The harper

Дмитрий ЛАЗАРЕВ | Проза


The harper

(A story)

The Vasilievsky Island’s spit slowly empties, though Saint Petersburg usually never sleeps come June: during the white nights, even those inhabitants, used to them, prefer going out. Not to mention the visitors.

Oh, I love to walk on those nights along the quays, streets and squares of the northern capital of Russia! It always provides the best kind of rest for me: my soul invariably cleans itself of concerns, worries, doubts and starts to sing… or play music – depending on the situation. Leaning on the parapet, I fall into contemplation. Behind my back, Stock Exchange Square drones on noisily, while, in front of me – waves of the Neva are kissing the granite tongue of the quay. On the left hand, the narrow spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress pierces the sky, on the right — The Winter Palace silently awaits the night…

Unfortunately, today I am only permitted ten minutes of such enjoyment. I’ve got a job to do this evening and have come to one of my favorite places inthis city purely for business purposes. My object should appear here very soon and I can’t let myself miss him. Or, rather — her. The client I’m working for is rather generous and my aim is to please him.

Speak of the devil! A phone headset awakens in my ear.

— Ok. Is she there?

— Not yet, mister Sobinov, have patience. Are you in position?

— Of course!

— Be ready – I’ll send out a signal for you.

So impatient! Though I can understand him: more romantic places than Saint Petersburg in June are hard to find. And it’s so easy to fall in love here. The atmosphere itself calls for it.

And I am playing Cupid today. For a good profit, of course. Who haven’t I been already, thanks to my paranormal talent! It is rather universal, that’s why I can use it in different ways. There is a common phrase “you can never see into another’s heart”. It’s not so for me. I read souls like opened books — music books, to be exact. And not only read them, but also listen to them. Each soul has its own sound. Some of the souls are primitive, unable to offer anything, except an ordinary “Cat Waltz”. But, from time to time, you encounter souls that take your breath away with their beauty and melodic complexity. Also, you can tell a lot about the person, based on which of the differently-colored strings sets the tone in his or her soul. For example, if someone’s soul melody is dominated by the icy-blue string (ambition, ruthlessness, pragmatism) which is accompanied by the yellow one (the thirst for pleasure, avarice), then — you don’t want to have close contact with this person. But if the strongest-sounding strings are celadon (honesty, fairness, duty), blue (openness, trust) and light green (sense of humor), then — this person is likable… That’s how it is in general terms. Dig a little deeper – and you’ll find a lot of nuances. More particularly, the tones of each string also mean a lot.

Even the ability to decipher the audio code of human souls itself is a great advantage. And when I found out that it is possible to be not only a listener, but a musician… That’s where real surprises begin — things that make your head reel with the sheer breadth of opportunities! You play the strings of human souls like a harp, creating quite the different melodies and setting people on paths, which they would never have chosen on their own. You can do so much with this skill!

Almost absolute power, almost omnipotence. Illusory in large part, but no less seductive and insidious because of that. It is what my grandmother was afraid of and what she warned me against. I got this endowment, which always skips one generation in our family, from her. She taught me a lot of what I know and can do now. My Granny didn’t want to teach me how to play the strings, fearing that I would not prove strong enough, that I would break. May be she didn’t believe in me and thought that the inability to commit a crime and the fear of punishment can restrain a man much more efficiently than morality. That is also why she told me, that my talent is not unique, and that there are other people on earth who have the same endowment…

And besides, there are also those who are really different. They have many names. Some call them “silence-bearers”, others simply call them “the two-souled ones”. There are other names, as well. It is hard to say exactly who they are. Two natures coexist in them – human and demonic. The first one rules by day, masking the second nature so well, that even an experienced “harper” sometimes can’t discover it. And by night, the dark incarnation of the two-souled persons takes over, forcing them to go hunting. Oh, these creatures don’t simply kill – they absorb the sounds of human souls, replacing the music with frightening silence…

To tell the truth, when Granny told all this to me, I thought that the two-souled ones were just a scary story — nothing more. A fairy-tale to keep me from future temptations to use my talent for selfish purposes — something that can in itself attract the attention of those creatures. I had kept to this conviction right until my grandmother’s death, which happened 12 years ago. I had just graduated from school at that time. It was a strange death. Everything happened at dusk. Her black string of life didn’t break – it suddenly stopped sounding. The last thing I heard from Granny was: “They are double, Volodya, double!”. At that moment I saw out of the corner of my eye unusual strings of some unfamiliar woman, and with half an ear heard her scary sounding before she disappeared into the crowd.

