Issue XVIII -- East European Writers

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Read about some of the contributors to issue eighteen and see excerpts from each article or story.  

  Issue XVIII Contents

Beating the Air -- Velko Miloev 

God's Chosen -- Ekaterina Sedia 

Father -- Ivaylo G. Ivanov

Ten Thousand Dollars More -- Khristo Poshtakov

The Assassination -- Johan Vladimir

Sunset in the Gulf of Cyclopses -- Sergey Gerasimov

The Architect of the Apocalypse -- Boris Dolingo

Beating the Air © 2005 Velko Miloev

Born in 1956 in Sofia, Bulgaria, Velko graduated with a degree in Machine Engineering but has worked chiefly as a journalist. His published books include 'Kadeto ne ste bili' (Where You Have Not Been)

It’s past midnight, and there’s not a soul about. The square is deserted and quiet. Not even a stir comes from the garden – neither from the trees, nor from their shadows under the bluish light of the lamps. And yet, he is here. A few bright-colored leaves are falling from the linden-tree, swirling down to the ground, then suddenly they engage in a strange dance, freeze in fantastically symmetric figures and then scatter again, landing lightly on top of the piles of autumn foliage.

“An aesthete,” I muttered under my breath, trying to light a cigarette.

A gust put out the small fire, something flat and cold struck my back with an ominous flap. Even an experienced weather inspector would shrink at this. Without turning back I peeled the thing off. It was a colorful poster – a blonde beauty with her hair flying and the words “Become a wind!” I threw it away and the poster slid easily along the asphalt toward the nearest trash-can.

“Very funny,” I said in my palm, trying to light another match. When you talk to a wind, there is no need to look around.

“The Inspector and the Night,” someone whispered in my ear. “The Inspector doesn’t feel like sleeping. Why is that?”

I drew up the collar of my raincoat and sat down on a bench.

“You’re here to lecture me, aren’t you?” The voice made an effort to sound ironic.

“No, I’m not, though I should. What a beautiful night. And what about you? That’s what you’ve sunk to – sweeping the streets.”

The wind whirled round the bench and I felt cold.

“I find it much more amusing, you know, than swaying the blossoming branches in front of Vihren’s window!”

He’d just started working for a famous poet.

“Poets,” there was wisdom in my voice, “are to see beauty where we don’t notice it. Don’t be whimsical!”

“You are right, I am whimsical. But I don’t like caressing the poplars’ tops and lashing the builders’ faces at the same time. It’s not fair ... Hey, you weren’t sent here to ... have you?”         

“I wasn’t. I just don’t feel like sleeping.”

He rushed and caught a leaf almost touching the ground and left it on the pile. Then I felt him come back.

“You might have very well been sent. They don’t like my work, I hear. Am I not useful, though? Yes, I am. They could say nothing to that.”

“It’s OK. But is that what you’ve come back for? For all I know you wanted open spaces. You wished to fly over the fields, over the mountains.”

The wind was slow to answer. Only the leaves of the poplar rustled above me. That was not even a whiff, it was a sigh. Only he could do that, the slyboots!

“I was with the Delta-plane pilots ... I’ve run away ... They don’t need us.”

“How is that?”

“I spent two weeks with them. At first they were glad, you see, they hadn’t had such flights before – long and high. And, safe, too. One day I was carrying a boy. We’d had several flights together. That day he kept silent. After we’d flown over two hills, I asked where we would go next. Can’t you keep silent, like you ain’t here!’ he shouted. Then he suddenly plunged downwards; he slipped out of my grip, you see. He nearly killed himself. I managed to catch him just before he hit the ground. He chucked up the Delta-wing and headed for nowhere. Never said a word.”

I threw away the cigarette and stood up. Then I crossed the garden and made for the square. I was walking as if I was on my own but the trees rustled at my approach, the torn ends of the posters flapped. A few steps behind me everything went quiet.

“OK!” I abruptly stopped and turned back. “What about the children, then? Don’t they enjoy it? The kites, the balloons?”

“The children,” repeated the voice. “Why don’t you go to any play-ground with winds-on-duty for the kites? What do you think you’ll find there? Lots of wind and no children. Only those brought by a grandfather or an uncle. They don’t like it when it’s organized, don’t you see?”

