back with a vengeance
On forum: 07/31/2003
There is no blue bird in The Zone|
The world came back to blind me. Sunlight ruptured my eyes. The children happily sang mellifluous childhood songs. They cried out in laughter and merrily tunes. The world came back as a blur as my eyelids snapped open, the emptiness of the tin shack I laid in, the agonizing smell of rust suffocatingly caught up with my throat. I let out a violent cough. The sunlight was potent enough to peel the rust off the tin. I lay on my vinyl sheet, also my raincoat. I sat up and let out a satisfying crack as I twisted my back. The tin shack was empty but me and my things, and my new mistress, red rust.
My mouth tasted foul of last night's last can of Spam meat. I examined the tin shack again. The tiny shack was married with crimson and red-orange rust, the smell of the sharp metals in a turbine factory; it smells of my own death. The shelter did offer me protection from last night's barrage of acidic rain. Vines from a near by tree dominated the roof top and had teared a hole through the roof and the sunlight flowed vibrantly to blind my eyes. I sat up and heard the children sing. The hopscotch songs... On the edge of the town near the zone's demilitarized zone, this shack was once a guard outpost for the road only offering entrance for authorized power plant workers. I coughed again as the children laughed.
I peered outside at the window; there were no children to be found. Only the skyline of the Chernobyl power plant and the industrial town surrounding it, the grass grew dark green with contempt, the sky moved gracefully as the wind carefully whisked the soft clouds along, the smell of grass juice, the view of an alluring grassland and rolling hills, the view of unsuspecting danger, the beauty fools the eyes, the sun created a colorful sky as dawn settled in and as the wind blew, I took draft of the morning wind. The cold autumn wind washed over my face and the blur was gone. It was as good as a splash of cold water on the face on those gritty tired days. I sat up and rubbed my eyes.
I stretched my limbs and found my military surplus canteen of water, which I promptly took a light sip off. Water sustains life; it made my mouth taste less like rotting meat. Found the toothbrush. I filled my mouth of canteen water and toothpaste mixture, stuck a toothbrush in my mouth, and did my dental hygiene all in one spit. I took a shard of glass from the broken window and peered into it. In it, I saw nothing more than a hungry and tired man who grew a new beard looking for a new future, not myself. My old past in London, the zone was nothing reminiscent of it. The job search wasn't very successful after college; I can say I am a very adventurous guy for coming here. I slept through school, and barely passed college. I got into countless fights during school and nearly got booted from the school.
My father continued to send money despite that I hardly had a chance to meet him. I moved here when my little sister passed away in an automobile accident. I seldom saw my pa and ma peacefully. I would see them sometimes coming down the house stairs... but never in the same room. I heard them yell, and I would get hit sometimes. I was in the rough neighborhood, drug dealers and the bad part of town. That old banged up house next to the factories. They would be together twice during the week and all that’s left is my little sister. Whom I had to take care off more than anything else. It was the past; I am ready to start a new life.
I discarded the glass and packed my equipment. The weight of 60 pounds took its toll on my shoulder blades and I flinched for a moment. It was still too early in the morning to be carrying such a burden. I shouldered my automatic Kalashnikov rifle and stepped outside the door less doorway. The wind blew over my face again and I felt an itch where the backpack belt met my shoulder. I slightly jumped and let the 60 pounds fall to a better part of my shoulder. Outside the guard tin shack, stood a lonely tree. I stride towards the base of the tree and pocketed a few pebbles.
Continuing on the path to the industrial part of town, the road rolled generously up and down some gentle hills. The road cracked in some places left and right, but the road was still serviceable if there were any automobiles around. Unfortunately, no one has lived in this "Zone" in over 20 years since the first meltdown. The second melt down scared away more things and its radiation created terrifying creatures of the night you would think of in a horror novel. Your imagination couldn't make sense of these things.
There are creatures here that you can't imagine existing in your bad dreams. Terrible things, things that by the sight of will tear a hole in your heart. Even the rats in the zone are smarter, much bigger, and more terrifying than anywhere else. They move in packs, could take down anything, no matter the size, they have teeth that are sharp and large as a saber tooth tiger that overgrew and pierced their little lips. The children sang once more as I headed towards the surrounding town of Chernobyl power plant.
The Sun was beaming down westward, yet... the shadow of one of the trees I spotted has its shadow facing an odd way. An anomaly in the zone. This places hates you so much, even the shadows play tricks on your eyes. The dark clouds began their voodoo of making the place seem grim as they covered the patches of sunlight. The town consisted of the power plant's surrounding industrial buildings and its limitless networks of chimneys on the roofs, some still giving off their mysterious black smoke.
The street had knocked over electric lines, a maze of pipes, thousands of shards of glass and steel from when the meltdown occurred, grim factories with broken windows in which sometimes an unnatural shadow passes through, half a dozen of steel cranes for transporting equipment two decades ago, and trees with dark leaves which I still paradoxically wondered how they survived the two meltdowns and still be left standing. In the horizon I spotted a Ferris wheel, an unlikely sight in such a place.
Yesterday I came to the same part of town to be looking for Galantine, a glowing mass of colonies of dangerous mutated strands of bacteria that could be sold for a hefty price to willing researchers. Which is the reason that I am here, we are called the "Stalkers". The crazy, stupid, or incredibly brave people who brave the zone looking for all sorts of artifacts to sell to researchers and scientific corporations of which have been warped by the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdowns. A dangerous and often fatal way to make money. The meltdowns caused all kinds of anomalies to occur in its 20 mile radius, dubbed as the "Zone". These 20 square miles is the most dangerous place in the world. To an unskillful stalker, death could be around every corner. The Anomalies can rip apart, electrocute, burn, and crush unsuspecting victims. They are hard to spot and randomly dot the zone. The zone is sealed off by the military, and nothing unnatural gets out... or in.
