Introductory fragment

Chapter 1 - Hello!

And a great sign was seen in heaven: a women…
Revelation 12:1

She woke up with a hangover. It was 10:30 on the clock. She reached into her purse on the floor, took the mirror, and looked into it. "What a fool," she thought, looking at her eyes tearing from the lenses. "How could I forgot about them!” Turning around, she saw a handsome man, sleeping like a baby. She didn't want to wake him. It was early to leave, and she was in no hurry anyway. She pulled the blanket off him and went to the bathroom. "Yeah, looks crappy. Gotta perk up and head home." After the shower, the kitchen was raided, too.
He fumbled his hand along the bed, looking for a duvet. There was nothing to cover with. Putting his feet to the floor, the man sat on the bed. The clock showed 11 AM. The lingerie, a red dress and wide mesh fishnets on the chair next to him. "Must have had a blast alright yesterday night", - he smiled. The whirl of the coffee machine was coming from the kitchen. "She's brave, wasn't afraid to stay" - the man concluded. He got up, pulled his pants on, and headed to the kitchen to make/brew some coffee. Red shoes? were lying around near the door. The man stopped at the doorway to admire his prey.

The girl was sitting on the sofa wrapped in the stolen duvet. With her knees pressed tightly to her breast, she was watching TV and drinking her coffee. Her flush, her dimples, her green sleepy eyes and such a defenselessness that just called to come and hug.

'Morning! Sorry I swiped the duvet... Weren't you cold?'

I have this habit, I don’t wake up right away and loiter around? wrapped in a duvet… - the girl said. - Have a seat, I’ll share! - patting the seat beside her with a coquettish smile.

-I’ll just go grab a coffee and be right back, - he answered.

He then joined her on the sofa, covered himself with a blanket and laid his head on her shoulder. The girl was silent. She was watching a strange TV program:

‘Lately we got used to loose morals, we’ve been disregarding the rules of behavior and we’ve forgotten universal human values’, - the presenter was saying, - ‘We are living at such a rapid pace that we don’t even notice the things happening. The life of one more person has ended today, Anna Karamzina, a Saint-Petersburg resident’. Then a helicopter footage was shown: a crowd of onlookers, reporters, policemen, and blood stains on the asphalt.

A tearful old woman appeared in the frame.

-How was she living if even at forty she didn’t look around! - she was sobbing, -I told her ‘Anya, what is going to happen next?’ but she went all, ‘Stay away, mom, it’s none of your business really, don’t nag me’ and went away.

‘And then came back with whoever she could... One day she came alone, totally sad, closed herself up in her bedroom and wouldn't let anyone in. She just kept carrying that crap around…’

The TV presenter's voice comes on:

- Anna was 42 years old, severely depressed and...

- Yeah, and hit her head on the pavement,’ the man continued for him, ‘Let's put on something more upbeat’.

- There's nothing on anyway.

- Come on, you're not interested in suicides, are you? - the man objected.

- I don't know," the girl answered uncertainly, wondering about the resemblance of their fates, "I guess I'm still reeling from yesterday... By the way, how's your head?’

He smiled and answered lowering his eyes:

- Empty, just like your mug.

The girl looked into it: it was indeed empty. Without noticing that the coffee had run out, she kept lifting the mug to her lips. ‘It must have looked silly’.

- How old are you? - the reen eyes asked, changing the subject.

-Turning thirty-one in the fall. Old?

- No, - she said, looking embarrassed, and tried to change the subject again.-You're a pretty good dancer, though.

- For an old man?

- Why are you harping on ‘the old man’? Are you mad?

- Why would I be mad? Maybe I am as good a dancer as you are," he answered confidently.

- Well, when you’re high, maybe.

- Tell me you weren't high yourself!

- Do you think ecstasy is a drug?

- Why not, if it gives you a buzz?

- It's just an antidepressant. Beer became obsolete, so they found a replacement for it. I can't do without it... Ecstasy, music, dancing - those are my love, - she said dreamily, rolling her eyes.

- At least you have love, I don't even have this.

She glanced sidelong at him, giggled, and moved closer. Something was definitely not going on as usual. The man suddenly became cold and unapproachable.

- What animals we are," he said, turning away from her.

- Hey, what’s gotten into you?

- Igor!" he introduced himself, holding out his hand.

The girl did not immediately understand what was going on. Perceiving the absurdity of the situation,
Then, the absurdity of the situation dawning on her, she jump up, threw a blanket on, and prepared to leave.

- What a moron! - she muttered.

- What? - Igor asked.

- Marina! Or just Marie…- she said as she was leaving the room. Igor looked at her as if he was evaluating her.

- And where are you off to?

- You're already asking "where"? How original!

Suddenly Igor felt something unknown, as if he wanted to stop her, to make her stay, but he remained seated and stared blankly at the TV screen, which was advertising something as usual.

- Surely each of us has asked the question, "What is happiness?" at least once, but has not found a single answer, which is not surprising, since there is no answer. Happiness comes and goes, just like any desire, which is also impermanent.

