The grey evening sky stretched around him from above, right across a featureless panorama. Featureless, except for the burnt-out stripped-down carcass of a Lada fifty metres in front of him and the seemingly endless, orderly grey swaths of rectangular concrete blocks that spread across the distance. That was the edge of Moscow- a place Losha had never been to. The only colour to the scene was provided by a pair of red and white striped chimneys that rose unmajestically from an industrial complex to the west, and the dark green of the trees that walled Moscow from Himki.
Losha pulled himself up onto an upturned, rusting skip and stared into the bleak, monochromatic distance.
Apart from what he’d seen on TV. it was the only real view he’d ever known. To him, that soulless mass on the horizon looked beautiful; Its colossal scale full of promise. He didn’t wish for much for himself, the list was short- the latest trainers; a new tracksuit; a Nintendo; a girlfriend; a normal dad- things some of his friends had, and some of them didn’t. But Losha understood that there was more to life than fixing things for the present. He wanted a future. His aspirations went beyond the pseudo-glamour of Little Vanya’s existence. He wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life in Himki; the boundaries of his hopes and dreams were further a field.
Little Vanya had shown Losha and the other kids from his block how to escape reality with nothing more than a tube of heavy duty glue and a plastic bag, but Losha knew there were no short cuts, that there were no free lunches, and had been trying to change his habits. The real escape routes were obvious to him; simple; binary. The army, or university. His brother was in the army and had nothing good to say about it, so Losha had decided that university would be his way, and he didn’t need anybody’s assistance in doing it. He knew he was clever enough- the grades in his pocket proved it, but all the same he felt the chains of his existence heavy around his neck. Hidden from the world by his oversize shades, tears welled in Losha’s eyes. Planning for the future was all very well, but when your trousers didn’t fit, your sweater belongs to a different decade, girls laughed at you in the street it’s hard to feel optimistic about life. Add to that a father who thinks he is a blossoming young lady, and despair begins to set in. It was obvious to Losha, that despite all the nice things people said about him; the churches, cathedrals and holidays dedicated to him God was a cunt. The idea of a hit of glue sat pretty at the crown of Losha’s thoughts.
Losha’s Grandma had taught him since he was on the potty that God not only existed, but was almighty, made everything; called all the shots; Noting the infinitely assorted nature that sprouted relentlessly of its own volition, taking every available opportunity to divide cement, concrete and asphalt alike; the birds that returned spring upon spring to nest and sing; the buds, blossom and leaves that knew when to appear on trees dead for seven months of every twelve- all despite the death that 20 degrees of frost brings in the long, dark winter, Losha had never had any reason for doubting God. How could he when everything man had made stood next to it, dull, inefficient; pointless in its protraction. Indeed, he prayed at least as regularly as he masturbated- around three times a week, on average.
Sitting on his lonely skip, Losha decided that if God was to blame- to blame for the state of his life, his family, his father and his home, then like anyone else, God would have to pay. Losha took off his shades, banished his tears with a sleeve and resolved that unless there was a drastic improvement in his existence over the three months of the coming summer holidays, he was entitled, no, he was obliged, to brick the windows of the local church to remind God that Alexei Nikolaiovich Bezrukoff had some issues to discuss.
He jumped off the skip, kicking up a cloud of dust as he landed. Picking up a particularly vicious length of rusted iron bar, he made his way to the far side of the field and gave the charred skeleton of the car the best of his violence, before taking the opportunity to take a satisfying piss against it; his long arc of golden human effluent glossing the rusting wreck. Zipping up with a shake, he continued on his way. His destination was ‘the bunker’- the defunct bomb shelter Little Vanya had donated to the kids from his block to hang out in. As far as an afternoon’s entertainment went, glue seemed like an excellent proposal.
When he reached the recessed entrance, he felt the nerves jangling against the hunger in his stomach. Like any sensible boy he had a bout of second thoughts; after all, his mum didn’t like him hanging around here. She said the other kids were a bad lot, and she was right. Losha’s father was so far down the road of self-destruction he didn’t hold an opinion. He had little idea of what continued to exist outside the twelve damp walls of their three small rooms.
Apprehension took his soul in its grip as he began his descent. Slowly, one by one, he took the decaying stairs as stealthily as he could, knocking loose a few chunks of concrete on the way. At the bottom, he paused to listen. He could hear muffled gunfire and screaming, which was exactly what he was expecting.
He raised a fist and brought it down to jar against the steel door in the purposeful rhythm of a random but secret sounding knock
“BOM BOM. BO BOM BOM. BOM BOM”
There was a lengthy pause, followed by the knock and scrape of the old bolts being pulled back. The heavy door swung inwards on its noisy hinges and Losha stepped into the damp darkened space.
