back with a vengeance
On forum: 07/31/2003
It was a dead weight, it had stopped the day he set foot in this place. The hands of his watch had started to tick in the wrong direction for a while before succumbing to the environment. Being sentimental was not a common feeling swirling around his head, but it was a special memento. Dwelling on old memories often lead to taking your eyes off the path ahead, crippling doubts a product, dangerous things for a stalker.
This was an exception though. He wasn’t dwelling on past mistakes, the watch served as a reminder of how much his sanity had been strained. 10 years in prison took a harsh toll on his otherwise sharp personality. The watch had been there to count down the seconds until his release, every one of them a new dagger through his heart. He had been arrested by Russian military at the borders of ‘The Zone’. It had been the first and only time they had even been close to him, a fatal error and they were on top of him in seconds. The crackle from his radio scanner had alerted nearby sentry’s. He cursed and accepted his reprimand, there was no escaping a 7.62 calibre stop signal. The timing had been painfully tragic, a few days before his daughters first birthday, a moment a father cherishes eternally. He made it back in time for her eleventh birthday, her and his wife had waited for him patiently, but bitterly, what else could they do? Poverty was widespread, the local economy had collapsed in on it’s self. People had been driven away by the accident 22 years ago, the health scare, the military occupation, deformity and mysterious goings on. Some people stayed out of stubbornness, others had no where else to go.
Alyona was overjoyed to see her husband return after so long, but still livid that he had left them to fend for themselves and for not listening to her pleas. Being a stalker was his calling, he saw it as his destiny, ever since he first ventured into the Zone at the age of 17. It was a childish dare amongst school friends. They managed to evade the army barricade, during the melee that followed, the 3 friends had becomes separated. He never saw his two friends again. the Zone had taken them. From that fateful day onwards, he knew he had been chosen, the Zone had allowed him to pass in and out safe from harm, whilst his friends had perished. For years he had struggled to come to terms with it, all the while making illegal excursions to retrieve ‘items’ from the Zone, selling them to underground scientists, working independently from the military. He had spent those years trying to work out how he survived and more importantly, why? In the following years, he spent time taking people into The Zone, he hastened to call them ‘tours’, researchers taking Geiger readings, rock samples and plants. He had been careful not to show them too much, risking his livelihood is something he could not physically do.
He stared at his watch, it definitely wasn’t going to start again. Time had started to lose meaning anyway, it was either day or night now. He shuffled his feet to shake the blood and feeling back into them, he had been squatting for about 10 minutes now, he heard unnatural rustling about 100 yards away, near a thick undergrowth. He hadn’t seen anything, but he wanted to be safe rather then sorry. There were rumours about other Stalkers, he had never seen one and the thought just made him angry, firstly it would affect his ‘job’ and secondly it took away from the notion he had been chosen. If there were others, it would mean he wasn’t quite as special as he once thought himself to be. He stood up slowly, the bolt that ran down his legs as the muscles stretched and moved felt excruciating . As the blood flowed back through his veins, he stood up right and looked around more clearly, nothing.
A bird, a mouse, it could have been anything. Feeling a tad foolish still, he began to move once again, today he was heading into the abandoned centre of town to see what items he could find. Of all the years he had traversed the land, this would be his first time into the heart of the city. Hoping to find items he could trade off for money, he started heading down the side of the road. A charred, rusted and dirty sign post declared a 2 mile journey to the city centre, he hoped the Zone would not set up traps along the way. The Zones was often cruel, setting traps for people who were not strong hearted enough to over come them. Whilst unbeknownst to the Stalker and towns folk, scientists working for the military had destroyed the superstition regarding these traps, proven to be anomalies in gravity, air pressure and toxins found in the local air, ground and plant life. One or all would affect a persons perceptions, balance, sense of direction, bodily functions and could cause illness, even death.
Half an hour had passed and he estimated that he’d walked just over a mile at least. Stopping at a rocky out cropping, he perched himself on a boulder and took out a hip flask of water, he happily sunk half of it down his throat, wiped his mouth with his stained glove and replaced it in his inner breast pocket. He had dressed for wet weather, he could feel that a storm would be over him within a few hours, but for now it was quite sunny. He was wearing extra durable combat trousers, a lumberjacks padded jacket, body warmer vest jacket and a turned up ‘beanie’ hat. His thick, black boots had steel plating in the toes and were the comfiest foot wear he had ever worn, they had lasted for 12 years so far, with only the smallest of scuffing.
