That morning, against all odds, eerily, Trevor and Anya trudged the entire way from his mudroom apartment to the metro without seeing a corpse. It was peculiar and disappointing, particularly for this Stalinist graveyard of St. Petersburg. This once proud neighborhood was losing its edge. Typically, Trevor wouldn't have been able to walk out of his rat house without seeing someone lying prostate in the snow with their head smashed in. Times were changing, and like all changes, the paradigm shift filled Trevor’s head with unease.
Slowly, the two of them descended downward on smooth, worn stairs to the garnet macabre of the Avtovo subway station. Even here, the dusky opulence of the underground temple was out of sorts - the reeking hordes, the lemming seas of black bundled Petersburg zombies - they were nowhere to be found. Had Trevor missed something? Was there an airborne pathogen prowling the avenues that day? Had ebola or the black plague arisen from the centuries old sewers to wreak havoc on this isolated colony of swampy isles?
Trevor's groggy musings where tacitly cut off by the rumbling, horrible growl of a blue bullet subway train angrily issuing forth from the deep, hallowed caves of the earth. The oily, heavy air of asbestos, death carbons, and rot swirled about Trevor’s and Anya's cheeks and eyelashes like the heady breath of some giant mummy casting its terrible spell upon all who dared enter its tomb. Holding loosely of her feverish hand, Trevor led Anya stumbling past the opened scales and into the erect staff of the subterranean snake's body. Their aching eyes moved about the carriage in curious, surreal daze. For as far as they could see, all up and down the slender beast, the entrails of the blue snake were entirely empty. Not a wart-covered babushka wrapped in layers of blubber and musty wares, nor a single titmouse, disturbed the eerie, cavernous void.
"What's going on?" Trevor whispered in vexation. "Where is everybody?"
Anya's head slowly swiveled back and forth, her rolling, Golden Horde, feline eyes scanning about the graffiti kennel cage in bewilderment, her petite lips and mouth slightly agape as her thoughts swam around in dark search of explanation.
The scene was particularly surreal when one considered the manner in which the blue snake temples usually appeared. On any typical day in the life of St. Petersburg, the blue bullet cattle cars were packed like meat wagons with strange creatures and foul, stapled-together experiments - reeking, disjointed corpses cruelly fused to low wattage sparks of life. But today, Trevor and Anya were all alone. Was this death, Trevor wondered. Had we poisoned ourselves the night previous with Angel Maker vodka? Why hadn't I spent 2 dollars more to get a non-lethal grade of kerosene to rape my mind with? Trevor's thoughts meandered off as possessed doors obtusely snapped close their metal jaws. Well, at least the subway operator hadn't died, Trevor figured. If ever there was a yellow canary, it had to be the subway operator. He was exposed to millions of zombies a day and their various diseases and psychoses. If he was still alive, then there was hope that a few scattered remnants of humanity would survive.
In tentative unease, Trevor and Anya sat close together on the sullied, cracked vinyl. They both jostled and leaned as the startling jolt of the conductor's lash jerked the train forward, moaning tiredly as it roughly plunged the two of them onward into the black bloodstream of St. Petersburg's underground ventricles.
"Is there an epidemic?" Trevor asked, reaching into his overcoat for an adjustment tranquilizer. "Are there Chechen terrorists running around?"
"I sink no." Anya casually dismissed Trevor's dramatic naivete.
Trevor administered codeine, two for himself, one for his girl.
"No, tablet not liking me." Anya cried softly.
"Oh, no, no, no." Trevor reassured her in soothing voice. "Tablet liking you. Yes, yes, yes, my dear…"
His hand brought the chalky snowflake to the glowing hearth of Anya's apricot lips. Her matador aversion soon dropped from her face, as it usually did, and her bubblegum tongue snatched at the adulterant like kitten lapping at warm milk.
"Is today some crazy holiday?" Trevor continued fussing over the empty revolver chambers in his mind.
"No." Anya pondered. "Oh, fu! Of course!” she snapped to. “Today is sun god rising day."
"Sun god day?" Trevor asked.
