Hello folks. I've been playing ret for a long time as I enjoy it as it has a mix of burst and support. I achieved almost 2.3k in 2s in bfa and almost 2k in 3s as PHP. In DF S1 I got 2.5k in SS. So far I've always played in such a way that my healer friend always stunned the opposing healer in the opener and I then stunned the kill target. In the 3s I waited until my hunter gave the healer ice trap and then I hojed the target. And off we went. Actually always like that in the SS.
Yesterday I had some hard lobbies in solo and went from 2080 to 1917. Since I played against streamer, multiglads and multi r1. In addition, mostly against full caster lobbies. As the only melee, it sometimes really bothers me. 😅
So now to my question, I'm doing something wrong with my cc thinking, because a Gladiator Disci with 3.5k xp scolded me that I should only ever hojen healers. I usually didn't even get there because it was slow or I was afraid myself.
But is it in the SS that one stunned me a healer?
Thanks for your attention and thanks in advance for the replies
Yesterday I spent almost the whole day with my bf in a city that we wanted to visit. It was a little stressing but nice in the end. He wanted to invite a couple of friends to his house in the evening before moving with me in a week.
I wasn’t invited and I tend to get bored after a while with them (bc e.g they play chess for hours and I’m not interested) so we rushed to go back to his house to take my things so that he could drive me home.
I was quite stressed and bc he also ordered food, I was really rushing so when I opened the little metal gate outside of his house I literally hit myself on the head. I probably would’ve laughed if it wasn’t so bad, I heard my bones making a noise because of the hit. He was waiting for me outside of the car.
It hurt so bad I immediately bursted crying, he asked me what happened to which I replied almost screaming “what do you think? I hit my head” so he did a little run and hugged me. I felt miserable and so frustrated, so extremely stressed that a mix of rage and sadness got me saying I wanted to be dead, and there’s nobody that can support me like my father (who passed 7 years ago). Maybe also hearing the sound of sirens in the distance didn’t help.
He told me to go inside to put some ice on the head, so I put it on after he wiped a little bit of blood. But just after, his friends arrived, and I felt too much shame and embarrassment to stay there. Also because they tried to lighten up the situation with some jokes, like they always joke about things and seem kinda carefree, but I just was not in the mood.
So I told my bf I wanted to go home. He drove me back home and said we will talk about what happened/what I said in a better way tomorrow (so today). I felt so abandoned. I didn’t know what to say bc he doesn’t often see his friends bc of his job, but at the same time I really did need support and I felt like he just did the bare minimum, like he generally does, and I feel bad asking for more, I’m afraid he resents me.
I went to sleep but now idk how to talk with him, nor how I’m feeling. My head still hurts and I just feel like staying in bed, it’s like I’m exhausted. What do you think? Thank you a lot for reading though
There was only darkness. I could not see or hear my surroundings. I tried to feel around, but to no avail, then a blinding flash of light followed by an ominous cackling engulfed my senses. I opened my eyes, still blinded by the light, and they adjusted slowly. I looked around, appalled by what I was seeing. Fire was on the ground, the walls, the ceiling, not covering every speck of the room I was in, but enough to send waves of heat on top of me, like I was being baked in my own skin. It seemed like I was sweating all the fluids out of my body. Then that cackling starts again.
"Not used to the heat yet?" said a deep voice behind me.
I turned around and saw a what could only be described as the Devil. Tall and dark, yet charm emanated off him like the most fragrant of perfumes. I didn't need to hear him speak to know he had a silver tongue. He was wearing a formal looking business suit and had a generic evil goatee, yet he pulled it off remarkably well.
"Am I dead?" I asked, dreading the answer.
"No, of course not." the Devil said, dripping with sarcasm. "We are just having a ball at an ice cream parlor."
"I wanted a serious answer."
"Then don't ask stupid questions." he said in a dry tone of voice. "We might as well take a tour, you'll want to be familiar with Hell if you're going to be here for all eternity."
"HELL!?" I exclaimed. "I don't belong here. I have a family!"
"Everybody says they don't belong here." the Devil said, sounding bored and uninterested. He looked me in the eyes and I felt like my soul was being invaded. "Tell me, my new friend, what do you do for a living?"
"I work at an insurance company." I replied meekly. "But I don't see how that has anything to do with my eternal damnation. I don't hurt anyone, I don't sin, I'm a devoted religious man. I haven't done anything wrong."
"What EXACTLY do you do at this company?" the Devil asked me sternly.
"I...I approve or deny heath insurance claims." I muttered.
"Wrong. You deny claims. You've only ever approved of 2% of them over the course of your career."
"What does that have to do with anything. I was only trying to do my job!" I screamed at him.
"How many people do you think died because they couldn't afford treatment. Because you denied them the only chance they had at life." he said to me with an icy voice. "You may not have wielded the knife, but you are responsible for their deaths."
"That's not fair!" I yelled. "I did my job! I provided for my family! How is that a sin! I deserve to go back to my family!"
"You really think that's best?" the Devil asked. I angrily nodded my head, faced contorted in rage. "Well, follow me then. I want to show you something."
The Devil snapped his fingers and the wall behind him erupted in flames. they died down after a moment and a door appeared that wasn't there before. He walked towards it and opened the door, gesturing me to follow. He lead the way down a corridor, with jail cells lining the walls. The bars were made of bones and sinew. The floors were covered in guts and entrails and they occasionally burst into flames and disappeared. All the occupants were screaming from the various types of torture inflicted upon them.
"This is your new abode." the Devil said as he stopped at the only empty cell in the corridor. "It is empty because you belong in here, yet that only applies if you choose so."
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
"Time flows differently in Hell. Your soul traveled here across space and time, to a point after all life has perished. Every sinner that has ever existed shall suffer together, be it the past, present, or future." he told me.
"I still don't follow."
The Devil snapped his fingers again and the room rippled with a wave of intense energy. I felt my knees buckle under its pressure. The empty cell contorted and the space within it shifted and eventually settled. There was now a woman in the cell who looked vaguely familiar. She was screaming as a small demon impaled her with a hot iron. I knew her, felt it in my soul, and recognized her.
"Is....that my daughter?" I meekly asked.
"Yes. You died when she was an infant. I told you that time works differently here." he replied.
"Why is she here?"
"If I return you to the world of the living, you leave you current job and start redeeming yourself for your work denying people the help they needed. Your soul is saved. However, in the process, you focus solely on work and neglect your family. You daughter doesn't feel loved by her father, who never has time for her. In time, she starts injuring herself to get your attention, but it doesn't work and she commits suicide." the Devil said. He glanced me over and continued. "Of course, if you die as intended, then your wife marries another man after a few years. He is a good man and your daughter grows up into a wonderful person. Either you or your daughter stays here for eternity, the choice is yours."
I think for a minute, contemplating the information I've just been given. I have essentially been told how the future will play out. I know I can fulfil my daughters needs and save my soul if I work hard enough. It may take decades to do, but I now know exactly what I must do.
"Send me back to my family." I said. "That is my decision."
"As you wish." the Devil said. He snapped his fingers for a final time and darkness once again filled my senses.
I woke up in a jolt in my bed, seeping in sweat. My head felt like someone had banged a rock against it and my mind was all murky. I couldn't think properly. I went to the bathroom and took some pills for my headache. I heard my daughter crying in the next room and went to check on her. She was the light of my life and a strange feeling overcame me. Was my job something to be proud of? Denying people in need of medical help? I wanted to be a better example for my daughter and this was not the way.
I went back to bed and thought about why I woke up they way I did. I felt like I had an important dream, yet couldn't remember what it was about. I gave it no more thought, as it didn't seem that important if I couldn't remember what it was.
I broke my ankle 2 years ago while ice skating. The recovery after surgery was long but everything healed up fast and I was able to resume my workouts within 2 months after surgery. I did have a horrible allergic reaction to chloroprep though. It took lots of meds to calm my skin down. I was a fool to agree to get the hardware removed (really want to ski and skate again)! The procedure was a month ago and I am still suffering. They used chloroprep again even though I begged not to. The allergic reaction was worse this time. I was scratching like crazy. Was put on so many meds. The rash is gone but… now I have a pimple on the incision site and redness and sores and it looks like the incision is opening up! The doctors says “I am not concerned” and put me on 2 antibiotics. I have no idea what’s going on. It’s also hurting when I walk. And I think it’s not ok. He told me to resume my workouts and I have been doing that but now I realize it’s not a good idea! The X-rays look good but the skin looks horrible and I am so so worried he will have to doc another surgery on me because there is an infection or something! He says I am sensitive to sutures this time. But how is it possible? They are dissolvable ones. The pimple is on one side of the incision and it’s really hurting. Is it going to burst? I see two sores right on the incision. Is it opening up? Anyone has had this? And that one yucky sore looks disgusting and infected to me!
