Oleksii Zhupansky (1980)
Ukrainian writer and publisher
In 2002 graduated from the Department of Oriental Studies of the Kyiv National University. T. G. Shevchenko, specialization – Indonesian language.
In 2007 he founded «Zupansky Publisher», which specializes in the publishing of Ukrainian translations of science fiction, classics, historical and non-fiction literature, and also develops the direction of Ukrainian contemporary weird and unusual fiction that is at the same time at the intersection of many literary genres – from hard realism, to mysticism, magical realism, fantasy and weird fiction.
Oleksii Zhupansky writes at the intersection of hard hyperrealism, magical realism and weird fiction. Develops the theme of social and cultural apocalypse of the 90s as a new point of reference for the post-Soviet space. Typically, his works are characterized by urban aesthetics, a decadent world-view, a magical experience of the urban space and social institutions.
– «Halloween-2003» (story), «Classmate» magazine, 2004
– «Phantom» (story), «Classmate» magazine, 2005
– «The Catcher» (story), «Classmate» magazine, 2005
– «Let the children come to me» (novel), «Courier of Kryvbas» journal, No. 230-231 / 2007
– «Godspeed you! Black Gensec» (novel), «Courier of Kryvbas» journal, No. 230-231 / 2009
– «The first of May» (story), Russian translation in the «Siberian Lights» journal, 2009
– «Rusty Cat» (story), «Dnipro» journal, 11/2009
– «Heavy production» (novel), publication of excerpts in the literature almanac «New prose», volume 17, 2010
 Abbreviation of General secretary
– «Boomerang» (novel), 2004, «Gopak» publishing house
– «Let the children come to me» (novel), 2008, «Zhupansky Publisher»
– «Domestic Satanism» (collection of short stories), 2010, «Zhupansky Publisher»
– «Clothes-man» (novel), 2012, «Zhupansky Publisher»
– «Godspeed you! Black Gensec» (novel), 2017, «Zhupansky Publisher»
Godspeed You! Black Gensec
The Soviet Union did not collapse in 1991, but continued to exist. Replacing the milky and weak intellectual Andropov, bypassing the promising, but still young and inexperienced Chernenko, the power was usurped by the young and decisive reformer Gorbachev. He immediately abolished the «dry law», for which he criticized his predecessors, but at the same time began to «tighten the screws». When Gorbachev finally solved the “Afghanistan problem” in 1993 and launched a nuclear strike against Kabul, it became clear that the game of democracy had ended, and the notions of “perestroyka” and “glasnost” had been carrying completely different meanings than it had been previously thought.
The nineties come to an end, the iron curtain is there to firmly shelter the Soviet system from the rotten breath of the West, and it seems that everything is cemented forever and shall always be that way. But something is wrong inside the red colossus. Change unravels slowly and inexorably, ancient prophecies predict that Chaos is coming! Oh yes, it’s coming! And this hour is not far off, because at night the red flames are already blazing on the horizon, and on top of the lonely trees in the middle of the fields where the last harvest is reaped, the crows scream in a human voice, predicting the inevitable…
«Godspeed you! Black Emperor» is an obscure chronicle of a mystical quest, which starts for a casual journalist in the east of the country – a poor coal mining region overseen by a sinister and enigmatic administration. It continues in his own childhood, which proves to be not what he always thought it had been, and ends in the capital city with a sinister crescendo of an otherworldly game, the rates of which are rather confusing and uncertain, but unambiguously – the highest.
The game begins, and hence the only rule from now on is the waiver of any rules whatsoever. And Blind Fate, her eyes sewn with threads, grabs the heroes from the black bag with BOSS written on it, Ancient Prophecy meticulously examines their personal information and places them on the sticky red board of the 90s, and insane Doom clad in a straitjacket pulls the plug and unleashes the rusty gear of Historic Change.
Our heroes immediately find themselves in the grip of sinister and extremely confusing events. They form alliances and are betrayed, conduct corrupt dark rituals and acquire deficit goods, are blackmailed and killed, re-animate Nikodimov and hold a session of the Parliament, in which the deputies are deprived of their soft irrational, all others – simply killed. They end up in the cryptic Red Sewer, and then in the storage of the Vernadsky Library, where they study the secret archives of the Tablets of Power, and therefore acquire the key to the last door, which may be hiding the main prize, so mysterious, yet so desirable to all.
