Chapter IX.

5 Oct

Venera Park combined the present, the past, and the future.

It was both an ancient Russian holiday carnival and an advanced technological exposition. The rides, games, pavilions, and amusements were many and diverse. Photon and laser exhibits rubbed shoulders with games of fortune and peep-shows. Hovercars rolled over the routes of rising and falling coaster-tracks. Vertical copters soared, inducing screams due to vertigo trills. Cascades of laughter echoed from the moving walkways between the many attractions along the midway. Crowds moved along the central bright avenue.

Magnetic energy abounded at Venera Park. Waves of the invisible power were used to turn and run the devices that excited and thrilled the public. Small cars and baskets lifted, whirled, twisted, and exhilarated the riders brave enough to enter them. Seductive music flowed out of tents containing exotic dancers and strippers.

Rides, games, and amusements of all sorts competed for the attention and patronage of those present to spend a frivolous evening. Anonymity reigned supreme at Venera. No one need stay within his or her conventional, everyday role or character. Everyone was able to enjoy a new, different mode of living.

One of the scariest rollercoasters on the planet went by the name of the Super Flip. This facility spun, flipped, rocked, and twirled its passengers in all possible directions. The arms of the mechanical system bent in all directions. At the climax, those on it were hanging upside down. The public termed this ride “the stomach churner”. Vomiting frequently occurred from the abrupt, unforeseen movements of being on this ride.

People bought and ate a multitude of Russian folk items made at the Park. The eggless pastry named a vatrushka, blini pancakes, medovlik honeycakes, and shashlik patties were bought and enjoyed. There were many sources of unlicensed vodka and vino. The atmosphere everywhere was carnivalesque.

The pair from the House of Razum walked up and down several times, looking at the features, before deciding to try one of the less spectacular, less demanding rides that appeared safe and comfortable.

“Let’s try the carousel,” proposed Sara. “I’ve always had a place in my heart for the old-fashioned merry-go-round. My father would often take me to one in a park near where we lived.” Her voice fell away as she turned her head to the left, away from her companion.

“Good,” laughed David, taking her by the hand. “Let’s get in line and climb aboard. We are both going to have fun and enjoy the ride.”

Within less than a minute, the two were mounted on horses on the revolving platform. His was a high black steed, hers a pink and white pony that stood next to it. Suddenly an electronic calliope began to play an old Russian folk tune and the entire herd of horses began to accelerate. Faster and faster the circular flow moved. The music grew ever more rapid. The wooden animals started to rise and fall in rhythm with the tempo. Their pace grew ever faster, as if they were running in a race of madness.

Sara, leaning her head toward David, laughed with excitement.

“This is wonderful,” he heard his psychic instructor cry out, her face flushed with emotion reminiscent of her childhood years.

It was while the two ate potato pirogi at an outdoor stand that Sara returned to the business that had brought her to Venera Park that evening.

“It is time that we find the old woman,” she gently murmured to him.

“What is her name?” asked Klimov, finishing the last of his potato snack. “I can inquire with someone who works here where she might be.”

“Baba Nara,” she told him. “Her small tent is somewhere out-of-the-way.”

David turned to a pirogi cook who was not busy at the moment.

“Yes, I know who it is you are looking for,” nodded the wizened old man in white cap, pants, and apron. “That old witch is a real baba-yaga. This is supposed to be an age of progressive science. We should not keep an old superstitious fraud like her in Venera Park any longer. When the baba dies, there will be no more of that ancient nonsense around. Just wholesome scientific amusements.” He gave David and Sara a suspicious look. “Why in the world are you searching for that decrepit crone?”

The answer came from Sara. “Scientific curiosity,” she said with a cough. “Both of us are interested in the psychology of people like this Baba Nara. We must find out what she knows and what she is capable of. That is our simple aim.”

“Well, I’ll tell you where she is.” The cook gave them directions, using both hands to point out the route they were to take.

“Thank you,” David politely told him. He then turned to Sara. “I think we will be able to find the place.” He placed a hand on her elbow and led her away.

It took the pair less than five minutes to locate the small tent they were searching for. It was on the edge of Venera Park. Tall poplar trees lined the dark path nearest the spot. The canvas of the baba’s tent was frayed and faded. A small sign over the lighted entrance announced “Character Readings Inside.”

“Let’s go in,” whispered Klimov. “It does not look like she has any customer at this time.” Indeed, no sound came forth from the inside.

Sara followed him into the unlit interior. The two of them stopped as soon as they were past the entrance. Blackness engulfed the tent on all sides of it. Suddenly the creak of a voice sounded from somewhere in the gloom.