That was followed by the fragments of interviews with different people.

- I want a car, Mom, I want a red car," cried a little boy whose mother was trying to pull him away from the toy shelf.

Then a miserable, sobbing woman appeared, pushing everyone away.

- I don't want anything, get away from me, go away, leave me alone," she screamed in tears.

Next, a horny student addressed the viewers:

- I want someone, not something, but to get that someone without something... Well, I think you kinda get me, don't you?

A group of old people was shown.

- Oh, honey, what can I want, I've already seen everything, except my grandchildren... - said one old lady to another.

A room with a thousand test tubes filled with liquids appeared. A man in a white coat (apparently, a scientist) was holding a flask with green-colored contents.

- I want to finish what was started. I need nothing more.

The presenter appeared again.

- And what do you want? - he turned to the viewer.

A running line appeared on the screen, and a pleasant female voice said:

- "Send the answer to the question 'What do I want?' to our website, and you'll have a chance to win the “Babylon Revival” and a million-dollar prize! Answer the question "What is happiness?" and become happy. You can find more information on our website. Good luck!
While Igor was watching TV, Marie put on her dress, picked up her purse, and was about to leave. Suddenly she noticed the phone lying on the bed.

She dialed her own number on it, called and then deleted the dialed number from the phone. Igor noticed her silhouette flashing in the hallway and went out to say goodbye. While she was putting on her shoes, he watched her movements without looking away. There was a kind of melancholy in his eyes.

- Won’t even say goodbye? - Igor asked.

Marie was silent, opened the door, but suddenly stopped, as if something was preventing her from getting out. She turned around, and, with a swift movement, pulled him to her and kissed him.

- I'll find you, - Marie said and walked out.

Igor grinned broadly, closed the door, walked into the bedroom, and flopped down onto the bed. He was overwhelmed with youthful joy, and his thoughts were rushing frantically through his head. Relaxed, he lied daydreaming, completely unaware of how mich time had passed. Suddenly the phone rang. Reluctantly he picked it up.

- Hello, old man! Still asleep? - the voice sounded painfully familiar.

- Hey, Ben, no, I'm awake, just lying around. How are you? - Igor asked.

- So-so. Very bored. Why don't you come over for a smoke?

- Yeah, OK... Look, I had a great night!

- Great, you’ll tell me all about it then. See you soon! - his friend cut him off and hung up.

Ben didn’t like talking on the phone, opting for a personal face-to-face interaction: he liked arguing, joking, and when he got drunk, he would become serious and harsh in his judgments.

Igor took his time getting ready, got behind the wheel of his car and drove to meet his friend. On the way he remembered Ben's bizarre biography, which he often and happily retold, changing details depending on the audience.

He said that he was born and raised in Australia, and his mother died in a car accident, and all he knew about his father was that he was Russian. After his mother died, Ben went out in search of his father. How he got to Russia and found him remains a mystery. His father helped him get a higher education and get a job as a sales representative of a large trading company that was opening branches abroad. He managed to see countries that some people don't even know existed. Igor was driving by the Rossiya Hotel in St. Petersburg, where Ben was staying. Music from the mid-80s was playing in !!! the car. Igor noticed his friend buying beer at the kiosk.

He looked great, emulating the idols he wanted to resemble: light-colored flares, a crocodile leather belt, brown Steel boots, a trendy checkered flat cap, an expensive brown jacket, and a tight white T-shirt on his athletic torso - all this made him look even more confident. Getting out of the car, Igor felt the afternoon chill. He zipped up his jacket and, afraid of getting cold, hurried toward the stall. Ben noticed him, but pretended not to - he started arguing about something with the saleswoman, but as soon as he got a little closer, Ben turned around abruptly to hugged his friend.

Getting comfortable in the car, Ben threw beer on the back seat.

- Where to now? - Igor asked.

- Well, - Ben started casually, taking out a pre-prepared joint, - there's a museum of erotica near Sennaya. Sober people and non-potheads are not allowed there.

- What are you talking about? - Igor muttered in reply.

- Let's go! You'll find out, - Ben said vaguely.

The car drove off while Ben kept joking about something noble and vulgar: girls, luxury, beer and politics.

The sidewalks were empty, as always. Townsfolk tended to ignore paths, preferring instead the sewers called subway. They had long stopped admiring the city that Alexandre Dumas himself had once favored and which they got accustomed to. However, the lack of interest is not surprising, because no one wants to get more and more disappointed in their hometown, breathing the fragrance of the sewers with every step they took. It's much faster to get around the city in a sports car with a European air freshener. To look at everything through mirrored glasses or tinted windows, stopping outside brand-name stores, setting the car alarm and hearing that reassuring ‘beep-beep’.

Far from sober and slightly stoned, they stopped.

- It's a store! - Igor exclaimed in bewilderment.

- It's a museum! - Ben said confidently.

- A museum, then? - Igor asked.

- A museum," Ben confirmed.

- Ah, a museum! - Igor shrieked with laughter as he went inside.