He shifted his small rucksack more comfortably to the centre of his back, pulling the strap running across his chest from digging into his under arm. It wasn’t that heavy, but the strap wasn’t too forgiving. In the bag was a small first aid kit, a neatly folded change of clothes, some food rations, a ripped map, ammo for his kalashnikov AK47 and a tattered photo of his wife and child. About his person he had a large hunting knife strapped to his torso, a smaller blade by his ankle, his water flask and small, light binoculars around his neck. He gripped his weapon with both hands as he got back up and carried on after a 5 minute rest stop. He stopped again 10 minutes later to relieve himself against a lifeless tree.
“Скорость бога, ox велемудрое одно“ (God speed, oh wise one).
He carried on once again and after what seemed an eternity he reached the city limits. The first buildings he came too were a dozen or so housing blocks, many, many flats that seemed to encapsulate a small park with a giant oak tree in the centre. A small playground to his left lifted his guard considerably higher, one of the child’s swings was swaying to and fro, as if someone had been there in the last few minutes. It could have been the wind, but paranoia was a strong force. He raised his gun, crouched slightly and spun around slowly, surveying the buildings and the thinly wooded areas. Just like earlier that day, nothing. He took a deep breath and soldiered on. The first building he came too, “Zalissja House” was 4 stories high and quite a wide structure too. He stepped through the door less entrance and had a look around, rubble in abundance. Fallen beams, broken glass, rotted furniture, bricks and rocks layered in dust. He swept through the ground floor, finding nothing, he figured that the people living here evacuated during the disaster and took whatever they could.
From the top floor he could see right over the city, asides from a couple of taller blocks. The old Ferris wheel, which had once been the pride of the town, had now been reduced to a solemn, rusty giant. He admired the view for just a moment, he had been lucky and found a musical jewellery box with a few things in it, necklaces, rings and a small lump of sapphire. An excellent find, it would fetch quite a lot of money for sure. He put the box in his bag, after selling the jewels, he’d give the box to his daughter. “Zalissja House” was otherwise devoid of anything of use or value, time to move onto the next one, but then something caught his eye. About 800 yards away he could see a figure walking away from the city.
The breath shot right out of his lungs. Another person in the Zone? Within a second his whole world had come crashing down. Fear entered his thoughts, paranoia stamping all over them after. How would he feed his family now? Would he be in danger? What would they do? He hadn’t been chosen after all, the basis, his excuse, his reason, what was the point now? His friends had died for no reason. For a brief second he felt stupid for being so emotional, he could deal with this. His eyes never left the shape, his eyes focussed properly and he noticed that the figure must have been about 7 foot tall. This he was sure of, another thing, whoever it was, they were completely naked. The figure stopped, changed direction and started heading eastwards. From this distance, he couldn’t make out any detail other then those two facts. He covered his mouth to stop the faint groaning coming from his mouth. He would be heard quite easily with the slightest bit of noise. The figure disappeared into the bushes and the stalker slumped to the ground. Sitting with his legs outstretched on the floor, he took a second to contemplate what he had just seen. He couldn’t fathom quite why the person was naked, or how he came to be so tall. Perhaps it was the radiation, perhaps he was hired by the military, perhaps he had lost his clothes somewhere - the river maybe? For his own safety, he sat where he was, listening hard, for at least an hour. A bit too long perhaps, but he wanted to be sure. He wasn’t ready for confrontation yet. He wasn’t sure he ever would be. What would he do? What would he say? What would they say? What would they do?”
He left and decided he would continue as planned, onto the next building, a modest two storey block of 8 flats. He found a small football trophy and some coins. Not much, the coins were all but worthless, maybe a scientist would buy them for research purposes. The third building was empty, completely empty.
He walked through the town square and arrived at the Ferris wheel. He looked straight up at the top and shielded his eyes from the sun, which was now getting lower and lower in the sky. From looking straight up, it gave the appearance that it was tilting, falling over. A weird illusion from the body. He checked the booth at the entry gate, a small locked tin, he shook it, there was money inside. He stuck it in his bag with the other bits and headed towards what used to be an old library. Carefully stepping over the broken glass, bits of wood and other scattered debris, he headed up to the gallery on the second floor.