I see a lot of expats posting about problems and challenges in their new country, and I am not objecting to that. When you're unhappy, this can be a good place to find some support or at least a sympathetic ear. But I've lived outside of my home country for nearly three decades now, and I'd like to share my story and some of the positives I've experienced.
I was born and raised in Norway. By all accounts, that's winning the birth lottery. I'm proud to be Norwegian, and that will always be a part of my identity. However, in my teens, small town Norway felt kind of boring, and I wanted an adventure, so I went on a pilgrimage.
I was a computer geek before geeks became popular. When you're a computer geek, Mecca is in Silicon Valley, or at least it was back then. And so for my first real trip outside of Scandinavia, I moved to California as a high school exchange student.
High school was different. There was homesickness, but there were also new friends, new activities and a whole new climate. I arrived proficient in reading and writing English, but my spoken accent was very characteristically Norwegian. By the time I left, I was basically fluent. A slight accent remained, but it was no longer a barrier to communication.
I came home with a very pro-US viewpoint. I was dazzled by this land of opportunity, and in retrospect, I was overlooking some of the negatives, even back then. But I decided that I wanted to go back to the US for college.
I did exactly that. This time, I moved to Texas and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. This was my first experience really trying to live on my own (in California, I had had a host family) and it would be a lie to say that the international factor didn't make it extra intimidating. My dorm roommate told me he couldn't imagine what it would be like to be that far away from his family. Then his parents moved from Houston, Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska, so I guess he got to find out.
Even I can't find anything positive to say about dorm food, and there were some other problems. Surviving and thriving on a student budget could be tough, for one thing. But there's a silver lining to every cloud. I was able to obtain an off-campus work permit by showing the US government that the strengthening dollar had left my scholarship (in Norwegian currency) inadequate. Work permit in hand, one of the easiest student jobs I could find was a bus driver position with the university shuttle system. Not exactly your typical job for a computer science student, but it paid surprisingly well and I could schedule my shifts around my classes, so it proved a great fit. The only drawback was that junior drivers got no work over the summer when the university ran a much reduced bus schedule.
I solved that conundrum by going into trucking...helped in part by a really nice road trip I had stumbled into with a trucker friend the previous year, and by statements from him and others that I wasn't the trucker type and would never make it in that industry (challenged accepted!) Over the next few years, I was a college student from September through May, and drove trucks coast-to-coast every summer. I made it through 46 states and got paid to see the country.
That likely wouldn't have happened in Norway. Not because Norway doesn't have truckers, but because that kind of random detour from the "ideal" career path wouldn't sit well with Norwegian society. Norway likes social order. America likes individualism. I found that American friends found my little detour into trucking cool while Norwegian friends mostly just found it...odd.
Fast-forward a few years, and my first job offer out of college landed in my lap very unexpectedly. Through a friend in Norway, I landed my first full-time job. However, it wasn't in the US. Or in Norway. It was in Vienna, Austria. And it was too good to turn down, especially in an IT job market on life support after the .com bubble burst.
So I packed my bags and moved to Vienna. I still had an overly positive view of the US, although the way the US conducted itself in the wake of 9/11 would shake those convictions to the core. The job in Austria was fantastic in every way, I had fun at work, I had supportive coworkers...and then I had a few challenges.
One of them is that I have asthma. And in Austria in 2001, people still smoked inside. The first thing that happened in my new job is that I had to walk in and tell the three people I was sharing an office with that they could no longer smoke in the office. Thankfully, HR backed me up, but that didn't exactly win me any popularity contests I tried to be humble and explain as best I could that the asthma was beyond my control, and that did work...eventually. The ice thawed, and I settled into my new job.
But what about when it was time to go home? I did not have much of a social life at first. In the beginning, I could blame the language barrier -- much like my school English, my school German was inadequate at first. My coworkers were mostly fluent in English; the rest of Austrian society, not so much. And after all, I was in their country, it was only proper that I should learn THEIR language. So I put a lot of effort into that, speaking German with my coworkers and with anyone else who would put up with me. This was when I ran into another typical expat problem: Whenever I encountered an Austrian who spoke English, he/she would detect my foreign accent and switch to English unprompted. It took me a while to pick up on Austrian accents in general and Viennese German in particular, but eventually, I did.
That still didn't help my social life. Nor did the fact that bars and other similar venues were off-limits due to the aforementioned asthma. My coworkers were nice and polite, but Austria seems to have a bit of a taboo against socializing with coworkers outside of work. Truth be told, this is a nut I never quite did manage to crack. I did eventually make a number of friends in Austria, but the majority were fellow expats.
One of those friends was an American who had moved to Austria for personal reasons, but still tried to run a business along with a business partner of his back in Florida. To make an already-long story somewhat shorter, they hired me on a skilled worker visa and I moved back to the United States. I was excited to be in the US again, and I was not sorry to leave Austria behind. But I also don't regret taking the opportunity I was given in Vienna. I learned a lot from my years there.
Since then, my career path has been more normal. I've mostly lived in Florida since, with the exception of a few years back in Norway during the Great Recession. Even then, I wound up working for a well-known US company, so I'd sit in Norway fielding conference calls from Oklahoma and Texas. Then I moved back to Florida again because my wife (now ex-wife) decided she didn't want to live in Norway. At this point, I've lived in Florida continuously since 2012. And while I miss friends and family in Norway, life in Florida has been good to me. I've met great people here, and I've had adventures that wouldn't have been possible back home.
My asthma likes the Florida climate. Warm and humid sounds like a nightmare to some, but that warmth opens up my lungs and the humidity keeps the worst of the pollen out of the air. On the social scene, many Europeans call Americans "superficial", but I find that makes it easier to break the ice and make friends. So not everyone you meet is going to be your new BFF, but what's the harm in meeting them anyway?
People often ask me why I would leave Norway when the quality of life there is "so much better" (their words, not mine.) But quality of life is subjective. Sure, there are things I like better in Norway than in the US, but the reverse is also true.
Life has not been the straightforward path I'd envisioned in my teens, but it has been an adventure so far, and I can't wait to see what's around the next corner.
This post is the final part of this story. Sorry it has taken so long to get through. And I'm not sure I even understand all of it yet. If you're new, this all started here
. The previous part (Part 7) is here
. Thank you to everyone who followed along.
“Do you see her?” I asked in a meek voice.
“You mean that girl in black?” Harvey answered.
It was her, in the flesh. Her lips parted and formed a malevolent smile. Her dark eyes fixed on mine. My legs turned to solid lead. My feet refused to move. The anxiousness to reach Parker and Juliet and Beth in the cellar crumbled like the wood turning to ash behind us. She demanded my attention.
A hand rocked my shoulder. Harvey. I pushed him away.
“You have to go. Help them. I’ll take care of her.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be right behind you.”
A mirage of Harvey flitted past Ally and disappeared into the kitchen. Everything blurred, everything but her.
She tilted her head to one side and bridged the gap between us with four slow and deliberate steps. She pushed her right hand out from a long sleeve and ran the black painted nail of her index finger across my cheek, the smooth lacquer cold against my skin. I shuddered as the chill spread like ice creeping up a window.
“It is such a shame to be losing you so soon. We’ve only just met, and yet I feel like we’ve known each other our whole lives. Do you feel it too?”
I shook my head. “Let me go.”
“We’re past that now Sam. I considered if we could coexist, you and I. It gave me a thrill knowing there is another one out there like me. But you insist on meddling with my work.”
“You mean locking all those girls in that filthy dungeon where they met their end? And Jane here.”
“The work is sometimes unpleasant.”
“But the pay is good?”
“This isn’t about money Sam. You and I are the same. The pain you felt from not fitting in. The lonely nights lying awake, wishing you could be like everyone else. The stares and the whispers. The rejection from those who are supposed to love us the most. I too know. But where you hid, I searched out a path where my talents were appreciated and rewarded. You don’t hate me Sam. You hate yourself for not thriving like I have.”
“Thriving? Is that what you call it?”
“By all measures yes. I am good at what I do. The best. The only. Or so I thought. And then there is you. A naïve, sheltered little boy who can barely put on his own pants in the morning. It is such a shame. And these so-called friends of yours, that was always doomed to failure. Oh and if you harbour any thoughts of them escaping, know that we blocked the little secret entrance the stable boy showed you. There’s no escape except through the fire. When they pick through the ashes of this building they will find their bones, and yours. Is this how you imagined it turning out?”