“Welcome aboard, Comrade Bezrukoff”, said a tall, skinny boy in a dirty green sports suit squinting in the light as he stared at the new arrival. “You’re just in time.” Losha stepped into the murky space that was neither light nor dark, quickly before turning to close and bolt the door shut behind him, before offering a hand to be shook. The noise of televised gunfire provided the soundtrack to his entrance.
“How you doing, Comrade Ivanov”, replied Losha, as he took the outstretched hand in his own with genuine warmth. The boy was Sasha- in no uncertain terms, the best of his friends. Losha took a second to inspect the scene. The bunker was about five metres wide by ten metres long by two metres high; as cold, damp and sparse as one might expect a disused subterranean bomb shelter to be. In the air hung an eye-smarting combination of cigarette smoke, mildew and industrial solvents- an aromatic cocktail only accentuated by the fact it was the month of the year the centralised hot water to the whole district was cut off to facilitate repairs- something that didn’t wear well on teenage boys of already suspect hygiene.
The walls were spattered with crude, random, half-finished graffiti and soggy, rotting posters of fading stars who were never that popular in the first place. The near end was illuminated by a single 60 watt bulb above the door, the far end by a stolen fourteen inch television, which was itself connected to a Soviet-era Elektronika VCR- both donated by the kind charity of Little Vanya. Eight teenage boys huddled around the screen perching on a couple of old wooden benches- all of them familiar to Losha since early childhood- they all lived in the same street- though not all of them liked.
Losha and Sasha went over to the benches and took a seat on the edge at the back. Losha put his hand in his pocket, but the cigarettes weren’t there. “Shit,” he thought to himself, “I must have dropped them.” Another blackmark on God’s scorecard.
In front of them Tanya’s brother Misha was smoking the end of a cigarette. Losha tapped him on the shoulder and Misha passed him the smouldering butt without either uttering a word nor taking his eyes from the screen. Losha looked at Misha and thought about his sister. Lust and hate curdled, confused in his mind. “It must be love”, he concluded. Losha puckered his lips and drew in a lungful of acrid smoke as the cherry burnt, crackling into the filter. He offered the last drag to Sasha, but Sasha was looking the other way, waiting impatiently for the bag to come his way.
On the small screen, oblivious to his audience, Arnie, in full combat dress suddenly emerged from a bush and caused innumerable enemy casualties with a sustained burst of automatic fire and a well-aimed grenade.
“YESSSSSS.” A couple of the boys vocalised their appreciation, but they all loved this scene. Anatoly, sitting nearest to the VCR, his hair cropped like his Austro-american hero’s, stood up, wobbled a little, and rewound the cassette half a minute or so. Nobody protested. Of the five cassettes that the boys had between them, three of them were ‘Commando’ and the other two were ‘Universal Soldier’ in various stages over degradation. Everyone knew which were the best scenes.
For the second time in a minute, Arnie, in full combat dress, emerged from a bush and caused innumerable enemy casualties with a sustained burst of automatic gunfire and a well-aimed grenade.
Sasha was busy with a plastic bag and a tube of Супер Момент, or ‘Super Moment’- the fittingly named brand of heavy duty glue, well loved amongst youth from the banks of the Volga to the peaks of the Urals, alas, not for its adhesive properties.
Butterflies attacked Losha’s stomach. The mere smell of the solvents sent a chill of excitement along the length of his spine. Whilst the good fairy sat on his left shoulder tut-tutting, the bad one jumped up and down on his right, rubbing his hands in expectation.
“…watch this…” Sasha whispered. He was a boy who took pride in the size of his portions.
Having emptied a full tube of thick, pungent yellow paste into the bottom of the bag on top of the unquantified residue already there from the afternoon’s previous ventures into the sticky world of solvent abuse, Sasha filled it with trapped air, scrunched it’s neck and let the active ingredients diffuse. Taking his time, he looked up, smiled lazily at Losha, breathed out and fitted the bag to his snout like a horse having his lunch. With all the easy style of a seasoned campaigner, he closed his eyes and inhaled sharply, without a flinch.
Losha’s eyes bulged with electricity as he watched with excitement as his friend sniffed the glue. Sasha’s eyes rolled back slightly as he released his breath, returning his stare to the pale flicker of the main event. As the seconds passed his mind became a whirlwind of twisted thought. His vision began to blur, then doubled before he altogether forgot that he could see at all. As his mind became a jumbled mass of paranoid dead-ends, the echoic noise of gunfire and screaming with a deep monotonic Austrian underscore, ascended, twisting into a relentless high pitched hiss. Swallowing the bitter, acrid taste of the fumes dissolved within the natural secretions his breathing apparatus produced to protect itself, he gagged. A regular attendee of the after-school sessions down at ‘The Bunker’, Sasha knew exactly what to do when it was coming on strong like this and, without hesitation, shoved his fist into his mouth to give himself something to bite on. Doubling over, he churned, coughed and dribbled.