A book that was left un-charred rested near a fallen bookcase. It was a child’s book, a collection of folk lore and fairy tales. He’d keep this, for his daughters 12th birthday in a few days. He had missed 10, he wasn’t going to miss any more. A faint hissing noise startled him, he pressed himself against a wall, through an archway, hidden from the huge, mostly broken, glass panels that formed part of the buildings right corner wall. He peaked around the corner, his pupils dilated and his heart beat faster. He could feel the sweat rolling down his forehead into his brow. The stark figure had reappeared in town and was just outside the building. He forced himself to look again carefully, another peak. Then it hit him.
It wasn’t human.
His heart was thudding so hard in his chest he was afraid it was going to burst through his ribs at any moment, he hadn’t realised he had been gripping the arch frame so hard. He quickly let go and grabbed his gun from behind his back, around his neck. The weapon shook hard as a million and one thoughts shot through his head, the important one was the loudest.
What the hell was it?
He lost sight of the creature as it left the window view. He could still hear the shuffling noise as it lumbered down the street. Maybe it had heard him and had come back to investigate. The monster, from the brief glimpse he got was definitely around 7 foot tall. It was fairly thin, it’s muscles were taught and visible. It’s skin was pasty and looked quite badly bruised. He pulled together enough courage to slide along the wall to the next window. He leant over so he could see out of the small window in the middle of the building. He soon wished he hadn’t.
The creatures face was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen. He gasped, trying to control his air intake, staying silent, noise would surely be met with the death penalty in this situation. The things eyes were sunken into it’s bulbous, but small, head. It hunched slightly, it’s arms stretching down towards it’s knees, hanging forward from it’s body. The face, the face stuck with him, etched in his memory as he took his face away from the window and stood gasping for breath.
The sunken eyes were a piercing, blood red. A demon from hell, sent by the Zone to punish him. His prayers for no traps had gone unheard. Underneath it’s small nose was a ghastly opening, fangs protruded from it’s lip-less mouth, frothing with spittle and god knows what else. 4 or 5 things, resembling tentacles dangled from around the opening, they were also blood red. The saliva dripped from them with fervour. He was both terrified and intrigued by the demon. He was almost paralysed with fear, but his arms were still shaking his gun, now in a permanent state of straight aim. A minute passed before he threw another glance from the window above, he saw the beast walking back into the undergrowth it had disappeared into earlier that day.
‘I am getting out of here, now!’
He carefully crept down stairs and peered out of the building, all clear, he shot off in the direction he had came, which was fortunately the opposite way the demon had gone. He had a 6 mile journey back to the border.
Darkness had set in, the sun was setting and he figured he had about 2 hours daylight left, if it wasn’t for the black clouds that had started to swarm in the sky above. He was right, a storm was brewing and at that moment he felt specks of rain water splash against his face. He took off across the town and back down the long road he had walked before. This time though, he made sure he was a bit further off the road, using the foliage and trees as cover. His chest was heaving, he didn’t stop for at least a mile and a half. Thank the heavens he was in good shape. He eventually slowed and collapsed on the now moist ground, face first. His legs had given out and his lungs needed air. As soon as he hit the floor, a crippling pain shot through his body, his legs seized up. He figured he was a good enough distance away to rest for a few minutes, but could he get back up again? His eyes closed against his will as the air shuddered through his gullet, dust and gravel lined his nostrils as his nose pressed against the ground.
The rain had started to pour harder.
The ground was starting to become sodden and muddy, he decided it was time to move once again, he hadn’t caught his breath just yet though. He slipped as he stood and thumped his knee back into the ground.. He let out a scream of pain and tried again. Desperation got him running again. He had never seen such a creature in all his life, the fear of the unknown was possibly the greatest fear known to man. He felt his eyes sting, but he didn’t know why, the mud clung to his trousers weighing his legs down heavily. Every new footstep an effort. He pulled the hood of his jacket up over his head to shield it against the stinging droplets shooting down from the dark sky. His shoes began to fill with water as it splashed up in every step. He must have sprinted another mile, he had passed the place he had heard the rustling earlier that day. Could that have been the demon, was it watching him? Did it see him?
A bolt of lightning cracked, tracing through the sky.