I flexed the muscles in my legs, but they refused to move. Ally smiled.
“It’s useless now Sam.”
I heard the faint whisper of Juliet’s voice in my head. She pleaded with me. Come on Sam, you can do this. I remembered the last encounter with Ally, outside the wall separating Windhaven Manor from the world. Ally had put me in the white room. I had broken free. I had overcome her power once. I had to do it again.
I took a deep breath in through my nose and cried out and willed my feet to move. Electricity coursed through my body and I directed it down to the floor. My left heel separated from the floor and that set the whole thing in motion. The dam burst. I lurched forwards and overbalanced and sprawled to the floor.
Ally crouched beside me and chuckled. “Some would call it a tragedy for a child to die so soon after learning to walk.”
I looked back towards the front of the house. The fire burned hot. Thick black smoke circled up the huge open space of the gallery. Portraits hanging on the wall bubbled and curled as flames consumed them.
A figure appeared at the foot of the staircase. The spectre of Crown. The goons had dragged his lifeless corpse out of the house, but stood before me was the spirit with unfinished business. The ugliness of his actions showed through now in death. His skin was sallow and wrinkled. His head too big for his body and his teeth yellowed. A grotesque monster made worse by his mortal demise.
Ally whispered in my ear. “He knows it was your meddling that brought about his end. I’ll leave you two alone.”
She brushed my cheek with the back of her hand and stood. As she walked away leather straps materialised out of thin air and pinned my body to the floor.
The spectre of Crown grew before me, swelling in size until he had to crouch to stay below the chandelier. He clenched his fists and with burning red eyes let out a guttural growl that skipped my ears and penetrated directly into my skull.
I tried to pull my hands to my ears but they would not come. It made no difference. The roar coming from Crown stabbed the inside of my head like a thousand daggers. I lifted my head and the growl grew to a scream that ricocheted around the inside of my skull. I couldn’t take much more. It felt as though my head would explode.
Guilt bubbled up and mingled with the fear and I shrank into the floor and wished for it to swallow me. They were down there, the only friends I had known, banging against a locked door denying their escape. I sobbed. I sobbed like I had the night my parents turned from me.
In the pit of my stomach something else grew. A seed of frustration born of a lifetime existing in a world that didn’t make sense. A world where I had no idea who I was and what I could or should do. A world in which I hid. I couldn’t do that now.
Juliet’s voice as clear as day, cutting through the racket of Crown’s scream. Do it Sam. I gritted my teeth and electricity buzzed somewhere deep inside, at first dull and imperceptible, and then amplified and resonating until it peaked into a deafening roar.
Above Crown the bulbs in the chandelier glowed white. He swivelled his head and watched them dumbly.
I concentrated, felt the energy forming an extra limb. Like the arms and legs of a newborn it flailed spasmodically. I fought to control it, to turn it to my will. I focussed on the straps pinning me to the floor. The electricity fed into the straps and turned them hot. For a moment I feared they would scold my skin, and then in a moment of release they split and flung upwards.
I picked myself up off the floor and faced the spectre of Crown. Like a spent boxer throwing one final punch I threw out my hands and screamed, willing Crown to be quiet and be still. Demanding he be so.
The floor shook. The dozens of bulbs in the chandelier shattered. The giant spectre of Crown diminished and the screaming inside my head softened until it was no more. Crown’s eyes opened wide as his mouth stitched together and his arms wrenched behind his back. I flicked my hand like I was swatting a fly and Crown flew into the corner of the room and slumped to the floor.
I bent over and rested my hands on my knees. My muscles ached, like I had run a marathon. Shadows played on the floor. I sucked in air and smoke and spluttered and coughed.
In the hallway the silhouette of Ally. She turned and shook her head. The heat of the fire intensified and crackled at my skin. If we were to make our escape, she could not be here to block us. I straightened and strode towards her.
I cycled furiously through the events of the last few days, searching for something to defeat Ally. I had to do to her what she had done to me. The time for running and breaking her spells was through.
I closed my eyes and concentrated. I stripped away everything except for the two of us. The crackle of the fire replaced with silence. The smell of the smoke disappeared. The heat washed away. One by one I shut down all my senses. When I opened my eyes a monotone room of white. Sterile calm had replaced the burning insides of Windhaven Manor.
Her eyes scanned the room and she giggled. “Cheap tricks won’t get you far,” she said. “And you learned this one from me.”
The white rippled as if the walls were made of water. She was fighting it. I concentrated, focussing all my energy, all my will. The ripples slowed and then stopped.
“You’re a fast learner,” she said. “But I have been doing this for more than a weekend.”
Strips of colour permeated the white. A rectangle of tile appeared on the floor. And then some blue from the curtain. Enough of a smouldering wall to let in some smoke. The acrid smell reached my nose and I spluttered. As each wedge of colour appeared, I filled it back in white. But it was a sinking ship and the pail I held to bail out the water would not be enough.
Ally grunted under her breath. A grunt of frustration. The white room shook and made a sound like a train bearing down.
I had to bind her. I raised my palm and coils of rope rose from the ground and oscillated like snakes around her. She swatted them away and wrenched them from the ground and flung them at my feet, limp and unmoving.
“It won’t be that easy,” she sneered.
My arms jerked behind my back. She bound my wrists and then my ankles. She pursed her lips and blew as if extinguishing a single candle on a birthday cake, and it was enough to send me to the floor. I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed help.
I shut my eyes and concentrated my energy not on my bindings, but on the woods at the back of Windhaven Manor. On the girls who escaped the dungeon and now roamed the forest, watching the house burn from behind the barrier Ally constructed.
I fed the energy coursing through my body into the giant snowdome structure until it burned hot and then like the globes in the chandelier, it cracked and exploded into the night sky. The spirits of the girls watched the shards disappear and then strode towards the Manor.
I turned my attention to the tiny room beside the pantry, where Jane Laughlin lay bound to the bed. I stood beside her and lay my hand on the shackles binding her to the bed. She shuddered as the mask came free from her mouth and then stood as the shackles broke.
I opened my eyes and the white of the room flickered off and then back on again like bad reception on a television. I had to keep the white walls up long enough for them to draw near. For them to be ready when the façade fell. Ally strode towards me, exuding confidence.
“You can’t beat me Sam.”
Ally squeezed her hands into fists and screamed. In a burst of energy she wiped the white room clear and we were back in the burning house. The air was thick with smoke. Behind me a timber beam tumbled from the ceiling and crashed to the floor. The heat and smoke sucked the moisture from my insides and I heaved out a series of coughs.
Ally opened her eyes and smiled. She had bested me. But then they came. The girls from the dungeon and Jane Laughlin surrounded her. The sum total off all the pain and hurt inflicted in this place. Everything Ally had worked to keep hidden from the world.
They lurched at Ally. She raised her hands and pushed them back one by one as they went for her. She spun on the spot, trying to keep them at bay. She could not hold them all back. The sheer weight of numbers overwhelmed. They leaned in and pushed their heads into hers and showed her what those men had done. Made her feel it. The fear and despair and anger of each individual stacked together and Ally crumpled to the floor holding her head.
“Make it stop,” she said.
They kept at her.
Jane Laughlin sidled over to the base of the stairs where Crown sat, bound and with his mouth stitched. She considered him, restrained and helpless on the floor as she had been. He fought with his restraints, and then whimpered, as she had. As I ran for the pantry and the wine cellar, the corridor filled with the muffled sound of his screams.
The door to the cellar stood open and I made the descent of the stairs in three leaps. The enclosed space already full with smoke. At the end of the long corridor leading outside, Parker and Harvey shouldered the door. Juliet and Beth screamed encouragement. The door would not budge.
“We can’t go that way,” I yelled.
They raced back up the long corridor. A sudden rush of emotion bubbled up to the surface. I was so happy to see them all still alive. My lower jaw rattled and my hands shook. I fought to hide it.
Beth reached me first. “Sam, you’re ok.”
I blubbered a response and took in a lung full of smoke. We had to get out.
The fire raged outside the kitchen door. A wave of flame climbed up and spread across the ceiling. A subtle cracking sound from above intensified and a chunk of the upstairs floor came crashing down through the ceiling, blocking the rear door. We couldn’t get out the back. The only way now was back through the house. A ball of flame whooshed through the doorway and I put my arm up too late, my eyebrows wilting in the heat.
We crouched together in the middle of the kitchen, lowering our heads to get the last of the remaining oxygen. Malicious red flames and choking black smoke surrounded us on all sides.