Since that time I have never met someone like that, or heard such, so to say, melodies. But I do believe that, having mastered playing the strings on my own, I avoid going to extremes not because I feel afraid of the two-souled ones, but because that’s something my Granny wouldn’t have liked to happen. Though I don’t want to pretend to be a saint. It’s all well and good to have principles, but — you’ve got to eat regularly, as well. And the post of a history teacher, which I acquired since finishing the Pedagogical University, doesn’t bring nearly enough money. I don’t need power or enormous wealth. I am ready to settle for small things. And, I do have a conscience — that is why I use my talent only in order to help people… Provided those people are ready to pay for my help. Miracles for cash, I call it.

I’m no longer a newbie and completely control my desires and impulses… It wasn’t always like that, though. I’ll never forget my first and, hopefully, last experience of taking full control. It all seemed so straightforward — just clutch the green string of will and off you go! Oh, no! What actually happens is that you convert a person into a brainless zombie, and that means being responsible for that person’s every movement… I guess that I’ll never again burn up as many of my nerve cells, as I did during that first time. And I was rather lucky that nothing serious happened to my “ward”. Complete suppression of will is the most ghoulish thing that can happen to a human being. It’s like rape, but a rape of the soul. After that, I could neither look in the mirror at myself, nor sleep well at night for a very long time. Oh, I’ll never do it to anyone again. Only if the situation becomes really hopeless!

Subtlety is what you need here — more subtlety! Play the violet string of wishes, make the person want what you want, and he or she will move in the right direction without further prompting, remaining in full control of his or her feet, and, furthermore — showing such energy and enterprise in pursuing your goals, you’d think they were his or her most cherished dreams…

I’ve got a good idea of who I am looking for  — I don’t even need to check the photo in the inner pocket of my jacket. I have an excellent memory for faces. Not long to wait now: the client assured me that she returns home from work by the route, that takes her across the Stock Exchange Square, every evening, shortly after 10 p.m. There are faster routes she could take, but she clearly enjoys her walks. Not surprising, considering the scenery!

Many people go past me, and, of course, I hear all of them. Without paying attention, naturally — more like with half an ear, as something in the background. If you try to listen to everyone, you may go crazy. As it is, separate melodies become lost in the sound of the city itself… Oh, yes, Saint Petersburg can sound as well — and how! It’s like a giant orchestra, in which the soul of each of the city’s inhabitants has its own part. This city has strings, too, but — it is beyond the power of any «harper» to play them. Only God or Destiny can do that. Some people manage to get in tune with the rhythm of the city; others’ melodies stand out, go against the score. If the latter’s numbers are few — they can’t have any serious influence on the city’s musical theme. However, their false notes can sure influence their own lives, and in a very unpleasant way. I’ve visited a lot of places and can say without doubt: St. Petersburg has one of the strongest “orchestras” in the world. It’s symphonies are incredible, and it’s power is shocking. It’s impossible to argue with such power. If you don’t «hit the notes” or intentionally try to pit your own part against the city’s musical theme, it’s better for you to leave: this is not your city and you won’t have a good life here…

Oh, oh! Here she comes! Lost in thoughts about lofty matters, I almost missed her. My eyes trip over a short brown-haired woman, slowly striding across the Stock Exchange Square to the Palace Bridge. Not bad at all! My client’s got a good taste! And I’m not talking about the girl’s outward appearance (I’d call it pleasant, not beautiful) — I rather mean those aspects, nobody but me can fully appreciate. The incredible harmony of her strings. Orange (creative ability); light blue (openness, sociability); blue (mind and knowledge); violet, white (feelings, ability to empathize) and green — almost all of them sounding on a uniformly-high level. All this luxury, plus the almost silent crimson and dark gray strings. This means — no fear, no aggression! It is not surprising that her soul creates a truly stunning melody, worthy of Mozart himself! One needs to handle this miracle very carefully and gently – so as not to break anything in her amazing spiritual harmony. God forbid me from doing that!

I still have some time to choose the right leverage: the brown-haired woman has just reached the Palace Bridge; on the other side of it she will turn to the right and move along the Admiralty Embankment. As soon as she is there, the client will move out to meet her, on my signal. I need to perform my work right at the moment of their meeting, or just a few seconds before. Not earlier than that, otherwise the risk of errors increases.

Oh, why wasn’t it me who found her first?! How great is the temptation to forget about the money and act a little differently than planned — namely, to draw the attention of this walking sonata to my own person! But it’s not worth doing. A contract is a contract. Besides, as the saying goes: “Love is valuable to us when it is free”. No matter how beautiful her soul is, she’s not the only one like that in the world. One day I will find another owner of a delightful soul melody — this time, entirely for myself. And I am not going to touch her strings. I’ll let her develop special feelings for me by her own initiative, without any coercion. With my abilities, I can make any woman, including the current Miss Universe, fall madly and passionately in love with me, but — is there any joy in such a victory? No, in my case — everything will be natural. As for today, let’s limit ourselves to the substantial increase in our material well-being.

