Michael Urzhakov

Michael Urzhakov graduated from the Urals Academy of Architecture and Arts (1990) and the University of Liverpool (1992). He currently lives and works in Toronto, Moscow, and Amsterdam. He previously worked for a few years as a production designer at the "Strana" film studio. As a journalist, he worked with the following journals: Vesch.Doc, Move, Stolnik, and Arkhitekton. Urzhakov authored several books, the last of which was published by Ultrakultura/U-Factory/AST (The House that Mike Built).

Michael Urzhakov's psychological puzzle, or how Mr. Abramovich killed Mr.Putin.

Kuluangwa is a quest, a "mission impossible," a thriller and fantasy, combining science fiction with today's headlines. A global conspiratorial meeting set in the background of a sportscast. Real events are reflected in the imagination of the author's mind, where all that seems clear and straightforward becomes shrouded in deeper mystery – the further you read, the stronger the mystery. There is no Entry.
But there is an Exit! Take the impossible mission into your hands and confidently spread like a starfish above the laser rays of a sophisticated alarm system – the separate stories of this entertaining book. Bind them together, apply one to the other, take satisfaction and wild pleasure from the fact that you took part in the rescue of civilization.
Just don't read it in the office!
Alexey Mogilevsky

In any business, especially in a creative and difficult business as writing a novel, the assistance and support of loved ones is critical. So – with sincere gratitude to Marina Konstantinova, Alexey Mogilevsky, Dmitry and Elena Tikhostoup, Olga Mironova, Egor Ouzikov, and Maria Ouzikova for helping this project happen.


...One way or another, the ultimate meaning of the entire history of civilization rested on banally "rolling" the balls into pre-determined pockets.

Well, isn't that the biggest triumph of stupidity? Like someone said: "Stepping on the lines of fate on Earth, guarded by Gods, I will come to their cradle…" Is this my fortune and destiny? What a paradox! When you're out of strength – it's time to go. How did it go again? "Ton guha!" thought Romanov with satisfaction and pulled the trigger…

AUTHOR: Michael Urzhakov
GENRE: Fiction


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The action takes place in different corners of the Earth.
The events are scattered in time – from descriptions of the history of ancient civilizations to our days. At the centre of the story is Kuluangwa – a small rubber ball, a "football" filled with mystical, unexplained, and even magical qualities that lead the ball's varying owners to global fame and fortune, as well as to a tragic end. As the plot develops, the author reveals his vision of possible scenarios for modern society, linked to the "end of the world".

"Mike! Mi-i-i-ike! Mi-i-i-ike! Come down to play football with us! Come on, you sleepy head!"
"Hey! You bo-o-o-oys, get away from my car! Do not lean against the car, devils! Step aw-a-a-ay from my-y-y ca-a-a-ar!"
"What are you yelling at the boys for, Rudolph Samuilovich!? Who needs your shitty 'penny'? Hey Sasha, Mike is sleeping! He went fishing early in the morning with his father. They returned late. Go kick around without him. Come back after lunch, maybe he'll be up by then. Or why won't you play tomorrow – you're on holiday anyway!"
"Okay, Aunt Rita!"
"Boys, get away from my car!"


Chaunsky District, Chukotka, Russian Federation 167 kilometers north of the village Vumalka
November 4, 1997

"...One hundred and twenty-seven… one hundred and twenty-eight… one hundred and twenty-nine… one hundred and thirty... Forgive me, I can't go on. Allow me to rest... just like yesterday, and maybe two days ago, or three... and, most likely, two hours ago. Who can keep track of this stalled time? And my path, stalled in these blizzards... After all, we're only people. And people are not sand – we can go against the wind while we have strength. I'm philosophizing again. Just shut up and move... one hundred and thirty-one, one hundred and thirty-two... A little more to one hundred and forty steps… and to sleep..."