“Who are you?” it brusquely asked. “What is it that you want here?”

“We have come to consult with Baba Nara,” answered Sara in a hesitant voice.

“A number of people who understand such matters say that the Baba possesses special powers and abilities,” added Klimov, trying to support and strengthen his partner.

Instantly, a small lamp went on at the far side of the tent.

A haggard, yellowish face with large burning blue eyes that gazed intently at Sara became visible in the pale lantern light.

“I have to be extremely careful,” whispered the old woman who did not have to identify herself as Baba Nara. “There are evil enemies who have warned me not to continue with what I have been doing all my life. They wish to put me out of business.”

“My friend and I are not such people,” Sara assured her, “believe me.”

“I can sense that,” said the aged hag. “As soon as I saw you, both of you, the truth about you came into my mind. Please sit down here at my table so that we can talk without being overheard.”

The baba bent down, picked up the lantern from the floor, and set it down in the middle of a small circular table at the center of the tent. She was dressed in a midnight black dress hanging to the ground. Her shawl and babushka were the same color of mourning.

David held a chair for Sara till she was seated. Then he drew up another one for himself. The two visitors looked across at Baba Nara on the opposite side of the dim, yellow light.

“I have no crystal shar, as you can see,” croaked the old voice. “The ball that is supposed to tell the future is a trick of fakers and mosheniki. Those who know what is true have never needed phoney paraphenalia.”

“Yes, I know,” nodded Sara. “You see, I am a student of the special knowledge and the internal senses within the mind, Baba Nara.”

“You are not from Yaroslavl, are you?” said the old woman.

“No,” replied Sara. “My friend and I are both from Moscow. We are here in Yaroslavl to learn about what is called parapsychology.”

“I know nothing except what I feel and sense inside myself. What the world calls science means absolutely nothing to me.

“When I was only a girl, a small child, it was discovered that I had very valuable gifts. My mother was the one who saw to it that I learned how to use these abilities for good, not evil purposes. I heard many stories from the old grandmothers, the babas, of Yaroslavl. Little by little, I grew able to do and say things that amazed everyone. As I went on, my reputation for helping people in trouble, those with problems, spread through the whole region. My whole life came to be taken up with these special gifts of mine. They are the most valuable possession that I have.”

Sara looked sympathetically at the strange old woman and spoke.

“That is exactly what interests me, the realm beyond the ordinary powers of the human mind, that of the special capabilities.”

“How can I be of help to you, my dear? Tell me that,” the baba muttered lowly.

Sara waited a few seconds before proceeding.

“There is something you may be able to answer for me, Baba.”

“If I can, I will.”

“I need to know the nature of what we Russians call the koldun. Have you ever seen such ability applied? What, in truth, is it? I need to know.”

What happened next took both Sara and David by complete surprise.

The old woman sprang up from her chair as if struck by a bolt from the sky. Her eyes seemed to fall into some kind of trance. Her small, stooped body started to shake and tremble. She was gasping and panting for breath.

First Sara, then her escort, rose from the table.

“What is it, Baba Nara?” murmured Sara in desperation.

The small figure in black stepped slowly around the table, till it stood beside the woman who had asked the traumatizing question.

All at once, Baba seized Sara’s right hand with both of her own.

“My child!” she said in a swoon. “You know not the danger that is contained in the subject you bring up. In the past, people have been killed or beaten for delving into the work of those kolduni who battle against evildoers.”

“Do you know how to do that work, Baba Nara?” As soon as she said these words, Sara was very sorry. The frenzied crone in black suddenly dropped the hand she was holding.

“Years ago, I saw it done in my native village near Yaroslavl,” she groaned out of her throat. “It was horrible. The mother of a young bride placed a spell on the husband of her daughter. He was a drunken adulterer who whipped his young wife terribly. This koldunia drove the husband insane, so that finally he hanged himself in his own barn. It was a horrible end to the fellow, but he had done much evil.”

A heavy silence fell over the tent.

“Let us leave, Sara,” whispered David warningly.

But his psychic instructor had one final question to ask.

“Did this mother of the bride apply hypnosis to the evil son-in-law, Baba Nara?” she cried out in a loud voice. “Is that the meaning of what a koldunia does to the person under the influence of her eye?”

The answer was a silent, voiceless nod. Not a word or sign, but a gesture.

The two females had their eyes fixed on each other as if both of them had fallen into the depths of a shared trance.

“It is time to go,” insisted David, touching the right elbow of Sara.

What came next happened too fast for anyone to recall or recollect later on. It had the character of a horrendous nightmare, but there was no question whether it was real.


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