On the other side of the door was a world covered in snow. When I went out the cold, night air hit my naked face, making it feel as if I dipped it in ice water. The winter darkness concealed the city with its shroud so I could barely see a thing. The street was covered with a fluffy layer, burying my legs up to the ankles whenever I took a step. The snowflakes were falling down from the pitch black sky, and when the wind had died down, they started dancing around me.
It was seven o'clock. My wife had already called a taxi. One company had never disappointed us so far, so we decided to call them that time as well. We were moving to the Petrogradskiy district of Saint Petersburg, and we had to drive from Kupchino, which was pretty far. We didn't have many things with us, thankfully, we'd managed to carry most of them during the day, but then we were just exhausted.
All of us were worn out except for our daughter—Nina. I'd never understood just one little thing: how did she manage to have so much energy? She'd been carrying things all day long, but I couldn't see even a slight sign of her tiredness. I thought those constant exercises at the gym were really helping her. I wish I could do the same. Although I was a firefighter I couldn't be full of strength after that.
We brought all our things down, and then she was sitting on a bag, reading a book, brightening its pages with a small flashlight. I was looking at the cover and noticed the title. That was Immanuel Kant "Critique of Pure Reason". How on Earth after such a journey and when you were freezing to death she could read stuff like that?
'May I interrupt you for a second?' asked I, breathing out a cloud of steam.
'What's wrong dad?' she asked quietly. She was imperturbable as always. We hadn't talked too much for the last few days. That didn't mean we were not getting well with each other. She was just fairly serious and got used to doing all things on her own.
'When I was on my way home, I saw you with an odd-looking chap. Do you want to tell me something about him?'
Nina glanced at me again but now in a more indignant way. For all that, sometimes it was really hard to stand her reptilian eyes. They were cold, brown, with two thin vertical lines of disapproval.
'Maybe you could say just a little bit about him?' I decided not to step back.
'His name is Max,' she snapped out.
'And who is he?'
'Does he also like reading "Critique of Pure Reason"?'
'No, he's more into stuff like "Capital".'
'"Capital"?' my wife Ana broke in of a sudden.
'Oh my God… never mind! Just forget it!' said Nina, hiding her face behind the book.
'Okay-okay!' I answered, putting that stupid conversation to an end. The reason was definitely not worth getting on my nerves; besides, I knew that was impossible to persuade Nina. Let her go out whom she wanted with. She is a smart girl, isn't she? Though love is blind—anyway, I wouldn't be in a stew because of that.
It had started snowing long ago and it showed no sign of stopping. The weather forecast said that it would continue like this for the next week. Snow wasn't anything new around here, but that amount was more like a rarity.
Ana was tired just like me so she decided to sit down on one of our bags and rest a little bit. A few minutes later, she received a text message: "Black Kia is on its way, 2,6 km about 7 minutes". The news made us all happy.
The driver didn't lie and in a couple of minutes, we noticed his car not far from our house. He looked out of it.
'Good evening! Is it everything you have?'
'Yes,' I answered instantly, 'two bags, three knapsacks, a chair, and a mattress.'
'All right, I think we'll manage to put everything in,' said the man and smiled widely.
The driver stepped out of his car, and because of the heavy snow, his body was stained white as if flour was blown on him. He opened the boot of the car, and I started carrying to him the heaviest things we had. Nina decided not to stay in the corner and help us with the knapsacks. It didn't take us much time, but we didn't know where to put the mattress, it was too big for the boot.
'So… how do you—' pondered the chauffeur looking at it.
'It's a foldaway mattress,' my wife gave him a hint.
'Aha, I see. Is every part of it dirty?'
'That's okay, we can clean it easily,' reassured Ana.
'No, I'm thinking about how to put it in the cabin,' the driver giggled.
That's how we dealt with all of our stuff.
'Nina, would you sit there with your mother and keep the chair with you?' asked I.
'Sure,' she nodded.
Without any words, I sat next to the driver. When he fastened his seatbelt and saw that everyone was sitting comfortably, he started to drive out on the main road. After that, he turned on the map of the city on his tablet. He typed our address and started to move according to the indicated route. Hmm, it was so easy. I remember that earlier taxi drivers had to learn the whole city by heart though maybe ours knew everything very well and he turned on his tablet just in case.
As soon as we got to the traffic area, there was a slight flick near the windows and the message played: "Thank you for choosing our company. Fasten your seatbelts for your own safety. Have a nice journey!" How thoughtful of them.
Most of the local shops were still open and Christmas presents seemed to be breaking through the windows and doors; however, Christmas had already passed. We celebrated it just like we usually did: we were watching our favourite films the whole night and then had a nice walk in the park.
Our car hadn't managed to go for too long when the driver asked:
'Are you guys locals?'
