Here comes the Sun

by Anastasia Shakhverdova

I open my eyes, and the first thing that comes to mind is: “Thank God my exams are over. I can finally get some peace and quiet.” I turn on my back and take my time enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on my face. Suddenly I hear my cat meowing and notice the tip of his ginger tail moving towards my bed. I pat the spot next to me and wait for him to jump up. When he does, I begin to pet him with one hand, while trying to reach for my phone with the other. Those notifications aren’t going to check themselves, right? As I scroll through them, the one from my best friend catches my eye. It reads: “HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWS??? I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S REALLY HAPPENING!” 

-Well, this is gotta be interesting, – I mumble to myself, swiping to see the whole chat. The app isn’t loading – the damn WI-FI must be down again. So I try my mobile Internet – nothing again. After trying for several minutes, I give up and decide to get ready for the day. I don’t see my parents or my brother in the house, but they’re probably working in the garden as usual. So I decide to go outside to find somebody. 

When I reach for the door handle, my furball friend is meowing at my feet, asking to let him out for a walk. I smile at him and open the door, watching him dash past me and down the porch stairs. The second he steps into the sunlight, his ginger fur turns black, and he disintegrates into a small pile of ash, leaving behind only a shadow. Shocked, I gasp, covering my mouth with the palm of my hand and instinctively take a step back. When I snap out of it, I rush down the stairs, panicked and confused, but manage to stop myself until it’s too late. I can’t take my eyes off his shadow on the ground and keep going through the same questions in my head. What happened? How is it even possible? Did the sun just turn my cat to ash? Am I still dreaming? This can’t be real, can it? And then it hit me: oh, God, where is my family? I desperately look around, trying to see any sign of them, but to no avail. 

I run to the backdoor, hoping to find them sitting on a terrace under the roof. But my hopes come crashing down when I swing the door open and see nobody on the other side. I take several calculated steps to observe the garden, avoiding the sunlight. As I peer into the green of the grass, my worst fear comes to life. One after another, I notice three shadows imprinted on the grass, not too far from each other. 

I remain motionless, not being able to believe my own eyes. My brain can’t comprehend the situation, so it goes straight to denial. I refuse to accept the reality and doubt if this even is the reality. Maybe I am dreaming or having hallucinations? Either way, I am not ready to process what happened, so I try to get an explanation. I head back to the kitchen and switch on the TV. Yet again, nothing happens. I try a couple of times because the remote glitches sometimes, but then I notice that the usual red light at the bottom of the screen isn’t there – so no electricity either. My last lifeline is calling a friend, which I do, hoping she’ll answer, but there’s no connection. 

-No, no, no, no, no, – I whisper in a shaky voice, – What’s going on? What am I supposed to do? 

I keep thinking of anything else I can do or try, but nothing comes to mind. And this is where the panic sets in. Tears come to my eyes, and I find nothing better rather than to just let it all out. 

After crying and panicking for some time, I pull myself together and start analysing the situation and planning my next move. Obviously, there’s something wrong with the sun. It is now a lot bigger in the sky, it probably melted all of the cell towers and messed with the electricity somehow. And most importantly, it exterminates everyone who steps into the light. Did the Earth’s orbit change course? How would that even happen? Is our ozone layer completely gone now? I don’t have any answers, and I’m not sure I’m going to get any, but I know this: the sun kills, and no SPF can help. Another thing I’m sure of is that I have to try to go out at night and hope to find other survivors and we’ll deal with the situation together. 

A couple of hours after sunset, I hesitantly step outside and make my way down the stairs. What if there’s something wrong with the moon too? How do I know it’s safe to go? As I stand on the last step, thinking of testing the waters somehow, I hear something in the distance. At first, I’m not even sure if it’s real, but then the noise becomes more and more distinct. Now I can definitely make out voices coming from the street. Without any more doubts, I run up to the gates and burst through the door, excited to see somebody else and share my misery with them. With a smile on my face and hope in my heart, I find myself standing alone in the middle of an empty street. 

A day in a life

by Anna Shornikova

Sunday, August 9, 2020

We woke up quite early today. It was only 9:45 when I realized that I actually had a good sleep and that Nastya was already awake. I guess it’s the magic influence of the countryside where we are currently staying as guests. Just a few days ago our vacation plans were up in the air because of coronavirus as we wanted to laze about in the sun on the Bulgarian beach. But we changed everything in a couple of minutes and were now completely relaxed in the quiet village of the Yaroslavl region.

We are the three old friends spending our fourth summer in this gorgeous countryside house. The owner of this paradise was Mary and her family, and today was the first day here that we’ve spent completely alone. I knew that Mary also woke up as she had to help her parents and say goodbye to them because they were going back to Moscow for the new work week. Nastya and I settled in the main part of the house called izba, and Mary slept in her own little room just next to us. We all met in the hall to have breakfast.

This morning I understood I felt much more comfortable in a company of friends without adults. Although Mary’s parents were very nice and approachable people, I still felt a certain strain and uneasiness because of them being in charge of all the facilities, our comfort, and meals. Today was peace and quiet of freedom and solitude. We talked a little after the meal and cleaned everything up. By that time we realized that the weather was ideal, even more pleasant than it was yesterday. So, being determined to spend our time as productively as we could, we took our yoga mats and went out on the grass-plot around the house. By the way, the house was the first one on the only street in the village, so the territory partially served as a vegetable garden and as an open lawn with flowers here and there and a tiny pond surrounded by stones and moss in Asian style, carefully made by Mary herself. I remember I was examining thoroughly every fragment of this little piece of Japanese culture while the girls were preparing for the exercise hour.

Remembering the deplorable experience of the previous two days, when we returned from a walk red as lobsters, we put on a lot of sunscreen, regretting that it couldn’t remove the redness on our hands and faces. Today the sun was especially merciless, but it was actually all we needed after self-isolation and some cold days in Moscow. We placed the mats under the shade of the arbour covered with a vine and started our workout. We did some funny circular movements that seemed to me as if we were the witches dancing around the pot with a magic potion… The witches in bikinis as we wanted to get suntanned at any cost. I discovered this advantage of the deserted countryside when Mary’s parents left.

