(under the pen-name Nail Izmaylov)
79 600 words in Russian
First published: Saint Petersburg, «Azbuka-Classica» Publishing, 2012, 10000 copies.
Nail is a happy urban boy with almost everything to be completely happy. A joyful dad, a caring mom, and a carefree little sister. There’s a family apartment under mortgage, a car under financing, sun in the sky, spring drops dripping outside, online shooters and a knife as a gift. There’s no trouble worse than failing a class, no punishment harsher than a password on his computer.
Nail is an unhappy boy abandoned by everyone, with almost everything to be completely miserable. His dad wilted, his mom got scary, his little sister tries not to cry. There’s damp forest, a cold night, dug up dirt, smoke in the eyes and something red at the doorstep. There’s Ubyr. And no hope, no power at all. Just hurt, just bruises, just fatigue – plus his little sister, mom and dad. He is to save and protect them.
“Ubyr” is a myth and folklore based, at the same time modern story about parents and children, about clan and memory, about puberty and maturation, about life and death.
14-year old Nail lives a happy life of a city teenager: he studies at school and trains in a gym, he surfs the Net. One day he finds that his parents who have just returned from a village commemoration of Marat, a late distant relative, turn into terribly suffering monsters. They become a lethal threat for themselves and everyone around, including Dila, Nail’s 8-year-old sister. The parents are hijacked by Ubyr – a half-forgotten shapeless monster from Turkic and the Volga region myths which devours human’s soul and body, turning him into an obedient puppet or a corpse. Nail realizes that doctors or police won’t help him and flees home with Dila. In the beginning of narration, he promised his parents never to abandon his little sister, later he reiterates the same to Dila – despite the fact they are more used to fight rather than get along.
The children intend to come to their grandfather who lives in a town not far, but are forced to abandon a commuter train after conflicts with young hoodlums, an old maniac and a police patrol. Looking for a shelter for the night, children find an old farm where they are attacked by huge wild pigs, then suddenly find themselves in the village where their parents had become Ubyr’s victims. The village turns out to be deserted. A distant relative, whose help Nail hoped for, apparently passed away two years ago.
As children make their way to a railroad station, a local evil spirit from the fields – Albasty the strangler – plays games on them. They lose their way, but find an ancient hut where a lonely old woman lives. She’s an ancient keeper of sacred knowledge and skills, capable of controlling petty spooks (Bichura, a small quarrelsome browny is an example) and teaching people to fight greater ghosts. Yet, these days nobody needs her skills and herself. All nearby villages are abandoned, and Ubyr became the territory’s owner. Marat, whose body Ubyr hijacked, wanders around the old woman’s house at nights.
The boy asks the old woman to share her skills with him. She refuses, explaining that he comes from a wrong clan, plus his knowledge of native language and customs is poor. However, the old woman gives in to his persuasion, in exchange taking his promise – to recollect and speak her name after her death, thus releasing her soul.
Nail undergoes initiation. It turns out he’s no ghost hunter; instead, he is a natural born hunter and pathfinder. He catches animals as designated by the old woman, enabling her to make ingredients necessary to grow a magic flower on the grave of undead Marat hijacked by Ubyr.
Carrying the flower, Nail boards a commuter train to reach and save his parents. On a train, he again runs into the same hoodlums, maniac and policemen. In the ensuing conflict, undead Marat storms into the railcar. In a terrible fight, he exterminates everyone but Nail who manages to kill the creature with a flower and other artifacts obtained from the old sorceress. After that, he remains with no magical resources to save the parents. He gets off the train to return to the old woman, but walks into trap set by Ubyr and Albasty.
As a boy and a virgin, Nail cannot become Ubyr’s victim. Instead, Ubyr immobilizes him by driving him into the ground, steals the boy’s voice and takes on his appearance, and sets out to get Dila.
After escaping the trap, Nail finds the old woman’s house to be empty. He follows the trails which takes him to a swamp. The boy finds his sister deep in the bog. The girl doesn’t look alive and is completely covered with wax. Nail is horrified; out of despair he tries to melt the wax in a steam bath. The girls comes back to life. Her brother guesses the old lady did not just disappear, but gave her life to save Dila from Ubyr.
Nail settles Dila to bed for the night, and sets out to a new chase with a new plan in mind. He lures Albasty to the grave where Ubyr is hiding and makes her turn into stone, crushing the monster underneath. However, Ubyr manages to escape. Nail hurries back to the hut, Ubyr storms in appearing as the old woman’s cat. Nail wins the fight, but to finish off the monster he has to kill the cat. He cannot force himself to do it, and Ubyr escapes, having received another hit from the boy.
This is when Nail discovers that his sister is not breathing. He cannot find a direct cause for it, and he weeps and curses himself for breaking his promise – never to abandon his sister even for a short time. In a fit of remorse, he plays a record of his parents singing an old Tatar song on his smartphone.
The song does a miracle as described in a fairy tale quoted in the beginning of the narration: Ubyr’s tooth that had been hidden under a pillow and stung the girl springs out of her head.
Dila returns to life.
Epilogue: The children return to Kazan with the cat, but Nail, now with a whole set of instruments to save the parents, does not hurry home, and doesn’t even realize why. Only when Dila notices a swallow circling high in the sky, Nail recalls that Swallow is the secret name of the old sorceress from the forest which he promised to remember. Nail finally gets back his voice previously scorched by Ubyr, and both children loudly speak her name.
The sun flashes in the sky, and without paying attention to another flash that usually accompanies the Ubyr, the children walk home.