Monitoring: Vasily Popov
Moscow, Central Federal District, Russia
9:05 p.m. Moscow Standard Time
Saturday, March 8th, 2014
17:05 Coordinated Universal Time
Saturday, March 8th, 2014
Five minutes after the clock strikes nine, there is a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Vasily says. “Hello, Mister Vinogradov. I am so glad to see you. Wo xiang ni zhiyi,” he says, meaning “I greet you.” The pronunciation of it is mangled, without a doubt, and Vasily wouldn’t rule out the possibility that an actual Chinese speaker wouldn’t have a clue what he’s saying. Most Russians are monoglots, though, and even if Lev Vinogradov knew enough to realize that Vasily’s lack of proficiency, it surely wouldn’t be a problem. People who pay for paranormal services are, Vasily is a little ashamed to admit, hardly the discriminating type, and a little bit of exotic mumbo-jumbo is spice on the package that they have come to him for.
Vinogradov looks just a little concerned as he enters, but it’s about something other than Vasily’s poor Chinese. “You’re very young. They didn’t tell me that you’d be so…”
“You’re worried about whether I am actually skilled, yes?”
The man nods, smiling weakly.
“The Center for Psychic Services would not have hired me if I could not help you,” Vasily says brightly. “Nor would the Federal Health Service have given me a faith healing license!” Not exactly true, inasmuch as there were charlatans working in this facility and holding the same license, but the point was that the license did, in fact, exist, and he had been given it. “I am young, but it is not for humans to decide who has a gift, or when they are given it. Why, the Bible tells us that John the Baptist recognized his cousin Jesus when he was in the womb, and if that was not psychic then I don’t know what is.”
“I suppose…” he says.
“You asked for a two-hour session, sir, and I shall tell you what: If you are still a doubter at the end of it, then I will not only refund every one of your ten thousand rubles, but I will pay you a thousand of my own on top of it. But if I impress you,” Vasily says with a grin, “then you must treat yourself to a nice dessert and write something good about me in your journal tonight.”
“But I don’t keep a journal,” replies Vinogradov, looking a little more at ease now. “Just the accounts.”
“Then start. It will cleanse your mind after you make it a habit. I promise you. Now let us begin,” Vasily pronounces, casting his arms out to either side as if he is parting the Red Sea.
In accordance with Vasily’s directions, the man lays down on a soft mat. Vasily sets up a pair of candles at Vinogradov’s head and feet, and three water-filled pots on either side of him. “This is holy water from the Jordan River,” Vasily informs him. “It will draw out your stress and psychic illnesses, like a magnet, and then when we are finished you can take some home with you.”
“What for?” asks Vinogradov from his spot on the floor.
“You can use it like a dreamcatcher, like what the Indians make in America, or you can drink it. There is negative energy in here but—do you know how vaccines work?” He waits for the man to nod. “Well, just a little bit of negative energy, after it’s been caught by the holy water, can strengthen your chakras,” Vasily explains as he lights the candles. He’s laying it on a little bit thick, but this is what the man is paying him for, isn’t it? Well, that, and bottles of filtered tap water, at thirty-two hundred rubles a pop.
Vinogradov applies a cool, wet washcloth to his face while Vasily puts on some Bach, lowers the room’s temperature just a little bit, and turns out the lights, leaving only the two candles. All of these things are conducive to falling asleep quickly.
“Zhufu, zhufu,” Vasily says, and he sprinkles some rose petals all around his client. “Hao mengxiang. Zhufu!” Assuming that Google Translate was accurate, he’s saying “Be blessed. Good dreams.” Next, he crosses himself three times, utters the customary oath—”God bless and protect”—and finally takes a seat beside the other man. Now all that remains is to wait for him to fall asleep, and the real work can begin, with Vasily’s hand atop Vinogradov’s.
Vasily is licensed to perform magic, too. It’s the main reason that he bills himself as a magician rather than a psychic. He could give the same line about “powers unknown to science” and probably even justify the rites with some sort of explanation about auras, but the real deciding factor was that the Russian government only hands out licenses for magic or faith healing. Being able to claim, legitimately, that he is a licensed magician is the second best part of this job.