There were no citizens of course, as this landscape is not hospitable for humans to live after the meltdowns. My attempt failed yesterday, as the town was overran by those rat wolves, a huge and much more dangerous version of those already dangerous rats. They must have disappeared throughout the night. My automatic rifle ready at the next attempt to catch one of those rat wolves. I tried my luck looking for some Galantine in this industrial part of town. This industrial filth clinger on to the street, the dark smoke blackened the buildings with a carbon coat that seem to blanket everything.
Zeroing the sights of my rifle, my legs crept along the street and my eyeballs slowly eyed for danger. This street used to be served as a couple of shops on the street floor, and apartments for some of the workers. I hugged the wall that separated a small field and the street. Some graffiti is lined up the wall, written far long ago in some Russian that I couldn't make out. Today, as I appear down the same block, strange sounds of an Old Russian folk song is heard down the street. Baffled, my legs naturally sped up my pace and crossed the street to the source of the sound. Nearing each step as the music gets louder and louder. I went down the end of the street and peered out to the new street.
There I saw a radio in one of the residentals with its front wall fallen, surrounding around the radio and jumping are the children. Joyously circling the radio. I rubbed my eyes again and they were gone, but the voices of the children were still etched into my brain. Curiously, I went up to the old radio, examined it, and finally shut it off. The woman sang beautifully, the songs of a long lost era, and I hadn't heard such music in a while. As nice as the music was, it distracted my mindset. Snapping the radio open, the batteries were found, and my hands put them in my pack. The radio was put back. The street now unusually quiet, the silent caught on with me. A chill ran down my spine and I lugged on.
The street now was dead silent, not even the notion of the wind, not a signal, not a sign of life. Someone must have turned the radio on sometime at night, but why? I cautiously advanced down the street, hips bent, my rifle at the ready, and my eyes veered left and right. My eyes looked down the gun to see the safety was snapped off.
An inch of shadow flew down across the street in an unnatural pace.
My body halted, thought of it, and moved down to investigate. My eyes checked down on my anomaly detector attached to my belt, which had a pulse every second and have bright white dots on a black screen that indicate anomalies in the surround area.
Nothing, all clear. The detector beeped and blinked with curiosity.
Moving down again, I continued down to the end of the block at a crossroad and a train track. The rails abandoned long ago, the rails still left standing. A shimmering reflection caught my eye. Curiosity over came all else, and I went to investigate the strange sight. A small pond, the green filth reflected nothing. My hands reached into my pocket and threw a pebble into the water, the top green layer broken by the kinetic force. With no hesitation, I peered left and right and back, some bushes surround the pond. I took out my military surplus canteen and filled the metal container with the liquid.
A tablet was dropped into the canteen and the water reacted immediately, cursing itself with a thick, white, oozy discharge and fizzing with a faint buzz. Then it was crystal clear, 99.9% clean water, safe to drink, I could wash my face with it. The cap tied off and I took a light sip, capped it and holstered the canteen on my belt.
More of those annoying shadows glared at me with red eyes near the street, my heart skipped a beat and the rifle was raised again. The rats scampered across the street in a sea. Migrating this time of the year to near the wild, and the fields. Usually where other stalkers have camped. They usually avoided going into the cities much. There they make a living off of stalker camps, raiding by night and planning intelligently and supernaturally about their next night's plan in the day. The gravel grinded underneath my boots, I nervously bit my lower lip and wiped my nose with my arm.
A defiant and deafening crack was set off by my pull of a trigger by my Kalashnikov. The supersonic crack of the rifle echoed across the rolling hills and reverbed across the blockade of the industrial complex of the city. The rats scattered and fell back into the cover of their holes. A sure way to send off anything running. Still, a sense of hopelessness washed across the depths of my head. I haven't found any Galantine yet. I am sure now there wasn't any Galantine to be found here. I had wasted 2 days here.
I settled down on an old park bench and opened the backpack to reveal the contents of my pack. I had a tin of canned meat left... one tin! I needed another trade meet with a stalker again. The last stalker was pretty paranoid and didn't give me much in the way of supplies. There has to be someone near or in this part of town. Someone I could make a good trade with. I had some useless things in my pack that may be of interest to some stalkers.
The thought of the radio had crossed my mind.
The radio was broadcasting those lovely Russian songs throughout the night. Someone must have turned it on. Nothing was intelligent enough in the zone to turn on electronic equipment except for other stalkers! My mind was boggled with excitement and my legs dashed back towards the street to the scene of the radio. The rubble and glass crumpled and cracked underneath my dashing boots. I was creating too much noise, but my excitement was above anything else. The wind was warm by this time of day as the gentle breeze washed over my smiling face.
It was quite easy to find the radio man, because when I got there. There the figure stood, trying to find out why his radio had ceased operation. As he stood there fiddling with the radio, I let out a loud "Hey" and he reflexively directed his gun at me. I returned the favor and raised my Kalashnikov at the figure. My rifle was directed at his head and I steadied the sights, holding my breath to be ready at a split-second's notice to let out the finishing shot. He probably did the same.
