Chapter 1
Moscow Here
"It's not allowed, Artyom.
"Open it. Open up, I tell you."
Chapter 1
Moscow Here
"It's not allowed, Artyom.
"Open it. Open up, I’m telling you."
"The station master told us… he said not to let anyone out."

"Do you take me for some kind of idiot? Anyone — who’s that? Who is this anyone?"

"I have my orders! For the protection of the station… Against the radiation. I have my orders. Got that?"

"Sukhoi gave you the order? My stepfather gave you the order? Come on, open up."

"I'll get it in the neck on account of you, Artyom…"

"Then I’ll do it myself, if you can’t."

"Hello… Sanseich… Yes to the sentry post… Artyom’s here… Your Artyom. But what am I supposed to do with him? All right. We’re waiting."

"Snitched, have you? Good for you, Nikitska. You’ve snitched. Now push off! I’ll open up anyway. I’m going out anyway!'

But another two men darted out of the watch room, squeezed in between Artyom and the door and started pityingly pushing him away gently. Artyom, tired in advance, with dark rings under his eyes — he still hadn’t recovered from his sortie to the surface the previous day — couldn’t resist the sentries, even though no one had any intention of fighting with him. Curious onlookers started sidling up: grimy little boys with hair as transparent as glass, pasty-faced housewives with hands blue and steely from constantly washing laundry in in icy-cold water, weary farmers from the right-hand tunnel ready to gape mindlessly at anything. They whispered to each other. They were looking at Artyom, but somehow it seemed as if they weren’t; and just what kind of expression was that on their faces?

"He keeps going out there all the time. What’s the point of going?'

"Uhu. And every time the door gets flung wide open. And stuff gets siphoned in from up there, you know! Damned madman…"

"Listen, you can’t… You can’t talk like that about him. After all… he saved us. All of us. Your children over there."

"He saved people, uh-uh. And now what? Is this what he saved them for, then? Picks up a massive dose of radiation and all of us here get one, too… The more the merrier."
"What the fuck does he go for, that’s the question. It’s not as if there was anything there. What for!"

Then a new face appeared among all the others: the most important face of all. A neglected moustache, hair already thinning and completely grey, stretched out like a bridge across a bald patch. But the face was drawn exclusively in straight lines, nothing rounded-off. And everything else in it was tough and rubbery, too tough to chew on, as if the man had been taken and vulcanized alive. His voice had been vulcanized too.

"Everybody disperse. Did you hear me?"

"There's Sukhoi. Sukhoi’s come. Let him collect his boy."

"Uncle Sasha…"

"You again, Artyom? We already talked about this…"

"Open the door, Uncle Sasha."

"Disperse, it’s you I’m talking to! There’s nothing to gawp at here. And you — come with me."

Instead of that, Artyom sat down on the floor, on the cold polished granite, and leaned back against the wall.

"That's enough," Sukhoi mimed soundlessly, speaking with just his lips. "People are whispering as it is."

"I need to. I have to."

"There's nothing there! Nothing! Nothing there to look for!"

"But I told you, Uncle Sasha."

"Nikita! Don’t stand there gaping. Get on with it, escort the citizens away."

"Right, Sanseich. All right then, who needs a personal invitation? Move it, move it…" Nikitska bantered, sweeping the crowd away.

"What you told me was nonsense. Listen…" - Sukhoi released the air that was inflating him, went limp, crumpled up and sank down beside Artyom. "You're butchering yourself. Do you think that suit protects you from the radiation? It’s like a sieve! A cotton frock would be more use!"

"So what?"

"The stalkers don’t go up there as much as you do… Have you tried adding up your dose? Well, do you want to live or croak?"

"I'm certain I heard it."

"And I’m certain it’s just a hallucination you had There’s no one there to send any signals. No one, Artyom! How often do I have to tell you? There’s no one left. Nothing apart from Moscow. Apart from us here."

"I don’t believe it."

"Do you think I could care less what you believe and what you don’t? But I do care if your hair falls out! I do care if you start pissing blood! Do you want your dick to dry up and drop off?"