Godspeed You! Black Gensec
(extract from novel)
The tunnel walls broaden and completely vanish out of sight. I have no clue of how this could happen, but we are standing in the middle of a boundless plain, backlit by a dim reddish glow. There are no walls nor ceilings, just space, stretching as far as the eye can see. Everything around is still, frozen, motionless. With astonishment I notice old trucks with raised bodies, pitted pots and broken furniture, shaggy carpets with iron-burned holes and TV sets devoid of tubes, chunks of wire and piles of bricks, torn discolored posters “Peace, labor, May” and “Glory to labor”, chess boards with unfinished games and gas ovens, with eternally frozen smoked pans with remains of yesterday’s soup, 10-liter jars with pickled cabbages and piles of old magazines “Young Technician” and “Ogonyok”, microphones, clutched in the fists of Distinguished Artists of the USSR and artists themselves, piled under a concrete mixer, which will never again spill a single drop of healing concrete on the Distinguished Artists; I see old bicycles, hanging from ruined walls of communal flats, and heavy iron bathtubs with motionless engravings of aged bathing women; I see dusty teddy bears and plastic rabbits with war tom-toms grasped in their forepaws, old family black and white photos and locomotives black with soot with broken steam boilers; I notice a bunch of pensioners, standing still near a wooden bench in a park with plastic glasses in their hands, and a “Volga” automobile, half stuck in a trashed Shoe Repair shop; I see bent statues of Lenin with a shovel on the huge shoulder and slightly smaller statues of Stalin, with the mandatory rimless eyeglasses and an account book, clutched in a tiny hand of an intellectual, school desks painted with a disgusting diluted greenish paint, with small figures in moth-eaten brown school uniform crooked behind them, pointing skywards, the tail of a huge multiengine aircraft, resting upon the desolate ruins of nine-storeyed panel buildings, behind which armed with radars and cannons, an enormous battle cruiser lies… And like that – everywhere. As far as an eye can see, up to the horizon, for eternity there froze hundreds, thousands, millions and billions of objects, pieces of machinery, buildings and people. All stopped, still and motionless. I watch all this dump of a monument to all mankind, huge and majestic in its desolation, and my throat is squeezed by a strange piercing spasm.
 Famous Soviet magazines
I walk the plains, treading on dusty collections of post stamps and wrappers from chewing gum “Turbo” and “Donald Duck”, I step over piles of trashed toys and old worn-out shoes, bypassing a dump of deflate soccer balls and hockey sticks, wrapped in chunks of black and blue tape, I stop for a moment near a broken aquarium with an eyeless goldfish laying inside, look in a mirror of a wrecked dressing table, which reflects anything, but me, and walk away, passing by hundreds of things and items, which in their time used to define the ways and lives of their owners, were a measure of their happiness and deprivation, were a part of their existence, a part of themselves, and now lay frozen here broken, forsaken, wasted witnesses of the transience of all the existing.
Somewhere out of all this majestic desertion, like a dark blot, Chanson emerges. He talks at length, pointing in the direction we came from. I ignore him. I hand him a tenner and he vanishes, and I go on with my quiet walk, occasionally stopping to examine old washstands covered with brown tumors of rust, thermometers reading 36.6 Celsius, window panes decorated with paper snowflakes and Santa Clauses, torn red cotton blankets and plastic carpet beaters, pots of dead flowers and sets of wooden blocks for kids to build everything one can think of, shabby tires of “Volgas”, “Moskvich” and “Zhiguli”, typewriters with yellowish pieces of paper sticking out.
Farther away, between the raised excavator scoop and a pyramid of plastic bottle crates, I notice a lopsided two-storeyed house made out of cracked grayish-yellow bricks. It’s very similar to the one I grew up in – balconies protected by metallic rods, brown doors of the only entrance, messy hair of antennas, growing on a grey slate roof, and a crooked chimney, covered by bricks after the installation of central heating. How many times in my dreams and memories did this old house arise – eight apartments, constant humidity in the entrance hall, wooden handrail on metallic poles, black buttons of jarring doorbells, on which they would hang a sign “Duty Apartments”. How many times did I dreamily come back to this house, stepped in its dark hall and slowly, inhaling the peculiar smell of concrete stairs and bleached walls, would go up to the second floor and freeze at the door, covered with mustard-colored leatherette. But I could never dare touch the brass doorknob. I never dared, even in my imagination, open this door and step inside the apartment number 8 – i was afraid to discover everything had changed too much since the times of my childhood, I was afraid of that vast disappointment, which one could experience only having come back to one’s childhood just to find out nothing was really the same as in the memories of the adult mind.
