Translator Natalie Lilienthal
© Natalie Yacobson, 2021
© Natalie Lilienthal, translation, 2021
Created with Ridero smart publishing system
“Is she a real demon or is this just her role?” whispered reporters, waiting in the rain with television cameras. “Sometimes it seems that real.”
Kiril fought his way through the crowd. The fans of Athenais were innumerable. What only makes people jump off their seats and travel many miles to get a glimpse of someone they spotted in an impressive film? Star status gives rise to an idol, for which fans are not afraid to stand without an umbrella in the pouring rain and push each other almost to death. And thus it begins to seem that the star that provoked this whole situation came from hell itself.
Athenais drove the audience into temptation in a way that no idols before her did. Kiril himself, watching films with her, often thought: for her sake, you can kill.
“Are you ready to die for her right here and right now?”
In the huge, roaring crowd, it was difficult to establish who said this. But Kiril immediately determined that the voice, literally whispering in his ear, actually comes from someone who is far away. This someone was wrapped in a red hooded cape, which not only replaced his raincoat, but also gave a certain stately status. It seemed that he was hovering above the crowd, so freely he moved through it. His face under the hood was ugly. Gold earrings in the nose and lips seemed to be inserted into the rotting flesh of the corpse. From the stranger in red breathed with the atmosphere and mystery of Ancient Egypt. It seemed that the tomb in the pyramid had just been opened, and he crawled out, exuding aromas of luxury and decay.
“Anekh?” Kiril himself did not remember how he knows the name of this creature. To call him a man, he just did not turn his tongue. He probably saw him in some film, but could no longer remember which one.
He first saw Athenais herself in a film about Ancient Egypt, and oddly enough, he was extremely impressed. Although Egypt was not his favorite topic, in order to get another look at Athenais, he bought a ticket to a movie about all the eras in a row.
And now, two films about Russian history have been brought to Moscow, where she, of course, played the role of a demon who is present next to the rulers and imposes her will on them. He had already missed the first film, because it was not so easy to travel by train to Moscow from the province where he lived. Finding out where the premiere will take place turned out to be even more difficult. Such information could not be found either in the press or on the Internet. How did all these people know where to gather? Kiril himself would have gone on in an unsuccessful search for the right place in Moscow if some strange disfigured stranger had not shown him where to go. What kind of vagrants you will not meet in the capital! Goodwill was like a creature made of hell. A homeless man, apparently, from which for some reason smelled of ash, not mud. Of course, he hid for days somewhere in a cooled oven, and was not one of the burned fallen angels, about which films were made with Athenais. She herself most often played the role of Lucifer in them, who, after the fall, reincarnated, taking on a seductive girlish appearance.
Kiril did not expect that his star would ever reach Russia, but saved up money in advance for a ticket to Cannes or Los Angeles. The announcement of her arrival appeared so suddenly, as if she had forgotten someone or something here. The premiere was not in Oktyabr, where he was initially advised to go, and even less so in the Pushkin cinema, which had long since been converted into a musical hall. A creepy-looking tramp indicated the right direction, and Kiril did not even have time to shove a change on his bread. He was in too much of a hurry. The cinema he needed was called “Akhetaton” in honor of the long-destroyed Egyptian city. Kiril heard that a chain of cinemas with this name has opened luxury branches all over the world. Near all of them, terrible events allegedly took place, up to the deaths.
It was calm here so far, apart from the crush. Kiril managed to break into the front ranks. He prepared a specially purchased notebook for his autograph. He wanted to get Atenais’s autograph on coated blank paper, not on a flyer taken from the cash register, much less a photo printed on a color printer. Although now the latter has become more fashionable. Many wanted to get an autograph, but almost no one showed up with notebooks. Now they generally prefer selfies. What for? He saw high-quality photos of Atenais in magazines and so. But her name, inscribed with her own hand… there was something mystical about it.
A deafening rumble rolled through the crowd. A black lacquered car with Athenais was already pulling up. Kiril held his breath. Now he will see her, and not somewhere far abroad, but in his homeland. She seemed to have brought with her the breath of other countries, ancient civilizations and something demonic that escaped from the opened tomb of the pharaohs and captured the whole world.