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God's Chosen © 2005 Ekaterina Sedia

Ekaterina Sedia now lives in southern New Jersey with the best spouse in the world and a menagerie of animals. She generally enjoys monkeys, robots, Thai food, rain and sarcasm. Her first novel 'According to Crow' was released in May 2005 from Five Star Books. She has sold short stories to Analog, Aeon, Fortean Bureau and Jabberwocky. Visit www.ekaterinasedia.com for more information.

 

Esu stood unmoving, looking into the darkening Martian sky. His telescopic eyes followed the slow movement of the ship that soared far away but getting closer, its sails aglow with the light of the invisible sun. The golden radiance of the sails that stretched for miles over the silvery hull was so majestic that Esu felt deep awe and sadness; the sight made his metal heart heavy, as if infused with thick, crimson blood.

Isaiah approached, his tracks rustling on the red dust. “What’s happening?”

“It’s getting closer,” Esu said. “And it is so beautiful … how do you think it’s moving?”

“According to the records, Ra the Sun God is pushing it with his breath. Probably.”

“Do you think there is anyone alive in there? People?”

Isaiah seemed uncomfortable, the red eye blinking in the middle of his aluminum belly. “Maybe. That would be nice, you know? They could take us home.”

“So it’s the Apocalypse?”

“I suppose. Jonah would know more about that.”

Esu thought of asking Jonah, but could not peel his eyes away from the sky. The sails fluttered and stretched, turning, capturing as much of sunrays as possible, and flared up in the inferno of the reflected light and gold.

“It must be what the burning bush looked like,” Esu whispered.

Isaiah made an affirmative noise. “Or the Ark of Covenant.”

“Or Noah’s ark,” Paul said.

Esu did not even hear him approach. “Nah,” he said. “There was no gold on Noah’s Ark.

“But there were people,” Paul said.

Esu turned one eye to stare at Paul’s compact, circular form that huddled low to the ground. “Are you sure there are people there?”

“Yep. Jonah says that there are. Just like on the Salvation.”

“That would mean our days here are numbered,” Isaiah said, resignation audible in his voice.

Esu was about to answer, but flickering in the sky drew his attention. The giant sails were folding, like wings of the Roc, and soon disappeared from view as the silver hull shuddered, caught in the gravitational pull of Mars. A flame shot out of the end of the hull, and it plummeted toward the surface.

Isaiah whirred around, screaming, “They’re coming! They’re coming!”, and took off in the direction of the Salvation.

 

The first panic was supplanted by curiosity and nervous anticipation, as the robots gathered at the spot where, according to Paul’s estimates, the ship would land. There was a big discussion regarding the appropriate course of action.

“They are different from us,” Jonah cautioned. “But they are not very complex.”

“Do they know about us?” Esu asked.

“They made the Salvation and me,” Jonah answered.

“And me,” Peter, Paul, and Abel said in unison.

“The point is,” Jonah continued, irritated, “they know we’re here. They’ve sent us.”

Before Esu got a chance to ask what the Apocalypse would be like, the sky darkened, and the ground shook with impact, not half a mile from the gathering. Everyone stopped talking and listened, as Esu extended his eyes to see. A cloud of rust-colored dust billowed, concealing the silver bullet of the ship’s hull.

The dust had settled by the time Esu and the rest walked, crawled, and rolled toward the ship. They had crash-landed, Esu thought, just like the Salvation. They had come to stay.

Esu’s feet pounded on the hard ground as he ran as fast as his unlubricated joints would allow. He arrived just in time to see silver people with glass bubble heads emerge from their ship. They appeared to be made of the same material as Esu, and he felt vaguely pleased by that. “Hi,” he said.

The people turned their blank glass faces that reflected the jagged ridge and the red expanse around them.

Esu thought that he would’ve been more comfortable if they were in possession of eyes or mouths.

“Hi,” one of the people said. “Say, are you from the Salvation?”

Esu turned his head from side to side, and cringed at the whining and grating of metal. “Not me, but Jonah, Peter, Paul and Abel are. They made the rest of us.”

“Incredible,” one of the people said. “They made you? What for?”

“Be fruitful and multiply,” Esu quoted.

“Blessed is the man whose sons are numerous like arrows in a quiver.” Jonah whirred right beside Esu, annoyed that he got to talk to the people first.

The people remained silent, just standing there, as if an evil magician had turned them into stone.

“That’s Jonah,” Esu said. “He’s the one who teaches us, and holds all the knowledge.”

“Bible, Torah, Upanishads, Ramayana, brothers Grimm, Lao Tsu, Book of the Dead,” Jonah recited with pride.

