Ruddov (Ruddy) and Layzeemortovia (Layzee) Whormkovdovskivichykchev, with their four-year-old son Butdanknvau (Butty) and six-month-old, nursing baby daughter, Svetlana (affectionately called Swetty), had decided to leave their little isolated village in northwestern Belarus, for the love of rock and roll.
Their village, Gubxermn, had a population of 162. It was established in 1183. Very little from the modern world had entered the culture of Gubxermn. The villagers spoke and understood only one language, Gubxermn. It had been the village language for over 800 years. Gubxermn appeared on no maps. It was well hidden among big, beautiful rolling hills, with deep emerald grass, broken by clusters of thick, dark forest and hearty, clear, pure streams.
Very few people knew the idyllic little village existed. Gubxermn was self-sufficient. Crops were harvested every year. And those hearty streams supplied the villagers with water and a minimum of electricity.
They were well off the beaten path, more than 200 miles from the nearest village. Throughout their history they’d had a few surprise visitors, some bad and some worse. Like the day a huge old semi-trailer truck bucked its way up an overgrown road into the village and sold some archaic twelve-inch black-and-white Russian TV sets to 80 naïve Gubxermns. Stray, snowy TV signals were occasionally captured by the puzzled Gubxermns.
Though the picture was always lousy, with snow and a constant blinking, the sound, for some strange reason, was state of the art. The crystal-clear audio, aimless as it was to most Gubxermns, was a nightly pleasure for the Whormkovdovskivichykchevs. They listened intently to vintage reruns of The Honeymooners, not understanding anything, but laughing heartily when they heard the audience laughter. They listened to old movies, imagining pictures to go with rapid-fire dialogue, flinching at the sound of gunfire or cars crashing. They didn’t have the slightest idea of what was going on.
For years this was Ruddy and Layzee’s theater of the mind. They were happy to sit cozily in front of the snowy TV, their fireplace ablaze, in their log-and-mud home every night and dose off. Until, from out of nowhere, on a bitter-cold winter’s night, it came—like a big swig of warm, sweetened goat’s milk: “Ain’t that a shame....” Ruddy shot up straight, as a shiver of extreme pleasure rippled over his being. He shouted, “Czjovskn zorv gojm fwndon, vzrkov!” (“Wake up, Layzee. Listen! It’s wonderful!”) Layzee came out of her stupor, cranky at first; but her stupor turned into amazement as the rhythm-and-blues masterpiece played on. They sat transfixed, not by the snowy, blinking twelve-inch screen, but by the totally unique sound coming from a three-inch speaker somewhere in the tangled innards of the crummy rabbit-eared TV. The miracle ended, and a pleasant-sounding man with a distinct Southern accent declared, “That was the one and only Fats Domino doing his masterpiece, ‘Ain’t That a Shame,” an oldie but greatie, on the USA’s gutsiest rock and roll station. We’re rockin’ 24/7 forever, for you.” Of course, Ruddy and Layzee had no idea what was being said or sung. They just knew they loved it, and they heard a strange batch of words that stuck in their minds: “Rock USA roll and.”
Through some freak of nature, they were listening to a rogue signal riding the Kennelly-Heaviside layer from somewhere in the southern USA, thousands of miles away. Ruddy and Layzee listened all night long. They heard more Fats (“Poor Me,” “Boll Weevil” and “I’m Walkin’”), then Little Richard (“Slippin’ and a Slidin’” and “Long Tall Sally”), Big Joe Turner (“Boogie Woogie Country Girl”), Bo Diddley (“Hey Bo Diddley”), the Coasters (“I’m Searchin’”), and on and on until daybreak. The station faded and they fell into a blissful sleep, looking forward to hearing more of this strange, awe-inspiring sound they called “jmbnoccdo bnzxjz ckcr uzfkg” (“Roll and U Rock SA”).
They felt different, like something about the sound had just changed them. Their lives would never be the same.
Surgeii and Ivano
That morning, after only two hours of sleep, Ruddy was barely able to make it to his job. Ruddy hand-milked the village goats. Every day 300 udders felt the strong, warm grasp of Ruddov Whormkovdovskivichykchev’s muscle-bound hands. He had already made up his mind by the time he got to goat 33. With the sweet beat he had heard last night still bubbling through his body and soul, he decided they were going to the “Roll and U Rock Aroll S,” come spring.