Artyom shrugged. He said nothing for a moment, weighing things up. Sukhoi waited.
"I heard it. That time on the tower. On Ullmann’s radio set"
"But apart from you, no one else has ever heard it. In all this time, no matter how hard they listened. Empty airwaves. So what then?"

"So I’m going up there, that’s what, That’s all." Artyom got to his feet and straightened up his back.

"I want grandchildren," Sukhoi said from the floor.

"So that they can live here? Down in the vaults?"

"In the Metro," Sukhoi corrected him.

"In the Metro," Artyom agreed.

"And they’ll be just fine living here. At least they’ll get born. But this way…"

"Tell them to open up, Uncle Sasha."

Sukhoi looked at the floor. At the black, gleaming granite. Apparently there was something there.

"Have you heard what people are saying? That you cracked up. Back there, on the tower."

Artyom screwed his face into a smile.

He took a deep breath.

"If you want grandchildren, you know what you should have done, Uncle Sasha. You should have had children of your own. You could have ordered them around. And your grandchildren would have looked like you, not like fuck knows who."

Sukhoi squeezed his eyes shut. A second ticked by.

"Nikita, open the door for him. He can bugger off. Let him croak. Who gives a shit?"

Nikitska obeyed without speaking. Artyom nodded in satisfaction.

"I'll be back soon," he told Sukhoi from inside the airlock.

Sukhoi slid upright along the wall, turned his stooped back towards Artyom and shuffled away, polishing the granite.

The door of the airlock closed and locked with a crash. On the ceiling a bright-white electric bulb, guaranteed for twenty-five years, lit up and was reflected like a weak winter sun in the dirty tiles that covered everything in the airlock except one metal wall. There was a ragged plastic chair — for taking a breather or lacing up your boots, a chemical protection suit drooping from a hook, a drain set in the floor and a rubber hose sticking up out of it for decontamination. There was also an army knapsack standing in the corner. And a blue phone hanging on the wall, like one from an old telephone booth.

Artyom climbed into the suit — it was too roomy now, as if it wasn’t his. He took a gas mask out of its bag. He stretched the rubber strap, forced it on over his head and blinked, getting used to looking through the hazy little round windows. He took hold of the telephone receiver.

"Ready."

There was a harsh grating sound and the metal wall — not a wall, but a hermetic door — started creeping upwards. There was a breath of damp, chilly air from outside. Artyom shuddered. He heaved the knapsack on — it was as heavy as if he’d sat a man on his shoulders.

The battered and slippery steps of the endless escalator led upwards. The Exhibition Metro Station was sixty metres underground. Exactly deep enough not to be shaken by the detonations of aerial bombs. Of course, if a nuclear warhead had struck Moscow, there would have been a crater filled with glass here now. But the warheads had all been intercepted by missiles high above the city; only fragments of them had rained down onto the earth — still radioactive, but they couldn’t explode. So Moscow was still standing almost intact, it even resembled its former self — in the way that a mummy resembles a living king. Arms in place, legs in place, smile…

But the other cities didn’t have interceptor rocket defences.

Artyom grunted as he settled the knapsack more comfortably, stealthily crossed himself, stuck his thumbs under the loose straps to pull them tauter and started walking up.

Illustrations by Diana Stepanova
The rain drummed hollowly on the metal of Artyom’s helmet, as if it was hammering on his head. His waders sank into the mud, rust streamed down in torrents from somewhere above him to somewhere below him, the sky was heaped-up with clouds, stifling his breath — and the buildings on all sides stood empty, gnawed down by time. There wasn’t a single soul in this city. It had been like that for twenty years — not a single soul.

Looking along an alley formed by damp, naked tree trunks, he could see the immense arch of the entrance to the Exhibition of Economic Achievements. A fine cabinet of curiosities, that was — the embryos of hopes for future greatness transplanted into fake classical temples. Greatness had been due to arrive soon — tomorrow, in fact. Only that tomorrow had never arrived.

