Walpurgis Days, Walpurgis Nights

Shana Nachalova brought the pestle down in sturdy, thumping cadence against the mortar like the tap happy foot of an enlivened bass drummer. The entire kitchen table shook, the walls trembled, and Trevor’s head recoiled in agony like an octopus receiving kisses from a harpoon.

“I’m out of here.” Trevor gasped.

“What?” Shana’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped, communicating across the wide spectrum of mediums her displeasure. “You’re not helping?”

Before her a coroner’s alchemy of dough, flour, ground, bloodied flesh, salted cabbage, spices and herbs cajoled and vibrated.

“I will teach you to grind.”

“Grind?” Trevor scoffed. “What’s to that?”

“Everything!” Shana protested.

Trevor ignored her and opened her uncle’s refrigerator. Trevor hadn’t been in such luxurious trappings since he had been in Yankeeland months prior. The checkerboard floor tiles gleaming, the cabinetry bright, orderly, and sturdy, the refrigerator direct from Germany, and there within, amid the exotic jars of picked fish, gherkins, capers, and feta cheeses floating in oily brines, a chorus line of Bavarian beatitudes kicking up their healthy, sun-kissed thighs in festive, prideful celebration. One by one, they came before Trevor, pirouetted, and bowed. First came Paulander, promiscuous whore, then Hacker-Pschorr, coy and pernicious alter girl, then Ayinger, delectable forbidden pleasure, and of course Weihenstephaner, slump buster. Trevor settled on the Paulander.

“Hey!” Shana chirped, her rabbit foot pestle still thumping away.

Trevor popped the cap off with his lighter and, in cool ecstasy, swam into a long, luxurious pull. Nothing had hit his lips or taste buds that caressed and aroused them so thoroughly, nothing in the 5 odd months that he had been in Russia. It was as if he was tasting food and drink for the first time. Trevor paused to stare at the label in cooing bliss.

“Sonuvabitch.” Trevor gasped as his eyes rolled over the half liter of ambrosia.

“Trevor, my uncle will kill us. He knows how many beers are there.”

“I’ll reimburse him.”

“Huh?”

“I’ll buy a new one and we’ll put that in his fridge before he comes back.”

“Where can you find this beer? It’s impossible.”

“Well, he found it somewhere.”

“Yes, but he finds everything abroad, or from duty free.”

Trevor’s eyes moved from the beer to the counter tops and cupboards. The canned tomatoes, Germany, the knives, Germany, boxes of muesli and cereal, Germany, the jars of sauerkraut, Germany, the refrigerator, Germany, the kettle, Germany, the chocolates, Germany, the cherry red frying pan, ah-hah, France. Finally, some diversity.

“What the hell does your uncle do?”

“Business.” Shana shrugged.

“Oh.” Trevor basked in faux-realization as he drained another sweet, loving pull. “That clears it up.”

A hallway of mirrors lay stretched before Trevor like the long alabaster legs of a white stockinged Versaillian bride, veiled behind the cheesecloth of a surrealist, early morning daze. Breakfast beer in tow, sweet Bavarian bosom of bounty, Trevor squinted in the blinding glare as he sundered down to the parlor of this affluent Nevsky dwelling. In the parlor, the debilitating glare dissipated into gentler burgundies and emerald. Here was an amiable den for a gentleman to morning imbibe and silly himself.

Trevor looked about the room, still coming to grips with his surrounds. A series of plush, ruby chairs and sofas were arranged in loose, circled-wagon, an oaken desk and jade lamp, bookshelves filled with Russian, old-Russian, German, and English. On the desk, a worn globe sat tilted, peculiarly its oceans black, its lands a fire terracotta. Black oceans, Trevor asked himself as he casually gave the dark orb a spin. Why make a globe with black oceans? The globe came to a rest with Trevor peering down onto the purple mountain majesty and fruited plains of the new world. What’s this, he asked, noticing something amusing about the landscape. One, two, three…7 cities. That was all America had, according to the makers of this globe. New York, Chicago, LA, Houston, DC, the rest a vast, empty wilderness of meandering, buffalo and tumble weeds. Trevor spun the globe over to the Soviet Union. There, a sea of large, black dots littered themselves across the realm, from Leningrad to Vladivostok, from Archangel to Odessa - cities and metropolises and super cities galore.

Typical douchery, Trevor chuckled to himself. He gave the globe a final spin. As he did, he noticed a plush, velvet pillow lying in the desk chair. It was a deep burgundy, like most things in the room, the sofas, the chairs, the Victorian wallpaper, and it was fringed with bright gold tassels, like rays coming off the sun. In the middle of the pillow, in stark, searing gold, two embroidered triangles, one pointing up to the above, one pointing down to the great below. They were, of course, halfway overlaid on top of each other. Trevor picked up the pillow and looked at it. It gave him an uneasy feeling. Expertly, Trevor’s decades of programming kicked in. Why am I feeling repulsed by this symbol? That’s immoral to even entertain whispers of unease. He put the pillow back down in the office chair and walked over to the baby grand piano near the windows. Sitting at the piano, Trevor indulged in a long pull as he slid over to meander his gaze out the tall pair of windows. “Fucking Koba.” He coughed as his sleeve wiped sweet, bubbly brew from his mouth.

Across the courtyard from his nest, in a third-story window, a pale, shapely, female form danced nubile and naked in a full-length mirror. Drawing close to the window, Trevor angled himself behind the burgundy curtains and peered across the dilapidated courtyard. The woman was pale as porcelain, her breasts virgin, taut, and pinkishly adolescent. Her limbs were smooth and her skin without blemish. If anything, her youthful nimbleness was mired only by a faint whisper of anemia.

Born in the northern reaches, swaddled in furs, she looked to have been kept there, hidden from the sun’s warming rays for a decade and a half. It was quickly forgivable. Of more interest, however, was the fact that she wasn’t alone. She was accompanied by her bubbly, half-naked twin, dancing impishly with her in the mirror. They moved in well-choreographed concert, this girl and her twin, shaking and jiggling in carefree, symphonic dalliance.

On the dresser in the girls’ room, before the slender, musty bed, perched an obsidian cube. It was out of place with the faux, stained mahogany cabinetry from the Brezhnev Ikea and the dripping ivy of the faded, pea soup wall paper from Belarus. They were both crudely natural; one being wooden, the other botanical. The obsidian curio, however, what was it? Mystery plastics, synthetic this and that. How did it function? Its innards were occult and mysterious. Whereas the upright coffin cabinets, musty bed, pea soup wall dressing, and pale, nimble, Russian breasts hailed from local Russian and White Russian factories, both organic and inorganic, the black cube’s origins were half a world away, and its assembly was carried out somewhere on the far eastern edges of the continent, across epic thousands and thousands of miles of grassland, the ancient slaughter highways of the Khan, the sun bleached bones and barren demilitarized zone of the Gobi desert, and, finally, into the curious gulags of the Orient.

Now, this obsidian cube wasn’t precisely a cube, per say, with sharp corners and abrupt 90 degree angles. No, no, no – it had been smoothly contoured and softened into a less obtuse affair, the rounded edges hearkening back slightly to the days of crystal balls, of messages received from the other side through the forbidden exploits of necromancy. Within the murky ether of the modern-day telephantasm, images issued forth from an unseen realm. To the human body and mind, they were undetectable, spectrums imperceivably beyond the purview of their knowing. Yet through the sorcery of the obsidian cube, these disembodied phantoms became known. Like dreams, their invocations danced in the mind on merry-go-rounds. Blood, murder, rape, destruction. Blood, murder, rape, destruction. The young woman’s bare breasts shook and bounced in glee as these myriad montages of death rolled off the ultra-dimension and lacquered themselves between the eyes, directly onto the canvas of the cerebral cortex, the oily ink dripping and bleeding inward, deeper, penetrating, seeping into the forevermore memory chambers of the subconscious. Blood, murder, rape, destruction.

On top of a dresser near the door, amid the bottles of fake perfumes hawked by villagers in the wake of the St. Catherine’s church on Nevsky, a crude boombox, an ironic eyesore, with a name like Soundex or Panomax, slowly chewed through a tape cassette from the stalls in the Gostinny Courtyard underpass. The sounds bled from the 5 kopek speakers, high, shallow, and tinny. A Tartarine tank girl, mysteriously arrived from the Urals, popular overnight, sang about having AIDS and dying. It was an upbeat and toe-tapping song for Russia at the time. The twin girls shook and bounced playfully to the chorus. “You have AIDS, it means we will die.” It was the perfect song to start off any day, and wonderful accompaniment to the parade of images of Germans being blown apart and mutilated on the jj box.

Shaking about fancy-free, the twins danced over to the bed and selected a concoction of plastic and metal off the slumped mattress. In unison, they wrapped the chicken wire around their chests like mummy’s gauze. The synthetic pink material and metal frame smashed their nubile, pink bubble gum breasts into their body, ensuring that when they were older, their breasts, riddled with cysts and tumors, would sag to their waists. Next came the fashionable and playful spring wares from the vermin infested stalls of the Apraksin Courtyard and the clustered caravans of the Trinity Market. Both fashion outlets were setting the city abuzz with their delightful ensembles that year that fused black and gray jeans with black and gray, synthetic blouses and tops. The unseen sweatshops where these Turkish and Chinese oddities were made were really on a roll. The blacks and grays were flying off the shelves, even in the long yellow days of northern summer.

The aids song drifted away and the Tartarine tank girl began singing another peppy song, written by candlelight on the other side. Why? She sang over and over again, why, why, why? Trevor sat there in the window sill asking the same thing. This anemic, waify, white creature of the northern forests, why was her present state so peculiarly decrepit and unnatural? Taken back 100 years, perhaps to when her great-grandmother was her age – she would have been adorning herself with what? Mass produced, synthetic, slave garb oddities? No, of course not. She would have worn clothes made by her mother, sisters, cousins, aunts, herself – clothes no doubt made of real materials and real fabrics. Her home, where would it have been? In the village, in a house constructed by her brothers, uncles, father, cousins, and neighbors? Quite possibly. Her food, from the nearby ground - again, cultivated and harvested by people she knew. Stories, songs, tales, entertainment - again, all transmitted by family members and those nearby in the community. To think these times were rosy was a great malfeasance, Trevor knew. Then again, you were not in an electrified square room in a sea of bricks, concrete, sewage, and swamp, the jj-box frothing black bile into your mind, its cobwebs and antennae emanating not from family and community, but from the bowels of the Kremlin, the sounds pouring in through occult radio transmissions, the music recorded in unseen seances, by people unknown, your meager slave sustenance swirling with processed artificiality, and cruel, unknown substances.

The twins grabbed a bottle of Nevskoe beer and sipped playfully at the sugary, befouling, chem-laced hops. Where had that vat of strange, artificial delight been brewed, by whom, and with what? What poisons and curious ingredients were included in the numbing, poisonous rations? Quite different indeed from the jug of home crafted moonshine under the kitchen table.

Adorn in their synthetic shambles, the two twins crouched near each other in the mirror and together began applying thick charcoal masks of Nefertiti to their eyes. They smiled lusciously to one another as the macabre ashes darkened their eye sockets like skulls risen from the grave. Why? Why had she gone from peasant woman, naturally clad, eating of local, organic fare, sharing the same tales and stories with her family that they had been sharing for 100’s of years, to now, abruptly, cut off from the land, food, water, clothing, religion, and familiar messaging.

The messaging that she was receiving now, the music, the movies, the news, the stories, it was unlike anything a person had received anywhere at any time in history. Why? Was it organic, natural, was history simply moving along, unplanned and whimsical? Trevor’s mind buzzed. Why? The most pernicious of questions. Remember your schooling, Trevor reminded himself. History is moving to the great liberal utopia, the brotherhood of man. There will be no more wars. We will sit at ornate tea ceremonies and cool ourselves comfortable with pearl-handled fans. It’s ambling there, naturally, with gentle nudges along the way from providence’s invisible hand, but moreover by man’s intelligent, progressing, and evolving psyche. Don’t burden yourself with why, Trevor argued to himself. Look at the girls. They don’t bother with why. Look at how happy they are. Indeed, the girl and her twin most certainly were not asking why. Bottle in hand, they twirled to the witch’s music brewed for them in some far-off studio. Serenely content, they spun and danced in the cool shadows like a pirouetting daydream; why, why why.

Down the Versaillian hallway, the pitter-patter of wet feet drew near the sitting room.

“What are you doing?” Shana chirped, her petite hands of full cream tightening up a beehive headdress of burgundy towel.

Shana, like the girls down below dancing in the window, was alabaster after a solid 9 months without sunlight. Everyone in town had the tallow, gaunt look of having been pressed through winter’s ringer, but Shana especially. In a frayed and faded garnet robe, she drew near Trevor.

“Some girls are showing me their merits.” Trevor smiled.

Shana slapped him on the shoulder, a mixture of tease and scolding. She was offended that Trevor would look at another girl, but the devious nature of it titillated her.

“Who?”

Shana poked her head through the burgundy curtains to survey the courtyard, hoping to catch a glimpse.

“I like the one in the mirror.” Trevor said.

“Ach!” Shana grumbled. “School girl!”

Unimpressed, Shana pitter-pattered back to the kitchen to pour herself a cup of tea. Trevor, meanwhile, cocked his head to peer up through the double windows to the northern sky. An ashen, cool dome of blueberry marine hung over the courtyard, a strong yellow blast of northern sun blasting against the upper lips of the naked 19th-century brickwork. Curious, Trevor thought to himself, beer washing down tranquilly, eyeballs poking about the courtyard. Every day prior had been gray, tumultuous skies, icy, embittered rains, a fervent tug-o-war death struggle with the empire of winter and the upstart, scattered, and uncoordinated partisans of spring.

“They shoot the clouds.” Shana informed Trevor nonchalantly as she returned to the parlor, sitting in robes and sipping her tea. “They always do.”

Trevor’s head swelled with grating aversion. Yet another encounter with the ubiquitous practice of presenting peasant fables and superstitious hearsay as fact. A country which couldn’t pay its soldiers, its factory workers, its pensioners, was manipulating the weather, and with titan-like proclivity. Trevor’s eyes scanned about the blue dome. Not a cloud in sight. Not even a wispy, cotton candy streak. What explained it? Pure happenstance, a lucky break in a land otherwise rolling snake eyes for a thousand years? Shooting clouds, as Shana suggested? Was it magic? Rain dances? Just then, Trevor’s beer nearly jumped from his hand. A massive, skull-thumping explosion rocked through the floor and walls. It sent Trevor’s nerves jangling like a 100 alerted rattlesnake tails. The concussions ricocheted angrily off the courtyard walls, bouncing like domino wrecking balls back and forth down the Moika Canal towards the lemon courtyards of the Russian University.

“What the hell was that?” Trevor asked, eyes wide.

“Ha-ha!” Shana giggled exuberantly. “It’s starting.”

She scurried to the jj-box that was sitting self-importantly on a drinks tray. Its technological composition, its cruel, black housing, made it obtusely out of place with the room’s 19th-century gentleman’s parlor décor. Yet, even then, that jj-box firmly felt that it belonged there. It pronounced itself sociopathically with its obese occultism. Wheeling it around to the horseshoe of red couches, Shana picked up the slurry of remote controls and began fiddling about. Trevor watched in amusement. He knew what to do. Just wait. Shana would stare at the remotes, push buttons, get angry, start hitting the jj-box, and then, finally, thoroughly pissed off, would ask Trevor to swoop in and fix everything. Don’t get involved too early, Trevor told himself. That would just amplify her angry vexation. Just hang back. Await the call.

Boom! Another explosion rocked the city. One of the twins across the courtyard scurried away while the other came to the lean out the window. The air was filling with electricity, a bizarre feeling in a city usually flat-lining on morose despondency and forlorn despair.

“Hell mother!” Shana spat.

That was Trevor’s cue. He walked over and grabbed the magic wands out of Shana’s hands.

“Abracadabra.” Trevor said as he tickled and rubbed the buttons on the black magic corsets, procuring for Shana the baneful breasts of Babylon through the intermedium.

“Urrah.” Shana squeaked.

Now that the telephantasmic portal was channeling, Shana knew how to steer the boat downstream. Playfully, she grabbed one of the wands out of Trevor’s hand and pounced into a burgundy sofa. The screen began flashing as Shana ran through the spells.

Although there were many doors in the dank, mind rape cellars of the Kremlin, there were only 2 rooms. The walls of these rooms flickered in shadowy phantasm.

First, there was Room 1: The Room of the Ages.

These spells had a compressed, cartoonish sensibility about them. The whites were tightrope walking on blow out, the blacks teetering over the abyss of forever. The sound stage artificiality of the affairs made the other colors jump and pop like a children’s painting; lemon yellow sun full tilt, Miami beach bronzed skin, sugared breakfast blueberry eyes, and apple red lipstick, they soaked the cave walls in inky saturation. They were the early experiments in color, the pioneering chants which drew the séance splendor from ashen grays into billowing imaginarium clouds of Technicolor seduction.

On these palettes cartoon, peasants in pure white, virginal dress used pitchforks and bravery to fight hideous, olive green steal monsters and merciless hellhound Huns toting machine guns under seething scowls of blood lust and rape. The ingenuity and virtuosity of the simple folk won out over the cruel, modern beasts of the field. After some initial atrocities, barn burnings, chicken kidnappings, shooting an old man or two, the peasants ran these Teutonic minions of mayhem off the land, until another legion of olive green-clad murders for hire materialized over the fertile, lush lands of grain. This time, however, they were friendly, even though their uniforms were 96% similar to the “bad guys,” the main difference being a red band in place of a black one, a few variances in symbols employed, a red and yellow saturnine insignia replacing a fiery, celestial eye of the cosmos.

Murder was the game, typically not the sort of affair people were interesting in participating, particularly on gruesomely large scales, but in this instance they had a special set of circumstances - they were justified. Black was billowing gorgeous and heavenly white. Don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. The typical conventions against murder, rape, mayhem, they were out the window. Everything was permissible, and complete and total immunity was bequeathed in spades. At least that’s what the murder squads were told. How simple and easy it was to become a raving, frothing, mass murderer or serial killer. You only had to be smart about it. Could you go next door and shoot your neighbor in the face, rape his wife and daughter, cart off all his possessions, and then burn his apartment to the ground? Better yet, perhaps sign the apartment over to yourself. There you go - acquisition. No, of course you couldn’t do this!

It didn’t matter if you were in Genghis Kahn’s retinue, a Viking enclave, Atilla’s posse – you couldn’t just kill anyone around you for the hell of it and have some fun as you raped their wife before blowing her brains out. It was considered uncouth. But, if you were smart enough, all you had to do was wait around a little bit, curb your murder and rape instincts, and wait for the leader of the pack to announce the commencement of a festival of bloodletting and sacrifice. Then, my friends, it was full tilt. Murder, rape, destruction, acquisition, all these things you couldn’t do to your immediate neighbor, you could now do to some guy a few villages over. Whatever happens a few villages over, stays in a few villages over. Kill a guy next door to you, you yourself would be on the chopping block. Kill a guy a few villages over, or a few hundred miles away, and, my friend, you were going to be lavished in awards and accolades, stories would be written about you, epics, poems, paintings painted, actors reliving your heroic exploits of chivalry on stage and cinema screen alike. Flowers would be thrown at your feet, and women would scream your name. Streets and libraries could be named after you, as children hung your portrait above their bed and prayed to it nightly. In the most incarcerated plantation on earth, convicts whiled away the days for having been caught with dried weeds in their jean pockets, while the architects of Dresden, Hamburg, and Hiroshima sipped mai-tai’s at day spas. The rapacious heroes, the rapists of Berlin and Pomerania, basked as they marched every year through a raucously bacchanalian milieu of adulation. And this brought us to room number 2.

Room 2: The Graves of the Ever-Now.

Buried up to their necks in sand as the sunset tide rose, the nation, from swampy St. Petersburg to hilly Vladivostok, collectively gazed into the open graves of the ever-now. The clouds of lime billowed and swam up their senses. The stench of death permeated their skulls and sullied their minds. Yet onward they gazed, oblivious, stuck in a trance, watching like 2 young deer rubbing noses in a meadow, butterflies whispering lullabies in their ears, snow globe enchantia descending blissfully all around them. Steadily, moment after moment, year after year, the grave widened before them, growing deeper, fouler, enveloping them in its arms like a growling behemoth. The choleric swamp water, murky and bitter, came up to their waists and steadily rose. The walls of the grave high, muddy, grotesque with blackened, skeletal root emanating like witch's tendrils around them.

Trevor and Shana sat there in the plush burgundy, two pale and ashen prisoners, malnourished, shovel loads of ash and lime silently being lain around them. They watched vacuously as musty clad denizens and mothballed lemmings lined the streets leading into Red Square in Moscow, slurring and shouting buffooneries, alcohol, zits, and wrinkles spilling about like red and white oils smeared on a craggy canvas.

In the center of the broad boulevards the object of their apparent fixation marched, columns of olive green, stern, chiseled, slant-eyed nomads of the steep, the descendants of the Khan’s people, the blood hound rape provocateurs, ready to kill Chechen men, ready to rape Chechen women, ready to blow up schools and homes, hold high the severed heads of those who offended the Khan, and drown under the alcohol of victory in death. They were robotic, inhuman, machine-like, for now – for this was only a room of the now. Once the killing had been achieved, the rapees raped, the orphans orphaned, the buildings burned, these robots would decommission back into humans, broken humans, and there, tricked and conned, they would succumb under the terrible weight of their actions, and die in bottles trying to assuage the nightmares, marooned, bloated, and alone on alcohol’s shores of empty sorrow.

Shana watched the parading robotic droves, a myriad of thoughts running through her circuitry as the jj-box washed up against the insides of her mind. The men, the uniforms, the muscles, the brawn, the steely grit – it was arousing to her. She imagined a man, cut of stone, decorated, making her the envy of her girlfriends, a man who could protect her from anything, a man who would pin her down brutally and savage her, but a man who would also listen to her every command like a dog. The flags furled past Shana’s dreamy, tea saucer eyes. The red and gold symbol of Saturn, and the tri-colored flag - again, they weren’t quite sure which one to use, so they used both. Shana thought about Russia and its power, its opportunity, its history, and if she really had any ties to it. No, she realized coldly and quickly, barring the wispy, silken webs which loosely connected her to the St. Petersburg phantom of culture, art, Europe, class, and refinement - there was nothing.

Her mind traveled to Hamburg, to Tel Aviv. Yes, this is where I must live. I must get out of this abysmal, corpse of a country. She looked over at Trevor, nonchalantly, her mind filling with images of her in America, but where? New York, Chicago? She wasn’t sure. Hamburg, that was her dream. Dear sweet, progressive, cool, fun, amazing Germany. Tel Aviv, maybe, why not. Get the passport. Live in the sun. Then go to Hamburg. Her eyes returned to the columns of marching soldiers. I will feel nothing when my passport turns from red to blue. Nothing, except elation. I will get drunk in these days. I will find some boy and live in a dream.

Next to Shana, Trevor gazed sardonically at the jj-box portal. He didn’t know about the two rooms. He didn’t even know that in his own country there was a 3rd room. Instead he merely amused himself with how clumsy, asinine, and pedestrian the Russian spells looked. Their hocus-pocus production values were 20 years behind the west, he surmised. A sloppy, moronic, boorish dirge from the Carter administration, he chuckled to himself. And this putrid, decrepit corpse was going to invade us and take us over. Trevor had been told this ad nauseam as he was growing up. Sitting now in plush burgundy armchairs, the thought of it made him squeal in glee, the utter moronity of it.

“Are you drunkards?” Shana slyly giggled, bubbly clear eyes dancing behind the curtains of her tea cup.

“If only!” Trevor sighed. “Today is definitely a day to go house. How long are we going to sit around?”

“I must to call Lilith and Yusha. We are to meet.”

“Call.” Trevor instructed.

“When my tea is finished-ed.”

Trevor looked Shana up and down, wrapped in soft towel and robes, make-up-less, curly, caramel hair wet. An hour. At least an hour. Minimum. Where had she gotten that robe? No Russian girl owned a robe like that. It was soft, full, flush, made of cotton dreams and tender precision. What connections did this “teacher” have? As the thought crossed Trevor’s mind, an eruption of thunder and explosive jolted the surrounds, another walloping blast hammer hurled down from the heavens and slammed ruefully in the city, crash landing somewhere nearby on Nevsky Prospekt.

“Come on, Shana. The city is going insane.” Trevor pleaded. “Let’s stop watching the idiot box and go see reality.”

“Why do you want to see reality?” Shana asked. “Outsides is drunkards and hooligans.”

“It’s Russia.”

“It’s primitive savages.”

“Ha! It’s your home.”

“Fu!” Shana scoffed. “Not for long!”

Sourly, she descended into a dejected and acidic gaze as her eyes burned at the obsidian teleconcsiousness. The lemming herds were lining the streets, waving pieces of cloth that symbolized their “country,” and into their down-tuned, fatty bodies, poured canisters of kerosene over their mildly functioning brains, as down-tuned young men with rifles marched past them, eyes robotic, movements robotic, faces catatonic, drab, knock off, Prussian – excuse me, Russian – uniforms dour in the gloom.

Shana finished her scornful tea and made for the black, cast iron phone. In those days, even a nepotistically blessed child like Shana didn’t dare fathom having a mobile phone of her own. What, was she an oil tycoon? As the cold metal of the receiver came to her face, she grew giddy. Back then, dopamine was released in women anytime they drew near the apparatus. It was different from the incessant morphine drip stupors they and the rest of the population would succumb to a decade and a half later. With her ivory, freckled finger she rotary dialed 6 digits. The signal ran through the archaic copper wires, crackling and buzzing like makeshift communication lines on the western front.

“Is it possible the phone goes to Lilyetchku?” Shana asked politely, no doubt on the line to Lilith’s mother or father. It had to be the mother. Let’s face facts. On a day like this one, no way in the universe was a middle-aged Russian man going to be sober enough to operate a telephone. Lilith eventually took the other end. Together, she and Shana chirped and gossiped for sometime before agreeing to meet at 3:00pm near Uncle Felix’s house on Dzerzhinsky Street. Trevor took another Paulander and perched himself on the windowsill where he cranked up a rail on the back of his hand. An hour later, Shana was ready. She took a deep breath in the hallway of gilded mirrors as Trevor laced up his Doc Martens.

“Are you ready for deep ass?” she checked with Trevor.

“Just another day in paradise.”

Trevor finished with his boots, stood up, felt a great head rush of morning beers, empty stomach, and the adrenal tickling one felt before entering the arena. Another salvo of bomb blasts jack-hammered the hallway, rattling Trevor’s and Shana’s heads. Trevor looked at Shana wide-eyed.

“Let’s go!”

“Oh, hell mother.” Shana sighed.

Shana began turning the miracle mile of dead bolts and undoing the truss of chains on her uncle’s herculean blast shield door to the apartment. Once she opened the bank vault, whoosh! A dank onrush of cigarette smoke, cryptic rot, swampy entrails, and coarse alcohol whipped past them. No matter at a fashionable address on Nevsky Prospekt a stone’s throw from Malaya Morskaya, in the Stalin catacombs of Avtovo, or in the torpid bowels of Kupchino, Trevor realized that the stairwells all smelled the same. A combination of urine-soaked, rotting carpet, wet, diseased, mangy street dog minutes away from its last breath, a heavily-soiled death bed decomposing in a marsh, pan fried onions, garlic, and burnt cat. It gave Trevor the sensation that he was swallowing wet, singed animal hair. The back of his throat teetered on gag reflex, made worse by the bumper dripping down the back of his throat like battery acid. Over the grimy, forlorn tiles worn bare, the walls of splintered, chipped paint, cracked mortar, and blackened, naked bricks, Trevor briskly ambled downstairs, pulling Shana with him. As they broke through the piss rusted front door, finally Trevor took a deep breath. The wet cigarette smoke and sweet alcohol air hit his lungs. So too did a sight that staggered him.

“My gods!” Shana gasped.

“Now this is something you don’t see everyday.”

Before them, implacable chaos.

Nevsky Prospekt was strewn with 2 bloated columns of thrashing, twisted humanity pulsating and hissing grotesquely up and down the long, once glorious promenade. The engorged boa constrictors stretched east for confounding miles into a hazy glare of dust and the peculiar northern meringue of filth, over the Anichkov Bridge, and flooding into Uprising Square before the Moscow Train Station. Only there, around a massive, golden-star-crowned phallus, did the tumultuous creature of humanity dissipate into disembodied, drunken disinterest along the straight and barren climbs of Suvorovsky Prospekt heading northward toward the Neva River and the legendary Prison of the Cross.

Along Nevsky before Shana and Trevor, these two great columns of denizens, these taciturn leviathans harpooned and dragged ashore, writhed bitterly. They bled across the beleaguered boulevard, two-legged smoking and drinking machines, spilling ash and drink, wobbling about the thoroughfare strangely devoid of cars and buses, ignoring the whistling ineptitude of pale police officers haggard in hangover and pistol whipped by the crudest of hair of the dogs, sailing over, under, and around the impotent, cray paper cordons, belching, laughing, and shouting.

It was only early afternoon, yet everyone who comprised these bloated, writhing, human snakes on either side of Nevsky Prospekt had the mad, watered eyes rubbed red with fiberglass and the slurred, tranquilized animal voices of deep inebriation. The acrid air was loudly rife in sweat and body odor rife with the reek of decomposing dog meat salami, the wet smell of Russian tobacco, and frightful with the sweet, maleficent aroma of reckless booze. From the Winter Palace all the way down to the Moscow Train Station, and spilling like bed pans down all the canals, side streets, and alleys, the city dwellers clamored toward Nevsky, like rushing the River Jordan, hoping for even the most meager of purchases.

The tempest of humanity resembled not a crowd, but something more tightly packed, dense, and aloof like an ocean filled with green algae, bobbing, swelling, and crashing against rocks and tide pools, brainless, syrupy, and foreboding. In various ebbs and flows, the weight of the tightly packed crowd would swell against a building, crushing young girls, beer bottles leaving skinny, pale fingers to topple into a dense forest of legs, shrieks jamming ice picks in ears as lungs and rib cages were squeezed down like accordions under elephants’ feet.