As the gravitational data from his middle ear was corrupted by the chemical interference in his brain, Sasha slid forwards and to the left. He reactively drew the hand out of his mouth to grab at the bench, steadying himself. In the face of the oncoming chemical attack, his brain struggled to continue to function adequately. With his throat in spasm, he bit through his tongue. A thin trickle of thick blood escaped his mouth. He pulled himself up straight with a big gasp of air, his eyes wide open- dilated pupils staring wildly as he the ferrous tang of blood, further exaggerated as the solvents continued to fire the receptors in his brain. His demented appearance was only accentuated by the contrast of the gloss red blood reflecting the flicker from the screen on his matte chin. It dripped slowly onto the dirty white plastic bag he clutched into his lap.
The whole thing had taken about six seconds.
“AURGHHH… ratatatatatatatatat…” Arnie popped out of a bush to deliver another deadly cocktail of automatic gunfire and Austrian vowel sounds.
Apart from Losha, no one paid any attention to Sasha’s actions. Indeed, nobody else could pay any attention to Sasha’s actions, because every one of them was already fully twisted on the glue, apparently mesmerised by the stark brightness of the screen. Losha, however, observed his friend throughout, watching as his face went through its disturbing transformation.
Sasha turned to look at his pal and tried to force a smile as the rush receded. Despite having had his ‘Super Moment’, he only managed to shake his lips a bit as the pounding in his brain caused by the tension in his heart distracted him from his happiness. Losha reached over and affectionately wiped the blood from his friend’s face, smearing it across his smooth, colourless chin. Looking down at the fresh blood on his hand, Losha lost his nerve. Looking back up at Sasha’a distorted face, everything felt extremely dangerous. This was not what he wanted to do after school. This was not where he was meant to be.
He wanted out.
As the cheap yellow cabriolet pulled up to the back of the wasteland, the driver peered through the cracked windscreen at the disused bomb shelter, loose stones popping under wheel. The rolling dark gangsta rap on the car’s single directional tape deck drew to a timely close.
“Yesssssss”, Little Vanya hissed through his teeth. He liked it when the car and the music drew up simultaneously: It gave him a counterfeit sense of achievement that was sadly lacking in regards to other parts of his life. The passenger seat was occupied by his younger, bigger, half brother Ilya.
With a wry smile and a clenched fist Little Vanya hit Ilya on the upper arm to mark the event.
Ilya forced a light grimace through the pain in return. What he lacked in size, Little Vanya made up for in strength.
Little Vanya turned off the engine, slid the keys from the ignition, threw them into the air and caught them with a jaunty flick of the wrist. He sat staring at the disused bomb shelter he’d kitted out a couple of month’s back for his latest tart’s brother and his mates. He liked to check up on them a couple of times a week to see how they were coming on. He’d known most of them forever- Their school had been his school- the geography of their origin restricted to a single street- his street, and though viewed them with a certain contempt, considered them fondly with the same disposable pride a keen gardener applies to his prize tomatoes.
Ilya also stared at the bunker through the windscreen. He couldn’t work out why as ruthless a bastard as his half brother would donate a piece of his real estate portfolio and a TV for a group of stupid dicks to fuck about in, when they could use it themselves. But Little Vanya only ever told him half the story- he figured it was all Ilya’s limited intellect could handle, and he was probably right.
Ilya’s oversight was easily explained. Little Vanya had declined to mention the simple motive of his unprecedented philanthropy; declined to mention his long term strategy- the psychological theory of his manipulation. His attainment of trust, confidence and loyalty, befriending them, introducing them to the glue, and then when they were ready, to the the heroin. Heroin which his own benefactor, Maxim, had kindly stockpiled in his kitchen, overlooking Little Vanya’s personal ambitions. The plan was simple- tried and tested, by Maxim at least; give it to the kids for free to get their interest, then for half price to get them hooked, and then, when they were really into it at a premium to bleed them dry. By cutting the already suspect product with Persil Automatic Little Vanya calculated he could go one further than Maxim, easily doubling the w innings.