After an hour of tiring exercises, we pulled out two beach beds and one huge hammock to rest and bask in the sun. Mary and I brought books to read and Nastya settled in a hammock with a graphic tablet, it seemed that she was inspired. To tell the truth, I planned to finish reading the book by the end of the week, but today was the first time I opened it here. It was ‘1984’ by George Orwell in English and I was on the second, most positive part. For some time, we were pulled into the discussion of books and the difficulties and benefits of reading a book in its original language. Then for two hours or so I was engrossed in reading. A strange but very pleasant feeling came over me. I caught myself thinking that this comforting silence never bothered or stressed none of us. But although I was really interested in the story of Winston Smith, I was extremely curious about what Nastya was drawing, how she used this technological marvel to produce something really impressive.

At some point, we simultaneously felt that it was time for a change and have dinner. I couldn’t stop myself from asking what Nastya was sketching, so while preparing our meal we discussed art issues and congratulated our fellow artist with a couple of new orders from her followers. After the meal we felt energised and went on our already traditional walk in the fields. It was easy to find a path as the fields were just behind the fence. We didn’t waste time going through the village and headed straight to the meadows.

Until today, I have never pondered over the different types of fields, except for the natural history lessons, of course. But living in the village, you see the diversity and beauty of the landscape. Mary’s village is situated on the plain and only the nearby rural settlement with a suitable name Highland could be identified by a tall pink chapel and seen from all perspectives. We walked along the unmown meadow where grass and numerous flowers were mixed and talked eagerly about this and that. I knew that our every trip was a unique route around the endless plain. Today we turned left and kept going where our feet took us. The meadow was on my right, and on the left I saw a field of gold. The ripe ears of rye or wheat were rustling in the wind. It was fun to think that it was the sound of the waves. We passed the fields, and then I saw something rich and verdant. The grassland was a lush, emerald ocean, and the sky above was sapphire with cotton clouds casting shadows on the ground. Somehow, we came to the edge of the road that was used mainly by field engines. Incidentally, it struck me that there was not a single soul around except our trio.

We stopped to have a rest and decide how to go further through the grassland without a path as we noticed a lonely trailer left not far away. We agreed to make it our reference point and go in search of some kind of a wheel track leading us somewhere into the unknown. Only writing this, I realize how fun and absurd it was trying to find a trodden path in the meadow. In the end, we just crossed the field aslant and faced a field woodland. There we found a path that stretched to the edge of the thick forest. This time the grass was shoulder high, and the heat surrounded us because the sun was still merciless. The forest was our salvation. We hid under the shade of pines and birches. I breathed in this dizzy smell and looked around enjoying my favourite combination of trees. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go further as the path ended abruptly right at the forest border, probably because the cars of mushroom pickers stopped there. We stood for a while listening to the sounds of nature and unanimously decided to take off our shoes. The grass there was so soft that I barely felt slight tingling.

Only then we understood how far we had actually wandered. But we successfully managed to find the lonely trailer, and then our way was easier. Halfway to the house Mary pulled out a portable speaker, and we got acquainted with her musical taste… I remembered that as a child I used to sing children’s songs with my grandfather while walking in the fields, so as all the neighbouring villages heard us. It’s somewhat symbolic that the story repeats itself but with different people, different music, and different fields. Hopefully, nobody heard or saw us today.

As we returned home, it was almost 7 p.m. Mary went to heat up the bath while Nastya and I were preparing for one of the most pleasant parts of the day. We spent quite a lot of time there, relaxing after such an eventful day. I knew that it was already dark outside, but anyway we had to return to the house. I confess that I’m afraid of the darkness, and this prospect frightened me a little. I turned on my phone’s flashlight trying to illuminate our way, but Mary asked me to turn it off. Only because of my will power and faith in my friends I managed to turn it off. We stood still, and I raised my eyes.

Maybe I couldn’t write down all the details of this day and maybe even mixed something up, but these minutes were etched into my memory forever. I was fascinated by the beauty of the night sky. I’ve looked at the stars dozens of times; on the coasts of Italy they were bright and scarce, in my village I could identify some of the constellations. But here the sky was studded with stars. There were thousands of white beads on a dark velvet fabric. But the most amazing thing was the Milky Way that was visible to the naked eye. I remembered all these broadcasts about people who tried to catch the night sky beauty with HD cameras and other expensive equipment. But here I stood looking on this ivory path crossing the sky right above my head even without my glasses.

We returned to the house and had tea while watching a movie on TV. Already in bed, writing in my diary, I felt this magic silence of the countryside that pulled me away from the reality into the dreamland.

In honor of Chernobyl

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, an unimaginable disaster that would have been much worse were it not for the bravery of the Soviet people. Even though Chernobyl was the final nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin, it was the Soviet people who saved the world from a complete nuclear disaster. Hundreds of thousands of men and women gave their lives to prevent nuclear waste from melting through the reactor core, seeping into the soil and poisoning half of the USSR and Europe for hundreds of years.

It was an immense effort that remained forgotten for years, or so it seems. We might debate the merits and flaws of HBO’s Chernobyl, but one factor that we cannot deny is that it reminded the world, including the people of the former Soviet Union, about this horrific event and the heroic efforts of Chernobyl’s saviors.

The show, Chernobyl, is understandably difficult to watch, but it is definitely worth the effort. I’ve seen it three times over the past two years. The second time I watched it with my Greek friend who was afraid to watch it alone. When we finished our marathon – luckily, the show is short enough to be watched in less than a day – she was in shock and kept asking, in utter bewilderment, how come the heroes of Chernobyl aren’t celebrated the way that the victors of World War II are honored every year.

Indeed, why have we forgotten about Chernobyl? Why don’t we honor the saviors of the world? Where are their monuments, memorials, museums? Was their sacrifice less valuable than the sacrifice of the Soviet people in World War II? Not at all. In fact, if we consider the aftermath of Chernobyl, the worst case scenario… if our heroes stood by and did nothing, or if their efforts were unsuccessful, all of Ukraine, Belarus, half of the Russian Federation and half of Europe would have been rendered uninhabitable for hundreds of years. The longterm effects of Chernobyl would have been much, much worse than all the damage done during World War II.I am not a historian or a politician, so I cannot make assumptions on why Chernobyl has turned into a taboo topic. I can only hope that now we will be more mindful and respectful of this tragic event and will find a way to honor the heroes.


NOW ON TO THE SHOW!