Just as the purple stars of suffocation started in, and it looked hopeless, the tide would swell to another end of the bay, air would draw back into lungs, while on another portion of street, lit cigarettes would jam into people’s arms and faces, vodka cranberries the color of hummingbird food would spill down backs, the chorus of shrieks and bitter cries would go off like a sea of cuckoo clocks out of sync by half a second, erupting around lampposts and buildings like cat’s being skinned alive.

Fervently, Trevor pushed toward the Moika, holding onto Shana’s miniature, porcelain doll wrist tight as a clamp behind him against the small of his back. He hoped to find some meager breathing room along the Moika Canal and a supply depot to reconnoiter goods and provisions. Thin and sickly teen-aged girls in Nefertiti eyeshadow yelled in Trevor’s face and belched drunkenly, blowing smoke into his eyes as he tried to squeeze past them. With their arms pinned against their bodies like prisoners roped up on the gallows, they awkwardly slurped at self-concocted, pink hemlock in nondescript, plastic bottles, throwing the magic solution at their faces, hoping by shotgun logic that most of it found home in their gullets.

Noticing a thin sliver where the armpit seas were parting, Trevor plowed towards it. No sooner had he squeezed into the slim breathing space, when he noticed he was trudging on a magical shag carpet of freshly laid vomit, a poisonous swath of cheap ramen noodles, diced carrots, and foaming, pink poison that clawed at the sinuses like a wire brush. Shana’s first step into the inside out stomach elicited a wail of disgust. This fucking Russia, her repulsed sensibilities wailed in tired lament. Trevor’s mind was on fire in displeasure, yet amused, the mosh pit of drunken lunacy, the shrieking women dragging pitch forks across chalkboards, the soles of his boots slick with vomit, and his own unsettling personal absence of drink. As if things weren’t interesting enough, just then a strip of blackjack firecrackers flew at Trevor’s face. Fuck me, he cried. He turned to grab Shana and shield her as he tried burrowing the two of them deeper into the sticky, anemic rows of two-legged sardines on either side of them. The strip of blackjacks erupted like an angry Gatling gun, sending everyone in the vicinity into a crazed terror. Like a bathtub filled with rats introduced to a Molotov cocktail, the crowd jumped, leapt, screamed, clawed, and frenzied as the firecrackers sprayed them in pink vomit, noodles, and charred bits of black paper before blinding them in a cloud of white sulfur.

“It’s the sunny-side of the street that’s supposed to have explosions.” Trevor said. “Not here.”

Shana stared at him, eyes wide, abjectly humorless, the smoke swirling around her slowly like a San Francisco fog in time lapse, the slow, cold, reaching hand of death prowling about the battlefield. Like pulling a sled over rocks, Trevor dragged Shana behind him toward the grimy, placenta-colored mortar of the Stroganov Palace. No sooner had they made a few steps progress when an onrush of hard tide pinned them steadfastly against the sullied apricot baroque lacquered in soot.

Paralyzed, Trevor stood languishing, the unbearable weight of an oil tanker pushing his rib cage into kneaded dough against the palace walls. The girls around Trevor erupted in screams, like rivets busting one by one in a submarine being crushed under the sea. Shana’s ghostly, pale face turned angry octopus pink, like a chameleon matching the apricot pixie walls of the Stroganov Palace, her eyes flooding quickly with tears as she gazed upwards, hopelessly, ripping the air apart with a swinging scythe of death wail.

Next to Trevor, a Nefertiti moon daisy joined in spine numbing screech. As her siren wail ran it course, tearing Trevor’s left ear drum asunder, she abruptly fell silent, as if frozen by a spell, her face awash in the purest of terrors. She couldn’t pull air into her lungs. Horrifically, she looked into Trevor’s face with the muted, stunned serenade of death exploding from her eyes like carpet bombs of bright agony. They cried mutely, as if underwater, but, telepathically, they were as loud as a dive bomber with the cross hairs trained between Trevor’s eyes.

Trevor tried to wrestle an arm free. Even slightly moving his arm was as hopeless as trying to swim submerged in wet cement. The girl’s eyes were exploding with sorrow, pain, and regret. Unconsciousness and surrender were wrapping around her like tentacles from the void. Just then, mercifully, the crowd’s weight began to ebb back toward the center of Nevsky. The girl’s brittle, malnourished body acridly convulsed in a dry heave of birth. As if breathing fire, her lungs painfully drew in oxygen as she coughed and heaved in a tortured daze. As more space that opened up, blessedly, she was able to wobble into the arms of two of her young teenage friends, a limp scarecrow taken down from its perch after being whipped by a bicycle chain of lightning.

“Lenka!” her friend screamed. “Lenka!”

But Lenka was as limp as a fish clubbed and left to wallow on dry, splintered wood, painted in warm afternoon sunlight, mouth and gills only feebly spasming, drawing flies.

Trevor sloughed the girls off and worked toward the corner of the palace, dragging a stubborn and embittered Shana behind him in his wake like a duffel bag filled with jell-o and bricks.

At the corner of the Stroganov Palace, Trevor could almost taste freedom. The Moika Canal was there for the taking. Inching toward the sweet turn in the birthing canal, one last episode of adventure ensued. It began with shrieks and screams, as per usual on this day of rambunctious delight. The tightly packed crowd again reverted into the bathtub filled with rats scenario, but this time one being sprayed with hydrochloric acid. Elbows, shoulders, heads, slammed into each other like wrecking balls as the crowd violently pushed and jerked about in different directions. What the hell is going on now, Trevor grimaced as he clenched his teeth and kept fighting for the Moika. Suddenly, a furious flathead lunged above the crowd, reaching desperately for something, as if his car had been parked on a hill and was now rolling backwards away from him toward a park filled with children. With each jump and violent swipe at something, the crowd shouted and screamed. This flathead was a typical, nondescript space monkey, as all of them were in those days; shaved head from the bathroom barber, square, flat, Asiatic face dressed in acne, thin, beady, Mongolian eyes fueled by alcohol, ignorance, and hatred. He wore a $2 black shirt, as was the only option available for a man in Russia at the time. Although Trevor couldn’t see, it was probably a sure thing he was wearing black, square shoes that matched the squareness of his face. In many ways, he could have been a crude computer animation in an early 80’s music video. All sharp angles and dim possibilities. Soon it became more apparent what he was after – a small zit-faced rat kid, his hair cut by sheep sheers, wearing a faded jean jacket inked with hand drawn skulls and nonsense. The flathead had sunk his claw into the collar of the kid’s jacket. Because the rat kid had spun around in an attempt to flee, the jacket was now like a horse collar around his pale, freckled throat. What had he done, picked a pocket? Trevor thought. No, no, he surmised. Flatheads didn’t have wallets. They had purses. What was it then, a dalliance with a woman?

In a predator’s fury, the flathead reeled the zit-faced capture back towards him, rotating the prey’s head counter-clockwise just enough to give the flathead a window of opportunity. Grimacing, struggling to find enough space to rear back, the flathead uncorked a truncated overhand right across the jaw of the kid. At first the acne kid was simply befuddled. Huh? Was I really being hit? Dumbly, like a cow’s tail swatting at flies, he tried to turn his face away. However, the strange noose of his jacket, and the packed phone booth of bodies he was pinned in, made maneuvering impossible. Another overhand right flew – crack! Overhand right – crack! The screams and wails went up in horrified chorus. The look of annoyance, like having a bee or mosquito buzz one’s nose, dropped from the kid’s face. Now, general panic and concern crept in.

Crack!

The flathead was getting some leverage. The strikes he let fly produced some spacing between him and his dance partner, as the surrounding skin and bones crowd drenched in alcohol wanted nothing to do with the beat happening. The flathead kept firing, growing more enraged with his each salvo.

Crack!

The crowd pushed further and further away from them.

Crack!

Then, a trap door opened. Like a gangplank giving way, a whole section of crowd suddenly toppled backwards down the Moika Canal, creating a brilliant parting of the seas. The flathead took advantage. Quickly, he wrestled the kid to ground, pinned his head to the cold concrete with his left hand, choking the kid’s neck. His right began delivering hay-maker swings at the kid’s face.

Crack! Whack! Crack!

The impacts could be heard even amid the shrieks and screams, like baseball bats hitting slabs of wet clay.

A dark-clad compatriot of the flathead, dressed in nearly identical black shirt, black polyester pants from the Turkish black market, and square elf shoes, his face square and lit by the wattage that could possibly illuminate a Christmas tree light, came up to him and grabbed him by the shoulder. For a moment, it looked as if he meant to call off his friend. However, his intentions were soon made known, as he instead simply helped his friend to his feet where, together, in makeshift choreography, they commenced kicking the village boy with their ridiculous Frankenstein boots. Trevor seized the moment, first taking firm hold of Shana and then slipping past the carnage of the skull thump, through the slim parting of the seas between the crowd and the butcher block. As Trevor and Shana jostled past the drubbing, Trevor saw a black strip of firecrackers dripping from inside the village boy’s jacket. So, that was it. His face was bright apricot, the same hue as his sheep sheared hair, his eyes choked in agony. Two deep cuts, one above the eye socket, the other on the cheek, both from a ring the flathead was wearing, spilled syrupy, garnet wine onto the cold, filthy asphalt of the Moika Canal. The kicks reigned in, breaking ribs, rearranging kidneys. The kid was deep away in a phantom realm of punishment. He had no idea what was happening to his terrestrial spacesuit.

As Trevor and Shana cleared the chaos, they came to two young boys, dressed shabbily, filthy jackets and grimy skin, hair cut by a mad, blind woman with dull scissors. They gazed at the beating, eyes bright with fear and disbelief, watching through tears, themselves somewhere far away, half-submerged in a phantom realm, as they watched their brother get broken to pieces. Shana and Trevor blew past them and breathed a sigh of relief as they hustled into the thinning crowd. They took a moment, relishing in the ability to breath air and move about freely.

“Land of chaos.” Trevor gasped in exhilaration.

“Land of primitives.” Shana spat in revulsion.

“Come on!” Trevor licked his lips. “Drink! We need drink!”

Trevor and Shana meandered down the Moika and over Little Fleet Street to one of St. Petersburg’s few pearl haberdasheries. There were roughly only 3 such shops that Trevor knew of at that time in St. Petersburg (a city of 4 million people). They boasted ridiculously extravagant affairs such as Finnish milk and yogurt, vanilla flavored and plain, dreg olive oil from Spain, the occasional blue plastic carton filled with dehydrating mushrooms shriveling in asphyxiation, peculiar packages of linguine and canned tomatoes from Italy, and randomly kidnapped chunks of edam and gouda from Germany. They were sprinkled like gold dust amid the catatonically ubiquitous Russian buffooneries like dried glue macaroni, Ukrainian vomit ketchup, and frozen mystery raviolis composed of dog meat, rat droppings, cartilage, bones, knuckles, humans, whatever was lying around that day. Pigeon? Yeah, sure. Cat? Toss him in. Junkie’s tooth? Sling that in there. Granny’s underpants? Be my guest. Dead man’s shoe? Come on, you know what to do with it by now.

Although this outpost of gilded delights offered the rarest of delicacies like the $2 packages of linguine from Italy, the majority of its fare was indeed paltry and asinine. The fruit and vegetables were dried, bruised, and rotten. The apples looked like they had been taken out of compote and slung into the stalls, the bananas brown and diseased, the tangerines and oranges loose and scraggly like elephant’s knees, the dill and parsley wilted, rotting lawn clippings. It was all part of the policy of equal, proletarian distribution.

Let’s say some poor imbecile like Trevor decided he was going to make spaghetti Bolognese for some lucky lady, or even a collection of ladies. Pasta and canned tomatoes were at three points in town, guaranteeing for someone like Trevor a two mile walk to get his hands on the goodies. Ground beef? Tricky. One of the better places was on the onset of Ligovka just south of the Moscow Train Station and the long, abandoned lot that ran parallel to the oily, terrible tracks that stretched like bitter tendrils to Moscow. Perfect, absolutely on the other side of town from the pasta and tomatoes. Another two miles. The vegetables – that had to be the Azerbaijani fresh markets, so head down into Ligovka and hit the Blacksmith’s Bazaar. Hands loaded up, plastic bags tight like wire nooses around wrists, marching towards mile five, and then you realize, sonuvabitch! Bread! A real baguette. Back up to Marata past the Lady of Vladimir church to Nevsky and down to the “western” store in the basement of the Passazh shopping arcade. A simple 6-7 miles sojourn for a pedestrian spaghetti dinner that whispered only faintly of home.

Back in the store, and back to the story, Trevor found the alcohol refrigerators ransacked and asunder, their doors left ajar as if beaten and left to bleed on the gravel of a drive-in movie theatre parking lot. Only a spattering of drinkable beers remained, the majority a warm sea of Baltika 9’s and Stephan Razin horse piss.

Trevor elbowed past black clad, shaved headed monkeys and nondescript, non-styled, pudgy clogs thirsting for oblivion. He ordered an arsenal of Nevskoe Classics and Bochkarevs from the frazzled, middle-aged Russian woman with dyed purple hair and a tired, sad, fake gold tooth.

“So many?” Shana asked.

“26 million died for this.” Trevor said as he fleshed rubles out of his pocket. “Apparently,” he went on, looking around the crazed horde demanding drink, “this is how we honor them.”

Shana looked at Trevor blankly, unable to decide just how she felt about Trevor’s comment. A thirst-crazed flathead was already elbowing Trevor out of the way as he popped the cap off a beer with the counter opener, fixed steadfast on a day like this with a small dog chain. Trevor handed a few beers to Shana. She took them, double fisted, looking as uncouth and out of place as a Mormon trying to smoke or a Saudi woman in her black death robes trying to negotiate a truck stop glory hole. A glass of dry white wine from Bulgaria, yes, certainly, or perhaps Crimean champagne, but this…rudimentary, Russian horse piss beers, this was a hard “no” for Shana. Trevor stuck bottles down his front and back pockets. His jeans were so stretched out after having not been washed in nearly 6 months that the beers slung in like a six-shooter and ammo and lazily swung at his hips like second nature. Trevor drained a recklessly long pull of the warm hops and chased it with a Gauloises. After the breakfast of western European fineries, these local attempts stabbed at the roof of Trevor’s mouth and clawed his throat like liquid sandpaper passed through a horse’s bladder. Time for a bump, Trevor surmised. Around his arsenal of beers, he fetched out his contact lens case from his pocket. He turned towards the face of the building, portending to a modicum of decency, like a man urinating on the side of the road, but with enough decency to place his hand on the hood of his car whilst doing so. Trevor tapped out a decent gagger on the back of his hand and ripped the lid off it. Others in the street looked at him with only the mildest of curiosity. Most ignored him. Shana watched him in mild bemusement, like seeing someone put chips on their deli sandwich, or peanut butter on their burger. In the states, people would have been dialing 911.

“Alright!” Trevor exclaimed, surveying the jumpy surrounds on Little Fleet Street, ecstatic as the beer and bump dually disco massaged his brains. “Let’s dive into this fucker!”

“Are you sure we go back?” Shana asked.

“Yes, but not here.” Trevor bit at his lower lip as he thought, the cool, battery acid drip tickling his throat and the base of his brain. “The Moika.” he finally proclaimed.

“But we were just there.” Shana protested. “It’s chaos.”

“Police Bridge. Just like the police, we want to be above the masses. Follow me.”

“Police Bridge?” Shana vexed. “You mean Green Bridge.”

“I said Police damn it! Now let’s go!”

Trevor and Shana approached from the back door of Kirpichny Alley and clambered up the west end of the Moika. They approached Trevor’s favored cafeteria on the left, its door swollen with grimy, wrinkled faces masked behind blue, Belomore Canal cigarette smoke and days’ worth of haggard, alcohol stubble speckled with gray whiskers. Kerosene vodka spilled about, chased down sparingly with fermented rye bread drinks or inane soviet lemonade, handfuls of pierogi and sweaty, half-rotten kielbasa melting in the stultifying afternoon. Buzzing about like spitfires in the blue smoke were legions of flies. They dive-bombed in and out of the cafeteria door in thick droves, filling the air like black bitter snow driven by torpid, frigid gales.

Trevor and Shana squeezed their way toward the faded pink granite and the rusted green railing of the Moika Canal. Soon they made it to the gilded jade ivy tendrils of the art nouveau street lamp that announced the southwest corner of Police Bridge. There Trevor had an idea. He stuck his beer into Shana’s hand, winked at her dumbstruck face, turned, and assailed the street lamp’s perch, like climbing up out of a trench in the Ardennes. A good leap, some scrapping of his Doc Martens against the granite, a brief moment of grimacing, and he summited, an elegant and regal four feet above the profane hordes with a commanding view of Nevsky Prospekt.

“You’re mad!” Shana exclaimed, her face bright with disbelief.

Although surprised and seemingly opposed, she wasted no time in extending her petite, milk white arm up to Trevor. Trevor was less than shocked. How many times had he seen Russians confront something new, strange, absurd, crazy, and simply dive right in with blind, eager abandon. Trevor grabbed Shana deep under her upper arm and, like a dead lift, hoisted her 100-pound body upwards. She scurried and scratched her feet on the purchase-less cement to no avail, but came far enough over the lip that she was able to get an arm over the ledge and, with some effort, ambled up to the pedestal above the crowds. She gasped and exhaled in exuberance as she held tightly to Trevor, who in turn cast his arm like a mooring around the old street lamp. Secured in the paltry demi-heavens, Trevor reached for the opened beer in his pants and took a pull of satisfied elation. People nearby, awash in booze and carefree merriment, looked up at Trevor and Shana in smiling amusement.

“This is our tree house.” Trevor said to Shana.

Shana shook her head in bemusement.

“Fucking Yankees.” She smiled into Trevor’s eyes. “Crazy.”

It didn’t take long for copycats at the remaining three lamp posts to clamber up and stake their claims to the 4 best seats in the house. Each time someone ascended to the cement pedestal, they raised their arms in triumph and saluted the drunken crowd as if they were the first, ingenious, pioneering champion to devise the concept of street lamp climbing. Soon even Trevor and Shana were joined by another couple, a skinny adolescent twosome of red acne and Baltika troikas. The four of them nestled together like crew packed into a crow’s nest. The timing of their assembly couldn’t have been better. For just as they were settling in, a strange, moribund proceeding began.

Down Nevsky Prospekt crawled a creature, a dark, saturnine mass that groveled westward from Uprising Square towards the Winter Palace. The belligerent sea of Nevsky ruptured and parted as the giant visage approached, an arcane procession, a massive barge of people. A strange, ethereal, dour charge filled the dusty air ripe with alcohol cured meats and wet tobacco smoke. The whispering swamp lullabies of the Moika, muddy midnight blue stewed coldly malcontent fifteen feet below Shana’s and Trevor’s slim ledge. This was the scene and the main attraction, top billing in the day’s celebratory feast of mind obliterating inebriation, violence, rape, fighting, and general nonsense. This was the World War II Victory Day Parade, May 9th, 2000.

Ceremonies such as these originated with the fallen gods and their rebellious progeny. Enlil and his great processions marched through the avenues to their postdiluvian throne rooms in great regalia and splendor. These were titanic days of terrestrial spectacle, order, procession, gold, feasting of meats, and deep kisses of ambrosia.

These ceremonies clanked and sputtered down through the ages, through Egypt, Greece, and Rome, to single gas station towns in Idaho, from leather strap sandals and garnet shields of Caesar, to the high boots and muskets of Napoleon, to the plastic Asian sweatshop sneakers of fakery, to the plain canvas kicks of the Japanese Vagina Parade, to the sweaty, gyrating breasts of Mardi Gras and Carnival, to the barefoot, chemical-fueled, cold sweat of the orgasmically pulsating Love Parade.

And now, slowly, like the claws of death emanating from a foggy grave in the steam of the bewitching hour, this languid, bizarre emanation crawled west down the way of the dead. It appeared on the horizon of Nevsky, a darkly nebulous storm cloud of drab olive, the same, uninviting, murky swamp color which brooded opaque and diseased in the Moika Canal below Trevor and Shana. Protruding from this moribund sea anemone was a peculiar porcupine cacophony of banners, staffs, and idolatrous pageantry wobbling about like a slapdash Spartan rabble.

Horns and drums boomed and blared sourly through the charged, yet dour air. The sounds were old, tattered, pathetically fighting through the uncooperative air above the lambasted boulevard to resonate through the chests of the crowd like the crying moans of a lone wolf with leg caught in a steel trap amid a vast, oceanic, snow-swept wilderness. Step by tired, weary step, this funeral procession languished toward the Winter Palace.

Trevor worked at his beer with gusto as he held on with is left arm to the street lamp and Shana. The cigarette smoke and smell of corn syrup-laced rubbing alcohol drew up to Trevor and Shana’s senses like thick foam. Through the grimy, smoky ooze of the sweaty, alcohol drenched alcohol street, the procession of dingy, mouth-eaten, faded burgundy banners sundered past, a murder of low flying, slow motion, low swooping blood-stained table clothes and sheets stitched with sullied witchcraft symbols of yellow. Slowly, they crawled past the miles of soot covered classical facades, languidly passing the signs that read “In case of bombing, this side of the street is more dangerous”, eat at “To Hell with 13 Burger”, enjoy a Death Sub, come drink in “blockbuster” movies about Leonardo DaVincio porno-caking with a girl above his caste, and numb yourself on Baltic beer.

Inch by shaking inch, this rudimentarily assembled pack of senior citizenry, hobbling like propped up cripples, awkwardly shuffled down what they knew as the Avenue of the 25th of October, a tattered, tired, stoic, and bewildered collection of elder Israelites, parting a strange and terrible drunken sea of their progeny, two generations younger, shellacked in paint striper, lacquered in buffoonery, screaming, yapping, bleeding, vomiting, urinating about their city that had endured a 900-day starvation death siege during the Second World War. Like their banners of idolatry and foolish, imposed clannishness, the clothes and uniforms of this tattered, skeletal procession were frayed and racked by time, the same was true of their fragile, degenerated spacesuits riddled in sin. On these tattered tapestries twisted a tarnished yet outlandishly gregarious chain-mail of decorations, honors, and gilded earthly glories. Through the decades, the regimes, the disorientating confusion of the ages, these red and gold saturnine stars winked like harlots. There were orders of Lenin, the dark profile of a freeloading syphilitic philanderer who lay about Swiss pastures whiling away the days in French bosoms, eating chocolates, filling the nights with the Cabaret Voltaire and practice in the dark arts. There were multi-colored Prussian bars and cubes, a kaleidoscope avalanche of flotsam and foolery. From the breast to the last feeble rib, these tattered and tired zombies were lathered in the recalcitrant, worldly ineptitude. Medals, the fruits of their sacrifices, their murders, rapes, mutilations, starvations, fantasies, and fables, all commemorated in lavishly cheap triumph by earthy Caesar. Lose the game, you’re cast out of your body, and into the cold clutches of Anubis forevermore. Win the game, momentarily, you receive a small square inch of ribbon to pin to your moth-eaten coat. The stakes and the payout were sublime.

Trevor drained a long pull on his Nevskoe as these thoughts gnawed at his mind. The dour schools wallowed before him, the 5-pointed stars, both right-side up and upside down, the star bursts, the sunbursts, the cloaked symbols of Saturn in the hammer and sickle, that great scythe of time harvesting the souls, all these images swam through Trevor’s eyes and scurried around his brain like fish darting through coral. Although it was right before his eyes, Trevor couldn’t and didn’t take conscious measure of it. Decades before, Trevor had received gold stars for coloring between the lines and completing handouts of cursive practice as precocious blonde girls wearing summer dresses in desks next to him flashed their panties at his beguiled eyes. And here, on the other side of the world, in a different culture, ideology, in a different time, they dodged bullets and slaughtered in the great death circus, receiving for their trouble, the same symbol – a 5-pointed gold star. Trevor considered himself astute, critical and educated, but his mind glossed over and turned a blind eye to hundreds of symbols and coincides every single day of his life. What more, nursing the foamy soma, Trevor felt certain he wasn’t missing a thing. This was all there was, a rock in the middle of nowhere, a bare wasteland of stupidity. In gently simmering disgust, he fired the empty bottle of Nevskoe to the murky marsh below.

“Reinforcements.” Trevor smacked his lips.

Shana gazed in bemused humor at the foreign man littering empty bottles into her 200-year-old canal. With a sardonic chuckle, she reached into her bag and brought Trevor his next bottle. She kept her eyes locked on him as he fired off the cap, tossed it over his shoulder to the canal, and lit up a smoke. The alcohol was making her realize that she liked this guy, this strange, crude Yankee. He was entertaining. He smelled nice. Just how far off the rails would he go, she wondered.

As Trevor worked his drink and smoke with one hand, the threadbare carpet of thin, silvery hair continued marching tiredly and disheveled before him. The faces of these aged children of Leningrad were detached, gaunt, strained, dazed, placid, and confused. Only a few, a distinctly select few, held their old, saggy chins up high and proud. They were still, somehow, reticent and cognizant, and fueled themselves on the great tethers that kept them strapped like human shields to the prowling tanks of providence. Desperately, jaws clenched, they clung to that one thing that kept them alive, and allowed them to sleep at night – the belief in the lie.

They had more or less been Trevor’s age, perhaps a bit younger, when their “motherland,” that is, a peculiar cabal of foreigners in the Kremlin who overnight started referring to this forest not as the Soviet Union, but as the “motherland,” had called them to dance in the merry ghoulishness of temple slaughter and delights. By the millions, by the tens of millions, their blood, and the blood of their actions, would decorate the temple floor in a feast of the ages. Trevor studied the faces and speculated. If they were shuffling down Nevsky on this bizarre afternoon, they were perhaps in their mid-70s. Since the life expectancy at that time in Russia for males was only 50 years, these old timers, by adjustment for inflation, were about 110 years old in the west. They must have been quite young, and in strange ways, “lucky”. Lucky in that their youthful age meant that they were called up for killing later in the game, not in the initial slaughter and the brutal conflagrations of tanks on the steppe, but instead as the sacrificial fires had burned into the orange steady embers that promulgated the methodical and untheatrical pounding that carried the death alter from a few miles south of where Trevor stood all the way to the Reichstag in Berlin. Either that or they were lucky as hell, Trevor surmised. They were young kids who hid in barns. They were commissars who stayed out of the way of whizzing bullets. They were the connected benefactors of nepotism and fraternity. It was impossible to know, Trevor thought as he stared at their cadaverous faces. It was a muddy sea of lies. When one woke up, one released they were lying in chains at the bottom of a murky canal, staring out helplessly through eyes of cataracts blinded by sewage and swamp water. Trevor had little to no idea how to cut through the morass. So, he drank. The gnawing, uncomfortable sensation of being a prisoner, that foreboding feeling that clawed its nails at the back of his mind from time to time, it turned into a warm, soft blanket once the kisses of alcohol climbed into bed with him.

Before Trevor’s watery eyes, the used-up souls who marched along Nevsky displayed the grim, far away gazes of ones who had seen the horrors of death up close, breathed in the steaming, sweet pools of sacrifice, and felt the incendiary fires of Baal. They slept, each night, intimately with these respective nightmares, and moved through the days on edge, these memories blowing onto the back of their neck, whispering coldly into their left ears like lovers from the grave. They stared at the crowds, the drunken mobs who lined the sunny and shady sides of Nevsky Prospekt, like two drunken families on both sides of the aisle participating in a marriage of death. The eyes and minds of these old soldiers were scattered, fragmented. They were confused, some of them afraid, like young children, somehow wrapped inside the withered skin of mummies thrown into a circus.

Could any of these shattered and tortured souls ask the question, Trevor wondered. The ultimate. The one that pulled the carpet out from under the house of cards.

Was it worth it? Was any of it worth it?

26 million Russian, Christian Orthodox mutilated, blown up, shot to hell, starved, raped, burned alive, drowned, frozen, and vanished forever across the icy, bottomless fog to the realm of gnashing teeth. In particular, what was it worth now, 55 years later, this strange, scattered, decrepit remnant, this castaway lifeboat, creaking and rotting. Here, the city moaned, like old, ghostly timbers, a crumbling brick and mortar outpost of centuries past in an unwanted northern wasteland swath of earth, inhabited by rats and drunken ne’er-do-wells, animated only sparsely by the brainwashed, the isolated, the helpless, the ignorant, the inebriated, the damaged, and the blind.

Was it worth it? Was this existence worth 26 million at the alter? To part the vomit-drenched seas of Nevsky Prospekt once a year in rags, flanked on both sides by thousands of soft progenies slurring incoherent, drunken, patriotic obscenities.

They were now even uncertain which flag to stumble under, the blood red Saturn, or the flip-flopped French. Fighting for terrestrial motherlands, kingdoms, countries, cabals, was nothing more than putting a pistol in your own mouth and firing the trigger. The bullet may pass through the brain and blow out the back of the skull in an instant, a few weeks or months, or it may slowly take a lifetime, languidly, persistently, minuscule cell by cell, chewing its way through the brain, driving the occupier of the spacesuit just a little crazier each and every day. It was up to the mischievous interlocutors, how best they wanted to truss up and procure their savory harvest.

The ornamented uniforms of these surviving victims were stale, olive green drabness, dug up from the mildew closets of cement sarcophagi on the outskirts of town, the reeking forgotten shadows of bygone redundancy, the color the cold, murky, clouded witch’s soup of one of St. Petersburg’s stagnant canals.