“Don’t go to her premiere!” Kiril’s brother, who was now on a business trip, warned. He himself had already seen Athenais and hinted that she was dangerous. For Mikhail, everyone was dangerous. Carrying out special tasks of the FSB, he suspected everyone and everything. If a star is involved with crime, then for fans she is unlikely to pose a danger. Although Michael said something about the fact that the threat associated with Atenais does not come from the underworld, but from other dark forces. It is curious if Mikhail has not been damaged by his reason, being too responsible for his work. Even his voice on the international telephone line sounded like the admonition of the madman Renfield from the Bram Stoker novel.
“If you look at her, you will perish! Her films have a program of world destruction. More precisely – pushing people to self-destruction. These films are capable of influencing the subconscious, driving the viewer into a complex psychological trap.”
“Why, then, is not an order issued to ban them?”
Silence hung in the receiver.
“There are too influential people behind her.”
“Who? Politicians? Presidents? Dead kings from her films? Or is Satan himself?”
“The latter is most likely,” Mikhail’s voice reminded him of a patient. “The king of kings is the devil. And she is him.”
Delirium of the insane! Kiril hung up the phone, not giving a damn about how much the international call cost, to give him this warning. Emails alone were not enough for Mikhail. It was necessary to tell him that he had already watched all the films with Athenais and was not crazy, did not even acquire any passion for self-destruction, except for freezing to death in the rain, waiting for his star.
Let the limousine that brought her look more like a coffin for a vampire, and the bodyguards look like demons in uniform black suits. But she herself is like the sun. Here is that rare case when the appearance of a star surpasses her photographs and the image in the frame, and not vice versa.
“The sun! Shine! Evil! Dennitsa!”
Who spoke this empty set of words? The crowd chanted only the name of the star. And someone was whispering in Kiril’s ear, like a demon who climbed right onto his shoulder.
“The sun from antiquity shines to destroy us all. It just took him too long to burn our world. It’s already here.”
Someone seemed to scratch his ear with claws. Kiril turned around nervously. What other fans will not come up with to drive him out of the front rows! Only no one touched or scratched him. They only pushed, but it came out spontaneously.
All the fans were eager for Atenais. He himself did not consider himself a fan. He tried to catch her eye from afar. He came because she called him. From the screen! The feeling that she was calling him from the films, like through some kind of window, came long ago. And then he dreamed of her. In his dreams, she was a real demon, not a cinematic one. And he obeyed her, coming to her call.
Atenais was not wearing an evening dress. A long scarlet robe, woven by dragons, he had already seen in films. For some reason, the golden angel head combined with it looked frightening. Kiril caught himself thinking that Atenais, who was nearby, began to scare him, and not just beckon. Some overwhelming power emanated from her. It seemed as soon as she shed her robe, and real black wings would move under it.
He wanted to say “I love you” as soon as she came closer, but now she was already there, and her tongue did not move. The lips were numb. It seemed that next to him a living statue, which shines like the sun, and its beauty hurts the eyes.
As if by magic, Athenais, almost oblivious to the others in the audience, stopped right in front of him and grabbed his hand instead of taking a pen and notebook. Kiril felt how he crashed into the low metal partitions at the aisle. Only they shared it with his dream. Atenais’ face breathed cold, but it seemed that she was now dying in fire, like a real dragon.
Her gilded fingernails ran over his wrist and cut in a way that a knife would not have been able to do. How did she do it? Blood flowed instantly. And the crowd around took everything for granted. Precisely, there are rumors about her that she signs autographs with the blood of fans, Kiril recalled. That’s why she hasn’t given one yet today. When she gives them, blood flows. His head was spinning with blood loss. If such a deep wound is not bandaged, he will die. But no one was in a hurry to call an ambulance, or at least sympathize. Everything was perceived as a special effect, and, frankly, from the outside it resembled a scene from a horror movie.
Atenais, as if nothing had happened, dipped the tips of her nails in his blood and signed an ornate autograph in a notebook. Already losing consciousness, Kiril could not figure out why the coveted autograph scares him off with a thick bright red color.