I reach the house number 4 on Lenin Street, clean my shoes with an iron bolt dug in the ground, and enter the hall. The doors behind me slam exactly the way they used to in my childhood. The stairs are still humid and smell of bleach. For a moment I stop near the blue doors of Kanikovskiy’s apartment, as if hoping to hear the slow and heavy steps behind them. But the door stays silent. I remember how every evening old Kanikovskiy would drag himself into the yard. He was huge, with messy, completely gray hair. He had big fat legs and big fat arms, but regardless the general giantism, Kanikovskiy was better pictured as rotting and sickly, than mighty and powerful. It was the case, when the outer shell was too big for its internal filling. I always thought that Kanikovskiy’s essence could be easily, even with more comfort, suited in a much smaller body. Then he wouldn’t have been as fatigued from moving around, gasping and sweating, dragging his feet in worn slippers, which he would wear with equal success both at home and for expeditions outside its boundaries. Kanikovskiy had a big old leather briefcase with a shiny metallic lock to carry around piles of papers and books of some kind. Kanikovskiy led a solitary existence, and perhaps because of that fact he had six cats. Occasionally the cats would breed and bring Kanikovskiy a new addition to the feline family, and then usually one of the older cats would disappear. Evil tongues used to gossip that Kanikovskiy had worked out a waste-free production. He would just kill and fry or stew a member of the older cat’s population and then feed it to the young ones. We were scared of Kanikovskiy and believed, that he harvests cat’s souls. We thought he kept those souls in one-liter jars, which filled all the shelves of his shed. Romka, the kid next door, told us that he heard the grown-ups speculate that if some eleven hundred souls were harvested and stored in jars, one could become a very powerful person. They kept saying that the one who owns that big a quantity of cat souls would be always the first in line to receive an apartment or a car and would easily get a trade-union tour voucher to Crimea or Sochi. And Kanikovskiy buying a “Volga” for his son and getting tour vouchers in trade-unions was quite common knowledge. Once Ruslan, an orphanage kid, who would occasionally escape from the orphanage and live with his aunt from 7th, broke inside Kanikovskiy’s shed and stole one of the jars. Kanikovskiy somehow managed to find out about it and went mad. He cursed Ruslan with extreme swearwords and publicly declared his horrifying end. Soon Ruslan disappeared, and word was spread he had been caught stealing a bike under the local grocery store. Could be so, but we were still very scared of Kanikovskiy.
I slowly go up to the second floor. Slide my hand on the cracked wooden balustrade, painted in blue, trying to remember if they used to be as dry in my childhood.
Near our door (mustard-colored leatherette, the number 8 hammered on with decorative nails) – the door of Ruslan’s aunt. She had a red face and a brownish swollen nose. Ruslan’s aunt used to wear a long warm bathrobe and brew home-distilled booze. Everyone knew she brewed it and sold it in the dormitories of vocational school students, but no one would dare to call the cops, because she was said to be a witch, who could very well pull out a few curses. Petro Fedorovych from 6th, also liked Ruslan’s aunt’s brew, but she wasn’t so keen on having business with him, because Petro Fedorovych liked to drink on credit, and Ruslan’s aunt honored cash, so it usually happened that Petro Fedorovych was more likely to reek of eau de cologne and not of Ruslan’s aunt’s home-brew vodka.