Dressed in overalls resembling a diving-suit made of papier-mâché, the man was trudging through a violent snowstorm, through the drifts, the bitter cold and impenetrable darkness, muttering under his breath words understandable only to him. Not looking ahead or to the sides, he walked as if on a tried and tested path. The wind tore away loose scraps of feathers out of the halls of his suit.

"...One hundred and thirty-three..."

The man paused wearily. "Kuluangwa, let's agree that tomorrow I will walk seven more steps than today. Right now I must lie down, I just have to..." Turning away from the wind, he clumsily fell sideways into a snow bank and tucked his knees in, firmly bracing himself with his hands, as if dreading to fall apart. The cyclone immediately began to cover his whole body with snow – his shoulders, his head in an odd, baggy hood, his legs in shapeless pants torn at the knees, and his strange-looking leather bag that was caught around his back by straps of leather.

"One hundred and thirty-four..."

With his ice-cold hands, the man ripped his paper suit at his chest and pulled out a black ball of thread. Or was this a coconut? No, this sphere was neither an object of folk art nor an exotic fruit. It was a black, slightly formless... football? Someone clearly had a bite of it. On its sides were grooves that could've originated from an invasion of diligent field mice. Also, there was a small round stamp with the image of a strange dancing man fringed by a braid of obscure characters. These kinds of stamps are used to sear cattle and horses before they join a herd.

"One hundred and thirty-five..."

The spherical object lived its life in the stiff hands of the traveler. It seemed as if it exuded hot air. The snow melted before it could reach the tired man, enveloping his chest, face, and weathered hands with white steam. The drifter threw his head back, releasing it from underneath the hood and revealing an emaciated face dried-up to the bones, a ragged beard, and colourless hair glued to his forehead. However, his sunken, discoloured eyes were full of light. With the fumbling fingers of his right hand, he sent a pinch of stinging snow to his mouth. He coughed. Once again, throwing his head back, he suddenly hit his neck on something hard and muttered, "...one hundred and thirty-six..." Turning abruptly with all his strength, the man began to dig out the snow behind his head. Quickly, his fingers came upon the black basalt. Grabbing the ball with both hands, he pressed it against the cold stone and whispered, "Kuluangwa, my brother, look! We've come, my dear! You were right! This is your Big Land! I did it as you wanted - I did it! YOU did it!"

"One hundred and thirty-seven… one hundred and thirty-eight… one hundred thirty-nine..."

Tightly clenching the ball, he pressed his back to the basalt and wept. Meanwhile, a storm carrying tons of snow from the Chukchi Sea continued to form a snow-den around the traveler. Only his head and hands holding the ball on his chest remained uncovered. The ball continued to melt the snow around him. With a detached look, the wanderer looked into the snowy whirlwind over his head, in what was once the sky. His parched lips whispered, "You know what, tomorrow I will not go anywhere, brother Kuluangwa. The next one hundred forty paces you'll have to roll yourself." The wanderer sagged again and was coughing, but now from barking with laughter. "Thank you, my dear, for bringing me to this boulder... As Alexander Pushkin would say, 'That's where my grave lay...'" A gust of wind tore holes in the hood, releasing gray fuzz. Mingled with the snow, the fluff descended onto the surface of the black ball and suddenly became sparks in blue flame, like mosquitoes over an old kerosene lamp.

Burning right through the soaked-through paper-suit, the ball slowly melted into the traveler's chest and pulled off the dry skin with an angry burn, exposing the poor man's pink ribs. But the wanderer did not groan; he merely shuddered without stirring, shaking off the ashes of paper and downs. The man was dead. In his glass eyes, the snow storm fell apart for a moment, instead revealing a clear starry sky unexpectedly painted in emerald green. Then again, the blizzard closed the curtain and finally swept the motionless body. The ball, which was tightly pressed to the man's corpse, slowly began to cool down and soon turned into a black, heavy rock.

"One hundred and forty..."