'Are you from Saint Petersburg?'
'Ah… yeah, of course. I'm a fireman.'
'I see. That's not easy I think.'
'Well, that depends. Different things might happen.'
'Like what?' the taxi driver got really interested.
'Ahh. One day there was an incident in winter, an old lady called us. Alas, she couldn't think of anything better than jumping out of her window into a snowdrift from the second floor. She was really old, so she couldn't get out of there, and she couldn't call anyone for help either.'
'And did she freeze to death?' the chauffeur tried to guess.
'No, she didn't, the irony is that she didn't die from the fire nor from the cold. We managed to extinguish the fire, and then we started getting rid of almost all stuff in the flat. That is a must-do since we want to avoid a fire in the future. So one of my colleagues decided to throw the couch out of the window, and it fell down on that old lady.'
'Oh God…' said the man quietly. He turned around to look at my daughter and wife but they both had absolutely calm faces. I think he understood they got used to listening to stories like that one.
'Yeah, terrible things might happen, but you get used to this.'
'An interesting job you have,' said the taxi driver thoughtfully.
We hadn't driven in silence for too long, and the driver started to say something again:
'Argh! What's happening?' he was messing around with his tablet. He was trying to find different routes which would be highlighted with green colour. But he couldn't, when he made a new route, it instantly turned red which meant either a traffic jam or something else.
'Is something wrong?' asked I.
'These jams are just all over the place and I don't even know where we could go.'
Our car was in the city centre, not far from the "Nevskiy prospect" metro station. A few people were in a hurry and—something was happening and I couldn't really see what. Several roads were blocked by the police. Hmm, I could perfectly remember that during the day it was nothing like that although we used metro but still we would have noticed for sure if there had been at least something.
We were lucky that the traffic jam was not that huge there. The cars were moving somehow. Unfortunately, it wasn't for long. We had hardly gone through the Nevskiy Prospect when near the Palace Square we saw loads of cars. Was it because of the snowfall? No, it must have been something else.
'Do you know why it's like this today?' I asked the driver.
'Not a clue. I've been working all day and everything was fine. Yeah, there were a few jams but it was expected. And now it's a total mess! Maybe there's been an accident but I don't see anything,' said the man, taking a good look at the Palace Square.
I turned around and saw that my wife started to get nervous. Nina wasn't looking good either. To be honest, I felt the same. I was worried not even about the jams but the reason. Why were all those people running? What from?
Eventually, my curiosity overcame me and I decided to get out of the car because we didn't seem to go anywhere, so it was all the same.
'I'll be right back, ok?'
Nobody minded. Besides, I noticed I wasn't the only one who stepped out. One lady was running just in front of me and I called her:
'Miss, please wait!'
'Sorry? Listen to me, sir. It's better not to stay here,' she said rapidly.
'Why are you running? What's happening?' I just couldn't understand the whole hustle and bustle thing.
Young woman breathed in and out a few times, gathering her thoughts and after that, she blurted out:
'There—v'ry close to "Sennaya" station some madmen attacked people! They're crazy and they're runnin really fast and—uhh, they were shouting something. Thank God the police were near and they did something. I broke into a run and then I heard gunshots.'
'What madmen? Where did they come from?'
'Listen, I dunno. I just want home. I'm sorry,' she said and moved away quickly.
I was standing stock-still and I couldn't think clearly. Some kind of madmen. What an absurd? I brushed my clothes off and then shook my head to get the snow out of my hair.
Right, let's think this straight. Since there were lots of traffic jams and then gunshots , it was something really serious. That was not good… damn, it seemed better to leave everything behind and just walk away as quickly as we could. I didn't like all that panic.
I returned to the taxi at once and opened the door where Nina and Anna were sitting.
'We're going,' said I as if I said a tongue-twister.
'What? And what about our bags? We won't be able to carry all of them!' my wife was indignant.
'We'll grab our knapsacks. The rest doesn't matter.'
'Wait, you're leaving?' the taxi driver looked surprised.
'Yes, sorry for that, here's is your money.' I took out my purse and gave the cash to the driver. 'C'mon! C'mon!'
'Dad, what did that woman tell you?' asked Nina suspiciously.
'That it was better not to stay here and—' no sooner had I ended my phrase than I saw how literally in front of us a huge van passed by, pulled away a few cars and overran a man who was standing on its way. It seemed like after that the time was frozen and something was twisting within me. Only the snow leisurely continued to fall, as if nothing had happened. It all occurred so fast that I could barely realise it. The van was still moving further in the Palace Square until it suddenly stopped when it ran into the Alexander Column.
'Holy my…' that's all that the chauffeur could say.
I was astonished just like him. My family and I were shocked! I still couldn't explain the whole thing. All of a sudden, I heard a piercing noise that scared me: sudden gunshots took me out of my numbness. Oh my, God, they were shooting really close! What the hell was happening ?!
