By Yuri Shymanovsky.
Translated from Russian by Glen Evans.
Azure, The Submarine
Usually the most mysterious stories are stories that
can neither be explained nor exposed.
If the mystery is solved you instantly lose any
interest in it. However, if you get information about
some certainly impossible event, you will look at it
with skepticism. But when there is a puzzle and some
explanation with a lot of doubt then the mystery of
the story will bother you for years and years.
And this is the kind of story I'm going to tell you.
Well, I have plenty of proof: stories of eyewitnesses,
people who could just not make up all of that.
On the other hand... the old man was possibly mental
with age, and the monk could have had "rum fits".
I think the extraordinary photo that I have, is very
strong evidence, as well as what I have seen with my
own eyes, yet a skeptic would find thousands of
explanations why all these events should be counted as
nonsense or mystification. Judge it yourself.
For me, as for most other people arriving here, the
N-City started at the local bus station.
Dragging with difficulty my enormous easel, I climbed
out of the stuffy bus, took a deep breath of moist
salt air and started making my way through a crowd of
old women who were holding signs "An Apartment for
Rent, Next to the Sea".
I don't know what had been written on my face, but I
could not get through the throng.
They hemmed me in, and circled around, as if I was a
For some reason, they didn't look at me, as there was
no me at all, and they would just have an after-lunch
"An apartment... Next to the sea," sounded a tinny
"All utilities... three pieces, immediate occupation,"
the other old lady echoed with bass.
"With a personal phone line, an inexpensive
apartment," the whisper announced. "Next to a shop."
I slowed down, hesitating. I truly did need an
apartment. A room at least, but a very cheap one and
only for three days.
Suddenly my look halted on an old lone man, who was
shyly standing aside.
"An apartment," he said quickly and lowered his eyes
with a guilty expression.
The circulation around me had stopped as if by the
wave of a magic wand. The old women stood still,
"An apartment," he repeated. "Very cheap. Yet not next
to the sea, but what a wonderful view, and the air!
Not like the air is down here."
As if to confirm his words, the bus next to me started
its engine and tossed a black haze of smog at me.
"Look, it's there." The old man stretched his arm
upward. I lifted my head.
Along the very steep mountain slopes the
one-store-housed streets were full of natural
splendor, hidden in the greenness of the apricot trees
and vine wreathes.
From my view they looked vertical. I could not imagine
how the houses were placed onto the sheer hillside.
The labyrinth of buildings crowded one over the other
was mixed with steep narrow ladders.
And there, almost beyond the clouds, an ancient
bastion crowned the mountain. It had gloomy-looking
crumbling walls with battlements. The crenellations
and merlons looked like teeth, and the machicolations
"A Genoa citadel of XIV-XVI century. It has been
referred to in the famous book "The Journey Beyond the
Three Seas" by Afanasi Nikitin," pronounced the old
man, sounding like a tourist guide. "You should take a
look, it's very close to my house."
This fort argument was the last straw.
What could an artist dream about! Even a professional
one, not an amateur like me.
Sitting there, up on the hill with my easel. Walking
on the Middle-Aged steps. Spending a few days
wandering in the maze of the narrow green streets with
a wonderful view!
"Let's go," I said and held up my enormous easel, and
the old ladies behind my back let out a sigh of
We walked out of the plaza and turned into an alley
that shot up without any warning. The asphalt road had
ended and it was now a very real cobblestone path as I
have seen before only in movies.
Sometimes along the way we climbed some steps. Up, up,
A few minutes later I was panting, unable to keep up
with my old guide. He was walking easily and
effortlessly. From the first sight it was visible that
he was a local guy and used to this.
We met some Navies. Their appearance surprised me.
Everybody looked worn out and dirty. When it was an
officer - he had a red nose. When it was a private -
the same, and he was looking for the cigarettes.
But I was most impressed by the view of the apricots
rolling down along the avenue.
"Tell me," I asked. "Is it normal that the apricots
are on the street?"
"Too much of them," the old man replied. " Nothing
anybody can do. Every July it's just like a flood."
Something rustled above my ear. Smack! This beautiful
orange ball patted onto the road next to my feet and,
jumping on the steps, it started its journey towards
"Oph, finally we're here!"