Getting back into my sense and my excitement, I lowered the rifle a bit and used my right hand, now away from the trigger, to give the universal signal of stalker "trade". His menacing gun still directed towards me, he slowly, but professionally walked across my path. Giving me the same hand signal, I automatically lowered my rifle and snapped safe. He did the same.
As he lowered his gun, which I could make out with my limited gun know-how as an old late 19th century era, Mosin Nagant M91/30 bolt action rifle. A weapon never seen before in the zone and whoever that must have owned it must have been proud of history and tradition. The man was moderately bearded, an old man, in his late 60s, still muscularly built, and in prime condition.
His overall raincoat covered him, a hood surrounded his head. The dirty white, slightly bushy beard was up to his chest, the wrinkles set over his face gave the man a look of unlimited wisdom and endless experience over his face, his wrinkles and creases looked as if it mapped out the region. Bending rivers, rolling hills, forests that dot the land, rocks that form over the soil.
This was truly a strange sight to be seeing in an unforgiving place like the zone. An ironic sense of nausea washed over my head. I broke back into reality as he whispered in an unintelligible speech of Russian that my limited pool of knowledge of Russian taught back in college tried very hard to understand. The sound of his voice is calm, and efficient. He never spoke above my voice. I tried to understand his Russian, but with no success. He could make out a few words in English, as some words in the two languages are quite similar.
The trade started off with a bang, he had quite a few tins of meat, beets, beans, cabbages, and some tins of my favorite Russian dishes I learned to love with when I came here a year back. He had a recipe book in Russian for Ukrainian Borscht soup which if I had a finer understanding of the Russian language, I would trade for. Tender with passion for Russian food, I asked if he had any Vodka... and when I said the universal word of "Vodka" he immediately turned into this bag and took out a clear glass bottle of the alcohol delight.
He was immediately interested in my collection of hunting knives, of which I brought here a while ago to be of interest to barterers. I had a Timex watch, shock-proof, water-proof, and had a diving range of 200 meters; he was interested to see the time after he had lost the battery of his own watch.
Time was worthless to me, in the zone; a year feels like a decade. My case of lock picks, sealed in an old cracker tin box, also fueled his interest. I mainly asked for his food, but out of the ordinary, he also had a worthless rag doll in which reminded me of a lost love one, that which I traded for one of my fold-out survival knives. He was feeling contempt for that strange rag-doll trade. The rest of the trade went pretty smoothly.
The man let out a smile to me as I took a hit of Vodka that I had traded for one of my nail-clippers. He shook my hand and muttered.
No problem. No problem. I tenderly replied.
For some reason I remembered my sister.
Mornings never come peacefully, the great bright blue light on which I presumed was an automobile, blinded me in my dreams, and I heard a girl scream... in a vague but familiar voice. The cars collided with an earth-shattering crash and I awoken. My eyes fluttering beneath the piercing red-orange light. I remember letting out a terror-stricken cry and everything came back to me in a violent wreck. I felt as I been ran over by a train, my body is weak and my brain is spinning.
Great day to wake from a nightmare to. I caught sight of sunlight, naturally blinding my morning-stricken eyes. I could stay under my covers and feel comfortable and away from all the dangers of the world in my imagined sanctuary of safety. Or, I could be getting up, feeling pain, sitting up with an aching back, getting some cold water into my system, and go on with my survival.
Today is day 378 of my stay in the zone, the year of the snake, the year when generous, charming, appealing, and hard-working people are having their best year. Of all those days, I rarely had a good night's sleep, my body chemistry has adapted to the fact that I never get the rest I needed, and it generously evolved with me. I painfully sat up and decided not to give in. The paint peeling off the walls has created an eccentric and sporadic pattern on the wall. The parts where the paint is peeled revealed chipped cement some caved in.
The old kitchen in the next room, its pots and pans still hanging on the wall to provide cooking utensils for its previous occupants. The window flowed with a breathtaking aura of bright sunlight, signaling the end to those dark clouds I had grown sick of yesterday. This would be the finest house I ever had the pleasure to stay in; it was still perfectly preserved after 20 years except for a few chips in the wall and the peels of paint.
The children cried happily, I peered outside; they played on the rusty swing sets across my little concrete house next to the park. I checked to see if the sink in the kitchen had the slightest chance of working at all, as I turned the cold water knob, the creaking of metal sent light vibrations that shook the crystalline light hanging on the ceiling. Hopelessly, I placed my hand under the faucet. Not one drop.
I found my belongings and lugged them on my back. Took a draft on the canteen, and reached for the door. The pressure still created a burst of pain throughout my shoulder and back as I came out of the house. The weight of the backpack is even more numerous after the trade I made with that man yesterday. It was weighed with some good items, so I disregarded the pain and felt it was worth every ounce.
There was a road separating the park and the house, same with cracks in the road, millions of pieces of chipped glass and parts of metal thrown around before, probably from the meltdown. Parallel to the house was tanks, oil storage tanks for a small oil refinery plant; it was interconnected by a system of pipes and tubes. The playground rested in the town center, the tree at the center of the square, a small playground surrounded in all 4 directions with empty shells of residential buildings that was once bristling with life. The old green patches of tree and park bushes were long gone; all that remained was tanned, poor soil.
The children are overflowed with excitement and happiness. I heard snaps of a jump rope, them swinging on the swings, and running around in a merry game of tag. I sat down on a bench, reaching into my pack for a can of beans. As I operated the can opener, and relaxed on the bench, one of the girls, reminiscent of my little Elise cried out to me.