They listened with great anticipation that night, the next night, and the night after that. They never heard “And Roll SA Rock U” again. It was a technical anomaly. They finally gave up on the miracle happening again. However, they left the TV on all the time, just in case.
Ruddy started preparations for their odyssey as spring approached. Layzee was very excited and trusted in Ruddy’s decision. Ruddy had lots of money; however, being an isolated Gubxermnian all his life, he didn’t quite understand the concept. He knew you can get things for money, like the Russian TV set, which was bad. He had the money hidden under a floor plank in his log-and-mud home in a huge homemade burlap sack packed with Russian rubles and pre-euro German marks—money left to Ruddy by his father, Surgeii, and before him his grandfather, Ivano.
This was money Surgeii and Ivano had taken from the many German and Russian soldiers that alternately trampled through Gubxermn. It was of public record in the tiny village hall archives that Surgeii and Ivano killed and robbed 758 of the Nazi and Red intruders over a four-year period. They also disabled a number of German and Russian vehicles, including 11 tanks (6 German and 5 Russian). All were buried very deep beneath the turf where the herd of Gubxermn goats now peacefully grazed.
Guberxmn had only one suitcase. Many years ago Surgeii and Ivano took out a Gestapo armored vehicle by surrounding it with the goat herd and then dumping 1,000 gallons of boiling hot goat’s milk down the hatch. The Nazis melted like wax figurines. The goat’s milk came from the village’s pasteurizing vat. It made quite a mess. However, Surgeii did eventually salvage a soggy leather satchel. They buried the sloshy vehicle, with seven molten Nazis, under the historic vat.
Ruddy and Layzee were presented with that very satchel as a going-away gift. All their belongings, including Swetty’s and Butty’s two sets of clothes, were crammed into this two-foot-by-three-foot, battle-scarred, sour-smelling satchel. Ruddy put a few things in his burlap sack to hide the large pile of rubles and marks. So, with one bulging satchel and a 100-pound burlap sack stuffed with old, moldy money, the Whormkovdovskivichychevs began their little trek.
No one in Gubxermn had ever seen a real map. One of the village elders, working on instinct, drew a crude map. The drawing pointed the Whormkovdovskivichychevs east. This was a terrible miscalculation. The elder’s proposed route would send them the whole length of Russia, over 6,000 miles, rather than to a northwest journey to the Baltic Sea of about 800 miles. Since no Gubxermnians had ever been more than a few miles from the village, who was to question the old “navigator”?
Off they went into the rising sun on a crisp June morning—Ruddy, with the stuffed, body-sized burlap sack riding his strong muscular back over a slightly stooped gait, and Layzee, carrying the misshaped suitcase in her right hand, while in her left arm, she cradled the nursing Swetty, gumming with enthusiasm at Layzee’s bared left tit, smacking and slurping, and little Butty brought up the rear, in step with his dad, trying to help boost Ruddy’s big load. Butty idolizes Ruddy; when he grows up he wants to be the best goat milker in Gubxermn, just like his dad.
The first day was rough. It began to rain two hours out. The temperature dropped to 37 degrees. They tramped for miles, soaked to the bone, shivering, teeth chattering, over vast stretches of knee-high scratchy weeds, up slippery slopes, and wading across cold, waist-deep creeks, stopping only to answer nature’s call. “Mjshnecpikovo yqan nov tchev,” (“Me have to poop.”) begged little Butty. When lightning and thunder began to sound like the end of the world, they sought shelter in a small glade of trees. It was twilight, and they had done an astounding 15 miles. Little did they know, they had 5,985 miles to go.
Layzee, in addition to carrying the water-soaked suitcase and a relentlessly siphoning Swetty, was shouldering two makeshift bandoleers with their meager rations. She dished out goat jerky and hunks of goat cheese. They wolfed it down. Then the Whormkovdovskivichykchevs leaned back, though they were soaking wet and shivering, and slept the sleep of the dead.
At dawn they were again eastward bound, dwarfed by the immense landscape. It seemed like they were the last people on earth. Butty broke the silence: “Renkjov jikn fdlnom bzq?” (“Are we there yet?”)
They marched on for days, drinking from small streams, and eating smaller and smaller portions of their dwindling rations, not faltering, driven by that one evening of magic sound, though the magic was fading a bit.
Ruddy knew they were going to have to find more sustenance. This was turning out to be a lot longer walk than he had anticipated.