Following these sputtering, confused blocks of olive drab, a disjointed collection of deteriorated men, faces gaunt and fragile, a collection of bones wrapped tenuously in papery skin, many of them in wheelchair, accompanied by old, husky women in wrinkled and sagging layers of dimpled pig fat. The men were adorned in moth-balled suits from the 1970’s, the Brezhnev cocaine disco days of epic stagnation being their last wardrobe upgrade. The tailoring was ghastly, like slapdash affairs for the local high school stage, short arms, blousy chests, shoulders akimbo, pants one-size-fits-all-scarecrows. The old women, the babushki, fared no better. They were trussed up in formless soviet polyester and 1970’s floral material used for curtains. They staggered, wearily, step by shaking, disjointed step, a great many of them withered in wheelchair, simply pushed onward, through the parade, through life, by an uneasy air of somberness and dread.

“Are they survivors of the siege?” Trevor asked Shana.

“Yes.” Shana confirmed, eyes scanning about the stream of invalids. “They were here for the autumn of ‘41 and the winter of ‘42. This was hardest times.”

Trevor took a pull and studied the collection of shattered, confused, distant, and occasionally proud faces. Miraculously, through 900 some days of near total Nazi encirclement and full-throttle, Soviet ineptitude, these people had survived their city being turned into a factory of murder. Shells rained down in daily, citywide Russian roulette. Disease crept up and prowled about the spreading ruins like the fog of death. Hour by hour, the inhabitants’ bodies cannibalized themselves in slow, terrible starvation. They became first ketogenic, surviving off fat stores. Then catabolic, devouring muscles for protein. Then dead.

Night by night, the cold, frigid air carried shivering souls off to the local embodiments of the River Styx; the Moika, the Fontanka, the Neva, Canal Griboyedova, and Obvodny. In unseen rooms, corridors, back alleys, a murderous trade in human flesh grew like cancer. The streets filled with bomb craters, debris and rubble, nonnegotiable ice and snow, and tattered corpses. Day by day, the denizens strapped the dead bodies of their family, friends, and neighbors to sleighs and slowly dragged them off into the eerie mists, they themselves returning home only to await their own slow death with bellies empty.

Whether through luck, graft, robbery, divine intervention, deals with the devil, somehow these old timers before Trevor and Shana had made it. Month after month, season to season, they watched a million people starve to death in the streets as buildings were blasted into frozen piles of rubble. And now, these same streets were filled with the aforementioned ubiquitousness; Alabama Fried Monkey, To Hell with 13 Burger, Death Sub, rancid dog meat kebabs, ridiculously disproportionate distributions of wealth, heroin prostitutes, and graft all the way from the local purveyor of cheap beer and fermented bread drink, all the way up to the KGB cabal and the secret brotherhoods of the red granite step pyramid in the Kremlin.

These survivors of the siege received what amounted to $20 a month at the time as heroes of Lenin City. That was the asking price for a bottle of Jack Daniels. What a reward for surviving the death Olympics, for making it through the weeks and months of being live artillery target. One bottle of Jack per month and a cement cockroach box to live in. And now, just as they had had during the siege, they had only the great grave before them, where so many souls they knew had already gone.

Had anyone survived the siege, really? Or had death simply taken on different shapes that not everyone was aware of? Trevor eyed the tattered collection of humanity shuffling like skeletons in the road. Maybe no one had really survived, he pondered, like the bullet that took decades to pass through the soldier’s head. The angel of death had made its claim upon all who had dwelt in the city at that time, cutting minutely at everyone’s neck and drawing out early, sweet advances of the promise, like Mongol nursing at his horse’s neck, like raw opium dripping from a poppy, the endless hors d'oeuvres were a sweet, delectable dividend for the cold recesses of the insatiable void and her remorseless inhabitants of chattering teeth. They dripped until the well ran dry. There was no coagulation for the draining of soul. At least none of which Trevor knew.

As the slow procession of the walking dead ran its course, horns flat and out of time, drums ricocheting off the classical facades of Nevsky like drunken, clapping seals, the bizarre epilogue to the death games parade drew near. Trevor pulled at the beer and gazed stunned in mind melting disbelief. The saturnine hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union had already passed by in thread bare, musty, moth eaten abundance. The tattered banners of foreign magicians, Lenin and Stalin, Ulyanov and Dzhugashvili, made their dour showings like spectral, blood-lusting apparitions. The rearranged French tricolor, fresh off the sweatshop presses of China, were sprinkled about, a sprig of parsley on a plate of bloody, rancid meat. But now, drawing up the rear, appeared a flag unknown to Trevor, unknown frankly to anyone outside a few skull thumbing neighborhoods of insidious ignorance and rape room delight.

This debutante chose as its base a blood red, an urgently deep ruby of the alter, and in the middle of this sanguine rectangle, a pure white circle. Well, thus far we had the precise formula for the Nazi flag. Unlike the faded banners of the Saturnine Union or the plastic nylon of the revisited tri-color, these blood flags were crisp, thick, and proud. Inside the pure white circle of sacred blood was where the black reversed swastika would have resided in the calling cards of the Third Reich. Trevor squinted his eyes. Indeed, there was something there, some black symbol flustering about in the stultifying air. It couldn’t be a swastika, Trevor assured his confused mind. How utterly ridiculous could things be? Finally, one of the crimson beauties unfurled itself proudly over Nevsky like a drunken, salacious whore dancing on a table amid plumes of cigarette smoke, spinning and kicking up her dress to show the world her perfumed garters. In scandalous juxtaposition, instead of the emblem of the Third Reich, the reversed swastika of Tibet and Nepal, this blood rag harbored a pitch-black hammer and sickle. What in the hell, Trevor’s jaw dropped.

“Shana, what is this nonsense?” he asked.

“My gods.” she sighed. “They are new crazies.”

“It looks like a Nazi flag.”

“Yes. They want nationalistic…communistic…” Shana trailed off as her mind began to cramp up.

“National socialism?”

“Uhh...”

“That’s what the Nazis were – National Socialists.”

“Uhh, okay, no. They want…”

“National communism?”

“Something like this.”

“So, the same as before, but only for ethnic Russians.”

“Communism, but without Jews and Kavkaz and niggers, and no America, but with good uniforms and, you know, money and jobs.”

“So, Nazi Germany, 70 years after the fact.”

“Ha!” Shana laughed, her timid dance with alcohol showing its first signs of effect. “But with more raviolis and vodka.”

Germany, Russia, England – the players swirled around in muddied, opaque vicissitudes, the implications unknowable and unobtainable to a pedestrian simpleton like Trevor clutching at beer while hanging onto a streetlight on a bridge like an orangutan. Hitler and Stalin, Schicklgruber and Dzhugashvili, had they been in Vienna together at the same time? Trevor had read that they had. Could they have somehow bumped shoulders on a Viennese street corner? Had they dined? Had they received together further initiations?

Back in the beginning of the Russian transformation, Peter I was entranced and enthralled with the foreigners in Germantown, the suburb of Moscow where out-of-towners were corralled. A Swiss (Franz Lefort) and a Scot (Patrick Gordon) were among his prized retinue.

Then there was Katherine, German through and through. Her Romanov decedents, German and English. There were the monarchs of England, German through and through. Lenin, lounging about the long days and months in Swiss retreats, speaking German with ease. Putin, stationed in East Germany for years on end, speaking German with ease. There was this persistent melding and interplay that made a synthesis of the two, a Nazi and Soviet flag combined, seem strangely appropriate. Both ruled by foreigners, both liquidating their indigenous populations, filling the country’s gutters with rivers of protestant and orthodox blood, both leaving these two realms in smoldering heaps of rubble and ash.

Soon Nevsky was filled with these beguiling Nazi-Soviet bedsheets on sticks as rogue gangs of oily, stern, zit-faced adolescents with shaved heads marched broodingly in malnourished ferocity and crisp, straight lines, saluting the cheering, drunken crowds slobbering on either side of them, many of whom pumped their clenched fists into the air in exalted adoration toward the low hanging heavens. These skinhead shock troops were decked out in fresh gear of fatigues and black leather with 10-pound, skull-stomping, black leather boots in mediocre polish. These sinewy robots of hormones and angst were flanked on both sides by well-oiled, multiple-chinned, greasy men with stuffed turkey paunches swaddled uncouthly in Italian suits, $200 sunglasses perched on their flaccid faces, golden frivolity round their wrists and chubby fingers. The black leather boots of the storm trooper youth pounded the dry asphalt of Nevsky like an anvil hammering a hearse. The pudgy-faced bank rolling goon squad in their designer douchery smiled smugly to the drunken circus crowds, eliciting cheers and whistles that no survivor of the siege or soldier of the war received.

Rounding off the parade, a few lines of swaggering Petersburg militsia in their stained auto-mechanic uniforms, dunce’s boots, and fast deteriorating bodies riddled with drink and processed meats, brought up the rear, semi-automatic weapons slung over their shoulders in an expert show of reasonable rational crowd control, 5 o’clock shadows and the effects of death drink scraping their minds like heavy gauge sandpaper working in diligence against the neocortex. Behind the machine gun tooting alcoholics in death masks, a sweet smelling tidal wave of booze heads, cigarette smoke, exploding firecrackers, and breaking glass.

The peculiar procession staggered up the remainder of Nevsky to Little Fleet Street, turned north under the archway of the Admiralty, and spilled like disco vomit into the vast bowl of the Winter Palace Square. Trevor hopped down from his perch on the Police bridge and grabbed Shana by the waist, helping her petite frame down from the cement crow’s nest. Firing the cap off the next bottle, Trevor and Shana were sucked into the stream of flotsam and carried slowly downstream by the riptide of alcohol and oblivion. At Little Fleet street, Trevor and Shana broke off from the bottlenecking log jam of the archway and instead walked up the remainder of Nevsky to the northern corner of the Admiralty Gardens. This was on the edge of where the bizarre, morbid, and crude homage to the Russian “victory” culminated – the Winter Palace Square.

The Winter Palace Square was an outdoor theater of sullied lime and lemon teetering on a shaky table of high sea booze, blaring, thin, tinny music ripping through cheap speakers, and intermittent rat-tat-tat explosions of Chinese firecrackers. The soot-covered seafoam of the Winter Palace was draped in a large banner proclaiming victory, a red, luciferian star featuring prominently on display, the Soviet hammer and sickle and the present-day tri-color on the periphery. That’s the way to solve to the two flag quandary, Trevor surmised, just toss a big blood red star up there. Draped slapdash on the smooth, arched curves of the General Staff’s classical façade of grimy, bruised lemon where further echoes of the proclamation of the day; victory, victory, victory – victory of the blood red star. It looked like an evil, recalcitrant Christmas tree top decoration, Trevor thought, but again he didn’t spend any time further contemplating 5-pointed stars or their preponderance on the planet. From kindergarten to Victory Day, this shape had followed him around, but he couldn’t grasp its obviousness.

In front of the northeast face of the General Staff building, a makeshift soapbox stage had been assembled. A collection of plastic mannequins and orange, rubber-faced crooners bombastically, but mutely, wielded microphones about the stage. They were singing, or lip-syncing, no one could tell which, because the PA system drowned into the drunken sea of the crowd and the open southern mouth of the square like an empty aluminum can tossed into the Grand Canyon. The bass rumbled the surrounds with incoherent thuds and echoes and the mid-range frequencies came across in faintly intermittent pulses like a flash light with dying batteries blinking across a ravine. Predominant was only the grumble and slurred growl of the crowd, people shouting over the nonsense noise, spilling drink, laughing, shouting, vomiting, shrieking, screaming, dancing.

Amid the garbled cacophony, the fascists-socialist youth began marching about the square, shouting, yelling, stomping their boots, pushing people aside like kicking chickens from the road. The old folks, the skeletal survivors of the war with the empty, gray, clouded gazes of barren, windswept, Siberian plains, they had already all been carted off somewhere, whisked away behind the Disneyland curtains, disappeared into the city catacombs, locked away into their moldy, shoe-box apartments of concrete in the plague-riddled cemetery extremities of town, packed in moth balls and disregard until next year, each month their $20 hero stipend arriving late, if ever.

Throughout the Palace Square, in crude arrangement, springs of beer issued forth their golden chemical bounty to the thirsty townsfolk chasing oblivion. 30 cents a glass, step right up, step right up, that’s a nickel and a quarter, only 3 measly dimes, step right up. Again, the homage to Bavaria continued, as the sight made Trevor think about the platform of beer and sausages that the Nazis had run on in the early 1930’s. In the blaze of elections that punctuated the beginning of the ominous decade, the Nazis pumped the crowds full of free beer and sausage at each of their rallies. That was making good use of the investment money they had pouring in from wealthy industrialists and bankers in London and New York. Each frothy beer and grilled sausage netted them a vote. As the runoff elections of attrition continued and continued, the Nazi kept rolling out the cafeteria agenda. No one else in the elections was even offering so much as a plain donut at their rallies. A few rounds of stomach diplomacy and the Nazi were in the Reichstag, dancing in jubilee as they set it on fire.

70 years later, these mysterious new Russian elite in their desperate Italian suits, emulated the Nazi election technique, rolling out their strange, private inception of brown shirts with their skinhead space gangs, and setting up fountains of beer all throughout the square. Sure, the beer wasn’t free, and there weren’t any bratwurst flying off the grill, but these peculiar gangs didn’t have Warburg, Kuhn and Loeb, Harriman, the “California Gold Mine,” and Rockefeller funding them. Whatever they were up to, showing strength, winning favor, instilling false senses of pride, security, and nationalism in this vast vacuum of nothingness Russia found itself throughout the 1990’s, they did so with carte blanche. They marched about, yelled and shouted, slammed beers, and the local police did nothing except smile slyly, and mischievously slip away, like the old survivors of the war, backstage beyond the curtains, leaving geysers of booze and roaming packs of skinheads to carry the day.

In the middle of the square, reigning supreme under the low, blue raspberry sky, the Angel of Victory hovered like a celestial mother over her flock. Erected after the “defeat” of Napoleon, this granite arrow to the heavens drew a bullseye in the semi-oval square, a homage, perhaps, or echo, of Caligula’s Heliopolitan Obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. For a country that had perhaps never won a war, they certainly had a dearth of monuments commemorating such events. Well, no country, for that matter, had ever won a war. Yet, for a country as astute at not winning wars as Russia, they certainly had their lion’s share of victory monuments. The chamber fired, and the revolver spun in Trevor’s mind.

After a good initial walloping by the Vikings, the Russians eventually defeated some Swedes at the Battle of Narva in 1704, giving Peter I the territorial swamplands of Ingria where he would demand his new, European capital be built – Amsterdam meets Paris meets the northern climbs of the Hudson Bay meets air thick with mosquitoes and thickets ripe with wolves. The perfect place - the most playful of combinations. A disease-riddled swamp surrounded by inarguable land that would be incapable of feeding a city. Book it.

In 1812, Napoleon invaded the former rowing hinterlands of the Swedes and easily captured Moscow. No, Napoleon hadn’t gone after the powdered wigs and gossiping debutantes of St. Petersburg. He went after the heart of the matter; the belly of the beast, not its lipstick. Having captured the hub of Russia, the Russian response was of course what anyone would have expected: burn the damn thing to the ground. That’s right, the economic heartland, the biggest city, the only “city,” more or less, in Russia, burn it to smithereens and smoldering ashes.

The Russians weren’t so expert in defeating other armies, but destruction, especially of themselves, was definitely their forte. It was akin to having an intruder break into your house and tie your wife and kids up hostage in the kitchen. Instead of going after the intruder, Russian strategy was to shoot the wife and kids in the head, throw a dinner spoon at the intruder, and flee out the window as they drenched the house in kerosene and set the homestead ablaze. The intruder, of course, would duck the spoon, and then nonchalantly leave the burning house, scratching his head, and saying, oh well, onto the next home. In front of the conflagration, the home owner would raise his pitchfork to the skies and shout in ecstasy, “Victory!”

Without provisions, shelter, and most of all, with only a burnt shell of Moscow, Napoleon decided, as the Russian winter bore down, that there was no hope in staying in the middle of a desolate wasteland amid the smoldering heaps, and ordered his forces back to Europe. The Russians hailed it as a victory and proudly huzzah’d as they chased the retreating forces through the onslaught of winter. Down came the cities, the infrastructure, the agriculture, the economy, the soldiers’ dead bodies, riddled with bullets, disease, and hypothermia, and up went the monuments.

In the depths of time against the Mongol hordes, in the Crimea against the British, in Port Arthur against the Japanese, in Galicia against the Kaiser, at the gates of Warsaw against Pilsudski, in the driven snow against the Finns in the Winter War, in the rugged, unforgivable terrain of Afghanistan against the Mujahideen, the Russians proved one thing over and over again – they were expert at dying in gargantuan numbers with little to nothing gained. It was their secret recipe, it seemed, the one area in which they held and advantage – numbers, and not only in possession of, but also in total disregard for.

They had more willing human beings to throw into the fire than any other collective group of brainwashed cannon fodder or corporate mercenary, perhaps in all of history. They were led continually into the grinders of the abyss by distant necromancers and inter-dimensional conduits. They also had more land to burn. Hitler’s taking over western Russia. Alright, pack up the factories, send them thousands of miles east past the Urals, we’ll figure it out later. Not one bombing run ever came close to making it over the Urals. Germany and England, of course, were tied to the bed frame, feeling the night raid’s kiss at every tortuous bewitching hour, the hot gasoline breath on their necks, the taciturn darkness filled with flames and terror. Ask them how they would have liked to have had a Siberian wilderness into which they could have cut their bondage and fled.

In 1941, the original blood red flag with white eye and black pupil swastika invaded Russia with distinct numerical disadvantages, shallow material resources, a military leader who had been only a private in the army, spoke with the spirits, a diviner who declined to annihilate the English army on the shores of Dunkirk, and who now, against the imploring of his generals, was forcing his army into the expanding jaws of the cruel, eastern netherworld. Berlin was already being licked by the dragon tongue of the Royal Air-force, factories and supply lines in the Rhineland fielding nightly violent advances of airborne gentleman callers. The Russians, that is, the Red Egyptian court of the peculiar Georgian, Josef Stalin, had been warned, repeatedly, of an imminent attack, the migration of personnel, equipment, and supplies chugging in steady cadence across the rails of Germany from West to East, the troops swelling on the Polish border like a human tide ready to burst a damn, the reports coming in from as far away as Japan that the Rubicon was soon to be crossed. The result? Joey Stalin did nothing. If anything, they helped the Nazis immensely by keeping Soviet planes stacked up on the tarmacs of Western Russia like big breasted bulls-eyes begging for annihilation. It was as if they had met the Nazi death machine on the crossroads and asked, how may we help?

Actually, it might very well have been these circumstances which led Iosif Dzhugashvili, aka Joey Steel, aka Uncle Joe Stalin, of the Bolshevik synagogue of foreigners who had outmaneuvered his necromancing Ashkenazi brethren in the Soviet leadership death games, to begin greasing the wheels of the conveyor belt to Baal. With the writing on the wall cast in blood and cruel Sumerian symbols, Stalin lit the candles and eagerly invoked the ceremony of death into ACT I. As Hitler re-militarized the Rhineland in 1935, Stalin’s mill of death began to slowly grind the bones of the Christian Orthodox as the era known as the Great Terror came to hang over the forested land like a foul, industrialized, devilish jihad.

By the time Schicklgruber, the Austrian, annexed his own country for Germany in 1938, Stalin had the jaws of death whipped up into such a frenzy of blood lust that they even began to devour the upper echelons of the Soviet military. On the eve of the outbreak of the great eastern war of annihilation, as Hitler was strolling into Bohemia and speaking in tongues at the St. Vitus Cathedral on Castle Hill in Prague, Stalin was licking his lips lasciviously as 3 out of 5 Marshals of the Soviet Union, 13 out of 15 Generals, 8 of 9 Admirals, 50 of 57 Army Corps Generals, and 154 of 186 Division Guards were introduced to the unique experience of having lead fired through their skulls and into their brains in various, dank prison cellars throughout the forsaken land of darkness.

Whether they were labeled sophomorically as a Tsarist, a leftist, a rightist, a sympathizer, a wrecker, a fascist, a spy, in Russia they all shared one fate – the foreign leader of the cabal and his midget henchmen would have them facing a cellar wall with a muzzle pointed at their mission control center, the musky, penetrating smell of death soaking their nostrils, bleeding through their senses, time frozen on its axis as the grand voyage across the darkness began its commencement as Anubis sank its teeth into their jugular.

As if liquidating the top echelons of his military wasn’t a big enough gift to his acquaintance from Vienna, the corporal Fuhrer, Stalin forbade any pre-war preparations on the western border, fearing that any preparations, even defensive, would “provoke” a German attack. Henceforth, the Soviet air force bunched up and bundled itself with bows and ribbons on unguarded tarmacs within easy striking distance of the Luftwaffe, providing targets just as sweet, if not tenfold more so, as the ones deliciously enjoyed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. These weren’t obsolete battleships facing decommission. This was the near entirety of the Soviet Air Force, stacked up like kindling, soaked in kerosene, the card attached, flowing heart-felt calligraphy, love and kisses, Joey.

The Nazis invaded on the summer solstice of June 22 and, big surprise, knifed their way rapidly to the gates of St. Petersburg. By early December they were poised on the outskirts of Moscow. Only after 4 years of throwing millions of human beings into the fire like mere, inconsequential sticks into a blaze, did the attrition of human and non-human materiel finally bring the Nazi regime to surrender.

26 million Russian Christian Orthodox dead, the country left in desolate heaps of smoldering ash, just as Moscow had been 120 years previously with Napoleon, except this time, in western Russia, the destruction was nearly nation-wide. Huzzahs erupted across the land. Fireworks exploded over Moscow. The foreign demi-god, Joey Steel, was hailed as a military genius, a stalwart protector, an angel from heaven, a dearly benevolent, compassionate father to all of mother Russia. Victory. The Soviet Synagogue peered down from the pig’s blood pyramid of death in Red Square in revelry. The peasants squatted and cow-towed before them in the burnt fields of blackened branches and bloated bodies. They saluted as they cried tears of love and devotion to their leaders. Victory.

But of course, where exactly was the victory? No one in their right mind ever thought about this proposition, not in the cool, pyramidal shade of the Soviet Synagogue. How could anyone? It was tantamount to suicide. The raped Russia that was referred to as the Soviet Union was a bankrupt, maniacal, seething force of foreign revolution that drew and quartered people away from their land, their familiar culture, and their religion, while grinding a great many of them into sausage, fertilizing the land with their blood, or sprinkling the landscape with their starved, emaciated bones.

This “system” failed in record time – one of the shortest lived “empires” in the known, profane history of the world. Still, everyone was off the land, they were pooled into crumbling cement eggshell cartons dependent on the invisible hand for polluted tap water, light, heat, clothing, and mysterious consumables. They believed fervently in nothing, only a meager, tired, distrustful lament for hazy remnants of God and salvation flickered like a dying ember in the faintest recollections of the population. Instead, the majority focused on adorning themselves in tattered robes drenched in the miserable suffering of now. With this in mind, was the system a failure? Perhaps not, but Trevor didn’t think in these terms. The world was straight forward to him. There were different states, like billiard balls on the table. They competed against each other. At times they had different viewpoints, competing ideas, philosophies, and so forth. These ideas sprang forth organically, naturally, and accidentally. Trevor was sure. Why shouldn’t he have been? He had paid tens of thousands of dollars to be instructed in this line of thinking. These ideas, the communist manifesto, the wealth of nations, the leviathan, the origin of species, they came from the human mind. And that was it. There was the human mind, and there were billions of light years of cold, deep, dark, empty space. An idea like communism and the Soviet Union was therefore an abject failure to Trevor. Some people had an idea, they tried to impose the idea on the world because they thought they knew better, and because the way of the world was that things were progressing, things were getting better and better all the time, communism proved itself unworthy and unfit for the world stage, and on merit, and some strange universal justice, it was sent unceremoniously to the dust bin of history.

As Trevor stood there in the alcohol wash of the Palace Square, nearly all of Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Baltics, was heading for NATO. German bank (yes, that country that had lost the war) were fueling the European Union, which at that time would soon be washing up against the barbed wire, barren shores of Russia. Russian banks, yes, that country that wont he war, had just triumphed with the resounding ruble crash in the summer of 1998. Transactions of any importance in Russia were now done in United States dollars. Russians worked at jobs and received no wages (a delightful holdover from Soviet times). Businessmen, politicians, and reporters were shot down in the streets in broad daylight. Whores, drunks, corrupt cops, and fervent packs of stray dogs filled the garbage and vomit strewn avenues at night. The Natasha trade was the largest flesh market in the world, providing white-skinned hot lunches to Muslim high rollers, Israeli rabbis, Japanese businessmen, Wall Street cokers, Beijing billionaires, moguls, magnates, gangsters, thrill seekers, sex freaks, party animals, soldiers, mafiosi, and, of course, the ceiling-mirrored pleasure palaces of North Korea – to name a few. The second largest city in the country, St. Petersburg, barely had running water, and when it did, it was brown, and laced with rat semen and e.coli. Victory?

These present-day conditions that ran through Trevor’s mind seemed more like a character sketch of Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Rwanda, medieval times perhaps, some far off, war-stricken impoverished, post-apocalyptic Babylon. But no, Trevor was musing about Russia, the super power that just a few years previous had apparently been neck and neck with America for world domination. The Asiatic hordes had been expected to parachute in at any moment and begin pumping grenades into pancake houses. This glorious empire, where survivors of the war lived off a government pension that barely would net them a pizza and a beer in Germany. No wonder the rampant, unabashed, heroic, headfirst dives into point-of-no-return, alcoholic oblivion. The truths of victory were so close, like bare breasts and skin under a transparent negligée. They enticed and beckoned poor souls onward. But those who undid the lace straps and drew the baneful breasts of reason to their parched mouth soon found the truth they were aroused by was nothing more than the strongest of poisons. Imbibe one sip, and they couldn’t go on believing in their “country” anymore, their “victory,” their place in the world, and their importance. For one drink of this brew, and the entire world melted away, and they were left there alone, suicided, a stranger forever to all the world and all they had known. They had to keep pretending. True reality was far too frightening, and they weren’t strong enough to function within it. Adrift in the collective fantasy, huddled on life rafts, they clung to each other in the fogs.

Shana and Trevor slowly ambled through the volatile alcohol throngs south into the Admiralty Gardens. People screamed, laughed, shouted, teetered to and fro, dropped bottles, tripped, fell on their faces, threw their arms around shoulders and necks, wobbled about. Girls and women alike lifted their skirts, or dropped their pants, only half-heartedly concealing themselves near trees or behind thin shrubbery, streams of urine firing heavy, steady flows like cows in pasture, asses wide and white like meringue pies. Drunken men leaned against the grimy, neoclassical, daisy yellow walls of the Admiralty, uncircumcised hoses out, dribbling about the classical façade like street dogs on hubcaps. The entire gardens were wobbling, heady and thick in the warm, pungent kick of urine, wet, Russian tobacco, and armpits.

Slogging through the many football fields of open toilet, Trevor and Shana came to meager sanctuary near the Equestrian statue of Peter I, Caesar, regal wreaths and all, rearing back over the serpent of ignorance, his steady hand calming the seas of drunkenness and parochialism, his Parisian Amsterdam hewed out of swamp and bones now nothing more than a raucous beer hall in the woods. In many regards, he would have likely enjoyed the day’s festivities; blind drunk, pissing oneself, hammering some skulls, cranking off some fireworks. Sans boat building, these were his most prodigious pastimes.

On the granite quay of the Neva River, Trevor and Shana bivouacked near a beer kiosk selling 30 cent plastic cups of golden bubbly. Taking a seat on the dirty steps leading to the briskly flowing, cold water, the two of them gazed out to the green Palace Bridge and the powdered blue steeple of the Kunstkamera freak museum, Peter I’s own collection of mutants, freak babies, grotesque deformities, and other ghoulish curios frozen in eternal discomfort in beer colored formaldehyde. The waters which separated them from the museum were arctic, marina gray and uninviting. The Neva herself had once been a fresh water river. She was even believed to have had healing properties. Now, thanks to this imitation Amsterdam willed into the swampy sands, a sewage system only slightly more sophisticated than the dearth of people squatting in the Admiralty Gardens and splashing piss about their legs and feet, and myriad industries upstream pumping a steady multitude of toxic ambrosia into the once sparkling waterway. Now, the waters were a poisonous cru, a foul cousin of the River Styx. Swimming in the water was rumored to either bequeath one with a steadfast, sturdy, and indomitable immune system, or mercilessly thin the herd. Drink of the water and one would, after violent, painful, anguished convulsions, soon be communing with the gods and demons. Insidiously moronic, some shriveled, wrinkled, drink blasted men still came to these shores to fish for smelt, a delicacy imbued with heavy metals, raw sewage, industrial waste, with a hint of decomposing body. It was true everywhere; people didn’t like the swift, decisive suicide. They wanted the long, slow, masochistically morbid descent that lasted a lifetime.

Trevor’s mind began to sync up with the wavelength of the day – oblivion. The beer flew down his empty gullet, and when his second plastic glass at the banks of the Neva drew dry, he lit a Gauloises and felt the horseshoe hit him in the forehead. Oh yes, he nodded subtly as he gazed out at the brooding, cantankerous Neva, I’m in the zone. Time for a bump.

“Come.” Shana rose and dusted the filth off the seat of her pants. “We must to meeting Lilith and Yusha.”

There were no instant obsidian illocutioners of telepathy in those days, those get-out-of-jail harbingers of endless adjustments to commitments. Back in those dusty days, you made plans hours or days in advance and you kept to it, or your name was written in blood, set ablaze in a ceremony, and the ashes blown to the empty recesses of nothingness, your personage erased from the ledgers of the living.

Trevor refilled his plastic cup at the beer fountain, Shana staring at him in bemused disbelief at his persistent caning, and the two of them sloshed east back through the gardens of makeshift toilet and dutiful dissipation. Passing through the shoulder to shoulder corridors of carousal, Trevor and Shana slowly maneuvered their way through the throngs near the Admiralty fountain, Trevor being focused intently on not spilling his beer, until they made it across Admiralty Street and to the first building on Pea Street.

“Shan!” a woman chirped. “Shanichka!”