The cinema was almost empty. And they said that there is nowhere for an apple to fall on these films. Annette was a little disappointed, although solitude was just what she needed now.
Her dreams were quickly crumbling. A career in Hollywood was not for her. The name of Annette Fiore never became popular, although sometimes it flashed on the strips of newspapers. She’s just a starlet and will obviously remain her until her hair is gray. The world of the movie business is cruel. Only those who have grandiose connections are promoted here. The new star, which burst into the screens with a series of mystical films about Lucifer, as a meteor, had these connections.
Annette knew that no one just became famous. Talent doesn’t matter. You can’t go through the casting with him. You, of course, will be praised, but they will carefully look in the questionnaire, what is your pedigree, whether there are star parents or influential friends. The actors are kept under control. Only those who are satisfied with the grandiose promotion in the press and on television become famous. There will be many beautiful false words that the main thing is talent, not the stars’ striving for fame. In fact, the main thing is the influential people who pull the strings and the press, and all the other necessary structures necessary in order to turn an ordinary unremarkable actor into a mega-star.
Anyone can become a movie superstar if they have the connection to do so. Anetta’s trouble was that she had practically no connections. Yes, there were two or three acquaintances who organized her the roles of the second and third plan, once even the first. By acting in films and not having influential acquaintances who organize your advertising campaign, you can expect fame as well as winning the lottery. Annette was much more beautiful than all the vaunted beauties of Hollywood, but no one noticed her, except for young guys who idly scurry about the streets in the hope of meeting at least some pretty girl. On the contrary, nowhere and no one paid attention to movie stars, except at the premieres. All of them were repeatedly abandoned women who bartered with the right people and used them to keep out talented outsiders to fame. Everyone at the film studios was someone’s acquaintances, relatives, lovers, and sometimes the children of some business partners. For someone’s creature, the green light is everywhere. Hence, there are so many mediocre stars who are completely invisible to no one without promotion in the press. Hence, there are so many articles about the legendary beauty of women and men, who look no different from ordinary passers-by in the crowd.
But the rising star could not be said to be devoid of unique beauty. Probably, in connection with her, they used some new special effect not yet known to the masses, which helped to create the impression of a divinely beautiful face. Atenais on the screen looked like a creature from a fairy tale. This is why she favorably differed from all the average stars, whose vaunted virtues exist only in articles. Curious: does Atenais have this beauty behind the scenes when he washes off his makeup? If so, then it is clear why she so quickly eclipsed all the stars who successfully made a career before her. However, if the envious actresses still have not torn her to pieces, then the patrons behind her are very powerful.
“You have no idea how powerful they are,” a hoarse voice whispered in the darkened cinema hall. Annette glanced around, only empty rows of unoccupied chairs stretched behind her. She was not surprised. The sensation was as if the voice was coming from everywhere: from above, below, and to the left and to the right. Probably it seemed.
Several people who were present, besides her, in the cinema, were hardly in the mood to joke. In addition, in order to connect some kind of audio system with insidious phrases in response to her thoughts, they had to first become magicians themselves in order to learn how to read these thoughts.
Her thoughts belong only to her. She is free to think about what she wants. But she would not have dared to tell someone at the film studios in person that he brazenly promotes the creature of people who are beneficial to him instead of selecting actors by talent. People, although they suffer from injustice, are silent so as not to lose what little they have.
“But if people had nothing left but pain, everyone would become criminals and rebels,” someone’s insolent ringing voice rang out. “And the world would have drowned in terror, as in the days of the French Revolution. I remember those times and I want a repetition.”
Annette had already convinced herself that the voice was only heard in her head, so she didn’t turn around. The heads of the spectators in front of her remained motionless. If other viewers, like her, heard the voice, they would also begin to turn around at the sound and hiss viciously.