'Run!' yelled I.
My daughter was just ahead of us. After that, we even forgot about all of our things.
The majority was running just like us, several people left their cars and fled. Some unknown fear was consuming us and my heart was pounding so fast as if it were about to explode.
We were lucky because there wasn't too much snow, but I still had to watch my step. And I noticed something peculiar. While everybody was staying away from cars, one man was trying to get into one of them. But why? Though that was not that surprised me. Instead of opening the door, that man was hitting the windows pretty hard and he was shouting:
'It hurts! It hurts!'
I couldn't get what his face was expressing. It seemed like an eternal agony and all his clothes were splashed with blood; To hell with him! But he glanced at me suddenly and he noticed me watching him. He murmured something unintelligible, and then I heard a conquering snarl that shrank his eyes to slits and exposed both sets of teeth. He was mad… totally mad.
Then unexpectedly he dashed forward with lightinglike speed screaming:
'Help me! Help me!'
But his intentions didn't look peaceful at all.
I pushed my wife and daughter behind my back and kicked that madman hardly. What was happening with him? Why was he acting like that? I knocked him down on the snow and he began coughing. Just for a moment, it seemed that he was laughing.
That was—that wasn't normal! there was something frightening and flabbergasting and because of that my legs were trembling and my hands were shaking. I'd seen lots of things in my life but nothing like that. Did that woman tell me about people just like him? We had to leave that place and the sooner the better!
I feared there were more of those insane people; it turned out to be true. While we were running to the bridge I saw how those creatures were leaping to people and biting them as though they were some kind of predators.
That was a scene of a massacre. Why were they doing that? It seemed they were possessed by an evil spirit or it was more likely that they were demons themselves. All of them were shouting more or less the same. They felt pain. I wanted to help somebody, but I couldn't!
I saw how one of those madmen attacked a girl, bared his sharky sharp teeth, and sank them deeply in her neck. Bloody stream splattered the attacker. That crazy man stuck his face in it, tried to drink from it and started shaking the body back and forth as if it were his doll…
Those flipping snowflakes were flying just into my face. I hardly managed not to fall down.
It was a real miracle that we got to the Palace Embankment. I couldn't even describe what was happening there! That was much worse than any horror film could possibly show. People were fleeing in different directions, but some of them didn't really know what to do, so they were simply jumping on the frozen Neva river, nearly killing themselves by hitting against the ice.
The blood's glimmer melted the outlines of the crowd, making it lose the human shape, so we all resembled the madmen. The mob of people created one huge wavering shadow on the snow.
Then the worst thing happened. When we were near the bridge itself, four of those maniacs began chasing us. My family couldn't run that long, and one madman grabbed my wife.
'No! No!' Ana screamed.
I turned around at once and flung myself to rescue her, but of one those things attacked me. I was taken completely by surprise and fell down. I was yielding in rage and anger, but I didn't let him bite me. He tried to get me with all his might, and his blood was dropping out of his ugly mouth with the stuck out tongue. His eyes like white lamps peered from blood-dappled sockets.
I didn't know how to overcome him! He was too heavy! And during that struggle, I could hear my wife screaming, but a few seconds later it was quiet. In all that noise I didn't manage to hear her anymore.
My daughter kicked that creature's face and it bounced back on the ground. I jumped to my feet almost instantly but my wife wasn't there any longer… they must have taken her somewhere.
'What happened?' I asked Nina nervously.
'They've dragged her—there—' the girl was almost crying. She didn't know what to do.
'Don't worry! We'll find her!' encouraged I.
My attempt was vain from the very beginning. Suddenly I felt pain! Very strong pain! Maybe that madman's blood got into my mouth and affected me? No! That couldn't be happening! In my eyes, everything was melting. People and streets—they were dissolving. The light from street lamps reminded me of the light from Christmas garlands. Some kind of mysterious power was screwing my body from within. I felt like I was stabbed by thousands of needles. I couldn't think of anything!
'Daddy? Daddy, what's wrong?'
The only thing I managed to hear was my crying daughter.
'Go… just go!' I shouted at her. That was bad. I felt like in a few moments I wouldn't realise what I might do next.
Everything I saw was in the red shades as if my eyes were full of blood. And that pain. It didn't seem to go away.
That was the fatal minute, and I cocked my reddened face up to the dark-blue sky and howled in what sounded like a great triumph. I glanced at my daughter and I rushed to her like a wolf but I was stopped.
A few muffled claps sounded behind me, and one or two bullets got into my back. I fell face down on the snow. That irritable pain, at last, was passing… and all those sounds were fading away slowly. However, I was happy! I didn't hurt Nina, and she still had a chance. My body was shrouded with darkness and then the life left me…