Coast of the Chukchi Sea

"Hunting has become so bad here, although…"
"Another day or two of this kind of blizzard, and you can forget about hunting."
"Just look at how heavy this storm is! It's been a while since something like this."
Two Evenks, in heavy, long-skirted reindeer suites, were talking inside a small dwelling quietly, as if afraid of frightening someone away. Their palms were reaching out to the hissing flames of the kudlik, oil lamp. Their narrow eyes gleamed with each oscillation of the flame. In a hole near the ceiling the wind was singing like the howling of wolves. It was cold. The rare snowflakes that made it inside by flying through the ceiling-hole hissed in the fire.
Suddenly, a hollow voice behind the stretched-skin wall woke up the reindeers. Two huskies in a corner pricked up their ears.

"What is it? There have never been bears or wolves here. I will go check it out."
One of the hunters crept out, nearly getting his rifle tangled in the domicile skins. Upon returning, he threw a couple of words to his companion:
"In the morning, nevertheless, we must go. Have you seen the sky… it's green. Freaking green! The storm is coming. The big storm."
"Yes, this is a bad place..." said the second hunter while patting scruff huskies and squinting into the flames. "We'll sleep now and take off in the morning. How are the animals?"
"C'mon, what the hell could happen to them?"

Just a few dozen steps remained for the unfortunate traveler to pass in order to reach the snow-covered domicile of the native nomads from the village of Vumalka. The howl of the husky resonated: Ouuuuu-aah-oo-oo-oo-oo!


Chichen-Itza, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
October 2, 1520

Ouuuuu-aah-oo-oo-oo-oo!... Her eyelids parted heavily. But the picture before her eyes was indistinct. There were yellow-green flashes, flashes of light through the milky haze of age. She did not immediately realize why she was awakened, whether it was because of the deaf groans from the depths of the hut or from ordinary kicks in the womb. The kicks have recently become more frequent. The child felt the lack of water in the mother's womb and demanded liquid. This will be Tolana's first childbirth, but she did not know how to soothe a fragile fruit. Her husband's mother, Ma-Is, was an old woman and could barely move a leg. Surprisingly, she was still on her feet! Almost all of her peers were old women, who were teachers of the tribe and supervised the tribe's younglings. One after another, these women simply dried up in the eyes of Tolana over the past three weeks. Each morning, they hung out coloured blankets at the doors of their huts, giving the sign that they are still alive. Then they went back inside and lay motionless in the dry vacuum until sunset. Where no signal was hoisted, the priest of the tribe of Vak Balama sent two warriors. Wrapped in blankets, the dead were carried past the Place of One Thousand Columns and past the Temple of Chtuloq to the end of the cornfield that had not harvested crops. The bodies were cast and covered by piles of stone to prevent wild animals, mad from heat, hunger and thirst, from ripping apart the corpses. Every corpse lay on top of old graves, and again everything was buried by stones. A foul stench was all around. The warriors covered up their faces, leaving only a slit for the eyes. At night, the burial mound was surrounded by burning torches, cries scared off animals, the trunks of dead trees were beaten by beetles, and drums were banged.

Tolana woke up every morning before dawn, carefully straightened her shoulders and clasped her hands at the waist, making steps like a duck to go to a thicket near the village surrounding the city wall to collect the dew drops on the broad leaves of ol-ka-hyo. Large drops were shaken off into the flat clay dish, while small drops were simply licked by the tongue. An hour later, the tongue swelled. And so – every morning for the past four moons was like this. There was no other water.

The child inside her demanded water and food. He wanted to live. According to the prediction of the old grandmother, not much time was left until its birth – only two moons. Walking became increasingly difficult for Tolana. Initially, she could reach the Sacred Cenote by carefully treading barefoot on stone-like scorched earth. She approached the edge of the sinkhole and stared intently into its depths. Has the water come – have the gods become kind? But the same sweet smell of rotting corpses hit her nostrils – the poor girls, among which was her just little sister. Tolana was taken aback by disgust, felt sick, and in recent days threw off her trips to the dead cenote.