A God-forsaken death-trap, the Exhibition.

A couple of years ago all sorts of vile creatures used to live here, but now even they had gone. It had been promised that any time soon the background radiation level would drop and it would be possible to make a gradual return to the surface — look, there were mutants swarming all over the place up there, and they were alive too, even if they were mangled, mutilated brutes…

The opposite had happened: having shed its crust of ice, the earth began breathing and steaming and the background radiation level skyrocketed. The mutants clung on to life for a while with their massive claws, but those who didn’t make a run for it, turned up their toes. While man held on here underground, living in the Metro stations, without the slightest intention of dying. Man didn’t need that much. Man could teach any rat a thing or two.

The Geiger counter clicked away, counting up Artyom’s radiation dose. Maybe I shouldn’t bring it any more, Artyom thought. It only pisses me off. What difference does it make how much it ticks up? Until I get the job done, it can crackle away as much as it likes.

"Let them talk, Zhen. Let them think I’ve flipped. They weren’t there then… On the tower. They never stick their noses out of that Metro of theirs. How do they know, eh? Flipped… I’d blitz them all to… I explained, didn’t? At the precise moment when Ullmann had just reeled out the antenna… While he was finding the wavelength… There was something. I heard it! And I didn’t imagine it, fuck it. They don’t believe me!"

An expressway junction reared up over his head; the ribbons of asphalt had buckled and frozen, shaking off the cars and trucks, which had landed randomly, some on all four feet, some on their backs, and given up the ghost where they lay.

Artyom glanced round quickly and set off up the rough, protruding tongue of the ramp onto the elevated road. He didn’t have far to go far, a kilometre and a half, maybe. The "Tricolour" high-rise apartment buildings jutted up beside the next ramp. They used to be painted in festive white, blue and red, but time had re-painted everything grey, in its own style.

"But why don’t they believe me? They just don’t believe me, that’s all. All right, so no one has heard any call signs. But where are they listening for those call signs? Under the ground. No one’s going to go up on the surface just for that… Isn’t that right? But you just think about it — is it really possible that no one survived, apart from us? In the entire world — no one? Eh? That’s plain bullshit! Well, isn’t it?"

He didn’t want to look at the Ostankino Tower, but there was no way he could avoid seeing it: even if he turned his face away from it, it still loomed up at the edge of his vision, like a scratch on the lens of his gas mask. Black and raw, snapped off at the knob of the observation platform, thrusting up from underground like an arm with a clenched fist, as if someone huge had been trying to clamber up onto the surface, but had got bogged down in the red Moscow clay, trapped in the vice-like grip of the earth, caught and crushed.

"When I was up on the tower that time…" - Artyom jerked his head stiffly in that direction — "…when they were listening, trying to pick up Miller’s call sign… Through all that crackling… I’m prepared to swear on anything you like… It was there! There was something there!"

Two colossal figures soared up over the naked forest — the Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman, grappling in their strange pose, either skating across ice or spinning round in a tango, but not looking at each other, like asexual beings. But then where are they looking? Can they see beyond the horizon from that height, Artyom wondered.

On his left the Big Wheel of the Exhibition of Economic Achievements was still standing, as huge as a cogwheel of the mechanism for turning the Earth. It was twenty years since the wheel, along with the entire mechanism, had stopped dead, and now it was quietly rusting away. The spring had run down.

The figure "850" was written on the wheel: that was Moscow’s age in years when the wheel was erected. It occurred vaguely to Artyom that correcting the figure was pointless: if there’s no one to count time, then it stops.

The dour, ugly skyscrapers that had once looked white, blue and red, expanded to fill half the world. Very close. The tallest buildings in the area, if he discounted the broken tower. The very thing. Artyom threw his head back and fixed his gaze on the summit. His knees immediately started aching.
"Maybe today…" Artyom asked without a question mark, not forgetting, though, that the sky’s ears were plugged with clouds of cotton wool.
No one up there heard him, of course.

An entrance hall.

Just an ordinary hallway.

