Moving into our new downtown high rise flat was a serious pain, seriously... It took over a month from the time we purchased the apartment, to when we could even start moving our belongings in. Then, we had to wait several more weeks for specific fixtures to arrive and get installed. The city was obviously experiencing a boom from new trade with China and Japan, and the housing growth was far exceeding the city's construction industry's capacity. The winter had been particularly cold as well, and although we were now in March, there was no sign the freezing temperatures and snow intended to abate. Babushka had also fallen ill with a particularly nasty bug and even more nasty cure, which of course - thanks to her superstitious upbringing, meant she had to try all manner of strange, horrible smelling salves and potions. Ludya took a small break from work to stay with her grandmother and help her during recovery. The memory of what I saw in her bedroom over the New Year holidays never fully left the back of my mind however. Every time I'd make my way into her room, to say hello or bring her a bowl of soup, I'd expect some presence to be felt, or some object to move. I refused to be left alone in that house again.
Once the stress of the move had abated and we were successfully moved into our new home, work began to take on a much more structured and orderly pace, and our lives at last started to stabilize - it was time for my girlfriend and I to begin our adventure together. The first places we wanted to see, were some of the former soviet republics which could be found along the country's southern and western borders. Nations which, although freed in the early 1990's never seemed to thrive in the same way that Russia proper had. Once the winter's icy grip had finally started to thaw, around late May we flew from Vladivostok to Chelyabinsk, far away in the Caucasus and from there rented a car to drive to the border with Kazakhstan. The road was in excellent condition as this was obviously a vital trade route, and we purred along nicely in our rented "Chevy Cruze"... Honestly I probably would have preferred a good old soviet era Lada to get more of the experience, but for whatever reason - none were to be had... At the border, we got quite a few stares from the security patrols and border police on both sides. It was obvious that very few "tourists" or even European Russians passed through this crossing. The region was populated almost entirely with native Tatar, Kazakh and Bashkir people. Not withstanding the curious questions an
D glances, a few passport scans and a check for fruits/veg, and we were on our way south again - now in Kazakhstan!
The first stop on our journey was to an abandoned Sanitarium. Now, when you hear that term Sanitarium, you most likely think of a privately run "asylum" or perhaps a place where people with chronic illness would go to hopefully, recover. However, in Europe and these Eurasian countries, they often had a very different use. They were simply locations where local citizens could go on a short vacation. Escape from the stresses of the major industrial cities like Chelyabinsk or Omsk and relax. They usually included a lot of steam rooms, pools, tennis courts, and maybe a small football pitch. They were paid for by the workers' government-backed jobs, or were simply free in many cases and were considered an essential part of a person's work year. With the fall of the Soviet Union, most of these places weren't bought up by private companies and the government in most of these ex-satellite nations couldn't afford to maintain them. They were allowed to rot, and in some cases, were filled with refugees from one post-soviet war or another...
This Sanitarium, it appeared, was simply allowed to die a slow death. The grounds were "secured" though in typical style, that really only meant a chain and padlock. Both of which were long gone by the time we arrived. The white stucco façade in traditional soviet Romanesque design was broken and scarred, with large cracks exposing the concrete and rebar skeleton within. Virtually every window had been broken out, most likely by area kids who had also taken it upon themselves to cover every inch of the interior walls with graffiti. The building had obviously been vandalized as well, following the fall, as most of the ornamental hammer and sickle emblems had been intentionally chiseled off the walls, and we'd come across the occasional bust of Stalin or Lenin, with the face broken away.
Moving down into the lower levels we came across the great theater, massive and paneled in false marble, the auditorium could probably have fit at least 2,000 people in its heyday, now silent and crumbling. Long, tattered, mold covered velvet curtains hung precariously on either side of the performance stage. The stage its self, had more broken than intact boards, and several of the heavy projector lights had fallen from their perches in the rigging above, to puncture through the mossy stage like cannon ball scars. Just to the right of the stage, stood a tall, multi-paneled window which as with the others in the building was entirely devoid of glass. As the faint sunlight filtered through, forming long rays in the swirling dust and mold spores my girlfriend spotted what appeared to be an outline of a man standing just to the side of the window frame. Tapping me on the shoulder, I turned to look at where she was motioning and caught a glimpse of the man myself. Calling up to him in Russian, we tried to get his attention (thinking at the time he was simply a local exploring).