The beauty of his scheme- the bit that got Little Vanya excited, made his upper lip twitch when he thought about it- went further than just making some cash out of the back of some kids. The wider consequences of his business plan were, to him at least, beautiful. Little Vanya calculated that if he could get groups of kids hooked on heroin they couldn’t afford, he could form crime cells that would do jobs for him for price of their buzz- loyal teams of criminal scum on a narcotic leash, with him in control. Then he’d break free, go independent of Maxim and his small-time, small-minded deals. That was his dream. That was his master plan. And once it was achieved, he’d move into local politics.
Little Vanya felt inside his pocket for the plastic pouch of grey-brown powder. He squeezed it affectionately, as the giant might have his golden hen. Next to it nestling in the pocket of his oversize shell suit was a small executive shooting kit- a 50ml syringe, 6 gauge needle, a bit of his mum’s cotton wool and a silver spoon zipped inside a black vinyl case with ‘genuine leather’ stamped on it. Although Little Vanya wasn’t a user himself, he was always more than willing to facilitate somebody else’s first intravenous experience; after all, he undertook his business very professionally.
Having contemplated his genius, Little Vanya gave the nod and the two men stepped out of the car simultaneously. Ilya turned and thoughtlessly slammed the door shut. Little Vanya stared at him menacingly, and then for his careless half brother’s benefit demonstrated the correct technique of shutting the doors of his new car, gently pushing it on it’s hinges, pressing in the button on the handle to assist the closing mechanism’s action with a measured shove.
Ilya smiled nervously.
“C’mon” commanded Little Vanya, pointing his key ring at the roofless automobile, locking its doors with an invisible infrared beam.
They rounded the front of the car; treading over the tufts of scrawny green grass scattered across the uneven surface of the field, and approached the top of the crumbling steps. Ilya, being the gentleman he was, let Vanya go first.
They descended carefully, feeling chunks of loosed concrete crunch and scratch against the thin leather soles of their Italian shoes.
Before they had time to knock, the door swung violently open, and a pale-faced youth stepped out into the stark, grey evening light, his eyes squinting as they tried to readjust from the semi darkness. The youth’s face dropped as he recognised the bigger, broader figures barring his passage to freedom.
Little Vanya took great pride in nurturing what he called Maxim called the ‘personal touch’, As Maxim had taught him, and he’d been trying to teach Ilya, “rule one- always remember their name, even if they’re just a dick in a coat- it’s always worth the effort.”
“Alright Losha. How you doin’? Where are you off to?” Little Vanya asked in a friendly tone, an innocent smile belying his rather more sinister intent. Ilya grinned like a monkey, unsuccessfully mimicking his mentor’s easy style.
“…Er…” Losha tried hard to hide to hard his nervous condition. “ Um, hi Vanya. Just getting some fresh air, that’s all…” He went to pass the pair of human obstacles in the stairwell, but they made no effort to assist him.
“Heard you bumped into Tanya earlier,” commented Little Vanya, surpressing a smile, “hope she didn’t bite.” He turned to Ilya for a response. Ilya chuckled in appreciation of Little Vanya’s wit, right on cue. Little Vanya leant forward and whispered in Losha’s ear, “I can set you up with her if you like. She’s a very talented girl, know what I mean, “ before giving him a wink, a cock-eyed smile and a punch on the shoulder. The sensation of the latter registered with Losha’s nerve receptors a little stronger than ‘friendly’.
Losha smiled awkwardly through the pain. The two men looked at each other and laughed. Reading the nervous youth with all the ease of an Oxford First tackling ‘The Cat in the Hat’, Little Vanya shepherded the youth back into line. “Hey, Losha mate…” little Vanya brought himself down to Losha’s level, putting his hand on his arm round the youngster. Losha winced. “…we’ve got something wicked to show you- something really special, ain’t we Ilya.” Ilya nodded in agreement. “We’ve come all this way to see you, to show you what its all about, and you’re trying to fuck off home.” Losha smiled nervously. “Leave it out mate; you’ve got ten minutes ain’t you?”
“Yeah, you’ve got ten minutes, ain’t you.” Ilya echoed his semi-sibling, like the proverbial parrot, his small mouth grinning with the teeth apart. Both Little Vanya and Losha simultaneously granted him the glare of disdain university professors reserve for fans of The Discovery Channel.
“Come on mate,” Little Vanya urged, his hand still on Losha’s shoulder, gently pressing him, guiding him back into The Bunker.
Not seeing any alternative but to do what Little Vanya and his sizeable parrot wished, Losha re-entered the eerie claustrophobic space he thought he’d just left. He crossed the floor and retook his seat at the back next to Sasha, who was still staring motionless in the same direction- He didn’t acknowledge Losha’s quick reappearance because he hadn’t noticed that his friend had left. In fact, he’d forgotten Losha had been there at all. Staring at Sasha’s face, Losha understood it was hard to see if the normally witty, intelligent boy could comprehend anything.