The entry-phone is an abandoned orphan, the metal door has no electric power, there’s a dead dog in the doorkeeper’s glass aquarium, the letter-boxes clatter tinnily in the draught, with no letters or junk mail in them: someone has collected everything and burned it long ago, to warm their hands up a bit at least.

At the bottom of the wall — three gleaming German lifts, standing wide open with their stainless steel innards glittering, as if he could just get into any one of them right now and ride straight up to the top of this tower block. Artyom hated them for that. And beside them — the door of the fire escape stairs. Artyom knew what was behind that. He had counted them already: forty-six floors on foot. Mount Calvary was always climbed on foot.

"Always… On foot…"

The knapsack weighed an entire ton now, and that ton pressed Artyom down into the concrete, making it hard to walk, hindering his stride. But Artyom strode on anyway, like a clockwork toy; and he spoke like a clockwork toy too.

"So what if they didn’t… have any intercept… missiles… All the same… There must have been… People must have… Somewhere… It’s not possible that only here… Only in Moscow… Only in the Metro… The earth’s still there… It hasn’t split apart… The sky’s clearing… It’s just not possible… For the entire country… And America… And France… And China… And Thailand or some other place like that… What did they ever do to anyone… There was no reason to…"

Of course, in all his twenty-six years of life, Artyom had never been in either France or Thailand. He had hardly seen anything of the old world at all; he was born too late. And the geography of the new world was far scantier — the Exhibition Metro station, the Lubyanka Metro station, the Arbat Metro station… The Circle Line. But when he examined the mould-blighted photographs of Paris and New York in the rare tourist magazines, Artyom felt in his heart that these cities were still there, still standing somewhere, they hadn’t disappeared. Maybe they were waiting for him?

"Why would… Why would only Moscow be left? It’s not logical. Zhen! Do you understand? It’s not logical! And that means… It means we simply can’t pick them up… Their call signs… We can’t… Not yet. We just have to carry on. We can’t give up. We mustn’t…"

The tower block was empty, but it still made sounds, it still had a life: the wind flew in through balconies, slammed doors, wheezed in the lift shafts, muttered something in other people’s kitchens and bedrooms, pretending to be the owners who had come back home. But Artyom didn’t believe it any longer, he didn’t even look round and he didn’t pay any visits.

He knew what was behind those restlessly banging doors: plundered apartments. All that was left were snapshots scattered across the floor — the dead strangers had had themselves photographed as mementoes for no one — and incredibly cumbersome furniture that was impossible to take anywhere, into either the Metro or the next world. In other buildings the windows had been blown out by the shockwave, but here there were sealed double-glazing units and they had survived. Only in twenty years they had all acquired a coating of dust, as if they had been blinded by cataracts.

Earlier on in some apartment or other he might come across the former owner, nuzzling the trunk of his gas mask against some toy and weeping through it nasally, not able to hear anyone approaching him from behind. But now it was a long time since he had come across anyone. One of them had been left lying here with a hole in his back beside that idiotic toy of his, and the others had glanced at him and realised that there wasn’t any home up here on the surface, there wasn’t anything here at all. Concrete, bricks, slush, cracked asphalt, yellow bones, the decayed dust of everything, and the radiation too, of course. It was like that in Moscow, and all the rest of the world. There was no life anywhere, except in the Metro. It was a fact. Everyone knew it.

Everyone except Artyom.

But what if somewhere in the boundless expanses of the Earth there was another place fit for human habitation? For Artyom and for Anya. For everyone from the station. A place where they wouldn’t have a cast-iron ceiling over their heads, and where they could grow right up to the sky? Build themselves houses of their own, a life of their own, and from that place go on gradually to resettle the whole of the scorched Earth?

"I could find places… For all our people… They could live… In the open air…"

Forty-six floors.

Artyom could have stopped on the fortieth, or even on the thirtieth; after all, no one had told him that he had to climb all the way to the very top. But somehow he had got it into his head that if he had any chance of success at all, then it was only up there, on the roof.