Ruslan appeared in our neighborhood quite unexpectedly, when he first ran off from the orphanage. He was a bit older than us lot and could construct an infinite amount of interesting and useful things, the likes of powerful slingshots that could fire bearing balls at two hundred meters, and self made nitrate explosives. On top of that Ruslan used to have a new bike once every week, which he would immediately cover in a disgusting green or red paint normally used to paint fences. The look of the bike would normally suffer from such a treatment, but it made them less likely to be recognized by previous owners. Ruslan would occasionally return to his orphanage, but that would bore him quickly and he would reappear at his aunt’s, ride his stolen red and green bikes, fire his slingshots at Kanikovskiy’s cats and would generally enjoy life as much as his candidate for a juvenile colony of an imagination allowed him. In the attic of our house Ruslan kept his pigeons. We didn’t know what use a young scoundrel like Ruslan could make of those pigeons, but he kept breeding them there and we were interested in watching him let them loose through the attic’s window. Once Kanikovskiy’s cats made their way to the attic and devoured nearly half of Ruslan’s pigeons. Ruslan raged and, as previously told, broke into Kanikovskiy’s shed and stole a jar containing a cat’s soul. Then Kanikovskiy cursed Ruslan’s name and the latter suddenly vanished. After that, as they used to say, Ruslan’s aunt cast a malediction upon Kanikovskiy, whose cats were all dead all of a sudden, and Kanikovskiy himself fled to Kishenev. In a couple of months Ruslan’s aunt died too – people gossiped that Kanikovskiy’s curse, who, apparently, by that moment had managed to harvest all the elven hundred cat’s souls, reached Ruslan’s aunt as far away as from Kishenev.
Also living on our floor was Tryphonovna. Like most people, she probably had a name and a last name, but I’ve never heard of them. So everyone just called her Tryphonovna. Tryphonovna always wore a dark-blue bathrobe, normally worn by cleaners. On her head Tryphonovna wore a thick warm headscarf, and on her feet, along the lines of Kanikovskiy, she wore home slippers. Tryphonovna had distorted legs like an old sea dog, so her walk reminded of Petro Fedorovych’s geese. Tryphonovna, like Kanikovskiy, led a lonely life, but they didn’t like each other. Perhaps because she thought Kanikovskiy’s cats were responsible of eating her chicken. And she had them in amounts beyond imaginable. It was weird, because as noted, she used to live alone, apparently had no relatives, and everyone was left wondering what she could possibly do will all those chickens. Tryphonovna used to breed them in a huge chicken coop just just behind Petro Fedorovych’s garage. All the ways to the chicken’s dwelling were blocked by a frightening fence, made out of ropes, wires, cardboard and pieces of plywood. Thrice a day Tryphonovna went outside with an enormous bowl of brew, steaming of millet porridge mixed with potato peelings and some unknown, but quite smelly stuff. Just as Tryphonovna was reaching the coop, the chickens would break into pandemonium, beating their wings so furiously, their feathers would rise into the air well above the fence. Tryphonovna stepped into the chicken’s territory and poured the contents of the bowl into a trough. While her chickens were pecking the millet porridge, Tryphonovna stood above them, making sure no chicken got more, than the others – in this kind of business she loved order and fairness. But it was not only chicken fairness Tryphonovna was after. She also watched out so that not a mongrel of Kanikovskiy’s breed would turn out uninvited to the banquet and eat the brew of tastiest peeling porridge. The porridge in the bowl was more than enough, so Tryphonovna had to stick around in the coop, watching the chicken’s meal. If the chickens didn’t, for some reason, finish the whole lot, Tryphonovna would go mad at them and promise not to feed them for the whole week. In the meanwhile Kanikovskiy’s cats used to gather on Petro Fedorovych’s garage roof and shamelessly stare at the brew and at Tryphonovna. Tryphonovna would sometimes throw a corncob at them, but the cats didn’t mind, as she had scored only once hitting a neighbor’s cat Tishka. The instant Tryphonovna left the coop, the cats would slowly come down to finish the porridge. As for that moment, the chickens were already stuffed, they couldn’t really give a damn. Sometimes Tryphonovna took a long and sharp knife and went to the chicken coop to slaughter another chicken. She did that with reluctance and after the procedure was done, holding the headless chicken body by the legs, she would complain to anyone she met, how she felt for her nice little chicks, how her hand trembled, when she was cutting through the vertebras, and how the chicken was looking at her reproachfully. Having heard such confessions, Kanikovskiy couldn’t help but smile in contempt, as in saying “meh, that’s surely something to be sentimental about, I have cats and I never complain, and, you know, cats are not some kind of blasted chickens, cats are on a totally another level, you know…” Anyhow, Tryphonovna had a vast knowledge about breeding chicken. She could go on of hours telling the deepest secrets of this business, having met a neighbor or just someone she knew. Tryphonovna knew so much about chicken, people developed a tendency to stay away from her, because an encounter with her would normally mean her unleashing an enormous dump of intelligence on the subject of chicken breeding. Because the demand for such lectures was no match for the supply, but Tryphonovna was still eager to talk to somebody, her listener would usually end up to be little Kostik from the first apartment.