Ilya bolted the door shut. Little Vanya was sure to double check, displaying a deliberate lack of confidence in his half-brother’s abilities.
Little Vanya’s visit was met with something of a buzz by the semi-alert rabble. The majority of boys had been in awe of Little Vanya since he’d been the school bully; their psychologies having developed in the isolation of Himki, they naturally felt proud that he should choose them as companions five years after thieving from, humiliating and beating them on a daily basis. Only Losha was lacking the unconditional respect thing- his brother had been in Little Vanya’s class- Yuriy Bezrukoff’s superior size providing a silent protection to his younger brother from Little Vanya’s infamous attentions. Losha viewed him without the distorted perspective of his victims, and saw him for what he was- in four words, a nasty little wanker. The only respect Losha afforded him was on account of avoiding the military draft- something which officially remained a mystery, though rumour had it that Little Vanya’s uncle, a captain in the Army, had been appointed chief of the local conscription bureau, though this version of events was as likely to have been seeded by Little Vanya himself to enhance his local kudos, as it was to be true.
“Alright Misha, how you doin.” Little Vanya walked directly to where Misha was sitting and shook his hand like an old friend. Misha looked visibly chuffed. “Alright ‘Toly? How’s yer sister Dima… “ Little Vanya made a comprehensive round of greetings like a minor celebrity at a provincial disco, which is basically how he considered himself. Ilya stood behind him looking very uncomfortable. A couple of years younger than his half-brother, he’d been in the class two years above Losha’s, but despite his superior size he’d commanded little respect from the younger boys. Indeed, he’d found his inferior intellect the target of their baiting, and still hadn’t got over it.
Looking up form his social duties Little Vanya had noted Ilya’s inability to communicate with anything more articulate than a baseball bat, and made a mental note to restrict him to nothing more challenging than baseball bat related duties in the future- Ilya was cramping his style with these kids, and looked liked a bloody idiot.
Little Vanya pulled up an empty crate and sat to the side of the benches, fraternising with his charges, leaving Ilya sticking out like a potentially dangerous sore thumb.
“What’s the problem?” he called out above the considerable din of a doomed attack helicopter, “Can’t find anything big enough to perch your big fat arse on?” A peal of unified laughter burst out amongst the boys. Ilya went to proffer an answer, but Little Vanya didn’t wait for it. instead he turned his attention to the screen “Yeah, Commando. I love this film. Watch this bit- Arnie hits the chopper with an RPG. It’s a fucking beauty.” Arnie proceeded to extract, extend and deploy a shoulder mounted unguided rocket propelled grenade into the fuselage of the aforementioned attack helicopter with all the improbably success of a cricket ball stopping a double decker bus from 400 yards. All looked suitably impressed. Little Vanya smiled at the depth of his own cinematic knowledge. Without needing a prompt Anatoly pressed rewind to cue the scene for a second inspection. Eyeing the door, Losha understood to leave now would be interpreted as an insult.
“Have any of you lads seen Predator? Fucking brilliant film, fucking brilliant. I’ll bring it for you next time.” A murmur of anticipated appreciation went along the benches. Misha, sitting nearest to the self-styled benefactor, passed him one of the plastic bags that were lying around and a tube of glue with a confidence and familiarity that he knew would impress his peers. To his surprise Little Vanya’s palms flew up in a dramatic gesture of refusal, his eyebrows arched to reiterate his position. “No thanks mate. Not for me; I’ve gone off it. right off it. Never really liked that sort of stuff anyway. I’ve grown out of it. Surprised you lot are still into it- you’re not kids after all.”
Doubt, confusion and insecurity crossed the faces of many of those present. It was like the Pope had just popped onto his balcony and said “Now that you’ve loved thine neighbour, tell him to fuck off.” Little Vanya had been glue’s greatest advocate- it’s biggest fan. He was always saying it was the business- that for value vs. effect, nothing hit the spot better, encouraging them to spread the word, ignore their parents and get wrecked whenever they fancied. After all, that was what ‘The Bunker’ was all about. The herd didn’t know quite where to turn, but the shepherd had more than just a whistle and a packet of Werther’s Originals in his pocket.
Little Vanya leant past Anatoly and pressed ‘pause’ on the VCR, freezing Arnie mid-burst, glancing up he noticed Ilya, and shot him a distasteful smile- the clumsy fucker still hadn’t sat down.