There, standing next to the battleship dour dirge of a building were two girls who looked thoroughly uncomfortable, eyes wide and nervous, their bodies flush against the building as if they were trying to hide or camouflage themselves from the running of the inebriation stampede through the streets. Trevor and Shana came over to them, and Trevor was immediately disappointed to see how unattractive they were – even after a morning of beers.

There was Lilith Chelasherah, plain and unappealing, with her unforgivable lazy eye that fired up to gaze at the steeple of the Admiralty, while the other remained trained on Trevor. Her hair was a dingy brown, and her smile wide and horsey. She worked at the gates of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery and Cemetery, day and night in the small, decrepit ticket booth surrounded by dead bodies slumbering in the cold, marshy ground, practicing writing in German and English, of which she was expert, filling exercise books the way termites filled houses with holes, and occasionally trying her hand at Hebrew, a language about which she had only scant ideas. Sitting at what constituted a lemonade stand in a sea of buried skeletons perhaps didn’t seem at first glance like a very worthy endeavor. But Lilith was smart. She understood location. She sat there in the middle of a well traversed stream, line and lure always at the ready. They came from England, from Germany, from France, Italy, America, they came to see Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, the incense filled vaulted enclaves of the cathedral – they had to, their guide books demanded it. First the Hermitage, then St. Isaac’s cathedral, the Church of Spilt Blood, the Mariinsky, and then sunder east down Prostitute Street, to the fabled Alexander Nevsky monastery, light a candle, see where Dostoyevsky allegedly slept, buy a nesting doll, and get the hell out of town. But wait a minute – allegedly slept? Yes, unfortunately during the professionally expert regime of Nikita Khrushchev, the cemetery was renovated, that is to say, headstones and the like were removed, hosed down perhaps with some mild detergent, and then brought back to their resting – oops. That’s right, they failed to make a reliable record of where everything had been before the upkeep. So, although Dostoyevsky’s headstone was there, what was below it could have been rocks, gravel, a famed gypsy prostitute from the Tsarist days, Pushkin’s wife, a soldier from the Civil War, no one was quite sure. Regardless of that peculiar shuffling of pieces in the cemetery, Lilith sat in her shack bundled in yarns and overcoat, waiting for fishies to come down stream, and cast the lure. She made fast friends, spoke German and English, gave free tours, never accepted money, but always let it be known – she desperately wanted out of this hell country, and she hoped to immigrate to Germany or Israel. It was a numbers game, it required patience, but she knew that was all it required, patience and diligence, and she’d be abroad. Her parents had died in an accident long ago. She was on her own, and she was adamant to leave this forsaken hinterland on the edge of the Pale.

Then there was Yusha Upharova. Her skin was sallow and tinged, like paper that had been bled through by butter and oil from the bakery. Dough – that’s what it was. Oily, kneaded dough. It wasn’t white, but it was indeed pale, the colorless hue of months in the meat locker. Her face was flat, riddle with dark chocolate chip moles and specks, her nose wide, pores open, a small sea of purple craters covered in shiny oil. Her hair was chestnut brown and mousy, dry and gnarled as it flapped down to her shoulders, oily and seamstress-parted at the roots. She was all systems go for Tel Aviv. She studied nights in a prestigious language center, days drinking murky tea in the Russian Museum.

Trevor made introductions with them. Acutely, he tried to hide his sinking spirits at their appearance and stone-cold, humorless sobriety. Shana, who had been sipping at her beer like a kitten, was the lush of the troika. The dark eyes of the girls darted around the street and its tour de force of drunken revelers, nervous, flummoxed, vibrating in unease. It was almost as if they weren’t from St. Petersburg, or even Russia, but instead from a small town in Japan, perhaps here to study abroad or for a quick tour. They looked shocked. Yet, behind the unease and displeasure, one could easily read a particular disdain. They didn’t just frown upon the urine-drenched bacchanalia, they were clenching tightly onto a fervent core of superiority. Non-verbally it bled out, faintly, like a whisper, I’m better than all of you.

Coming to grips with the dour forecasts for a rollicking, alcohol-fueled day, Trevor dazed off for a moment as the girls chatted away in Russian. There was no way to change course. One couldn’t fire out instant messages, make calls, or release a flurry of SOS tweets. You made your plans before the sun rose and you stayed with them. The only way to change up was if by pure happenstance you ran into someone on the street, a familiar face, and you could dive into their locomotion. Those chances were slim, happening only two or three times a year. Trevor shook his head, not liking his prospects. Slowly, his eyes crawled up the façade of the building as his mind calculated escape plans dejectedly. There, just above the heads of the girls, Trevor’s eyes froze. His eyebrows bunched and his forehead wrinkled up in consternation. Hovering above the 3 chatting ladies, a macabre apparition floated. It was the old, stern face of a Billy goat of a man, his face covered in the lime of the grave, his eyes wracked both by the pressures of Kronos and the timeless abyss, his hair disheveled, unkempt in the kingdom of shadows, his cheeks gaunt. Only partially did he materialize through the curtains of realms, a shoulder and half a profile. It was all he could muster. Still, his sudden presence was jarring. His name, when he was on this planet, operating, was Felix “Yakub” Dzerzhinsky. For those unfamiliar with his myriad accomplishments, he headed the newly created Cheka after the October Revolution, the precursor to the NKVD and KGB. In the Russian Civil War, this organization introduced roughly 10,000 uncooperative souls to the kingdom of shadows, usually without trial, through basement head shots. Terror - fast, expedient, ruthless terror, that was the name of old Felix’s game. This great machine of harvest would eventually have its hand, one way or another, in tens of millions of offerings to the insatiable, saturnine destroyer. It was only fitting that he would peer out from behind the smoke and ash on this day commemorating the great years of fire and blood. Felix squinted into the group of 3 girls chatting away incessantly. Trevor couldn’t decide if it was hatred, approval, or curiosity. Or was it simply the desert thirst of the other side that drew him forward. The three girls together formed a peculiar cartouche, or flower pot, from which this ghostly genie rose up, and appeared like ashen smoke from a censer.

Finally, the deliberations of the three girls subsided.

“So,” Shana began, the press secretary of the group. “We are invited to go cousin Lilith’s apartment.”

“Sounds fine.” Trevor detachedly agreed. “Where is it?”

“Near…” Shana clarified with Lilith.

“Tavrichesky Sad.” Lilith proudly announced.

The Tauride Gardens, nearly the other side of town. Trevor hit his beer, working down a long drain. That was going to be a typical Petersburg walk. A two-beer walk, at least, Trevor calculated, possibly three. What have I gotten myself into, he wondered.

“So long as we stop for beer.” Trevor agreed, putting his empty cup under the ghostly apparition of the harbinger of the KGB and firing open one of his bottled back-ups with his lighter.

Shana chuckled, faintly, as the other girls stared at Trevor. This was an American? Acting like a typical, common, alcohol-obsessed Russian blockhead? They were nonplussed, and, mostly, disappointed. Trevor took a refreshingly long pull and smacked his lips.

“Okay ladies.” he said. “We’ve left.”

Taking a deep breath, the ladies set out with Trevor, ready to navigate the perilous open toilets and circuses of booze, up past the Winter Palace towards the Neva’s eastern bank. Trevor winked at Felix as they left, whose face remained stoic and cold. He not even so much as batted an eye, his expression paralyzed, as he coldly glared like a demi-present referee upon the poisoned, shoddy, and narrow freedoms below.

The four of them clawed their way past the cliques of alcohol and bonfires of cigarette smoke alongside the southern face of the Winter Palace. Soon they came to the Palace Embankment and began maneuvering through the asteroid fields of drunkenness that arched round the Neva as it caromed from north to east. As they neared the Hermitage Theatre, Trevor put down his first empty bottle. Number 2 sprung open as they navigated down the Winter Canal and fought upstream against the tides of flocking beer enthusiasts making the pilgrimage down the Street of Millionaires.

“This is my house.” Shana pointed out as they fought through the streams of rabble.

“The Street of Millionaires.” Trevor assessed as he blew a cloud of Gauloises smoke into the stale air. “Tough life, Shana.”

Trevor’s eyes crawled up and down the soot and exhaust-covered façade of house 17. The building was the color of mired pancake batter. From aristocratic millionaires, to Shana, a teacher, and her mother, a museum babushka at the Hermitage. Although Shana appeared by no means to be wealthy, her family was somehow, in someway, connected. Someone in her family or family’s past must have had decent pull with the party.

“Shana on the Street of Millionaires. Shana’s uncle on prime-time Nevsky. What’s with you?” Trevor asked.

The three girls assumed quiet, awkward looks on their faces.

“My grandfather,” Shana began cautiously. “He…”

“He was in Communist Party.” Lilith answered for her.

“Uh, yes.” Shana concurred.

They didn’t want to speak about it further, and instead dodged incoming human projectiles silently like ships at night navigating through an ice field. Trevor studied the three girls, confused. Why the buzz kill? Most people Trevor had encountered were only too happy to brag about their family members’ glorious past in the indomitably gilded empire of the Soviet Union. Why not these girls? They were obviously in good graces, with addresses at the finer points of St. Petersburg, and international aspirations. Trevor swilled back the warm beer and lost interest in the matter. He and the girls trudged ahead silently.

Soon they came to the shattered orange lamps of the Field of Mars, rife with congregating pockets of imbibers. The Field of Mars had been named Amusement Field in an earlier carnation. The Field of War, the Field of Amusements; the name choices were strikingly telling. Of course, there also had been an Egyptian obelisk in the center of the field. It had migrated, strangely, to the opposite bank of the Neva River on Vasilievsky Island, perhaps to mirror the Needle of Horus in London, straddling the Thymes as a stand-in for the Nile. Nowadays, in the center of the Field of Mars, an eternal flame burned ineffectually in the hazy sunlight.

Young Petersburgers in cheap, knock-off jeans and $2 black Turkish shirts cranked Soviet Champagne, warm cognac with cherry flavored sugar juice, and brown bottles of cheap beer near the orange flames and black smoke. The girls fidgeted with ultra thin Vogue and Kiss cigarettes. The men sucked down fiberglass Peter I’s, imagination brands like Dallas, and fake Marlboros. Trevor fired beer number two of the walk into a bush on the Field of Mars’ perimeter and blasted open beer number three. His legs moved lightly, a robot beer machine constructed of thin, weightless plastics. In Trevor’s experience, once he got past the first mile, moving through the epically long stretches of Peterburgian boulevard became effortless. He began to glide and float amid the epic playground.

Trevor and the girls soon came to the Lebyazhey Canal on the western edge of the Summer Gardens. Ratty and drink-fueled Petersburg youth materialized and disappeared throughout the hedge groves like two-legged beetles, climbing up and over the Summer Garden fence, lounging about the gnarled grass embankment on this miniature canal as waves of alcohol coursed through them.

“This is where you are secretly entering Summer Garden in night.” Shana broke the silence.

She pointed to the Northwest corner of the garden near the Neva River.

“Here you can pass without security.”

“You sneak in?”

Trevor was amused at Shana’s uncharacteristic breaking of rules.

“Mmm, sometimes.” she admitted.

The three girls giggled together.

“When I must to get away.” Shana continued.

“What do you do in there?”

“Have some drink.” Shana thought. “Maybe just walk around, sit and think.”

Even though it was on the Street of Millionaires, it was still only a 200-year-old collection of brick boxes covered with tired wallpaper, one cramped, phone-booth-sized toilet, one sister, one brother, mother and father, aunts and various fringe family members and acquaintances dropping in to fill up the kitchen with their flabby arms, triple chins, and acerbic gossip. No wonder Shana needed her Summer Garden getaway. Without internet in those days, mobiles, laptops, there wasn’t much for Shana to do but sit on a park bench and stare off into the dark silhouettes of trees wavering timidly in the faint marmalade air.

Trevor and the girls crossed the Fontanka Canal on the green Panteleymonosky Bridge. Gangs of revelers to the south fired bottle caps and useless kopeks at the head of Chisyk Pyshik, a small finch held captive on a petite perch jetting out from the granite embankment. All day, the debris rained down on his head, all night thieves tried to steal him. Chisyk Pyshik sat there alone, tethered to the torment.

As they crossed the bridge, Trevor’s eyes wandered to the faded yellow façade of building 14 on the Fontanka. The Butterfly Man’s house. What nonsense was he up to today, Trevor wondered. Would he invite them all in for a recital and fine brandy? Best to take that idea, Trevor realized, and cast it to the dark waters of the Fontaka, along with all the bottle caps and kopeks tossed at Chisyk Pyshik’s head. Showing up unannounced was one thing. Showing up to this guy’s stately aristocratic dream with three dog-faced girls would be moronically unwise. Trevor recalled the guests and jockeying hangers-on he had seen there; long, elegant limbs, ballerinas, violinists, cellists, hair rich, shampooed, conditioned, all uniformly worn back in pony tails, soft woolen sweaters, fine manicures, rings, watches, bracelets, and tasteful necklaces glimmering, shoulders back, spines regally curved. He looked at these three short, frumpy girls trudging along with him. Hair dry and frizzled, oily and dull at the roots, faces flaking, candle pallor and oily skin like a slab of white ground almonds sprinkled with black sesame seeds and raisins. Keep walking, Trevor told himself. You couldn’t go to the Butterfly Man without an unblemished offering. In his retinue that day, it was nothing but blemishes. To visit now would be for Trevor to watch his stock drop from pennies to jumping out the office window to the New York pavement.

Up the short, broken spine of Lestelya Street, fresh beer procured from a reasonably quite shop, across the abandoned thoroughfare of Liteniy Prospekt, on this day filled not with old battered Ladas and Zhigulis in grinding traffic, and wheezing, rusted trams moaning their tired lament, but with beer-bottle-totting citizenry scurrying about, laughing and slurring as they meandered around the occasional, slow moving tin can on wheels.

Trevor and the girls pushed on, and came soon to the saturnine Cathedral of Transfiguration. Nestled just off Liteniy, the power source was laid out in a perfect circle, the penta-towers of the structure smack dab in the center, creating a target, an eye, a representation of Saturn and its rings of sacrificed and devoured children. As they passed through the small estuary of greenery orbiting the transfiguration talisman, Trevor stopped to help the girls over a small, knee-high chain-link fence meant to keep people off the grass. As he took Lilith’s hand, he noticed a strange, warm pull of attention-seeking attraction. She locked her eyes into his, moving her body and breasts as close to Trevor as possible as she stepped over the gate, feigning to lose balance so that she could allow herself to bump up against him, noticeably, but innocently. She smiled, almost too wide, and she pushed her gaze into Trevor’s, one eye on him, the other on the church steeple. She was like a jealous and drunken woman cutting into a dance between her desire and her rival. Trevor laughed to himself, secretly, keeping his face devoid of signs of his amusement. Lilith had ignored him so far all day long. Now, in the orbit of Transfiguration, she felt the impulse to send a message to him. He eyed her coolly as she walked ahead of him in the strange oasis of foliage. Strange because St. Petersburg was in those days only long, barren, dusty collections of cracked, upturned pavement and cheap asphalt riddled with potholes. Trees?

Trevor recalled being at a small, obnoxiously kitsch table on the second floor of a hideous Yeltsin café of sorts, the type that sold cold, prefabricated salads, stale, ridiculous open-faced “sandwiches” of putrid kielbasa and buttered caviar, his companion drinking thin, dirt tasting Moldovian wine, he working down a warm Nevskoe out of a chipped juice glass. We chopped down all the trees in the blockade, she said. We ate all the cats, all the dogs, the pigeons, the rats, and we chopped down all the trees. Now we are left with just the cockroaches and the mosquitoes. But the dogs have returned, Trevor said, firing up a Gauloises in the warm, stuffy air. True, she said. In preparation for the next blockade.

Trevor thought of freezing Peterburgers chopping down trees in their emaciated state, cooking pigeons over open flame, and huddling together in blankets as he watched Lilith’s legs and body move. It wasn’t what he was used to looking at. Lilith’s legs looked bony, unshapely, her hips narrow, her posterior flat. Where were the beguiling Russian curves and shapeliness? What had happened to him, he thought. How had he been bumped out of the Russian stream and into this morass? He looked at Lilith’s arms, waxen in the pale sunlight, her forearms covered with various moles like a middle-aged aunt in polyester slacks, a somewhat unsettling swatch of arm hair running from her elbow to her wrist. I was in a sea of Russians, I blinked my eyes, and now I was being led by these girls. What had happened? Trevor shook his head and laughed as he walked.

The foursome went up the tight artery of Radicheva Alley and east down Kirochnaya into the consulate district. Just a block north from them the American Consulate sat, its roof wrapped in barbed wire like tinsel on a Christmas tree. They traversed just over a block past the Chernyshevskaya metro station when they finally arrived at the imposing, and only partially dilapidated, lime green grandeur that was house 32.

“It almost looks like the Winter Palace.” Trevor gawked.

The girls looked at each other, slightly enviously, and agreed – it was quite a building. Still, even for a building of its stature, the door was a rusted, piss-blasted affair with a useless security lock on it. The lock was two rows of numbers, 1-7, and 8-14. Anyone with sight could see what the code was, as those buttons were rubbed shiny, while the detractors were tarnished and dingy. Shana pushed her petite ivory fingers on 6, 9, 11, 13. A dry, morose locking mechanism moaned and clanked open.

“Let’s go.” she instructed.

Into the dank stairwell of cat urine, oily chicken and potatoes simmering in cast iron pans, and musty rot, the four of them disappeared.

After ringing the crudely strung up buzzer, a dusty brown contraption lacquered uncaringly in cheap paint, wiring running from it akimbo up the wall, covered in cobwebs and idiot’s malfeasance, a stout, balding, pale man opened the door and smiled a conniving, long-toothed grin. His hair was apricot orange, cut short, his skin the color of cheesecloth, riddled with freckles and moles, his eyes a snakely green. He welcomed everybody in.

Immediately, Trevor noticed the immaculately clean nature of the flat. Shana’s uncle’s flat on Nevsky, now this green palace near the Tauride Gardens – these were the only flats Trevor had seen in St. Petersburg that weren’t musty rat holes. Well, of course, the Butterfly Man’s flat was nothing to sneeze it, but he hardly counted. No one could be held accountable to his status.

“They call me Efrayim Azazielov.” the pale orange ghost announced as Trevor entered the hallway.

Trevor, like the girls, began fussing with his boots.

“They call me Captain Twinkletoes.” Trevor smiled. “But Trevor also works.”

“Tvvr?” Efrayim attempted.

“Yeah, fine.”

Trevor undid the dusty laces on his cracking boots and stacked them against the wall neatly as the girls had done. They already had their ubiquitous mental patient slippers on, their feet of ankle high stockings and band-aids partially covered by these frumpy pieces of stink kitsch. Trevor groaned, and attempted to enter the kitchen sans-idiocy.

“No, you must!” Efrayim insisted, pointing to a pair of slippers likely owned by his late uncle, a pair of rat moccasins purchased from the 1974 Brezhnev Spring Fashion catalog.

1974 had been quite a year. The streets of Minsk and Gorki had been set ablaze by the arrival of the rat moccasin. The imaginations of the populace had been captured and tickled pink. What a heyday of fashion those wild and crazy Brezhnev days were.

“You must!” the girls chimed together in unison. “You will get sick!”

“You will catch cold.” Shana declared with the certainty of a doctor presenting at a prestigious medical symposium.

Trevor grimaced, his mind burning at the moronity. Begrudgingly, he buried his toes into a pair of old man slippers. He could feel the dank decades of foot perspiration and stank immediately soaking his gold-toe socks. Tail between his legs, he shuffled into Efrayim’s gleaming kitchen like a mental patient. A slick of alcohol perspiration covered Trevor’s forehead. He wiped it off with his hand. He was surprised to feel a gritty, sand-like consistency to the sweat. The dirt and grim of St. Petersburg. In the winter, it went all over the boots and pants. Now, nearing the summer, it had migrated to the face. Trevor took his index finger and ran it partway up his forehead. He groaned to himself. Alcohol sweat mixed with dust and grit. He was covered in it. He blew a sigh out of the side of his mouth. Well, at least they were in the kitchen. That could only mean one thing – a soon to be commencing bombardment of shots. Sounds good to me, Trevor thought. Let’s blast this day into complete oblivion.

However, curiously, Trevor began to notice something amiss. Not only was the kitchen, like Shana’s, simply too clean to be a Petersburg kitchen, but Efrayim began messing about with a kettle preparing tea. Well, Trevor thought, perhaps it’ll be vodka and tea. A strange choice for a day as warm as this, but nevertheless, so be it.

One by one, Efrayim went around, pompously pouring tea for his guests. The girls took the porcelain cups in both hands as if they were sacred treasures, and began sipping at the hot, weed broth as if it was nourishing mother’s milk. Efrayim completed the smorgasbord by placing a small tea saucer in the middle of the table which held a paltry ration of biscuits.

“The tea,” Efrayim began as he held up a petite blue package, “is Moonlight Sonata. It is a wonderful and delightful blend. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find here in the city.”

The girls ooo-ed in unison and watched Efrayim attentively.

“This comes from Vienna. You will only find this in shops in Austria, Germany, perhaps Sweden.”

Efrayim gave the package to Lilith to inspect and pass around the table. She took it and gazed wide-eyed at the marvelous, colorful packing, the graceful and orderly German language dancing about the label.

“Next, we have the biscuits. These are a delicious treat which you can only find in western Germany. This particular brand is my favorite. They have a chocolate-hazelnut filling. It is not often that we can come by this product at duty free. Usually someone must bring it with them from Germany.”

The girls giggled excitedly as they each took their one, solitary, allotted biscuit.

“Oh, it’s so delicious.” they chirped in unison, eyes sparkling in glucose intake and the regal feeling of having something rare and uncommon between their teeth.

Trevor eyed the biscuits. To him it looked like something you would find at any convenience store, even a gas station mini-mart. Be it blue jeans, rock ‘n roll albums, or a one-Deutsch-Mark piece of candy, Russians were always clamoring for something from the west.

“You don’t want to try?” Efrayim asked.

“No thanks.” Trevor smiled. “I usually don’t mix cookies with beer.”

“He’s drinking beer all day to celebrate Russian victory.” Shana smiled, lips powdered with flakes of chocolate wafer.

“Oh, I see.” Efrayim said awkwardly.

“The girls can have mine.” Trevor said.

Immediately, the girls’ faces lit up. They eyed one another, then the biscuit, then each other again. They all wanted it, but how could they divide a small piece among three of them? It was impossible. Efrayim eyed the one remaining biscuit nervously. He wasn’t about to reach into the package and provide two more biscuits. They were too precious. Quickly, Efrayim tried to think.

“Where did the two of you meet?” he asked Shana, hoping to change the topic.

“He came into the Hermitage and asked what documents or exhibits we had about the Great Patriotic War.” Shana giddily began. “I said, we have Picassos and Rembrandts, not such things as war documents. I told him to go to the Russian Museum or the Museum of the Blockade. He took out a map and began looking at it. Oh great, he said. The blockade museum is near the Admiralteiskaya Metro. It will be easy for me to go home. I told him, no it won’t be. There is no such metro station. He said, look at the map, it’s here. I said, go look at it in real life, you will have a surprise. Ha ha! Welcome to Russia. That’s how we were met to each other.”

The kitchen chuckled and looked at Trevor with sympathetic smiles. The poor American fool.

“So, I told him, I have a day off tomorrow, I know the people at both museums, I can introduce him to them and they can help with his research.”

“What are you researching?” Efrayim asked.

“The blockade.” Trevor said.

“Oh.” Efrayim said blankly.

Everyone drew momentarily silent. No one was supposed to research the blockade, let alone a foreigner with stillborn Russian language.

“Efrayim, show Trevor your cognac.” Shana blurted out in a bubbly, mischievous, slightly tipsy peep.

Efrayim’s face was already toilet-bowl white, but somehow it managed to get even whiter.

“Trevor, do you like cognac?” he asked.

Finally, Trevor smiled in relief. Things were about to get sensible.

“But of course I do. They call me Captain Cognac.”

Efrayim reached into one of the gleaming white cupboards above the kitchen counter and procured a heavenly shaped bottle imbued in gold and subtle pink.

Efrayim held the bottle before Trevor, a glowing bottle of Thorin VSOP.

“This one is oaken and fruity. Absolutely marvelous. Here, smell.”

Efrayim pulled the cork and presented it to Trevor. The warm vapors expounded up his nose and into his head like a lightning cloud of euphoria.

“How long its been since I smelled something like that.” Trevor said in a mild daze.

“Give him some.” Shana chirped. “Stop teasing!”

Efrayim’s face turned stone in resignation. What had gotten into Shana, he wondered. He didn’t know she had sipping at beers all morning. Efrayim’s stomach clenched sourly as he realized he would have to part with some of his cognac. Biscuits, now cognac; I’m getting fleeced, he thought.

“Did you want any?” Efrayim asked innocently. “He does have tea.” he reminded Shana.

“I don’t think he wants tea. He’s American.”

“You don’t drink tea?”

“We’re predominately a coffee people.”

“I understand. Did you want some juice or water, perhaps?”

He tried a last-ditch effort to pseudo-innocently get Trevor off the cognac.

“I’m fine, Efrayim.” Trevor smiled.

“Efrayim, give him some!” Shana chirped. “He’s a guest!”

Efrayim’s eyes moaned.

“Would you like some?”

“Sure, if you’ll join me.”

Efrayim gasped. Pour two drinks? He might as well open a vein. His heart began beating fast, his breath became shallow. He could feel his asshole swallowing itself like a sour, bitter black hole.

“Oh, okay. Sure.” he finally choked out.

Efrayim turned to the counter, placed his golden and pink baby down on the white, gleaming slab, and sorrowfully opened the cupboard to fetch out two cognac glasses. Trevor peered in past him. He was shocked by the sea of sherry glasses, shot glasses, highballs, champagne, wine, and, of course, cognac glasses. What more, it wasn’t the clouded and chipped glassware of Soviet cheapery. These glasses shone and gleamed like crystal balls and diamond necklaces.

Trevor reached across the table, picked up the one remaining biscuit, and slid it onto Shana’s tea saucer. The girls giggled, and Shana’s eyes did jumping jacks.

“For me?” she asked, feigning surprise.

Trevor winked.

“Does anybody…” Shana half-heartedly asked, going through the motions of civility and convention.

“Oh no.” the girls lied.

Before they had answered, the petite, chocolate hazelnut treat was already kamikaze diving into Shana’s mouth.

“It’s so good!” she said to Trevor, as if they were in on a secret.

Her eyes spun around like ferris wheels draped in Christmas tree lights, organ grinder music played like a carnival in her head.

“Okay, here we go.” Efrayim said in a feigned voice of jubilation as he brought over two wide-bellied glasses of cognac.

Trevor began to chuckle, tried to stop it, and nearly choked as he felt a cold cascade of saliva go down his windpipe.

“Why, thank you!” Trevor said, also feigning jubilation and appreciation.

He took the elegantly regal glass of cognac from Efrayim, feeling its sturdy, surprising weight in his hand as he gazed completely dumbstruck at its contents. Here, in this robust cognac glass, Efrayim had managed to part with enough French wonderment to perhaps fill a thimble. Trevor swirled the collection of amber tears around, making sure there was indeed something in the glass. If he put this in his mouth, he wondered, would any of it reach his stomach, or would it just evaporate on his tongue into a fine mist?

“That’s right.” Efrayim instructed. “Breathe it in first.”

Trevor looked up at Shana with a raised eyebrow. She looked back at him with a face of “what can you do?”

Efrayim began to extrapolate on the unsolicited history of the cognac; the vineyard from which it came, the tangy wood tones, foods with which to enjoy it, and other morsels of bloviating boilerplate. The girls’ eyes glazed over. Trevor listened to the pompous dirge for a few moments and then held up his glass.

“Let’s go!” he said.

“Wait, uh, to…uhh.” Efrayim tried to think quickly.

They had to drink “to” something, otherwise the rueful gods of etiquette would blast the kitchen with lighting.

“To making acquaintances.” Trevor offered up.

It was the most basic of toasts, along side “to your health” and “to friendship.”

“Yes, of course.” Efrayim agreed.

They clanked glasses in their anemic, superstitious, white magic, bacchanalian practice. Trevor tossed the amber droplets into the back of his mouth. Richly and soothingly they numbed his tongue is rich, heady vapors. Trevor swallowed. The smooth, supine warmth ran like silk down his throat, just past his Adam’s apple, where is disappeared completely.

“Ahh!” Efrayim loudly relished, as if he had just taken a robust double shot. “There we are! Now that was something! Marvelous, yes? What craftsmanship!”

He wanted to impress on everyone that what had just transpired fulfilled all requirements and even exceeded what was required in hospitality and offering a drink. As he huzzah’d he quickly took the glass from Trevor, and escorted both of the wide-bellied beauties briskly to the sink where they could be officially decommissioned for the remainder of the visit. As he stowed the glasses in their harem of impenetrability, Efrayim pulled out onto the counter a mortar and pestle. Trevor stared at it cockeyed. Another one of these things?

“Tonight we are making paella.” Efrayim orated. “We fell in love with paella on our last trip to Valencia. Do you know what paella is?”

Trevor burned his eyes into Efrayim. He could smell the monologue coming. And, like many unsolicited monologues, it began with a condescending question.

“Do you know what air is?” Trevor asked.

Efrayim lethargically laughed, brushed Trevor’s comment aside, and steamed onward with his monologue.

“Did you know that it began with the introduction of rice to Spain by the Muslims? We have the Muslims to thank for many wonderful things. One of them is paella.”

Efrayim collected some black and red pepper corns in his hand from the pantry and dumped them into the mortar.

“The word paella could very well have come from an Arabic word meaning leftovers.”

Trevor and the girls looked at each other blankly, with little-concealed dejection.

“You have to get just the right grind. The grind is key.”

Efrayim began hammering the pestle down in sturdy cadence.

“The grind. Many fail to realize the importance of the grind. It takes time.”

Thump, thump, thump.

“It takes patience, precision.”

Thump, thump, thump.