She wanted to immediately go collect the morning moisture from the leaves, but the sun was already high, and Tolana realized that she overslept. She felt her tongue being torn by sharp pain. Caressing her face with the palm of her hand, she felt the scab of dried blood. Two fingers reaching the swollen tongue, Tolana touched the scar in the middle. Although it had healed, each movement of the tongue caused pain. Pain was also present in her large stomach, already beginning to sink down – a sign of labour approaching. Tolana leaned her head, moving it side to side, trying to shake off the numbness and restore the events of yesterday. Pain anywhere else did not respond, as it lived only in the stomach and at the tip of her tongue.

Gentle rustling and moaning made her look around, and Tolana recognized their source – in the corner of the hut, on old rags and covered with a striped blanket, her husband, Kuluangwa, was moaning. The entire lower part of the blanket was covered in spots of dried blood. Kuluangwa lay on his back and hazily whispered something. Tolana stooped below to parse the words of her husband. "Tomorrow… everything will be fine! Vak Balama said that, remember? Tomorrow will rain… Chaak has drunk. We did it... He is now satisfied. He shall give us water. He should... our child." The man's voice broke and died. "Yes, Kuluangwa," said Tolana, barely moving her swollen tongue.

She put her head on her husband's chest and closed her eyes. Memories of yesterday flashed in her head. She remembered the parable that the high priest Vak Balama told them yesterday in the temple.

"The path chosen by other tribes was one of defeat, giving away all that they had under their chests and armpits, so that it would blossom. Such a bloom meant that each tribe that was brought as sacrifice for Chaak had their hearts ripped out. But before that, Chaak conveyed his powers to the Balama clan – Balama-Quitzé, Balama-Aqaba and Iki-Balama… my glorious ancestors. He transmits this force up until now, and this power has never deceived us. We are accustomed to abstain from food while expecting the appearance of dawn. We are awake, waiting for sunrise. We guard the Great Star that rises first before the sun, when the day is engaged. Our gaze is fixated on there, the sunrise. There, from whence came our gods.

But, that was not where we got our power and sovereignty. We conquered and subdued the large tribes and small tribes, when we offered them in sacrifice to Chaak and the Holy Grain. We offered him the blood, flesh, chest and armpits of all those people in order to water and to revive the Holy Grain. And a great power has come to us. Great was our wisdom, when we accomplished our deeds in the dark. But then came a time when Chaak demanded more. It was not enough for the Holy Grain of Chaak. Our offerings were not enough for the one of the six sacred grains that He brought to our land. And He said to me – and I to you: "Children of the Corn, express your gratitude before your last exodus! Do what is necessary: prick your ears, pierce your loins, and commit your sacrifice! That will be your gratitude in front of me - and I will repay you." And I, Vak Balama, your priest, tell you: it is time to do everything that Chaak wants for the irrigation and flowering of the Holy Grain."

Tolana also remembered for how long, how very long, she dragged Kuluangwa on the narrow steps down from the top of the temple. She remembered how hard the child fought in her womb, resisting every strain of the mother. The warm hands of old Ma-Is helped drag Kuluangwa into the hut, put his limp body into the corner on a low couch and covered him with a blanket. But what came before this? Her memory was confused and events were not restored. Kuluangwa was breathing hoarsely, while Tolana's head ascended and descended with his every sigh. Then he stretched with a groan, exhaling pain, straightening his muscles that had stiffened at night. The blanket harbouring his body slipped to the floor and Tolana looked up, not fully realizing what had opened in front of her. She suddenly gasped. What she saw made her tightly shut her eyes. Kuluangwa's entire lower body was covered with scabs of dried blood – his legs, hips, ankles, and feet. A large, ugly, black and red body part faintly trembled between his legs like a sponge. What once took an active part in the tender and the creation of a small creature in her womb had turned into an unimaginable nightmare. And Tolana recalled yesterday.