“I’ve got something to show you lads”, Little Vanya said as he struggled to access the trouser pockets of his shellsuit trousers. Standing up, he continued, “this, ladies and gentlemen, is the fucking business.” From his pocket he produced the small plastic packet of grey-brown powder. An invisible electricity ran through the immature audience. Beyond the fact that Misha had smoked a pipe or two of hash with the orator, and Vlad said he’d taken acid once (but no-one believed him), none of the boys were familiar to the world of narcotica. However, in spite of their collective inexperience they all understood that small plastic packets of powders were very, very naughty. Naturally they were attracted by the illusion of glamour teenage boys tend to assume when tempted with breaking the rules, or breaking the law- even Losha, despite his superior intuition.
Little Vanya paused, enjoying their childish curiosity- the eagerness in their eyes- before resuming in statesman-like style. “It’s more grown-up than the glue; more sophisticated than the booze. It gives a better hit, a real hit; It’s cleaner…” his mind sought the right sales pitch, “…smoother,” he looked into their eyes, turn by turn. He paused, his audience gripped. “Healthier,” he added with the calm reassurance of a qualified medical professional with one hand on his heart and the other on a box of Shredded Wheat.
Despite his limited intellectual capacity the irony of this final statement was not lost on Ilya, who did his best to suppress a giggle. Unimpressed by his lack of repose, his half brother shot him a cryogenic glance that suppressed it for him.
“It’s called heroin, Little Vanya stated optimistically, looking at the thrice-cut product he held in his fingers. A murmour of half recognition rippled across the benches. Most of the boys had heard the name, but they’d never seen the goods, and had no idea what it was meant to do, but they all knew this was serious business; none the least Losha.
However, in contrast to his comrades’ curiosity Losha’s eyes bulged in alarm- his brother had warned him about heroin- warned him to steer clear of it whatever anybody said; that it was dirty stuff, bad news- just like his mother had warned him about going to The Bunker.
Losha turned and glanced at the bolted door over his shoulder. He wanted to leave, but he knew he couldn’t. He turned his eyes back to Little Vanya, who was pulling the ‘executive shooting kit’ from his pocket.
“You have to see how this works- how good it is. It’s the real shit; fucking magic. I’d do it myself, but I’ve got to drive- taking the girlfriend into town tonight.” Tanya worked Friday nights at an inner-city sauna. “Do we have a volunteer?” He asked, his eyes searching around the motley collection of youth. Attracted in equal measures by his general dislike of the mouthy trouser pissing little bastard and the sadistic possibilities of dosing him up against his will, Little Vanya stared straight at Losha,. The latter shuffled uncomfortably on his seat, looking anywhere but at the eye’s which were searching his own. This was going to be a whole lot more dangerous than holding a monkey.
Sasha was still emerging from the enormous hit of solvent that his system had ingested a quarter of an hour before, but had caught about half of what Little Vanya had been saying. Distracted by the pain in his mouth and the thumping of his temples, he understood enough of what was said, and although he was excited by this heroin stuff, was disappointed that glue had gone out fashion for the simple reason he really liked getting out of his skull. He’d come to The Bunker every day after since the beginning of March, and forgotten that there had ever been anything else to do. The thought of trying this new Heroin stuff was particularly appealing to his basic, extreme personality which enjoyed pushing the limits of reality, whether it was to shatter the banality of everyday life or to impress his peers.
His hand shaking, he raised his left arm and smiled nervously at Little Vanya. His right hand was still gripping his plastic bag in his lap. Little Vanya turned his attention from Losha, and smiled instead at his best friend.
“Ahhh, Sasha. Good lad. Always willing to try something new…”
Losha lowered his voice and turned to his friend “Don’t…”
Sasha heard the whisper in his ear, but wasn’t listening. Nobody was going to tell him what to do, least of all Losha, who Sasha felt, when push came to shove, was somewhat lacking in balls of steel.
Little Vanya walked round to the bench where Sasha and Losha were sitting.
“Come and give us a hand, Misha”, Little Vanya called out. Misha came to his sister’s pimp’s assistance, with keenness.
Sasha’s heart pounded in his chest. He loved trying new things almost as much as he loved being the centre of attention.
“Where’s your lighter, Mish?” Misha got out the fake Zippo Little Vanya had given him for his sixteenth birthday. “Light it up,” he commanded.
Little Vanya took the silver spoon from his set. Tapping a rough measure of the powder from the pouch, and a bit of water from Anatoly’s bottle, he demonstrated how to prepare a shot.
“Make sure you get it bubbling,” he advised in the matter of fact tones of a Chemistry teacher. “Give it a little stir,” he poked at the boiling compound with a matchstick from the floor, “We don’t want any lumps.”