The HBO mini-series paints a vivid picture of the reactor explosion and the aftermath. The show is based on documents, testimony of the participants, and memoirs of Valery Legasov, head scientist in charge of dealing with the aftermath. Still, this is not a documentary and shouldn’t be viewed as such. No matter how realistic the show seems, the creators did take certain liberties for narrative impact. For instance, one of the most gruesome sights – the effects of radiation poisoning visible on those plant workers and firefighters who came into direct contact with the reactor debris – is an exaggerated effect, no doubt used to strengthen the impact on the audience. And boy, does the impact linger. The sight of young men who were full of life just a couple of days ago disintegrating into a pile of radioactive jelly is not for the faint of heart.

At the same time, the creators went to great lengths to recreate not just the reactor and the explosion, but the realities of Soviet daily life. The actors look so authentically Soviet, it’s like they’ve been cloned from the Russian film stars of the 1960s and 1970s. All the other attributes are very realistic as well – clothes, furniture, interios, cars, buildings, you name it.

One aspect that is decidedly not Soviet is the accents. Luckily for us (and for them) the creators decided to forgo the imitation of Soviet accents, opting for the cast’s native British accents. This doesn’t take the focus away from acting and you forget about the accents within the first ten minutes. Whereas if the creators opted for imitating (and no doubt butchering) Soviet accents, the majority of the audience would not have been able to take the show seriously.

Special effects are used to the maximum effect. True, I have no idea what an actual nuclear reactor explosion looks like (nor do I wish to ever see that with my own eyes) but I imagine that the show’s recreation is as close to reality as it could get. You can feel the impact of the explosion through the screen. The giant beam of radioactive gas that shoots through the air and proceeds to spread its deadly poison for days on end looks at once magnificent and utterly terrifying. Plant workers forced to inspect the core that could not have possibly been exposed to the world and having their faces and bodies burned off by radiation is worse than any torture porn horror movie. Helicopters falling from the sky, crumbling under the impact of radiation is a surreal, unbelievable sight. The show is full of these images that stay with you long after the final credits roll.

I’m saving the best for last. THE ACTING! Like I already mentioned, the entire cast looks like they’ve walked out of an actual Soviet movie – but that’s not why the actors make an impression. Each actor, no matter how lengthy their part is, is completely committed to their character and the whole show. Everyone knows why they’re there, what they’re trying to convey, how important their work is. Dyatlov, the Big Bad who’s mostly blamed for pushing the reactor to the breaking point, is utterly contemptible, even when he himself experiences the effects of his disastrous decisions. His complete denial of the disaster, up to the point where he starts vomiting toxic bile, is fascinating in its evil neglect. His superiors aren’t much better, but their roles aren’t that significant. The young plant workers forced into the situation, and what’s worse, forced to feel like they’ve caused the explosion, are tragic heroes of the story. In fact, every rescue worker, miner and scientist working to reduce the Chernobyl aftermath is a tragic hero. According to official statistics, only a few dozen people died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, but it’s painfully obvious that the number of casualties can be calculated in hundreds of thousands. Let’s not forget that the victims are not only those who died shortly after the explosion, but also those who acquired a doze of radiation and unknowingly went on to spread the poison to nearby towns.

The show has its subtle tragic love story of one of the firefighters sent to put out “a fire on the reactor roof” and his pregnant wife, who follows him to a burn unit in Moscow and foregoing doctors’ warnings spends his final painful days by his side, being exposed to radiation and losing her unborn child in the end. This love reminds me of the best examples of devotion that Russian women are famous for (Decembrists’ wives come to mind).

And the acting duo at the center of the relief mission – Jared Harris as Valery Legasov and Stellan Skarsgard as Boris Scherbina… I’m partial to both these terrific actors, but I doubt anyone can deny how brilliant their performances are. Especially Skarsgard who creates a complex portrait of Scherbina, a party head who at first resents Legasov for meddling in his business and comes to realize the magnitude of the disaster and how vital their work truly is. His final conversation with Legasov – where Scherbina shows vulnerability, calling himself an “insignificant man” and Legasov refutes his claim, saying that in fact Scherbina was the most essential part of the rescue effort – brings me to tears every time.


Thus ends my feeble attempt at honoring this significant event, these incredible heroes, and the memory of those whose lives were saved by the efforts of Legasov, Scherbina, and thousands others.

The blue sky of September 11th

by Arina Bocharova

It was an ordinary morning. I went down to the first floor of the fire station for a cup of coffee before a new workday. The weather was fine, not like yesterday. Almost all week in New York it was raining and there even was a hurricane, and today I am amazed at how blue the sky is. It was around 8:45 in the morning when I brought a cup of coffee to my mouth, and I clearly remember these numbers on the clock in front of me, because already at 8:46 I heard a loud rumbling right above my head. Immediately in our department, the alarm went off. I knew that this noise was only two blocks away from us, and we would go to this accident. Everyone started fussing and gearing up even before the call. While we were getting dressed, we were told one of the most terrible pieces of news of my life – a passenger plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

We arrived at the scene of the tragedy a few minutes after the collision. Burning debris and ash were falling from this blue sky, making it very difficult to get to the building. When we nevertheless managed to enter the northern tower, I started seeing terrible things on the very first floor of the building. There were burned people everywhere, with a great fear and panic in their eyes. In all those years of my work as a fireman, I never would have thought that someday I would be a witness to such a terrible and chilling sight. The last 15 floors of the 110-storey building were engulfed in flames, the realization that all the floors above the 93rd floor were doomed came long after my legs carried me upstairs. But before I could leave the lobby, the familiar sound pierced my ears again. Later I learned that at 9:02 am, another passenger plane crashed into the south tower. I heard a strange noise in my ears and then total silence around, which lasted just a few seconds after the second collision. It was the moment that I realized all the agony and seriousness of the situation. In the eyes of my colleagues, I read the same emotions. We wished each other good luck, and then, accepting our fate, we moved to help those unfortunate people who were in the World Trade Center building.