"Come push me on the swing!"
All I could do was to smile, I smiled hard and the thoughts of my little sister came surging through my mind. She was about 8 years old; the last time I had saw her. It was the evening, at a park in London, I had pushed her on the swing, and she smiled with grace and laughed as I boosted her farther and farther off the ground. There she reminded me of life, the only person that ever loved me back. The only little thing that gave me joy, gave me a purpose, and I gave her someone that she can look up to.
A week later, while I was attending college and finishing up my reports in my dorm, I got the call of the horrible accident. I nearly killed myself that week, my ma and pa attended the funeral, they had given their final tears and it was one of the rare times I see them together in the same place. I haven't seen my parents since that time; I gave up college and came here. Far from the streets and parks of London, to decide to live a new life. Far from the pain, far from the abandonment of my parents. I didn't want to see them again. I never heard from them ever again.
I spooned the last spoonful of beans into my mouth, and licked the inside of the tin. It had cut my tongue, I tasted iron and copper. I grew furious at the can and threw it down. The children were gone.
The canteen lid was snapped open and the cool water flowed into my throat. I heard a nearly inaudible scrape across the sand. I took another sip of the water. The scraping grew more and more significant. The lid was screwed close again and my hand shook the canteen. The mass and sound tells me that I have half of the container left.
Something metallic bounced across the floor.
My body alert. My rifle drawn, my eyes scanning for adversaries, drawing left and right. Safety cocked off. A chill came down my spine and adrenaline flowed freely throughout my blood. The epinephrine’s taking over my muscles to a fight or flight stage. The chilly morning gale contributed to my icy hands. The taste of my blood in my mouth sour. My shoulder firmly fixed on the stock of the rifle, my finger slowly feeling for the smooth iron texture of the trigger. The bounce sounded again and I had another chill.
I eyeballed movement, the bean can, it was supernaturally sliding across the park gravel, skipping on rocks and becoming faster and faster in movement. The tin can drew more and more furious until it flew across the open, across the park, and collided with something unseen in midair. My Kalashnikov drawned at the can. The can stopped in midair. The groaning of metal. It was finally crushed in midair, and fell lifelessly to the ground.
A gravitational concentration field. I just found out how lucky I was, if I had sit on the other benches across the swings; I would have been crushed by the invisible gravity field. Many stalkers fall victim to these unseen dangers. I threw a pebble into the field and it was instantly crushed into a fine course of grains. Slowly, I inched away from the field and away from the park. To the street, one side of the street was a hill and probably across this hill lead to some patch of forest. The other side was the side of the park, which I been nearly crushed by.
A thought happily grazed my mind.
One of the stalkers I traded with a while back had told me of these strange gravitational fields and some of the effects they apply to the objects around them. He had told me that the second meltdown probably triggered an unbalance in the Earth's magnetic fields, disrupting the site of the zone and creating some strange anomalies randomly across the zone.
The guy had been cautiously looking for some gravitational artifacts, these powerful gravitational anomalies can be things that we never regard as anything important, stalkers have found some pieces of bolt, shards of metal, and other small metallic objects that has supernaturally strong disruption of gravity, they could be put into the air and remain suspended and in thin air by itself, or be thrown and never stopping to lose velocity and speed.
A turn-on for the scientists studying physics all over the world. It must be stored in a special container that is lined with super-concentrated bonds of plastic. To ensure that it will not be affected by outside graviity.
I gave up my hard searches of Galantine at the thought of this. After all, I have just been to a strong gravity concentration field. I may be able to pick up something important from it. Each bolt could be sold for quite an interesting amount; depending on the size of the artifact I was once told. I stayed near roads to avoid anomalies as once said, but this time I am going to have to risk it for a little something.
I cautiously approached the gravity field again, feeling its tug. My vision turned into a vintage bleakness as I neared the gravity concentration field. My long raincoat was being pulled towards the field. My hands reached into my pocket and threw another pebble at it. This time bouncing right off. I didn't want to get too close that I wouldn't be able to move. I inched towards the field.
There was some bolts floating in the field, I painstakingly picked at them with gloved hands. I collected what I could and got the hell out of there as soon as possible. For the fear of its gravitational pull becoming stronger and sucking me in. I dressed my prizes with a rag and wrapped them in a plastic container. I shook the bottle. The nails neutralized towards the center of the plastic tube. Quite odd that I should risk my life for pieces of scrap metal.
The feel of the prize I collected has fueled my thirst for these treasures.
For some odd reason, I thought of the man and wanted to meet him again.
I had embarked back on the industrial part of town again, near the Chernobyl power plant.
Gravel grinded softly under my boots, the bitter taste of blood in my mouth, I tongued the cut the can had given me, the sun at its early stages of retiring. I held my rifle at the corner of the street and sharply glowered down. The same bleakness and tranquility resided in this part of town as yesterday. I wanted to go to the radio again.
The man probably knew things many didn't. That’s why I needed his help.
The sleepy industrial Eastern European street was deadly quiet. It gave the street a sense of uncertainty and misfortune. I continued down, rifle drawn towards my chest. The silence had stirred my thoughts.
I did not hear the radio play this time. I had come to hate the dead silence. Reminiscent of the night before Christmas. The night dominated by beautiful floating flakes. Christmas Eve '08. Elise and I were sitting at the dark window in the dark house. She had asked me why mom and dad weren’t home that night.