"Ohhh…" Trevor let his head recline back in the warm, soothing bubbles of nervous system paralyzer and comprehension. "That explains it. Bow down and worship the sun day. Yes, of course."
So there was reason and sensibility in the world. Trevor exhaled in the comfort of knowing, even in Russia. That morning was indeed Sunday, or "sun god rising day" as Anya had described it. Sunday in Russia of course meant one thing - stay in bed with crippling, debilitating hangover and squander away your last remaining shreds of existence sipping kerosene in the shadows. Citywide, the lethargic zombies stayed home in their decrepit, dank rabbit holes of plaster and cement, dressed in musty, moth-eaten robes and slippers like patients in a mental ward, drinking cups of clouded tea, choking on hair of the dog hemlock, sleeping, stumbling, slurring all through the dreary, worthless processions of feeble, pink lemonade sunlight.
It was nation-wide neurosis, and the people weren't even on prescription drugs or high tech mind rape. When one stepped back and observed, it was remarkable what a few black bible Bolsheviks had managed to do with their Russian rape camp. Christian churches were dynamited, God broken on the wheel in the minds of the many, people run off their land by bloodied bayonet, death pyramids polished to high shine, and tens of millions of profane chattel run head long into machine gun fire, starvation, death camps, alcoholism, and nothingness. Lev Bronshtein, who like most of the snakes, changed his name (in this case to Trotsky), the black star of the Russian Civil War, even went so far as to put God on trial. Wouldn't you know it, in absentia, Lev Trotsky found God guilty. The bones of the cogs were ground to a fine powder, scattered about the beleaguered land, and pissed on by laughing dogs. No memorials would ever be raised for these simple forest dwellers. They weren't the chosen lot, and their rape and death culturally, spiritually, and physically "officially" meant nothing.
Perhaps in the future, pharmaceutical companies would make billions of dollars off the shattered, abused, manipulated Russian psyche that longed only for fantasy, alcohol, and a small cot to lie on with the shades drawn. But, for the time being, the plebs were marching cohesively and desirably merely on their own, one giant, conformist, blindfolded, unified mass of aborted souls living in the material mortuary of the socialist utopia. These victims, these traumatized slaves, they drooled in their concrete, Lyubyanka cells fronting as "apartments," in their moldy, moron prison jumpsuits fronting as "clothes," their eyes drinking listlessly at a few channels of staticy, stone-age resolution, state MK programing fronting as jovial entertainment, and, perhaps most surprising of all, they loved it.
“My country is the BEST! FUCK YOU!” they bellowed from rooftops.
They loved their forest turned slave camp. They loved every succulent morsel of this moribund existence served up for them by Kremlin conjuring, lovingly squeezed from the poisoned, baneful breasts of Babylon. There was brilliance in this accomplishment, and the low-tech, no-frills manner in which it was achieved. Dissension? Angel Maker vodka kiosks easily cleaned up the non-calibrating cogs of this miraculous merry-go-round. Everyone else was content to drool in the enveloping embrace of the warm bath waters in soft, languid suicide, their life's blood, unbeknownst to them, silently pluming from opened veins into thick, submarine, cumulonimbus clouds of the deepest garnet.
What a time to be a chief manipulator of the people, to be a snake king of the great slave circus. Had it ever been easier? Was there anything at all left for these lascivious despots to lose sleep over? The peasants would not storm the castle, overrun the palace and brutishly knock over side-servers filled with irreplaceable Gilgamesh china. The Christians were scattered and sabotaged, ready to be lined up against a wall and shot by blood-crazed robots. New age, whack job pantheism was sweeping up everyone's skirts, tickling their privates and cracking open their minds to the necromantic channels of darkness and deception. Any advantage the ruled had over the rulers by their shear strength in numbers had long since been checkmated by a massive and overwhelming monopoly on violence, rations, and mind rape. It wasn't pitchforks and shovels versus single shot muskets, and it wasn't ethnically homogeneous, God-fearing people versus a small clique of foreign luciferians. Not even close. It was disenfranchised, aborted-soul atheists of diluted and ravaged stock, hypnotized, doped up, psycho-babbled, Darwin-ized, and indebted, versus snake charmers with a cohesion of religion and beliefs, global inculcation, control of money, food, thought, a corner on the black magic market, a dogged adherence to bloodline and stock, and legions of robotic storm troopers armed with gases, machine guns, helicopters, tanks, drones, diseases, psychological mind games, satellites, planes, death rays, and intransigent hatred.