The film began, and Anetta was involuntarily glad that the audience was few. When the rows are overcrowded, you want to run away from the cinema, like from a nest of hooligans. Someone crunches with popcorn, someone whispers with a girlfriend, some couples kiss with relish, making unpleasant sounds. Those who come to watch a movie, and not to squeeze, become uncomfortable. In the theater, it is different – discipline is the first rule there. But Anette did not like theaters. There is no full-fledged illusion of reality created by the special effects of cinema. Everything is possible in the film: show a bloody war with many deaths, demonstrate ghosts and vampires, arrange an apocalypse, create a demon.
The demon has been created! The most powerful and beautiful demon performed by Athenais. How good she is! Previously, Annette scoffed at the sight of the faces of stars in glossy magazines, which were no different from the average saleswomen and hairdressers. Any young girl who sits at the checkout in a supermarket is more beautiful than all the Hollywood stars put together. So where does so much noise about the beauty of actors come from for inexperienced people in life, it is not entirely clear. With Athenais, the opposite was true. All articles about her beauty could not convey even a little bit of her charm. Either the journalists failed to do it, or words could not convey her greatness.
The film flickering on the screen was called “Angel for Nero.” According to rumors from the film studios, Anetta knew that at first they were going to give him the name “Lions and Angels”, which was changed immediately before the rental. The last name conveyed the essence more accurately. Although the film was about the emperor who persecuted the first Christians with lions, the mass scenes were only a background for the romance between the angel who came from the darkness and Nero. The plot turned the whole idea of good and evil upside down. The fire of Rome was associated with a repetition of the pogrom once experienced by the heroine after the uprising of her angels in the heavens. And there, and here she impulsively staged an apocalypse, but the viewer’s sympathy remained on her side. Although after watching the word “angel” began to scare.
Annette was not worried about the grandiose plan of equating Christian sects with evil and exalting a fallen angel. She, as a starlet, liked the heroine’s lover much more. Is it difficult to take over the whole world if your patron is the most powerful emperor in the world! In those days, Rome was the greatest empire. The demonic heroine Atenais very wisely did, coming from the darkness of nothingness, straight to the bed of the emperor Nero. From his imperial chambers, she could easily rule the whole world.
“I would have such a patron,” thought Annette, “and I would become the number one star, the same as Athenais, because outwardly I look like her.”
Although the similarity is not complete, but a beautiful image on the screen is naturally created with the help of special illumination and the titanic efforts of makeup artists. In addition, when you watch a movie in a dark cinema, everything seems much more spectacular and attractive than later on the TV screen. The same movies in the theater and on the tablet make completely different impressions. It’s all about the visuals.
Annette was struck by the greatness of the demon embodied on the screen. With a less beautiful actress, the film would not be so amazing. Let it just be that she has a slightly fresher and better basis for the efforts of make-up artists than other actresses. But how did such a beauty even pass through the wall of cinematic intriguers? Except as the intervention of the owner of the film studio or the president himself, this could not be explained. Every actress needs her own Nero, or even several, to achieve star status.
Curious who is behind Athenais? Who are her powerful patrons?
“All the demons of hell!”
Annette turned towards the sound. Someone walked behind. A silhouette in a red hood was visible in the beams of the projection booth. Just for a moment! Could it be imagined?
Something vibrated under the floor, as if a whole flock of demons were in a hurry to get out into the world, as is happening now on the screen! It seemed that the leg was touched by someone’s sharp claws. Couldn’t there be rats in the cinema?
The girl turned her gaze to the screen. The winged beloved Nero just had a rival – her twin from the society of Christians. Both roles were played by Athenais. With different hairstyles, she looked great. You can’t even tell who is better: a graceful angel living in a palace or a demoniac beggar who tried to cut her face off so as not to look like the archangel Lucifer. The skin cut from the face turned into a living mask of gold, and the demoniac girl remained a beauty and entered into a conspiracy to kill her divine double. The intrigue twisted abruptly. Palaces, wars and senate disputes were interspersed with witchcraft under the guise of religion. Fallen Angel and Nero turned out to be the perfect match.
Annette stared with envy. One crazy idea was beating in her head.
“I want to be like her! Like Athenais! I want to take away from her everything that she has, like that demoniac Christian woman who was born absolutely like her. I look like her too! I, too, can be a star like her!”
“You’re on time! She just needs a body! She cannot attend social events with wings behind her back!”
