With the Snowstorm
Why did I bring the knife in the first place?
I had heard some rumors about her—something that I started to suspect on my own, still not believing. I don’t recall the details. Everything before that fateful moment seemed to happen ages ago, although in truth, barely a few minutes could have passed.
I ran, feverously seeking to escape the justice that I had brought upon my head. The wind howled, lashing me with myriads of pallid ice shards. Empty bottles and glass splinters tinkled under my feet. Drunkards grinned at me out of the windows of the numerous bars, glued together to an endlessly long building. I fled through Dumskaya Street, the shadowy heart of Saint Petersburg.
That city of gloom and dusk and of never ending twilight—built upon the deadly marshes at the shores of the cold Baltic Sea—built upon the bones of its forgotten builders. Saint Petersburg had shadow everywhere, and it seemed that I could hide around every corner. The snowstorm helped, nearly blinding me—and, hopefully, anyone who might be following my trail.
Would they search for me? True, somebody must have called the police, but are the cops as hasty as they ought to be? Violence is your closest companion on Dumskaya Street—that den of booze, of debauchery and of danger. Here, you could leave the troubles of the past behind, plunging into the chaotic present. You could end up in a pool of blood, with the snow falling down on your frozen open eyes. The bars spit the human mass back to the street, where the Sabbath rages on.
Yeah, and there she was, despite all her hypocritical claims. That parody of a man was pawing her; heck, I don’t even remember his face. A flash of my blade cut through the flickering half-light, and her blood dripped on his fancy waistcoat. For a terrifying second, I became deaf.
I don’t recall making it outside. Perhaps I pushed someone, then shouldered the bouncer... or rather slipped away from the bustling crowd. Away, I had to run away! Only now mattered. Away with the sound of the glass shattering underfoot, away from the chiseled, multi-eyed Dumskaya Tower!
It was surprisingly quiet when I reached the crossroads. The twinkling wreaths on the lampposts sought to fill somebody’s heart with the serene, pre-Christmas joy. The traffic on Nevsky Avenue appeared sparse. The occasional vehicles seemed hasty, as if the drivers were in a hurry to get to their families.
Yet the wind was different. Here in the opening, it clung to my shoulders with its cold piercing claws. Raising my collar, I fancied there were words in the wind’s cries.
“Run!” it shrieked. “Run for your safety, murderer. It’s too bright out here, it’s too clear and too open. Here, the car lights pierce the saving shadows, and the neon burns in crimson flashes. Run!”
Luckily, nobody was paying attention to a disheveled guy making his escape through the city’s main avenue. My eyes could’ve been shifty though, caring about both menace and shelter. Perhaps I slipped and fell two or even three times. Otherwise, why would my hand hurt?
Passing the metro station, which was closed for its night slumbering, I found the courage to glance backwards. Luckily, I heard no sirens coming from the sinister Dumskaya Street behind my back. The tower that bore the same name had already dissolved in the blizzard. All I saw was darkness with huge snowflakes emerging from it. Sounds also died in the snowstorm, save the voice of the wind, the screeching of a vehicle’s wheels...ah, and some distant tunes coming from the unknown.
Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful . . .
I never cared about the traditional Christmas carols, more suitable for America than Russia, but now I liked their motive.
And since we've got no place to go--
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
“Let it snow,” I mumbled as I was crossing Sadovaya Street. I had no place to go either. Only the snowstorm could conceal me. If someone was following my trail, they should’ve lost me by now.
All of a sudden, a car appeared from the darkness and raced by, skipping me by an inch. The driver didn’t slow down, didn’t even signal. Rushing to the sidewalk, I descried the traffic light, spotting the permitting green. It seemed that everyone was blinded by that terrible weather.
“Turn,” the wind told me. “It has to be so. Look at the calmness of that street, at its twilight, at the scarcity of the passers walking it. No one can find you there; no one will search for you--go.”