The first, of course, is that he gets to help people. Yes, sure, he’s lying to them, or at least sort of, but the point is that they’re happy after he’s finished working with them. He has seen stock brokers and politicians, and programmers and factory foremen, and they are all the same where it matters. The people who come to this place, no matter their positions or their hobbies, are really just monkeys, when you get down to it, monkeys who have been thrown into an alien industrial society that their poor monkey brains can barely comprehend. They’re confused, they’re afraid, but when they come to him he can make them feel like everything is okay.
When you get down to it, that’s what they’re paying him for, and Vasily is happy to say that he delivers.
His train of thought is derailed when he begins to perceive…flickers. Nothing substantial yet, but Mister Vinogradov is definitely going into REM sleep now, and Vasily should be seeing the man’s dreams any second—yes, there it is. Oh God, his teeth are falling out. That’s just awful, especially for Vasily. It might be an aspect of his power, or his waking mind filling in the blanks, or something else, but the dreams that he witnesses are never as cloudy as the ones which he has personally. He’s just watching this happen, but it feels like the rot is in his own mouth. It’s disgusting.
Eventually, they get close to the end of their time together, and Vasily nudges his client. He makes sure to do it before another dream can emerge, because he read once that it’s easier on the mind that way. Something like that, anyway.
As soon as his client is alert, Vasily proceeds to describe the dreams that he witnessed. “Your teeth fell out,” he begins, and Vinogradov’s eyes widen as he continues. After he has given enough information to prove his powers (or at least this one), it is time to give counsel.
“It is not rare to dream of corpses, or even of moving corpses. The universe wants you to move forward without fear. There are things in your life that you need to let go off. They’re dragging you down.” Yes, that’s good. Everybody has some baggage to get rid of, and they’re more likely to do it if a magician is the one that’s telling it to them.
“This is why your teeth fell out in the first dream,” Vasily continues. “It’s a time for renewal. You may think that you are in the autumn of your life, but the universe is trying to tell you that you are actually in the springtime! Some people panic in middle-age, but you, my friend, can take this as an opportunity to transform yourself.” Excellent. Freud said it had to do with some nonsense about sexual repression and anxiety, but that’s not really a positive message, and at any rate Vasily isn’t a psychologist and accurately interpreting the man’s dream isn’t his job. Whatever the dreams really mean, his client has come here today to get some hope.
“As for the falling dreams, I suggest that you learn how to perform lucid dreaming. I can refer you to a specialist. It’s a technique for being in control of your own dreams. Why, once you can do that, I might not even be necessary. You might be able to talk to the universe yourself and find out what it has in store for you without anyone having to tell you.” As if. No matter what the man learns, he’s always going to need Vasily or someone like Vasily to reassure him. The Center for Psychic Services does have a good class on the subject, though. Vasily wasn’t lying about that.
As their session comes to a close, Vinogradov hesitates, his body turned halfway to the door. “Are you sure that everything is going to be okay?”
Internally, Vasily sighs, but for his client he presents a stronger, more comforting face. “People have asked me about the future before,” he says. “I always tell them the same thing, which I am going to tell you now: I cannot see the future. Nobody can. Not even the economists with their magic numbers—and don’t think that those numbers aren’t magic—can tell you with a surety what is going to happen tomorrow. Anyone who says differently is a liar and has no gift. Do you know why this is?”
“Because the future is always in flux. It is not written until it is lived. Never give up hope, Lev.”
Minus the debunkers, there is just one type of person who gives patronage to a place to the Center for Psychic Services; among those who work there, however, Vasily can sort them into two types: those who know that they’re frauds, and those who are as deluded as their clientele. There is a kind of respect that only the first type have for him, because he’s got to be clever to be able to guess, the way that they think he is. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the simplicity of the second sort: when they praise him, there’s no second meaning hidden beneath their words.
One thing that he does know is that neither of them can hold a candle to the knowledge that he has helped a client.