For the chief manipulators and high priests, these were not tumultuous times. The conclusion of the 20th century resembled more a victory lap than any sort of dialectical struggle promulgating the great work. The snake kings could look out from their towers across the world at lands comfortably in death throws and submission. Lazarus had long ago replaced the entrance to the tomb with a blast door. Content to lie there in a decomposing state upon the stone slab in pitch darkness, he breathed long and heavy at the ether, and cast himself off dutifully into an eternal embrace with the deep, blissful slumber of soma's lips.
Jostling through the subterranean catacombs of the great Petersburg cathedral, Trevor and Anya cuddled close to one another, the serene, soma slumber baths washing over them like warm kisses and the tender, loving caress of Lethe. Their eyelids flew in unison at half-mast. Anya's cheeks and forehead glowed warm and rosy next to Trevor's pallid complexion. He could feel the heat radiating off her like a furnace. It must have been her southern blood sunbaked on the golden highway, he thought. That particular brew of deep Caucasian mystery and Nomadic grassland enchantment that Anya wished so earnestly to ignore and forget about. How strange. Her ancestors, so many thousands of years ago, climbed down from Mount Ararat, and were quickly instructed by the trickster gods to worship the sun. From the fogs of Europe to the mists of the Far East, they poured the blood and drank of the solar ceremony. And here they were, thousands of years down the beguiling, twisting road, and the hot blood in her veins was still pumping under assuage of sun god rising day.
Sun god rising day was a special day for the cathedral of the north not only in its collective denial of life, but also for its diligent tithing. For although it was not recognized or acknowledged publicly with any great fanfare, it was a day of earnest sacrifice to the unquenchable gods of the great cauldron. These sacrifices happened right here, in the catacombs, right where Trevor and Anya were staring off into space and daydreaming. Trevor and Anya of course hadn't the slightest idea. Every day they sleepwalked through these staging grounds for the metamorphosis and rendering of souls, and everyday all they thought about was 'Where's the damn train?!?' 'Look at all these damn people.' 'Where's my wallet?' 'Fuck you!' 'Stop pushing me!' ‘Oh, my footsies are killing me.’ and ‘Being born was a bad choice.’ You see, these trains, these azure snakes, they had double lives; one as cantankerous people movers upon iron rails, the other as shrouded ferrymen upon a great, garnet system of canals that led to the insatiable River Styx. It was amid these canals that the zombie rabble made their great leaps, so to speak, transfiguring their spoiled shadows from animated corpse into a mere useless scattering of bloodied shrapnel and soup bones.
Beginning a serious, no-holds-barred drunk on Friday, or even better, on Thursday, brought the beaten and defeated members of the tribe eyeball to eyeball with the whispering temptress of death by Sunday morning. This was always in serendipitous congruence with the last bottle of Angel Maker vodka being tapped, the last bottle of fingernail polish remover spent, welcoming, cosmic, death-carpet swaths of marmalade and violet permeating the heavens, beckoning forth like celestial fishing lines and lures through the mortuary demiurge of morning their lambs of slaughter.
At 5:30am each week the sacrifice temples of the underworld opened their arms. This again was great timing, one of the rare instances in Russia when convenience and ease were on the offer. All it took for a little zombie lamb was a nicotine overcoat, piss-stained trousers half-zipped up, some staggering, 2 rubles for a metro token (6 cents), and they were already on the platforms of the edge of the eternity. Decent and fairly priced was the passage to damnation. In a world of parasitic usury, fiat currency, and vampiric banking - this was one square deal.
