the mother and the jobs, like robot, that does the washing, that feeds, runs … The sense of guilt before the mother, who would have never felt ill, before Katya, who would have never left. He wished he … had been a good son, husband, and scientist. But he was just an unlucky wretch … And Katya was right to have left him. What emptiness! Oh, Lord!  Was there anyone on earth with such vacuum in his soul! The very purpose of his life was lost at once, and there was nothing to catch at. Vodka could no longer fill the aching void or alleviate the pain, but for some reason, just on the contrary, it increased it. Some torturing anguish throbbed and gripped his throat. To hide from it, Sasha ran around the city, especially at nights, without feeling fatigue, but the anguish, torment, void and some torpor did not fade away, but they were gradually swelling more and more. Lord, help me, culpable, and save me…

The whole space was filled with emptiness, and each day you thought — how could I live the whole day in this horror? But a new day began, filled with dead sounds, dead smells, images and dreams.

And you could no longer escape from this cold and hostile world, every smile or human laughter seemed unnatural, demonic. The winter, the cold, the wind was hateful; so was the heat, the sun, the light. Never before had the food been so empty, nourishing your body not in the least. Every thought caused sufferings. The amount of thoughts increased with each second, and each one caused immense suffering. At some point the desire to stop this horror, to break it at once proved to be unbearable and conquered the natural fear before death.

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