The old man pushed open the miniature gate invisible
with the wilts of vine, and I found myself in a small
court in front of a house, very cozy and panoramic.
As it was placed on a steep hillside, the court was
almost vertical. The cobbled, carefully built steps
led in all directions.
The diminutive lots of horizontal soil were propped up
with moss-covered walls.
All the ancient court had an appearance of a
We went into the house where I had the honor to be
introduced to my room.
"Here is the verandah", said my host. "You could not
find a better view of the sea. By the way, my name is
I stepped out into the verandah. The old man did not
lie: the view was magnificent.
Down, far beneath me, I could see the city, bristling
with the dark arrows of the cypresses and a little bit
farther, squeezed by craggy banks, a broad bay
stretched a few kilometers far and wide.
The water in the bay was spotted; some places were
dark-blue, some - bright green. The green spots - the
sand of the seabed, peeking through the water. The
blacks - the underwater rocks and seaweed.
The only thing that hurt my eyes was bunches of
military ships, lined along the brinks. Small and big,
new, bright-colored and old and rusted. Here were some
barges, cargo, and a few other vessels.
"Well," said the old man, understanding my thoughts.
"Our city is small, but it used to be a military base.
A few years ago no outsiders could come here. And the
citadel is here." He showed me the way. "Don't forget
to check it out. No archeologist has set foot in there
yet. By the way, do you want some wine? I have a lot.
I make more than I'm able to drink."
I refused politely, and announced my wish to walk to
the fortress with my easel.
The stronghold was simply colossal. It was so huge
that I even got perplexed. I would have to spend
months just to sketch all that I wanted. So I chose
another, a way not permitted. I took a photo camera
and shot the entire roll of film. I would draw later
using these photos.
After I sat on a broken panel covered with mysterious
roman letters, and with my pencils I made a few close
up drafts of the most impressing views.
Buried in the work I noticed that evening had come,
and when it became dark I went back to the city, tired
I found my way easily. The only street led down -
Not far away from the house where I stayed, I met a
group of sailors; a few navy-privates with an officer
"Hey mate," he called me.
Honestly, my life experiences told me that in the
nighttime you should not answer such a call, but get
away as fast as you can. But the sincerity sounding in
his voice filled me with trust, and I stopped without
having a cow.
The officer, a handsome black eyed man, approached and
"Mate, if you would, don't go down this street. If
it's necessary, better to take this avenue." And he
pointed to an alley aside.
"Why?" I wondered, searching my night interlocutor.
"It's dangerous," explained the officer. "Better not
wander here at night time."
While we were talking, the navy-privates drew close
and stood by us.
Amazing, how they were different from those military
sailors that I met this day.
Dandyish looking, wearing impeccably clean uniforms,
they appeared like some heroes from a movie. The
officer had a short sharp-formed beard, and he held a
long aromatic cigar. His old-fashioned coat with the
stand up collar looked a little out-of-date, but
impressing, especially in with the combination of his
fancy belt and revolver.
'Azure' I read the name of the vessel printed on the
cap of one of these navies.
``What a wonderful name for a ship!`` I thought. ``How
great that they started again, like in the old time,
write the names of the vessels on the cups. In the
Soviet Time they wrote just "Black Sea Fleet" or even
worse. For example, Navy High School named after the
Admiral Nakhimov, shortly NHSAN. It seemed not like an
abbreviation, but some kind of abracadabra...``
"Thank you," I said. "But I'm not going down. I'm home
"Sorry then," replied the officer. "But if you would
like to take a walk, do it at morning, sir, may I
"Gotcha," I answered. "Good night."
"My honor." The officer saluted and turned to his
Fumbling in the darkness, I got into my room, went to
the verandah, and smoked.
"How was the citadel?" the voice of my old host
sounded behind the wall.
"Great!" I replied.
"By the way, I forgot to warn you against night walks
on our street. Too many hooligans. Did you meet
"Only Navies," I answered.
"Navies? Strange, today's not a furlough day. And
anyway it's well after "lights-out". Were they
privates or officers?"
"A group of privates and an officer."
"Ah, it must have been a patrol," said my host.
"No, patrols must have a special bandage on their
sleeves. They did not."
"Then I have no idea... Wanna wine?"