“What about physics?” one of the people said. “Astronomy, electronics, other sciences?”

Jonah and Esu traded a look of confusion.

“Science?” Esu said.

“I think it’s a different kind of knowledge,” Jonah said. “It was in other robots – they did not survive.”

“There was other knowledge?” Esu felt cheated that he was only now finding out that he did not know everything there was to know.

The people started to laugh – softly at first, and then roaring like lions at the sight of Daniel. They slapped their thighs and doubled over. The one who spoke previously managed to whimper between sobs of laughter, “How … how did you manage to make other robots without any science?”

The Lord led me, Jonah said with his habitual dignified humility.

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Father © 2005 Ivaylo G. Ivanov

Ivaylo Ivanov is a 35 year old lawyer and science fiction writer living in Varna, Bulgaria. He has had stories and articles published in Bulgarian books, and magazines. Ivaylo has five Bulgarian literary awards. His short story collection 'Naslednitsi' (Heirs) was published in Bulgaria in 2002.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

Exodus 20:12

I am walking and I cannot hear my steps. Their tapping is drowned in the lashing rain and the deafening roar of thunder. I walk silently. The cool drops run down my cheeks and my temples, soak through my clothes and have the bouquet of white narcissi. I can’t help remembering Murphy’s laws – it never rains but it pours. Damn it, I didn’t even take an umbrella! Yet, what does an umbrella have to do with all that?

IX sector, fifth row – there’s the small copper plaque “Sean Simon (2053-2081)”

Father. My father! I feel like grabbing a passer-by by the lapels and screaming at him: “I’ve got a father! Do you hear me? I do!” But who else would be in a graveyard at nightfall, just to have these words yelled at him? And I have to guard against emotional breakdowns – that’s what the doctors have told me.

My mind, they said, would be catching up with the age of my body for several more years. When they took me out of the incubator they said, it was still that of an eight-year-old. I was eight years old when they stuck me in there and twenty-five when I came out – a man with a beard and glasses.

Seventeen years.

All that time they’ve been feeding me knowledge by the ‘sleep method,’ they’ve been in touch with me, but emotionally I’ve stayed a child. Otherwise, I’m crammed with theory, I’ve graduated from high school while asleep, I’ve even demonstrated an enviable IQ, but nothing has been able to make my emotions develop. It’s been impossible, they said.

 

I stand before the copper plaque, the bouquet in my hands. My face is itching like hell. Sure it does: I shaved the damn beard less than an hour ago. Here I stand, asking myself – how did it come to that? Why? Where did it all begin? From the incubator?

“All true men wear beards, and you are a true man, Oliver!” – I have no idea who impressed that on me – was it in the incubator... or did everything start from the glasses? Or from the pile of documents I received when they discharged me from Pan Alfa Medics, seventeen years after my entering there; the documents I looked through only today?

In the few childhood memories I have, my father appears as a pensive and strict man, often sullen for no obvious reason with a cigarette clenched between his lips. I remember his deep voice, bearing no objections, and yet soft, echoing in the whole house. I could not disobey that voice, whether it demanded that I helped my mother with this or with that, or not play with the children until late, or behave at the table. The respect I had for my father has often repelled me and I would not stay near him. Quite often, after some mischief, I would nestle against my mother’s skirt to escape the spanking I deserved. I think I didn’t care for my father much then.

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Ten Thousand Dollars More © 2005 Khristo Poshtakov

Khristo Dimitrov Poshtakov earned his Masters of Engineering in 1975. He had published seven science fiction books in Bulgaria and has written over 140 short stories that have been published in Bulgaria, Spain, France, England and Russia. His novel 'Sword, Magic and Power' was released in Russia last year and is planned for release in Spain this year.

Still stunned by the visit, Buster B. King found a place to park the car quite easily. He wound the wheel, turned it back and put his foot down on the brake. The luxurious limousine rocked slightly and stopped in front of his favorite Chinese restaurant. He switched the engine off and slipped out of the car. The gush of heat struck him. The effort of taking the twenty steps to the bamboo curtain made him sweat. He took out the handkerchief and mopped his forehead; then bent down because the paper lamp over the entrance was too low. The short corridor led to a room decorated with dragons and full of small tables. Buster looked around. There were no visitors yet. Lee, the bald waiter came up quickly, bowed and took Buster to his table.

“You are quite early today,” he noted with his typical impenetrable smile. “As usual?”

“Please.”