But – it is time. I called the client:

— Time to go, mister Sobinov!

— Finally!

So, where is he? Oh, I see. You idiot, you’re walking on the wrong side of the street! Though, this is easily remedied. There is a pedestrian crossing halfway between them. The distance decreases, they’re going to meet soon. My turn.

And so, the strings. Let’s place our bets on the violet and the white — desires and feelings. Say, if I carefully touch them both — like that, and like that … This should change the tonality. Now slightly tweak the violet string and touch the green one, to turn the woman’s head in the right direction — this should work, as a way to attract her attention to my client. Just be careful not to overdo it — we don’t want the girl to become a loving fool, hanging on her passion’s object’s every word. So far, everything seems to be ok: I haven’t done anything wrong, haven’t missed a note. The melody of the girl’s soul has changed a little, but continues to be as beautiful as before.

It works! Not that I have doubted my success, but — it is still pleasant to know you’re a true master of your trade. The girl turns her head, sees my client. Her soul’s white and violet strings begin sounding with new strength, but completely independent now, without any influence from the “harper”. Ok, everything is fine: I can sense the presence of feelings and desires, aimed at Paul Sobinov – exactly as it should be. Now she is ready to go anywhere with him.

One thought slightly scratches at my soul: this girl probably deserves a better fate — the right to find her own prince on a white stallion. Sobinov doesn’t look the part. On the other hand, he is not the Hunchback of Notre Dame, either. Nor is he some lecherous old man. My client is moderately beautiful, moderately clever. A moderately plump man in the prime of his life. Plus, he loves her. And — he has lots of money… In short, this unknown beauty has nothing to worry about: he is by far not the worst of options. So, to hell with misplaced remorse!

Especially since the work is still not done. Desires and feelings are all well and good, of course, but — without determination, they will remain buried in the soul that generated them. And my client keeps dragging his feet. Thank God he at least managed to take advantage of the pedestrian crossing, as directed. This wuss had been devouring her with adoring eyes from afar for three weeks already, so — it won’t surprise me if he fails to start a conversation yet again… It’s better to provoke her into making the first step.

I touch the green and yellow strings (will and energy) lightly. This should encourage the girl to some “feats” for the sake of realization of her desires. Do it, my dear — all is in your hands!

I’m reading her like an open book. If you look closely and listen to the strings of the soul, you can learn much more about a person than his or her character, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. As we walked across the bridge, I managed see and hear enough to understand what impulse she needs to rush into the arms of my client.

The fawn string begins to sound harder — a sign of decision-making. Exactly at that moment, I play the final accord — by lightly touching the orange string, making it sound more loudly…

Here they are — coming face to face…

—  Excuse me, could you help me, please?



Phe-ew! I barely manage to resist a triumphant yelp. Well done, girl! They’ve struck up a conversation. And my client begins to smile. He answers her – and they are already walking hand in hand along the embankment, talking casually, and the white strings of their souls sing loudly and in unison. What do you know, this really is love! And even though it is not entirely of natural origin, even though it had to be helped a little — what difference does it make?! They are happy now. Probably, they will remain so in the future, as well — my client does not look (or, to be exact, does not sound — his soul I can hear very clearly) like a playboy and a ladies’ man. A little bit jealous, but that’s not scary at all, because his current companion is not an adventurous type, either. All in all, best wishes for a happy life together, guys!

Well, Petersburg, the romantic capital of Russia, I have strengthened your reputation just now! On the Admiralty Embankment, just opposite the famous “Needle” and a block away from the Bronze Horseman, a new feeling had just been born in a flash and is already beginning to blossom — a small melodic addition to the city’s Symphony.