Kostik was the only child in the family of two teachers, so he was very well loved. But his parents’ love for their only offspring would sometimes bear very strange forms. First off, Kostik wasn’t allowed outside alone: letting a kid outside is sheer madness, as Tetyana Grygorivna, Kostik’s mother, used to say. According to her, outside the kid was exposed to thousands of different dangers, from germs, swarming in the sandbox, to homeless dogs, dwelling near the canteen of the vocational school. The fat bastards of Kanikovskiy were also to be taken into account, as they would wander in the yard the whole day, only plotting how to harm Kostik and his parents. And the gypsies? Has anyone ever even tried to count the children kidnapped by the gypsies, whose fate is to be come dirty little rascals, stealing wallets, jewelry, tape recorders, TV sets, bicycles, cars and even buses? In fact, danger was looking for Kostik from all corners and that’s why young Kostik would only come outside with someone of the grown-ups watching over him. Because Kostik’s parents were teachers and couldn’t walk around with Kostik, and the idea of giving up the only child to the kindergarden was considered insane and generally out of question, so most of the time the duty to take Kostik for a walk belonged to his granny, who for this sole purpose was ordered from as far as Saratov. The Granny from Saratov turned out to be a very energetic and enterprising person. During the first week of stay in Kostik’s family, she conquered quite an area of the yard in front of their flat for her own front garden. In the garden The Saratov Granny sowed poppies, tagetes, parsley and planted gladioluses, onions and fennel. As soon as the poppy buds were ripe, Ruslan came during nighttime, cut them all off and sold them to some fellow junkies. The junkies were very pleased and specified that for next year they wouldn’t mind the whole garden solely for poppies. The Saratov Granny went furious at Ruslan and called the cops on him, but the cops told her that, according to the anti-drug law, sowing poppyseed is prohibited and she had to pay quite a fine. The Saratov Granny paid the fine and, still angry, returned to Saratov to grow poppies, tagetes and gladioluses. Kostik’s parents went furious as well, cursed everything and sent Kostik to the kindergarden. Kostik didn’t manage there for long. In a couple of days he suffered from indigestion, and quite a big one, as when his parents came for him in the evening, Kostik looked exhausted, his pants generously soiled. Kostik’s parents went furious again, quarreled with the kindergarden teacher and took Kostik home. They had to bribe The Saratov Granny back with quite a section outside town for her agrarian experiments.
When Kostik was mature enough, he entered the university and moved to the city to study. There he was said to study not as much, as to taste with his whole young essence such strange and sudden freedom. Regardless the fact that Tetyana Grygorivna came to visit Kostik almost every week with inspections and food supplies, Kostik after all became a goth. He wore amusing black leather clothes, dyed his hair in a deep black color, listened to mournful suicidal music and loved to stick around cemeteries, saying that there was a nice aura about them and much quieter and more peaceful, than the city streets. When Kostik came to visit his parents on holidays, he scared his neighbors with his pale white face and black eyeliner. Old women crossed themselves behind his back, mothers told their kids, pointing at Kostik, that if they misbehaved, they would eventually grow up like him. The kids cried and promised they would obey their parents forever. Kostik, like any other goth, was quite in favor of such infernal reputation in the eyes of his fellow villagers. Once Tryphonovna found her chicken nailed by the legs to the gates of Petro Federovych’s garage. It was headless, disemboweled with loose bloody wings. The instant suspect was Kostik, who at that time was spending his holiday at his parents’. And though there was no evidence against Kostik, Tryphonovna raised quite some hell, so that soon the local policemen had to pay a visit to Kostik’s family. Tryphonovna met him in the yard and with senile tears in her eyes, went on talking about the victim, that is the chicken, how smart and graceful it used to be, how that was her favorite chicken, aside from grey hatcher Marchise, and that such a disgrace could only be committed by that black painted villain, because who else but him, and that the whole affair smells of such unimaginable things, a poor old granny like herself isn’t supposed to even think about. The cop, himself being slightly older than Kostik, listened to Tryphonovna’s testimonial inattentively and went up to have a chat with the main suspect. The local law enforcement officer had quite a good impression of Kostik. Kostik possessed a big collection of industrial musical collectives, the creations of which were highly valued by the young police officer. So, they chatted for a couple of hours and parted as good friends. The police officer left Kostik a book called “The Konungs of Black Metal” in a sinister black cover, implying that inside there were interesting facts about forbidden satanic cults and their imagery in modern extreme music. When the pleased local cop was leaving the house with a couple of Kostik’s CDs, he was already awaited by Tryphonovna ready to question him about whether or not they were going to arrest that black devil. The policeman scolded Tryphonovna for bothering the law enforcement with such nonsense, and that if she didn’t stop that, they would arrest herself, the old hag, and do it in such a way, that the fate of the crucified chicken would then seem like the grace of the Lord. The cop gave stunned Tryphonovna a threatening wink and went off to his department to listen to the new CDs.