“It all starts with the grind. We’re not going to get anywhere without applying constant, expert pressure.”

Thump, thump, thump.

“Let me try!” Shana shot up. “Grinding is liking to me.”

Efrayim hated to part with his pestle, likely bought in Spain or Germany, but he reluctantly surrendered the anvil to Shana’s petite ivory hand.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap…

“Not so fast.” Efrayim instructed. “Too much too fast, and you ruin it. It must be steady, slow, unobtrusive. You want the inhabitants of the next room to barely take notice of it.”

Thump…thump…tap

“Like this?” Shana asked.

“Better. Steady, like a metronome, consistent.”

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

“That’s it.”

Trevor leaned over to Lilith.

“Shana was doing this all morning. It was like having a railroad tie jammed into my brain.”

Lilith smiled, one eye on Trevor, the other on the ceiling.

“Look, I’m doing it!” Shana exclaimed.

“A good little grinder.” Efrayim said. “We all must be proficient at the grind. Your bounty is won or lost with this practice.”

Efrayim brought some other seasonings down from the pantry, then disappeared down the hallway to a backroom. When he emerged, he had with him a thin plastic bag. Inside this bag was something that looked like blood red tendrils. Trevor screwed up his eyes.

“And here is the second key to paella.” Efrayim carefully opened the bag and brought out one thin, miniature branch of oxygenated blood vessel. “This is more expensive than gold.”

The girls cooed and gasped as they drew close to peer at the delicate red strands.

“What is it?” Lilith asked.

“Saffron.” Efrayim smugly pronounced. “You’ll never find it here in Russia.”

“You bought this in Spain?”

“No, no. In Istanbul.”

“You’ve been everywhere.” Yusha said in mild jealously and dejection.

“Ha, no. Not everywhere. Spain, yes, North Africa, Turkey, Egypt, Poland…around.”

“Germany?”

“Of course. We even went to LA, to Hollywood.”

The girls looked around the table at each other in quiet, yet galling jealousy. When? They all asked themselves. When will I be able to see these lands and escape this moronic mission to the frozen hinterlands of hell?

Efrayim brought the wispy strand of saffron close to Trevor for inspection. Trevor’s eyes crawled around it for a moment. The saffron looked to him like a small branch of arteries that would wrap around the ventricle of a heart, yet emblazoned with rich, fiery blood.

“We will get the saffron ready by soaking it in a little of Loving Mother’s Milk – white wine from Germany.”

The bright red, bloody fruits of Spain and Byzantium, mixed with the breast milk of the virgin, and then consumed. Trevor didn’t know quite what it was, but he couldn’t stand being in the kitchen one second longer.

“I’m going out for a smoke.” he said charmingly enough

He shuffled in his mental patient slippers to the door. Shana scurried over with him to let him out of the bank vault door. Once they got in the hallway, Trevor gave her a silent look of wide-eyes to indicate it was time to get out of Efrayim’s stingy abode. Shana half closed her eyes and nodded in concurrence. Her facial expression and nod seemed to indicate she and the girls would be down shortly. A relaxing, cool rush came over Trevor. Thank goodness, he thought to himself, as he put his boots on.

“Are you coming back up?” Efrayim asked.

“Yes, yes!” Trevor smiled. “Yes, of course. Just having a smoke.”

“Good. I want to show you the next steps of the paella.”

“Wonderful!”

Shana opened the vault and Trevor slipped out into the cool, musty hallway of fried potatoes, wet tobacco, and cat urine. For the first time in his life, he breathed in the decrepit potion deeply. Ahh, he delighted. Freedom! A goy had learned finally to delight in the simple, narrow spectrum of ghetto to him allowed.

Trevor blazed up a fake French cigarette and bulled his way through the groaning, rusted doors of the downstairs bank vault and onto the dusty, acrid street. His eyes scanned up and down and he squinted in the blaring, lemon sunshine. He knew that down Kirochnaya near the metro station there would be kiosks-a-plenty and beer-a-many. He immediately set off.

Only a few blocks away, the Chernyshevskaya metro was graced by a retinue of bustling, ramshackle enterprises hawking tobacco, fake batteries, alcohol, chips, dog meat kebabs, and more alcohol. The usual fare. Trevor navigated through clustered droves of beer swilling denizens, the penguin circles of acne, wet, billowing cigarette smoke, waxy, anemic skin, and red, watery eyes shifting about in an admixture of buffoonery and simmering, brooding, quick-trigger violence ready to erupt. Avoiding all eye contact, Trevor bottled up on warm, golden Nevskoe beer. The metallic, grinding screams of the underground guillotines howled faintly up through the long, deep catacombs of the Chernyshevskaya metro, echoed like the cold breath of a whispering ghost on the back of Trevor’s neck. He fired a beer open with the kiosk bottle opener (this one secured with frayed twine) and looked over his shoulder to the doors of the underground labyrinth, the cold, dank, oily air gushing out like the breath of a spectral beast, all the swampy rot of the bowels of the city swirling about the armies of inebriation and oblivion like incense from a grand censor. Trevor pushed off to return to the emerald palace to await Shana and the girls with his sack of beers. As he did, an acne-riddled youth staggered in front of his path and with a smug slur concocted the most oft-heard phrase of the street.

“It won’t be a cigarette?” he drooled.

“It won’t be.” Trevor said curtly, moving past the ragamuffin.

The kid blew a sigh out of his mouth, mumbling an only slightly audible “cuntage,” and moved on to the next person walking down the street. Trevor drained a good pull off his warm beer and ambled back down Kirochnaya, firing up a smoke at his earliest convenience.

At the green emerald palace, Trevor crossed the street and set up shop at the top of a small set of stairs that descended to the dank, abandoned basement of an apricot, neo-classical building. He set the beers on the first of the descending stairs, shielding them from public view. How long would the girls waste away the afternoon in there, he thought, drinking tea and listening to Yakob’s banal orations. Faces in the façade of the apricot building stared down at Trevor, incarnations of Hermes and griffiths peering through the veil between ethereal and matter. Much like Felix Dzerzhinsky, the gaze of the demi-gods and their creatures mysterious was penetrating, cold, and cruel. These damn faces are all over the place, Trevor realized as he gazed up and lazily pulled at the beer. These eyes and faces, constantly peering out, all over town, strangely so interested in what was happening below. It didn’t speak well for the forbidden zone, that these entities should be so interested in what was happening in the swamp, constantly trying to gain purchase and access to this marshy, morose realm of death and decay. The idea came into Trevor’s mind that this was all non-sense, a human creation meant to give meaning to their lives. Myths, demi-gods, heroes, fables; yes indeed, all silliness. Just like that, the faces peering out all over town, drawn out, enticed, evoked from the netherworld, resurrected from the most ancient of strange days, were nullified of importance. Why? Because this made Trevor’s head feel quite comfortable. This way there was no great, arcane, mysterious, unknown slew of influences tediously imposing their will upon events. History was linear, from flint rocks and stone tools, to penicillin and sliced bread, all organic and natural, the procession of mankind’s ideas. This left Trevor in a serene mental space. He could swill beer ad infinitum and there was no consequence, no sinister agenda, and no recourse. Free to do what I want, he smiled slightly as he congratulated himself, smirking up at the Hermetic row of demagoguery. Just then, a dark and repugnantly foul force blindsided Trevor with a pernicious WHACK! Trevor was caught completely off guard. Deep in his mind, he thought in nanoseconds. This must be someone I know. This must be a joke. This can’t be happening. And, congruently, he thought frightfully - someone’s trying to kill me! Eyes wide as dinner plates, Trevor horrifically realized what was happening. A drunk homeless person was attacking him.

Wrapped in a frayed, ashen coat of unbelievable filth, the smell of urine, excrement, and the grave emanating from him rife like skunk, a Petersburg bum with yellowed, weather-beaten skin, crazed yellow eyes, a patchy, matted beard, and fingernails black as a coal miner’s, grabbed Trevor’s arm and in a frenzy clawed at his beer.

“Give me!” he bellowed through a drawl of dementia.

Caught off balance, Trevor stumbled down first few stairs to the basement, his left arm out like a teether with the bum prying at the bottle like a dog lunging at a bone.

“Give!” he shouted as he brought his right fist down in a chop on Trevor’s wrist.

Trevor instantly thought, this insane creature will bite me next. Where will that leave me? With rabies, hepatitis? As soon as the thought fired across Trevor’s mind, he instantly let go of the beer. Hep C over a thirty-cent beer – not an ideal trade off.

The bum growled in victory as he ran to the corner of the street in a werewolf’s insanity. There he stopped to hoist the beer upside-down to the heavens and pour its contents down his throat in wild blood lust. Trevor looked about for something to throw at the bum; a brick, a rock, anything. Sadly, there was nothing.

“You’ve left to suck a dick!” Trevor was left to scream, impotently.

The bum finished his pull, gazed at Trevor with his fiery yellow eyes, and bellowed an incomprehensible slew of vulgarities mixed with “You’re only sad it’s not yours, faggot!” Wildly, he staggered down Radishcheva Street, disappearing from sight.

Trevor looked down at his left hand. How will I ever get this sanitized, he wondered. He checked the front and back of his hand for scratches. He was relieved to see that everything looked fine.

“Trevor!” Shana squeaked from the across the street.

Still stunned and in a slight daze, Trevor looked over to see Shana, Lilith, and Yusha staring at him with dumbstruck eyes and dropped jaws. The three of them scurried over to Trevor as he collected his sack of beers from the staircase. At least the bum hadn’t seen these, Trevor thought.

“My gods.” Shana said in exasperation. “Are you okay?”

“Of course.” Trevor smiled, fetching out a new beer.

“Petersburg is now crazy.” she spat in disgust. “These bomzh (bums) are everywhere.”

The girls looked at each other in a simmering concoction of fright and revulsion. How can we get out of this hell country? Trevor could read this question in all of their eyes.

“Come on.” he said. “We’ve left.”

Trevor led the girls down Kirochnaya and back to the petite oasis of green at the Transfiguration Cathedral. There they sat in the spattering of cool, northern sunlight that filtered through the trees, relaxing on the spotty grass, drinking beers.

“We will see fireworks.” Shana said, specks of sunlight dancing across her lightly freckled face. “After big firework spectacle, we will enjoy our feast.”

“Our feast.” the girls giggled. “We are promised this feast for so long.”

“Yes, soon we will have it.” Shana smiled as she drank.

Lilith and Yusha timidly sipped at their beers. They were obviously surprised at Shana’s rare gusto and adoption of what they viewed as primitive, local Russian custom. They never would have imaged they’d spend the day outside in a park imbibing the stultifying, pedestrian delimiter like common goyim jackasses. Nevertheless, here they were. Their prudish, ill at ease feelings, however, slowly, like ice sickles hanging from an awning in spring, began to melt into slick, crystalline droplets that evaporated like tears down porcelain cheeks. Time passed, the beers went down, inhibitions began vanishing, laughter increased, bladders filled, and soon the ladies needed a place for relief.

“Here.” Shana said, eying the bushes that lined the circular park around the cathedral. “Russian style.”

“Nyet.” the other girls fretted. “Shan! You’ve gone General Cuckoo!”

The thought of dropping their pants and exposing their milk bottle white asses in the broad daylight in the middle of town was simply too much. Out in the forest, in the woods, at the country house – perhaps. But here, in a rotting honeycomb of millions of pairs of eyes – not a chance. Shana, undeterred, was already up and scouting locations.

“Here is fine.” Shana declared. “Russian power!”

“Shanichka, no!” the girls pleaded.

Lilith sprung up and just in time took Shana by the arm, leading her away from a collection of light foliage like a young schoolgirl being led away from the playground by a humorless parent.

“Trevor, we must to finding…” Lilith looked around, having little to no idea where she was.

Like many Petersburg inhabitants, she knew her building, her bus or minivan stop, her place of work, and a spattering of local kiosks or small shops for goods like mayonnaise and frozen, dog-meat ravioli. Everything else in St. Petersburg was a vague mystery, even though she had spent decades in the city. Trevor, the new arrival in town, the foreigner, would lead the way.

“We can go to Fish Jazz. That’s not far from here.”

“Fish Jazz?” Lilith and Yusha looked at Trevor quizzically.

They had no idea about such places as bars and restaurants. They ate at home. They thought about going out to eat in a restaurant as often as a man thought about getting his legs waxed, or a chipmunk thought about investing in a small cap mutual fund.

“Excuse me, please, but I need to piss!” Shana squeaked.

“Let’s go, follow me.” Trevor said, getting up and collecting his last beer. “We’ll piss indoors, like royalty.”

“Princess toilet, let’s go!” Shana chirped.

“Yes, we are civilized people.” Yusha said, half-jokingly, half-serious. “Not animals.”

The picnic up and began moving west toward Liteniy Prospekt. As they looped around the cathedral, they passed a beggar’s row of three wobbling men bobbing to and fro. They were urinating dirthly into the spartan greenery of the church. Their foamy streams splashed about, spraying their shoes and pants legs as they haphazardly waved their rudderless hoses.

“Gross!” Yusha said under her breath.

Shana looked over at the impromptu latrine. Yes, good she hadn’t lowered herself to be among their ilk, she thought. These people have no respect or regard for anything. Shana, Yusha, and Lilith all looked ahead stoically, embarrassed, like aristocrats somehow made to walk through a garbage-strewn market filled with mired peasants hawking knickknacks with withered limbs and brown-stained fingernails.

Trevor led the girls across Liteniy Prospekt and up northward to Fish Jazz, a small, cellar affair with a handful of tightly packed tables, a gentle, cooing fog of cigarette smoke, a stage as big as a deck of cards, elevated only a few inches off the floor, and a reasonable menu of beers, warm vodka, and mayonnaise salads for under a dollar. The girls bottlenecked it into the phone booth-sized bathroom in the rear as Trevor took a seat near the front. A loveless and vapid waitress approached Trevor after some time and tersely asked, “What to you?” Trevor requested a round of beers, sparkling water, open-faced sandwiches, and salted nuts. That would keep the show on the road, he figured. Under the table, Trevor looked into his filthy jean pockets to do some quick accounting. He still had a couple of crumpled, red 100-notes, and a bamboozling crisp 500-note. 500 rubles was around $15 in those days. It was big time money. Trevor stuffed the notes back into his grimy pocket and lit up a smoke as he felt the ease of terrestrial wealth wash over him. Twenty bucks. He could keep this show going for as long as it took.

The girls returned from their joint venture and they whiled away the remainder of the afternoon and early evening in the lugubrious rockabye of bubbling nonsense. A trio of performers appeared at one point, smoothly delivering an collection of French chanson standards. Although no one had heard the songs before, or knew what the singer was singing about in French, the tightly packed crowd sucked down the entertainment and applauded with aplomb after each offering. While Trevor was in the toilet bumping things up a notch, he momentarily felt that he had traveled to Paris in the 1920’s. He came out of the toilet and staggered around in a daze for a while before he remembered where he was. Time passed easily enough for Trevor at their table of drink in this in-and-out strangeness, until suddenly Shana jumped back from the table in surprise.

“Fireworks!” she exclaimed. “And our feast!”

Amid a sea of clapping hands and cigarette smoke, Trevor and girls inched their way through the jetsam of chairs and tables. As they did, the singer launched into Ma p’tite Mimi, the smooth, luxuriant sounds caressing the ears of Trevor and the girls like a massage of silken hands. Momentarily, it made one want to not leave the safe cellar confines. It was as if the singer was saying, “You’re safe with me, stay here. Venture outside at your own peril.” Trevor brushed aside what he thought was an imaginary warning and moved undeterred to the door.

Trevor and the girls ascended to the cooling lagoons of evening and worked their way north toward the Neva River. Along the way, Trevor ducked into a dank, dusky shop to resupply. He bought a few bottles of beer and, thinking a fireworks show on Victory Day needed a special something, bought a $2 bottle of Soviet Champagne. He stuffed it and some plastic cups into a sack and rejoined his retinue.

On the pink granite banks of the Neva along the Kutusov Embankment, Trevor and the girls set up shop. Near a half-moon stone bench carved into the embankment, they walked down to a curved launching and made there their quaint gathering, sharing beer near the frigid and opaque northern Nile. The cruiser Aurora lay anchored across the cold, taciturn expanse, a ghostly presence, a yesteryear relic of long entombed Pharaoh. As per usual in Russia, the Aurora’s history was both folly and fantasy. The first time it saw action was when it was fired on by its own troops in the Russo-Japanese war. Later it was used in a theatrical re-staging of the October Revolution by Sergei Einstein. In the film, the Aurora assails the Winter Palace with canon fire to signal the beginning of the October Revolution and the Russian storming of the Bastille. Nonsense.

Trevor and the girls drank giddily from the small, plastic cups Trevor had procured from the resupply store. They were small and ridiculous, the type a dentist might force on a patient when asking her to rinse her mouth with brain crippling fluoride. Above Trevor and the girls, the sky reluctantly ebbed into swaths of purple and garnet as the great north held in steadfast embrace its long goodbye with the sun. Toward the west, the golden orb still gleamed low on the horizon, a molten burst of orange blossom honey that stretched from the Peter and Paul fortress down past the docks of the Admiralty shipyards. It was then, still hours from dusk and twilight, that an anemic concussion bounced across the Neva and popped against the dry and dusty stairs of the launch. Trevor looked up and gazed across the dark waters in mild interest. Some private, store bought firecrackers, he assumed. Just a few notches up the rung from the silliness the kids where throwing at each other earlier in the day during the parade. The girls, however, began chattering excitedly.

“Salute!” they gasped. “It’s starting.”

Figuring the ineffectual bursts to just be a few “warm up” salvos, Trevor reached into the plastic bag and pulled out the Soviet Champagne. He brought the bottle down to secure it between his boots, preparing to embark on the dreaded process of getting the plastic cork out without stripping his palm of epidermis. Before he removed the wire braces, however, he paused to gander at the commencement of the fireworks display.

Boom, pop! Boom, pop pop pop!

The slow, feeble cadence of the fireworks muffled their way across the waters, ricocheting like soft slaps from gloved geishas off the sullied, bruised lemon, neo-classical facades to the south of Trevor and the girls.

Boom, pop!

The bursts themselves were barely visible. Only faintly against the backdrop of honeyed purples and garnets could they be made out. Only meekly did they ascend to the skies over the dim emerald of the Trinity Bridge and the 200-year-old tarnished needle of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Barely making the climb into the skies, they exploded, not as an orb of brilliant light and sparkling wonder, but as a scant plume, perhaps like a meteor hitting the earth’s atmosphere, breaking into 5-6 glowing pieces, and quickly disappearing from sight after a quick, impotent burst of bloodied marmalade. These fallen angels limped across the low heavens, bound, forced to walk the celestial plank, and miserably fell to earth in sophomoric amateurism.

Trevor’s hands remained still on the neck of the jade bottle, his brow screwed up as he tried to comprehend what it is was that he was looking at. The girls oo-ed and ahh-ed, albeit faintly. They too, perhaps, were wondering, is this really it? This is the Victory Day salute to tens of millions of lost souls, to millions upon millions of humans thrown to the fires, to the greatest mass sacrifice performed on the earth since the flood, to the most blood drenched offering anyone will see until the end game times of terror. However, before their thoughts could appropriately crystallize, the last bound and crippled celestial disgrace fell from the plank, descended to the swamp in a pedestrian shower of sparks, and quickly vanished from the visible realm. The skies sat still and empty.

The girls and Trevor sat there on the granite steps in a moment of silence. That must be the end of the first round, they collectively thought. The warm-up session. A moment passed. Then another. Finally, they looked at each other, dumbstruck.

“Seriously?” Shana asked, her eyes and mouth dripping off of her face.

The girls laughed, their eyes and mouths also wide-open in disbelief like searchlights. It was the sporadic laughter of the brain absolutely not being able to comprehend its surrounds. The input and data came in, and the brain said, forget it, I quit, I’m out of here, I’ve seen enough.

“Oh my gods.” the girls sighed and moaned, exchanging laughter and groans like money at the temple.

“That’s it?” Trevor finally asked, afraid to know the answer. “We were promised a big show. That’s it?”

“Da!” Shana laughed, now giving over to absurdity.

Trevor picked up the bottle of Soviet Champagne and returned it the plastic sack with the remaining beers.

“So much for that.” he scoffed.

Shana reached over to Trevor’s packet of Gauloises cigarettes and took one out, awkwardly lighting it like a first timer in a schoolyard.

“I thought you hated cigarette smoke.” Trevor said.

Shana got the cigarette lit and uncoordinatedly blew some smoke past her lips.

“I don’t care anymore.” she laughed. “This is my own firework.”

Shana waved the cigarette around in the air.

“Very nice!” the girls exclaimed. “Bravo!”

“Yeah, not bad.” Trevor agreed.

Shana flurred the cigarette through the air and began dancing on the steps. The girls clapped and cheered. Two men draining beers walking by on the embankment stopped momentarily and then slurred in exclamation.

“Smart girl! Dance the mazurka!”

The girls laughed and cheered as Shana spun around in the purple air like a merry water nymph on the banks of the black Nile. The four of them relaxed there on the dusty, granite steps and lulled into a serene stupor. The thin evening soon stretched into deeply morose curtain of Phoenician purple. The moon, low on the horizon, crept languidly on the periphery, drenched in a deep, blood red burgundy. Soon throngs of mosquitoes began to harass the small drinking party.

“Nightmare!” Shana cried, slapping at her neck and arms, the pests beginning to swirl around like a plague.

“Let us go.” Yusha effused, swatting at the air.

Just then a resounding blast shook through the city. Trevor and girls looked at each other. What type of firework was that?

“They are shooting canons?” Shana queried aloud.

The girls looked around uncomfortably as they ascended the steps and began down the embankment toward the Summer Gardens. Ba-Boom! The thunderous concussives slammed against the feeble facades of the city, shaking and trembling the centuries old brick and mortar foundations of Peter’s imaginary dream built upon sand. Trevor’s spine tingled as the vibrations sledgehammered through his small collection of watery cells. Another interesting day, he thought in numbed inebriation, knocking back another resplendent pull on his beer. The sack of beers and champagne jingled carefree and assuringly at his side.

The four of them passed shadowy figures populating the gated garden, clusters of red cigarettes embers, clanking bottles, slurred, jubilant voices, singing and shouting. Beyond the gated garden, they came to the Field of Mars, the playground and celebration of war. The gravel pathways were a grimy ocher that led pilgrims to the Egyptian temple of rusted blood in the center of the field where fire grew from the ground like a strange plant. Dilapidated, shattered green lampposts housing curious shards of Halloween orange glass waned on the fairgrounds of Sodom. Trevor and the girls sundered on, the Martian ocher covering their shoes, the swarms of mosquitoes assailing their necks, buzzing about their eyes and ears. They hovered above the heads of the four travelers like black Egyptian headdresses.

“Fu!” the girls fretted and cried as they swatted ineffectually at the air.

As they approached the eastern flank of this field of curious cabala, the four of them came to a man stretched out on the ocher ground – stretched out, that is, as much as he could be stretched out, for he was legless. His remaining torso was dressed shabbily in military fatigues, sullied, imbued with grim and filth. His face was equally weathered and beaten, swollen, disfigured, an unsettling and repugnant mixture of orange, translucent skin and purple pig’s blood. Near him, a ramshackle cart, nothing more than a few planks of wood with 4-inch wheels, and two wooden blocks with handles for pushing himself around. It looked quite apparent that his pushing days were over. A curious, vile fluid dripped from his severed torso, staining the Martian ground with a puddle of swampy bile. His eyes, big and wide like marble eggs, stared at the purple sky, dead and lifeless in the marmalade half-light, animated only by the flickering light of the nearby eternal flame.

“Oh my gods.” the girls gasped tersely under their breath.

Quickly, the group changed their tact, aiming to bypass the flame-lit corpse. Revelers and drinkers near the flames, however, paid no attention to the half-body at their side secreting black brake fluid into the gravelly night. It even appeared that the severed man was somehow an accepted companion, a humorous accoutrement - at worst, only the mildest of peripheral inconveniences.

As Trevor and the girls were just about to bypass the carcass, a peculiar woman appeared. She materialized in the blink of an eye, seemingly straight from the flames and the flickering, purple shadows. The woman strutted a pernicious march in her high, black, calf leather boots, a designer bag neatly clutched at her side, fashionable, tight, smart dress smoothly draped and caressing her long, slender, model-esque limbs. To her head of lush, tightly pulled back, raven’s hair, she held a small, ruby matchbox glowing mint green against her face. A mobile phone! A curious, beguiling trinket in those days. Tersely, she chattered into the mint green glow.

“Yes, already started.” she informed the mint-green glow, taking no notice and displaying no care for the dead body she was about to walk over. Trevor stopped, so as to not run into her as her leather boots strutted only inches from the dead man’s head. “Through 5 minutes, will arrive.”

Shana and the girls eyed the woman in scorn as she nearly ran them over, long runway legs hammering the war grounds in their designer boots with fervent cadence. Trevor’s eyes lingered on her, the shapely and divine form on a moon shot for the Panteleysky Bridge. For the briefest of moments, he wondered if she was going to the Butterfly House. She certainly looked the type. Cold, divinely chiseled, adorned in the finest. Yet, for all Trevor knew, there could be, and likely were, Butterfly Houses all over town. How many affluent gentlemen were in the sprawling catacombs, he wondered, these curious curators of lofty pursuits?

As Trevor mused, his thoughts were quickly interrupted by a cacophony of sirens wailing. For a moment they were subdued, then they burst across the square like a tidal wave chased by machine gun fire. It filled the smoky, kerosene grounds like thunderclap. Soon, indecipherable, turgid blasts of a barking voice through a megaphone caromed out of the shadows of Horse Stable Square. Brutally, they hammered past the steeples of the Church of the Spilled Blood. The church itself, just seconds before a purple silhouette against the backdrop of a distant, blood honey cauldron on the horizon, now flashed violently in sapphire blue fire. Trevor and the girls, who were headed for the Church of Spilled Blood, immediately stopped. Otherworldly blue flashes, loud voices through megaphones, sirens and belligerently honking horns; this meant one thing - the St. Petersburg Police, and not just on whimsical night prowlings and midnight drives, but in bloodthirsty riot mode. Trevor’s heart stopped.

Streams of discombobulated, confused, and worried denizens clutching at beers, clutching at each other, began scurrying out of Horse Square and appearing en masse in the Field of Mars. Some were worried and scared, the fright painted all over their porcelain faces. Others laughed. Others were angry and furious. No matter their varying demeanors, they all streamed away from the epicenter of flashing blue lights and wailing sirens. Boom! The field of Mars rattled in an ear-shattering explosion. Trevor and girls looked at each other in the marmalade flames.

“What in the hell is going on?” Trevor asked.

The girls’ eyes looked like dinner plates.

“It’s round-up time.” Yusha said flatly.

Lilith pulled close to Trevor, letting her breasts rub up against his arm.

“What should we do?” she asked.

Trevor quickly surveyed the scene. They were going to simply walk down Stable Street and land at Shana’s house on Nevsky. That plan appeared to be out. Just then, a loose, mildly drunken double row of storm troopers appeared from the Moika Canal. Behind them a parade of flashing sirens on abduction vehicles and rape vans pulsed angrily into the young night. Yes, that plan was absolutely out.

“Let’s get out of here.” Trevor quickly advised. “We’ll go to Nevsky.”

The blue light filling the air like an otherworldly invasion, the billowing shouts and slurred barks from crackling megaphone exploding across their backs, Trevor and the girls fervently marched east to the Fontanka Canal. As this company crossed the Peteyluvev Bridge, a large explosion blasted across the plains of Mars and exploded off the neoclassical façades of the Fontanka Canal. Trevor looked up at the windows of the Butterfly House as they rattled and shook in the salvos of thunder. Dimly they were lit. There must be something going on up there, Trevor mused. A dinner party, a piano recital, who knew what strange merriment the Butterfly Man had lined up for that evening. Trevor could already see his disapproving scowl at interrupting it, being uninvited, and bringing with him in tow women of such pedestrian, to put it kindly, appearance. They worked in museums, Trevor thought, the Hermitage, he could play that angle. He knew it was the wrong move, but at this moment there was no right.

Trevor ran his finger down the row of buzzers and rang #11.

“What are we doing here?” Shana asked.

“I know a guy here.” Trevor said. “We can hang out in the kitchen, I hope. Wait for this nonsense to pass.”

Shana took a step back from the gate and looked up at the building, momentarily taking in the windows.

“Wait.” she said, face becoming worried. “I know this place.”

Trevor rang the buzzer again. There was no response.

“You know this place?” Shana asked. “The American?”

“Yes.” Trevor said, hoping the gate would buzz open.

“No, no.” Shana quickly said. “I don’t want.”

She became instantly troubled and crossed her arms. Trevor looked at her quizzically. He rang the buzzer again.

“He’s not answering, come on.” Shana said, setting off already down the Fontanka, eying the girls to go with her.

Trevor tried the buzzer one last time. Come on, asshole, he sighed. He took a few steps back into the street and looked up into the windows. Shadowy shapes moved behind the curtains, swimming ever so slightly in the amber glow of candlelight. Fine, Trevor surrendered. He quickly caught up to the girls, joining their march down the Fontanka Canal toward the Belinskogo Bridge.

As they neared the Belinskogo Bridge, opposite the old St. Petersburg Circus, the crowd of fleeing booze crawlers thickened. Explosions and the crackle of machine gun firecrackers angrily belched from Horse-Riding Square. Lumbering unsettlingly like elephants on the brink of running amok, a pack of neo-nazis holding high their drunken mainsails of hammer-and-sickle-cum-swastika on blood red flags bled from Caravan Street onto the apron of the circus. People shouted, hurled insults, bottles flew in sporadic, misguided salvos. In front of an old soviet shop hawking warm beers, tinned mysteries, and salted buffoonery, a fight broke out. Neo-nazis swarmed around some unknown combatants in kicks and rabid flying of confused fists. The violence sent an energy, a blood-tinged electricity, crackling through the deep purple air. People streamed across the Belinskogo Bridge, launching empty bottles into the Fontanka, breaking them against the pavement, firing lit cigarette butts to and fro like fireflies.