“Where do we go now?” Parker’s words came out between coughs. Tears streaked down his cheeks. Soot covered his brow. I wished I had an answer.
Then he was there, standing over Parker’s shoulder. Leon. With the protective bubble gone, he too was free to come in the Manor.
“The fire has not yet consumed the dining room. But you don’t have long.”
I looked vaguely in the direction of the kitchen door and blinked back the stinging from the smoke. “I don’t think we can find it in this.”
I pulled my shirt up over my head. “We have to go. The dining room, we can make it. All together on three.”
I shouted out the numbers, the sound drowned out by the roar of the fire. I grabbed Beth’s hand and yanked her into action. Leon led the way and I kept my eyes on his heels. Together we were a flurry of arms and legs bounding for the dining room. I gritted my teeth against the heat. We burst through the doorway and everything turned orange.
From below the sweater pulled tight down over my hair, I shot a glance over to the floor of the grand gallery where I had left Ally writhing on the floor. She was not there now. Nor were the spectres of the girls.
I followed Leon’s heels into the dining room. The great wooden table smouldered in the centre of the room. Brilliant orange flames consumed the thick curtains. Parker spotted his camera still atop the tripod and set to pulling the camera free before Harvey grabbed his arm and yelled something that sounded like ‘leave it’.
Harvey grabbed one of the heavy chairs with their high backs and velvet cushions and heaved it at the window in the back corner of the room. The chair disappeared into the darkness of the night and Harvey kicked at the glass shards left behind. Parker joined. We piled out the opening.
I drank in the fresh cool air of night, staggering over the narrow path beside the house and to the small strip of grass beyond. Parker collapsed beside me and pulled the laptop out from under his shirt. He tapped at the casing and for a moment a brief smile flashed across his face, but it did not last long. He wiped soot and sweat from his face with shaking hands.
Harvey checked us all in turn, like a parent fussing over their children. We had scrapes and bruises and our skin was red and raw, but we were alright. We had survived. He ran to the front of the house and came back with palms held out by his sides. The man in the black suit, the goons Ponytail and Beanie, and Ally were all gone, along with the black van and the BMW.
Huddled together, we watched the fire consume Windhaven Manor, bright reds and oranges lighting up the windows and thick black smoke tumbling into the purple haze of sky. It was almost morning, the horizon signalling the coming of the sun.
Leon stood apart on the grass. I went to him.
“Thank you for coming back for us.”
He shrugged. “It’s something. It isn’t enough to make up for the rest.”
“You saved our lives. And those girls, they had their chance to meet their tormentors. That’s something too.”
He nodded. “What happens now?”
I turned my head sideways. “I’m still learning how all this works.”
The red of the fire reflected in his eyes. “Me too. I might go for a walk in the woods. I always liked it out there.”
He glided across the lawn and entered the trees and was gone.
The sound of sirens fought with the crackle of the fire. The fire brigade and the police. I got to my feet and shuffled to the front of the Manor. The burnt out carcasses of our cars stood by the low height wall. Black soot smudged the stone façade above the windows and the doors.
By the oak tree on the ocean side of the house stood Jane Laughlin. She peered down into a hole dug at the base of the tree. A pale and withered hand poked up out of the dirt. Her hand. They had meant to remove the body, but had aborted the task and fled.
A fire truck appeared at the head of the driveway and then another. They sped down the gravel and came to a sliding stop. A lone police car followed. Harvey sidled over.
Jane looked to the horizon. Out on the cliff edge stood a figure in a red dress. She recognised her sister Kylie immediately and ran down the slope. The two sisters embraced in the first light of the sun. I turned to the whoosh of water through a hose from the fire trucks and when I turned back, the Laughlin sisters were gone.
The members of The Séance Club, which I now consider myself a part, sat together on the low-height stone wall as the firefighters extinguished the flames consuming Windhaven Manor. The house was quiet now. The nausea and vibration I had felt that first night replaced with calm.
The police stripped the compound clean for the best part of a week. They identified Kyle the sketch artist and Hugo from the teeth that survived the fire of the hovel built over the dungeon. Hugo’s wife lay on the back lawn where Beanie and Ponytail had left her. But as to specific evidence of the crimes that occurred, they could not find enough to put a case together.
The two fires and the disappearance of Crown made some headlines, but there wasn’t enough to hang anyone else. The police claimed publicly that there was no link between the fire at Windhaven Manor and the fire at the squalid residence over the back fence. At Harvey’s behest they searched the area with cadaver dogs for the remains of the girls, but they found nothing.
Parker turned his laptop over to the police. They identified the two goons, Ponytail and Beanie, low level thugs who had disappeared from the streets years earlier. Those in the know presumed them dead. It made tracing them almost impossible. Tracing their vehicles lead to a dead end.
The man in black the suit on the other hand might as well be a ghost. On him they found nothing. They have a face, but nothing else.
As for Ally, the girl somehow managed to always turn her face away from the cameras, as if she knew where they were.
I sat in a small room at the police station for three days with Harvey putting the pieces together. He showed me a photograph of an old and gaunt man with a bent back, the last owner of Windhaven Manor before it was sold after his death. He had to be the man with the bent back from the ceremony in the dungeon, but I could not be certain. I never saw his face. Of the faces I did see, we knew Crown and Kyle and Hugo, but the others were harder to pinpoint.
At the end of it all Harvey sighed. There was nothing more we could do. But we could rest on the knowledge that the key players in the ceremony were all now dead.
Questions nagged at me. Where was Ally and what was she doing? Would she try to find me? Who was she working for?
That was the biggest question of all. Who was at the top and pulling the strings? Harvey wasn’t giving up. He was a dog with a bone at the best of times, and now he had a taste of blood. He refused to go back to the police even after Crown’s departure, which he described as the removal of a cancerous limb.
Harvey called me after the dust settled on everything. I told him that the trail had gone cold and I had no idea where Ally was. For all I knew she had evaporated into thin air. Harvey thought it unlikely, and I agreed. He told me it was time for some old-fashioned detective work. The names of the goons would be a start.
And there was something else Harvey mentioned, something that I had almost forgotten. He had always believed that his investigation into the disappearance of the girls was the reason one of his colleagues was murdered. Crown confirmed as much in the bedroom right before he was shot. Harvey thinks there is something to it. Another thread to pull, and he has a hunch. For now he’s keeping his cards close to his chest until he has some proof. I almost pressed him on the issue but decided I’d rather put it all behind me.
The story made headlines in the local press for a while, but ultimately it fizzled into a non-story, quickly forgotten by a public with a short attention spans. We all waited for a reckoning from within the police ranks, but it never came. Harvey predicted that’s the way it would go, and he was proven right.
The one item they did recover was a gold necklace with a heart pendant. The necklace Jane Laughlin wore the night of her death. The police found it where the black van had parked. After a few days in the possession of the police, Harvey arranged to have the necklace released to the family of its former owner.
The following day Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin appeared on the local news, thanking the efforts of those who recovered the remains of their daughter. It was closure, though not the kind they had hoped for. Both their girls were dead.
A week later The Séance Club convened in Beth’s apartment. Parker and Juliet were already there when I arrived. It was cathartic to talk about the events at Windhaven Manor, to compare stories and scars. I guess that’s why they have the saying about a problem shared.
After a brief silence, Beth asked, “Are you going to talk to the parents of Jane and Kylie?”
I shook my head. “What will I tell them?”
“That their daughters found each other out by the cliff edge.”
“And what about the agony of their deaths? Should I tell them that too? Besides, it doesn’t feel right. None of this feels right to me yet. And what weight do my words hold over those of some Priest talking about how he knows their souls are at rest.”
“Because you really do know.”
I shrugged. “I can’t prove any of it.”
Truth was I had no idea how to integrate the things I could see and do into my life. From childhood all I had wanted was to be like everyone else. For people not to stare or whisper as I walked by. To find acceptance. Sitting with my three new friends at Beth’s tiny kitchen table, with our shared experience behind us, I finally had it. This could be the start of something.
Parker was already planning the next Séance Club trip. An abandoned farm up north with mysterious sightings going back centuries. Juliet was already on board. I told them to wait. I couldn’t jump back in right away.
I was the last to leave, Beth and I sipping mug after mug of coffee and sharing comfortable silence. When I sighed and told her I should go, she grabbed my arm.
“I’ve never had a real family, and then I found Juliet and Parker. The Séance Club became my family. Whatever happens we are there for each other. And we mean it when we say we want you to join.”
I thought about that all night, unable to sleep.
The next morning I called Parker.
An abandoned farm up north you say?