Three weeks into the journey they came to a rutty dirt road. They took the road, which led them east, but slightly north. Ruddy had no idea if they were headed in the right direction. The road made it easier to walk. They walked twenty miles in 12 hours. That night they feasted on roasted owl and the last of the goat cheese. Ruddy had brought the owl down with an improvised sling made from his raggedy underpants. They slept soundly, unaware of the twinkling lights of Moscow 70 miles to the north.
The next day the road just seemed to fade away. Ruddy decided they should continue in the same direction the road would have gone. At that moment they heard a roar coming from behind them. It was a truck. A 1940-ish truck. A dilapidated Ford driven by a smiling, toothless, anciently old man with three other anciently old men, all squeezed next to the driver. The truck came to a squeaky stop. The toothless old man spoke a broken Russian, which of course Ruddy could not understand. Ruddy replied, “Ux ncok pdooj pxzpt dkussxy?” (“Rock to roll US and is A?”) The old man motioned for them to get in the back, while wondering in Russian “What the fuck” Ruddy had said. Ruddy and family clambered onto the truck bed. The old boys nearly broke their necks looking at Layzee’s bare tit with little Swetty hanging from it. Little Swetty took a break and gave a milky smile to the old lechers.
Gears ground and the truck jerked, shuddered and leapt forward, and they were on their way, road or no road. Ruddy hoped it was the right direction.
The family quickly became aware of the 600-pound manure-encrusted hog taking up half the truck bed. The hog was sleeping soundly and paid no attention to the new passengers. There was something else in the truck bed: a large wood box that smelled really good—a heck of lot better than their poop-coated friend. Ruddy opened the lid gently to take a look. He gasped as he saw thick slices of fresh bread with some sort of meat hanging out between the slices. Ruddy glanced over his shoulder through the cracked, cloudy rear window. The three passengers were sleeping, their heads bobbing around with each bump. The driver was concentrating on maneuvering the ruts and bumps. Ruddy passed one of the manly meat sandwiches to Layzee and another to Butty and took one himself. They devoured them in a matter of seconds. Ruddy carefully closed the lid on the big box; there was one sandwich left. They leaned back and joined the hog in a snore contest.
Two hours later the truck came to a clattering stop. The hog lifted his massive head and released a reverberating fart, then went back to sleep. The old man explained to Ruddy that this is where they turn north. Ruddy, of course, totally understanding not a word, obediently disembarked with his family and watched the old Ford, without a road, bumpily rattle away to the north.
There they stood on a landscape that had no end. Ruddy smiled at Layzee and asked, “Knzpcko yqozvtjp?” (“Are you ready, my love?”) Layzee returned the smile: “Zjjqonvhov ukvkwnp.” (“Of course, my love.”) Little Butty chimed in “Cpdxvn zhj krrhevc txvg.” (“Go is US rock.”) They laughed. Butty coughed hard and spit up. They frowned.
On they trudged. Heavy mist contributed to the creeping gloom of realizing their son was ill. They were helpless as his cough worsened. Layzee bundled him up as much as she could with her extra set of clothes. Ruddy wanted to carry him. Butty stubbornly refused. It was now five weeks into the journey and depression hung in the air as Butty began to cough up blood. Ruddy picked him up and carried him, despite the little guy’s hoarse protests.
Ruddy carried the burlap money sack over one shoulder and Butty against his other shoulder. He could feel Butty’s chest rattling through the layers of wet clothing. That night they slept very little, as their deathly ill son coughed almost continually. Their desperation was debilitating. That morning, the mist thickened into a dense fog. Butty developed a fever, and his speech was now slurred and incoherent.
About midday the fog lifted enough for them to see they had come to a very strange place. As far as the eye could see there were huge fallen dead trees, all a morbid gray and all pointing in the same direction, as if they had been blown down by some unearthly storm.
Their way was completely blocked by this macabre landscape of five-foot-thick trunks. It gave Ruddy the creeps.
Unable to penetrate the logjam, they made their way laterally, trying to skirt the obstacle. Ruddy was excessively warm from the physical exertion and from his continual physical contact with Butty’s increasing body temperature. Butty’s little body was on fire. Ruddy tried to block the terror he felt so Layzee would not notice, and Layzee tried to control her anguish so Ruddy would not notice.
Finally they came upon an overgrown, narrow dirt trail that gave them entry to the maze of decumbent giants. The trail appeared to be going their way.