I knew their daily Christmas routine, my dad out to fuel his drunkenness and flirt with harlots. My mom, she stuck needles in her arm and it made her feel all better. She spent a lot of time in the bathroom.
The soft, white flakes reminded me of little Elise, her vivid blonde hair, her piercing green eyes, the pretty nose, the little pink lips.
Her question, I didn't know how to answer. Back in the same year, my dad had struck her. My father would strike her out of blindness, his drunken presence nothing of his glorious former self. I would not see my father for months. Elise took it pretty hard, but she held on. I supported her and she did the same to me. We needed each other to survive.
The only thing I had remembered my dad by is the one liner he had lined up for me after Christmas.
"See what a worthless bastard you are!?"
I grew outraged.
And then, a tear fell down my face.
I sat on the gravel in a corner of a rotting street and I wept. The thoughts shattering my mental fortitude. I am not sure why I had wept. My arms swept away the liquid pain. I sat up and peered around the street. No one was to be seen. The silence still lingering. I sat again and choked on my tears. I looked towards the dusk sky with bleary eyes. I let out a chuckle and smiled faintly.
A figure ran feverishly across the street. A staccato of booming automatic arms fire was heard across the street. The figure abruptly collapsed and held on to his wound with an agonizing death cry. A crimson pool quickly formed under the fresh causality. A symphony of gunfire echoed the street. An explosion rocked my brain. I sat up alerted with terror.
Automatically, for the sake of survival. I frenetically found a desk and kneeled under it. The street was in a clear view through a hole in the desk. I watched in horror as a barrage of explosions again shook my brain. The vicious gun battle occurring right across the street and I was caught up in the middle of it. Probably another rival stalker faction war. The bright phosphorous tracers screamed across the street blindly.
Bullets didn't care what it hits. I saw a squad of stalkers, labeled with green armbands with an eagle across it. The squad carefully advanced down the street and returned fire as they cautiously crept their way up a shell of a rusty car. They each had an automatic rifle, and a man with a tube strapped to his back. One of the stalkers was signaled to run across the street with cover to advance upward. The man dashed across the street to my direction, his comrades furiously firing towards an unseen enemy.
Vivid images of the rival Irish gangs back in England came into mind.
He kneeled at the corner of the store, my table a few feet from him. My heart skipped a beat. The man stuck his rifle out the street and fired 6 rounds down the street. Signaling the next man to advance up behind cover. Beads of heavy sweat leaked down my face. My gleary eyes regaining sharpness. An explosion boomed at the middle of the street. The man retaliated with a hand grenade.
He shielded his ears and kneeled as the grenade detonated. He took a step back. Slowly, he inched back, directing his rifle at the entrance. My breath is red hot, my spine was ice. I had nothing to do with stalker factions’ matters, but this guy came too close for comfort. His comrades scattered as a rocket-propelled grenade hit the car shell. Another man was wounded. His men dragging his limp body to a safer part of the street.
The man at my store gave his comrades a hand signal and cried out something in Russian. His men replied with an inaudible cry.
He continued to cry his Russian when he stopped short in a sentence.
He had found me.
He screamed at me with his rifle at my forehead. To me his cries are a blur of echoes, the gunfire outside echoed in my ears.
He continues to yell in the void of sound. Sounding hollow. My vision blurred.
The world had come to a point in time where I could not see well, the sound was hollow, my senses are distorted.
The man screamed at me again but was cut short when he was hit and fell to the ground in a motion blur.
His blood covered my face. He pulled his arms up with all his strength but given up when he was hit again in the head. The gory details. I turned away. The echoes of battle had momentary deafened me. The world came back at as screech in my ears. My emotions outraged. My thirst for blood.
I thought of little Elise when I blindly fired my gun for no particular reason at the eagle men. I fired my Kalashnikov out of rage.
Bullets didn't care what it hits.
It must have been all clear to me now, because when I stepped out into the street, chasing the green eagle men, I felt a strong concussion and I fell.
The morning rain was light when the old Vodka Russian I traded with yesterday woke me up. The world came softly this time. A vibrant white exploded across my eyes. The icy water came hard, the waterfall cascaded on to my face and stirred by the cold, I shot up automatically.
A baffling monologue of Russian, the familiar voice. I looked around. Metal roof, the soft clinging of raindrops clashing with the metal, windows cracked to reveal the stormy outdoors. The torment of decades of rain weakened the metal plates on the roof and rain trickled through easily. The dripping water mellifluously dripped to form little pools. We were in an old factory, the soft rain outside was the relaxing sound I haven't heard in weeks. The large structure and the dark void of the factory were made more friendly and pleasant by the bright electric hand lantern that sat next to my covers.
The Russian was down next to me, his lips were dry and the old creases of his face gave the environment a hospitable and favorable look. His lips moving to reveal his perplexing speech of Russian. Even though I barely could understand what he said. His tone of voice comforted me.
"Gott Hit, Ouch.."
He muttered slowly in inexperience and pointed at his forehead.
Sitting up, my palms rubbed my head. I felt a sharp pain and my fingers revealed a smear of blood. I had been hit in the head by the shrapnel from the explosion.
"I owe you my life...”
It was the only thing I could think of to say, the Russian understood it with great fluency and nodded.
I heard no children this time.
The Russian generously gave me a free serving of vodka, a delicacy in the zone. I felt as I haven't awakened in days. I gave the universal symbol for the time, pointed to my wrist. Old vodka rolled up his right sleeve to reveal my old Timex bartered yesterday, still clicking and kicking. He offered me a can of tinned ham, which I accepted with great lust. I felt like I hadn't eaten in weeks. I wolfed down the can at our meal.