He shot back down to the ground, the impact winding him. As he fought for breath, he flailed his arms, the flash of light and the crack of thunder had knocked him off keel. Panic was written all over his face, the fear of the demon lurking in the Zone, the fear he would never fill his lungs full of air again. The fear he would never see his sweet little Sacha’s face again.
Within the panic, a moment of resolution flashed across his mind. Calm, collected, ready. The horrors of prison had toughened him, a thick hide, he needed to be strong. If there was any hope of seeing his little monkey and his wife, he needed to stand tall. Once more, he forced himself to his feet and tried to run yet again. His disorientated state of mind sent him off a straight line, he lost balance and slid down a small hillside.
A wooden shack with a tin roof.
Not an ideal shelter for a thunder storm, but he pulled himself through the door, hanging by it’s top hinge, slamming it firmly behind him. He collapsed on purpose, his eyes felt so heavy now, the energy had just dissolved in an instant, they slammed shut and he passed out.
Coughing woke him. The air was thick with something, it stung his throat and nostrils with every breath, every hard breath. He struggled and moved, the smell was pungent and dry, God knows what the accident had done to this hut. He looked at his watch, forgetting it had stopped, but the hands had moved and were still moving, backwards. From the position now and from back then, it had gone back ten minutes, but who knows how long it could have actually been.
He figured not so long, it was still raining hard. The disorientation started to fade and the stark reality about his situation hit him.
Panic spread across his face anew. ‘Was it after me?’. He clutched his AK47, wiping mud off it with his wet sleeve. He wiped the dirt off the small window with the other. Peering out cautiously, there was no one, nothing. He pulled his hood back up and set off home.
Walking for now, he needed to recharge for just a short while longer, just until the burning in his thighs had stopped at least. He had managed to find his route again and regained his bearings. Half a mile of thinking had re-established some rational thought back into his head. He wasn’t a stubborn man, but pride often slowed things down for him, this time he swallowed that pride and admitted just how scared he was. Anyone would be, he told himself, God knows what this thing was or what it was capable of.
‘It’s the Zone, this is the trap, a hallucination. That professor told me that clouds of noxious gas float around the area, carried by the wind. When I took him to the forest, he studied the trees! He saw the affects they had on the bark! I am being tested, I need to show my faith, my belief!’
The rain seemed to fall harder, or maybe it was his own weariness amplifying his sensations. He could taste the dirt around his lips. He could smell the sour water vapour. His finger tips had shrivelled, leaving them sensitive, especially to the touch of his wet jacket sleeve. He had left his gun on it’s strap over his back, he didn’t want to hold it unless he needed it, ‘Good God I hope I don’t need to’. 4 miles had passed by now, lord knows how much time. It felt an eternity, the rain had been falling for what seemed forever, with no signs of letting up. The soaked Stalker entered a clearing and stopped in the middle. Beyond the rumbling clouds and the rain hitting the tree leaves, he swore he heard rustling, he quickly resolved it to his mind playing tricks. Again, but this time from behind. His neck shot to the right, he couldn’t see it. The rain dripped down from his hood, to his face and into his eyes, making it harder. It was dark, but not pitch black, he wished he had brought a torch, cursing the fact that he didn’t, but he never planned to be still out here against such a hellish looking foe.
That was a notion. Foe. Or was it friend? Whilst it looked like a demon sent by Satan himself, it might be tame. A mutated creature or human from the Zone? An alien maybe? Caution erred on the side of foe however, until it showed itself to not be a hazard, he would have to treat it as an enemy.
He spun his weapon strap around his body so it was now against his chest, the force, however, snapped the strap from the buckle and the AK47 fell to the ground. He looked down at it, sunken partially into the marshy land.
A low, warbling snarl from 10 foot in front of him.
“Oh, it’s you”.
His mind drew a blank, as if all thought had evaporated. When fear is right in front of you, when you are forced to confront it, your emotions shut down, you’re floating. Primal instinct kicks in, the need to survive takes over.
The two creatures stood there for a few moments. The deep breath of the demon reverberating around his mouth tentacles was an unsettling noise. The Stalkers own breath sounded weak in comparison. Another flash of lightning and he dived for his gun. As if it had read his mind, the creature lunged forward at the same time, moving at an incredible speed. As soon as he had grabbed his gun, it was flying through the air again, the monster had swiped his talon-like fist across the Stalkers hands.