As the ceremonies were about to commence in the catacombs, the winds whipped up and whirled about tumultuously. Amid the angry growling and gnashing of teeth, from the darkness of the inner earth, the piecing diamond eyes of the azure snake would awaken from repose, the howling and whirring filling the air as the blue bullet came screaming into the station along the iron tracks of the guillotine. When the howls and screams grew to climax, and the ravenous serpent swooped ferociously into the underworld temple, the anointed surrendered their tired, crippled sacks of alcohol-cured meat and atrophied spine to the rails of sacrifice. There, the tortured and confused human was feverishly dismembered into an assortment of chuck by the indifferent deli grinders of the azure snake, possibly even electrocuted by the 850 volt third rail for good and humorous measure. Head, shoulders, arms, hands, mid-section, trunk, legs, invariably. It depended of course on how tall the offering was and how and where they landed. An astute disciple with austere discipline, good form, and a satirist's sense of timing, might be able to go for six pieces. There were even legends of a few irrepressible heroes getting seven pieces. How and where these tall tales arose, no one was quite sure. These legends and fables wafted and bandied about the city like the tales of demigods and champions of ancient lore.
These legends and fables, of course, could never be confirmed, for the metro stations kept only occult academic and casual tallies of the number of offerings committed to the vile unforgiving. The general public therefore had no idea if they were meeting expected targets or falling behind. Were they dizzy with success, or were they saboteurs and laggards? No one knew. Not knowing made the city overall feel anxious and uneasy. Likely it contributed to a subconscious need to strive for more achievements - perhaps that's why the figures were kept secret in the first place. At any rate, the numbers were kept only in secret books because all days were like Sundays - fog days, days that didn't exist, moments for which there was no record, much like the antediluvian circus of bloodlust and mutants. That was unfortunate because it was on sun god rising days when the most fervent contributions to the cause were made. There were likely many herculean achievements on these days that went completely unrecognized in the annuls of devilish appeasement.
One way of trying to determine where the city stood in relation to the quota was to study the faces of the operators as the blue bullets came screeching into Sunday stations. One could try to gauge from his look of satisfaction or dejection how many Christmas trees he'd given the chop to that day. In most cases it was difficult to decipher. How does one study the face of a robot and procure his inner feelings toward a playful new scent like Lily of the Valley, let alone decipher the face of the executioner of Chop-Chop Square.
One thing a person could easily detect was when a subway operator was on a hot streak. The real crowd pleasers of the circus, the champion guillotine men, worked Belomore Canal cigarettes with dashing aplomb and swilled plastic cups of 3-star cognac as they breezed into the station. They had the look of gamblers up for days playing poker and closing in upon the elusive coup de grace. Big money was wagered in backrooms on who'd be on the leader board, especially during the peak suicide months of winter, which in St. Petersburg ran for a charming 7 months from Red October to Hitler's birthday. The unlucky losers were equally easy to identify. Any operator in the midst of a dry spell was classically slumped over their B-movie, sci-fi controls in sullen dejection, too depressed to even fire up a cheap papirosi.
The vast majority of technocrats, however, were hard to read, like looking at a person in a coma and wondering what they were dreaming. They may have been legends, hall of famers, but still, the dirge of 7 months of sleet and darkness eventually brought everyone to their knees and before the blade.
If one was really trying their best to sniff out ceremony, one could also head down into the various temples of the swamp and scrutinize the dusky alters for blood marks, brains, fingers, any telltale signs of an angel getting denied its wings. Most peculiar for a city teetering on complete bankruptcy - spiritual, financial, and physical - they somehow had the most proficient temple cleanup crews in the business. They rivaled the mysterious, inter-dimensional, incessant scrubbers of Disneyland, Nike World, and Kyoto. Unheralded babushki, sturdy, blathering warhorses that they were, covered in warts and peasant rags, mopped, swept, and wiped every inch of the subterranean slaughterhouses like diligent soldiers. They were unscrupulous and dogged. And they would always get to a sun god rising day sacrifice before any plebes caught a glimpse. You didn't want to alert or frighten the chattel by revealing to them how their brethren were devoured. Nevertheless, whether public or private, the grinders never ceased. The human harvest was fed through the millennia to the satanic machine in clockwork butchery, all behind the red velvet curtain of a babushka's washcloth. When all that was left was a whisper, no one cared for the story.