Trevor and girls gazed across the Fontanka in worrying disbelief. As the square before the circus filled with an angry sea of neo-nazi banners, it was clear a foreigner and three jewesses had no hope in crossing over their threshold of broken glass, splattered blood, and raving, alcohol-fueled frenzy.

“Come on.” said Trevor, pointing down the gently bending Fontanka Canal. “We’ll go to Nevsky this way.”

Jaws tensed, eyes worried and disgusted, the girls joined Trevor to march further south, their arms crossed protectively across their chests, shouldered haunched.

“Hooligans.” Shana spat through clenched teeth.

The sounds of blaring megaphones crackling and disgorging through mechanized horns growled and erupted through the air. They blasted from Horse-Riding Square, the Circus, and further afield, in dissipating strength, from the Field of Mars near the Summer Garden. The city was under multi-pronged invasion, various groups of Einzstatsgruppen in varying forms of officialness penetrating through the burrows of St. Petersburg’s central district from the north and mid-section, a vast sweeping action that shepherded all the chattel east towards the part of town known as “the sands.”

As Trevor and the girls pushed south, they soon found the southern branch of this pincer movement. Blue flashing lights, hideously slurred and growling voices booming from maniacal trumpets welded to the roofs of rape vans, and rows of St. Petersburg’s staggering, belligerent finest in stained, midnight blue auto-mechanic uniforms wielding batons and skull romanticizers emerged on a slithering crawl down Nevsky Prospekt. Before them, a dense crowd of angry, fussing, babbling drunkenness crept east like a stubborn flock of thousands, glass bottles breaking, shrieks and screams filling the air, pop songs and patriotic chants being performed ad hoc by disjointed carolers. The police picked off the slowest of the herd, slammed them against the gate of the Anichkov Palace, wiping their faces on the sides of rape vans, pinning them to the ground on the canvas of red cray paper, broken beer bottles, and grit. The girls and Trevor froze in front of the worn, neo-classical facade of house 36 and gazed at the apocalyptic exodus and culling taking place under the horse taming statues on the Anichkov Bridge. They were trapped. Yusha moaned as she decoded a portion of the mad rambling gushing from the trumpets.

“The subways are closed.” she said. “They’re making everyone march home.”

“What shall we do?” Lilith cried.

The prospects of being forced into the tide of fleeing rabble and washing up somewhere miles from Shana’s apartment crept over everyone.

“Go back to Efrayim’s?” Shana queried.

The girls sighed dejectedly at the prospects of the walk, and Trevor’s mind emblazoned in abhorrer at the prospects of suffering that stifling frugality. Trevor looked around and tried to think. The main arteries of escape were crumbling into a chaotic avalanche of lights, sirens, beatdowns, and crazed armies of flatheads. Both the Anichkov Bridge to the south and the Belinskogo Bridge to the North succumbed to the slowly moving buzzsaws of the sweep. Behind Trevor and the girls, the neoclassical edifice of house 36 and the gates of the Sheremetev Palace prevented Trevor and the girls from making any escape east to Liteniy Prospekt, where they could make a run for Trevor’s apartment on Ligovsky or Efrayim’s enclave. On most days, one could have snuck through the catacomb passageways of the Anna Akhmatova Museum to squeeze onto Liteniy. On this pernicious day of invasion and judgment, however, the gold and jade gates to the baroque Sheremetev Palace and her safe passage were dutifully locked with rusted chain. The palace was closed. Those caught in the street had no choice but to the accept the wrath of the harvest or flee in the terrified droves.

Trevor’s eyes scanned the chaotic circus enveloping them from all sides. Like the cold, steely gaze of Felix Dzerzhinsky from the precipice of other realms, Trevor now gazed downward at the midnight blue and royal purple waters of the Fontanka Canal. There, at the landing before Trevor and the girls, in a small rickety craft, a shadowy silhouette wavered on the gentle waters. Only faintly could the wrinkled face and gray whiskers of fervent alcoholism be deduced by the glowing ember of a cheap, Belomore Canal cigarette. Just as the weather-beaten face of shadows drew in fervently at the smoke, the cherry glowing brightly in the deep purple night of terrors, so too did a spark explode in Trevor’s mind. That crisp, purple 500-ruble note in his grimy jeans pocket. That was it! Gold coins to pass the River Styx.

“Come on!” Trevor exclaimed.

He descended the smooth, worn steps of the granite launch.

“Trevor, no!” the girls gasped.

They weren’t quite sure yet what he was up to.

“How do you do.” Trevor addressed the man as he neared the side of the gently rocking boat.

The man turned to Trevor and sized him up through squinted, steely eyes of unmoved disinterest.

“Ugh.” the man grunted.

Trevor pulled out the 500 note from his pocket.

“Just until the Moika, we won’t go?” he asked.

The man stared at Trevor through the fog of purple, the marmalade lamps of the Fontanka creeping wearily to life, the blue flashing sirens pulsing across the air rife with mosquitoes.

“The Moika?” the man asked flabbergasted. “It’s right there! Walking is possible!”

“The Moika and Nevsky.” Trevor clarified.

The man peered down the Fontanka toward the Summer Garden. In his mind he calculated the trip. Soon, he chuckled. He returned his gaze to the 500 note in Trevor’s hands. A smile was beginning to form on his leathery face.

“500?” he asked.

“Yes.” Trevor assured.

“Ha!” the old man laughed. “We’ve left!”

Relief washed over Trevor. He motioned up for the girls to join him. The girls looked at each other in brief amazement, and then realized, yes! Absolutely! Quickly, they scurried down the smooth, granite steps. Trevor and the old man helped them aboard the quaint, rickety raft. Shana came aboard and laughed uncontrollably.

“Good-bye castles of Spain!” she announced gleefully. “Our work here is done!”

Ecstatically, she erupted into a song of celebration and delight.

“Our work here is done, la la la, our work here is done!”

The weathered sea dog chuckled at the girls’ exuberance as he cranked up the lawn-mower engine and assumed his post behind the wheel, proud Belomore Canal cigarette perched on his lips. Trevor secured the beers and champagne at his feet and lit his own smoke.

“Let’s go!” the captain growled.

Expertly, he swung the boat out in to the black pumpkin waters, throttling the gas.

“Whoo-hoo!” the girls cheered and clapped their hands in giddy delight.

“We’re going home!” Yusha and Lilith rejoiced.

Lilith pushed in close to Trevor, putting her shoulders and hips tight against him, using opportunities to turn and look as an excuse to rub her breasts against him one more time. Trevor relished in his cigarette and the cool breeze filling his hair. Shana continued her joyful serenade.

“We’re going home!” she laughed. “Our work here is done, la la la…”

The captain pointed them at the Belinskogo Bridge and gunned the motor hard. The weary outboard motor whined and howled as the rickety boat pushed into the inky purple and midnight blue of the liquid highway. The grand replicant Amsterdam scenery began to scroll past Trevor and the girls as they hunched together on the wooden planks in the rear of the boat. The captain, worn, black leather jacket and crumpled cap upon his head, stood unwaveringly at the helm. The Belinskogo Bridge before them filled with blood red flags and white eyes imbued with black hammer and sickle pupils. Crazed, shouting youths with shaved heads, acne rife, and raw, red eyes poured across the bridge like a barbaric wolf pack. Some congregated near the edge of the bridge and hollered at Trevor and the girls as they neared. One of them was struck by Trevor’s appearance. The clothes, the blond hair, the face – it didn’t look right. A foreigner? A foreigner out on a damned pleasure cruise? On Victory Day?

“Russian?” he shouted down to the boat.

He held his Stephan Razin beer bottle tightly in his hand as he pointed at this potential German. The girls looked up at him as the boat neared the underpass, their faces filled with scorn and perturbation. It was the cold, ‘fuck you, you’re a moron’ look Russian women had down pat by their teenage years when dealing with their masculine opposites.

“Of course, Russian!” the captain snarled back. “What the fuck are you?”

“Huh?” the angry youth and his friends looked at each other in confusion.

They brought their attention and their raw gaze to Trevor.

“You!” they shouted again, fury building. “Not us?”

Trevor stared at them unmoved and dispassionately until the boat passed into the cool jaws of the Belinskogo Bridge.

“Fools.” Shana tersely spat.

Lilith again pushed herself against Trevor, her nervousness growing as the boat cruised out from under the bridge and back into open target practice under the chaotic sprawl of drunkenness seething under neo-nazi banners. The inquisitor and 3 of his brutish compatriots appeared now on the north edge of the bridge, peering down angrily onto the ramshackle ark making its escape.

“Hey! Are you deaf, or what?!? I’m talking to you!”

Trevor turned his gaze away from them and took a last drag on his cigarette.

“Bitch!” the young man on the bridge bellowed.

His friend, Mr. Stephan Razin, in brown bottle form with yellow label, went airborne. Shana and Lilith immediately pierced the air with screams as they ducked down. Yusha looked around dumbly, not knowing what was happening. End over end, the brown bottle whipped down fiercely at the boat. By the time Trevor turned his head to look, the bottle was already whistling past his head. It overshot the small boat and splashed angrily into the Fontanka.

“Whore fuck!” the captain shouted.

He turned to assail the bridge with a face of red fire and a volcanic onslaught of obscenity. As he did, however, he saw the launching of two more bottles. Instinctively, the captain buckled and ducked down, just a tick, as his fiery eyes zeroed in on the projectiles. His alcohol-beaten and malnourished brain still quickly read the flight of the bottles in an instant. As he saw that they wouldn’t hit him, he immediately stood proud and pointed his scraggly, stained finger at the bridge.

“Fuck your mothers!” he bellowed. “I will give you a cunt!”

One bottle banged against the side of the boat with a loud thud. The girls screamed. The other bottle whipped overhead and splashed angrily into the Fontanka. The youth on the bridge spat insults and impotently lobbed obscene gestures at the boat.

Releasing an angry, snarled grunt, the captain returned to the wheel and nudged the boat back into a straight tact down the middle of the canal on a course for the Summer Gardens. Trevor and the girls breathed easier, slightly, until their eyes came to the seat of chaos before the Peteyluvev Bridge and the Summer Gardens. Blue sirens and abduction vehicles flashed their sapphire beacons of terror around the trees and building facades, horns and sirens ripped open the air, beguiling, belligerent voices barked through megaphones. On the Peteyluvev Bridge, a stream of drunken revelers made their way east away from the round up. Fire crackers exploded, voices sang songs, shouted, yelled curses, the air crackled with angst and unpredictability.

Engine wailing, the small craft sailed under the windows of the Butterfly Man. Trevor looked up again into the eerie chambers. The inside of the apartments glowed in flickering amber, shapes meagerly shifted about behind the gossamer separation of worlds like a swimming, curious ballet of shadow puppets. Trevor screwed up his eyes on the window panes, the murky portals, and felt a sensation of anger and rejection. This feeling was only compounded as one by one, slowly, plush, opaque curtains drew across the windows, shutting out the rest of the world entirely. The feeling of being abandoned, branded a peasant, festered inside Trevor’s thoughts. He stared at the gateways closing, momentarily lost in thought, until a loud rattling of fire crackers jolted him back to the boat.

“Idiots!” the captain spat.

Some black clad youth near the rails of the Moika Canal were slinging strips of firecrackers across the waters at the Chizhik Pyzhik statuette. The captain looked at the rows of juveniles tossing fire crackers about, the log jam of people against the rails of the canal holding brown and green bottles in hand, lit cigarette cherries burning menacingly in mouths, and quickly decided not to run the gauntlet. Instead, he gunned the boat straight north and took the craft under the Peteyluvev Bridge towards the Neva.

“The Moika!” Shana peeped.

“Forget it!” the captain scoffed. “He’s chaos. Hooligans everywhere.”

Indeed, the taciturn mobs of police rounding up the chattel, the fleeing denizens, the drunken rabble getting their last few kicks by tossing bottles and fire crackers into the canal, the rain of lit cigarette butts; it was best to plow the boat north and simply make it past the Peteyluvev Bridge after which the embankments looked to be only sparsely populated with packs of commoners boozily making their way home.

“City of animals.” Yusha bemoaned as they watched kids throw bottles at Chizhik Pyzhik and police rough handling bewildered people into vans.

“The most beautiful city in the world.” the captain lamented. “And this is how they treat it.”

He had never seen any other city in Russia, let alone the world, but like most Peterburgians, he felt assured that this crumbling assortment of decrepitude was the pinnacle of civilization. The boat slipped under the weather beaten and faded jade and gold of the Peteyluvev Bridge and was birthed out on the northern side. The passengers, and the captain as well, breathed easier and collectively relaxed as they saw that no one was contemplating an airborne assault of beer bottles at their heads. Instead, the dark packs of city folk occupied themselves with sojourning east and getting away from the prowling fishnets of the round-up police. Trevor and the girls looked at each other and smiled, letting out faint chuckles and sighs of relief. The Soviet Champagne, Trevor remembered.

“Champagne time.” Trevor announced.

“Yes.” the girls agreed.

This strange chaotic day would soon be over. They would be back in the safe confines of Shana’s apartment with a feast to enjoy, the cozy kitchen nest to peacefully relax in, and the blast vault door protecting them from the outside world. Trevor handed out plastic cups and got the emerald bottle at the ready as they cruised past the long, eastern gates of the Summer Garden. He stripped off the tin foil and wires shrouding the plastic cork and got his mind ready for the always enjoyable task of flailing off some epidermis as he persuaded another pernicious bottle of bubbly delight to surrender her bounty.

“My gods, look at them!” Lilith suddenly announced in shock.

Trevor and the other girls followed Lilith’s eyes to look over to the Summer Gardens. There, bounding and thrashing through the bushes toward the Fontanka were droves of people trying desperately to escape like game from the hunt. The branches caught and stabbed them about the groin, legs, and abdomens. They winced and shouted in frustrated perturbation. They were all fleeing the garden, as if escaping from a house on fire.

A few youth, after getting mauled by the shrubs, staggered down to a small launch on the Fontanka. They looked around frantically, bewildered, seemingly nowhere to go.

“Hey!” they shouted, a young boy and a girl, to the boat. “Take us! Take us with you!”

Their faces quickly turned from sudden hope to bitter disenchantment as the boat coldly motored past, the captain receiving their pleas like a stone receiving kisses.

“What in the hell is going on?” Trevor asked, champagne duties frozen.

“Look!” said Shana. “Police taking everyones!”

Through the nearly impenetrable curtains of trees, shrubs, mosquitoes, and darkness, one could just make out the Petersburg police rounding people up in mass. It was a mad free-for-all as they cleared out the garden. More and more people shouted and cried out as they scraped painfully past the bushes and onto the thin lip of navigable walkway up the Fontanka Canal toward the Laundry Bridge. Slowly, yet fervently, they worked against the rails of the garden and shimmied their way, shouting and yelling, in erstwhile escape.

Ka-Boom!

The air erupted with a loud, booming voice from the darkness. Immediately, the garden exploded in an angrily pulsating blue fire. The voice was the police, the mindless and baneful enforcers of Cain’s sorrowful world. Their vans had streamed into the garden and were setting up collection points. Not even the garden was sacred or off limits. All bets were off.

“Absolute chaos.” Yusha said breathlessly.

The girls and Trevor stared on dumbstruck at the supernatural sight of lights blasting through the trees like a UFO landing and people fleeing for safety. As they neared a sunflower yellow coffee house in the garden, the crowds swelled as they scurried up the narrow path to freedom. Again, a few cried out.

“Hey! Take us!” they screamed from the narrow planks between the garden gates and the cantankerous shrubbery.

Trevor and girls only looked on silently in disbelief.

“Take us with you!” voices screamed from the shadowy chaos. “Help us!”

As they neared Peter the Great’s summer palace and the Laundry Bridge, a woman’s scream tore through the air like a blade ripping open flesh. Trevor could barely make out a long mane of hazelnut hair upended in the rows of shrubs. She was caught like a deer in a trap. A young man next to her tried to wrestle her free from brambly clutches. A voice bellowed menacingly from the black silhouettes of trees rear-lit in otherworldly, sulphuric azure.

“The garden is closed!” the voice boomed. “The garden is closed!”

As the boat labored past Peter I’s Summer Palace, Trevor and the girls could see a bottleneck of all the garden inhabitants. Desperately, drunkenly, they one by one snaked past the high gates of the Neva Embankment and the slim ledge onto the Laundry Bridge. Although in slow bleed, some of the people were at least getting away. Desperately, they packed together and waited in the jostling crowd for their chance at freedom. It was the kind of pushing and shoving mass one would see at the entrance to a busy subway station at peak hours in St. Petersburg, the ones where, in sardonic humor, only one of the available four or five doorways would be opened by the attendants, so that everyone had to angrily death fight though one entrance, like barbarian triplets trying to be birthed through a 13-year-old Japanese girl. Pushing, and pushing, and pushing. Finally, just as they were about to enter the world – surprise! Rushing over the Laundry Bridge in bloodthirsty assail, two abduction vans, sapphire lights blazing, pounced onto the scene, noses and fangs taking them straight to the raptuous bleed. Meeting them in tandem at the funnel of fleeing humanity, a wolf pack of police jeeps snarled and screeched to a halt as they rapidly launched onto the scene from the west. Women shrieked and the men shouted out desperate curses. Some people jumped the railing and leaned out by one arm over the Fontanka Canal.

“Take me with you!”

“Come take us!”

“Please help us!”

People began jumping into the black waters of the Fontanka canal. The screams of women filled the air as the bodies splashed into the swampy morass, one by one, ka-plush! Ka-plunk! Kaplush!

“Please, my gods, save me!”

And just then the boat passed into darkness, swallowed quickly by the half moon jaws of the Laundry Bridge. The thick cheeks of stone soon muted the jet-wash screams. The splashing and thrashing, the wails and shouts, were now muffled. Trevor and the girls sat in eerie, omniscient darkness. Only the grumbling and whine of the boat’s engine could be heard. It rattled and filled their skulls like a helicopter sitting on their faces. Until then, in smooth birth, whoosh!

Nothing.

The engine’s wail instantly dissipated across the vast expanse of the flowing Neva as Trevor and the girls coasted out into the inky calm of the grand waterway, arching smoothly west toward the Trinity Bridge. The tendrils of the garden turned to black, withered clutches flashing in the otherworldly, cruel sapphire fires. The screams and bellowing, thunderous voices blasting through megaphones, the machine gun crackle of fireworks, the palpable chaos and fright, calmly it began to drift away and melt. Trevor and girls watched in silence as they pulled away from the strange, smoldering disaster behind them. The sky hung in swathes of royal Phoenician and aortic marmalade, the moon growling menacingly above them drenched in a blood-sacrifice burgundy.

“Well, as I said.” Shana finally sprung to life. “Our work here is done. Champagne anyone?”

Trevor twisted off the plastic cork to the Bolshevik Champagne, his hand brightly raw after the effort. Shana held out the small, plastic, dentist cups and Trevor splashed the highly volatile, bubbly nonsense into the interlocutors’ goblets.

“Won’t you join us?” Shana asked of the captain.

He took only a quick glance back, saw booze, and, without saying a word, placed a small rope around the wheel to keep the course marginally on track, like a floppy leash on a lazy dog. He eased off the throttle, bringing the small craft down to a languid, pleasure cruise crawl. The motor’s whine and howl tapered off into a simmering coo.

“Champagne on Victory Day! Outstanding!” the captain smacked his lips, turning his back completely on the wheel and the boat’s heading.

Softly, the craft lopped under the Trinity Bridge, coming freely into the wide-open expanse before the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Winter Palace. There was plenty of time to imbibe before the Rostov Columns and the palace Bridge would force anyone to make a navigating decision.

“To victory!” the captain declared, holding up his portion of bubbling, sticky, alcohol-laced sugar water.

“To victory!” Shana relished.

The rest of the girls chimed in, as did Trevor.

“To victory.”

Together, the four of them washed down their toast and collectively let out an excited, savory “ooo” at the refreshment. Sugar and alcohol. Their tongues and brains danced.

“More Bolshevik Champagne!” the captain declared.

Trevor brought the kiss of the bottle around to fill everyone’s cup. When he finished, he angled himself a Merry Loco from his pocket. He popped the white tablet into his mouth and washed it down with the next toast.

“To Comrade Lenin! Where would we be without him?” the captain rejoiced. “Look at this place! Haha!”

Before them, the city sat eerily abandoned, blue flashing police sirens pulsating like strobe lights from the forlorn, occupied garden, the Palace Square, and before them on the embankments of Vasilievsky Island. The great furnace in the sky burned low past the horizon, behind the looming silhouette of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a great conflagration of apricot and spiced wine, the sky awash in grim, tumultuous plum, the air gushing cold like the breath of Skadi through the hair of Trevor and the girls. Menacingly, the moon, like a hovering blood eye, kept its unsettling gaze on them all, overseeing the happily violent end to the thoughtless bacchanalia throughout the city.

Ahead of the boat, on the eastern apex of Vasilievsky Island, the twin blood columns of Jachin and Boaz erupted intermittently in billowing pillars of dragon fire. The girls cooed in awe and fright at the lapping steeples of flame.

“The dragon fire returns!” the captain exclaimed in surprise and delight. “It’s been forever since we had fire in the skies. This calls for something special.”

Immediately, the captain began rummaging around near the wheel of the boat, moving aside a box filled with tools, the metal clanking and clunking like a bundle of cranky swords tossed about, before digging into a box stuffed loosely with oily rags.

“Ah-ha!” he proudly announced, bringing out a nondescript bottle void of any labeling. “My own homebrew – somogon (moonshine).”

The girls apprehensively backed away. Champagne was one thing, home made jet fuel another.

“Ladies first.” the captain smiled, unscrewing the cap.

“Oh, thank you.” Shana politely began. “We are drunk enough with champagne.”

“Yes, thank you.” the girls immediately chimed in unison.

“Ah, very well.” the captain dismissed them, unsurprised and equally happy at the prospects of more kerosene for himself. “The men will drink.”

Trevor, with only slight reluctance, held out his plastic cup.

“There we are!” the captain merrily smiled, pouring a thick shot. “You from where?” he asked.

“America.”

“America!” the captain chuckled. “Very good! We were friends in the Great Patriotic War. We fought together and won.”

Happily, the captain poured his own portion of hearty drams and held up his cup.

“To the great flames of victory!” he declared, touching his cup to Trevor’s before holding it up to the twin pillars of flame erupting before them.

Trevor took a brief moment to ready his mind, then joined the captain in firing down the scourge. It went down clean and clear enough, much to Trevor’s surprise, but no sooner had he thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad,’ when immediately it grabbed him by his esophagus and strangled him, sending a rush of beguiling vapors up through his head, spinning his brains around, and paralyzing his eyes.

“Whoa!” Trevor buckled.

The captain let out a joyous laugh well-caked in nicotine and the ages, his face bright red, his eyes watery in alcoholic ecstasy.

“Oh, she went down good!” he relished.

“Indeed.” Trevor coughed, taking Shana’s champagne from her hand and using it to wash down the bright, asphyxiating taste of high gear battery acid.

“That’s it.” the captain approved, pulling out a Belomore Canal cigarette and gazing out in cool relish at the purple strangeness of the night accented by heretical columns of billowing flame.

He drank in the view in revelry for a moment, eyes blissfully swimming the surrounds as his buzz kicked in. It was in the middle of this bliss, irritatingly, he released he had to steer the boat. Whore, he grumbled slightly as he took the helm and guide the craft under the Palace Bridge. He gunned the motor modestly to get the busy work over with. Once he had the boat back in the clear, he dropped the throttle, roped up the wheel, and let them coast serenely past the Admiralty and St. Isaac’s Cathedral toward the distant Lt. Schmidt Bridge.

“Now.” he said in mischievous glee, unscrewing the bottle once more. “Where were we?”

Trevor shook his head in only the most meager of protests. He passed his cup to Shana and asked her to hold it for him as the captain filled it up with anti-freeze. Trevor, meanwhile, readied a beer from his plastic sack to use as a chaser for the paint stripper.

“You won’t have any beer?” Trevor asked the captain.

“Beer?” the captain laughed and scoffed. “The champagne was enough silliness for one day. Beer – what use is it? Am I a goddamned ballerina?”

He poured another double-gag portion of moonshine into Trevor’s and his glasses, screwed the cap back on tight – not letting a drop escape, and steadied himself for another lashing of the sea dog’s whip.

“Victory!” he shouted to the purple heavens, to the apple red pillars of flame, to the blood moon, to the city under siege, awash meekly in marmalade lanterns, sprouting with police lights, the sounds of distant explosions, firecrackers, and blaring megaphones echoing about the cadaverous and lambasted battlefield.

Trevor and the captain fired back the brew. After that sweet, deceiving delay of half a second, the drink wrapped Trevor and the captain in it’s terrible grasp, like a cat-o-nine tails with thorns and glass being pulled from their stomachs, through their esophagi, and out their mouths as their brains were made love to by a bicycle chain. Desperately, Trevor took his warm beer and, in paralyzed half-gag, tried to put out the fire. The captain simply growled in delight and stared off at the purple and marmalade city, the bracing wind scraping at his watery eyes, his face weather-beaten, wrinkled, scraggly, yet heroically proud.

Holding his beer close, recovering his senses, Trevor sat back with the girls and eyed them in disbelief.

“It’s true. He is not American.” Yusha said flatly.

“No, he’s Russian.” Shana laughed.

“No, no. He’s a strong American.” Lilith smiled warmly.

Diamond pinwheels began spinning in Trevor’s mind. Ever so slightly he began seeing them. For a brief moment, he closed his eyes. There, before his brain, a whole sea of spinning ferris wheels made of prisms and twirling, diamond bicycle spokes bombarded his mind’s eye. Immediately, he opened his eyes to stop the overwhelming vision. Great, he thought to himself. I have a circus going on in my head. He concentrated on the eerie views from the boat, and tried to put the diamond circus out his thoughts. Smoothly, the boat cruised past St. Isaac’s Cathedral awash in blue strobe and tarnished amber, this dark, cold, northern Vatican, the black figure of Peter and the snake stoically eying the boat as it made its way down the purple Nile.

As they slipped past the Alexander Gardens, Trevor noticed the ground moving. In streaming packs, four-legged prowlers filled the grounds, rushing out from the spoiled cornflower corpse of the nearby Senate building, sniffing and scurrying about the vacant, palatial grounds, howling and barking like a school of madness. In days gone past, wolves would emerge from the forested regions of Vasilievsky Island to savagely devour milkmaids and servants caught on the streets after dark. Now, they had migrated to the imperial eastern banks of the Admiralty, combing the barren, wide avenues for remnant pockets of fleeing flesh.

With the captain keeping his back to the bow and ignoring the helm, the boat coolly drifted downstream toward the Lt. Schmidt Bridge, the Admiralty Embankment slowly giving way to the English Embankment, the tattered, weather-beaten row of classical buildings somberly leaning against one another, their aprons faded, thread bare, and morose, only the palest of colors visible under the layers of sooty grim, bathed macabre in the dungeon-like glow of marmalade cellar lamps. Only as they were nearly colliding with the Lt. Schmidt Bridge did the captain fire his spent Belomore Canal papirosi to the dark waters and begrudgingly assume the wheel, hugging them close the judgmental, faded columns that lined the English Embankment before tightly slipping the boat down the narrow tree-lined passageway of darkness that was the New Admiralty Canal.

The boat swiftly fell into palpable darkness as the midnight canopy of trees along the canal enveloped them in a sky of withered tendrils. Trevor worked at the beer, the pinwheels dancing in his scattered mind tuning into new frequencies, Lilith keeping her body close to his in gentle, breathless fright. Through otherworldly movements down the narrow waterway, rows of shadowy faces appeared, peering down cryptically at the small boat. They were aligned in a row of strange judgment along the perimeter of what was known as Beaver Palace, a cold, Roman assembly gathered to pass a sentence of death. They peered out from the curtains of marmalade flame and jagged, inky shadows, their stern brood of faces chilling as the boat slipped past them in the watery back alley.

Just past the ceremonial row of demi-gods stirred from their repose, the boat submerged itself into opaque darkness as it paddled under the Khrapovitsky Bridge. Lilith brought her hand up now to grab at Trevor’s arm and she brought her face to his shoulder. A dank, biting breeze crossed the backs of their necks like a witch’s kisses. Drown in the darkness, Trevor’s mind was an endless, deep 3-D theater, the pernicious pinwheels spinning maddeningly on his untoward screen. Translucent, animated polygons of diamonds, kaleidescope tongues, eyes of spinning cosmoses and shimmering swastikas furled across Trevor’s mind over an expanse thousands of years deep and wide. They melted away only as the macabre, jack-o-lantern marmalade returned as the boat crawled out from under the bridge. They sojourned on before Capstone Island – the derelict, pyramidal shipyards of New Holland. Following the barren thoroughfare of gently rippling, shimmering amber and purple ink, the boat passed the tall, blood-brick walls and the twin pillar jaws of the shipyard, the tall columns of Jachin and Boaz glowing ghoulishly in the night illuminated by meager lantern, the tall, domineering archway a portal to a malevolent northern sky of billowing merlot. Like an eye, a piercing searchlight, an angry, luminous probe, the blood moon hung framed within the archway, piercing its looming gaze from the swaths of tumultuous Phoenician purple, stalking, like a wolf amid trees, low on the horizon. Echoes of thunder and cannon crashed distantly throughout the city. In Trevor’s troubled gaze, he saw the stoic, terrible columns of the New Holland Shipyard suddenly fall in on themselves, collapsed and demolished by the blood red, evil gaze of the lunar eye in the sky. From the destruction, the howling conflagration, a shining black cube emerged, birthed from the flames of liquid prisms. The cube was matte, opaque, a black, terrible void, yet it also shown smooth and shiny in the sacrificial kaleidescope circus. Trevor immediately felt a cruel, terrible vileness in his chest, a frightening, evil chill creeping up his spinal column. He jumped up slightly from his seat, jolting awake as it were, his head shaking, his eyes shocked awake with the kiss of a whip made of bare electrical wires coursing with voltage.