* * * *
I navigated to the narrow alley and checked the time. The Exchange should be open. It looked out of context in the Saturday morning light. No bright light spilling from the window. No surge of Friday night after work traffic.
I slipped in the front door. A lone man lifted upturned stools down from the bar. He had his back to me and I crept across the hardwood floor in the direction of the stairs down and the bathrooms.
The vibration swelled in my chest, but I did not fear it. A dull pain rose in the base of my skull, but I gritted my teeth. A man wearing a pair of rough leather shoes came from the other end of the corridor and stopped before me.
“Are you here to help?”
I nodded. X
"Pig! Nasty fat pig! - Arthur thought with irritation, leaving the subway, - Squeals, as if she is being cut! Businesswoman! I would put this businesswoman with doggy style right on her huge table and fuck her like a..."
Arthur Lomov was thirty-four and he had everything, like people have - a house, a wife, a child, death ahead, and death inside. He also had a job that he hated. More precisely, the work itself did not cause rejection in him, work as work is no worse than then of others. He did not like the bosses (who likes their?). And not even all the bosses, but only the headmistress, the one whom he was going to "fuck". Sleek and haughty, she spoke to people with undisguised disgust, through her teeth, sincerely and deeply despising the "cattle" that surrounded her. Lomov including. He was nobody for her, a manager, what millions, not even an insect, but a bacterium, office plankton. She has not fired him until now just because there was no case. And then the crisis broke out and rumors about layoffs spread around the office.
And as luck would have it, Arthur mixed up some numbers in the quarterly report. Margarita Nikolaevna called him into the office, and screamed as if he had stabbed and robbed a beggar on the porch of church! Not only did she deduct 30 percent from his salary, she also promised to fire he next time! Yes, he himself would have gone, on the same day! If he had money, real big money, say a million dollars!
Arthur suddenly imagined how he, in an expensive dark gray Versace suit, with a small suitcase in his hand, ignoring the screams of secretary, opened the door with a kick and entered the hated office. How the headmistress's already round stupid eyes are rounded.
"What do you want, Lomov?" She asks.
“I have a business proposal!” He says and puts the case on the table; - I want to fuck you ... Yes, to fuck you now on that table fore million dollars! Behind, you a lustful bitch!
“Yes, you are drunk Lomov, leave my office immediately ...” the headmistress says and the last word gets stuck in her throat, because at that moment Arthur opens the suitcase and she sees tight green bundles with real American money.
The headmistress hardly takes her eyes off the dollars, looks at Lomov, then back at the money. Her primitive brain tries to comprehend the non-standard situation and begins to boil.
"Where did you get this from, Lomov?" she says, swallowing her saliva.
"Who cares? You agree?"
The woman's face is covered with red spots, becomes confused and even somehow miserable.
“This is so unexpected…” she mutters, “what if someone comes in?”
Lomov does not answer anything, and only looks at the headmistress, enjoying her confusion.
Finally, having overcome her excitement, she presses the "selector" button:
“Lena don’t let anyone in to see me! I'm busy!"
Then she raises her eyes to Lomov and begins to unbutton her blouse with trembling fingers, the buttons do not obey her, she throws it, grabs the zipper on her skirt.
At this moment, Lomov slams the suitcase shut and takes it off the table.
"Best wishes!" he says.
"In what sense?" The headmistress asks bewildered.
"I changed my mind!" Arthur calmly answers and, without looking back, leaves the office...
He dreamed so much that he almost fell under the wheels and right on the pedestrian crossing. Some idiot on a tinted "nine" flashed in front of him, Arthur barely had time to bounce, but did not calculate his strength and fell into a puddle.
“No, that’s not good,” he thought, rising to his feet and shaking off the dirt from his jacket, “I need to drink urgently!”
* * *
The pub turned out to be very unpresentable, but this did not bother Lomov. Taking two mugs of beer, he hardly found a free table in the bluish smoke and finally took his first long sip.
- Your headmistress got nitpicking you up, and you are completely innocent of anything? - Arthur heard a dry cracked voice in his ear.
He raised his eyes and saw that a dubious appearanceg peasant with a week-long stubble and two mugs of light beer was sitting at his table. Since the question was purely rhetorical, Arthur merely chuckled vaguely in response.
Now ask me, how do I know this? - the stranger did not want to lag behind.
- What is this?
- Well, the fact that you were fucked by your headmistress for no reason at all?
- Well, how do you know that? - Said Arthur to get rid of the importunate type.
- It's very simple - I'm God! - The stranger said triumphantly. And noticing the bewilderment in the eyes of the interlocutor, he explained:
- Well, the one who created the Earth, the Sky and all this! - He glanced around at the smoky pub.
The life of Artur Lomov developed in such a way that he was not ready for such meetings.
"Yeah, that's exactly how I imagined you!" he chuckled sarcastically.
But the impostor, as it turned out, was not going to joke at all.
- What did you want? I look like this because of you! Because that's how you represent me! And if you were a Hindu, I could now have an elephant's head and a long trunk. What if you were a Mayan...
- Don't, I understand everything, - Arthur stopped him, - Just don't expect me to buy you beer!
- Do not make me laugh! I can create so much beer that it will flood not only your entire Moscow, but the entire planet! And what, not a bad idea - a worldwide beer flood! It is high time! Pathetic little people completely lost their fear, they do what they want! I created such a beautiful planet for you: blue seas, snow-capped mountains, shady forests, crystal waters of rivers! And what did you turn it into?
“Yes, the guy seems to be in trouble with his head!” - thought Arthur, listening to the ravings of an uninvited drinking companion.
Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.
- Well, if you are so omnipotent, could you, just as an entertainment, create for me, let's say a small suitcase with a million dollars? Lomov asked.
“I could,” reply the impostor, not at all embarrassed, “but I won’t. You see, money is such a thing… no matter how much they give you it anyway, very soon you will feel that this is not enough. I'd rather make sure you never need money at all. Is it coming?
Arthur shrugged vaguely.
- I will turn you, well, let's say ... - the stranger thought for a second, - into a rat!
“I don’t want to be a rat,” Lomov suddenly got scared, “they are vile and nasty!”
- No, no, just a rat! Big black rat! But not today, tomorrow. In the meantime, drink your beer!
- Wait! Don't turn me into anyone! - Arthur shouted, but the hanyga had already vanished into cigarette smoke.
* * *
Arthur could not get the key into the keyhole for a long time, and when he finally managed to open the door, he saw his wife in a dressing gown with a crumpled night face.
- Where are you hanging out? – Unkindly asked she, - Do you know what time it is? And why isn't the cell phone answering?
- The phone is dead. Probably ... - Arthur muttered, barely moving his tongue.
- You're l drunk! - The wife said and grimaced in disgust, - And with whom did you get so drunk?
- You will not believe - with God!
- Moron! - said the wife and slapped Arthur on the head with a slipper.
- I am not kidding! I actually drank beer with God and he promised to turn me into a rat! Tomorrow! - He suddenly felt funny, and he began to choke with laughter, - Imagine, tomorrow you wake up, and your husband is a rat, or rather ratman! But it's tomorrow, and now I want to sleep!
- You idiot, take off your shoes! - said the wife and went to the kitchen.
Lomov threw off his shoes with difficulty and went into the bedroom and, without undressing, collapsed onto the bed.
* * *
He dreamed of some nonsense: Margarita Nikolaevna, completely naked, in only shoes, walked around the office, scolded negligent employees, gave valuable instructions. The subordinates listened to her with a serious look and nodded their heads. And only one Arthur could hardly contain the laughter. But when the naked headmistress began to teach the electrician how to properly install the outlet, Lomov could not stand it and literally neighed out loud.
- Lomov, what's the matter with you? - Margarita Nikolaevna asked sternly, - Did I say something funny? By the way, how are you going to compensate for the colossal loss that you caused the company with your mistakes in the report? Do you have a million dollars?
- I have? – Surprised Arthur – Where?
- Then we could cut off your hand! - Suggested Margarita Nikolaevna, - Although wait! Say, are you drinking?
- It's good that you don't drink, and then we'll take your liver. Or not, better a kidney, because you have two of them!
And then Arthur saw a huge kitchen knife flash in the headmistress's hand. He realized that it was time to run, but his legs suddenly became wobbly and he could not budge...
* * *
Waking up the next morning with a sore head, Arthur first tried to understand why he felt so bad? Obviously, because he got drunk yesterday - that's clear. He strained his brain, and he managed to remember the scandal arranged by the headmistress, as well as the promise to fire him. After such it was a sin not to get drunk! But where? He didn't remember this.
However, there was no time to think, he was already late for work. Taking a sip of cold tea from a cup standing on the table, he quickly dressed and rushed out into the street.