Trevor and Anya’s blue bullet downshifted into lugubrious slither and rocked drunkenly into the garnet entrails of the Vladimir station. Vladimir, along with nearby Ligovsky, was among the deepest of stations in the quicksand swamp of St. Petersburg. Above, nearly 180 feet of dark, foul sludge enveloped the narrow, oily catacomb confines. Screeching tiredly, the azure snake came to a rest and the cattle cars duly opened by unseen hand like the creaking, possessed doors of a haunted house. Utterly alone in the barren underworld, Trevor and Anya wobbled against each other, arms intertwined, staggering out into the eerie, cryptic stead.
"Sun god rising day," Trevor muttered. "The city sleeps."
"Yes." Anya slurred bubbily. "I am liking...Piter is better these situations."
Only as the two of them neared the short opulence of the wide platform staircase was their isolation finally disturbed. There, like an electric slap to their eyes, in startling presence, careening down the stairs, one of the city's ferociously embittered alcohol warriors blasted forth from stage right. Frightened by his inexplicably sudden appearance, Anya clutched onto Trevor in a surprised jolt, a staccato yelp firing up from bright, amber chocolate, almond eyes like a distress flare fired cattywampus into the dank heavens.
On this man's bony, yellowed body clung an ashen, midnight overcoat of threadbare filth and disheveled, putrid wares rife with weeks of sweat, urine, and street intimacy. He descended the stairs like a vacant, hypnotized specter, a stoic ghoul entering an arena of drunken plebes, a drugged and mesmerized offering brought before robed priests and cruel, towering effigies of winged malice.
As he swept past Anya and Trevor, a strange, unsettling aura volleyed in his wake. It wasn't a stench per say, nor any sort of pedestrian foulness. It was a formidably disturbing, electric unease that jolted the senses, producing a penetrating and profound chill deep within one's nerves. Anya clasped onto Trevor tightly. As the two parties crossed paths, Trevor felt a repugnant, unworldly negativity course up his spine.
"What is that guy up to?" Trevor mumbled.
"He's crazy man." Anya whispered.
This gladiator of the window cleaner cocktails, the eau d' cologne chasers, the rubbing alcohol kamikazes, the fingernail polish remover orgies, the dead body in the bathtub soirees, glided on cracked boots into the arena of strange led by two lifeless shark eyes of bloodshot obsidian. As any executioner in a Chop Square was want to divulge in laconic moments of heady nostalgia, when the victims were brought to the square to undergo metamorphosis, they were already, by most spiritual and metaphysical standards, quite dead. By that stage in the ritual, their life force had almost entirely drained away, like a fish having wallowed for too long on the dry, wooden planks of a boat in the high noon sun, like a ghost ship sputtering forth in the vast ocean, her crew having mysteriously vanished, her engines nevertheless thoughtlessly sputtering away. The victim's eyes, the executioners would often recount, were the dead eyes of a mannequin. And now, here before Anya and Trevor, this alcohol zombie looked frightfully similar. His face was dazed and unnatural, his skin the same hue of the Petersburg necropolis at night, a darkly embalmed marmalade, a sight grotesquely unnatural, like an orange pig suspended by a hook in an abattoir pirouetting in an icy breeze.
By some unseen Cassandra fishing line, this man was hurried onward, a devil's hook and lure greedily reeling him in. Indeed, just beyond the surface of Trevor and Anya’s watery planet lay poised a magnificent array of fishers of men, their ravenous, insatiable bellies providing the macabre symphony by which a flurry of nefarious lures danced before the population, each one dropped into the waters ingratiated with chants, spells, and black kisses. They danced and thrashed about in the gilded, sparkling allure, caressing the insides of people’s skulls like the intimate, warm breath of a lover.