"Privet," (hey) I called up to the form... With no answer I called up again, more formally this time.
"Dobri den!" (Good day). Still there was no reply.
For a moment, we wondered if this was perhaps a security guard, and that we were trespassing. The figure was rather clear in his position just beside the window, standing outside and looking down at us from perhaps 12 meters up the wall. Asking my girlfriend to wait there a moment, I stepped back through the entrance of the theater and made my way quickly around the corner of the building, to the exterior wall adjacent to where the window stood. Pulling my mobile phone from my pocket, along with my passport (in case it was security) I quickly made my way up to the point where the man was standing... I stopped in my tracks as I found sheer wall. No place for a man, or anything to be standing at the exterior of the building outside that window. No balcony, or bridge, or walkway. Not only was there nowhere to stand, but there was no man there... Tapping my girlfriend's number into my phone, I placed the call and waited anxiously while it rang...
"Hello?" She answered softly.
"Is the man still standing there?" I asked, trying not to give away the surprise and adrenaline in my voice...
"Yes, he's still standing there, staring at me." She replied.
I quickly explained that he could not be standing there, and why, the explanation causing her to ask me to stop and slow down several times. When it finally dawned on her what I was saying, she cursed softly into the phone and took off running toward the entrance. I also took off, closing the gap between us quickly as I could. When I saw her there, emerging from the grand theater's gaping entrance, she was pale and shivering. We grabbed each other and both made our way back around to the exterior wall. We both knew what we'd find when we arrived, but something in our minds made us NEED to verify it to ourselves. As expected, there was only a sheer wall, a broken window, and no man there waiting when we reached the spot again. We discussed what had happened at length, verifying with each other that we had indeed both seen what we had thought we had seen. When we were both convinced that neither of us were insane - we pressed on, back toward the larger of the buildings on the old Sanitarium campus.
This building had obviously been the old administrative wing. It contained staff housing, offices, meeting space, and a lot of what looked to be rather official documents scattered all over the floor of several of the first floor rooms. The doors had been completely removed from the hinges and taken, probably made from a valuable metal or containing ornate carvings. It was a prize too valuable to leave behind, and as was often the case with these abandoned structures, the treasures were immediately looted in the early 90s.
One of the massive filing rooms, contained what had to be 400 individual filing cabinets, lining both sides of a massive rectangular room. Between the rows of cabinets, sat a dozen long tables with piles of old documents scattered all over. The roof had long failed, causing rain and snow to penetrate the room, and turn these papers to mush, mixed with mold and grasses struggling to grow in a random scattering of penetrating sunbeams. Upon entering this room, both of us had an intense feeling of unease. There was definitely the sense that someone was watching us, though we were obviously the only two people in the room. Using our high powered LED flashlights, we scoured every nook and cranny of the room, and the only people there were the two of us. The deeper into the records room, the harsher the sensation felt, until it was almost one of resentment and even loathing. Calling out to the unseen energy, I tried to determine what it was, and what it wanted...
Again, in Russian I spoke out... "Privet..." I called out loudly...
"Kho ti?" (Who are you?)
"Vy khotite, chtoby my ushli?" (Do you want us gone?)
We stood there in silence as my questions echoed through the room, our flashlights cutting beams of white light through the dark angular space... Suddenly, with no warning, we noticed movement at the far end of the room. A large portrait of what looked to be a soviet official detached from its mount at the top of the frame, swung forward, and crashed down on a stack of rolling desk chairs which were piled on the floor just in front of it. The force of the crash sent several of the chairs careening off in different directions, and the rotten frame and canvas of the portrait cracked into several pieces, filling the room with an ear shattering crash and the squeaking of the rusted chair wheels... Sufficed to say, that was enough of an experience for the both of us, and we quickly and "efficiently" made our way back to the rental car. A couple of minutes later we were back on the road to Kostanay where we would stay for the night. I would say sleep, but neither of us got much sleep that night.