The boys huddled round in excited silence, all of them captivated by the demonstration, apart from Losha, who squashed between Misha and Sasha, looked and felt like he was going to vomit. Little Vanya looked up at Sasha and smiled, then he looked at Losha, enjoying the fear in his eyes. Satisfied that the bubbling cocktail was ready, Little Vanya gave the spoon to Sasha to hold whilst he fitted the needle to the syringe. Sasha bent his nose down to the murky liquid to his nose and sniffed the novel, spicy, soapy fumes. He felt sick with excitement. This was going to be amazing. Fucking amazing.
“You’ve got to use a bit of cotton wool when you suck it up,” advised Little Vanya. The boys all looked at him with curiosity on their brows. “Don’t ask me why, you just have to,” he explained, dipping a small wad in the stew.
Little Vanya bent down and, with a wry smile, slowly drew the liquid up into the syringe, careful not to waste any. “Make sure there is no air trapped in the needle…” he added, holding the apparatus upright, tapping it lightly. All eyes were on him- only Losha’s in horror. “Get a bubble and you’re dead.” Little Vanya chuckled, so did Misha. Ilya, having missed his cue, looked down at the young pretender with unbridled displeasure, but Misha didn’t notice.
Little Vanya pushed up Sasha’s left sleeve to reveal his scrawny forearm. “Who’s got a belt?” He asked of the collective, most of whom, including himself, where wearing tracksuits. Silence denoted a negative response.
“Ilya- come here.” The big man, visibly pleased to be of use, did as his half-relative ordered, though he was somewhat confused as he was also wearing a tracksuit.“Grab his arm- here, like this Ilya.” Ilya took hold of Sasha’s insubstantial upper-arm with his huge paws and squeezed. Slowly the veins began to appear.
“Say cheese…” joked Little Vanya as squeezed a little fountain of mixture out of the syringe and picked the best looking of the bunch- the median cubital- though he’d have described it himself as ‘the big purple one’. Sasha held his breath in anticipation. He felt high just off the excitement, but felt a little apprehension at the sight of the needle being pressed unceremoniously into his arm and the pain that accompanied it.
“Look at me Sasha, look at me mate,” Sasha did as he was told and looked right into Little Vanya’s wide smiling face.
Losha stared wide-eyed at Little Vanya.
“You do it.” He ordered, pointing at the syringe already imbedded in Sasha’s vein. Ilya, arms folded, let out a childish giggle that sharply contradicted his menacing appearance. Losha hesitated, but didn’t have the courage to say no. Taking the syringe nervously into his hand, he stared into the vacancy behind Sasha’s eyes.
“Good lad, good lad…” Little Vanya whispered, “Slowly…slowly…”
Losha said a silent prayer to his unreliable god and reluctantly forced the soiled solution into his best friend’s arm.
Sasha felt something weird happen in his arm- a dull pain spread towards his elbow as his bloodstream was polluted. It took seconds for the narcotic to reach his brain. First it felt like a tingle; he smiled. Then a buzz; he closed his eyes. And then a rush; A fucking rush. Sasha drew his breath in sharply.
It felt amazing. He felt himself leave the bench, leave the room, leave the planet. He felt like he was flying. He let out some sort of gutteral grunt of approval, but he wasn’t there yet. His pulse increased as the drug took hold. A sensation of pleasure creeping across his whole being, sweeping up his arms; his legs; his arse; his dick, all the way to his brain. It kept coming, and coming and coming and coming, wave after wave, each new one more intense than the last, up, up, up.
Sasha closed his eyes and shut his mouth. He’d forgotten who he was, let alone where he was.
“Look at that, LOOK AT THAT” said Little Vanya as the stunned audience observed Sasha’s enhanced expression. This was the perfect sales pitch. Sasha looked like he was having an orgasm.
Sasha began to shudder as it kept coming and coming and coming. He was in heaven, he was going beyond heaven… but it didn’t stop. Instead of relaxing his unsubstantial bulk, he straightened his back as his body struggled to deal with the excess sensation, then he stretched it; arching involuntarily as the frequency of the fizzing in his nervous system increased. The onlookers were amazed. They were captivated. Even Little Vanya didn’t know what to say- he’d never seen anything like this before.
Sasha’s mouth opened, his eyes screwed shut, his back arching, he struggled to his feet, shaking with the effort of control. With short sharp fireworks in his brain exploding down his spine, Sasha felt the pleasure receding back down the same route it had taken had come up- down his arms, his legs, his arse, his dick, to be replaced by pain. Excruciating, burning pain in every part of his body, and beyond, outside his body. He stood on his feet for no more than three uncomfortable seconds before keeling backwards over the wooden bench.