Buenos Aires, Argentina
October 14, 1972

The day was drawing to an end.
"Diego! Diego, what is it with you! Why don't you ever listen to your mother! You'll smash your head in such darkness. How much longer can you fool around? Come home right now… ri-i-i-ight no-o-o-ow!"
There was no answer.
"Give me a moment, mama! Well, until the next goal, 'cause we're tied!
"So you'll be rushing around till the morning?"
"Nope, we're gonna finish soon!"
The mother walked away from the third floor window, taking with her the faded laundry that had been baking under the merciless sun on a rope crossing Santo Domingo Street. Downstairs, in the darkness illuminated only by the dim lights of a few windows, a throng of teenagers was chasing a ball, excitedly shouting something ungodly. This game, already lasting dozens of halves, started in mid-afternoon, from the moment school finished. The boys played in the yard among the crowded block houses, the walls of which were completely covered with graffiti. Here and there, the facades were clung onto by tin shacks – pantries for all sorts of junk, garages for broken trucks, motorcycles, and bikes. Between the huts as well – dried up laundry. The boys' game was accompanied by a cacophony of screaming traders, roaring babies, rattling cars, melodies of bossa-nova and sounds of salsa.

Jamas imagine que llegaria este dia donde apostaria yo toda mi vida, por amarte y por hablarte otra vez pero que diablos ya perdi todo mi tiempo, y por mis errores ahora estoy sufriendo quisiera regresar. Pero antes de andar y salir de tu vida y andar solo quisiera llorar y sacarme de adentro tus besos tu cuerpo . . .

On one side, the goalposts were represented by a dusty gateway arch overgrown with stunted vines. On the other side – a pair of empty boxes. The short kid who responded to the call of his mother seemed to have played the best in this poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Taking the ball to his chest, he easily moved it from his torn knee to the shin. Smoothly beating the opponent, the boy made a masterly kick to send the ball rocketing between the two boxes.
"Go-o-o-al!" One group of boys rushed to hug the striker, while the other stood in silence at the gate, rolling the ball. Meanwhile, the capital of Argentina was descending into a warm October night.

"You shouldn't be like this to him, Dalma," said Diego, the boy's father, in whose honour the child was named. He came from behind and gently put his arm around his wife's shoulders.
"After that adventure of yours with him in Mexico, he's crazy on that football." Dalma nervously freed herself from his arm, "You know, he even sleeps with that stupid ball in an embrace. Our little Mary sleeps with her doll! But at his age, he shouldn't be sleeping with toys!"
"Well, he is still a child. Ten years – what do you want?" Diego paused. "Incidentally, yesterday I spoke with Antonio Labruna, the schoolmaster."
"Yes, I know Antonio!" retorted Dalma. "So what?"
"Well, he said that… in general, our little guy is doing very badly at school…"
"Oh, is that it?!"
"… But on the other hand, in football," the father continued, "he is very good! A genius! Antonio wants to put him on the senior school team for city competitions. You remember how he was bullied like a little chicken a year ago because he couldn't put together two movements with the ball in gym class. And now…"
"…And now our boy surpassed himself by kicking a stupid ball around the street!" She said with disappointment, "We need him to spend more time on the important subjects. Yet you continue to indulge him…"
"Don't you worry so much, Dalma! Everything will be alright. Our boy will fulfill his dream. You'll see – he'll become a hero of Argentina!" Dalma grunted, while Diego went on, fascinated, despite the sarcasm in the look of his wife.
"We, the working people always need football! It makes us free! It elevates our mood, provides food for an evening of chatter with a glass of wine. By the way, let me open a bottle for dinner! It's better than grumbling and frowning all the time. And all the sciences will eventually come to Diego with time. He'll learn how to read and write."
"It would also be good if at least he learned to count," again hemmed the mother, "so he doesn't end up like his father, who has nothing in his pockets to count. Yes, and you're babbling about football like at some rally. 'Football makes us free!' Ugh! I almost fell asleep!"
"Alright, alright, I'll talk to him," gave in Diego, seeing what Dalma was getting at.