More than three hundred of my colleagues died that day, but me and several of my friends managed to survive. We were on the 20th floor when the south tower collapsed 53 minutes after the collision. We were trying to get a young man out of the fire who could not walk on his own, so our way to the exit was very slow. For about half an hour we were trying to lower him down the stairs when I felt a strong wind, vibration, and roar. We were almost over the second floor when I realized that the north tower was crumbling. When we got to the lobby, I realized that the exit was blocked. I looked up and saw a piece of blue. It was the very sky that I so diligently examined in the morning. And then I realized that there was no longer the north tower above us, but we survived. Every year on September 11, I remember this day, as if it were yesterday, I remember my friends, the victims and the guy who helped me to stay alive. And of course, I remember the blue sky, which was especially bright that day.

Left alone or…?

By Daria Cherkasova

I woke up at seven in the morning that day, frustrated; it was my day off, and I really, really wanted to have a good sleep. I woke up because my parrot Elf was picking at my hair. I sleepily murmured something and tried to get him off me, but he clawed at my head. 
I took him in my hands gently, and he chirped joyfully, apparently very pleased with the fact that he got all of my attention. Then he started singing, just softly tweeting some sort of an unfamiliar tune. It was quite simple, but it bugged me, as I heard it for the first time. He could have picked up the tune somewhere, but something was disturbing about it.

I would come back to this moment, to this tune, time and again, humming it under my breath.

But back then it was different. I continued with my morning chores, totally oblivious. 

Only when I found out that I ran out of milk and needed to go to the grocery store, did I realise something was off. I went out on the streets and noticed the lack of the usual noises of the waking city. No cars, no voices, everything was cold and empty. The grocery store was open, however, no one was inside, and all I could hear was the quiet buzzing of fridges. I picked up the milk and called out to the cashier. No one came. I waited for fifteen minutes. Feeling extremely uneasy, I put the milk back on the shelf and went out of the shop. It was eerie outside. The feeling of panic crept up on me, and I ran. I needed to go out to the bigger streets, to find someone, anyone, because  the sudden surge of anxiety was threatening to overwhelm me. I ran and ran, until my legs were numb. No one was around. The city was dead, the silence was terrifying. I went back home, dazed out, not knowing what to think. That’s how my journey began.

There has been a lot of crying in the first month. Firstly, there were tears of terror, because I was all alone in the city, all the communication channels were off. Then there were tears of grief, as I realised that all of my loved ones were gone too. Soon enough there were tears of rage: I was drowning in questions and didn’t have answers. Was it some sort of a massive evacuation,  and I was simply left behind? Was it aliens? Some unknown disease that swept the whole population, and again, I didn’t notice? 

My only consolation was Elf. I would talk to him, and he would look  at me with his tiny black eyes, and sometimes I would fool myself into thinking I could actually see recognition there. Perhaps I was just delusional, craving for understanding.

After a few months I came to terms with my unfortunate position. I started going out and wandered aimlessly for hours, still hoping to find a living soul. I also started reading a lot more; now it was one of the few pastimes available to me. I read tons of books, picked up painting, sewing and knitting. All the necessary craft materials were at my disposal, after all. The only thing I missed was music, so I found some cassettes and a tape recorder in a local vintage shop. It was a happy moment, listening to the songs again. Then there were tears of joy.

Soon enough I had to switch to canned goods, because all the meat and vegetables in shops started rotting. I had a huge supply of preserved food, but how long can a person live eating only that? In the future I would have to grow vegetables to sustain myself, and that was a horrible thought. It implied that I would live like that for the rest of my life, and no one would show up to save me from this predicament. 

A year passed. I knitted myself a warm sweater and was very proud of my work even though I had no one to show it to. I walked out on the streets to have my usual two-hour stroll and this time I took Elf with me. I knew he wouldn’t fly away, and his company was comforting. We were walking down the dusty alley when I heard a faint sound coming from the corner of the dirty building. I stopped abruptly, and Elf pecked me in the cheek gently, probably trying to calm me down. I haven’t heard any noise on the streets for a full year, and now I felt hope rising inside me as well as the fear of the unknown.

Slowly, I approached the corner and immediately had to clap my hand over my mouth to hold back a surprised gasp. There was a person standing in the alleyway, a real, living breathing person. A man, to be exact. He was standing with his back towards me, and I could hear him whistling that damn tune which was in my mind the whole time. My first instinct was to run; get the hell out of here before he could notice my presence. However, I willed myself to stand still. I even tried to give myself a threatening look, which was no easy task considering the fact that I was wearing a giant rainbow sweater and a tiny parrot was sitting on my shoulder.

“Who are you?” I finally asked in a small voice. He turned around, and I subconsciously took a step back: his face and neck were covered in ugly scars, his lips were bruised. He smiled, however, and winced immediately, because his lip cracked.

“Finally”, he said, “I was starting to get impatient.” Noticing my silent shock, he sighed heavily. “Look, I’m sorry it took so long to get through to you, but we don’t have time for explanations. The basics: you are in a chemically induced sleep, the whole thing is a twisted experiment orchestrated by a very powerful organisation. I came here to wake you up. Let that sink in, because the sooner you realise that this is not real, the sooner we can get the hell out of here and continue with our business. So?” He looked at me closely, waiting for my answer, and I just stood there, unable to produce a sound. “The… the tune…” I finally managed. “That you… were whistling.”

“Ah, yes. That is the reaction of your brain. Subconsciously you knew it was a ruse all along. You couldn’t get this “tune” out of your mind, yes?” I nodded, still dumbfounded. “Now, let’s get moving. I promise you I’ll explain everything in as much detail as you fancy, but now is not the time.” The man reached out his hand to me, and I noticed it was as badly scarred as his face. Hesitantly, I took his arm, and then the world blacked out.

It’s been six months since my rescue. I am part of the resistance now, helping people to escape this horrible nightmare. I’m not fit to fight, but I’ve been in a few scrambles. Elf got hurt one time, and now has a badass scar on his neck. Needless to say, now we both try to stay out of fighting. But I’m able to pull my own weight. I’ve been knitting scarves for the members of the resistance, so they could travel to the colder regions. We’re a growing force, something to be reckoned with, and I truly and wholeheartedly believe that we will survive and overthrow the bastards who put us through the living hell. This letter is a reminder for myself to stay strong and never give up. No matter how tough things are, there are people who are still trapped inside their minds, people who think they’ve been abandoned by everyone. So we will keep fighting, for their sake.

KnigaWorm Film Review: Thor Ragnarok

I am a massive Marvel Avengers fan (and I have a tattoo to prove it), so there’s never been an MCU movie I didn’t love. I hope that this retelling/review of Thor Ragnarok will be the first in a series, and I’ll get to cover all the MCU movies.