"Of course… It’s not… Not as high… As on the tower… That time… But… But…"

The lenses of Artyom’s gasmask had misted over, his heart was trying to pound its way out of his chest, and someone seemed to be probing at Artyom’s rib, looking for a way to slip a crude metal shank in under it. The breath he drew in strenuously through the gasmask’s filters was too meagre, there wasn’t enough life in it and, just like that time in the tower, when Artyom reached the forty-fifth floor, he gave in and tore off the tight-fitting rubber skin. He took a gulp of sweet and bitter air. Completely different from the air in the Metro. Fresh.

"The height… Maybe… Up there… About three hundred metres… The height… So maybe… So probably… From that height… I can pick it up…"

He shrugged the knapsack off his shoulders and lugged it the rest of the way. Leaning his stiff back against the hatch, he forced it out and clambered onto the open surface. And only then did he fall. He lay on his back, looking at the clouds, which were only an arm’s length away; he coaxed his heart and calmed his breathing. Then he got up.

The view from here was…

It was as if Artyom had died and gone flying up to heaven, but suddenly run into a glass ceiling and got stuck there, dangling underneath it, no way back and no way forward. It was obvious from that height that it was no longer possible to go back: when you’ve seen how teeny-weeny everything on earth really is, how can you take it all seriously again?

Towering up beside him were two identical skyscrapers, bright and colourful once upon a time, now grey. But Artyom had always climbed this one. It felt cozier that way.

For a brief second a gun-slit gap appeared in the clouds and the sun fired a shot through it; he thought he saw a sudden glint from the next building, either from the roof or from the dusty window of one of the upper apartments. As if someone had caught the ray of sunlight in a little mirror. But before he could glance round, the sun barricaded itself away again and the glint disappeared. There weren’t any more.

Hard as Artyom tried to turn his eyes away, they kept slipping over towards the regenerated forest that flourished where the Botanical Gardens had been. And to the naked, black wasteland at the very heart of it. A spot as dead as if the Lord Himself had dumped his left-over boiling sulphur onto it. But no, not the Lord.

The Botanical Gardens.

Artyom remembered them looking different. They were all that he remembered from the pre-war world that had disappeared.

A strange business: look, your entire life consists of tiles, tunnel liners, dripping ceilings and rivulets running along the floor beside the tracks, of granite and marble, of stale air and electric light.

Then suddenly there’s a tiny little piece of something else in it: a cool morning in May; innocent, delicate new greenery on elegant trees; park paths covered with drawings in coloured chalk; a tantalising queue for ice cream; and that ice cream itself, in a wafer cup, not simply sweet, but absolutely heavenly. And your mother’s voice — weak and distorted by time, as if it’s coming through a copper telephone cable. And the warmth of her hand, which you try not to let slip out of yours, so that you won’t get lost — and you cling on with all your might. Although, is it really possible to remember that kind of thing? Probably not.

And all of this something else is so incongruous and impossible that you don’t even understand any longer if it really did happen to you or you simply dreamed it. But how could you have dreamed it, if you’ve never seen or experienced anything like it?

Artyom could see it all in front of him — the chalk drawings on the paths, the sun shining through the lacy foliage in golden needles, the ice cream in his hand, the funny orange ducks scattered across the brown mirror of the shady pond and the rickety little bridges over it — he was so afraid of falling into that water and even more afraid of dropping his little wafer cup into it!

But her face, his mother’s face — Artyom couldn’t remember that. He had tried to summon it, when he went to bed he had tried asking himself to see it at least in his dreams, even if he forgot it again by morning — but nothing worked. Had there really not been even a tiny little corner of his head where his mother could have hidden and waited out the death and darkness? Apparently not. But how can a person exist and then completely disappear?

And that day, and that world — where could they have vanished to? Look, they’re here, right beside you, just close your eyes. Of course you can go back to them. They must have escaped and still be there, somewhere in the world, calling to everyone who has got lost: we’re here, but where are you? You just have to hear them. You just have to know how to listen.