* * *
Despite all the efforts, Lomov was still late for work. As soon as he sat down at his desk and turned on the computer, the secretary called and said that Margarita Nikolaevna urgently wanted to see him. His heart immediately felt ugly and cold.
Arthur honestly tried, following Chekhov, to squeeze a slave out of himself, drop by drop, but somehow it didn’t work out very well. He could convince himself as much as he wanted that the worst thing this woman could do to him was to fire him. Only and everything! But after all, he has arms, legs and a head on his shoulders; he will not die of hunger. But as soon as he was in the director's office, all logical arguments instantly evaporated, and only one animal inexplicable irrational fear remained. That vile, shrill voice pulled things out of the depths of his subconscious that he didn't even know existed. He literally physically felt how he began to decrease in size.
Even now, standing in front of the huge director's desk, like a delinquent schoolboy, he could not get rid of the feeling of his own insignificance.
“Not only are you unable to write an elementary report,” Margarita Nikolaevna’s voice boomed in his ears, “you are also late!” What do you not like about your work? Or do you want to be reduced?
Lomov suddenly imagined that he really was reduced, and at the same moment he saw how all the items in the director's office, including the hostess, began to grow rapidly. He did not immediately guess that in fact no one and nothing is growing, and that he himself is decreasing in size.
- Arthur Valentinovich, what are you doing? – Finally noticed the strange metamorphoses headmistress, - Immediately stop, I order you!
But Lomov was no longer able to stop anything. He was already looking at the edge of the director's table from the bottom up, and after a couple of seconds he realized that his height did not exceed the height of a woman's shoe.
- Rat! - Margarita Nikolaevna suddenly squealed and jumped onto the table with unexpected agility, - Lena, come here soon!
Whistling a few centimeters from his temple, the massive crystal ashtray hit the carpet with a dull thud, and Arthur realized that any delay could cost him his life. With all his might, he rushed under the closet, and a mobile phone and a few obscene words flew after him.
- Where is the rat, Margarita Nikolaevna? - asked the secretary, who came running to the cry.
- She hid under the closet! Call the guard as soon as possible, the closet must be urgently moved away before she runs away!
Realizing that he could not hide here, Arthur began to look for a way out and soon discovered a gap between the plinth and the wall. With difficulty, squeezing through a narrow opening, he found himself in a pier between the main wall and the plasterboard panels with which the office was sheathed. Only now did he feel relatively safe and tried to analyze the situation.
First, he realized that not only had he shrunk in size, but even worse, he had turned into a rat (he never liked rats). This followed not only from the screams of the headmistress (she could call her subordinate and not that way!) but mainly from the long bare tail dragging after him.
And only then Arthur remembered yesterday's visit to the pub and dubious type who called himself God.
It must be said that yesterday he treated his random drinking companion rather lightly, but now, under the pressure of circumstances, he was forced to admit that the impostor was far from being as simple as it seemed to him at first glance. Of course, he is no God, that's clear. But who? For some reason I didn't want to think about it.
Meanwhile, a security guard came and pushed the closet away. They searched for Arthur for a long time and unsuccessfully, but found only a gap in the wall.
- She probably climbed into this hole, - said the guard, - now you can’t smoke her out of there! Or you order to break the wall?
Then the supply manager and some other people came, made noise, moved the furniture.
This bustle tired Lomov, and he dozed off, and when he woke up, there was dead silence. Obviously, the working day has already ended and everyone has gone home. He was terribly hungry, however, not surprising, because he had not eaten anything since yesterday. And then his nostrils caught a delicious smell, it came from the director's office, seeped through the cracks in the wall, penetrated into the brain and caused painful salivation.
Overcoming fear, Lomov cautiously crawled out of hiding and, sniffing the air, moved in the direction of the source of the seductive aroma. Very soon he realized that the smell was coming from the drawer. Using the wires leading to the monitor, he deftly climbed onto the table, but the drawer was closed, and Arthur's weak rat paws were simply unable to pull it out. Luckily, there was a pencil on the table, he pushed it through the slot and, acting as a lever, opened the drawer rather quickly. To his disappointment, he found there only a pile of useless papers and a thick stack of five thousandth bills tied with an elastic band. The impostor did not deceive, now Lomov's money was not at all interested, out of annoyance he even shit on them, but this only increased the hunger.
“Did the devil pull me to ask this idiot for a million dollars?! - he thought, listening to the hungry cramps in his stomach - And yet, where does this smell come from? How can money smell so delicious!”
He rummaged through the entire drawer filled with stupid papers and finally found in the very corner under some kind of contract a small moldy piece of cheese. Well, yes, of course, it was cheese, only he could emit such an attractive aroma.
Arthur ate it in a couple of seconds and of course he didn’t sated a drop. Unable to resist, he even began to gnaw at the contract, soaked with a cheese smell.
- Are you eating contracts? Look, you will earn an ulcer! - Arthur heard a sly voice behind him and turned around. On the edge of the table sat a small but rather pretty white rat.
- Hello! My name is Larisa, - the rat introduced herself, - And you are Arthur from the sales department!
- Exactly, but how do you know me?
- Yes, I used to work in the logistics department; I was fired six months ago.
- Larisa from logistics? I remember you! - Arthur was delighted, - Such a pretty blonde, you still always wore very short skirts, our men just twisted their necks when you walked down the corridor.
- That's why I was fired.
- Wait, are you, too, like I used to be a human?
- All rats were once people, - Larisa remarked philosophically, - but fear turns a person into an animal.
- What kind of nonsense? - Arthur was skeptical.
- No nonsense. British scientists conducted research and came to the conclusion that over the past 40 years, the IQ in rats has increased by 10 points! And at the same time in all rats living in different parts of the globe.
- And what? Rats live next to people and learn all sorts of tricky things from them!
- Let's admit it. Do you know how many people disappear without a trace every year in our country? 80 thousand! A man went out to the nearest store for bread and did not return!
- Do you think they all turn into rats?
- Maybe not all, but many. We have become!
It was difficult to object to such an argument, and Arthur remained silent.
- What are we all talking about? - said Larisa, - you're probably hungry? Come on, I've got something from the New Year's banquet.
Larisa led Arthur to her hole, where a sumptuous dinner was waiting for them: there were half-eaten sandwiches with boiled pork and smoked sausage, and assorted fish, and of course cheese, a lot of cheese.
Satisfying his hunger, Arthur took a closer look at Larisa and suddenly realized that he liked her. And even her long bare tail now did not cause disgust, but rather seemed piquant. And what a wonderful smell emanated from her small, but such a dexterous little body!
Unable to resist the call of the flesh, he approached her from behind and put his paws on her shoulders.
* * *
- Darling! Do you want us to have little rats? - Larisa asked a few minutes later, snuggling comfortably on Lomov's shoulder.
- What? What other rats? Arthur didn't understand.
- Well, how? We didn't protect ourselves! And I am very prolific, in the last litter I brought twelve rats!
- Oh my God! Lomov groaned, “But you can’t do it somehow so that ... well, you understand!”
- Don't you want us to have little rats?
- No, you misunderstood me, that's not the point! It's just all of a sudden...
- What is unexpected? If you don't want little rats, say so!
- It's not that I don't want little rats. You see, this happened to you a long time ago, and in six months you have probably turned into a real rat, you feel like a rat and think like a rat. And I was still a human this morning...
- You were office plankton! - Larisa reminded.
- Okay, so be it! But I walked on two legs, wore a blue suit, a striped tie, and drank Gösser beer.
- You can get beer in the garbage dump, - Larisa suggested, - Sometimes unfinished bottles are thrown there.
- I don't want beer from the dump, damn it! - Arthur got angry, - And I don't want to be a rat! Why on earth should I be a rat? Why, Lord? There are so many real scums around: thieves, robbers, murderers, rapists, child molesters! Well, why me?!
“You and I seem to have such karma,” Larisa sighed sadly, “never mind. Let's sleep better, and tomorrow we'll go to the garbage heap and find you a Gösser beer.
* * *
Lomov fell asleep and had a wonderful dream. In this dream, he was human again.
He was lying in a small bright room on a clean sheet, covered up to his chin with a striped woolen blanket. The gentle spring sun shone through the window, and the soul was light and calm.
He thought that, perhaps, he should go to wash and already threw back the covers, but at that moment voices and noise were heard outside the door. Arthur returned the blanket to its place and pretended to be asleep.
People entered the room, through narrowed eyelids Lomov could only see through the legs and the skirts of white coats.
