The week commences and as does the reptiles’ dreadful invasion. We previously saw unfortunate circumstances unfold, unprecedented mutations emerge and ultimately, the rapid enlargement of reptiles… Much to the surprise of Professor Persikov or indeed anyone else. What more could transpire? Enjoy Chapter IX!
CHAPTER IX. A Writhing Mass
Shukin, the GPU agent at Dugino Station, was a very brave man. He said thoughtfully to his companion, the ginger-headed Polaitis:
“Well, let’s go. Eh? Get the motorbike.” Then he paused for a moment and added, turning to the man who was sitting on the bench: “Put the flute down.”
But instead of putting down the flute, the trembling grey-haired man on the bench in the Dugino GPU office, began weeping and moaning. Shukin and Polaitis realised they would have to pull the flute away. His fingers seemed to be stuck to it. Shukin, who possessed enormous, almost circus-like strength, prised the fingers away one by one. Then they put the flute on the table.
It was early on the sunny morning of the day after Manya’s death.
“You come too,” Shukin said to Alexander Semyonovich, “and show us where everything is.” But Feight shrank back from him in horror, putting up his hands as if to ward off some terrible vision.
“You must show us,” Polaitis added sternly. “Leave him alone. You can see the state he’s in.”
“Send me to Moscow,” begged Alexander Semyonovich, weeping.
“You really don’t want to go back to the farm again?”
Instead of replying Feight shielded himself with his hands again, his eyes radiating horror.
“Alright then,” decided Shukin. “You’re really not in a fit state… I can see that. There’s an express train leaving shortly, you can go on it.”
While the station watchman helped Alexander Semyonovich, whose teeth were chattering on the battered blue mug, to have a drink of water, Shukin and Polaitis conferred together. Polaitis took the view that nothing had happened. But that Feight was mentally ill and it had all been a terrible, hallucination. Shukin, however, was inclined to believe that a boa constrictor had escaped from the circus on tour in the town of Grachevka. The sound of their doubting whispers made Feight rise to his feet. He had recovered somewhat and said, raising his hands like an Old Testament prophet:
“Listen to me. Listen. Why don’t you believe me? I saw it. Where is my wife?”
Shukin went silent and serious and immediately sent off a telegram to Grachevka. On Shukin’s instructions, a third agent began to stick closely to Alexander Semyonovich and was to accompany him to Moscow. Shukin and Polaitis got ready for the journey. They only had one electric revolver, but it was good protection. A 1927 model, the pride of French technology for shooting at close range, could kill at a mere hundred paces, but had a range of two metres in diameter and within this range any living thing was exterminated outright. It was very hard to miss. Shukin put on this shiny electric toy, while Polaitis armed himself with an ordinary light machine-gun, then they took some ammunition and raced off on the motorbike along the main road through the early morning dew and chill to the state farm. The motorbike covered the twelve miles between the station and the farm in a quarter of an hour (Feight had walked all night, occasionally hiding in the grass by the wayside in spasms of mortal terror), and when the sun began to get hot, the sugar palace with columns appeared amid the trees on the hill overlooking the winding River Top. There was a deathly silence all around. At the beginning of the turning up to the state farm the agents overtook a peasant on a cart. He was riding along at a leisurely pace with a load of sacks, and was soon left far behind. The motorbike drove over the bridge, and Polaitis sounded the horn to announce their arrival. But this elicited no response whatsoever, except from some distant frenzied dogs in Kontsovka. The motorbike slowed down as it approached the gates with verdigris lions. Covered with dust, the agents in yellow gaiters dismounted, padlocked their motorbike to the iron railings and went into the yard. The silence was eery.
“Hey, anybody around?” shouted Shukin loudly.
But no one answered his deep voice. The agents walked round the yard, growing more and more mystified. Polaitis was scowling. Shukin began to search seriously, his fair eyebrows knit in a frown. They looked through an open window into the kitchen and saw that it was empty, but the floor was covered with broken bits of white china.
“Something really has happened to them, you know. I can see it now. Some catastrophe,” Polaitis said.
“Anybody there? Hey!” shouted Shukin, but the only reply was an echo from the kitchen vaults. “The devil only knows! It couldn’t have gobbled them all up, could it? Perhaps they’ve run off somewhere. Let’s go into the house.”
