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“Pkhentz” is a fantastic tale of science fiction, describing the emotional experiences and survival techniques of an alien from another planet whose spaceship goes off course and crash-lands somewhere in Siberia. The alien is the sole survivor of the crash. In order to survive in a hostile environment, he disguises himself as a human being, assumes the alias Andrei Kazimirovich Sushinsky, and eventually obtains work as a bookkeeper in Moscow. Although the creature is vegetablelike, with numerous appendages, he manages to pass as human by strapping his extra appendages to his body, hiding them under human clothing. He also wears a wig and rubberlike ears. Thus disguised, he resembles a human hunchback. Gradually, the alien, Andrei, who is both the story’s narrator and its protagonist, reveals the emotional strain he has endured by being forced to pose as a human being for the past thirty-two years. He must be ever vigilant not to reveal his true identity and thus rejects the sexual advances of Veronica Grigorievna, a young girl who lives in the same communal apartment house as he and who is attracted to him.

As an alien creature, he finds the human body repulsive. He longs for contact and association with creatures like himself, and hastens to make the acquaintance of Leopold Sergeyevich, a hunchback whom he encounters in the laundry—he has mistaken Leopold for a fellow creature from his native planet in disguise like himself and goes to Leopold’s apartment to reveal himself as a fellow alien. Andrei addresses Leopold by using the code word “Pkhentz,” a “sacred name” which Andrei remembers from his distant homeland. Leopold fails to recognize the word, maintains that he has nothing in common with Andrei, and rejects him as a hunchback more loathsome and hideous than himself. In desperation, Andrei grabs Leopold, shakes him, and attempts to force him to acknowledge their kinship. As Andrei touches Leopold, however, he feels body heat and immediately realizes that Leopold is indeed a human being and not an alien like himself. He excuses himself and quickly departs.

Andrei then falls ill from dehydration. Realizing that he will die soon, he determines to return to Siberia to the scene of the crash of his spaceship and live out his remaining days without a disguise. He determines to wait until the first frost and then ignite himself with a match. In the meantime, he will gaze at the heavens, attempt to distinguish the star from which he came, and long for his native land. The story concludes with Andrei apostrophizing his native land using the term “Pkhentz” and other words that he still remembers from his lost, native language.

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