I turned, choosing the relative safety of Sadovaya Street over the downtown lights. A jolly company poured out of a snack bar and carelessly walked past me, all jokes and laughter. I became nobody—just a lonely guy, strolling through the night city’s lanes. So I wished to believe.
I slowed my pace and examined my clothes for spots of blood. There was nothing. It could be delusion though, caused by the flickering luminance of the bar showcases. It could be because of the shadow that lay around me or the snow hiding my footprints. I glanced behind and saw none of them: the blizzard was concealing my every step. Somehow, that felt soothing to know.
In Saint Petersburg, people leave the main avenue to find themselves engulfed by instant calmness. I was in the very downtown a mere minute ago, but now I went surrounded by the half-light, the queer graffiti, and the occasional smells coming out of the gateway arches. The traffic died and the wind changed its howls to whispers, silenced by the dark stones of the surrounding buildings.
“Let it snow,” I murmured. Serenity was growing inside of me. They won’t find me, ever. They won’t even search. Let it snow. Let the snow cover everyone and everyone’s deeds with its pure white shroud. Let it snow...and since you’ve got no place to go...
Oh, but on second thought, I did have such a place. A friend of mine rented an apartment near Sennaya Square, just where I was headed now. Strangely, the guy’s name escaped me at the moment, although I’d known him for ages. I recalled his familiar face with its pierced nose and scar above the eyebrow. He got that in a bar brawl, right on the sinister Dumskaya.
Why couldn’t I come up with the name then? It had to be shock. After all I had just done, it shouldn’t have surprised me. I just hoped the man was home. Should I call him now? No: they could be tracking my phone. Should I tell him about the murder? Should I invent some plausible story then?
Oh, but the last thing he would do was call the police.
Hastening my pace again, I eyed the nearby sidewalk. Nobody could be trailing me. Word doesn’t spread that fast. Also, the cops wouldn’t be too eager to cordon off the whole downtown on a Saturday night. Yet tomorrow, tomorrow maybe they...
“What if that car on the crossroads hit me?” I thought with a grin. “That would’ve made quite a story in the papers. Murderer escaping Dumskaya dies in a car crash on the intersection of Nevsky and Sadovaya. Providence itself punished him. Too absurd to be true.”
I even laughed, but instantly silenced when the wind snapped my voice up and echoed it through the street in deep sepulchral tones.
“Spare a cigarette, will you?”
No greeting and no please. Turning, I spotted a girl with queer make-up, zipping her jacket up. Half of her raven forelock was dyed green. The sound of distortion guitars heard from the building behind her reassured my guess. Some goth hang-out was concealed there.
“Don’t be a greedy asshole, dude,” she added with a friendly smile.
I don’t smoke and that’s one of my problems. If I managed to tranquilize my nerves several minutes ago...ah, there was a tremendous if.
A guy wearing a leather jacket appeared from the snowstorm, pulling a knitted cap over his painted mohawk.
“Who are you talking to, huh?” he asked the girl and burst into guffaws.
They were both utterly drunk. The guy eyed me, clearly wishing I would get lost. To provoke his jealousy was the last thing I wanted. That would make too hilarious of an ending.
“Her fault,” I told them for some unknown reason. The girl gasped, her face distorting. I turned and walked away, towards the Sennaya Square. In a few steps, the blizzard concealed them both.
Why did I care to stop at all? I shouldn’t be wasting time. Besides, tomorrow morning they might recall seeing me here.
At last, there was Sennaya Square with its shining eateries, its vulgar music, and several grim figures making their way through. Not agoraphobic by nature, I found myself at a terrible unease in the clearing. Running across, I panted and staggered, almost falling because of the wind. Here, it seemed to blow from all sides at once. And again, I heard the words.
“Hide, hide,” the wind hissed. “Here is the place of murderers, of thieves and thugs, of blood and of filth. It’s too vast, and it’s too dark here in this late hour. The square is surrounded by silent houses, where the wicked men spend their days, hiding from the world. You are like them now; you are one of them. Run, find a hole, bury yourself in it—quietly, without even breathing. Hide, hide—you might yet survive.”