As Sasha collapsed, Anatoly instinctively moved out of his way. The skull made a sound like a ping-pong ball being hit with a hammer as it bounced off the cold concrete floor.
All stood motionless. No one knew quite what to do.
As his brain failed to deal with the noxious narcotic onslaught combined with the physical trauma, His body convulsed, the syringe dangling from his left fore-arm flailed about; the white plastic bag still pressed hard into his stomach with his right hand.
Little Vanya made some sort of effort to restrain him, but he wasn’t too keen on getting his new tracksuit covered in the stupid bastard’s blood, which was seeping from the open wound on the back of Sasha’s head at a steady rate, collecting in small pool. on the rock-hard floor Losha knew what was happening, but was frozen. He couldn’t believe what was happening, but had expected it. He just closed his eyes and prayed for it to be quick.
After half a minute, Sasha came to rest; his body twisted unnaturally to the side, his clothes soaking in his own juices. The smell of his physiological failure was as awful as the sight of it.
Despite the fact that none of those present had ever seen anybody die from the combined effects of toxic shock and an opiate overdose, the odd contorted aspect of Sasha’s body and the frozen expression of emptiness upon his face left none of those present in any doubt that Sasha had fucked up. They were all in shock. Only Losha, opening his eyes, shed a tear.
Sensing that the unfortunate nature of the situation posed the sort of challenge to his genial business development plan that Gerald Ratner could only dream of, Little Vanya moved quickly to limit the damage. Bending down, careful to avoid the blood, he pretended to feel Sasha’s pulse. Keeping his hand in place for half a minute or so, Little Vanya nodded in approval. “One twenty over sixty” he commented with a knowing glance to a bemused, frightened Ilya. “He’ll be fine,”
He turned to face the white, petrified faces looking at him for an explanation, each one secretly praying to get out of there. Some of the boys exchanged terrified, silent glances.
Pulling, with some difficulty, at the plastic bag in Sasha’s left hand, Little Vanya blamed it on the glue. “Fucking dangerous that glue. Fucking dirty stuff.” As he raised the bag, it brought the hand it was stuck to with it, revealing a tube of ‘Super-Moment’ stuck firmly to the palm.
Little Vanya drew himself back up to his feet, pulled a Marlboro pack from his pocket and lit it with Misha’s fake Zippo, before turning back to the boys as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“Don’t worry about a thing boys,” the calmness of his voice belied the seriousness of the situation, in itself making the witnesses feel better, “Sasha will be fine- he’ll just have to stay here for a while to sleep it off.” He pulled casually on his cigarette, sending a pall of bluish smoke across the cold, damp, stinking air. He took a second to consider, and then continued with a more seriously knitted brow. “But, if any one of you mentions a whisper about what happened here this afternoon, then they know what to expect.” There was a long, cold pause. “And if anyone mouths off at school, Misha will tell me all about it”, he added, handing back Misha his chunky petrol lighter. Misha stood up a bit straighter. “Not a whisper. OK?”
A murmur of uncomfortable affirmation went around the traumatized populace of the bunker. Some stared at Sasha; others at little Vanya, but all wanted to get out.
“OK, you’re free to go.” Little Vanya suggested. Nobody moved a muscle, they were all lost deep in their thoughts. “GO”, he reiterated, “Except you, Misha- stay behind and give us a hand, OK.” Misha almost forgot about the disturbing vision on the floor in front of him as his pride flushed at his new role.
Losha didn’t notice Misha’s recruitment at the hands of Little Vanya- He was already at the big steel door, rushing to release its bolts from their uneven holes. His mind was racing full of his own dialogue. He was as traumatised at little Vanya’s psychological bullying as he was at Sasha’s transformation from normal, healthy, if a little enthusiastic fifteen year-old boy, to what had appeared to be a slightly bloody, poisoned corpse, in little more than half an hour. He ran across the fading light of the wasteland, ahead of his breath, accelerating away from the scene of the images so recent in his memory- Meeting Sasha at the door, watching him sniff the glue, Little Vanya making him push the plunger into his arm, Sasha falling backwards, the noise of his skull hitting the floor, the smell of his blood and his mess.
Little Vanya making him push the plunger into his arm.
Losha reached the skip in the middle of the field. The rust on its ripped metallic edges accentuated by the darkening grey light. He leant forwards against the cold iron surface and vomited, gagging as his breath caught up with him.
Losha didn’t pause longer than was necessary. Wiping his sleeve first across his eyes, and then across his mouth, he continued his rapid journey home. Scaling the broken fence and coming round to the front of his apartment building, Losha slowed his pace to jog. As he reached his entrance, he prayed once more to his grandmother’s God.
an exploration of the frustrations of post-soviet after-school adolescence