Obviously, this retelling/review contains ALL THE SPOILERS.

Remember the episode of FRIENDS when Ross suffered a nervous breakdown because someone at work ate his sandwich? Who freaks out about a sandwich, right? But that was a very special sandwich – a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. The secret is, you put a gravy-soaked piece of bread in the middle of the sandwich, making it juicy and delicious. This piece is called a moist-maker and a truly amazing sandwich is nothing without it.
Thor: Ragnarok is the emotional moist-maker in the middle of the intensity of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

It gives Thor a much-needed makeover, both in terms of style (bro, that long hair had to go) and personality. Thor’s pathos and mild stupidity worked well in the first solo movie because it was new. And he meshed well with the other Avengers because that set him apart from them. But the long and boring Thor: Dark World made it painfully clear that in order for Thor to work on his own, he needs to get over himself and let loose a little. And bring out the signature Chris Hemsworth charm which was kind of lost before.

Well, thanks to the unique comedic vision of Taika Waititi, Thor basically became Chris Hemsworth with super powers. Now he’s relatable, down-to-earth, not so dumb and very funny. He finally doesn’t take himself seriously, but he still cares a lot about his beloved Asgard.

And boy, does Asgard need Thor’s love and protection in this film. Because this time around Thor is not facing Thanos’s minions, or Loki’s mischief, or some angry space elves. This time Thor has to face… Jeff Goldblum. Bazinga! Indeed, Thor gets derailed by Jeff Goldblum and his Blade Runner meets Trash Island paradise, but the truly unstoppable evil queen that Thor has to go up against is Hela, the Goddess of Death. She’s played by death metal Cate Blanchette and I’m here for every minute of her performance! She truly is a force to be reckoned with, and all thanks to Odin’s particular brand of parenting that’s already messed up Loki and to an extent, Thor. Hela is Odin’s first-born (and I’m guessing maybe not Frigga’s daughter) and she used to be daddy’s favorite destroyer of worlds. However, when Odin suddenly had a change of heart and decided to build and not destroy, Hela was not necessary anymore, so Odin banished her to a dark realm where she was held captive by his power. Honestly, as much as I love Anthony Hopkins, Odin is the worst!

Anyway, last time we saw Odin he got hurt in the feels by Loki’s mischief and returned to the birthplace of Asgard – Norway. That’s where our brothers find him, after a hilarious run-in with Doctor Strange.

Loki’s line – I have been falling for half an hour!! – is my favorite line of the movie filled with outstanding lines.

Odin gives the boys some standard mambo-jumbo about Hela being evil and wanting revenge and promptly fades into oblivion in a cloud of golden dust. Meanwhile, Hela destroys Thor’s special hammer in a matter of minutes (if you don’t know where “special hammer” is from, watch the hilarious skit that the cast did, reenacting Ragnarok as a small budget comedy) and takes the Bifrost to Asgard, while the boys get knocked out of the rainbow-colored beam of light and land on Sakaar, the Planet of Trash.

That’s where Taika Waititi really gets to shine. The world of Sakaar is like a giant pile of 1980’s garbage. This is how you do 80’s nostalgia without running that notion into the ground! Waititi mixes neon colors with electro-techno-pop music and of course, adds the main ingredient – Jeff Goldblum, playing an evil version of himself, complete with Acid Jesus robes and epic make-up and frosted hair. Thor is captured by… dammit, why am I forgetting her name? Fine, I’ll call her Valkyrie Tessa Thompson. Valkyrie Tessa Thompson is a badass drunk who acts as kind of a bounty hunter for Sakaar, bringing Jeff Golblum the fighters who amuse people in arena battles. The most promising fighters get to go up against Jeff Goldblum’s champion – Thor’s friend from work, the Incredible Hulk himself.

That’s right, Hulk got lost in space at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron and ended up on Sakaar. The strangest part, though, is that Bruce Banner had kept the form of Hulk for two years. In that time, Hulk had learned to tame his anger just a bit, which allowed him to interact with humans and lead the life of a champion in Jeff Goldblum’s skyscraper of chic. Thor kind of almost defeats Hulk in their first arena battle, and then tries to convince Hulk to join him on his mission to save Asgard from Hela. But Hulk likes it on Sakaar, he doesn’t want to go back to avenging (or revenging, as Thor puts it), and Thor then tries to persuade Valkyrie Tessa Thompson to join his team of Revengers. Valkyrie Tessa Thompson also refuses the offer, which makes me wonder if the team name is really bad, or Thor sucks at persuasion? I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, Thor decides to go it alone and he needs the Queen Jet to get him home. Just when he unlocks the controls with Tony Stark’s epic nickname for him – hello, Point Break! – Hulk gets on board and proceeds to HULK SMASH the shit out of the jet cause he doesn’t want his friend to go away. Aw… Hulk is so soft sometimes. In the process of HULK SMASHING the jet, Hulk activates Natasha’s last message to him, and finally Bruce Banner is released. As you might imagine, after two years of being trapped in the Hulk, Bruce is disoriented and panicked. However, Thor gets him to calm down and they try to find another way out of Sakaar when Valkyrie Tessa Thompson bumps into them, offering them help – and Loki! Our fave God of Mischief inadvertently convinced Valkyrie Tessa Thompson to join the Revengers, and now all she wants is to face Hela in a battle royale. Loki pretends to help the Revengers get to a bigger ship and launch it into the Devil’s Anus (the fastest passage out of Sakaar), but what he’s really after is trapping Thor and getting a reward for his capture. That plan backfires and Loki is left behind while Thor, Valkyrie Tessa Thompson and Firmly Not Hulk hightail it to the Devil’s Anus. Meanwhile, Hela is reigning havoc at Asgard, killing people by hundreds and forcing the lucky survivors into hiding. When Heimdall gets a psychic message from Thor that help is on the way, he begins the evacuation of survivors. When the Revengers get to Asgard, Thor tries to distract Hela from the refugees by inciting a fight with her, and Valkyrie Tessa Thompson and Not Hulk have to figure out a way to get all the Asgardians off the planet. Naturally, Hela gets wind of the ruse, and sends her minions to put a stop to the escape. She also sends her giant puppy from hell to (I’m assuming) eat as many survivors as possible – and that’s when Hulk finally decides to get Hulking again, through a hilarious suicide attempt by Bruce Banner. However, not even the Hulk can save the day, especially since Hela’s army of the undead is massive, and the stupid dog refuses to die. When all seems lost Loki makes his triumphant return to Asgard in a giant spaceship which he hijacked from Sakaar. His support team is made up of also survivors – survivors of Jeff Goldblum’s sadistic arena battles. Among the survivors in Korg who’s made of rocks, played (in motion-capture) by Taika Waititi himself. Meanwhile, Thor is losing the fight with Hela to the point where she smashes one of his eyes (not a HULK SMASH, but still pretty nasty). Thor gets one of his epic visions where he meets up with Odin and laments his uselessness without the hammer. Odin replies with the awesome line, “Are you the God of Hammers?” thus giving Thor the confidence to summon thunder all on his own. AND THEN FINALLY the epic battle to the soundtrack of the “Immigrant song” ensues. Thor summons a bajillion lightnings, Loki uses his horny helmet as a weapon and does awesome flips, both he and Valkyrie Tessa Thompson do gorgeous hair flips, HULK SMASHES the dog off the edge of Asgard… and yet Hela is unstoppable. Finally, Thor realizes that this entire movie, I mean adventure, was meant not to prevent Ragnarok, but make it happen. So Loki is sent into the palace vault to retrieve the helmet of the fire demon from the beginning of the movie – and Loki does just that while also grabbing the Tesseract, which will come back to bite him in the tushy. The battle ends with the Revengers disbanding, the survivors fleeing from Asgard while it crashes and burns along with Hela. Now Asgard is truly a people, not a place, so the survivors decide to get back to their roots and settle down in Norway.