In the store, or rather, in the museum, they were not bored.

The guffaws of two stoned guys from the third floor could even be heard in the house next door.

The guards quickly escorted them out of the store, where they mostly sold perfume.

- Did you see her face? - Ben asked, still laughing.

- Yes, it's... it's..." he wanted to say something, but convulsed with hysterical laughter.

Ben laughed as he was looking at Igor’s car and couldn't figure out what was wrong with it.

- Hey, what generation is your Mustang? - Ben asked, breathing heavily. - I ain't never seen a model like that before. Probably a rarity, right? - he went on, trying to sound as serious as possible, but the question only sent Igor into another fit of laughter

- Why are you laughing, I'm serious, - Ben said in a calm voice.

Igor tried to straighten up and catch his breath to explain the reason for such ecstatic joy.

- Think about it. Where could I, an ordinary journalist, get the money, eh? - said Igor, hinting at the simple truth.

- Hmm ... And what is it then? - Ben asked.

- "Datsun", for twenty thousand... rubles.

- Then why is there a horse on it?

- Because it looks better, that's why! - Igor exclaimed excitedly.

This time Ben exploded:

- You might as well put a jaguar, - he was crying with laughter, -Or.... Or rather a deer... just like the owner...

- You're... you're quite a deer yourself. Get in, let's go... - Igor answered, dragging Ben into the car.

"The day went well," Igor decided, "the girl, the friend, the weed... I wish it could always be like this.

*This day a thousand people answered the question "What do I want?"

Chapter 2 - Your place or mine?

The kings of the earth were immoral with her, and those who dwell
on the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her immorality.
Revelation 17:2

For three days, Marie thought about Igor's unusual behavior. All men, when alone with her, thought only of sex; most guys probably wouldn't even wonder what her name was. And the fact that he pulled back from her without finding out her name first seemed strange. Maybe he was just a decent man. Perhaps we should call him.

Igor was a journalist, and his entire job consisted of facts, their interpretation, and constant typing. From the outside it might have seemed boring, but he liked it because it helped him share and spread his ideas.

Igor was writing an article on conformism, he was fascinated, and his fingers were fluttering over the keyboard, performing an unknown dance, which was interrupted by the call.

- Hello.

- Hello, can you recognize me? - asked a coquettish female voice.

- Marie?

- You got it. How are you?

- I'm working now. And how did you get my number?

- It's a secret. Weren't you expecting my call? - The girl rebuked him.

- Yes, why! I'm very glad. Do you want to meet?

- Sure!!!

- Come over at 6:30pm. Your place or mine?

- My place is a mess, I'd rather come to you.

- Come on over. Wait in the waiting room, okay?

- All right. Won't the boss get envious? Cause I can get a bit mischievous.

- Don't worry, he can handle it. I don't think the secretary can, though, she's had a crush on me for a long time. Okay, write down the address.

As soon as Igor hung up, Marie ran to the mirror. She decided to look stunning, so she put on a short deep cleavage dress.

Two hours later the girl was already sitting in the reception, annoying the angry secretary with her provocative appearance.

- Who are you waiting for?

- Igor," Marie drawled softly.

There were no more questions, an awkward silence hung in the air. Another visitor was sitting opposite Marie, but the secretary continued to stare at the girl, paying him no attention. To piss her off even more, Marie went through her purse and dropped her lipstick as if by accident. She bent down to get it, so that the man could appreciate the beauty of her figure.

She lifted her head and caught his gaze, the embarrassment on his face. Sneaking a glance from the secretary to Marie, the visitor stopped at the latter, as if to say, "You are better!”

Finally Igor finished his work and entered the reception room. Marie took him under the arm. He was pleasantly surprised by this gesture. They headed for the exit, like a happy couple. The man looked on with envy while the receptionist even stood up to look after them. The couple got into Igor's car.

-Got ‘em! - Marie exclaimed.

- What do you mean?

- Never mind. Where shall we go? - she asked, realizing that he hadn't noticed anything.

- Do you want to go somewhere?

- I want a smoke. Do you want one?

- You're quick. I wouldn’t mind, but only at home," said Igor approvingly. This made Marie laugh, as if she was going to smoke in the car.

- I see, - she said in response. - Anyway, is it your apartment?

- Are you claiming the place? - he hinted.

Marie sulked.

- Don't sulk, the apartment is really mine, so no one would mind if we have a little fun," Igor said encouragingly, pinching her cheek.

- Leave me alone!" she said, pulling his hand away. - - Great you have your own apartment, few have this luxury.

- It cost me quite a lot as well.

- And how much?

- It cost me…a lot of work.

- Work? - Marie was surprised.

- I haven’t yet finished the university. I got hired as a temporary journalist... There was a contest for the best article in the country at the time. I won, kept my job, and the apartment was the prize.

- Cool! What did you write about?

- About officers sleeping in units, because they're not getting any apartments, and about how the Minister of Internal Affairs has been fooling the president for a long time.

- Is that so?