After eating, I tried to communicate with this Russian. I asked where he was from. He always put on a bright smile.
I assumed the Ural Mountains in Russia. I ask what he did there for a living.
"Gun... boom... animeal..!"
He pointed at an unseen creature and he pointed his invisible gun to shoot at the invisible fiend.
I assumed he hunted for a living, selling the pelts.
"I am from London, I lived my whole life there, and grew up with my little sister."
Old Vodka nodded.
He reached into his coat pocket to reveal a picture of a couple, the strong and broad man wore a Russian military uniform and a tall, slender, young, and beautiful girl was grasped into his arms. I looked into it deeply and with great respect. I took my wallet from my pocket and showed him a picture of little Elise.
He took a look and it made him smile, his eyes squinting with tenderness.
The early morning nightmares were cast away, I didn't dream. I have gotten hit before, the gang wars between the rival stalker factions is a common occurance in the zone. Factions fight for control of land and its resources, some the most valuable spots of the zone were controled by these groups. Ex-military men, escaped convicts, highly paid researchers, former spetnaz members, psychotic killers, or just people that are crazy enough to come here, they form factions, which provide them safety, an easier means of survival, and simplier ways to hunt for artifacts. Some has disputes over the territory. Some fight for territory. I stay away from them, they are trouble and I had enough of gangs back in London.
The causalities of the zone were unknown, but I estimate quite a lot. Many newcomers get wise and decide to go get rich quickly; those are the ones that become causalities first. I would rather stick with the smart and the scared. I am here today because I was patient and careful. My 379th day in the zone. I marked it in my little notebook and wrote a few notes.
---Old Vodka Russian saved my life today, he offered
Me a drink and some food. He may be of great help
To me in finding those artifacts, this man has an aura
Of experience I have not seen in any other Stalkers
I have met in the zone
-Day 379- October 14th, 2013
There was a butterfly, flattened lifelessly between the pages of the book. I had forgotten about it, I collected it on the way to the zone. Thinking it will be a start of a new life. This life wasn't much better than the last one I had, centuries ago, I probably did something terrible in the last life for me to suffer in this life. I had thought of little Elise again and I snapped the book shut with a clap.
The sky teared and boomed thousands of drops of tears, shedding the eye of the storm; the booming is the fight for life. The cacophony of the thunderous struggle. The zone fought itself each time it rained, the world tried to shed itself of this menace. This scar that will never go away, like the cut in my mouth which I could not stop tonguing.
The zone is the scar of the world. Nature has not found a peace with the zone yet, it was defiant and still violent. The sky boomed with great white light, transforming everything to a blinding day for half a second, every ten seconds. The thick stems of lightning illuminated the dark and bitter sky, like roots of a tree, the cracks of the ground, the tree gaining its foothold on concrete.
As the sky did, I also fought an endless battle. My mind scarred and my body shifted. I am nothing of my former self, I have evolved and changed. I have survived what god has given to me. I had passed his trials, his torment. I am ready to swallow blood. I am ready for anything up ahead. I show scars of a seasoned veteran returning from a war, the scars in my mind. The wounds will never go away. My past is just a fuel for me to push on, I will not give in.
My head reverbed with my pains. I fell down to my knees. I had an excruciating pain between my temples. I struggled to keep my sanity. A continuum of sick thoughts violently detonated in my head. My throbbing arms reaching to stand up. The icy rain soaked my cloths and created an illusion, I was drowning.
My vision blurred.
And I collapsed to the muddy street.
A strong and sympathetic pair of arms reached under my arms and I felt a tug.
I held out and with a pain-streaking voice, I cried out to the dark sky. My battle for sanity.
I felt a strong slap against my cheeks and again.
My eyes tuned back to the right channel and I was awoken. Bewildered, soaking, and with a splitting headache.
I held on to the strong, elderly man for support. We headed towards an abandoned department store, the natural light barely illuminating store. He kneeled and let me fall to the tile floor. Thousands of shards of broken glass on the tile reflected my face.
"Precratice! Otcroy Tvayee Glaza!"
I sat there in silence and heard a familiar monologue of Russian. I did not reply. He did a little loop with this finger at his temple. Finally he muttered in English.
He knew the word well. He offered me bitter pills and slid them between my purple lips. I swallowed them and a canteen of water was held to my lips. He spoke calmly and placed his palms on to my head. I starred my eyes into the mirror, and I fell into a state of drowsiness.
When sunlight washed over the land, nature ended its struggle with the zone and put it up for another day. Its rage shattered and breathtaking sunlight suddenly flooded the land. Marking the horizon with a moody crimson and yellow glow. The sun punched a hole in the blanket of black clouds. The wind now a soft cool breeze, my boots still soggy, my wet Eastern European pattern camouflage clothes clinger to my skin. We trekked on path on the rolling grassy hills, surrounded by lush, green, evergreen forests. Old Vodka was looking for something. His old rifle is always held at the ready, my Kalashnikov at my chest.
I was taken in by the lush and vibrant horizon, its peace, its serenity, the hills rolled up and down, the grass swaying in the wind, the old industrial skyline in the distance. The tender light pierced my eyes and I shield my eyes with a hand. I thought of the sun and its natural light that launched a million splinters of vivid reflections off of the dew off the swaying grasses. I had thought of little Elise, and the old man. I smiled affectionately.
