"It's all a dream, I swear. Can it be black magic?"
I was two hours late for work today.
I turned the knob, opened the door, walked in and saw the room was empty. Well and truly empty! Not only had the desks, the sad woman and the typewriter gone, but even the electric wires. Everything.
"So it was all a dream... I see ... I see..."
For some time everything round me has seemed like a mirage. A vaporous mirage. There, where yesterday... But why yesterday, for goodnees sake? A hundred years ago ... an eternity ... perhaps it never existed at all... perhaps it doesn't now. Kanatchikov dacha! (19)
So the kind old man ... the young man ... the sad Storn ... the typewriter ... and the slogans ... didn't exist at all?
But they did. I'm not mad. They did, dammit!
Then where on earth had they got to?
Walking unsteadily, trying to hide my expression under my eyelids (so they didn't grab me and take me away) I set off down the dark corridor. And realised that something funny really was happening to me. In the darkness over the door leading into a room which was lit, glowed letters of fire, as if on a cinema screen:
ON THE 25TH OF MARCH AN UNUSUALLY STRANGE EVENT TOOK PLACE IN ST. PETERSBURG THE BARBER IVAN YAKOVLEVICH...
I read no further, recoiling in horror. Stopping by the barrier, I hooded my eyes even more and asked in a hollow voice:
"Excuse me, did you happen to see where ASS Lit. has gone?"
An irritable, gloomy woman with a crimson ribbon in her black hair snapped:
"What ASS Lit... I don't know."
I closed my eyes. Another female voice said sympathetically:
"Actually it's not here at all. You've come to the wrong place. It's in Volkhonka."
I went cold all over, walked onto the landing and wiped the sweat off my forehead. Then I decided to go back on foot across the whole of Moscow to Razumikhin's and forget all about it. If I was quiet and said nothing, no one would ever know. I could live on the floor at Razumikhin's place. He wouldn't drive me, a poor madman, away.
But a last faint hope still lingered in my breast. And I set off. I started walking. This six-storey building was positively terrifying. It was riddled with passages, like an ant-hill, so you could walk right through it from one end to the other without going outside. I hurried along the dark twists and turns, occasionally wandering into niches behind wooden partitions. The light bulbs were reddish and uneconomical. Worried people scurried past me. There were lots of women sitting at desks. Typewriters clattered. Notices flashed past. Fin. Dept. Nat. Mins. I reached well-lit landings, only to plunge back into darkness again. At last I came to a landing and looked round dully. The further I went, the less chance there was of finding that bewitched ASS Lit. It was hopeless. I went down the stairs and into the street. When I looked round, it was entrance!...
A bitter gust of wind. Heavy cold rain began to pour. I pulled down my summer cap even further and put up my greatcoat collar. A few minutes later my boots were full of water, thanks to the cracks in the soles. This was a relief. Now I needn't kid myself that I would manage to get home dry. Instead of slowing down my journey by hopping from stone to stone, I just waded straight through the puddles.
ENTRANCE 2, GROUND FLOOR, FLAT 23, ROOM 40
In letters of fire:
QUITE RIDICULOUS THINGS ARE HAPPENING IN THE WORLD. SOMETIMES THEY ARE TOTALLY IMPROBABLE: SUDDENLY THAT SELFSAME NOSE WHICH HAD BEEN PARADING AROUND IN THE RANK OF STATE COUNCILLOR AND CAUSED SUCH A COMMOTION IN THE TOWN, FOUND ITSELF BACK IN ITS PLACE AS IF NOTHING HAD HAPPENED... (20)
Morning is wiser than eventide. That's true alright. When I woke up the next morning from the cold and sat on the divan, ruffling my hair, my head seemed a bit clearer!
Logically, had it existed or not? Of course it had. I could remember my name and the date. It 'had just moved somewhere... So I would have to find it. But what had those women next door said? In Volkhonka... That was nonsense! You could pinch anything from under their very noses. I don't know why they keep them on at all, those women. Egyptian plague!
I got dressed, drank the water I had saved in a glass from yesterday, ate a piece of bread and one potato, and drew up a plan.
6 entrances times 6 floors = 36, 36 times 2 apartments — 72, 72 times 6 rooms = 432 rooms. Was it feasible? Yes, it was. Yesterday 1 had walked at random along two or three horizontals. Today I would search the whole building systematically vertically and horizontally. And find ASS Lit. Provided it hadn't vanished into a fourth dimension. If it had, that really was the end.
By the second entrance I came nose to nose with Storn!
Thank the Lord! A kindred spirit at last-It transpired that yesterday an hour before I arrived the head of admin, turned up with two workmen and moved ASS Lit. to entrance 2, ground floor, flat 23, room 40.
Our place was to be taken by the music section, ASS Mus.
"I don't know. But why didn't you come yesterday? The old man got very worried."
"For goodness' sake! How was I to know where you'd gone? You should have left a note on the door."