- Well... - the guy shrugged his shoulders indefinitely, -Also about betrayal, about treason to the motherland... I finished the article by saying that it's a shame to talk about patriotism!

- So, you got an apartment, and what about them? Still without a place to live?

- Of course they are. It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease… - laughing, Igor finished his story and stopped the car. - Here we are!

They went up to the third floor. Igor opened the door, letting the girl go forward. Marina slipped into the room, quickly kicked off her shoes, and ran into the kitchen. Igor was very surprised, and once again made sure that he had never met such a nimble girl. He followed her.

- Do you have any proper food? - Marie asked, going through his refrigerator.

- You're hungry! Embarrassment of riches, isn’t it? - he joked.

- Oh, come on. I want to make dinner, it's been a long time since I've done any housework.

- Go ahead, since you're so brave. There's meat in the fridge, spices and rice on the shelf. I assume it's pilaf?

- Well, pilaf is too strong a word, more like rice and meat, - replied Marie, noticing the apron on the hook. - Yours? Are you wearing it?

- Me? No! It's from my ex.

- And... How long ago?

Igor lowered his gaze, silently approached Marie, hugged her and whispered in her ear:

- Let's not talk about it.

"Who was this girl who suddenly interrupted them, coming between us? Why was she still in his life?" These questions flashed through her mind, but Marie decided not to dwell on them and began cooking.

when he smelled fried meat, Igor returned to the kitchen, where work was in full swing. Marie was standing by the stove, and the aroma wafting from there was overwhelming.

He came closer, touched her shoulder, said he would make dessert, and left. The serving was finished. Marie hung up her apron, dimmed the lights, and lit the candles.

The table was set beautifully, the only thing missing was a bottle of wine. It was replaced by a hookah, which Igor brought instead of dessert. Over dinner, they chatted, smoked, and teased each other. Only Marie knew how to make a relationship this fast, and Igor was new to it. After the dinner, she went to the shower, and Igor went to the bedroom, where five minutes later the girl returned with two joints.

-Junkie! - Igor joked, inhaling.

Marina inhaled in reply, making a funny face, sticked her tongue out at him, and exhaled the smoke in his face. Igor laughed.

They got high and began chatting about important things in their lives, about the past, about plans for the future, about anything that came to mind when you are stoned. Igor was lying on his side with his face to the girl, looking at her.

- Tell me, how was it with you? - he asked suddenly.

- Well... It's a long story. All of it or just bits and pieces?

- All of it. I'm in no hurry.

- Okay. I'll start at the beginning. When I was a kid, I was overweight. I was really self-consious about it and I was afraid of everything.

Boys teased me, called me ugly, a fat redhead. I was only friends with one girl, Lena, who was short, thin, and read a lot. She would retell everything she read to me, and then I would read what she liked best.

- Are you still prone to obesity? - Igor suddenly asked, rubbing her hair.

- No, and actually never was, - she answered in a slightly disgruntled tone, - It was just something wrong with hormones back then. By the eighth grade, I started to stretch out, but my pimples came, so I didn't go out much. Mostly I stayed home and listened to music. I went to my first disco in the tenth grade - girls dragged me there. It turned out to be not so scary after all. A few guys liked me straight away. I started dating one, another, and another. Thought they liked me. But they just used me. It went on like that until my freshman year, and then this guy Lyosha came along. He told me that I needed to be more confident and that there was nothing to worry about. He got me cocaine, which he thought was a cure for complexes.

The five of us were sitting in the dorm, and the guys wanted me to do two lines at once, but I refused. I didn’t want to do it with them, so I left. I wanted to be on my own for a while.

They didn't want to let me go, but they didn't force me either. When I got to my place, I did make two lines, but I snorted one of them immediately, leaving another one for later. The rush was almost instantaneous, my mood lifted sharply, and I felt good. I closed the door and stood in front of the mirror. I didn't even recognize the girl I saw there. She was beautiful: sleek red hair, green eyes, clear skin, and a slender beautiful body with a great bust. It was then that I realized for the first time how firmly I had got stuck in my own head, I was so far gone I hadn't noticed the changes that had occurred with age. I realized the extent to which I had been withdrawn, fixated on the worst, as if I were on an airplane that was about to crash. The realization that something imminent was about to happen was keeping me restless.

The mirror I was looking in belonged to my roommate, Anya. In the upper left corner hung her heart-shaped picture. She had guys running after her, thinking she was beautiful.

And I stared at the picture and didn't understand what they saw in her, that dyed cow! Her forehead was big, her eyes small, and her chin slightly forward.

I was pretty compared to her, but my low self-esteem didn't let me think so. The roommates took advantage of that: while I was sitting here, they were at a disco, where they clearly had a better chance without me. I did the second line. Looking at my reflection, I stripped naked and, finding no flaw, began to caress myself.

- Nymphomaniac!

- Says the pot to the kettle! You're no better! You caress me just like I would do. But a man's hands make me feel better. Your own caresses make you feel disgusting. I don't know why.