I was siting on the verandah and thinking that life is
interesting. Only yesterday I was in a huge noisy
polluted city. I was going to work on a stuffy city
bus. I was arguing with my boss. But now I felt myself
in another dimension.
The sea, mountains, Middle-Aged fortress seemed to
have no connection with the everyday world.
Especially that young officer, looking like a movie
hero. Such polite talk! Like a Count or even a Prince.
And the cigar... Interesting, why did he look so
different from those navies that I saw before?
Suddenly a thought appeared into my mind.
"Sergey Petrovich," I called my host. "Are you
"What is the ship Azure?"
"Azure... A famous ship. I'll tell you tomorrow."
"I just wanted to ask, does it belong to Russia or
"Heh-heh-heh," a muffed laugh sounded behind the wall.
"Why did you ask?"
"Those navies that I met had the Azure name on their
The laugh behind the wall turned into coughing, then I
heard some stuff falling, sounds of barefoot steps,
and Sergey Petrovich, wearing only his underpants,
came on the verandah. I grew cold when I saw his
appearance; the old man was as pale as death.
"Are you gonking me?" he murmured. "Are you telling
"Yes, what's the matter?"
"Where were they?"
"Right here, a few steps from the gates."
The old man leaned through the window up to his waist,
and looked down.
I glanced as well.
Nobody. An empty street.
Exhausted, Sergey Petrovich lowered himself into a
wattled chair, mumbling something and wildly moving
his eyes like crazy.
"Well, could you explain..." I started.
"Wanna wine?" interrupted the old man.
"Okay." I gave up.
Sergey Petrovich shoved his arm down somewhere, and a
moment later a jar with red wine and two glasses
appeared onto the table.
"Made last year," the old man explained, pottering
about the table. "God bless this drink..." he toasted,
lifting his glass.
The wine was pretty good. The old man drank two
glasses, and stared into the night. His eyes slowed,
and his cheeks blushed.
"People tell this story," he started suddenly. "About
eighty years ago, during World War One, our city was
taken by Germans. Not for long, but anyway. You can
see for yourself that the mouth of the bay is very
tight. Almost the complete Russian Fleet was here. So,
the Gerries blocked the bay with a huge armed ship,
and demanded the Fleet surrender. All the vessels gave
in... Except the Azure.
"It was a submarine, torpedo boat. All the ships
showed white flags except the Azure. It cast off and
went underwater in full view of everybody. They did
not want to have the shame of becoming prisoners of
the Gerries. But there was no escape. The Germans at
once blocked the mouth of the bay with a special net
against submarines, and waited. Azure would have to
come up, they had no choice. Now a submarine can be
underwater for months. Not then, they could stay under
less than a day. They would run out of air. But Azure
did not come up. Two days went by. Only a periscope
came out sometimes. The third day Azure torpedoed that
scurvy armed ship. It went down, sank.
"The Germans got mad. They flooded the bay with
military ships, they bombed all around, they used
special scanning machines to search for Azure. They
mined the mouth of the bay. But Azure did not come up,
only its periscope. Later, even it disappeared. The
submarine disappeared in the bay forever. Soon the
Germans left our city."
"Sad story," I said.
"Sad, but..." The voice of the old man trembled.
"People claim, you can see its periscope here in the
bay sometimes. People see it. They say, it means
either good or bad luck. Depends on the viewer. If it
is a good person he will be lucky for the rest of his
life. But if not... His life will be short."
The old man drank more wine, and still, looking
thoughtfully into the darkness, toward the bay,
invisible in the dusk.
"Do you believe this legend?" I broke the prolonged
"It's not a question of believing, these are facts.
But let's go to sleep. What if they are listening to
The old man got up, and seeing the look on his face, I
realized that he was not kidding. He said good night
to me, drank wine again, and left.
Next day I went down to the city. Despite the early
hours it was very hot. The bay beneath me was still
covered with the morning fog.
Yesterday's story stuck in my mind, yet I was thinking
about it in a more relaxed way, without the grim
impression which had been left upon me by the midnight
``My host is simply nuts,`` I told myself. ``And a
wine-bibber as well. He made this scary story up to
have a reason to throw down some tipple. Perhaps he's
ashamed to get plastered all by himself in front of a
stranger. He probably says the same story to all his
tenants, a perfect trick. On the other hand, who did I
meet yesterday? They really were odd.``
Something rustled in the air. Smack! A ripe apricot
fell next to me and rolled down along the road. The
day promised to be good.