Generally speaking, my work is already done. But — I am thorough and, before I leave, I need to make sure that nothing will go wrong. That is why I must still follow these lovebirds for a little longer… Yeah, definitely a job well done — such an idyll! Were I a more sensitive person, I’d be close to tears right now, from all this emotion. Here they go — down the stairs to the water, unable to take their eyes off each other. As for me, I stop at the parapet above and dreamily watch the river. Nothing suspicious in that: there are lots of people around, strolling leisurely — just like me. The atmosphere is so accommodating – St. Petersburg, white nights, the Neva… I continue to watch the couple out of the corner of my eye. They are standing below and I think they are quite ready for a kiss. If it takes place (and, judging by the melodies of both lovers’ white strings, everything is heading that way), then it’ll be time to go… Right, they are hugging. Their faces are moving closer to each other, their silhouettes reflected in the waters of the Neva…

What the hell?! Despite the warm weather, I suddenly feel cold from head to toe. How could I not notice?! Well — in this particular, almost unique case, I had few chances of noticing anything beforehand… Twelve years. I hadn’t met the two-souled ones for twelve years and actually began to hope I never would, because they are rather rare. My Granny once told me that we feel drawn to each other – the “harpers” and the half-daemons. Opposite charges attract. In this case, in order to destroy each other. No luck lasts forever, and the fact that these creatures hadn’t crossed my path ever since the day of my grandmother’s death is sheer luck, indeed. But, it’s finally happened here and now, in St. Petersburg — not only the most romantic, but one of the most mystical of Russia’s cities…

To tell the truth, the creature’s disguise is really perfect! Even I, a “harper”, couldn’t feel any false notes in the sounding of the girl’s soul — while it was daytime. I even (stupid me!) personally brought these two together, thus almost signing my client’s doom… Of course, I had no idea — and would’ve remained ignorant, had I not looked at her reflection in the river… And all this while, she sounded so beautiful! Only the Neva managed to unmask her – and only at the turn of the night. And it was me alone who’d noticed it, because nobody else can see her ugly and frightening strings or her demonic essence in that reflection. Greed, aggression, brutality, hunger… It’s hard to describe this sounding… Like an organ, with an added mixture of bagpipes, violins and drums — all playing in a sharp, dissonant key. A music that pains the ear and causes toothache and fear, as though it contains infrasound… A very familiar sounding, because I heard it that night, twelve years ago. Of course, I don’t think that the two-souled woman I’m looking at now is the same one. Then again, God knows — maybe they don’t age?!

Paul Sobinov is extremely lucky, that I did not leave in satisfaction immediately after the couple’s white strings began to sing. This evening, he would’ve transferred the second part of my sixty thousand rouble fee to my account… And next morning, he would’ve simply failed to wake up. But now I can save him. I must, even though, in this case, he surely won’t pay me, and won’t even believe my story… Fair enough, I’ll get by! This beast should not be allowed to walk free all over St. Petersburg. Who knows, how many unfortunates have already found and will yet find death from her hands?! No, the decision is made, and I must put it into action without delay…

The two-souled one probably feels something at the last moment and turns her head, looking for the source of the danger. Her glance finds me only now, because my influence has blurred the creature’s mind, distracting her attention with induced love. It suddenly becomes clear to me: one more moment — and my soul will fall silent forever. But, I make my move first — with all my strength, I pull at the black string of her life force and tear it. The girl goes limp in my client’s arms, the cacophonic sounding of her dual nature grows silent. As for him, the effect is directly opposite: the dark grey string of fear, combined with the white, give rise to an anguished and powerful melody in the key of suffering. As for me, I draw back from the parapet – so as not to show myself accidentally, and quickly walk away. At least now, when he’ll demand answers, I’ll be able to claim my complete ignorance. Really, who would have known that this poor girl will suffer a sudden heart attack?

I need to be immediately cleansed of the energies, brought about by the murder. For people with a gift like mine, such things never go unpunished. And it doesn’t even matter who the victim is: a person, an animal or — like in my case — a half-demon. Bridges are best suited for cleansing – the Trinity Bridge, the Foundry Bridge, the Annunciation Bridge, the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge… The deeper is a river under the bridge — the better. And the Neva is a real wonder! There are few rivers in the world, carrying such a powerful magical charge. Half an hour on the bridge — and I will be clean again. God knows, I didn’t have a choice…

And then I’ll have to use my sources in the St. Petersburg police department (I’ve helped the cops solve many baffling crimes over the years). I’ll need to find out which of the morgues her body is at. The demonic essence of the two-souled girl is not quite dead. And when it gets out of her dead body, I must be there to finish the job…

About the author:

Dmitry Lazarev was born on 30 May 1976 in Sverdlovsk. He graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of the Ural State Technical University.  He works as a design engineer. Mr Lazarev is interested in science fiction since childhood. He made his first attempts at writing back in high school but only started to write professionally in 2003. His novels, written in the genre of Urban Fantasy, were published by «Alfa-Kniga». Many of Mr Lazarev’s short stories and novels of various genres appeared in well-known Russian magazines and compilations. Since 2016, he is a member of the International Writers’ Union.

 Many thanks to Oksana Kotova for her invaluable assistance in the work on this story


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