Soon Tryphonovna died. Her chickens, now orphans, spread around the yard and hanged around, gloomily looking at the empty windows of their owner. And after a couple of weeks they were all suddenly gone too. In the morning the only remembrance left of the chickens were feathers and a torn chicken leg. Old malicious grannies from the next house whispered among themselves that it was Tryphonovna who took the chickens with her to the world beyond. They mumbled that the old witch wouldn’t mind some chicken stew even in the other world, so they crossed themselves and muttered “God save us”. Others said that Kanikovskiy’s cats had enough of the chickens crowding in their yard and they devoured them all at night, but, taking into account the hungry look on the predators, this assumption was based solely on the habit to blame the cats of anything. Later on Petro Fedorovych’s son took apart Tryphonovna’s chicken coop to find out that Ruslan used to hide there stolen money and golden jewelry. Because at that time Ruslan was doing his second time in prison, the money and the jewelry was left in Petro Fedorovych’s son’ possession, with the help of which he soon acquired a “Lada”. Tryphonovna’s apartment remained empty for quite some time, and people spread word that occasionally someone could be seen wandering around the flat and peeking out into the yard from between the dusty curtains. We were scared of Tryphonovna’s apartment and tried not to look too much at her windows. In a year some new people settled down in Tryphonovna’s flat. They were grey, quiet and quite ordinary. The only thing that could be said about them with certainty was that there were two of them.
 Brand of Soviet automobile
I stand before the door of the apartment number 8, not daring to open it, thinking about something being missing in my memories. Some dark, uneven spot, some gloomy threat, something distressing and thus forgotten, which happened here in this building, in this neighborhood, in my childhood. It appears to me, that without remembering that thing, I won’t be able to enter this apartment. I stand near the door and look around, as if trying to find some sort of hint, some allusion, which will allow me to remember, complete the memory of this building of my childhood. And here it is. The memory heavily emerges in my mind, like a big black sphere from under the surface of the water, and I stand there bewildered and wonder how could I ever have forgotten about Him, how could I ever forget anything like that?