“What is it?” Lilith asked, half-startled herself, half-laughing.

Trevor’s eyes came quickly to the twin columns, their blood brick walls still intact, floating past in the languid purple, flickering broodingly in the amber half-light as they fell behind the black, cruel curtains of tall, shadowy trees.

“It’s just the cannons.” she said, thinking Trevor startled by echoing cacophony of distant explosions. “The cannons of victory.”

“Yes, victory!” Shana exclaimed to the shadowy seas of purple velvet. “We were on the winning side!”

Trevor looked around at the tall, brooding walls of black tendrils reaching up the to plum sky, the shining, yet terrible pathway of the Moika Canal snaking its way through the empty, catacomb city. Shimmering pinwheels were one thing - vile, black boxes another. Trevor worked at his beer, hoping the cheap alcohol and watery nonsense would wash away the strange visions from his head.

“The winning side.” Trevor said, hoping that speaking and participating with others around him would keep the pinwheels and black boxes at bay. “Am I on the winning side too now?”

“Yes, yes.” Shana said. “Of course you are.”

“You’re with us now.” Lilith smiled.

“We will keep you for as long as we need you.” Yusha laughed.

Lilith kept herself pressed against Trevor as much as she could without being obviously ridiculous to the others. In her mind, she was bursting, wishing only that Trevor could wrap his arms around her, and they could float down the river of exodus intertwined. She did worry, albeit marginally, that Yusha and Shana would catch onto her and her desires for Trevor. What she didn’t know was that Yusha and Shana had caught onto her long ago. You whore, Yusha thought of Lilith, half-amused, half-disgusted. Bitch, I will rip your one good eye out, Shana thought. But, for now, she kept her feelings to herself, watching instead, out of the corner of her eyes, for Trevor to reciprocate Lilith’s advances. If he did, she would kill them both. After a few weeks, however, she would sow Lilith’s severed head back onto her body and use Sabbatean Cabala to bring her back to life as a rag-doll Golem of sorts. Trevor, however, wouldn’t get the second chance. His corpse would be hacked into pieces and fed theatrically to wolves, his served head catapulted off into the distant horizon amid the sounds of blaring trumpets and jubilation. Still, in the meantime, Shana focused on the rare merriment of being drunk and cruising amongst the canals like a merchant in Venice. She would see what Trevor and Lilith’s behavior was like back in the kitchen. Then she would make her decision on who, if anyone, needed to die.

Trevor reclined back, absolutely unaware that Lilith’s mere closeness was already causing a potential outrage, thinking only that he needed to calm his mind down. Was it the bumpers? The Merry Loco? The deranged mix? He sipped his beer, and focused on relaxing as his nervous eyes watched the passing, abandoned melon-collie of the flickering underworld. Lighting a smoke, the two overpasses of the Red Fleet Bridge and the Kissing Bridge came to serenely swoop over their heads. Passing the first bridge, which amounting to nothing more than a suspended footpath, Trevor’s gaze sank onto the curious alignment of the Kissing Bridge, its contents, and its background. Standing on the Kissing Bridge, gazing down coldly, a stoic, serene, feminine silhouette holding a slim cigarette between her fingers, herself between twin obelisks, and standing directly in front the golden dome of the northern Vatican grandly protruding from the city, and, hovering over them all, the prowling gaze of the blood moon licking its teeth. It was perfectly framed, Trevor thought, like some sort of magical, ghoulish postcard.

Trevor set his eyes on the woman, her features becoming ever slightly clearer as the boat drew towards her, her long dress of fresh-blood scarlet clinging tightly to her body in regal suppleness, her naturally curly hair pulled back and up and allowed to drip back down like grapes of a goddess. Her porcelain face and wide eyes stared down at the boat coldly, emotionlessly, her body still as ivory draped in robes, except for her fingers and wrist, which moved, slightly, elegantly, bringing her thin cigarette serenely in a graceful ebb and flow to raspberry lips. The boat and its occupants lapped slowly under her icy, unshakable gaze. Once they passed beneath the kissing bridge, Trevor tried nonchalantly to gaze back, to see her shape and form just one more time. There was something magnetic about this women. He had to drink her in, even if only for a moment. As the boat streamed up the dark purple and shimmering gold pathway to the Vatican, Trevor bided his time, to not appear so obvious. Finally, he could hold out no longer and he cast his gaze back at the Kissing Bridge. His eyes found the bridge, like the rest of the nearby city streets, morosely empty and abandoned. His heart sank.

Draining his beer to bury the nagging feeling of sadness mixed with paranoia, Trevor reached into his black, plastic sack, popped the caps off the last two remaining bottles, and filled everyone’s plastic cups. It was the home stretch of the pleasure cruise. Everyone’s chalice needed ambrosia. He topped off Shana’s cup as the boat serenely floated under the low gangway of the Post Office Footpath Bridge and past the former grounds of the German Reform Church. Now, in its stead, a cryptic, morose Egyptian tomb stood ominously in the marmalade ether, its walls harsh, tall, and barren, its long vertical stretch of windows looking like a cruel elevator ascending to demonic laboratories, its metropolitan, 8-ball eyes peering dispassionately at the baneful necropolis like a loveless factory, a processor of souls, an extracting plant of devilish delight. Mosques and Synagogues faced not this treatment under the Bolshevik cabal. Protestant Churches, however, and unkneeling Byzantine Babylon, were pulverized into ashes. Trevor knew who suffered the torch, but he couldn’t connect dots. He thought whimsical, random, and brutish these actions, but nothing to really dwell on

They passed this tattered tomb of the damned and paddled quietly down the inky waterway toward the Blue Bridge, awash in the flashing sapphire police strobes of St. Isaac’s Square. Below the domineering amber glow of St. Isaac’s Vatican, the pulsating azure seas were animated with black, festering pockets of sonderkommandos, these sewer locusts clad in dark mechanics’ uniforms. Crudely, these entities bore the faces of men as they slovenly scuttled about.

Those bivouacked in lose shrewdnesses against the Blue Bridge, smoking cigarettes smugly, eying the approaching boat with scorn, their tuna can chariots parked unsophisticatedly at odd points throughout the square, flashing sirens of panic, fear, and alarm through the vacuous square and its abandoned arteries. Off in the distance, further down the canal, Trevor could make out a perniciously glowing red tower, a blood needle piercing the Phoenician sky before the sanguine moon. He screwed up his eyes. What was that tower, he wondered to himself, having never noticed such a building in St. Petersburg before. He kept his confused gaze on it until the tower was blotted out by the approaching black jaws of the Blue Bridge’s long, dark passage.

Trevor hit his beer and silently gazed up at the sewer locusts carrying semi-automatic weapons slung round their shoulders of ignorance under their oily, double chins. Beady, cold, near human eyes crawled their despising antennae of perception over the boat, over Trevor’s face, his clothes, the girls, their hair, eyes, breasts, the weather-beaten captain, his tattered sailor’s cap, the entire quaint raft floating down the Nile away from Pharaoh’s sharpened spears and knives. Their slanted, slithering gaze, lit faintly by lighters torching up fresh smokes, conveyed the simmering anger at their impotence to affect aversely the pleasure cruise, instead bound by infuriating laws they had no control over, forced to allow the craft to pass unhindered to the awaiting black portal of escape. Under their cruel, Asiatic gaze, like wolf’s claws slow against blackboard, the tiny boat was poured into the mouth of the Blue Bridge and slowly swallowed into a long, deep throat of pitch darkness.

It didn’t take much coaxing. The prism polygon prisons on cue began their processional parade. Glimmering, beguiling architectures, shapes, and cages swirled and swam past Trevor’s mind from near and far recesses of deep space. Whether Trevor closed his eyes or kept them open, they were there, this onslaught of crystalline origami. Trevor breathed deeply in the cool, pitch black darkness. It’ll be over soon, he told himself in reassurance. It’s not real. That was the most rational trick to play. None of it was real.

Trevor peered froward, past where he imagined the captain to be, to the far other end of the Blue Bridge overpass, where glowed an infernal crimson light, pulsating and flickering maliciously, a crematory furnace awaiting delectable offerings issuing forth on a conveyor belt lugubriously lubricated on dripping animal fats. Quickly, Trevor looked away, taking a deep breath, focusing on calming himself. That was not the direction to look in, he realized, prism pinwheels spinning past his mind like dandelion seeds the size of buildings cooing weightlessly in the void. What about the other way, he thought. No sooner had the thought sparked across his mind like a shooting star than he realized right there, next to him, large as a 5-story building, hovered one of these strange creatures, these massive, infant, ageless entities, a giant wise baby, with angelic skin, and dark eyes of awful benevolence, ready to turn and strike at the blink of an instant, like a stoic cobra. Don’t be afraid, Trevor told himself, tenuously keeping a grip on things. This strangely repugnant, yet curiously angelic being, appeared to want no evildoing with Trevor. On the contrary, Trevor sensed a peculiar, and relieving, feeling of protection from this sudden companion. Just as Trevor began to relax in the cosmic snowstorm of celestial shapes and this sudden chaperon, a flame leap out and lashed viciously across the oceans of darkness. Trevor leap immediately back in his seat. The girls cried out in hideous screams as if being skinned alive. What the hell is happening, Trevor cried out in his mind. I need to jump off this boat. I need to swim out of the tunnel. But, he quickly realized in fright, is this water below, or deep space. Would he swim to safety or float away into nothingness. He looked to the celestial watcher on his left. As he did, the cries turned from screams of horror into the lightest of child-like laughter. The flame danced again into the black velvet of the tunnel, this time a meager shower of sparks and an infinitesimal yellow flame. The celestial watcher quickly vanished into the shape and form of Lilith illuminated in warm, soft flashes of amber.

“Ha ha!” Shana chuckled. “I have fire!”

Impishly, her small ivory thumb flicked a small lighter. Yusha cupped her hands around it with Shana.

“We have the flame to see us through.” they chuckled. “Like komsomol girls. We are intuitive survivors.”

Trevor gazed at Lilith in a strange moment of shock. Her eyes, his mind keep saying over and over. They were the last to fade. The strange, obsidian largeness of that watching cherub’s bowling ball pupils, they slowly drifted from Lilith’s eye sockets. Lilith, not sure what Trevor was looking at, but glad he was focusing his attention on her, took the opportunity to put her hand on his thigh and leaned in flush against him.

“Are you alright?” she smiled in merriment. “Have you see a ghost?”

“Something like that.” Trevor tried to nonchalantly laugh.

Shana and Yusha began swaying the cupped flame back and forth and around in a wild, figure-8 motion as they laughed and sang. The flame bled a long and coiled tracer behind it that glowed and sparkled persistently, making the dancing flame look like a shimmering, iridescently snake side-winding through the deep darkness and into the flickering cave where Trevor and girls were gathered. Trevor’s mind privately sighed. Get me out of here, he said to himself in suppressed alert. A cauldron to one side, a curious watcher to the other, and in-between, a dancing fire snake. In his right hand he held his beer, barely illuminated in the serpentine flames, its brown bottle looking like dying coals. Should I drink it, Trevor wondered. Will that make it worse or better? Should I just sit here paralyzed? Just then he felt a warm hand cup his palm and fingers and in soothing assurance take hold of it. It was Lilith, cheeks flushed from alcohol and curious thoughts, eyes glimmering into Trevor’s in the lost, wondrous, happy gaze females have from time to time. Immediately, Trevor felt better, and reciprocated the intertwining of their hands and fingers. As he did a cooling, soothing wash melted over him. I’ll be okay, he thought. I’ll get out of this just fine. Shana and Yusha laughed as the snake danced about between them. Merrily, they recited komsomol songs. The snake twirled in plumes of kaleidescope garnet, amber, and diamonds until suddenly Shana yelped a high pieced scream.

“Momichka!” she cried.

She had singed her thumb against the caroming flame. She then stupidly, drunkenly, attempted to restart the lighter by placing her thumb on the wheel, which immediately seared her skin.

“Ow! Fuck!” she cried, dropping the lighter to the floor of the boat.

Yusha rubbed her shoulder.

“Poor komsomol girl.” she comforted her as Lilith and Yusha laughed at Shana’s silliness.

Soon the pulsating azure of the northern mouth of the Blue Bridge ushered the small launch party from darkness. Trevor took a relieved pull from the beer and breathed the cool air through his nose above clenched teeth and bear trap jaw. Lilith gave his hand a quick squeeze and then recoiled it as their cover of darkness receded.

Trevor’s attentions turned to the peculiar cloud of crimson fog that plumed in otherworldly gestation ahead of them on the Moika. This was where Trevor had seen the garnet beacon before while they were in the cave of darkness. What was this, Trevor thought. He had walked these streets many times, at day, at night. He had never seen some strange, blood red tower before on Pea Street.

As the craft paddled nearer, Trevor could make out the details of this curious epicenter of smoky fogs illuminated by an aortic, fluttering glow, pulsing in disturbing, slow, irregular cadence, burgundies, crimsons, sporadic sapphire flashes, and contrasting, velvety darkness. Protruding from the billowing clouds was a cryptic, virulent steeple with wings flared, ascending up into a twisting, erect snake, slithering upwards. Below the steeple, large, curved windows shaped like a seashell, a sunrise, a Japanese hand fan, pulsated in mysterious glow.

There is no way in the universe that this had been here before, Trevor was certain. He was flabbergasted. How had he never seen it? How had it suddenly appeared, without his knowing, in the seeming blink of an eye? He looked at the girls sitting with him there in the boat. They too gazed up at the serpent steeple birthed out of the pulsating, languid plumes of smoke and fire, their agape faces occasionally illuminated by the flashes of deep burgundy and sapphire. They looked lost, dazed, asleep in dreams. Trevor felt he shouldn’t say anything, least he wake them, or, worse yet, least he find that they could not be awoken.

The boat sputtered sheepishly past the towering caduceus imbued in regalia of ominous lights and smoke. As they neared the threshold of the Red Bridge, another crossover adorned with obelisks, Trevor noticed a figure standing over them, another solitary, feminine silhouette. Dressed in scarlet, porcelain face drenched in shadows, only lit cryptically by gentle marmalade and flashes of crimson, she stood there, as she had at the Kissing Bridge, poised, royal, insipid, and cold. Her body was shapely, contoured exquisitely, projecting a feeling of comfort, overbearing importance, boredom, and contempt. She drew supinely upon the small embers of a glowing cigarette. As the boat dipped under the bridge, Trevor could make out, just for an instant, her cold, enveloping gaze. It was like the cold emptiness of the vast reaches of space brought down through a magnifying glass, condensed and channeled into one vapid, penetrating beam of might and force. He saw this gaze, felt it burning through him like an icy blowtorch through rice paper, for the briefest of instants. It paralyzed Trevor in his seat, rendering him an empty, cold cadaver, drained of all life and energy. And in an instant, the boat ducked under the low and quaint threshold of the Red Bridge, under what had been called for decades Dzerzhinsky Street, named after old Felix himself, the wet nurse of the KGB, the Bolshevik meat grinding apparatus of death, and Trevor felt life return to him in a cool, familiar wave of dank air, the faint smells of charcoal and sulfur, the sounds of light-hearted, careless laughter.

The boat emerged from under the Red Bridge and Trevor found the girls childishly giggling.

“Found it!” Shana exclaimed. “Pancake!”

She triumphantly held up the lighter she had dropped.

“Smart girl.” Yusha congratulated her.

Trevor looked about immediately toward the Red Bridge crawling away from them and the corner of Pea Street and the Moika. Where once the towering garnet steeple of the serpent had been, now there was nothing. Just as Trevor had remembered it being, and just as he knew that it was - there was nothing there, nothing sinister, out of the ordinary, nor bizarre. The captain and his medicine, Trevor surmised. That and the day long parade of bumpers and crazy pills. I’m losing it, he thought inside his bewildered mind. I’ve gone too far. I’m pushing myself into some strange world between worlds. He took a hit of the beer. No, I’m not, he assured himself. It’s all just in my mind. None of it is real. All I’m doing is unlocking strange doors in my subconscious. None of it is real, none of it has any consequence. He smiled and felt better having created for himself this justification. He looked at the girls huddled in their boat, and said to himself, relax, enjoy everything.

“Cheers.” Trevor said.

“Cheers.” the girls answered.

They all took a sip as the boat chugged down the inky canal bordered by desolate, abandoned streets.

“You are feeling okay?” Lilith asked. “You didn’t look happy for a while.”

“Oh no.” Trevor assured her. “I’m fine.”

The boat swam lugubriously around the mild crescent of the canal, past the demure, classical, muddied sunflower of the St. Petersburg University, and pulling up smoothly to the launch the before the Police Bridge, nestled on the western side of the Stroganov Palace. On the Police Bridge, fittingly, a tuna can with a blue circus light on its roof sat there, the blue light childishly slapping at the empty thoroughfare of Nevsky strewn with debris, broken glass, and splatters of pink, foamy vomit and dried, raspberry blood.

Trevor helped the ladies one by one off the boat and onto the granite launch. After Shana, the last one, the captain drew near him with a weathered, whiskery smile.

“Good man.” the captain said.

Trevor produced the magical, purple note from his pocket and handed it to the captain. The captain’s watery, alcohol-scratched eyes gleamed.

“Let’s go.” the captain the said warmly. “One last one.”

Trevor momentarily rolled his eyes, and then agreed. Why the hell not, he thought, he was already rolling. Proudly, the captain filled two medicine cups and presented one to Trevor. My gods, the girls laughed and moaned from the launch. Another shot of fire water?

“To victory.” the captain said.

“Yes, of course.” Trevor said, “clinking” his plastic cup to the captain’s. “To victory.”

They belted down the kaleidescope rendering kerosene and let out a series of groans and deep, guttural grimaces and unpleasantries. Trevor could feel his esophagus tightening up and choking him, his stomach feeling like he had swallowed fiberglass soaked in gasoline, his testicles even aching sourly.

“Never forget.” the Captain admonished, lighting up a scraggly Belomore Canal papirosi. “We won. The battle for civilization. We are the victors.”

“Right.” said Trevor, staggering off the boat, trying desperately not to keel over and begin vomiting.

He joined the girls ascending the stairs, taking Lilith’s hand as they walked up, the two of them behind Yusha and Shana so as to keep secret their familiar, flirtatious touching. The city swam to and fro as they walked towards Nevsky, Trevor’s head full of nitroglycerin and the recently little-used legs not working together in graceful tandem. Tensely, the small group made it to Nevsky and turned east down the abandoned, grand boulevard strewn with garbage and periodically stationed tuna can squad cars bleating their blue buffoonery.

“Hey!” an angry, half-slurred voice bellowed out from the westside of the Police Bridge. “Where are you going?”

It was a baboon in a soiled auto-mechanic uniform, eyes slanted and crude in mongoloid kisses and alcoholism.

“I here live!” Shana screamed back angrily.

The gun tooting mongoloid scoffed. “Get off the street, woman!”

“Idiot.” Shana moaned beneath her breath.

Faces down and not saying a word, the four of them quietly, and urgently, marched up Nevsky, the giant, empty thoroughfare of bottles, broken class, soiled, red cray paper wet with urine, mired and trampled flags, an odd shoe here and there, and cigarette butts sprinkled like snowflakes in thick blankets. Trevor couldn’t believe it, a boulevard of booze only hours ago, jam packed with revelers, drunkards, fights, singing, exuberance, all now washed away, nearly in an instant, leaving only this barren wasteland, this abandoned, lifeless necropolis. Only Trevor, the girls, and pockets of storm troopers remained. Everyone else had, one way or another, been removed from reality.

Trevor and the girls skirted drunkenly past the Stroganov Palace, crunching on broken glass and maneuvering around odd pools of vomited noodles and corn. They quickly came to Shana’s 4-story pea green building, punched in the code to the rusted door, opened its moaning, whining jaws on dry hinges, and scurried inside. Instantly, they let out of a collective sigh of relief.

“Home!” Shana exclaimed in exaltation.

“Never go outside in Russia.” Yusha said.

“How crazy!” Lilith exclaimed. “What a day. I never thought.”

The marched up the dank staircase, large swaths of dusty paint peeling from the cold, barren walls.

“Now we eat.” Shana said, leading them up the stairs. “Finally, our feast.”

“We will eat at midnight.” Yusha said. “As if we are vampires.”

“Yes!” Shana reveled mischievously. “We are vampires.”

“Really, we are to eat so late?” Lilith asked.

“I was grinding and grinding and grinding…for so long!” Shana turned around as she walked up the stairs to admonish Lilith. “Do you think I will let all that grinding go to waste?”

They reached the floor of Shana’s temporary abode and she produced the long, draconian keys from her petite pants pocket. One by one, she fed long, cold metals into the steel mouths, worked her magic, and through various moans and clankings, opened the blast shelter door.

The quartet wobbled about in the cramped foyer, removing their boots and shoes drunkenly, giggling as they pushed their hands against he walls like passengers on a boat tossed about in high seas. The girls adorned their mental patient slippers. Trevor cast his boots to the floor near the wall and entered the apartments in his socks.

“Bah!” Shana scoffed.

The girls immediately took fireman’s drills on the toilet. Soon, everyone congregated in the kitchen. The clean surrounds, the German appliances and neat rows of foreign products in the cupboard, the gleaming checkered tiles, the sturdy table littered with spices, vegetables, and Shana’s mortar and pestle, it was all lushly inviting, soothing, and civilized after a day of barbarism.

Once the girls returned from the powder room, refreshed, relaxed, emptied, Shana brought the tray of meat out from the refrigerator and set up her staging grounds on the kitchen counter.

“Ah-hah!” she delighted as she removed the meat from a clear, pink, penny plastic bag. “Russian meat!”

She slammed down the large hunk of veal onto the cutting board with a triumphant thud. A dense, purple ooze ran from the meat across the cutting board and onto the kitchen counter like blood on an alter.

“Ooo.” the girls cooed, looking over to Shana as they readied the kitchen table with mineral water, a carton of juice, and a short stack of miniature plates.

“How will you prepare him? Roasted?” Yusha asked, referring to the bloody offering.

“No.” Shana looked over at the gleaming Bosch oven. “Roasting will take too long. I will make cutlets.”

Shana looked about and remembered which cupboard housed the pans. She opened the drawer and retrieved a large, solid Teflon pan from France.

“Here we are.” she said merrily, bringing the pan and a ubiquitous bottle of sunflower seed oil over to her butcher’s station.

Lilith dutifully gathered a collection of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions from the fridge, and began chopping them at the kitchen table on a small, plastic cutting board with a massive French cutting knife. It was the type of knife reserved for horror films. Yusha sat back and looked on. She wasn’t going to do anything except pretend to be involved and occasionally boss people around, the same way her walrus-sized mother did in the kitchen. Like walrus like daughter.

“Lil.” Shana came over with a small paring knife. “Use him. I need big momma.”

“Yes, of course.” Lilith said as she surrendered the massive blade for a petite pen knife.

“Russian meat!” Shana laughed as she took the gleaming steel to her slaughter station. “Bring me Russian meat!”

Trevor sat there, empty beer bottle before him, his mind scratching at the door of that big, gleaming, German refrigerator, wondering how he would get into that merry chorus line of Bavarian and Saxon beauties. He could nearly taste it, that pure, golden, half-liter of chilled bliss. Dreamily, his mind then swam up to the cupboards to the left of Shana’s guillotine. Vodka, he remembered. Russian Standard, the best in the business. Perhaps he should angle for that. A bottle of Russian Standard, although not cheap, could be replenished. The Bavarian and Saxon beauties, quite difficult, if, frankly, not impossible to secure in that day and age in St. Petersburg. The vodka, Trevor began to realize, that was the better bet. Now, Trevor began inside his head, wheels continuing to spin, the thought wheels, not the kaleidescope wheels - how to get Shana to surrender the bottle to the thirsty, chosen few.

Trevor added up the pros; full reimbursement, the procuring of a new, fresh bottle. They had them in the basement market of the Passage. Well over 1,000 rubles, but it could be done. Trevor thought of his roll of Benjamins in his underwear drawer. Doable, he nodded to himself, highly doable. Then there was the celebration angle, the fact that they were eating ceremonial meats. Meat and alcohol, what was better? They already had mineral water and juice to help knock it back. Trevor remembered the jar of gherkins in the fridge. Alright, all the stars were aligning for a promising sales pitch.

Trevor took his empty bottle in his hand, hoping this would also aid in sympathy, like a dog bringing its empty bowl to its master. Trevor was going to start with, “Oh, Shanichka.” Using the affectionate, diminutive, familiar form. He cleared his throat and started to say “Oh…” No sooner had the first sounds come from his mouth than Shana leapt back from the counter and exuded the most blood-curdling, ear-splitting wail one could ever imagine to hear.

A cockroach, Trevor thought instantly. A rat? But that wail, that was no mere startle at the surprised sight of a scurrying critter. That was the type of spine-wrenching howl reserved for a woman who awoke in the middle of the night, lifted up the bed covers, and saw the spectral ghost of a mass murderer and rapist grinning a skeletal grin as it crawled snake-like up her thighs. The walls trembling, the atmosphere staticy and charged from the horrific wail, Shana turned around, face already deep apricot, eyes welling terrified, ghastly tears, her left hand desperately clutching her right hand to her breasts. Horrified, she lifted up her left hand. Was it a dream? Please, God, make it a dream, Shana said to herself in the maddening instant before the reveal. She removed her hand. She pulled back the curtain. It was no dream.

As Shana lifted her left hand, a squirt of cranberry blood greeted her by flying up into her face. Shana flinched and shrieked. There, on the backside of her right hand, was a split-open gash running from the her left pinky knuckle diagonally across the back of her hand to her wrist below her thumb. Deep crimson blood cascaded out like a scurrying stream, immediately spilling over like a waterfall onto the checkered floor. Shana stood paralyzed with fear, blood splattered across her forehead, her mouth curled up in the most horrible of frowns, tears streaming down her shocked face to mix with the blood splashing about on the floor like overflowing champagne. Lilith and Yusha gasped and shrieked.

Trevor lunged over and took hold of Shana’s arm, peering at the gash for a closer look. The fan of bones in her hand were there, naked, clear to be seen, albeit drowning in gushes of blood. That’s going to leave a mark, Trevor thought to him.

“Okay.” Trevor said, looking around for a towel.

Pressure, elevate, he said to himself as he took a kitchen towel hanging from the oven door. Quickly, he wrapped Shana’s hand as she screamed and sobbed.

“Put some pressure on it.” Trevor said calmly to Shana’s blood splattered face of tears.

He put her left hand over the towel, already soaking through with blood, and brought it up near her face.

“Keep it up here, Shana. That will help stop the bleeding.”

As soon as Trevor let go of her wrist and bandaged hand, Shana dropped her hand down to her belly where she non-responsively clasped it.

“No, Shana.” Trevor said as he gently grabbed her arm. “Keep it up, or all the blood will run out.”

Perhaps it was a poor choice of words. Perhaps also it was coincidence. But, as soon as the words left Trevor’s mouth and danced into Shana’s brain, she collapsed lifeless against him.

Trevor immediately staggered to collect Shana, like a bag of apples that had been thrown to him from the back of a truck. Lilith and Yusha filled the air with a chorus of shrieks.

“She needs stitches.” Trevor said to the two of them, holding up Shana like a scarecrow down from the pole. “We gotta get her to a hospital.”

“Yes, yes, yes!” Yusha said, quickly getting involved, taking Shana’s bandaged hand, re-securing the wrapping, and holding it slightly up.

“We need a car.” Trevor said.

“Yes, a car.” Yusha breathlessly agreed. “Let’s go.”

Lilith stared at the three of them dumbfounded, shocked, and not knowing what to do. Trevor and Yusha would make the decisions. She would just follow suit. This was the only aspect of the current situation that slightly comforted her.

“Okay, together, down the hallway.” Trevor instructed Yusha.

Trevor bent down slightly, roped an arm under Shana’s legs, and picked her up. 100 pounds, my ass, Trevor grimaced. With Yusha holding her bandaged hand, they took Shana down the hall to the bank vault. Lilith quickly got to work putting Trevor’s boots on his feet, then holding Shana’s bloodied hand as Yusha got her own shoes on. Holding Shana’s hand was visibly upsetting for Lilith. Her face crunched up in disgust and horror and she tried not to think about it.

“The keys.” Trevor said, as Yusha began undoing the deadbolts to the bomb shelter door.

“I think they’re in her pocket.” Yusha replied.

She drew near and dug a hand into Shana’s jean pocket.

“Found.” she said.

Trevor leaned back a bit and tried to straighten Shana slightly so that Yusha could dig out the long, cryptic keys.

“Got them.” Yusha said.

They moved quickly to the stairwell, Yusha foisting the keys onto Lilith as she took over the reigns on Shana’s hand. Trevor moved to the stairs with Yusha and apprehensively took the first step down. He immediately wobbled to the side and crashed against the wall of peeling, blistered paint.

“Careful!” Yusha said.

Trevor regained himself. He realized he couldn’t walk blind down these stairs. With Shana in his arms, he couldn’t see anything below. Gingerly, he brought Shana’s feet down to the cold cement of the stairwell, draped her over his shoulder, and, holding on tightly to her legs and lower back, brought her up a fireman’s carry. There we are, Trevor said to himself. Straight ahead. One by one he descended the stairs gingerly, making sure of his footing, the chemicals and adrenaline clearing away a good deal of the alcohol. Yusha followed behind, holding Shana’s bloodied, bandaged hand, the blood seeping through like an uncapped tumbler of ink wrapped in cheese cloth and turned upside down. Lilith ground the bank vault locks into position, the dry, clanking thuds filling the dank air, and soon joined the slowly descending party.