The front door with the colonnaded veranda was wide open. The palace was completely empty inside. The agents even climbed up to the attic, knocking and opening all the doors, but they found nothing and went out again into the yard through the deserted porch.
“We’ll walk round the outside to the conservatory,” Shukin said. “We’ll give that a good going over and we can phone from there too.”
The agents set off along the brick path, past the flowerbeds and across the backyard, at which point the conservatory came into sight.
“Wait a minute,” whispered Shukin, unbuckling his revolver. Polaitis tensed and took his machine-gun in both hands. A strange, very loud noise was coming from the conservatory and somewhere behind it. It was like the sound of a steam engine. “Zzzz-zzzz,” the conservatory hissed.
“Careful now,” whispered Shukin, and trying not to make a sound the agents stole up to the glass walls and peered into the conservatory.
Polaitis immediately recoiled, his face white as a sheet. Shukin froze, mouth open and revolver in hand.
The conservatory was a terrible writhing mass. Huge snakes slithered across the floor, twisting and intertwining, hissing and uncoiling, swinging and shaking their heads. The broken shells on the floor crunched under their bodies. Overhead a powerful electric lamp shone palely, casting an eery cinematographic light over the inside of the conservatory. On the floor lay three huge photographic-like chambers, two of which were dark and had been pushed aside, but a small deep-red patch of light glowed in the third. Snakes of all sizes were crawling over the cables, coiling round the frames and climbing through the holes in the roof. From the electric lamp itself hung a jet-black spotted snake several yards long, its head swinging like a pendulum. There was an occasional rattle amid the hissing, and a strange putrid pond-like smell wafted out of the conservatory. The agents could just make out piles of white eggs in the dusty corners, an enormous long-legged bird lying motionless by the chambers and the body of a man in grey by the door, with a rifle next to him.
“Get back!” shouted Shukin and began to retreat, pushing Polaitis with his left hand and raising his revolver with his right. He managed to fire nine hissing shots which cast flashes of green lightning all round. The noise swelled terribly as in response to Shukin’s shots the whole conservatory was galvanised into frantic motion, and flat heads appeared in all the holes. Peals of thunder began to roll over the farm and echo on the walls. “Rat-tat-tat-tat,” Polaitis fired, retreating backwards. There was a strange four-footed shuffling behind him. Polaitis suddenly gave an awful cry and fell to the ground. A brownish-green creature on bandy legs, with a huge pointed head and a cristate tail, like an enormous lizard, had slithered out from behind the barn, given Polaitis a vicious bite in the leg, and knocked him over.
“Help!” shouted Polaitis. His left arm was immediately snapped up and crunched by a pair of jaws, while his right, which he tried in vain to lift, trailed the machine-gun over the ground. Shukin turned round in confusion. He managed to fire once, but the shot went wide, because he was afraid of hitting his companion. The second time he fired in the direction of the conservatory, because amid the smaller snake-heads a huge olive one on an enormous body had reared up and was slithering straight towards him. The shot killed the giant snake, and Shukin hopped and skipped round Polaitis, already half-dead in the crocodile’s jaws, trying to find the right spot to shoot the terrible monster without hitting the agent. In the end he succeeded. The electric revolver fired twice, lighting up everything around with a greenish flash, and the crocodile shuddered and stretched out rigid, letting go of Polaitis. Blood gushed out of his sleeve and mouth. He collapsed onto his sound right arm, dragging his broken left leg. He was sinking fast.
“Get out… Shukin,” he sobbed.
Shukin fired a few more shots in the direction of the conservatory, smashing several panes of glass. But behind him a huge olive-coloured coil sprang out of a cellar window, slithered over the yard, covering it entirely with its ten-yard-long body and wound itself round Shukin’s legs in a flash. It dashed him to the ground, and the shiny revolver bounced away. Shukin screamed with all his might, then choked, as the coils enfolded all of him except his head. Another coil swung round his head, ripping off the scalp, and the skull cracked. No more shots were heard in the farm. Everything was drowned by the all-pervading hissing. In reply to the hissing the wind wafted distant howls from Kontsovka, only now it was hard to say who was howling, dogs or people.
Source: “The Fatal Eggs”, Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Kathleen Gook-Horujy, Raduga, Moscow, 1990