Scarier than Stephen King

The possibility of being born again frightens me even more than the inevitability of death.


Have you ever drunk wine at 10 in the morning? Before the war, I watched my diet, played sports, and built my career, but now I drink wine as soon as I wake up. Sometimes it is unbearable to contemplate the ruins of my present.

So, I’m drinking. Right now. Dry white wine. I’m sitting in shorts on a sunny balcony and staring out the windows of the building across the street. There, a young family congratulates their child on his birthday. In the window I see a golden inflatable balloon in the shape of the number 9.

Naturally, I didn’t know it was a random child from the building across the street’s birthday. But this day came, and I became its silent witness. However, I decided to drink wine this morning for a completely different reason.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking that I need to go to France to ask for political asylum there. In Ukraine they will put me in prison because I say too many unnecessary things. Silence for me means agreeing with what public officials say. So, I have no choice. I have to speak, otherwise my death will be called the death of a volunteer. Nah. Enough!

Sometimes I wake up thinking about buying a ticket to Thailand and getting lost among the scooter vendors. Often, I wake up feeling the acute need to save my own ass, and then I remember that impulsive actions will only make the situation worse. Then I have a glass of wine. Jerk off. Try to fall asleep.

I still dream of war. I dream about how indifferent officials send me to fight against my will. I dream about how parents laugh at me, showing off their children as replacements for me. I dream of indifference, and it scares me much more than the lunatic clown from Stephen King’s It. One of my favorite King novels. 

But this night I dreamed of something scarier than the clown and indifference. I dreamed of my dad, who suddenly called me. Abandoning me with my mom when I was 3 years old left me with deep trauma that I now use as ink for my prose and analysis of modernist works.

The thing is, my dad never called me. He didn’t wish me happy birthday. Never. I didn’t even receive from him a pitiful inflatable balloon with a number representing my age. Nope. My reality is a single-parent family. War. Emigration. Nothing could break me because I’m already broken. I’m peeping on a beautiful family at 10 o’clock in the morning. Damn. What’s up? That clown is supposed to be the creep, not me. 

In this dream, my dad was damn real. I recognized his voice. At a conscious age, I heard his voice only once. As a student, I came to his house to meet him. I arrived in another city. He was not at home. But I met his neighbor, who was surprised at the unprecedented similarity of our appearance. He suggested to call my dad. So, he did. He said that I came to see him. In response, my dad asked to call the police.

And now in a dream he ingratiatingly asks what hobbies I developed abroad? He wonders if I play sports. Am I running on a stadium? Do I smoke? Am I eating right? His caring questions are alarming. For the first time in my life, I feel interest in myself from the one who created me. So, he laughs in my ear and tells me not to lose heart.

At this point you can rightly ask, what was so terrible about this dream? The fact is that then for the first time I saw in my dad not a dad, but an ordinary person. Moreover, not just a neutral person, but a vile one. Suddenly I understand that all these caring questions of his are aimed at making me accidentally tell him a secret – how I managed to leave Ukraine, despite the ban for men from 18 to 60 years old to leave the country. Damn. Da-a-a-amn!

My dad doesn’t want to fight. My dad is scared. He calls his abandoned son and asks to share the secret with him. But this is not a secret. At least not anymore. In my books, I have long described how exactly I managed to cross the border. But he doesn’t want to read my books. Even in my dreams he doesn’t care about me indeed. This indifference is of a different kind. But it wasn’t the thing that scared me, it was the fall of the unknown idol. The dad I never had in reality existed in my imagination and was certainly idealized. And suddenly the idealized version of the BIG DAD collapsed, just as the monument to Lenin, Zhukov, and Pushkin collapsed in Ukraine after the beginning of the full-scaled war. So, should I help someone who once abandoned me?

Frankly speaking, I don’t know what exactly I missed growing up without a dad. I don’t know what children who grow up in a complete family get. For me, a dad is something as necessary as teeth in my ass. I was raised by a real lesbian family – my mom and granny. This is the norm in post-Soviet countries. It is ironic that these countries are usually against same-sex marriage, although at least half of their population consist of them.

Books have become my salvation. I’ve loved reading since childhood. I loved literature lessons. I read my first Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary, when I was about 14. I remember this book with the same fondness with which I remember how my first partner’s homophobic dad caught us having sex.

In truth, Stephen King’s novels arn’t so scary. You could say they’re fascinating. You could call them psychological. But not scary. Here, again, it turns out that it is not words that frighten, but actions. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Stephen King banned the publication of his novels in Russian, thus speaking out against Russian aggression. But did politicians and the military suffer from this?

Stephen King may not know, but Russian is also spoken in Belarus. As well as in Ukraine. I’m tired of explaining that Russian is my native language, not Ukrainian. I’m not an exception, it’s just the way it is over there. 

Thanks to the Russian language, I could have fun with a guy from Kazakhstan whom I met in the Czech Republic. Language is not the property of a political regime. Language is a tool that helps people from different countries communicate. 

Hating a language does not overthrow a regime. That’s why it is important to understand exactly what is an enemy and what is not. We are already divided by fear, so why do we allow ourselves to continue to be divided into small groups?

In Russia, quite a few books were already banned, but King became a writer who went ahead – he banned himself. My dad left the family. Stephen King left the Russian-language book market. My dad came to me in a dream to find out how to escape from Ukraine. I’m spying on a beautiful European family and scaring myself more than a goddamn clown.

I’m sitting on the sunny balcony at 10 am and drinking wine. I watch as, in the building across the road, a child receives gifts from his parents. The child’s father then tightens his tie, kisses the child’s forehead, and leaves the apartment. A couple of minutes later I see a man leaving the building via the main entrance.

Looking at how someone else’s father is gradually moving away, I want to get up and shout something to him. Something that would make him return to the child and never even think about leaving the family. I want to scream so badly that it becomes obvious that I’m drunk.

A beautiful family. Sport and a career. This is all too damn far from me. Further than someone else’s dad walking towards the bus stop. Further than virginity. Even after the war this will not end. The internal front grows more impenetrable. After the nightmare-awakening on February 24, 2022, no one will keep healthy. All I can really do is document it. 


This piece is a part of  a series, The Mining Boy Notes, published on Mondays and authored by Ilya Kharkow, a writer from Ukraine. For more information about Ilya, see his website. You can support his work by buying him a coffee.