Igor looked down in surprise, not knowing what to say. He had never heard such compliments before. Marie coughed and continued:

- Then I started dating Lyosha and his drug. He told me that I should stop doing it. So I did: I stopped doing cocaine first, and then I stopped doing him, too.

I started going out a lot, changing friends quickly, and taking revenge on the world with my bitchiness for the humiliation of my childhood years: I wouldn’t value them just like they handn’t valued me. The girls I knew would not talk to me, because I often stole boyfriends from them only to dump them. And they got angry, insulted me, and hated me. Poor wimps. I guess I became obsessed with it.

I dated four, five guys at once. I'd get an affection and then throw them away like a broken thing. My phone would hardly stop ringing. Once it vibrated all day, while I lied there drunk, counting the calls. When I counted forty-eight, I turned it off. A lot of broken hearts wanted to see me, but I just laughed at them and didn't want anything more. This went on for a year and a half, until one day, Anya said looking at me that it was time for me to see a psychiatrist. Soon I realized it myself. I was terribly depressed. I turned off my phone, skipped classes, stared at the ceiling, and ate nothing. I decided I'd do whatever it took to beat the depression. So, I went to a dealer I knew and got shot up. And he banged me...

- I'm sorry, are you still...

- What's the matter with you? It was just once! How could you think that! - she interrupted him.

- I didn't! And what happened next? - Igor asked.

- It wasn't long until the end of the course. I skipped classes all the time, went to them without notebooks, the teachers didn't like me, they wanted to flunk me in exams, but they didn't succeed - I finished school well. In the summer I got a part-time job on a farm and smoked with some hippies. One of them was named Stas. He had heard a little about me. I decided to hit on him, but he blew me off, saying I was a "real bitch," and he didn't go out with that kind of girls. That hurt my feelings. He was the nicest guy in the group. He was sweet with the other girls, talking about nature, about real universal love, which he called "agape”. If guys argued with him, they usually lost. He showed no interest in me, but I had a crush on him. I was waiting for the right moment to catch him, grab him, and never let him go again. And that moment finally arrived. He was high as a kite, I caught up with him, we got to talking, and I got what I wanted. It was the craziest and the longest of my affairs.

It lasted almost two years. I wore dreadlocks, listened to Rastaman music, smoked hash and revered Bob Marley as God.

In the fall, the girls couldn’t recognize me: I was completely calm and even made friends with them. I became a "peaceful little angel" to them, who hardly ever was not high.

After all, one probably shouldn't smoke like me and Stas. It got to the point where I would stare at one point and sometimes talk to myself during the class. I adored our philosopher, who also smoked; you could tell by looking at him. Like real hippies, we used to go on vacations in the countryside.

Later on my parents got worried and started watching me outside my dorm, but I never showed up. One day I came out after classes wearing shorts, sneakers (I didn't always shave my legs), a white T-shirt with cannabis on it, a military backpack on my back, big headphones on my head, a cigarette in my mouth. That's how I looked when my parents met me. My mother broke in tears, my father got angry. They made a scene, took me to the dean, as if it was his fault.

I told them that studying had nothing to do with it, but they wouldn't listen. Then I said a lot of hurtful things to them. I didn't go home, spent the whole summer with Stas. We lived in a cabin at the edge of the forest, in the company of Castaneda, hallucinogens, and fly agarics.

The next year turned out to be the last year of this madness. Stas changed the drug and changed the girlfriend. When I came back to my dorm, I was very upset. The girls, of course, tried to comfort me, but I cried about him for a long time.

- Well, you got what you deserved, didn’t you?...

- I thought he loved me! And he.... Anyway, I was disappointed, so I decided to distract myself with studies. As luck would have it, my studies went downhill. As usually happens, you don't study and you know everything, but when you do, you start to get confused. I thought I'd smoked my brains out, - finished the year with two "C's". I spent the summer with my parents, like a good girl. Fifth year's passed...

- It's a long story, -Igor interrupted.

- Not much left, then your turn.

- Okay, go on.

- All in all, the fifth year was over. I had tried to find a job for a long time, finally I found a position in a pharmacy. They pay better than the hospital.

I was into punk for a while, but then I got hooked on ecstasy and acid house. I'm still into it, and my looks are a mask to keep jerks away. For the time I’ve just glanced at them, they'll have thought twice - or more like a hundred times - about whether or not to approach me. You're braver than the others, and you're not a jerk, so I'm here, - she concluded, smiling.

- So you like me? But I'm not brave at all, if that's what you think.

- Doesn’t matter, I want to know your story.

- Okay... So my dad's an asshole. - the guy took a puff and continuedб - My mother was a teacher. When I was four years old, they divorced. I found out the reason later. My father raped a woman, she gave birth, and he paid alimony. When my mother found out, she filed for divorce. Dad ran away. Since then, my half-brother Anton and I were raised by my mother and Aunt Zoya. Together we enrolled for journalism, but he dropped out right away, and I got reinstated twice and graduated with great difficulty. Anton became a pastor and I became a scribe.

- So you have a brother who is a priest.

- Pastor!