While retelling the plot in so much detail I realized that on paper it sounds kind of silly, much like the rest of the MCU movies, maybe apart from Civil War cause that’s just a tragic love story of Steve, Bucky and Tony, and don’t you dare tell me otherwise! But that’s the thing with the MCU: you either buy into the absurdity and the awesomeness and become a die hard fan, or you just don’t get it, and all the power to you. You may have realized by now that I am a diehard MCU fan and I even have the tattoo to prove it. And even for me, there are better and worse Marvel movies. Thor: Ragnarok is one of the best MCU movies for me. It’s the perfect blend of action and comedy, which also gives us plenty of character development. I will be forever grateful to whomever gave the reigns to Taika Waititi because the man is not only a comedy genius, but also, as it turns out, a visionary action director. True, he has a long line of MCU movies to work off, but he brings his own style to the established canon. If you haven’t seen his movie, Jojo Rabbit, I highly recommend it. I don’t think there could be another director capable of making such a heartbreaking yet still hilarious World War II comedy while casting himself as imaginary friend Hitler. Speaking of awesome movie quotes, I try to use his line “WHAT ARE YOU BURNING?!?” whenever I can.


Alright, this review/retelling is already way too long for me to make an outro. To reiterate, even if you’re not a huge Marvel fan, give Thor: Ragnarok a try. If all else fails, there’s a Chris Hemsworth shirtless scene.

A day in a life

by Anya Babochenko

This story is not about a dog…

My main dream since childhood was to get a dog as a gift. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked them better than cats. When Nastya M, my school friend, went out for a walk with her Dachshund, my heart sank with resentment and I was ready to cry from annoyance and injustice. But my dad was absolutely against having a dog live with us. The tears, the entreaties and the arguments did not work. I was feeling blue.

Summer came and I, like many children, went to my grandmother for 3 months. My story happened exactly there, in the village “Glubokii Ovrag”.

Here I think it is important to mention that shortly before my arrival in the village there was a fire which burned down the house of my friend. So I lost my only friend there, and my grandmother decided to send me to a mini-camp, which was located a few kilometers from our house. There I met other children and we spent part of the day together.

On my birthday, when I was eleven years old, a miracle happened. And no, it wasn’t my parents who gave me a dog, it was a neighboring cat who gave birth, and I suddenly decided that this was a sign, and one of the kittens should definitely be mine. Where did the dislike of these animals go is unknown, and I boldly chose a red kitten with blue eyes. He was very funny: plump, shaggy, and also walked with an amusing waddle. Even my grandmother’s heart melted at the sight of him. 

I immediately took the kitten to my room and poured milk into a saucer. He popped a little, then went around the room and licked all the things. Then, right in the middle of the living room, he wagged his short tail, walked around a little more, and next to the sofa he fell asleep. I instantly lay down next to him on the mat. It seemed to me that in the whole world there was nothing sweeter and more precious than this fluffy, soft and warm lump. I gently reached out and stroked the kitten. He woke up, raised his cute face and began to purr with delight. At that moment, I thought that no one had kinder eyes than my Peach. (So I named the kitten, based on its color and rounded shape). He put his face on his right paw and went back to sleep. And I kept walking around, looking at him and couldn’t get enough of this creature. When he woke up, I was walking on air and I hugged him so tightly for joy that the kitten even screamed.

A few minutes later, I heard my grandmother calling my name. While taking care of my new pet, I completely forgot to get ready for camp. But I was so unwilling to part with this lovely creature that for a moment I felt like the most miserable person.

I really didn’t want to leave my Peach at home. For a very long time I stood over my kitten in sad thought. When you think about something very deeply, you will definitely come up with an extraordinary idea. The same thought occurred to me. It was decided to take Peach to the camp and show everyone my new friend. Come rain or shine, I thought, and quickly took my sneakers, cap and sandwiches out of the bag, put old newspapers in it, and there I put my Peach.

When I arrived at the camp, I quickly and carefully left my kitten in the locker room so that he would not wake up.

For the first hour, Peach was safely asleep and I could safely study and play with other children. After a while, I got very hungry, and I had to ask for food from Darina, my so-called camp colleague, because Sasha and Alyona, with whom I was friends, did not come. I even remember our conversation.

      “Why didn’t you bring your food?” she grumbled when we were given time for lunch.

      What are you sorry for? I asked. “Listen, I whispered suddenly,” guess who’s in my bag?”

      “I’m not interested at all,” the girl said.

       “All right,” I pouted, “I’ll show Vadim.”