A look around refreshed my memory. All the houses looked like colossal blurred contours. It seemed there were other, colorful buildings on the far side of the sky-dome, and the things I saw were but their shadows. Still, I recognized the house I needed. A quick run though the ever gloomy yards, and I would reach my sanctuary.
I fled. All the lanterns were left behind, and the snow covered everything. The night thickened. I felt lost on a shrinking isle of light, oppressed by the growing darkness. The carcasses of the buildings stood solemn and lifeless, yet I knew that inside they swarmed with living, ill-tempered men, ever eager to raise noise. Making it to the outer door on the porch, I frantically dialed the apartment number on the intercom’s panel.
And then, the sounds died again. I held my breath, waiting for the familiar voice. The silence answered: there were no words, no beeping. The accursed machine was broken.
There was another way, luckily. I opened the door with a powerful jerk. Running up the staircase, I tried to remember which floor my friend was living on—and failed once again. All the numbers escaped me.
Then what, exactly, did I just dial on the intercom?
It didn’t matter. I knew the door of the apartment, even if the shock has snatched all the numbers from out of my head. I rang the bell once, then again and again. A voice answered from the inside, yet it was that of a stranger.
“Who’s there, huh?” a man spoke. “Huh?”
Silently, I walked away from the door, lurking in the low lighting of the staircase.
The keys clanged, the door opened, and an elderly, wrinkled man stepped outside. He wore pajama-like clothes, stretched and greasy from long use, and torn slippers. Strange enough, in his trembling hands I spotted a darkened icon of our Savior. It had to be Him because of the Bible in His hand, and the other hand raised in benedictory gesture—still, I couldn’t descry the face in the awful staircase’s lighting.
“Away with you!” the old man shouted. “Amen! In the name of Christ our Lord I beg you! Go away! Amen!”
His voice sounded both tired and terrified, his eyes appeared red and weary, his movements were sparse and uncertain. He stayed near his apartment’s opened door, afraid to move any farther. Silently, I stepped two stairs up. The old man was either mad or drunk. I had mixed up the porch or even the house. They all looked the same in that terrible weather.
“Away!” the man shouted again. I walked up, as quietly as I could, leaving the drunkard behind. He’d surely remember me and gladly testify against me afterwards. Besides, I knew the place that nobody would visit.
If for nothing else, it’s worth living in Saint Petersburg for its roofs. This one had a steep slope and no railing, but I have always been surefooted. From the height of nearly twenty yards, the true splendor of the city opened before me.
All the neon died beneath. I was one with the snowstorm.
Why did I climb here, all the way through the pitch-black loft and up the trapdoor? Did I hope to wait the whole night out here? Did the wind tell me so? Here on the heights, it wasn’t just whispering, nor was it urging. The wind was giving orders.
The cityscape whirled in my eyes. I saw the distant lights on Neva River and the labyrinth of Saint Petersburg’s streets and dusky yards. I spotted the enormous golden dome of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, now barely shining through the snow. The spire of Saint Peter and Paul’s dissolved in the omnipresent blizzard, yet I swear I did see it through the dancing snowflakes.
“Be one!” the wind hissed into my ears. “Be one with me human, be a twinkle in my glorious enchantment!”
Was it the city’s, not the wind’s voice that I’d been hearing?
“Be one with me!” it shouted again, elevating to a shriek.
Sitting on the slippery ridge of the roof, I held up both my hands, risking losing my delicate balance. My way was nearing its end and I feared nothing.
Then I saw the snowflakes floating through my ethereal palm.
Have I heard the wind’s voice before: its howls and screams, and its irresistible commands? Have I seen this yard countless times before, on nights as snowy as this? I recalled these dark walls, these shimmering windows, and the icy pavement in the yard’s shadowy depths. I also recalled my own mangled body prostrated on the crimson snow.
The wind roared with cacophonic laughter, embracing my weightless body, enveloping it in pallid strands. I slipped and fell from the roof backwards, dissolving into the blizzard.
I became one with the city again.