A ground-shaking low boom was heard in the distance, birds scattered from their trees.
The Old Russian turned his face to look at the town and continued down the road with no regard. I have heard of Dick the Tramp and the strange noise it makes. Another strange anomaly, no one could explain the noise or where it came from. It was a common sound in the zone. Its low boom came from the factories.
Another low boom was heard and we felt the tremors in the ground. We disregarded it and continued our march.
We stopped at an iron bridge. Suspended above a gentle stream. A sign of directions stood at the mouth of the bridge. Old Vodka Russian stepped up to it and examined it cautiously with his finger making out the lines. He smiled towards me and signaled me to follow. He was heading towards the borders of the zone. Towards the military controlled lines.
We arrived at around 2pm, near the demilitarized zone. The border was heavily fortified, the barb wire field lined up against the guard towers. The barracks. We peered behind a bush at a distance. Guard towers with snipers, an armored-personnel carrier, and sandbag bunkers at the edge of the forest. Old Vodka Russian did not choose to go through the front gate, which was not the best option anyway.
He must have traveled here before and known the place well because he led us through a hole in the barb wire fence. I went in first as he held the weak section of the fence up. We had slipped in.
I haven't been out here for a year.
Old Vodka Russian led us to a little shack. A trading booth in the edge of the border. There he brought most of his supplies during his time in the zone. I had quite an argument with the barterer over the price of the bolts I had found in the gravity field earlier, but was able to get a worth awhile deal off of it.
We got back just before nightfall, back into the zone.
Camp was setup near night fall in the wild and we ate our tins of food. At night, Old Vodka was quite quiet and his face reflected the warm glow of the campfire.
I wanted to know why he had come to the zone.
He sat up, paused for quite a time, and sighed a deep breath hearing that question.
"Find... Chridren.. liek... you..."
I sat there dazed and bewildered. I wasn't quite sure what he meant.
His sight pierced my eyes with affinity and a tear cascaded down his face like a great flood of water for the lifeless desert of his face.
"I... I ... lost... son... in... zone...he.. liek.. you... "
He paused and I nodded.
"You... you... how ... too... say..?"
He raised both palms and tapped his temples with two fingers from each hand and pointed to me.
He meant to say that I reminded him of his son. This was the last place on earth anyone would try to find his son.
My hands are grasped in to his hands and he smiled with passion. A drop from my eyes.
The terrible howl of the blind dogs.
A pack of ugly, bizarre, and bloodthirsty hounds dug its teeth in to my back. The pain numbingly causing my arm to drop the grasp of my rifle. They howled and furiously bite at my jacket.
An intense pain shot up my leg when one of the hounds snarled at my leg.
I didn't cry out in pain this time.
Thoughts of little Elise and the old man erupted in my mind. I thought of the Christmas of 08, the swings, the first time I had met the old man.
My vision faded. My world is hollow. I was welcomed in the valley of the shadow of death.
The bright angel slashed at the demons with his blade. The demons aggressively growled and some broke off. Some still biting at my leg. The attack triggered aggressive fragments of violent thoughts. The thoughts of getting bloodily beaten in the alley way. The time when the gang held my sister and struck her. When being barked at by my father. My battle for sanity.
More hounds came at me.
The bright white angel fired off a spark of fire. The aged crack of an antique rifle, the smooth sound of the operation of the bolt. The hollowness of the cries. Another crack was heard, my face splattered with blood. The animal fell limp at my hands.
The dogs scattered and fell back. Yelping as more rifle shots were heard.
The dark gloomy sky, the sunlight's struggle to punch a breakthrough though the fortified clouds, today is the world's judgment day. The last battle. The Deus ex machina, the ancient Greek god introduced as a crane to decide the final outcome. The final clash between the zone and Mother Nature. The children cheered playfully across the street. I directed my finger outside as we ate breakfast; Old Vodka took a curious look outside and replied with a confused face.
"Those children remind me of my little Elise."
I pointed and smiled. I shook uncontrollably, my hands trebled. My face ice cold and pale. Somehow he had not noticed the children.
My wounds were sealed in white bandages, soaked in blood. I had lost a sleeve of my jacket to those hounds. My anomaly detector display was cracked. The device rendered useless after the attack. My life was spared. The old man had saved my life once again.
My mind was in constant fear and confusion.
I had went out and talked with the children. I went out to them with open arms. Frightened by my presence, they slowly stepped back and disappeared.
"Elise? Elise? Oh my little Elise?"
With a heaven splitting cry.
The animal cry was heard across the hills, and the sound echoed from the black, soot covered factories and reverberated across the town. I felt a strong arm on my shoulders. Old Vodka leads me back into the house without a word. There we packed in silence, he had shown me a canister of silvery substance, Mercury Ball, which emerges after a blowout and must be collected quickly before it vaporized in a matter of days. This is the rarest and one of the most valuable artifacts of the zone. He pointed to its possible location at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, to the horizon. The bleak, dark industrial heart of the zone, its beating fueled the zone, the radiation; the network of its veins, not many has been into the power plant. Fearing its meat mincer effect, a see-through anomaly field, it seizes the bodies of stalkers and animals and rips it apart. It is harmless when uncharged.
It is uncharged today, and today is the day we go. We gathered our rifles and led outside with a great uncertainty. The great thunder roared in the distance, the dark clouds did not easily given in today and shed their great tears. The struggle of the world to free itself from this pain. I cocked my rifle. The old man turned and give me a look with sincere eyes and signaled me to follow him.