I quickly got up from the table and went in the other direction, when suddenly Darina called me back and offered me part of her lunch in exchange for showing me who was in my bag. We finished our sandwiches and ran to the locker room. There I opened my bag and showed my Peach. Suddenly, Darina screamed at the top of her lungs that I was crazy, that I had brought the poor kitten to the camp. The camp counselors and other children gathered to hear her screams. When they saw that I had actually brought a Peach with me, they made me put it away immediately before the day was over. I was very upset. They were not happy for me, so they also decided to spoil the mood on my birthday. 

I left the locker room in silence. My Peach was already awake and turning his head curiously, surprised that there were so many children around.

But while I was carrying him in my arms, he fell asleep again. I took it out into the yard, where there were a lot of logs, and put it behind them, asking him to wait for me a little.

Back at the camp, I waited for the end of the day and when we were released, I immediately ran into the yard. Almost all the other guys ran after me. 

I was a little down in the dumps when I saw that the Peach wasn’t there. I started looking for him nearby and all the children tried to help me. Not far from us sat a grandmother, who said that she saw grandpa Victor, a strange man of 70 years old, whom we knew well, took the kitten with him.

We looked at each other in disbelief. It was decided to go in search of a Peach. We were even joined by counsellors. The thought of never seeing my soft and tender Peach again made my heart bleed.

We ran towards the birch grove where this grandfather’s house was located and saw that he was carrying my Peach in a Bicycle basket. Suddenly, he braked sharply, and then disappeared somewhere. The guys started shouting at him, and I just stood there and sobbed.

When I got home, I told my grandmother everything, and we went to grandpa Victor to return my Peach. This man lived in a dilapidated wooden house. His wife opened the door. When she found out why we were there, she asked the old man to return the kitten to us.

She came out soon after, carrying Peach in her arms. I picked him up and, thanking the old woman, quickly followed my grandmother. When I left the house, I looked back and saw grandpa Victor in the window. He stood there, wide-eyed, with big tears streaming down his cheeks. When he saw me looking at him, he waved hesitantly. I asked my grandmother why he was so sad, and she told me that a few years ago, he and his wife lost their children and grandchildren in a terrible accident. I looked again at the windows of their house. Victor was still standing and waving. At that moment, he seemed so unhappy and lonely that I thought that he had no one else at all, and I also took the kitten. Startled by this thought, I abruptly walked back. When I got to the door, I asked for this old man and gave him my Peach. He immediately became happy, and then invited us to tea and gave us a picture that he had painted when he was young. 

That day I realized a very important thing, I realized that kindness connects us to others, and this is its joy.

P.S. grandfather Victor died 6 years ago, and his wife, Zoya, still lives in that house with Peach.

KnigaWorm Show Review: Schitt’s Creek, Seasons 1&2

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Schitt’s Creek over the past several years, but I never had the chance to watch it cause it wasn’t streaming on Russian Netflix and I have a complicated relationship with VPN services (in that, they never work for me, shutting down my entire Wifi system). And then suddenly, lo and behold, our own Kinopoisk started streaming the show! So far, Seasons 1 & 2 are fully available with more episodes on the way, and that’s just what we need for this review.


SPOILER FREE IMPRESSION

Schitt’s Creek is a comedy about a wealthy family who’ve been defrauded out of their estate. The family Rose includes father John, who is the least quirky character of the bunch; mother Moira, a soap opera actress who’s mentally never left the TV set and therefore overacts spectacularly throughout the entirety of her life; children David and Alexis, spoiled helpless thirty-something babies who’ve never worked a day in their life. Imagine this sorry bunch out in Schitt’s Creek – the town that John bought for David as a joke, and is now the only possession that the family has left. Which doesn’t say much about the town, to be honest. The town of Schitt’s Creek is small and quite shabby (by American standards; by Russian standards it’s above average). Of course, for the Roses life in a town like Schitt’s Creek is worse than death, which is the leading sentiment of the first season.

Moira’s final line of the pilot says it all: Good night. Let’s all pray we don’t wake up.

The situation isn’t helped by a small-at-first cast of supporting characters who are either too jaded to offer the Roses sympathy and hospitality (Stevie, the motel manager), or have a very unique idea of sympathy and hospitality (the Mayor of Schitt’s Creek). Still, the Roses try to adapt to their new environment, but it’s an uphill battle which neither the parents not the children are winning at first.


AND NOW WITH SPOILERS!

Seasons 1&2 work so well together because each Rose family member gets a great character arc throughout the two seasons. Each character goes from hating Schitt’s Creek and wanting to die to embracing the town and its inhabitants. Each person goes their own way to get there, and that’s the meat and bones of the show. The cast is relatively small, which gives each character plenty of time to shine each episode, and boy, do they ever! The core group of the Rose family is incredible! They work so well on their own and even better as a team. Each cast member has their own character quirks to play with, but you can see the family resemblance as well. Of course, it helps that Eugene and Dan Levy are real life father and son, and the creators of the show. I’m sure that they were working on the characters, working out their evolution as they were bringing them to life. There might have been a different idea for the show in the beginning, especially with how much time it would take for the Roses to adapt to Schitt’s Creek. I personally didn’t expect them to get there so quickly. Granted, I haven’t seen anything beyond season 2 yet (so I might do a separate review of later seasons if I feel like it), but the finale of Season 2 gives us a lovely scene of the whole Rose family genuinely enjoying themselves at a party with the locals of Schitt’s Creek. There might be a regression on the horizon (some drama is certainly required to keep the show running for six seasons) and I will be there for the ride.

A day in a life

by Arina Bocharova

It would seem that the morning began as usual. The sun was still shining outside the window, and the coffee machine had already brewed a new cup of coffee according to the timer. However, that day I felt differently, as if I would now leave the room, and someone unknown outside the door would give me a million dollars. This feeling is familiar to everyone when you have been waiting for something for a very long time and finally it knocks on your door. When I finally left my hideout to look for that very cup of coffee, I did not find anyone outside the door, only my dog ​​stood faithfully at the door with a collar in its teeth. I poured coffee into a thermos and went on a routine walk with my pet. The music on my player was incredibly inspiring, even though the album that was playing had been familiar to me for eight years. Each word of each song echoed something dear and so close. A moment later, I again remembered what day it was and turned up the volume o the player.