Someone touched Annette’s cheek with a black claw. Oddly enough, she was not scared. The closeness of a creature that seemed to breathe fire resembled a fragment from a film. Here in the theater, it was as appropriate as the 3D effect.
“Do you think that fame is just a matter of luck?” mockingly croaked a voice like an animal. “Do you want the same patrons as hers?”
“And who are her patrons?” Annette half turned. A dark-skinned man in a bright red cape with a hood froze in the back row. There was little light from the glare from the screen, but it was still possible to notice that his face was disfigured almost to the point of an animal.
If there is no psychologist nearby, then you can pour out your soul to him – a stranger in red, resembling a monster.
“The same patrons as hers could have been mine. Why was she lucky and not me?”
Someone behind him gave a dull laugh and bent down to Annette. The sleeve of a scarlet cape slapped her cheek. The fabric was hot as fire.
“The king of kings does not need patrons. He himself decides which of the rulers of the world to give power, and from whom to take away. My mistress rules over kings, heads of republics. So it started long ago.”
“This is the plot of her first film ‘And his name is Dennitsa’, for which she became famous and all.”
Annette herself did not watch this film, but according to reviews in the press she remembered that Athenais played the archangel Lucifer there, who after falling into the Egyptian desert took a seductive female appearance and began to rule over the pharaohs.
“It’s not easy to rule people,” rare gold jewelry flashed on the stranger’s black fingers, as if stolen from a museum. “She rules!”
“In her role! On the screen!”
“Everywhere! But she needs you.”
“What for? To play in public the role of her sister or a poor relative who has benefited? – or what other tricks do movie stars have?”
“That there was no second Octavia.”
Annette frowned. Octavia! That was the name of the demon-possessed Christian woman from the film who, with a charmed dagger and a magic mask, entered the palace to attack the winged mistress of Nero. She could win this fight, but she no longer survives. If the stranger speaks symbolically, then she is lured into a trap.
“I’m making you a lucrative offer,” he seemed to object in response to her thoughts.
“And if I refuse?”
Black claws scratched lightly on her shoulder under her thin blouse.
“And what will you be left without Atenais? Dullness of life and emptiness?”
Annette understood the meaning of his words only when she left the cinema on bent legs. Together with the session, the whole life seemed to end. Splendor and luxury remained behind the shabby wall along with the extinct screen. Under the doors of the cinema, only darkness reigned, the daily routine and the ugliness of filthy cities.
Where did the fairy tale go? Gloomy neighborhoods, pale neon signs, ugly faces of oncoming people are all around. The human world has become like hell. She wanted to take a knife and cut everyone, as Octavia tried to kill an angel, and then herself. Now she could be understood.
As a child, Annette read fairy tales about people who visited the land of fairies, talked there with magical creatures, and then returned back to the mortal world and realized that they could no longer live in it. How can you live among people if you have been in the company of fairies!
Annette walked along familiar streets, which suddenly turned into a cloaca of abominations. The masses of people around looked disgusting, like crowds of demons. She wanted to go back to the cinema, even if at the cost of her life. Back to Athenais and her amazing world of emperors and fallen angels.
Annette vomited violently, although she did not eat popcorn or cotton wool in the theater. The girl leaned against the wall of a shop. The vomit left on the asphalt looked like a puddle of blood in which something was stirring. From the outside it could seem that she spit out her own intestines. The whole action resembled a nightmare.
“Even if people return from the fairy world with generous gifts, they still climb into the noose, because they are drawn back to the fairies!” hummed a chorus of children’s voices around the corner ominous counting rhyme. “And there is no turning back!”
What do you mean no? There was a way back to the cinema. You just need to get money for a ticket. Annette suddenly understood the addicts who can kill for a dose when withdrawing. If she didn’t have enough little change to buy a ticket for the session, she would definitely kill someone to take the money. Has the film made her mad? Is there something hypnotic in it that acts on the audience like a drug? Some kind of psychiatric syndrome or an insidious mixture of the twenty-fifth frame with angelic philosophy? All this struck her in the brain like a strong drug.
