Nikolai knew something was wrong. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. Something about the world seemed…artificial. It was as if he could blink his eyes and for an instant it was as if everything around him was nothing but a movie set. Blink again and everything was in order. Was he going insane? He’d struggled with the question ever since the feelings began, but now he could no longer remember exactly when that happened.
It began with the dreams, ultra-realistic visions of political revolution in Russia. The Putin government had been overthrown by a collection of hipsters, creative class workers, LGBT activists, and neo-Nazi thugs. Into the vacuum left by Putin came the NATO occupation regime. The tricolor over the Kremlin was replaced by an American flag with rainbow stripes, signifying the conquest of Russia by Sodom. The Russian language was to be removed from public life- schoolchildren would be taught Ukrainian. The dreams didn’t come every night, but whenever they did Nikolai would wake up in a cold sweat.
As disturbing as the nocturnal visions were, they weren’t initially cause for concern insofar as they were completely logical. Nikolai frequently watched the news on television and read “patriotic” websites on the internet. With the constant flow of information about the US-led Euromaidan coup in Ukraine, the war, and the machinations of the State Department-controlled fifth column in Russia, it was only logical to see such visions when the conscious mind is at rest. No, the dreams only began to bother Nikolai until they were joined by the waking visions. The “blinks.” Those strange visual hallucinations that were almost too fleeting to catch. A sign, seen in peripheral vision, would appear to be written in some other language than Russian. A flag would appear to have frozen in mid wave, its colors would change. Then Nikolai would rub his eyes and there would be nothing out of the ordinary.
It was early, maybe three in the morning, but Nikolai couldn’t sleep. The dreams had once again forced him to wake up screaming. Now he sat on the edge of his bed staring at the wall, on which a Russian imperial flag hung next to a picture of Putin wearing sunglasses. Rain pounded the Moscow streets outside. He looked at Putin, the man who’d raised Russia from her knees and saved it from American invasion. Lighting flashed in the window. For a split second Putin’s face seemed to change. There was still a bald man in the picture, but he didn’t look like Putin. The vision was far too short-lived to tell exactly who it was, but it definitely wasn’t the president.
Suddenly Nikolai was shocked out of his stupor by the rousing melody of “Holy War,” that Second World War-era call to arms. Who could possibly be calling at this hour? Nikolai snatched up the phone and said “Allo,” expecting a profuse apology from a caller who must have dialed the wrong number. For a moment he heard little more than quiet breathing. Someone was listening to him, but they weren’t speaking.
“Hello? I know someone’s there,” Nikolai said. “What do you want?”
That’s when the silence on the other end of the line was broken by a deep voice.
“It’s not about what I want, Novorossiya Warrior, but what you want.”
Nikolai jerked his head away from the phone. Why did the man refer to him by his internet handle? How could this stranger connect him with it? Who was he? He brought the phone back to his ear.
“What I want? How do you know what I want,” Nikolai demanded.
“For some time now you’ve come to realize something is very wrong with your world, Novo. You’ve seen things. You’ve heard things. But you can’t understand them. You want answers. You want the truth.”
Nikolai’s heart was pounding. How did this man know about the visions? He’d never told anyone, not even his own family. Could this be an agent from the CIA, or worse, the dreaded US State Department? He decided to try a bluff to see if he could expose his interrogator.
“But I know the truth,” Nikolai replied in a shaky voice, unable to hind his uneasiness. “I don’t just watch TV you know. I also read RT in Russian. Their info actually comes from Western experts like Alexander Mercouris and think tanks like Global Research. How are you going to tell me something I already know?”
There was silence. Then the voice began to speak again with an almost patronizing tone. Nikolai’s act had failed miserably.
“Novo, please, you cannot get the answer you’re seeking from those sources. You want to know what it is. I am giving you one chance to find out. Meet me on the corner down the block from your house, in front of the Kroshka Kartoshka. You have ten minutes. After that, I can promise you nothing.”
Nikolai attempted to interject but the man had hung up. Ten minutes. Could this be a trap? Somehow Nikolai felt it was real. He had to do this. He scrambled to put on his clothes and shoes and burst out of his apartment block into the pouring rain. As he approached the Kroshka Kartoshka, now closed for hours, he couldn’t see a single soul anywhere in the vicinity. Could he have arrived to early? Or too late?
Luckily an adjacent shop had an awning under which Nikolai could take shelter from the rain. He decided he’d wait there at least five minutes, hoping he hadn’t fallen for some elaborate prank. We waited. And waited. He was sure five minutes had passed. Just for good measure he decided to extend the deadline by lighting up a cigarette. If the man didn’t show up before the cigarette was extinguished, Nikolai would go home. After generously allowing the tobacco to burn almost all the way to the filter, Nikolai dropped the butt on the ground where it was doused by the rain. He turned back towards his home.
“Leaving already, Novo?” It was the voice!
Nikolai spun around in the direction of the voice but couldn’t see anything. A figure slowly stepped out of the darkness and the rain and into the circle of light under a street lamp. There now stood a rather large man clad in a long dark trench coat. The man wore reflective sunglasses in spite of the rain and the night. Nikolai took a few cautious steps towards him.
“Wh-who are you?”
“The question you should be asking,” the man began, “Is who are you? But you can call me Krokodil.”
“Okay then who am I?”
“First of all you are Novo. Nikolai Sergeyevich Kuznetsov is a lie. Novo is the truth. You seek the truth, so start with yourself.”
“Alright,” Novo replied. “So I am Novo. What’s this truth you say I’m after?”
“You tell me, Novo,” the man said, moving no muscle other than his mouth. “What is that thing you can’t stop thinking about. The thing that keeps you up at night?”
Novo struggled to imagine what the man could possibly be referring to. He searched his memory for everything he’d been obsessing over for the past three years. America? Homosexuality? Ukraine…Ukraine! Yes, there was something about that fake, non-existent country invented by Vladimir Lenin that had been on his mind throughout his entire struggle.Something happened there, and after that, the dreams began.
The man began to speak again as though he could read Novo’s mind and see him coming to the answer.
“That’s it. You want the answer, but first you have to ask the question.”
Novo felt the words forming on his tongue almost as if some spirit were speaking through him.
“What is the Maidan?”
The man smiled.
“Yes, Novo, you know the question. But nobody can be told what the Maidan is. You have to actually see it for yourself.”
“Show me,” Novo replied, again as if he had no control over his own words.
“That is what I have come to do,” the man said.
Just then a black car pulled up next to the curb. The man motioned toward the car.
“Get in, Novo. You’re in for a long ride.”