Going back eight years, I would not have believed if someone told me that all these years I would be waiting for a regular concert. Then I first heard the song “Give me love” by Ed Sheeran, and later the whole album “Plus”. I’ve never felt music like this before. Since then, each album of this singer evokes in me a lot of emotions, from goose bumps and tears to laughter and happiness. My big dream was to see at least once how this music was born on the stage, what emotions the artist himself experienced during his performance, to understood how a huge stadium experienced the same emotions as me.

I also remember my first disappointment, which overtook me during my first trip to England. Ed Sheeran played a small concert in Manchester, but when I found out about it, I could not buy a ticket. On the day of the concert, it was difficult for me to hold back my tears and understand how close I was to my dream, but still I could not fulfill it. Three years later, disappointment overtook me again. During Ed’s big tour, I decided to go to Rome to finally see this show live. Having received all the documents and bought a plane ticket, I was like a loyal dog waiting for the start of ticket sales. On the day of the start, having entered the site exactly at the specified time, I was again overtaken by a failure. Tickets sold out in just four minutes. Rainy – that’s what I’ll call my trip to Rome. And I’m not talking about precipitation.

I was pulled out of my memories by a call from a friend who gleefully declared that she could no longer wait for the evening. I myself could not believe that today my eight-year-long dream will come true. On this day, we were to go to the Ed Sheeran concert as part of the Divide tour.

When I returned home, I turned on the speakers and the whole house played an already memorized album. Every line was learned, and every note sounded like a symphony. I redid all the routine things and started getting ready for a year. The very thought that today in Moscow I would hear what I had been waiting for eight years worried me more and more as the concert approached.

Getting ready did not take too long, but even a week before the event, I decided exactly what I would wear and what hairstyle I would do. While getting ready, I found my little instant camera, took my car keys and drove out to the stadium. When I started the car, the melody that I had last heard at home played from the speakers. And I again plunged into the words of the song and memories. As I approached the concert venue, my hands began to shake, and goose bumps ran through my body. When I parked, I realized that the battery on my phone was almost dead, and then I felt a slight pang of disappointment. All day listening to music, I forgot that I needed to recharge my phone. I was sad that I would not be able to film most of the concert.

My friend was waiting for me at the main entrance. When I approached her, I began to shake even more, I could not believe that some forty minutes separated me from the most exciting concert in my life. The stadium was huge, the first thing I thought was how so many people could fit in this hall. There were many foreigners around me, people from completely different parts of the world came here to share this energy and listen to the music that united us. After talking with some, I learned that they often travelled to different countries to attend Ed’s concerts and that every new show is like the first for them.

Every sound coming from the side of the stage seemed deafening to me. I couldn’t wait for the start. My friend was always actively talking about something, but I did not listen to her. All my thoughts were somewhere far off stage. Suddenly the lights went out and a spotlight appeared on the stage. I expected to see a lot of musicians, but he stood alone. There were some tools and a computer around him. An amazing sight began to take place on the stage. It was as if I had stopped breathing. The singer recorded beats and music right in front of a crowd of thousands before starting to perform his track. It was so real and so exciting. Ed spent the entire concert on stage alone, he himself played music and sang. The crowd roared, each song sung in unison. And during some songs, the hall was painted in different colors of Ed’s album covers. Each line of his songs echoed in me with a thousand memories with which they were associated. I remember the storm of emotions that guided me at that moment. I cried and laughed, grieved and felt grateful.

How much can a person connect with music? Are we playing tunes just for fun? That evening, I could definitely answer these questions. My whole life was connected with this music, the experience that I got for many years was associated with a certain song. It was a kind of psychotherapy for which you do not need to pay or find time for. It’s like having a good conversation with a friend, only this friend will never turn away from you and will always be on your side.

When the last melody died down, it seemed to me that something was taken away from me or forgotten to return it back. Something was missing. It sure wasn’t the million dollars that no one has ever brought me this morning. Only when I approached my car, I realized that the dream was not enough. That distant goal that I have been striving so desperately for for eight years. It’s strange how one day can be the happiest and at the same time the saddest in life.

Book review: The Last Legion

by Anna Shornikova

The Last Legion by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, an amusing historical novel

“We need heroes, don’t we?” – The Last Legion
https://celz.ru/valerio-massimo-manfredi/62013-the_last_legion.html

The book is written by an Italian historian, writer, archaeologist and journalist Valerio Manfredi. Though the author is rather unknown, The Last Legion deserves attention as it combines features of a historical novel and a fantastic tale. The book will be appealing for people of all ages and occupations because it tells a fascinating story about faith, strength and friendship.

Apparently, the story takes place in the Roman Empire of the fifth century that is captured by barbarians. The last Emperor – young Romulus and his mentor are exiled to the island Capri where a boy finds a legendary sword of Julius Caesar. A brave warrior Aurelius unites the last faithful men to form the “last” legion and rescue Romulus and his tutor to escort them to the safe lands of Britannia. The plot is full of brilliant twists, and the story develops really fast. Moreover, the story corresponds with the tale of King Arthur that adds excitement about the end of it. 

Indeed, I have never read a book like this that could grip my attention throughout the story. It is specific because the characters there are ordinary people, they have their worries and emotions, but they are fearless warriors and caring companions. One of the main protagonists – Aurelius, though with mysterious past, leads and encourages people of his squad and keeps the promise to save the boy Emperor. Furthermore, mentor Ambrosinus is a wise wizard that helps Romulus to grow mentally and get prepared to the role of a ruler. His pieces of advice and supposedly magic manipulations support and inspire others. In addition, I was impressed with another character – Livia – that seems to be the boldest woman-hero of that time. All of them had to go through many obstacles and losses before becoming close friends with strong spirits. 

The book impressed me with the battle scenes and held me in tension during the pursuit of the squad by an antagonist Wulfila. As the author is a historian, I suppose that the novel is rather realistic and contains original historical events that are intertwined into the tale. The language of the book was a bit plain, but it can be accounted for the translation. What is more, the story is of violence and cruelty, and some scenes may seem rather appalling. But still, they represent the tempers of that era.

Overall, I ensure total immersion in this book as it is full of vivid descriptions of landscapes and battles, bright characters and their formation and unexpectable twists. I was overwhelmed with emotions after reading and couldn’t think of something else. I definitely recommend The Last Legion to everyone who is interested in historical novels and adventure stories.