- But Semyon Arkadyevich, pay attention, a very interesting case! - said the first rather pleasant male voice, - Sick Lomov, he entered yesterday. Hypomanic arousal in an acute form, convinced that he is a rat. When the team arrived, he rushed around the director's office, biting, scratching, trying to hide under the closet, barely managed to calm him down. He was injected with 4 cubes of chlorpromazine. When he wakes up, for some time he will adequately perceive the surrounding reality, but after a few hours the effect of the drug will end.
- Very good! - Answered the second voice, - continue aminazin, add more phenazepam and electroconvulsive therapy. Who's next for us?
- Maklakov, Delirium tremens, entered three days ago...
The voices began to fade, the dream gradually melted away and Lomov found himself again lying in the rat hole. A white rat sat next to him and somehow strangely (with tenderness?) looked at him.
- Larisa? You? - He asked, looking at the animal.
- Well, yes, Larisa, who else?
- You know Larisa, I had such a strange dream here! - Lomov yawned, unable to restrain himself, - As if I had become a man again, I was lying in a clean, bright room, some people in white coats were coming and saying something. It seems like I got sick, I'm in the hospital, and they treat me.
- I, too, at first dreamed of something similar, but then everything went away, - Larisa reassured him, - And it will pass for you too!
- I do not want will pass! Vice versa. Understand - I do not want to be a rat, sleep in this stinking hole, and eat garbage! I want to be human!
- Unfortunately, this is a one-way street.
- In what sense?
- I asked to other rats. There has never been such a case that a rat became a man.
- And what, there is no hope?
- To be honest, not the slightest. Okay, stop talking, let's go have breakfast in the trash, otherwise yesterday we ate up all the supplies!
- I won't go, - Arthur answered and lay down, resting his head on his front paws.
- Okay, lie down. Then I'll bring you something delicious. Do you want rotten herring intestines?
"Then what do you want I to bring?"
- I do not want anything.
- You can't do that, Arthur. If you don't eat, you'll get sick and soon die!
- That's good, everything is better than this life!
- You know, Arthur, I used to think so too, but then I realized one very simple thing: since we exist as outcasts ...
- Outcasts? Lomov asked.
- Well, yes - rats, cockroaches, crickets and others ... So, since we are exist, then someone needs it!
- To whom? To office plankton? So that they look at us and rejoice that it is not they who have to rummage through the garbage in search of rotten herring intestines?
- Well, yes, at least. And don't forget that at any moment they themselves can be in our place!
- I don't want to be a scarecrow for these one-celled!
- And what do you want?
- Don't know. I don't want to live, that's what!
- We must be careful with desires, - Larisa warned, - they tend to come true!
- Well, let! I want to die and the sooner the better!
- Bad deed is not tricky. There are thousands of ways: you can deliberately climb into a mousetrap, or, for example, go out into the yard in the evening and shout: “Cats are motherfuckers!”
- Faggots! Cretins! Jerks! - Heard the cries of Margarita Nikolaevna from behind the wall, - I will fire you all; you will eat rotten meat in my garbage dump! I told you yesterday to catch a rat! Not only did this bastard gobble up a million dollar contract, but he also pissed off my money!
“Money can be laundered,” the financial director advised timidly, “now many do it!
- Here you take Mark Antonovich and launder this money as you want! And you, Igor Ivanovich, as the head of the security department, urgently take care of the rat! And so that by tomorrow morning I could see her corpse!
- Then I went for mousetraps? Igor Ivanovich asked.
- Go, do something already! Do not stand like idols!
* * *
Arthur not only did not go with Larisa to the trash, but did not even touch the delicacies that she brought him. He spent the whole day lying in the hole, with his head on his paws and staring dully in front of him.
But by evening, when there was no food left, hunger began to make itself felt. Thoughts of suicide disappeared somewhere; he wanted cheese, ham, grain, and most importantly more and more. At first he endured, trying to hide his cowardice, but then he could not stand it.
- Listen Laris, and there you have nothing left to gnaw? - he asked.
- No, I finished everything, you refused! - Answered Larisa, - But I think it's time to visit our headmistress's office. The working day is already over; no one will interfere with us.
Four mousetraps were waiting for them in the office, richly stuffed with cheese, sausage and even lard.
- Give me a pencil! Larisa asked.
Arthur climbed onto the table and brought a pencil. Larisa put it in a mousetrap and it snapped shut, breaking the back of the pencil.
- Well, now you can safely eat cheese! - She said.
While Larisa was fiddling with the next mousetrap, Lomov decided to look for food on his own, and very quickly found a saucer of flour in the corner behind the bedside table. True, the smell of flour was a little strange, but the hunger was so strong that he did not become picky.
- You're so funny! - Larisa giggled when she saw Arthur, - you have a white mustache, and the whole muzzle!
- Yes, I'm here ... I found flour ... - Lomov muttered and began to embarrassedly rub his muzzle with varnishes.
- Wait, are you eating flour? Larisa asked, and her gaze was filled with genuine horror.
- Yes, what wrong? - Arthur spoke slowly, involuntarily infected by her fear.
- I knew it! You could not be left alone for a second; you are like a small child! It's my entire fault!
- Wait a minute, explain plainly what happened?
- There is such an old way of killing rats and mice. Flour is mixed with alabaster and placed in a conspicuous place. Now you will be thirsty, the alabaster will mix with the water, the solution will immediately seize, and you will die a slow and painful death.
- What if you don't drink?
- Then you will die of dehydration. Not a very pleasant ending either.
Wait, you must be wrong! Maybe there was no alabaster in that flour? 'Cause I can't die, I'm so young!
- Okay, let's go; let's look at your flour! - Larissa sighed.
Lomov showed her the saucer; the rat carefully sniffed it and confidently sentenced:
- The smell of alabaster!
- And what will happen now?
- Now you're going begin to die!
- No, it can't be! After all, I have not even begun to truly live, only I was going to! And most importantly - for what?
- I don’t understand where all of a sudden such a thirst for life comes from? Just a few hours ago, you yourself wanted to die!
- I was a fool! And now I understand everything, I want to live! Live by anyone: a blind mole, a cockroach, a worm.
- Whoever you are, sooner or later you would still have to die. Or did you think you'd live forever?
- No, of course, - Arthur was embarrassed, - I just didn't expect everything to happen so quickly and ridiculously. I am not ready!
- Well, get ready, you still have time! I told you - you will go to die for a long time.
- Wait, Laris, it seems it has begun!
- What started?
- Well, what were you talking about. There is something going on inside of me. It feels like... I don't know what to say. It seems like everything is starting to turn to stone!
- I knew it! Well, go to look for your last shelter!
- What other shelter?
- The rat, when it feels that its end is near, leaves its relatives, looks for a secluded place and hides there.
- For what?
- Such is the law - everyone dies alone!
But I don't want to die alone! In fact, I just don't want to die! However, I think I've already said that.
- Of course he did! Come on; crawl away faster while you can still move your paws!
* * *
Arthur wandered for a long time through some basement passageways, crawled into holes, but could not find a quiet place anywhere. There was a rat smell everywhere, or even worse, a cat smell. Finally, he managed to find a seemingly suitable hole, he lay down on a pile of dirty rags, but as soon as he closed his eyes, some devils appeared and dragged him to hell.
"Put me down," he shouted, "I don't want to go to hell! For what? I didn't do anything wrong!"
In response, the devils grinned and were talking among themselves in an incomprehensible language. And when he began to struggle, they twisted his hands (now he had hands!) Behind his back.
But the worst began when they arrived at the place. The devils put a funnel down Arthur's throat and began pouring molten lead into him. However, maybe it was not lead, but silver, platinum, or some other white metal.
Then he vomited with this liquid metal, and then the funnel was inserted again, and everything started all over again. But this was not enough for the devils, and they began to pour the same metal into it only from the other side. His insides were swollen, and it seemed that they were about to burst. Unable to bear the torment, Arthur passed out.
And when he came to himself, he saw a girlish face of angelic beauty bending over him. And suddenly this angelic face approached him and dug into his lips with a passionate kiss.
"Maybe I'm in heaven!" thought Arthur.
- Stop overworking, Lariska, don't you see, he's already recovered! - A rather unpleasant female voice came from somewhere above.
Larisa pulled away and spat.
“I thought he would never recover!” she said, wiping her lips with the back of her hand.
- Where I am? Arthur asked, looking around.
- Where, where, in Karaganda! - Answered the second girl and rolled up with a cheerful laugh, - You better tell us fool, why did you eat cement?
- Cement? So it was cement? – Delighted Arthur, - Definitely not alabaster?