I just wandered around for a few hours, looking for
the most famous places of the city.
One of them, for sure, was a bar on the sea front
named Azure. The sign showed the silhouette of a
submarine on the background of the rising moon.
I got confused, does it mean the old man told the real
story? What if some mystery is hidden deep in the bay
that peacefully splashes its waves next to my feet?
That afternoon I spent uphill, to the fortress, with
my easel, and with the evening twilight I hurried back
"Wanna wine?" was the first thing Sergey Petrovich
asked me. I shrugged.
"You have not tasted the REAL wine yet!" he urged
emotionally, seeing me hesitate. "It was just "alley
juice", but if you would like to check out my cellar!"
He led my to the basement.
The cellar was very roomy, and had tall shelves with
bottles, flasks and jugs.
"Here!" excitedly rattled my host. "Any that you want!
As many as you wish! May I recommend this..." He
rubbed the dust-stained surface of a bottle.
"Cabernet," he explained. "Nineteen-Eighty-Two.
Special, for guests only. Even I, a master, drink
it... not very often."
We returned to the verandah.
"How's your vacation going?" asked the old man,
pouring the wine. Did you swim in the sea? If you
would like to, better go to the open part, behind the
cape, not in the bay. The water in the bay is turbid.
By the way." A glum wrinkle pleated the skin on his
forehead. "Nothing strange has happened to you today?"
"I mean after yesterday's event... Anything could
happen... Not for the first time. Take Fedor for an
example. Nobody can explain exactly what happened to
him, but I overheard something..." He gulped his wine,
and stared toward the bay.
"Fedor, nicknamed Red Hook, comes from a family of
pirates. Simply a bandit. Was imprisoned for a few
times for heists. His mother was a jailbird as well.
His grandfathers were local bandits. He got his
nickname as he had ho left hand, but an iron hook.
People say he lost his hand by a boozy bet, playing
cards, when he was a youth. After that he became even
worse. When he was dry, he wasn't too bad, but when
loaded - it would have been better not to meet him.
Pie-eyed, he bullied everybody he met. And all the
time he would have tried to get his foe's face with
his rusty hook.
"So, about fifteen years ago something happened to
him. Something related with Azure. He ridded
chug-a-lugging off, and now he's living in the
monastery, here behind the citadel. Reads a lot, walks
nowhere. Nobody knows what happened to him. Gossip
says - something terrible. Like, he saw this submarine
next to him... I'm an old man, I have seen a lot, I
can say for sure - it would be a very tough event to
change one's personality.
"It's a fact. But he was lucky. He's alive. Not like
The old man stopped, and in the silence of the night
it would be possible to hear the chirp of the
crickets. A distant clank sounded from the bay.
"In our city, in the seventies, there was a man, name
Zaigralin. Did you see a square downtown?" suddenly
asked my host.
"Of course, Zaigralin square. 'He died a heroic
"Oh, yeah. That Zaigralin was the First Secretary of
the City Committee of the Communist Party. And he was
a real bastard. He harassed girls, and if any
complained, he sent that person to the KGB. He had
relatives in the Kremlin, close to Brezhnev's workers.
Every summer they came here for fun.
"One night they got loaded as usual, and went for a
cruise across the bay. They got a boat, vodka and
music, and some hoochies. The vessel was great, a
motorboat, very speedy. They flew through the
darkness, shooting colorful rockets. Because of the
nighttime, the lights were visible from far away. But
suddenly - oops! The lights disappeared at once. And
the music stopped.
"About a half an hour later the militaries realized
that something bad happened. They sent a patrol ship
with a searchlight. Only pieces of the boat were found
floating. Like a bomb had exploded. No bodies was
around. They found only one doll, stark naked, and
drunk as a skunk. She said the boat was bashed with a
submarine that was surfacing. It had no lights and
they saw it just before the crash. Sure the boat had
"During the next week they were picking up remains.
The KGB started an investigation.