He appeared in our neighborhood somehow unnoticed. It was his characteristic feature – to emerge unnoticed from somewhere and disappear the same way. He could be noticed only when he was standing right before you, right now, but how did he approach you, where from – this somehow was last beyond consciousness. When he wasn’t seen, everyone would instantly forget about his existence, as if he never set foot around these parts. And when he would come back, everyone could only wonder, how it was at all possible to forget him? He had a weird name – Ulyalym. Nobody knew anything of substance about Ulyalyum. Someone said he used to live around here and then allegedly reported to be missing in action in Afghanistan. Others said that they remembered quite well the guy who had gone missing in the war and that Ulyalyum had nothing in common with him, and he was called either Sasha or Serezha, but not Ulyalyum for certain. Ulyalyum lived in the shed, used for storing coal back in the day when each flat had a cauldron in the kitchen. Then central heating was installed, and the shed stood empty for a long time. Sometimes we used it as our base for our war games. Strange enough, but when Ulyalyum appeared here, no one had any urge to find out who he was, where he did come from and what was his business here. When he first wandered through our yard, staggering and bending long arms, reaching to his knees, everyone stared at him with hostile looks and returned to their business, as if he had been living here for ages. This was perplexing to us kids, and we would go on asking grown-ups, what was that weird man and why did he suddenly settle down in our shed? The grown-ups shrugged and said that he had lived here before, and then began to doubt it themselves, frowned and tried to remember who he was and how he got here. But this didn’t go on for long and had the person switch their attention to something else, all the thoughts about Ulyalyum would vanish completely, as if they were never there. He had this peculiar feature. But it didn’t affect us. We didn’t forget about Ulyalyum, even if we wanted it badly. Almost always Ulyalyum would disappear for all day long. He left his dwelling at dawn and returned at dusk, when almost all the house’s inhabitants would gather in the yard. Ulyalyum had really weird, or better say loathsome, looks – he was slouching and narrow-shouldered, but didn’t have a feeble look about him. On the contrary – his hunchbacked slouch, narrow boney shoulders, short distorted legs and long arms, reaching up to his knees or even below gave him the look of something inhuman, something beast-like, swift and rapacious. Besides that, either because of his weird figure, or other, Ulyalyum had a very bizarre walk. He always moved in some strange rapid bursts, so that it seemed as if you were being shown a sequence of stop-action frames, each of which showed the position of Ulyalyum in space in a certain moment of time. His walk and his motion reminded of the motion of people in old silent movies – rapid and abrupt. There, he was right over there and in a moment he moved a meter away, the process of motion itself would remain unseen, as if the film lacked frames. The grown-ups weren’t bothered by that, or maybe they just didn’t notice, and we, the kids, were always bewildered by such a weird walk and by Ulyalyum in general, and secretly spied on him when he was walking to his shed. But Ulyalyum’s weirdness wasn’t limited to his walk. His face also was a source of astonishment. It was extremely pale and boney. The skin, like rubber, tightly covered his bald, uneven skull, sharp cheekbones and a disproportionately massive jaw, heavily sticking forward. And he also had huge, bleak and still eyes. It seemed, that they occupy almost half of his pale face. Ulyalyum wore immensely broad clothes – some sort of high sized, stretched sweaters, on which one could barely distinguish some embroidered deers, or perhaps even some kind of horned beasts, which couldn’t be identified. His pants were as broad and untidy. But, wide as they were, those rags, underneath still could be seen taking form some sort of horrendous humps or outgrowths, which sticked out from the most unexpected places. It was particularly noticeable, when Ulyalyum walked across the yard in his bizarre manner. We would watch with fear, how on his back under the wide thick sweater those outgrowths cycled rhythmically, something raised, stretching the sweater, and then went down and fell below to the middle. The grown-ups didn’t notice that as well, and when they had managed to remember who Ulyalyum was, they would say that we should stop imagining things and stop making fun of a lonely, sick person, said that he probably was handicapped and that it’s impolite to bring attention to his physical defects. But we knew that he was no sort of a handicapped. Ulyalyum lived aside from anyone, all by himself. Sometimes he would disappear for a long time and then, even we started to forget about him, but would still avoid his shed by a huge mile in an unspoken agreement. But he would come back sooner or later and again irritate our sight with his inhuman walk and bizarre looks. Ulyalyum was never bothered by the so called social life of our neighborhood. Now I should think he never ever spoke to anyone of the grown-ups. But still he needed something from us kids from this building. Once Victoria told us, that Ulyalyum came visiting her. As if, while she was home alone, he rang the doorbell of their flat and asked to let him in. Victoria was very reluctant of the thought of opening the door. And he would ring and pound on the door, said he had brought pickled tomatoes and had to deliver them, and if Victoria didn’t open the door, he would tell her parents and she’d be in a lot of trouble. Victoria stood there scared and