At this point, little Diego clumsily stumbled through door. He was a sturdy child of short height for his ten years of age, covered in dust and with eyes glowing. His left hand firmly pressed a black ball against himself.
"Papa, papa! Mama! Five – three! We finished them!" Diego was raging with pride.
"But you said, up until the first goal…" His mother frowned with displeasure. "I warmed your dinner twice!"
"Yes, I rolled them a fourth, and then, while thinking to leave or not, I sent a fifth to the right. And then, Aunt Samantha turned off the light in her window… I couldn't see my ball, so we had to go home."
"And who scored the first three, son?" his father asked with a sly smile.
"Also me, papa. Who else?"
Dalma seemed to have replaced her anger with compassion, going into the kitchen and warming dinner for a third time. The father patted Diego's curly head and leaned to his ear, quietly, conspiratorially whispering:
"Central striker Diego Gonzalez, while mama is busy with dinner, I have something for you."
Slipping through the dark corridor past the door into the kitchen where his mother rattled dishes and cursed as she dispersed the smoke from the stove, they entered Diego's small room, hung with pictures from covers of sports magazines. The father closed the door and said,
"Maybe it's time you stopped kicking around," he started from afar, "this filthy, old, black ball, of dark Mexican origins?"
"But, papa…" Diego cringed at the thought of being deprived of his single favorite preoccupation.
"Do not even start," the father went on in a deliberately strict manner.
"But why? I promise that I will do my homework on time. I won't ever skip school. I promise! I promise! I promise!" Big tears flowed down his face.
"Oh! I never knew that you could cry!" The father chuckled, "Alright, don't howl, I just wanted to say that you've played enough with this prehistoric ball, Diego. Why don't you look under your bed? I think there is something waiting for you now for four hours!"
Diego gave his father a suspicious glance and crawled under the bed, from where a moment later came out a hysterical cry of joy.
"Olé! Olé! Olé-é-é-é! Thank you, papa!"
Like a brisk snake, he crawled out from under the bed and his trembling hands lay a football, covered in shiny black and white hexagons.
"It's real! Leather! The guys will be so pleased. Maybe our team will even be allowed to play on a real field now!"
The father, still pretending to have a stern face, said, "But you must promise your mother and I that this will not harm your schooling! And especially – mathematics."
"Of course, papa," Diego was barely listening to him as he swept into the kitchen, "Mama, ma-a-a-ma-a-a, look what I have! Papa gave me this, a ball from real leather!"
"I hope you won't have any more problems at school. Understand?" The mother tried to sound resolute, "Now go wash your hands, you little monkey… with so-o-o-ap!"
"Yes, mama, I promise!"
"What is the matter with your hand?" She grabbed Diego's wrist, as he was about to slip by. Dried blood protruded along the edges of the dark plaster glued over his entire left palm. "Your sore has still not healed? Tomorrow we go to the doctor, my uncle Savigna. What is this? Three weeks have passed, but the cut has not healed! You can easily catch an infection! How are you going to play without your hands?"
"But I play using my legs," responded the central striker with an infectious boyish laugh as he headed to bathe.

There, left alone, and furtively glancing at the door, Diego grimaced as he ripped the dirty plaster. Then, his face turned pale and serious as he washed the wound in the cold running tap water and, raising his hand closer to the face, looked at it carefully. Indeed, the wound began to tighten. The boy dabbed it with a piece of toilet paper, which quickly turned into a faint pink colour. Diego quivered his hand, brushing a momentary stupor, and pasted the plaster back into place. Then with both hands he "combed" his rough curls, showed himself in the mirror his pink tongue and to his mother's "Di-e-e-ego!" he shouted back: "I'm coming, ma-a-a!"

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