They followed the vague trail through the eerie, dead forest for days. The scenery showed no signs of life as they covered less and less ground each day, because of Butty. He was worsening. His color was ghostly, his breathing was irregular and gurgley and his eyes were alternately staring at nothing or closed tightly. They were in big trouble.
There was little to kill for food. A small rodent (if they were lucky) or a low-flying bird would become a victim of Ruddy’s underpants sling. They drank from murky puddles that stagnated between the prone dead trees.
It was their fifth straight night in the dead forest. Ruddy was a very troubled man as he cradled an unconscious Butty with one arm and tried to comfort Layzee with his other arm. He held her tight as she quietly cried, grief-stricken. Little Swetty continued to nurse, oblivious to the desperate situation. Ruddy pulled his family tightly together. He had noticed each day was getting cooler—one more ominous feeling to deal with. He shuddered.
The forest of corpses whistled and groaned. The Whormkovdovskivichykchevs lay in a tight little clump amid the spooky giants on this miserable drizzling night. Exhaustion finally overpowered their grief, and they fell into a deep, forgiving sleep.
Three hours into their sleep, Butty became very still. His breath was barely detectable. His heartbeat became almost nonexistent. He gave a low, unnoticed moan, and all his vital signs shut down.
The night sky had cleared. A tiny, fast-moving pinpoint of light appeared a trillion billion miles above the family, amongst a trillion stars. It took a dive toward the universe, then toward the godforsaken ex-forest, and in a matter of seconds, it came to within a hundred yards of the sleeping family. It had become a glow 50 feet in diameter, hovering a few feet above the giant wood cadavers. The glow created thick, black, abstract shadows. A moment passed. Two silvery fluid shapes, like mercury, appeared over the giant logs. They came silently to the huddled family who were sleeping a deep, impenetrable sleep. The silvery figures gently lifted the motionless Butty from Ruddy’s cradle-like grasp and carried him tenderly to the hovering glow. Silently, the glow lifted off with Butty on board, disappearing in the stars as quickly as it had come. No one stirred, not even the perennially thirsty Swetty. Later that night Ruddy dreamed that dream where you can never get to where you’re going.
Daylight came with no sun. Layzee was the first to awaken: “Lnbbv’z thzcxohvev bhxutjtmy jixkt!” (“Butty’s gone! No, please, no!”) she screamed. Ruddy leaped to his feet, staggering a bit, immediately shouting, “Qndv qjjv Lnbbjv nhxztuulmyz?” (“Butty, where are you?”) They frantically scanned the landscape of log carnage. Mile after mile of five-foot-thick, colorless columns lay before them, disinterested in Ruddy’s and Layzee’s panic.
Suddenly, a tiny blond noggin appeared. It was their space traveler son climbing over one of those logs. “Ovqjnsmkl hsnmesov rgzz,” (“I had to pee-pee.”) Butty giggled. They ran to him and carefully hugged him, fearful they may hurt the little guy in his weakened condition. Tears of joy streamed down their cheeks. Even little Swetty let go of breakfast for a second, and burped a smile.
Butty made no mention of his nocturnal sojourn. He had color in his face. He had made an amazing recovery. Ruddy and Layzee were joyfully delirious and dumbfounded, but did not question their good fortune. They wanted to rest a day or two. However, Butty insisted they keep going. He was, miraculously, back to full strength. Layzee continued to cry with joy. As they marched on, Layzee kept looking back at Butty in disbelief. “Ojjvk smfhdk,” (“He’s okay.”) Ruddy assured her, and himself.
Ruddy noticed the weather was much cooler than the day before. It was not right for summer. They had no idea they were headed due north toward the Arctic Circle.
Ten miles into the day, they came to a fork in the trail. Ruddy was contemplating which direction to take. He had decided to stay their course when suddenly Layzee panicked again: “Ynkajzgor zbkuzinmj Lnbbjv?” (“Where’s Butty?”) Butty beckoned to them: “Knjizadonsk yyhvorov.” (“Come this way.”) He had taken the trail to the right. The sun, at that moment, broke through. Layzee looked at Ruddy and nodded. Ruddy smiled: “Gorskjh kumksp kaarkjpv.” (“We have a new captain.”)
Two days later they exited the graveyard of the fallen mighty, and entered a land of fertile green rolling hills with much wildlife. Ruddy took advantage with his trusty underpants sling. He provided a variety of varmints and birds for their dinners as they made their way through this land of plenty. Many small streams provided them with clean, ice-cold drinking water (coming from distant mountains they could not yet see).