The boat was inspected, and the examination confirmed,
yes, it was a collision.
But with what? All the ships were in their places. No
outside vessel could have come into the bay. The mouth
is under control, and it had an anti-submarine net.
The depth in the place of the crash is forty meters.
"Then the hunt had began. They told the residents that
it was a military training event, but everybody knew
they were after Azure for sure. They trailed the bay
with nets. They used the newest searching equipment.
After a few days a helicopter was hanging in the air
above the water, looking for something. It finished
with nothing. And everybody who had known of this
story was gone. Most of them moved somewhere. Perhaps,
the KGB did it to avoid the gossips.
"I know this story from my known warrant officer. He
gave an oath where he promised not to tell anyone
about it, but my hooch freed his tongue... Well, let's
go to sleep. And... Be careful, just in case." he
added and left, clinging to the wall.
From far away, in the murkiness, a ship siren sounded,
and again - this muffed clank.
In the morning, I took my artist stuff and went to the
fortress. But today it wasn't that place that was on
my mind. I skirted it on the edge of the cliff and
went farther, following a twisting path.
Soon, as I expected, I reached the local monastery. It
was a small church, built straight onto the vertical
hillside. That part of the slope was speckled with
many big and small windows and openings. The cells and
rooms had been built inside the rock of the mountain,
and, I guessed, were connected with each other with an
inner system of steps and corridors.
Next to the church a tall lean man was brooming the
"Hello," I said.
The monk lifted his head and was still, waiting.
"I'm sorry, I heard a man lives here... He has no left
hand, and his name, perhaps is Fedor."
"Yes, he's here," confirmed the cenobite.
"Could I talk to him?"
The monk shook his head. "He won't talk to anyone. He
doesn't need it. He talks to God."
"Well, could you tell him? You know, I'm an artist..."
"Ah, an artist!" the cenobite replied, gladdened. "Why
you didn't say so?"
He left his broom, and disappeared into the church,
and I stayed, waiting outside, having a slight
suspicion, that it was some misinterpretation.
The door of the church opened, and a man, tall and
broad shouldered came out. About forty-five-fifty
years old, he was wearing a cassock.
The low part of his face was hidden with long thick
beard, and his long, touched with gray, loosened hair,
down past his collar, was tossed back.
His features were big and roughish, but his expression
impressed me the most. Awfully deep, his look seemed
targeted into eternity. He had no left hand.
"Where is Vasily?" he asked, looking through me, as if
I was transparent.
"I beg your pardon..."
"Where is Vasily?" repeated the monk. "He promised to
bring me new paintbrushes from Simferopol City." No
muscle stirred on his face. His voice sounded
indifferent, and his look was fixed on something far
away behind me.
He waited for a while, then started to turn to leave.
"Wait!" I recovered my wits. "You misunderstood. I'm
an artist, I'm here only for three days. Here, take a
I don't know why, but I showed him my drafts of the
fortress. Suddenly the monk relented, and even browsed
"Not bad," he said finally. "I'm an artist myself, but
I'm painting icons. I thought it was Vasily. He
promised me new paintbrushes. Mine are very tattered.
Well, if you've already dragged me outside, let's take
a seat here, on the bench. What business do you have
The bench was a wide stone lawn seat, built straight
in the rock of the mountain. A pellucid creek flowed
from the hillside into a little pond. Above, on the
wall, one could see an ancient relief picture, showing
Saint George. A small palm was on the edge of the
"I'm very sorry," I started again, when we were
seated. "I'm a tourist, and I'm very interested in
your story. Maybe you don't want to talk about it, but
I promise, tomorrow I'll be gone, and nobody will know
"You're funny," said the monk softly. "HE sees
everything, nothing can be hidden from HIM. Well, what
do you want to know?"
"I'd like to know, what is connection between you and
Azure? What happened fifteen years ago?"
"Fifteen years ago..." It seemed that the cenobite
tried to recall something. "Fifteen years ago Fedor
Red Hood died."
"Died?" I was horrified.
"Yes," confirmed the monk calmly. "He died. I was
"Ah." I understood. "So, what happened to Fedor?"
"I can't be responsible for others."
"Sorry that I disturbed you then. I won't hold you.
What a shame though. Two days ago I met a navy officer
with a group of a privates..."