How will we find a car, Trevor wondered as Lilith scurried past him and Yusha to open the bunker doors to the street. As they entered the cool, vapid gardens of marmalade on Nevsky Prospekt, Trevor’s eyes scanned up and down the street. The long, epic boulevard was completely empty and laid waste. Only the sporadically placed tuna cans with blue flashing sirens animated the long, barren stretch.

“The police?” Trevor asked Yusha. “Should we ask them?”

“Ha!” Yusha scoffed. “Are you crazy?”

The three of them looked up and down the scuttled avenue.

“My gods.” Lilith murmured in desperation.

Trevor felt his head and legs begin to burn at the prospect of carrying Shana all over creation trying to find a car in the middle of this police action that had cleared out the entire center of town.

“The ferryman.” Trevor finally realized. “Lilith, run down and see if he’s there.”

“The boat?” Yusha fretted. “What can he do?”

“What can we do standing here?”

“Where can he take her? How can the boat reach a hospital?”

“The City Blood Hospital on Vasilievsky.” Trevor quickly thought. “He can take her straight across.”

Yusha was vexed, and was angry at being vexed. She wanted to possess the answers to everything.

“Okay.” she finally surrendered with a sigh. “Maybe.”

Lilith looked at Trevor and Yusha for moment, hesitant to leave the group, but then realized she must. She began down the street towards the Moika at a brisk pace.

“Let’s set her down.” Trevor said to Yusha.

Trevor took Shana to the curb and slowly eased her down off his shoulder. Shana moaned incoherently, her bone white face awash in tears, the splattered blood across her forehead now a sticky, half-dried, crimson stain. Trevor and Yusha sat next to her on the curb, holding Shana upright between them, Yusha holding Shana’s bandaged hand slightly elevated. They had just settled in when they heard a belligerent shout blast down the street.

“Hey! I told you to fuck off!”

Trevor and Yusha looked up in dejection. Lilith stopped in her tracks. The down-tuned mongaloid in his sanitation worker uniform was back. He materialized from the darkness, wobbled angrily over to his tuna can on Police Bridge, and jumped into the makeshift go-cart. The lawn-mower engine sputtered and slogged as he gassed it hard and descended onto the foursome. He dove the nose of the blue and white tuna can into the curb of Nevsky and angrily jumped out.

“You deaf or stupid? I said off the whoring street!”

“She’s hurt!” Yusha spat back. “We need fast help!”

The greasy, beady-eyed creature with a face somewhat like man drew towards them in disgust. Help? What miscreant weaklings called for help? His oily, black, pitted-olive eyes crawled up and down Shana in fury and contempt. First, his gaze came to her right hand beset with the deep crimson mark of blood pouring forth through the makeshift bandage. He then saw the burnt sienna sign of dried blood upon her forehead. Immediately, his demeanor changed. He became relaxed and uninterested, subdued even.

“No cars on the street.” he said returning to his tuna can.

“Can you take us?” Yusha said.

She couldn’t believe her own ears as she said the words, but nevertheless, what options did they have?

“I’m not a chauffeur.” the mongaloid scoffed in contented, self-amusing parry.

He sunk back into his tin can squad car and wobbled it lazily back onto Police Bridge. Once there, he parked the aluminum chariot cattywampus on the bridge, got out with a dim-witted, self-aggrandized swagger, and leaned comfortably against the hood of the car as he lit up a cheap, Pyotr I cigarette. He took a drag and watched the four of them in mild amusement.

“Lilith, the ferryman.” Trevor implored.

“Right!” Lilith snapped back to life, momentarily having been frozen by the presence of the mongaloid militia.

Suddenly, Shana jolted Trevor and Yusha with a return to mild lucidity.

“Why did I do it?” Shana abruptly cried out to Trevor and Yusha.

He voice was raw and strained like violin strings without resin.

“Why did I…” she trailed off into sobs and suffocating gasps.

“It’s okay.” Trevor and Yusha both chimed in soothing reassurance, both not knowing how in the world they would get Shana to a hospital.

Trevor looked across over Shana’s head of hair to Yusha’s wide, chubby face.

“Where is another hospital?” he asked calmly, but with wide eyes to communicate to her the severity of the situation. “Over on Vasilievsky we have one. Way down on Obukhovo, there’s a big one, right? They’re all out of town in the suburbs, aren’t they?”

Yusha thought for a second. “I know only my hospital where I take my parents. It’s in Black Bridge.”

Black Bridge, Trevor moaned to himself. A collection of Stalin housing and a hive of Jews way up north beyond Petrograd Island. Useless. Yusha also thought about another hospital she knew, near the Cross Prison and the large statue of a triumphant Lenin on the Vyborg side, but that was only for abortions. She decided not to mention it. Instead, she sat there silently with Trevor, holding and soothing Shana’s petite convulsing body as she slumped sandwiched between her and Trevor.

“He not there!” Lilith feebly shouted from the corner of Nevsky and the Moika Canal.

Trevor and Yusha both exhaled dejectedly. What were they to do now, they both wondered to themselves. Sit with Shana all night into the morning?

“Can we call an ambulance?” Trevor asked.

“They will take days.” Yusha sourly responded.

Trevor looked up and down the scuttled remnants of Nevsky, the wide, empty boulevard of ghosts, trash and refuse scattered about, the faint echoes of police shouting through megaphones impotently rattling about the marmalade. Shana began gnashing her teeth and grimacing. Floods of raw, pulsating pain began filling her head. She cried and lamented through clenched jaw, strands of nose snot dripping over her mouth.

Lilith soon joined the three of them and knelt down, running her hand through Shana’s curly, auburn hair pulled back tight behind her head. Just then, Lilith sprung up.

“My gods!” she cried.

Trevor looked around in confusion, following Lilith’s fixated gaze to locate what she had spotted. Opposite their bivouacked encampment, down the long, dark avenue of Big Horse Stable Street, two amber, flickering eyes glowed. Like a jack-o-lantern shark in deep waters, they prowled down the tree-lined street toward Nevsky.

“He’s coming!” Lilith rejoiced.

She began waving her arms at the encroaching headlights. Slowly, the dark vehicle came into view. It was a relic of an automobile, a black Volga, nearing 50 years old. It’s long, black hood crept down the narrow lane of Horse Street, its amber eyes and grill mouth looking like an elongated, punched up Volkswagen fastback, a tarnished, winged emblem sitting between the headlights on the front hood like a third eye. After a moments appraisal and hesitation, the black Volga eased forward across Nevsky, cautiously, gliding to lugubrious halt in front of the bloodied leftovers of the day.

Timidly, Lilith approached the passenger-side window. Lacquered in shadow, painted only minutely in the jack-o-lantern glow, a woman sat in the confines, slumped semi-conscious against the door. Peculiar, multicolored, art nouveau tendrils wrapped around her head in the shape of a scarf, all dark rubies and black, teardrop peacock eyes peaking out through the shadows. Her large, dark eyes wobbled like two large, buoyant marbles floating on distant, disturbed seas.

Next to the comatose women adorned in headscarf, a shadowy man sat cold and motionless behind the wheel. He was slight in stature, his shoulders narrow, his arm over the steering wheel of no great length, but in the slow turning of his head to gaze at Lilith, he possessed an unshakableness, a foundation of steel, a cold immovability. A thick, chimney sweep mustache buried his lips. His eyes were small, beady, yet his stare was penetrating. He worked a papirosi cigarette between dingy, pudgy fingers as he expressionlessly and coldly held Lilith in his gaze.

Lilith squeaked out the script, the how do you dos, the you won’t be going tos, the she nearly chopped her hand offs. The shadowy, mustachioed figure behind the wheel was as moved as the grave.

“Surely, you must give her some help. She’s bleeding terribly.” Lilith pleaded in the squeaky, childish ‘pozhalusta, pozhalusta’ voice most Russian women deployed in times of desperation.

At the word bleeding, the man finally took the mildest of interests. Using his left hand and arm, which appeared withered and misshapen in the tangerine half-light, he slowly pulled himself towards the steering wheel to get a clearer look over the gleaming, jet black hood of the Volga at Shana slumped on the stoop.

“We’ve done everything we were supposed to do.” Lilith softly pleaded. “Can’t you help her?”

These dark, bitter, caustic eyes scraped like curious forks on chalkboard over Shana’s being. They ground to a halt at the sight of the blood smeared on her forehead, then moved to the right hand wrapped in swaddling seeped in blood. A dark, cunning, cruelly mischievous eyebrow raised in the dim shadows.

“A little clog.” the man slurred like deep molasses and peculiar accent. “Has been juggling knives.”

He motioned with thick, papirosi holding paw for Lilith to deposit the material in the backseat as he chuckled in low, guttural tones richly stained in syrupy nicotine.

Trevor and Yusha immediately hoisted Shana up, moaning and mumbling, and brought her towards the black Volga. Lilith opened up the rear passenger door and immediately leapt back in surprise. Trevor wondered what had made her start as he brought Shana over. Reaching the rear door, Trevor peered inside the backseat.

“Oh!” Trevor gasped, himself startled.

In the backseat, two wide, beady eyes staring out from an emaciated skull leapt at Trevor. It took Trevor a moment to gather his senses. It was the strangest of men. He was old, deranged it appeared, his gaze one of shock, horror, surprise, bewilderment, and confusion. He was cruelly withered, only bones and wrinkled skin. A faint, speckled goatee scruffily adorned his paralyzed, twisted face. His temples on either side of his balding head were wracked by a rich delta of strained, poisoned, clogged blood vessels. His Asiatic features were hewn into the whitest and waxiest of skins. He gaped at Trevor and Shana as if he were viewing Martians materializing in the middle of the night at the foot of his bed. Like mustard gas in a trench in Verdun, the ripe, icepick lobotomy jolt of stewing, raw fetes hit Trevor like a hammer between the eyes.

“For fuck’s sake.” Trevor spat, pulling Shana away from the door.

“What?” Yusha frustratedly asked.

“It stinks in there.”

“So what?” Yusha scoffed, ushering Shana into the backseat with the old, withered, stroked out man.

No sooner had they begun burrowing into the back of the black Volga than Shana erupted in a loud wail.

“My gods, no!” she cried.

“My gods, nightmare!” Yusha chimed in as soon as the punchy aroma attacked her nostrils.

In aghast dejection, she looked around Nevsky and up Horse Street one last time.

“What else can we do?” she scoffed sarcastically, shoving herself into the backseat next to Shana and closing the door on herself.

The heavy door thudded shut and the vintage, black Volga coolly chugged away, its bleeding, soiled, and catatonic cargo a mere collection of shadowy silhouettes as the boss Sunday-drived the steering wheel wide left into the middle of Nevsky before, like an ocean liner, making long, gracefully arch right down the black artery of Kazan Street.

Lilith and Trevor stood there for a moment, dumbstruck, bewildered, but also relieved, as they watched the cherry taillights vanish.

“This day is unbelievable.” Lilith admitted.

“Do you have the keys to the flat?”

“Yes, of course.”

Just then the clown horn on the tuna can that was squatting on the Police Bridge sounded. Angrily, the pudgy and weaponized creature with a face like a man began down the street towards Lilith and Trevor.

“That’s enough!” he shouted. “Documents!”

“Let’s go!” Lilith breathlessly advised, taking Trevor’s hand and quickly making for the door to Shana’s pea-green house.

“Hey!” the militsia shouted. “Stop!”

Trevor and Lilith fleet-footedly scampered into the building and slammed the metal bunker door shut.

“Whore!” the cop bellowed as the metal security deadbolt fired into place.

“Come on, quick!” Lilith instructed. “Maye he can figure out the code.”

It was true, Trevor agreed. Even a half-wit like a Petersburg cop could probably decipher the code. All he would have to do was look at the buttons and push the shiny, non-tarnished ones. After no more than 5-10 minutes he would have to the door opened. Nevertheless, it was wise not to risk any encounter. Quickly, Trevor and Lilith worked their way up the squared staircase. Lilith one by one undid the corset of dead bolts, and the two of them urgently nipped into the apartment. Hastily, Lilith churned all the deadbolts back into place, and securely shut the inner door so as to block out all light and sounds of life to the bank vault door and the peep hole. Trevor and Lilith looked at each other for a moment under the bare, dangling light bulb in the foyer, eyes dancing, cheeks flushes, chests heaving, noses dripping.

“We’re safe.” Trevor said, surprised. “We made it.”

“I think so, yes.” Lilith laughed slightly, realizing just at the moment that indeed the craziness of the day was perhaps finally over.

“Ice cream?” Trevor asked.

“Huh?” Lilith’s eyes lit up.

“Shana’s uncle has all types of fancy ice cream in the freezer.”

“You’re joking.”

“Not at all. It’s like he was hording it just for us.”

Lilith’s eyes lit up in sparkling excitement.

“Come on, let’s go.” Trevor said warmly, taking Lilith by the arm.

“Yes, why not. We never had dinner.”

“Exactly.” Trevor smiled, happy that he had an accomplice with whom to raid the kitchen of its wares.

When they returned to the kitchen, Lilith let out a gasp.

“Nightmare.” she breathlessly said as she covered her mouth.

Splattered across the checkerboard tiles of the bunker kitchen was the raspberry icing of Shana’s opened veins. The swathes and splashes decorated the kitchen from the cutting board on the counter to the kitchen table, a rich ruby, Jackson Pollock merlot. Lilith immediately switched into domesticated hausfrau mode, stepping around the spilt offerings to get a wash cloth and run it under the tap. Trevor quickly reached in front of her to turn off the faucet and stop her.

“Lilith, not now.”

“But we must.”

“The blood isn’t going anywhere.”

Her took Lilith by the arm and gently began leading her out of the kitchen. Lilith looked into Trevor’s eyes in wide hopefulness. She just needed a few words, and she would gladly postpone her domestic duties till the morning.

“We’ve been through enough today.”

Lilith was already won over, but Trevor continued.

“Let me bring us some ice cream and wine to the living room. We’ll relax there. Tomorrow we’ll clean the kitchen together.”

“Yes, alright.” Lilith agreed.

Trevor took her to the now dark, Versaillian hallway.

“Get some music on. Maybe light some candles.” Trevor instructed.

“Good.” Lilith cooed. “Let’s go.”

Trevor returned to the kitchen, mildly navigating the blood highways and back roads. First, he raided the freezer of imported ice cream. Into 2 bowls he scooped out a Mt Everest and a Mt. McKinley of cookies n cream, rocky road, and strawberry. Next, he rifled through the cupboards until her came to the depository of imported cookies. On a plate he assembled a collection of pecan, orange praline, and chocolate chip. For the coup-de-grace, he went for something domestic - a ubiquitous powder blue can of sweetened, condensed milk. Shana’s uncle had dozens of them piled away in a cupboard above the stove. Using an old-time can opener, Trevor eviscerated the tin can and laid bare its bounty. Trevor stood back and surveyed the 1,000’s of calories of sugar. This is a knockout punch, he congratulated himself. Now, for the heart of the matter.

Reaching up on his tip toes, Trevor dug into the alcohol stores. Shana’s uncle had all the heavy hitters in abundance. gray Goose, Russian Standard, Glenmorangie, Maker’s Mark, Blue Label, and, ah-hah, the perfect, subtly contoured caramel honey bottle for the evening - monsieur Hennessey. Come to me, mischievous whore, Trevor strained as his fingers bit by bit drew the bottle’s hips into his grasp.

Near the oven, Trevor found a silver serving tray, loaded it up with the bounty of Danish glucose and French alcohol, two wide-bodied brandy glasses, that smiling can of sweetened, condensed milk, and, like a butler, or a castrated husband, gingerly took the supper down the tunnel of darkness. Trevor breathed steady as the darkness of the hallway brought him flashes of strange mirrors filled with light, contorted polygons of blinding, champagne diamonds, and twirling, spiraling diamond ropes of bizarrely animated otherworldly playgrounds. Steady, Trevor told himself, steady. Get to the cognac.

In the living room, Lilith had drawn the burgundy curtains and lit a small array of candles around the room. The aortic confines glowed warm and intimately inviting.

“Let me help, you.” Lilith smiled, coming to assist Trevor with the tray.

In the warm bathes of amber and garnet, Lilith’s face appeared creamy, smooth, and wondrous. Trevor was happily surprised. She’s not so bad, he said to himself in fortuitous wonder.

“My gods, look how beautiful.” Lilith gasped as she saw the mountains of ice cream and step pyramids of cookies. “Such a dinner I’ve never had.”

She cleared a landing pad on the coffee table and Trevor sat the bounty down. Together, they perched on the edge of the burgundy sofa, Lilith taking up her ice cream, Trevor removing the cork on the cognac.

“It’s so much.” Lilith cooed.

Trevor knew what she was looking for - justification and freedom from guilt.

“It’s fine.” he assured her, pouring two cognacs. “It’s Victory Day. And we walked so much today. We deserve it.”

It was all Lilith needed. In purring ecstasy, she brought spoonful after spoonful of ice cream to her face.

“It’s so amazing.” she reveled, eyes half-closed as they danced around the ceiling in delight. “I’ve never had such ice cream.”

“Yeah, this is the real stuff.” Trevor agreed, pretending to care as he took a few token spoonfuls of frozen sugar milk.

He then reclined back with his cognac, breathed it in, and took a long, heady hit.

“My goodness.” Trevor joined Lilith in singing praises. “And that is the real stuff as well! Everything here is real and perfect!”

Lilith put down her ice cream shovel for a few seconds to try some cognac. Timidly, she took a sip, then her eyes doubled in size.

“He is so smooth!” she said in disbelief. “He is like, wow!”

Lilith went for a praline cookie, dunked it headlong into the sweetened condensed milk, and brought it to her chomping, chocolate stained lips. Trevor looked at Lilith, her moles now somehow vanished, her face smooth and delightfully blushed, her dark, southern steppe features slightly mysterious and beckoning, her crooked eyes now cutely Siamese. Why not, Trevor said to himself. I have nothing to lose here. He reached over to take the cookie from Lilith’s hand as she absently chopped away. He dunked it himself into the skushonka can, and then brought it to Lilith’s lips. She was immediately surprised, having thought that Trevor was taking the cookie for himself.

“You don’t want to try?” Lilith asked.

Trevor slowly brought the cookie dripping in white, sugary deliciousness to Lilith’s black cherry lips. Watching Trevor, she leaned slightly forward to cautiously, sensually, take a bite from his offering.

“Yes.” Trevor said, as Lilith broke off a piece of cookie with her mouth and began slowly chewing. “I want to try.”

He kept his gaze locked into hers. She sat there, jaw and eyes momentarily paralyzed. Was this happening, she said to herself. Trevor leaned in towards her. My gods, it is, she said in dilating eyes of bright surprise. She leaned forward to meet Trevor, pressing her lips earnestly into his, her body at once overwhelmed with floods of desire and passion. Trevor was only too happy to see her diving in. He was anticipating a cold, awkward, paralyzed sack of potatoes.

Lilith’s mouth rife with sweetened, condensed milk and cookie crumbs worked and swam around Trevor’s tongue. Lilith’s unbelieving eyes rolled back into her head as her body warmed like a furnace. Occasionally, they re-calibrated behind half-shut eyelids to gaze at Trevor, moan and gasp for breath, then roll back up behind her skull. It was peculiar to Trevor to be kissing a woman and to be only seeing the whites of her eyes, like kissing some sort of possessed banshee. Trevor broke free for a moment to dip two fingers into ice cream and sweetened condensed milk. He ran his fingers over Lilith’s lips, drenching them in chocolaty, sugary delight, before returning to kiss her in the flickering amber. Soon, Lilith’s shirt and metal breast crushing device were off, her pale, flat chest imbued with dark, chocolate chip moles and nipples like a sour, old woman. Trevor lathered them too in ice cream and skushonka and took them into his mouth. As the sweet delights vanished down Trevor’s throat, his tongue soon came to realize an acrid bitterness to Lilith’s breasts. It immediately painted itself on his tongue. Trevor recoiled in a repulsion he quickly tried to hide. This poisoned bitterness was lacquered on his tongue and the roof of his mouth. What was this, he grimaced. Cheap toilet water perfume from the hawkers on Nevsky Prospekt? It was like getting tagged by a skunk. Trevor hid his displeasure best he could, and decided to change up the roles. Decorating his steadfastly aroused self in ice cream and condensed milk, Trevor stood up with a leg on the sofa and brought his candlelit offering to Lilith. She greedily and hungrily accepted. Trevor delighted, not only in the sensations, but in being out of view so that he could wipe his tongue on his shirt and try scraping the terrible taste off with his finger. After carefully re-dipping himself once more in the skushonka can, Trevor decided it was time to get serious. Working off Lilith’s tight, rough jeans, he came to a thick, dark mass of pubis drenched in coppery, molten slipperiness. Easily, like entering a cauldron of thick, warm cream, Trevor brought himself just across the threshold.

“We don’t have preservative!” Lilith breathlessly moaned.

“I’ll be careful.” Trevor reassured, his litany of nonsense always at the ready.

“Oh no, we shouldn’t.” Lilith moaned incoherently as she grabbed onto Trevor’s hips and pulled him in. “We shouldn’t.”

Lilith reveled feeling him deeply inside, her legs and hands and body squeezing him passionately within her. Trevor began working in the gently lapping flames, Lilith’s face swimming before him, at once cream and beauty, at once murky images of the central Asian steppe, at times an old women getting one of her last thrills, at times a reveling bride on her wedding night. Through the tight, molten hotness, the vice-like grip Lilith put on him with her legs, the strange swimming liquid prisms and beguiling teleportation of a day of drink and chemicals, Trevor was actually going to bring an offering to the table. Surprised, he hammered away, deciding to lock in and go for it. Lilith picked up on this through the mindless ecstasy and sensed the eruption coming. She had had an abortion before, and couldn’t do it again. Her father’s knowing of her sexual indiscretions was a fate worse than death to her. Quickly, she released her vice-like grip on Trevor and began now shoving him out of the palace. Trevor, of course, in his frame of mind, tried to keep going.

“No, no!” Lilith hotly breathed. “I can do in my mouth.” she assured Trevor. “I can do.”

Who can argue with that, Trevor surmised, lungs on fire, breathlessly surrendering himself to the blood red sofa. He set himself up on the divan, golden tasseled pillow behind his head, and gazed up at the flickering motifs on the ceiling. They began swimming and dancing about. Through the strange otherworldliness, Trevor grasped white-knuckle tightly to the matter at hand, like clinging to a rope over an abyss. Lilith’s fervent, sloppy enthusiasm brought the ceremony soon to crescendo.

Once the screaming and yelling subsided, Trevor lay spent and drenched in a cool, slick, icy sweat. Lilith, hair akimbo, cheeks flushed, came up to collapse at his side. What a bizarre, strange day, Trevor said to himself, exhausted, drifting away into the bizarre circus parlor of dancing crystalline shapes and images, his perceptions detached from the tether of his sweating, emancipated, alcohol-drenched meat anchor, floating about the cool breezes in the carnival park of strange geometry.

When his eyes opened sometime later, it was to a cool tomb only meagerly lit by one remaining candle and the bright, cold light from the far northern morning seeping past the burgundy curtains. Trevor momentarily had absolutely no idea where he was. He looked down at his naked self, Lilith next to him bundled in yarn, her dry, dark hair flayed all about. An insipid mosquito buzzed in his ear. He swatted at it and moaned, his mind in a vice, his body aching and feverish. I’m in a museum, a tomb, he momentarily thought. My room? No, his unfocused, blurred eyes rubbed raw from the previous day’s activities felt around the room like antennae. It slowly came back to him. On the coffee table sat two bowls of melted ice cream, cookies and crumbs akimbo, the feminine hips of a bottle of cognac. Trevor eyed the bottle of Hennessey. No, no, no, he said.Those German beers. I’ll get one of those. Like an old man, he brought himself up to sit in the cool tombs of dawn. His body ached, his back sore and weary. Gingerly, he stood. As he did, the need to urinate instantly overwhelmed him. Quickly, he gazed down at Lilith swaddled and stuck in the divan cushions. Her face was sallow and riddled with moles, her eyes puffed up and oily, her lips pale, colorless, mouth breathing warm, spoiled milk breath out into the air. Trevor momentarily closed his eyes and moaned in disgust and regret. He could remember, vaguely, thinking her face was creamy and becoming, this being after an entire day of looking at her face in the sunlight and being entirely uninterested at the minimum, repulsed at the extreme. Moron, he said to himself. Brainless. He staggered his aching body over to the window and drew back slightly the curtains. He wanted to get a quick idea for how early or late it was. The sky was filled with a brooding, dark gray. No shooting the clouds today, Trevor scoffed. There was no telling what the time was anymore. Trevor’s eyes wearily rattled over to the window across the courtyard. There, spread out across the bed like a ravaged, emaciated, pale corpse, was the mirror dancer. Her blank face was towards the window, one arm draped off the bed to the floor. Her ribcage shown through like a xylophone, her buttocks petite and malnourished. Next to her, a man wearing a gold chain, gut protruding, arms tattooed, and square head with cropped short hair drank a beer as he gazed carefree at the small black cube flashing images of murder. Suddenly, into the room another man joined, he too holding a beer, wearing brightly effeminate briefs tight around his buttocks and uncircumcised package. His head too was shaved, gold chain dangling around his neck, face nearly human, tattoos smeared on his chest and arms in detuned, unsophisticated splatter. He lit a smoke and sat in the chair near the window, joining his friend in watching the murder screen. Between them lay the women, lifeless and unnoticed, like a towel on the floor.

A strange fever, the chills, and the crippling need to urinate, quickly drew Trevor away from the window. Am I sick, he wondered to himself, confused. Does my back hurt from the sofa? Mind crippled and body aching, he trudged down the Versaillian hallway to the bathroom near the kitchen. He sat his beer on the basin and aimed what he had over the bowl. What happened next was one of the bigger surprises of Trevor’s life. Instead of a warm, soothing, relieving stream of morning issuance, Trevor found himself giving birth to string of white hot barbed wire laced with straight razors. It was as if this string of barbed wire were being pulled out of him through his manhood.

Immediately, he buckled over grabbing himself in agony, releasing a bestial cry as he collapsed over the toilet. Tightly, he squeezed himself, trying to stop the bright, tortuous pain. No matter how hard he squeezed, the agony remained, as if battery acid had been poured on his loins. He wailed curses as beads of icy, slick sweat erupted on his forehead. Heaving, he felt the catch-22 sensation of the imminent need to urinate coupled with the searing pain the discharge would bring forth. What is this, his mind shouted over and over again, bewildered. Dehydration, he finally said to himself, that’s all. Dehydration. Gasping, he braced himself, crippled and bent over, and decided to try another go. He had no choice. He had a bladder filled to the brim with piss. It was just the first few squirts, he told himself. It’ll get better. Shaking in trepidation, he aligned his contorted body over the bowl. Okay, he breathed to himself, eyes closed, awaiting the next wave of sensations. Okay, give it a try. He braced his arm against the wall and told his body to let it rip. Like wild fire, the brutal chord of bard wire again streamed forth, ripping his loins to pieces as he splashed sulphuric acid into the bowl. Trevor screamed and wailed in crippled contortions, his brain asphyxiated in wailing onslaughts of pain signals like a heretic on the rack. He hammered his hands against the wall as the brutal molten lead streamed forth. His ordeal lasted what seemed to him an eternity. Finally, body covered in sweat, eyes bulging out of his head, the poisoned stream subsided. He leaned there, bent over the toilet, grabbing himself in wounded shock, gasping. Soon he realized he wasn’t alone. Lilith was in the doorway. He looked back at her, terrified, stunned, mouth agape. Lilith stood looking at him equally shocked, mouth opened in some strange, terrible realization, eyes wide in the reckoning of some terrible curse.

“Oh my gods!” she finally screamed as she ran back down the hallway, her bare feet pitter-pattering like a rabbit fired out of a cage.

Trevor limped to the basin where he began nervously washing himself, his urethra still burning as if rubbed in fresh cut chilies. Soon Lilith returned down the hallway, dressed, disheveled, face colorless like a slab of alabaster.

“I’m sorry!” she blurted out.

She hurried to the foray and began desperately fussing with her shoes.

Trevor thought she meant sorry that she had to go. She was evidently frightened, or regretted last night, or was late to work, or whatever. Then Trevor stopped what he was doing. Wait a minute, he said to himself, sorry for what.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Sorry for what?!?”

Lilith quickly grabbed her things and began with the deadbolts. She looked back at Trevor in fright as her fingers nervously twisted open the locks.

“Where are you going?” Trevor shouted. “What is this?!?”

“I’m sorry!” Lilith wailed in a primordial screech, face flushed with anger and emotion. “I should have told you. I should not to allow it.”

Her face was now a gushing, tumultuous tempest of anger and regret. She angrily pushed open the bank vault door. It crashed against the peeling paint of the hallway with the loud bash of a thunder gong. Like quicksilver, she fled down the stairs, her scurrying footsteps and sobs echoing up and down the staircase. Trevor stood in the hallway, paralyzed, naked, holding himself, still trying to process what was happening.

Limping, confused, feverishly shaking, he took his beer from the basin and, hunched over, staggered to the kitchen. What the hell was going on, he tried to work out in deep confusion. I’ve been poisoned. I’ve been poisoned by this whore. Is that what’s happened? I think so. Trevor took a long pull on the beer. What do I do now, he wondered. What do I do? He gazed down at the checkered tile floor strewn with blood. My back, he bemoaned, his body aching and feverish. Lie on a flat surface, that’s what they always say. Aching, awkwardly, Trevor gingerly lay down on the checkerboard floor, Shana’s blood sticking to his arms and back. He felt his aching bones spread against the cold tiles. Soothingly, he groaned. Thats not so bad. He brought up the beer and dumped some down into his mouth. His eyelids wearily began to close. He soon found himself back on the small boat, happily, under the dark, Phoenician purple sky, blood red moon on the horizon, the vacant city of marmalade drifting past like the eerie grounds of ghosts, feeble stars crashing down one by one from the sky like diamond lemmings off cliffs, the alcohol bubbling forth, smiling, weather-beaten, wrinkled captain pouring him champagne, his back turned to the helm as they sputtered onward, no one manning the boat.

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