As Trevor and Anya eyed the peculiar apparition in a daze, suddenly the air around them erupted in howls and screams. A rancorous, blue bullet guillotine stormed into the station, its wheels screeching like a thousand scythes drawn simultaneously across miles of sharpening stones. The air around Trevor and Anya began to fade in resolution. It became rife in pixelated, spatial disorder, as if a static current were interfering with the visual transmission from antennae eyes to television mind. Trevor stood there frozen, paralyzed in a horrid, sickening chill. The scrapping wail of the scythes whooshed through the garnet temple like a torrent of unleashed, rabid hounds. The beaten man drew near the edge of the platform, the diving board of the great, eternal beyond, the thin, velvet curtain between one's entrapment and one's revealing. The piercing diamond eyes of the azure snake angrily fixed on the haggard drunk as it bore down into the arena.
"My gods!" Anya cried.
The howling, gnashing sounds of metallic fury resoundingly drew to a terrible crescendo. Was this now a dream? A terrible nightmare? Trevor wondered to himself. Like a pumpkin casually and cheerfully dropped into a Parisian wicker basket, the man stepped in front of the cruel jaws of the snake and in an instant disappeared from sight, swallowed whole by the serpent with the utmost of ease. Anya screamed and buried her head desperately in Trevor's chest. The lights of the station flickered on and off in occult signal. The surrounds bent and warped in stunning unreality. The defense mechanisms in Trevor's mind were already kicking in. The grand, internal recorder was already preparing to besmirch, distort, and eventually delete this segment of the oval office tapes with crude, editorial hand. A vile, insipid energy raced through Trevor and Anya like an aftershock as a chorus of piercing, macabre shrieks and howls terrorized their psyches.
Trevor held Anya's raven head of Eden close as he stared transfixed at the azure snake. In the briefest of moments, the surrounds returned to normal, the ornate light fixtures returned to glow in their steady, dull warmth, the columns and tiles of the temple returned to their proper resolution and consistency within Trevor's viewing portals. It was just like waking from a dream. Anya quietly sniffled her nose as she timidly withdrew from Trevor's chest to look downward towards the platform. As she did the engineer angrily flung his door open on the side of the azure snake's head and stormed out into the station.
"Sonuvabitch!" he bellowed.
"Let us go!" Anya quickly instructed.
She grabbed Trevor's hand and urgently tugged at him to ascend the stairs with her. The engineer marched back half a wagon-length or so and began peering under the carriage.
"You rat mutherfucker!" he shouted.
Angrily he kicked at the side of the blue bullet.
"I needed you last week! I already lost the betting pool, you stupid fuck!"
The engineer brooded as he walked back to the controls and sleazed his way onto the radio.
"Nadiya, you hear me? Nadiya? Yeah, it's Kostya speaking. Clean up on aisle 2, babycakes. Send down the scrubbers. Naw, I'm thinking it's a four-piecer."
Another day in the pinball machine of the world, Trevor thought. In a daze, he and Anya sundered to the grand, animated staircase that shuttled the livestock from the subterranean corrals up into the pastures. Quickly, a warm, soothing thought washed over Trevor - medicine time. It was the perfect idea. When was there a greater need for mental adulteration then after witnessing a human harvest? Justified, he dug into his overcoat for a reward hit of monkey circus. That's the ticket. Perking up, he moved down one step on the escalator so that Anya and he would be eye to eye in warm embrace as they slowly floated to the top of the somber wishing well. Trevor placed a white snowflake on his tongue and gulped it down.
"I know what we need." Trevor said to Anya. "Let's go get sundaes. Strawberry sundaes."
"Sundaes?" Anya peeped, her terracotta eyes of mysterious, Middle Eastern gardens now gazing into his in brightening, hopeful deliverance.
"That's right." Trevor went on. "Strawberry sundaes and coffee for breakfast. After that we'll buy a bottle of red Georgian wine and take a walk in Michael’s Garden. We'll have a grand day together, darling."
Anya clasped onto Trevor tightly, the distraught tension in her body wondrously quelling as they inched like a caterpillar up the swampy depths, past the lagoons of foul sludge and the centuries of shattered bones, up into the demented, ashen playgrounds of St. Petersburg, the epic expanse of snow swept, demiurgic splendor.