weeping. She didn’t even know exactly why she was so scared. And Ulyalyum would pound on the door even harder, so that it started to tremble, and then Victoria, still weeping, seized the doorknob with both hands and started to pull with all her might, just not to let Ulyalyum inside with those damned tomatoes. What happened next she had no memory of. Just how she held the doorknob with all her might. When in the evening her parents came home, she cried and told them everything that had happened, but they couldn’t even remember Ulyalyum and decided that she had invented everything. Soon Ulyalyum came visiting each and every of us. He did this only when we were home alone. Like in the case with Victoria, he wanted the doors opened at all costs. He told Romka he had to return his father’s screwdriver, which he had borrowed before, to Sashka – that he had found his mother’s passport, and to me – that I had to open the door, for he had something of importance to say and it couldn’t be done through the closed door. Nobody let him in. We were dead scared, especially when saw Ulyalyum, who, as if nothing had happened, not minding anyone, would walk to his shed in the evening. His visits went on. Sometimes Ulyalyum could leave us alone for weeks, and sometimes he would ring on a daily basis and pound on doors, behind which we were trembling with fear. Ulyalyum would get more and more furious. There were no more tomatoes and screwdrivers, he would threaten us – if we weren’t to let him in, something bad would happen to our parents. We were scared, we wept, but still would hold the doors to the end, because somehow we knew that when we gave in, when we opened the door and let him it, something bad and horrifying would happen for sure. The grown-ups still didn’t believe us. And what could they possibly think? That the scary person, whom they didn’t even remember, was storming into our flats, when we remain all by ourselves? They thought of all that as a product of child imagination, that it was some sort of game, on which we got carried away. Around that time, Victoria’s mother became sick. She had an inflammation of her duodenum. She was put into the hospital and then they said she required a surgery. And Victoria gave in. She let him in. We understood that later. Maybe she was scared that Ulyalyum kept his word and that he could make her mother die. But at the time we just saw that there was something wrong about Victoria. She quickly became all kind of thoughtful and even slow. When we were playing, she could freeze all of a sudden and stare in the void with empty eyes. In a couple of weeks Victoria’s mother came back from the hospital. She was slightly pale, but all in all, looked quite well and we heard the grown-ups talk among themselves, that rarely a person recovers that quickly from a such a surgery. But Victoria was getting worse by the day. She was crawling inside herself like a shellfish in her shell. Victoria would still come out to play. But it wasn’t that Victoria we knew. She stopped talking almost completely and moved slowly, like a sleepwalker. Her parents noticed that something is wrong about their daughter. They took her to see the doctors first, then to the shrinks, but those would only shrug and say that Victoria is in perfect health, slightly slow on reactions perhaps, but it happens in her age and with time it should be alright. But we all knew what really happened. Victoria gave in and let Ulyalyum to her apartment and he did something to her. We were scared out of our minds and decided to hold the doors at all costs – nobody wanted to find out what happens, when one opens his door to Ulyalyum. But strangely enough by the time he had stopped coming to us with his threatens and poundings on doors. Soon enough he disappeared completely unnoticed and his shed stood empty in the back of the yard. He was soon forgotten, as if he had never been around. Even we stopped remembering him. In about half a year since then, Victoria got better. Her moves, expressions and gestures ceased being slow, and her pale cheeks returned to their healthy color as before, and her looks in general stopped resembling a doll, an imitation of a living girl. But after recovery Victoria changed. Her glance changed – now her brown eyes looked sharp, bearing that distinct glare of some gloomy cruelty. Her walk and motion acquired some kind of alien abruptness and, at times, when I gazed at her, she reminded me of Ulyalyum, but I couldn’t understand why exactly that was. Needless to say, since then Victoria stopped associating with us. We still greeted her, but each time encountered her cold, savage glance, we slowly stopped noticing her. In a year she moved away with her parents and we completely forgot about those events. But later, when I grew up, I somehow kept returning in my memories to what had happened to Victoria, who she had used to be before her strange sickness, if it was a sickness at all, and who she had become, and I somehow sensed, that the real Victoria had disappeared the moment she’d let Ulyalyum in.
I look at the loathsome figure of a man with enormously long arms, scratched with a nail under the doorbell of our flat. I scratched it on after all that had happened to Victoria, scratched it because I somehow knew that we’d soon all forget about Ulyalyum, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to forget about what happened to Victoria, I wanted to keep the memory to whom the door should never be opened under any circumstances. I look at this grotesque figure of a man on the wall and I suddenly understand that I didn’t scribble this figure in vain twenty years ago. I finally remembered of whom I am being so intensely reminded looking at Pavliaga Proton, Avdiy Agronome and those cops – they are all a perfect match to Ulyalyum, the scary neighbor from my childhood.