The little man disappeared in the kitchen and left him all alone with his thoughts, gloomy like thunder-clouds in the summer time. To learn the date of one’s own death is unpleasant, even indecent. What had urged him visit Future Determining Co.? A whim, an inexplicable drive, foolish curiosity or incomprehensible fear of the future? He had not made up his mind and did not know what to do. “It’s a convenient occasion for insurance,” he thought bitterly but immediately realized the idea was stupid. The insurance companies had surely received the computer data about his case. Right at the outset, Future Determining Co. had to sign agreements with them and later on, with the National Defense Committee, the CIA and other institutions and companies. The agreements contained provisions for ‘the degree of information,’ so his intention was obviously senseless. Anyway, his children would be well provided for.

Or perhaps he had to do something entirely different? Go to the Bahamas, bask in the sun on the coral beaches and forget everything? It sounded attractive but he knew he would never get rid of the haunting despair. “You have two months and six days to live, Mr. King,” the machine operator had declared impartially. “You’ll fall from the roof of a skyscraper.”

He could not believe that everything he had experienced would vanish: the memories from childhood and college, his parents, the thrill of the first successful transactions at the stock exchange, the joy with the new luxurious house, the unique moments of intimacy with Glenda, the merry voices of the children later on. What would happen to his real estate company?

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The Assassination © 2005 Johan Vladimir

Johan Vladimir is the pen name of Ana Ivanova Ilieva. She is a philologist, journalist and writer from Varna, Bulgaria. Her stories often blend the fantastic with medieval history and examine the problems of duty and human choice. Her web site is www.johanvladimir.com 

The near side of the cliff was overgrown with soft grass. Dewy in the early morning. It was slipping under my bare feet and moistened the end of my robe. I was lucky to be held on both sides by the guards, for I could hardly stand on my feet.

I was climbing slowly, more slowly than the rhythm the weariness of the dungeon dictated, and I was drawing deep breaths of the fresh forest wind. On the top of the cliff a few people were waiting for me, I avoided looking at them. I was tossing my head and devouring with my eyes the blue-green hills of Arbanassi and Trapezitza, the sunlight splashing on them, the endless sky.

 

The last view of my life.

 

A chopping log barred my way. A new one, unsplashed with anybody’s blood, hewn especially for me. They were paying honor to my high rank. The guards knocked me to my knees and left me.

 

I rose with great efforts. Down below, under the sheer cliff, my people were crowding round. I couldn’t hear the voices, only disjointed, sigh-like wails. They had brought everybody, to witness my humiliation. And my death.

 

“Obey, Holy Father.”

 

I turned my eyes to the boy. While I was going up the cliff, I had passed by without recognizing him. His wanton black tresses were wrapped in a colorful turban. His cheeks were sunken and in his eyes the fire of madness burned. His slender body was wrapped in a grubby cloak with an embroidered crescent. They had told me his name was Iskender.

 

“Obey, Holy Father.” His voice was trembling. “And ask Cheleby’s forgiveness.”

 

“I obey, most noble prince! I obey to one master and every day in my prayers I ask his forgiveness. Everything that shall happen is of his will.”

 

“They are going to kill you! They won’t be shy about killing you! And then why all the fuss? Why did we surrender the city? Why did we acquiesce? Wasn’t it you who wanted us to reconcile and to accept God’s will?”

 

“To accept Divine Predestination is one thing. To obey an earthly master is another. It is a pity I have not been able to teach you to discern between the two, Alexander. Go away. To look at you, fills me with shame.”

 

I knelt down and joined my hands together for a last prayer. I pressed my eyelids tight, so that I would not see the tears of the boy whom I loved like a son. Lord, if Thou hear me take this child under Thy wing! Don’t turn Thy grace away from his father who, of Thy will, is tsar and autocrat of all Bulgarians. Give strength and hope to those whose crying and wails I hear now. Dear Lord, I pray not for myself, my road has come to its end

 

Somebody croaked in his barbarian language. The rude hand of a hangman bent my head to the chopping log. A surge of cries crashed against the cliff.

I opened my eyes and half-closed them again, blinded by the gleam of the blade above my head…

 

“It’s half past five. The work day is over.”

 

The tender, rippling female voice interrupted my meditation and dispelled the vision, gently pulling my consciousness back to reality.

The bright desk-light in the reading-room slowly died, leaving only the floating floodlights around the rotating shelves with the manuscripts. The doleful piano music coming from the sound system was replaced by lively folk melodies. The air-conditioners joined in with their whirring saturating the air with fresh mint fragrance.