- We have Tajiks doing repairs, - the girl explained, - there are bags of cement in the corridor, so you ate straight from the bag. Dzhamshut came running, complaining, if your patients eat our cement, how can we repair? You had to do a gastric lavage, and out of habit you almost go to hell! Well, Lariska noticed in time, you can say, she saved your life!
The nurses left (he guessed that they were nurses in white caps and gowns) and Lomov began to inspect the room. On the wall, framed under glass, he noticed a rather strange document. Arthur got out of bed, walked over and began to read.
“A reminder to the new arrivals.
Eight levels of hell.
- Arbuda-naraka - hell of blisters. On a dark frozen valley, surrounded by cold mountains, there is a constant blizzard and snow storm. The inhabitants of this hell are naked and lonely, and their bodies are covered with blisters from the cold. The time spent in this hell is how long it will take to empty a barrel of sesame seeds, if one grain is taken every hundred years.
- Nirarbuda-naraka - the hell of swelling blisters. This hell is even colder and the blisters swell and explode, leaving the bodies covered in blood and pus.
- Atata-naraka - hell when shaking from the cold.
- Hahava-naraka - the hell of weeping and groaning. When the victim moans from the cold.
- Huhuva-naraka - the hell of chattering teeth. Terrible chills and chattering of teeth.
- Utpala-naraka - the hell of the blue lotus, when the constant cold makes the whole skin turn blue like a lily.
- Padma-naraka - lotus hell. A snowstorm covers the frozen body, leaving bloody wounds.
- Mahapadma-naraka - the great lotus hell. The whole body cracks from the cold, and the internal organs also crack from the terrible frost.
Staying in each next level is 20 times longer than in the previous one.
What awaits the unfortunate then Lomov did not have time to find out - a doctor entered the ward. He felt his pulse, pulled his eyelids back, examined his tongue.
- Well, the patient, I see - your condition has stabilized, it's time for the procedures! - He said in a cheerful voice.
- What other procedures? Arthur asked suspiciously.
- Shock cryotherapy.
- What is this? Never heard of such a thing!
- No wonder, this is my own technique. It consists in the following: the patient is stripped naked and placed in a special chamber, cooled to an extremely low temperature...
- Wait, I can't be frozen, I can't stand the cold! My skin is covered with pimples and starts to beat like a fever!
- Get used to, a person gets used to everything. Moreover, you have eternity ahead of you!
Are you a doctor; are you out of your mind? What the hell is eternity? Are you going to freeze me forever? My heart can't take it, I'll just die!
- It's you who are crazy, - the doctor objected, - and now we will treat you!
- Do not treat me, doctor! Yes, I admit, I was sick, but now I am cured. Believe me, I'm healthy! I adequately perceive the reality around me! For God's sake, let me go!
- Would a healthy person eat cement? - The doctor grinned sarcastically.
The orderlies appeared - Lomov recognized in them the very devils who poured liquid metal into him.
They blindfolded the patient and led him through the endless hospital corridors. Then he was taken for a long time in an elevator, as it seemed to him down, and then again there were corridors.
* * *
- I can't be frozen, - just in case, Arthur warned, when the orderlies suddenly began to pull off his clothes, - I'm allergic to cold. I will die immediately!
- Not anymore! - The orderly assured, continuing to undress Lomov.
- In what sense? - Arthur didn't understand.
- In direct! You probably think you're in a psych ward?
- Yes of course! Where else can they bully people like that?
- Wow, "above the people"! - The orderly chuckled, - But just a few hours ago you considered yourself a rat!
- I was wrong! But now that I have realized my delusions, there is no need to keep me in your terrible hospital!
- I told you, this is not a hospital for you!
- What then?
- The ancient Greeks called this place Hades, the Muslims Sakar, the Buddhists - Naraka, the Christians - underworld or just Hell. Atheists believe that there is no such place at all. Remember that jerk on the tinted nine?
- Wait, what do you want to say? But I managed to jump back!
- As you can see, you didn’t have time! - The orderly grunted sarcastically, - You died before the arrival of the ambulance!
- How did I die? Wait, I'm… - Arthur tried to object, but suddenly he realized that he was talking to himself.
He tore off the bandage from his eyes and saw that he was standing completely alone, naked in the middle of an endless snowy plain, and the icy wind was beating his face, tearing tears from his eyes, which immediately hardened, turning into ice.
There was no strength to stand still, and he went at random, trembling all over and falling into the snow almost up to his knees...
In the study of behavioral finance, there's a phenomenon known as extrapolation bias, more commonly referred to as recency bias, which causes people, by nature, to overweight recent events when making forward decisions. It was one of the main culprits in the 2008 housing market crash.
In essence, people are hardwired to believe that whatever is currently happening will continue to happen into the future. Home values going up every day? That bubble won't burst. The Celtics have won the previous three games of the Eastern Conference finals? Surely they're going to win again on Monday.
Jimmy Butler begs to differ.
"When we huddle up after the game, after a tough loss like this one, everybody is smiling because we know we're very capable of it, I'm telling you, and we are not going to let up," Butler told reporters after the Game 6 loss on Saturday. "I'm not going to let anybody quit. I'm not going to let our guys quit. I don't give a damn what happens. We're going to go [into Boston] and we're going to win."
Butler said the same thing before Game 6, but again, don't be fooled by your recency bias. Don't forget Butler's postseason because a couple of bad games are fresh in your mind. In last year's Eastern Conference finals, Butler went for six points on 3-of-14 shooting in Game 4, followed that up with 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting in Game 5 as the Heat fell down 3-2. It would've been easy to think he and the Heat were out of gas then, too.
Instead, with the season on the line, Butler went for 47 in Game 6 in Boston to force a Game 7 back home in Miami, where Boston rebounded with a road win to advance to the NBA Finals. Why can't the Heat do the same thing on Monday?
And don't say it's because of what you've seen the last three games. We've been over this. It's a trick that your mind plays on you. Game 7 is going to be its own kind of basketball war. It won't be about schematics or the adjustments we all love to talk about, and it certainly won't be about what happened in Game 6.
This has all the makings of a close game with five minutes to play. If you don't think Butler is going to be an animal in that situation, you must've just started watching. You must've already forgotten the 15 points he scored in the fourth quarter on Saturday, including three ice-cold free throws that would've sent the Heat to the Finals if not for a Derrick White miracle.
I agree; it's tempting to say the momentum is too far on the side of Boston at this point and that the Heat can't rally on the road after dropping three straight. Again, what's fresh in our minds is the last three games. But I would encourage you to remember that Miami also won three straight games in this series; they just happened to be the first three, and that trend didn't continue.
The fact of the matter is it is very, very difficult to win four straight playoff games in the NBA. It's why you don't often see sweeps. It's why no team in history has managed to climb all the way out of a 3-0 hole to win a playoff series. One hundred and fifty teams, not including these Celtics, have tried, and 150 teams have failed.
It's true; the Celtics have already bucked some major odds. Of those 150 previous teams to go down 3-0, only three -- the 2003 Portland Trail Blazers, the 1994 Denver Nuggets, and the 1951 New York Knicks -- have managed to even get it to a Game 7. But none of them finished the job. That fourth straight win has always been too much.
Does that mean I think the Heat are going to win? I'm not saying that. What I am saying is it would be a mistake to assume that Miami's clock has already struck midnight, and I know many of you out there think just that. Vegas thinks it, too. That's why the Celtics are 7.5-point favorites on Monday.
The public has been dismissing the Heat in this series from the jump; even when they were up 2-0 they were plus-money to make the Finals. We were looking for any reason to go back to doubting the Heat. Three straight losses are more than enough to completely forget this Miami team is no typical eight-seed. This is not a Cinderella team. If you still think it is, I don't know what to tell you.
Will Caleb Martin keep playing like an All-Star? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure Butler is going to have the pedal on the floor from the opening tip on Monday. Charles Barkley said Butler was too patient in Game 6, and I agree. It's a fine line for a superstar in the NBA. You wait too long, patience becomes passivity, and you never actually get going. Butler got it going too late in Game 6, and Miami still took the lead with three seconds to play.
There is still little proof that Boston can stop Butler when he decides to dominate, particularly as a scorer. And when Butler dominates as a scorer, Miami's shooters have a way of getting going. If that happens, it will come down to whether Boston can make its own 3-pointers at a high clip. Same story as the rest of this series, really.
So we'll see. If I said I had any idea who would win this game, I'd be lying. But that's the point here. Nobody knows. You might think you do, as the Celtics have stormed back and feel every bit like the better team heading into Monday night, but that's your recency bias talking. Turn that voice off. That thing will get you in a lot of trouble.