"An officer with a beard?" The monks came back to
"With a beard."
"With a cigar?"
"Yes indeed, lad, you have a crystal soul if you're
alive since that event." Suddenly his expression
changed. His look became bright and thoughtful, and
the voice sounded different. "In that time I was
living on Rocky Street. It counts as most dangerous
place of the city. It placed the way that it is the
shortcut from the citadel to the city. The local
outlaws use this advance. In the summertime a lot of
tourists are here. Many of them go to see the citadel,
and go back when it's dark. Well, I was doing that
also. I often was after the walkers to rib them up.
Was canned a few times for that.
"In that night I was boozed as usual. I heard someone
walk toward me. I saw a group of navies. An officer
and privates, about five or six men. The officer with
a beard, smoked a cigar. I don't remember the others.
"Cock-eyed, I started to call them names. 'You
ninety-day wonders!' I said. You're gobs, eh? You're
not sailors, you're geese! I'm an old salt as are all
my forefathers, but who are you? You sprogs, have no
idea what the sea is! And stuff like that...
"The officer stopped and said to me very politely:
'You don't know us, sir, why are you profaning us?
Would you like to go with us to our ship? If you're
not afraid of course.' He was so polite; he even
called me 'sir'! Yes, I said. I wanna go! I'm afraid
"We went to the bay. There is a very old dock. So old
that no one uses it anymore. Too dangerous. The boards
are rotten, many of them are missed. But we walked to
this landing pier. And I saw a submarine. Well, I
faltered. I even sobered up for a while. I knew the
story about Azure since I was a kid. I felt uneasy.
Night, the abandoned dock, my odd escorts... I
thought, well, men, if you are going to trick me
somehow, I'll get you all, be sure.
"They led me straight onto the landing pier. The
boards under my feet were shaking and trembling, the
dark water was glistening. The officer was very
gallant; he took out a flashlight to show me the way.
And he was marching with a slight smile, without
watching his steps, like on parade. And the privates
were not afoot but flying.
"We went to the end and I saw the name of the
submarine. Azure. A ladder with tarpaulin handrails
connected the vessel and the moorage.
"I grabbed the tarpaulin unable make a step. My legs
became weak with fear. They gently pushed me forward,
well, go, mate!
"I stepped to the deck... Seaweed and seashells
covered it. It seemed like a carpet, and I feel crabs
running under my feet.
"I saw - the land start getting farther as the
submarine cast off. My escorts led me to a deck-cabin.
And the officer told me: 'Go in, mate. We'll go down.'
I looked inside the hatch. It was dark as a grave, no
lights, and smelt like seaweed. I glanced back. The
officer was not smiling anymore. He tossed his cigar
aside and put his white deadly cold hand on my
"I don't remember how I jumped into the water and
headed to the shore. During my swim I swore if I
survive, I'll start a new life. I'll get a job, I'll
finish my education. I'll get baptised for sure, I'll
go to church. When I reached land, I died."
The monk fell silent. Again his expression changed.
His appearance sharpened, and the look became out
"Go in peace, young man. God bless you," he pronounced
in a monotonic voice. "You shall not be afraid." He
stood up and moving majestically went to the church
not looking back.
For a long time I sat on the bench, then very slowly I
Somehow I went to the fortress, and up onto the
battlement of the Genoa tower.
Standing in a merlon, I was looking thoughtfully at
the abyss underneath.
Something was going on in my soul. Perhaps something
inside me the same as that monk, has died, and
something was born. Something timeless and wise like
these ancient stones.
Sergey Petrovich met me at home.
"Wanna wine? My God! What has happened to you? I told
"What?" I asked indifferently.
"You look strange."
I shrugged, and went to my room.
"Well, what about wine?" my old host called me.
"No, thanks. I'm tired"
Next day I left N-City.
I could finish here, but!
A few days later a happening related to this story
I printed the film with photos of my voyage. I made
big color pictures.
One of them shows the bay, spotted with black and
green. The black spots - seaweed, green - the sand of
And on one of these green spots it is possible to see
a lancet silhouette of a submarine.
Maybe you are surprised, but I was not.
(C) *** JES 1999 *** Yuri Shymanovsky email@example.com