 

I looked at the open book on the desk in front of me. There was a drop of blood from my nose on the left margin of the page. That usually happens when I’m in a trance. Three golden drops glowing like sparks of gilt. It’s been a whole millennium already, and I still can’t get used to the color of my blood. I swabbed them up carefully with the sleeve of my soft cotton shirt. Only a matte luster remained on the paper – almost no traces.

 

I stood up and instead of taking the wide marble stairs to my office made for one of the escalators to the exit. I was late. I had only half an hour to get to the appointment and the fiestas on the streets would probably delay me. I nodded when I passed the janitor’s cabin, although I’d long known he couldn’t see me. A young man and most likely a zealous atheist – he usually looked through me with a slight astonishment, as if through a breath of wind.

 

I inserted my card into the lock of the massive oak gate. A second later, the display flickered: “Evtim: saint: main librarian of the Tarnovo Khan Book Depository. Thank you for working today, have a good rest!”

 

The doors opened wide and the lights of the street festivities poured over me like a magic waterfall. I needed a few seconds to get over the confusion that seized me every time when I was out on the street. Then I stepped on the moving sidewalk to Samovodska Street .

The sidewalk was made of pink quartz – smoothly polished triangular paving stones. Under the crystal, about a hand span thick, were the tiny floodlights of the sidewalk lighting, arranged like constellations. I stared beneath my feet and tried to find Orion and Ursa Major with the childish enthusiasm of a beginning stargazer. The zmey builders had a subtle sense of beauty. I left it with a sigh of regret and changed to the next one, leading straight up.

 

I passed over the central city monument - a triple statuary in praise of the zmey patrons. The first sculpture represented the cornfields of Dobrudja. Large wheat ears with amber grains - and above them the amethyst statue of as flying zmey, driving the storms and the hails away. The second was made of white marble: a sheep flock in the lowlands of Thrace guarded by a smallish zmey shepherd. The third one had three zmeys treading on grapes in a folk dance. A pathetic anachronism - no zmey had visisted a wine plant for ages ...

 

The sidewalk curved and passed along the park-square ‘Velchova zavera.’ The zephyr was rustling in the branches of the venerable trees. The tiled alleys were teeming with earth-worms after the afternoon rain. I walked very carefully, trying not to step on them. Thank God, it was still deserted and quiet around; the city celebrations had still not begun. Birds were flying over my head; rank bushes were reaching out for my beard.

 

A young woman with bright red hair and a wreath of roses was hoeing pansies in the alley. When she saw me, she rose and gave me a dazzling smile, although we hardly knew each other. She was the diva keeper of the park. I hadn’t asked her why she had decided to leave the forests and come to the city, but I was glad she could see me clearly enough to talk to me.

 

“Greetings!” she said with her enchanting voice.

 

“Good evening, Alena!” I answered and bowed slightly.

 

She lifted some picked flowers and put them in the pocket of my shirt. She flinched slightly – I knew that touching me hurt her – then she waved goodbye to me.

 

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Sunset in the Gulf of Cyclopses © 2005 Sergey Gerasimov

Sergey Gerasimov lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine with his wife and daughter. Sergey received a degree in theoretical physics from Kharkiv University and published several articles about cognitive motion and interest. Sergey has sold about a hundred stories in Russia. This is his first story written in English. He can be contacted at sergeygerasimov@mail.ru

No spacecraft has ever returned from Mars.

In the days of Mariners, Vikings and Mars Pathfinders the space probes returned vast amounts of data about the characteristics of the red planet and a large number of photographs of its surface. They printed black-and-white or red-and-yellow panoramas, tested soil samples for evidence of metabolism, growth, or photosynthesis, studied weather conditions. They landed, explored, analyzed , and found nothing special.

Things looked promising at first.

Then several Phobos probes were unexpectedly lost; they were followed by crashes, unsuccessful landings and other failures. However, all these machines were not designed to return.

When the first piloted mission vanished in the vast rock desert of the Tharsis bulge, many people on Earth were shocked. The next expedition was delayed for thirty eight years. Eve and Harold Jahnson landed in the Gulf of Cyclopses and for four days sent out routines and cheerful messages.

Then the radio went silent.

The third crew consisted of one astromaut, Ronald Brook. The Gulf of Cyclopses was again chosen as a landing place.