Artyom blinked and rubbed his eyelids, so that his eyes would see today again and not twenty years ago. He sat down and opened the knapsack.

It contained a radio transmitter-receiver — a cumbersome army model, green and badly scratched — and another monstrosity — a metal box with a handle that could be turned. A home-made generator. And right at the bottom — forty metres of fine cable, the antenna for the radio.

Artyom attached all the wires, walked round the roof, reeling out the cable, wiped the water off his face and reluctantly pulled on the gasmask again. Squeezed on the headphones He caressed buttons with his fingers and twirled the handle of the generator: a diode blinked. He felt a buzzing and vibrating in his palm, like a living thing.

He flipped a switch.

He closed his eyes, because he was afraid they would prevent him from fishing out that bottle, the one with a message in it from a distant continent, where someone else had survived. He swayed to and fro on the waves. And he turned the generator handle as if he was rowing an inflatable raft along with his hand.

The headphones started hissing, whining through the crackling with a shrill "Eeeooo…" and coughing consumptively they fell silent for a moment and then hissed again. As if Artyom was wandering through a tuberculosis isolation ward, looking for someone to talk to, but not a single patient was conscious; there were only nurses putting their fingers to their lips and shushing strictly. No one here wanted to give Artyom an answer, no one intended to live.

No one from St. Petersburg. No one from Yekaterinburg.

London remained silent. Paris remained silent. Bangkok and New York remained silent.

It hadn’t mattered for a long time now who started that war. It just didn’t matter how it had started. Who could it matter to? History? History was written by the victors, there was no one here to write it, and soon there wouldn’t be anyone to read it either.

Sssssssh…

The airways were filled with emptiness. Boundless emptiness.

Eeeeooo…

Communications satellites hovered restlessly in their orbits: no one called them, the loneliness was driving them insane and they plunged back down to Earth; burning up in the air was better than this.

Not a word from Peking. And Tokyo was a silent grave.

But Artyom kept turning that cursed handle anyway, turning and rowing, rowing and turning.

How quiet it was! Impossibly quiet. Unbearably quiet.

"Moscow here! Moscow Here! Come in!"

That was his voice, Artyom’s. As usual, he couldn’t wait, he didn’t have the patience.

"Moscow here! Over! Come in!"

Eeeeooo…

He mustn’t stop. He mustn’t give up.

"St. Petersburg! Come in! Vladivostok! Moscow here, come in! Rostov! Come in!"

What’s wrong with you, City of Peter? How could you have turned out to be so feeble? Feebler than Moscow? What’s taken your place up there? A lake of glass? Or has the mould eaten you up? Why don’t you answer? Eh?

Where have you got to, Vladivostok, proud city at the other end of the world? You used to stand so far away from us, did they really spill their plague on you too? Did they really not have any pity, even on you? K-kuha, k-kuha, k-kuha.

"Come in, Vladivostok! Moscow here!"

The entire world is lying face-down in the mud, it doesn’t feel the drops of this interminable rain on its back, it doesn’t sense that its mouth and nose are full of rusty water.

But Moscow… There it is. Standing there. Still on its feet. As if it was alive.

"What is all this? Have you all croaked then, all of you?"

Sssssssh…

Maybe that was their souls who had slipped into the airwaves and were answering him like that? Or maybe that was the way the background radiation sounded? Death had to have a voice of its own. Probably just like that: a whisper. Sssssssh… Come on now, no noise. Calm down. Calm down.

"Moscow here. Come in!"

Maybe they would hear him this time?

Right now someone would cough in the headphones, break excitedly through the hissing and shout somewhere far, far away.

"We're here! Moscow! I hear you! Come in! Moscow! Don’t go off air! I hear you! My God! Moscow! Moscow has made contact! How many of you have survived there? We have a colony here, twenty-five thousand people! The land’s clean! Zero radiation! The water’s unpolluted! Food? Of course! Medicines, yes, we have them! We’re sending a rescue mission for you! Just hold on! Do you hear, Moscow? That’s the most important thing — hold on!"