“Do not go to the fairies to visit even once, if you do not want your soul to remain in their claws forever,” they continued to sing around the corner. “The body without a soul is only a loop. Therefore, those who have left the kingdom of the fairies also leave life. Unless there is a way back. But the doors are usually closed. A narrow gap opens only once in a century, with the arrival of a winged deity.”
The intonations became mocking and threatening. It feels like it’s not children who are singing, but monsters imitating children’s voices. Annette glanced around the corner. Children’s figures were dancing there. In the darkness away from the lantern, they seemed ghostly. It’s not Halloween today, but they’re wearing costumes with wings and horns. Pranksters, in a word! One of the children glanced at Annette. He saw her, even though she was hiding around the corner. His eyes and grin were not childish at all. He could still paint his lips a bloody color, but where did the children get their red eyes?
The shocked Annette turned away and walked away, back to the dark movie theater called Akhetaton. Despite the late hour, the audience was invited to the next session. The ticket cost twice as much as the previous one, but she paid without hesitation.
“In order to get back into the world of fairies, a man of heads at everything,” the children’s choir caught up with her here. “But what are you going to do if the back door is closed?”
The door of the shabby building, oddly enough, really resembled a mythical creature with a hole-mouth, eyes-bas-reliefs and a ring instead of a handle. How did Annette not notice this on her first visit? They said that “Akhetaton” is a chic chain of cinemas, but here only the cast-iron door, decorated under the mouth of a manticore, was chic. When you enter it, there is a feeling that the cinema has swallowed you and will not let you out. And in his womb they show horror films about the rebellion of angels, and how demons take over the world.
For some reason, children on the street sang about fairies, but according to the Atenais films, fairies, elves and all magical creatures are just a cohort of rebel angels who were the least guilty and partially retained their beauty. But there was even more evil and deceit in them than in full-fledged demons. All magic comes from the fallen Lucifer. But for some reason, magic was practiced in the Christian community. To understand everything, you need to watch the film twice, Annette assured herself. In fact, without glancing at Atenais’s beautiful face again, she would definitely fit into the noose.
The house is now lonely and empty. Parents died long ago, and the only living sister Leah, the twin of Annette herself, left for excavations in Egypt six months ago. You shouldn’t wait home any time soon. Leah might not have returned from her archaeological trips for years. Who would have liked the first film with Athenais, because Ancient Egypt and the demons who settled in it were shown there in all its splendor. When demons appear, archaeological secrets no longer remain. Their appearance explains everything.
Annette herself was stuck in the era of Nero’s reign. It was so strange for a frivolous person who did not appreciate history that it was worth laughing. History books and films used to make her sick. She went to this film only because she was in a confusion of feelings. For depression you don’t think about what to treat. Athenais completely healed her and led her into a world from which there is no way out. Because demons live here and the essence of the whole universe is revealed.
“Came again!” a voice called her from behind. Together with him, this time strange sounds were heard, as if a reel was spinning and a film was rustling. Hasn’t the cinema already switched to new display technologies? Although it is old, you can expect anything here. There was also something archaic in the voice behind her, as if he were calling from a tomb in the deserts of Egypt where Leah was now stuck.
“Everyone comes back, but no one breaks out!”
What could this mean? Annette was no longer going to enter into discussions. She was captivated by the film. She wanted to see only dazzling footage, and not listen to an ominous stranger.
Titles flashed across the screen like crawling insects. Scarabs! Leah had a variety of scarab ornaments. The letters glittered like precious beetles crawling out of the box. Strangely, except for the name Atenais, Annette did not remember anyone from the credits. Who is the director of her films? Who are the producers? Who are the production designers and cameramen? Who are the make-up and costume designers? It was as if they weren’t all there. The titles themselves resembled the ligature of hieroglyphs. It seems that they, like an Arabic letter, should be read not from left to right, but from right to left. No matter how hard she tried to read, Annette did not recognize the names of Atenais’ assistants who played all the other roles. Who, for example, is that dark-haired handsome man who played Nero? As soon as Annette tried to find him with a glance in the credits, a severe pain hit her head. She had to close her eyes for a moment.