The pain was unbelievable, it was as if the demon had broken both his wrists, it was such agony.
He fell backwards onto his backside and held his left wrist in pain. He looked up and the creature had gone.
Dazed and bemused, he swivelled his head from side to side quickly, nothing. The warbling grunt came again, behind him. He spun around on the floor and the creature loomed over him. Another huge fist flew through the air and sent him a few metres backwards. Lying on his stomach, he was prepared to die now, without his gun he had no way of winning, deep breaths through the mouth made his lips and cheek quiver, he could taste the blood in his mouth, it began mixing with the muddy water on the ground. The taste as he involuntarily swallowed was revolting, he wanted to wretch. He spat and pressed himself upwards again. The monster had disappeared again, but he felt he was being watched, circled, evaluated.
‘Lord save me’
As if out of thin air, a few metres in front of him it appeared. Invisibility? His foes dangerousness had now increased ten fold.
The creature came for him again, natural gut instinct pulled him out of harms way just in time. The foul beast fell forwards with it’s missed swing and fell flat on the ground. It got back up, stared at the Stalker and traced his side steps. It let out an angry, but not very loud, roar.
Obvious ideas popped into his head. He reached inside his jacket and removed his hunting knife from it’s holster. A shred of confidence flew, he now stood a chance. It was unarmed, he was not. He waved it in front of him at arms length, but it did not soften it’s stance. Before he knew it, the demon was flying for him again. It wasn’t stupid and it wasn’t afraid, it grabbed the knife by the blade, twisted and yanked it right out of his hands, tossing it away into the shrubbery. The Stalker fell backwards and scrambled backwards on his hands. It was time for it to end.
The creature moved forward, slowly this time and straddled over him on all fours, virtually pinning him to the spot. It slid up his body so they were face to face. Stalker blinked slowly, the creatures eyes were red, piercing right through to his soul. The fleshy tendrils writhed, making a disgusting, distorted noise, the fangs glistened under the dark clouds, stained with it’s preys blood. The tongue from it’s mouth slithered in and out, ready to receive food. It leant back and raised it’s arm for the death blow. It swung and shot downwards.
The blow never connected.
Stalker twisted his small switchblade, pushing it deeper into where a chin should have been. Harder, harder, the creature tried to let out a shriek of pain, but the sound was muffled by the location of the wound. The Stalker let go of the hand-grip and moved backwards. He shot straight up and stood firm. The creature stumbled back, landing on all fours again. It snorted loudly as thick blood sprayed from the sides of the knife. With it’s final, dying breath, the creature stumbled forward and knocked the Stalker over, slashing his shirt and bag strap, the bag went flying. The claw broke the skin of his arm, a large gash. Stalker yelped in pain and grabbed it with his other arm. The demon beast yelled with all it’s might and slumped to the ground.
Gasping for air and fighting off the pain from his face and open wound, the Stalker slouched against a tree. He hadn’t realised he had pulled the knife from his leg, it was such a blur, an impulse, one that had saved his life. The rain continued to beat down, he looked at the body, lifeless and bloody. He no longer cared what it was, or where it had come from, he didn’t want to remember, but nothing could stop that now. Over the crash of the clouds filling the sky, the ringing in his ear and the heavy water fall, he heard a noise. A tune. A lullaby he recognised. One his mother sung to him when he was young, when the monsters under his bed stopped him from sleeping.
He looked over the body to see his knapsack split open, it’s contents strewn across the grass. The jewellery box he had found had opened, playing it’s music.
A tiny ballerina, spinning in the rain.
Great, independant Iraq War journalism: http://michaelyon.blogspot.com/
From the halls of Montezuma To the shores of Tripoli'
We fight our countrys battles In the air', on land, and sea.
First to fight for right and freedom , And to keep our honor clean,
We are proud to claim the title Of United States Marines.
Our flags unfurl'd to every breeze From dawn to setting sun';
We have fought in every clime and place Where we could take a gun.
In the snow of far-off northern lands And in sunny tropic scenes,
You will find us always on the job - The United States Marines.
Here's health to you and to our Corps Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we've fought for life And never lost our nerve.
If the Army and the Navy Ever gaze on Heaven's scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded By United States Marines. - US Marines Hymn