Eeeeooo. Nothing.

This wasn’t an attempt at radio contact, it was a spiritualist séance. And Artyom simply couldn’t get the hang of that. The spirits he was summoning didn’t want to come to him. They felt just fine in the next world. They looked down through the sparse gaps between the clouds at Artyom’s little hunched-up figure and just chuckled: Down there? To you? Oh no, not on your life!

K-kuha, k-kuha.

He stopped turning that damned handle and tore off the headphones. He got up, coiled the antenna into a neat bundle, slowly, forcing himself to be neat, violating his own will, because he wanted to tear it into pieces and fling it into the abyss from forty-six floors up.

He packed everything into the knapsack and set the demon of temptation on his shoulders. He carried it down. Into the Metro. Until tomorrow.
"Have you carried out the decontamination routine?" the blue handset asked in a nasal voice.

"Yes."

"Answer more clearly!"

"Yes I have!"

"He has, uhu…" the handset hissed incredulously, and Artyom flung it against the wall in loathing.

The lock scraped inside the door and the bolts withdrew. Then the door gave a long, drawn out screech and opened, and the Metro breathed out its stale, heavy air on Artyom.

Sukhoi met him on the threshold. Either he had sensed when Artyom would come back, or he hadn’t gone away at all. Probably he had sensed the moment.

"How are you?" he asked in a weary, good-natured voice.

Artyom shrugged. Sukhoi ran his glance over him. Gently, like a children’s doctor.

"There was someone here looking for you. He came from another station."

Artyom drew himself up erect.

"Was he from Miller?"

His voice jangled, as if a shell case had been dropped on the floor. Hope? Or cowardice? Or what?

"No. Some old man."

"What old man?" The final drops of Artyom’s strength, gathered together in case his stepfather answered "yes", instantly leaked away and now all he wanted was to lie down.

"Homer. He called himself Homer. Do you know anyone called that?"

"No. I’m going to sleep, Uncle Sasha."

Illustrations by Diana Stepanova
She didn’t stir a muscle. Was she asleep or not, Artyom wondered. He simply wondered, automatically, because it was no longer any concern of his whether she was sleeping or pretending. He dumped his clothes in a bundle by the entrance, rubbed his shoulders to warm them up a bit, huddled up sideways against Anya, like an orphan, and pulled the blanket over himself. If there had been another one, he wouldn’t have bothered to mess with her.

The station clock said seven in the evening, didn’t it? But at ten Anya had to get up and go to work with the mushrooms. Artyom had been excused from mushroom duty, as a hero. Or as an invalid? He decided himself what his duties would be and when to perform them. He woke up when she came back from her shift — and went up onto the surface. He blanked out while she was still pretending to be asleep. That was how they lived, in antiphase. In a single bed, in different dimensions.

Carefully, so as not to wake her, Artyom started winding the quilted blanket round himself. Anya felt it, and without saying a word, furiously tugged the blanket in the opposite direction. After a minute of this idiotic struggle, Artyom gave in — and was left lying naked on the edge of the bed.

"Great," he said.

She didn’t say anything.

Why is it that a light bulb glows brightly at first, and then burns out?

Then he lay with his face buried in the cushion — there were two of those, thank God — warming it with his breath. And he fell asleep like that. And in a mean, sneaky dream he saw a different Anya — laughing, jaunty, cheerfully provoking him, so perfectly young. Although how much time had gone by? Two years? Two days? God only knew when things could have been like that. Back then it seemed like they had a whole eternity ahead of them. It had seemed that way to both of them. So everything must have been like that an eternity ago.

It was cold in his dream, but it was Anya who was making him feel the cold — he thought she was chasing him, naked, round the station, but out of mischief, not hate. And when Artyom woke up, in his sleepy inertia he carried on believing for a whole minute that eternity hadn’t ended yet, that he and Anya were only halfway through it. He wanted to call her, forgive her, turn it all into a joke. Then he remembered.
Get ready to fight for the truth
Will they believe you?
Made on
Tilda