Their spirits lifted. The fertile landscape and sunshine gave them back the energy and the will they had lost during Butty’s illness and during the horrible trek through the dead forest.
However, the environment began to slowly change. Day by day, as they proceeded, the landscape became barren. The wildlife grew scarce, and green rolling hills flattened into purplish, ash-like dirt. They lost their sunshine, as the days grew dreary and cooler. It began to rain and continued for days. They were able to capture small amounts of drinking water in their cupped hands. Walking was difficult, as the bare earth turned into ankle-deep purplish mud.
Ahead, Ruddy noticed a long, dark line that seemed to stretch to the horizon. As they got closer, they could see a strange man-made “thing.” It was a rusty falling-down chain-link fence. It stood in their path, but there were many places where the fence had collapsed. Ruddy wanted to cross it; however, Butty disagreed, insisting they make a half-left away from the fenced area. Layzee noticed an old rusty metal sign dangling from the sagging chain link. It had a black skull painted on it and some strange markings. It was the universal warning for radiation. Of course, she had no idea what the sign meant, except that Layzee did not like the black skull. Butty and Ruddy were still debating which way to go, when a terrified Layzee interrupted, “Zchzz xddrmz kg!” (“A strange horrible is!”) She was so shocked, her mouth kept moving, but no words came out. Little Swetty began to cry—a rare occurrence. Ruddy and Butty looked in the direction the stunned Layzee was pointing, through the rusty fence. They saw a small fox with a beautiful red coat of fur, but it had two heads and no hind legs. It looked like a fur sausage. The fox looked at the family, with its two heads, briefly, then turned and—with little weak whines—scurried away, dragging its sausage body.
They stood motionless for a moment wondering if they really saw what they had seen. Ruddy looked at Butty: “Xpzttm vfhccy cknp dbmjkpxo.” (“All right, Captain, it’s your way.”)
As they angled away from the endless fence, they noticed a bird flying overhead. It had only one wing and it flew in circles. Butty frowned: “Nfkjaphv hhz mvtzppx lzjd.” (“This place no go bad buzz place.”) Little Butty was so right. The Whormkovdovskivichykchev family was at the border of an old nuclear bomb test site, a location where the largest hydrogen bomb ever made had been exploded. After the bomb went off, authorities advised that no living creature should ever enter that fenced area for 48,000 years. Everything within a 50-mile radius of ground zero would be destined for deformity and death. There's very little in the official records about the earth-rattling blast. Fifty-six of Russia's elite physicists, 142 high-ranking military personnel and 27 most-favored members of the Politburo were observing the test from 50 miles away in a concrete bunker with walls 12 feet thick. All were poised with celebratory chilled vodka at hand.
They were vaporized. No trace was ever found of them, the bunker or their equipment, which included 20 slow-motion 70mm 3D cameras that were to film the test at a million frames a second.
The only accurate measurements were recorded on the other side of the globe by some very alert, but scared shitless, physicists at the Los Alamos Atomic Research Center in New Mexico, USA.
Nearly 50 years after the terrifying test, echoes can still be heard bouncing around some of the earth's deepest canyons.
The Russians had designed the bomb to deliver a massive 50 megaton explosion. They woefully miscalculated. It was over 134 megatons, equivalent to 134 million tons of dynamite.
The airplane, with a 12-man crew, that dropped the 75,000 pound "God of all bombs" just disappeared, until 12 years later it was found some 10,000 miles away in the outback of Australia. It had been reduced from an aircraft the size of a Super 747 to a 3-inch aluminum ash that buzzed. An Aborigine had found it and was wearing it as part of a ceremonial necklace. He wondered why his whole body began to glow like a lightning bug, and how come his teeth had fallen out, just before he dropped dead. The local coroner discovered the source of the unfortunate Aborigine's demise.
The killer ash was returned to Russia in a six-inch-thick lead box, and is now on display in the Moscow Atomic Museum. (It also provides heat for the building.)
The family found themselves trekking the foothills of a mountain range dead ahead. They were getting very tired and they were much disturbed by what they had seen at the fence. However they kept going. It became a more strenuous uphill trek. The terrain was rocky, with many pine trees. They stumbled frequently, causing mini landslides. The pine trees became thicker as the Whormkovdovskivichykchevs climbed higher. They circumvented deep ravines and they carefully edged around precipice after precipice, some which dropped hundreds of feet, just inches from their measured steps.