The surface of Mars had been mapped long ago, in the late nineteenth century, when Giovanni Schiaparelli saw seasonal color changes and canali, or straight lines crisscrossing Mars’s surface. That age saw the rise of beliefs about an advanced civilization on Mars, or, at least, intelligent life. We were so lonely at that time and so eager to believe. Every dark area on Mars was named a sea or a lake, from the analogy with the lunar surface. There were no ‘oceans’ on Mars, though all sorts of gulfs, swamps, swales, springs, creeks and other water trifles just brimmed over. All this had nothing to do with water: the dark areas were just dead regions of bare rock.

 

Ronald Brook settled into the empty station. There was no evidence of what had happened there. Two people had disappeared without a trace although the place was well protected. He remembered a media photograph of Eve and Harold Jahnson and he had known Harold well – had trained with him. They were a happy and keen couple, they were dead now, but here, in this deserted station, everything lost its importance, dwindled to insignificant nothing. Because of the sunset maybe, because of the solitude, because of the utter forlornness and great void before him as he watched the sunset?

During sunset the temperature in the Gulf of Cyclopses falls steadily from +10 to – 50; a small and unreal Sun touches the even horizon as slowly as on Earth. The vast plain is bleak and sublime; the soil loses its amber tinge and the sky becomes blue because of condensing ice crystals. By the morning these crystals would feather with blue frost regular metallic pyramids that protrude from the soil. They are iron monocrystals, weird formations. Wispy clouds can sometimes be seen at dawn and dusk but they never come close.

He put on a spacesuit and went outside. The sun had already disappeared. A gentle breeze was trying to stir metallic dust in the thin atmosphere. The dust adhered to his magnetic soles.

Why have you come here? Brook wondered. What are you doing here? What is the reason? Loneliness? Or six years of hard work in the preparation center? Desire to see this sunset? He was walking looking down, thinking. He saw his legs and the rough track among the rocks.

There was a spring trap on the track.

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The Architect of the Apocalypse © 2005 Boris Dolingo

Boris Dolingo is a Russian writer living in Ekaterinburg. He is one of the organizers of the annual Aelita Convention and hopes to see all Oceans of the Mind readers there this July.

“Seventy years! What was it possible to accomplish in such a miserable speck of time?”

The old man’s groans, coughs, and disjointed phrases had sounded behind me for some time but I hadn’t paid any attention. I sat with my legs over the side of the bench, my back to any possible neighbors.

I had chosen this secluded corner of the park near my college so nobody could disturb me. Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a slight hangover. Now I was cutting my philosophy lecture to think about my future. I no longer wanted to be an engineer. But if not that, then what? Leave school? If I did, I’d be drafted immediately. And the Russian army wasn’t my idea of a good future.

I lost myself in the newspaper. I’d bought it on my way here because I wanted to know more about the terrible attack on the Twin Towers in New York . It seemed that the whole world was going straight to Hell. It didn’t matter who you were – railway engineer, president, milkman, or soldier – if Hell waited for all.

The mumbling and groaning grew louder. It disturbed my reading, and so I turned back not only with puzzlement about what I’d overheard, but with irritation.

The voice belonged to a lean old man dressed, in spite of the warm day, in a worn untidy  raincoat of indefinite color – neither gray nor beige. Atop his head was a correspondingly sloppy hat. Dirty black pants with frayed hems swept dusty unpolished shoes. Yet all his things were of good quality and had no doubt seen better times.

Our eyes met.

I experienced some confusion. On his wrinkled face, blotched with age, the eyes were the only detail which didn’t fit. They were young and piercing.

The old man nodded at  my newspaper and the blurred photo showing the Boeing smashing into the World Trade Center, and with a slight grin said, “Well, and what do you think about all this?”

I shrugged. It would be a waste of time to start a discussion with such a person. Whatever I said would involve me in useless talk with someone who was old and obviously unsuccessful in life. What could he say to me? That the world is slipping into the abyss? I knew that myself. In any case, I didn’t intend to share my thoughts with a stranger.

“Not much,” I lied, turning my eyes back to the newspaper.

“Not much, to be sure! Hardly anything! And now I’ve run out!”

“Run out of what?” I asked involuntarily.

The old man grimaced with scorn. “Time, damn you! You begin the Game at age twenty, and you only have seventy years to play it. I didn’t realize how quickly seventy years can go by. I thought it would be easy. But it’s no simple matter to prepare an Apocalypse.”

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