- Never mind. Let's talk about the main thing.

- Ah... That! - he remembered the past. - I lost my virginity in the ninth grade, at prom night. Then I fell in love with a girl at school, we dated for over two years. Then I caught her with another guy and slept with her friend myself. Then I saw these two girls fighting in the kitchen and found out it was because of me. Anyway, I was disappointed in you girls and I haven't sworn my love to anyone since. Dated for one purpose," he looked at her sideways, "you know.

Then, when I was twenty-three something in me changed - I wanted to meet a good woman... I thought myself a hero, who would give her a family, children, who would love and protect her.

And a special girl appeared in my life. She walked by - and changed my life for the next seven years. All day long I remembered her, a week later I met her again, found out where she was studying, and left my old dreams behind forever. I dated this girl for five years, then we moved in, wanted to get married, but then we had a big fight.

I hit her, she called me a "heartless bastard”. We broke up. Now we sometimes call each other, sometimes we spend a night together, but in the morning for some reason I feel like running away - we can't be together, even though we got each other so well…

- Do you love her? - Marie asked seriously.

- I didn't tell her that...

- What do you mean you didn't tell her? Do you love her or not?

- I don't know! I don't want to talk about it...

- Maybe another joint then?

- Definitely.

- You've got some really cool fish," Marie said, nodding at the fish tank on the nightstand by the bed.

*The show was two months away.

Chapter 3 - I want to be the queen of the seven mountains

The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth
Revelation 17:9

Two weeks passed since that night. Marie often stayed at Igor's house. Ben had been away on business all the time and only came to town for a couple of days. Igor was so excited about his friend's arrival that he rescheduled a meeting with his brother, whom he hadn't seen in three months. After a firm handshake and a pat on the shoulder, they began to chat about what was important in their lives.

- So what, a shameless red-haired girl! I slept with an old woman the other day, - grinned Ben.

- An old woman! And how old was she? - Igor asked.

- Sixty-seven,’ he answered, putting another ball in the pocket.

- It's a goddamn disease, when you're attracted to old women! What's the name... - Igor tried to remember, watching his movements.

- Nonsense. Stereotype. People are cowards by nature, they cannot cross the line, because they are afraid of being judged. They don't want rumors, they don't want to be maligned and destroyed, like geniuses like Oscar Wilde were once destroyed. 
The ball didn't make it to the hole, and Ben gave the turn to his friend.

- Well, yeah... It's easy for you to say, you don't stay anywhere for long. That's why you're not afraid of rumors,’ Igor answered, hitting the ball.

- And this is exactly why I am free from prejudices and all kinds of authority,’ Ben continued, leaning on the cue. - I just don't exist, I'm just a shadow. Recklessness makes me wiser. I take everything from life in every way. Many repeat this cliché, though they are not worthy of life itself. They have only crumbs and feed on its scraps, but they say they ‘take everything from life’. I hate those miserable arrogant people. ‘Everything’ isn't just drinking beer in a pub and going out with women. ‘Everything’ is not what's on the surface, but what's hidden and hard to reach.

‘Hmm,’ Igor muttered.

- It is a treasure that is found only by those who bury themselves alive, who decompose under the weight of their own standards of decency. Of that line which has long been crossed, so there's no point in going back. This is the only way to get that very ‘everything’. And those who fear this line are cowards, not even worthy of Satan's praise. They cannot admit that they are dead. I'm already dead and I've made my peace with it. I take everything that I desire, and I will face the death I am preparing for with pride.

‘You must be thinking how I could sleep with her if she is old. No, my friend, she is not old, but wise and young at heart. Only the body dies, the soul always remains young, learnt to understand a man. While the young are all naive, they look for the men they imagined. They try to try their standards on us and don't even wonder if they fit us at all! They imagine their own men, and then blame them for the lack of manhood which they have no idea about! They're fools! And that old woman didn't have it in her; she had so much love, unknown to young women, that I was overwhelmed with a desire to possess her over and over again. It was the love of a body that had endured the agony of birth. It was the unconditional love of a mother. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Igor missed his ball and gave way to Ben.

- Not really, but I couldn't have done that!

- And maybe it's for the best, - Ben said sadly. - One of American Indians’ legends has it that a man got his strength from a jaguar, his mind from a snake and his eye from a hawk, but was not satisfied anyway. Do you know why?

- They didn't teach how to fly?

- Not flying, planes can do that.

- Because it wasn’t enough?

- Exactly! Because there isn't enough, and there is never enough. Even when the earth has nothing left to give, there will always be not enough for a man. This is why children are happy in their foolishness, and we grieve in our wisdom.

- As the saying goes, ‘He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow’.

- Yes, it seems that Solomon was right. Except his wisdom isn't enough for me, I want more,’ Ben said as he accidentally put the wrong ball in the pocket and lost the game. - Shit! Didn't Solomon and Confucius happen to meet? The latter used to say that a wise man knows no sorrow. Which of them is right? The one who mourned or the one who rejoiced? The one who believed in the Hebrew God, or the one who gained much more wisdom, even though he didn't know that God? I don't understand why it happened this way: the one who believed got his doubts, and the one who didn't know - gained. Maybe because one lost the fear of God while acquiring wisdom, and the other had no fear, and therefore did not know sorrow...

Igor thought about his friend just said.

- Soon I will find out myself. I'm leaving for India tomorrow. I'll call you when I get back.

‘Okay,’ Igor answered.

Igor’s brother and his large family lived in a cabin near the Protestant church where he served. His family always welcomed him. Brothers had just started greeting when a whole crowd of happy children ran up to Igor and threw themselves at him. Ksenia, Anton's wife, looked out of the bedroom to nod to Igor, and continued to cradle her youngest daughter. Anton had five children, he loved them very much, but did not spoil them, and at times he could even be strict with them. When the children calmed down, the brothers went out on the porch.

- How are you, Igor?

- The same stuff, you know: work, articles. I saw Ben today. The kids are growing by leaps and bounds, as I can see!

- Yes, - my brother laughed, - this they are great at, we don't have time to buy clothes!

- I  know!

Anton nodded, took a deep breath and continued:

- You know, I want to tell you something important. - Igor became alarmed. - The Bible says in the Acts 2:17, "Your young men will see visions”. Well, I’ve had the same dream twice," Anton began slowly. - Remember that commercial? - He moved his hand, tapping his fingers one against the other, as if that helped him remember. - Well, where happiness is offered.

- Right...

- Do you remember that presenter?

- I do... What’s with him?

- Well, I had a dream that you and I were having tea, just like now. Suddenly your phone rings, you answer it, you talk about something, you hang up and say you've lost someone, and you go looking for them. I keep drinking my tea, the TV is on, they show this presenter, and then this guy announces the winner, and he says your name. You go on stage, and they hand you a box of money and offer to take it. You say you want to turn it down, and they tell you that one doesn't turn down things like that. You take it and hold it out to me through the screen. I woke up wer with sweat," he finished, taking a sip of tea.

- So you mean to tell me that God is telling you that I'm going to get a lot of money and give it to charity? -
Anton laughed.

- No, you don't understand! I think He means wealth. I don't know what kind: maybe salvation, maybe initiation, maybe a lot of money indeed! I really don't know! I don't have the gift of interpreting dreams. But I prayed about the meaning of this dream, and He just told me to retell it to you.

- Oh, great! You know, I think it's money after all - there’s never too much! - Igor laughed.

- Yes, it's hard to argue with that, - Anton confirmed. - Where are you going now?

- Home.

- Hmm, what are you going to do?

Igor grimaced.

- You won't like it!

They exchanged a look.

- Well, well, you've found yourself a problem again!

Igor raised an eyebrow and stared at Anton.

- And now you're judging me.

- I'm not judging you! Although, - he said, - the human heart is deceitful. I'm sorry, I must be that kind of man, and yes...

- Don't make excuses! Christ died for you. Isn't that what you teach? 

Anton nodded, not knowing what to answer. 

- I know your tricks, your excuses all in the name of Christ! What was it that you said about the tongue: "The tongue is in such a place that it defiles both the body and the soul. Is that what it says?

- Not exactly, it's the third chapter of James...

- Not the point,- Igor interrupted him. - You know what I'm talking about. Whenever I come to you, you come at me with this Christ thing! Man, you can't just be my brother without this bullshit!

- Igor, I'm sorry, I don't understand what's going on? Why did you get so worked up? - Igor looked away. - Do you hear me?

- I'm sorry! I don't know what came over me, I must have had too much to drink," he got up from the table.

- Do you want me to walk you home?

- No, that's okay, I'll walk home.

- It was good seeing you.

- You too, brother. Just don't judge me, okay? It's not good for you! - Igor winked smiling.

- It's alright, brother! God bless you!

- You too!

Igor came home tired. Sitting down on the bed, illuminated by the dim light, he reflected on the day gone by. Marie was lying facing the window.

- What took you so long? Where have you been? - she asked through sleep.

- At my brother's..." he answered sadly.

- Did something happen?

- Nothing.

She sat up and hugged him and asked:

- "What were you and your brother talking about?

- As usual, about eternal things.

Marie smiled, lying on her side again.

- What's so funny?

- It's not worth worrying about.

- And I'm not! - He objected, turning to Marie with his face.

- Oh, do you think I'm blind? Come on, spill it, what were we talking about?

Igor laughed.

- It was just a hard day is all!

- Did he invite you to church? - Marie asked mockingly.

- Well, yes! - Igor confirmed. - Again with his tricks, only now he tried to play prophet on me. He's gone crazy - he thinks that God has a mission for me! Well, look at me, do I look like the Messiah?

- If only a little, - said the girl playfully, and laughed.

She saw the marks of a sleepless night on his face, unshaven, reeking of booze, his hair disheveled. She kind of liked him like that, though.

- I'll get you! - he grabbed a pillow and started playfully hitting Marie with it. She squealed and giggled. Igor covered her head with the pillow, pretending to start strangling her, then threw the it aside and began kissing the girl. However, Marie asked a question that stopped him:

- Do you yourself believe in God? - she asked.

- Me? - Igor pulled back and squatted down. - It's a hard question for me. Anton and I grew up together, so we often argued. I read the Bible, too, so I had my points. I even wrote an essay on "Revelation of John" for a philosophy class at university. That's why I can't answer that right off the bat.

Marina regretted asking that. She wanted to turn it all into a joke for foreplay, but Igor didn't appreciate the attempt.

- Have you read the Bible yourself? - he turned to her.

- I started,- Marie yawned, trying to show that she wasn't interested. - But it was so boring: Adam gave birth to Abraham, Abraham gave birth to Isaac, Isaac gave birth to Newton, Newton gave birth to Mechanics, Mechanics gave birth to… - she started laughing, but quickly stopped when she saw that Igor did not take the joke.

- It's not just that, I even have my favorite places, shall I tell you?

She didn't particularly want to hear it, but she knew there was nothing she could do now.

- Of course I do,- she confirmed, thinking to herself, "Holy crap, what have I interrupted”

- Really? - Igor asked as if provoking.

She pouted and answered:

- Of course! What kind of joke is that!

- I believe it,- he said with a smile, but then got serious again. - Some parts of the Bible are the prophecies. I'm amazed at the consistency of these legends. And the place that interests me the most is chapter 13, where it goes about the coming of the Antichrist and about his number 666.

- The ones from the movies?

- More precisely, movies are based on the book: "Omen", "End of the World" with Schwarzenegger; "Judgment Day" and others. Lots of them were made on the subject, and all of them were rubbish! "Metropolis" was pretty good, but they distorted the plot so much that the movie lost its initial idea.

- I hadn't really thought about it. If you hadn't told me, I wouldn't have known. You shouldn't have said that about the movies, though, - 'Omen' seemed all right…

-It doesn't matter! - he interrupted her. - I wish there was a Bible, it would be easier to remember everything.

"Thank God there isn’t one," thought Marie, "He might as well start reading!"

- Come on, tell me, I'm so interested!

- All right, I'll try to remember. Anyway. John was the last of the twelve apostles. He was hiding in prison under a false name, where he wrote the Book of Revelation, which is at the very end of the Bible. And he wrote it from a dream he saw. An angel appeared to him and began to reveal mysteries. John saw God sitting on a throne, and He revealed to him the mystery of the book hidden behind the seven seals. Each seal revealed a new vision. The apostle first prepared himself to read the book, then opened the seals. When he opened the last one, he ate the book, which "will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”

- The book must be harder than dope, or they haven't invented dope like that yet! - Marie remarked jokingly.

- In any case, a man cannot understand it. John wrote it as God allowed him to, that is, he did not tell everything, and perhaps it wasn’t not entirely preserved. There is a repetition of sevens, events overlapping one another and hiding the original meaning. It is kind of a puzzle. "If one is wise and has an understanding to count the number of the beast, which is also the number of a man, the number comes to 666." It may be the number of people with the stigma. There are more than 7 billion people now. It may be a place, and it's America, judging by the flag, or maybe it's one person through whom this will come. So it's not really clear. And the numbers are repeated, only adding a mystery, like 7 seals, 7 churches, 7 candlesticks, 7 days.

- And seven deadly sins, - Marie added.

- And where did that come from?

- From the “Seven” movie.

- See, the coincidences, the magic of numbers. John opens the seals, revealing another human calamity, but until 144,000 righteous men from the 12 tribes of Israel die in the name of Christ, the cup of wrath will not be poured out on the earth.

- So the world won't end until hundreds of thousands of people die in agony? - she asked, barely able to contain her laughter.

- What hundreds of thousands of people are you talking about? I said: the righteous men.

Marie couldn't hold back any longer and burst out laughing.

- Now you look like a priest - you're trying to make me feel miserable" said Marie.

- It's like you weren’t listening!

- No! I was listening, I'm just not very good at understanding such things!

- Well, when it starts, a third of the planet's population will die, a third of the earth's life will die, a third of the moon and the sun will be darkened, the Devil will appear and give power to the Antichrist, he will rule for 42 months, then the Lamb of God will come and overpower him. The earth will open up, "...great Babylon will blossom like a rose, Christ will pour out the cup of his wrath upon it. And the city will fall, the great harlot, the queen of the seven mountains, for she has made all nations drunk with the wine of the wrath of her fornication," Igor ended.

- Do I look like a "great harlot"? - Marie asked, repeating Igor's words.

- Not exactly, but I like your wine!

- Just listen to the sound of it, "harlot," - she said in a chorus.

- My harlot, - Igor kissed her.

- Now drink my wine, if you do not want to remain without sweetness, for I am the queen of the seven mountains! - Marie whispered to him, satisfied that he had stopped talking and finally paid attention to her.

The neighbors that night could not sleep.

*More than a million people applied for the show.

Мари Королева семи гор

Want to be a sponsor?