We took to the streets, the same dark industrial filth and grime, the broken shards of metal and glass, the rusty car shells, the dark windows and the desolate eyes, power lines knocked down. I have never ventured into Chernobyl power plant.
The graffiti on the concrete walls became real and animate its letters and shapes warped across the wall. The worker protests, their fight for a safer enviroment to work, their fight against hazardous conditions of the plant, they had expressed their frustration and anger on the walls surround the plant. I heard their cries, I heard their protests, and I have heard their frustration. Their struggle real to me as two decades ago. Their feelings outraged, that was when the first meltdown occurred. The immediate ground zero was contaminated with fallout, and the entire town surrounding Chernobyl power plant had to be evacuated soon after. I saw shadows of men, the kids playing on the streets, and the woman as the blinding white light obliterated them. They shielded their eyes with their hands and fell.
Today, their souls tried to free themselves of the zone and go to heaven.
The sky was lit brightly for half a second and a thunder clapped in the distance.
As we approached the plant, terrifying shadows appeared in the distance. The myths about the once tortured souls of men, whom are forever controlled by the controllers. The sight of a controller, its dark short hair, its semi-human face, protruding eyes, pale skin, and its long neck. They turned their victims into their dark servants; they captured the minds of their victims and forced them to do the creature's bidding. These were once men, once stalkers like me. They look for new victims to be added to their control. Their sight was terrifying and not many stalkers have survived an encounter with these nightmarish fiends.
Old Vodka let us through a cut in the fence he had seemed to memorize before.
The thunder clapped distinctly in the distance, it lit up an ominous sky. Old Vodka peered into the entrance with his rifle, his calm and coolness fascinated me. As he signaled me to follow him, I wondered if this was the last time I was to see the outside world. The battle raged on with violent claps of thunder and mighty winds. Who will win the final confrontation?
The white tiles of the walls luminously reflected a soft red glow from Old Vodka's flashlight, there were no lights, and the dark void of the power plant was suffocating. The pipes choked the hallways, their flow and contents mysterious. The pipes were still pumping its mysterious contents. The abandoned administration offices, their big rich oak desks scattered with yellow papers and broken glass. Everything wooden swelled up; there were no front doors, the water dripped into the dark hallways freely and dirty pools of water. The place was ready to collapse, fall and collapse, so I tread lightly and carefully.
The familiar sound of the children's songs.
A tear flowed from my eyes as they jump roped around me, they played hopscotch innocently, they sang songs of a lost era. Everywhere I went, I saw them. Their songs burnt into my mind, I played them in my head over and over. I peered into my pack at the rag doll.
"I wish you blue birds in the spring..."
We neared the reactor core; we quietly stalked through the maze of hallways. His bright flashlight the only source of light, his old rifle at the ready.
I recall the night, the house had a blackout, and so little Elise and I tread into the basement to find the fuse box. I held the flashlight to the wall, she stayed close behind me. The dark basement.
My fight for sanity.
Why is this old man being like this to me? Did I have something he wants? Does he wait for that right moment to betray me? Out of the many stalkers, why did he choose me?
Yes I muSt, I must nOt Let him betRay me. I must tAke his life befoRe he takEs minE.
No, no.. I must not... he didn't do anything wrong.. It’s not his fault... He is a good man... he... IS ... a good man...
The control room to the reactor, the mainframes, I imagine the room being lit up by the thousands of little beads of light of the computers... the factory workers maintaining the stability and control at the panels, they clicked on the panels, press the little buttons, answered the calls.. One worker sprang up from his chair; he screamed inaudibly at his co-worker in Russian, they both feverishly tap on the panels... The control panel overlooked the six nuclear reactors. The workers outside the window at the reactors scrambled for life, the panel controllers tapped furiously at the controls but they gave up, one raised his arms out wide, he accepted his fate. The blinding light consuming them like a vengeful child vaporizing a tiny and harmless worker ant with a beam of reflected light from his magnifying lens.
A explosion of sickening thoughts... one of my synapses moved its microscopic distance... it triggered thoughts of the blinding blue light, the automobile, my sister's cry, and the sickening metallic crash.
I grew into an outrage I had not felt before. My mind had collapsed.
Old Vodka was on his knees, his rifle shouldered, he gathered the mercury balls from the reactor core. Reaching his gloves into the core. I stood behind him.
I directed my Kalashnikov towards his neck.
The old man finished capping the containers containing the mercury balls and turned around with an excited smile.
His smile shattered by the sight of my rifle, pointed towards his forehead.
He mumbled his Russian in confusion.
I imagine his words.
"What are you doing? Now is not the time to joke...”
"You know what I am doing old man! Hand those containers over to me! NOW! Give me those fucking containers!"
"Don't do this son... please don't do this... you are my boy... don't… don’t… do this...”
A tear trickled down his face, a great flood of water over the desert of his face.
"Give them to me... and get outta here! Go! Go now!"
"Think about what you’re doing son... I been looking for you for so long... don't do this to me...”
"I won't repeat it again!! Give me those containers and get out of here... NOW! Or I will blow your brains out!"
He took the message and remained silent, deeply traumatized.
His hand loosened the bag... and the containers fell to the floor with a metallic clang. His face now softened in tears... the map of his face, his figure weak at the sight of my rifle. He turned and walked away into the darkness.
I grasped the bag... alone in the dark... my eyes now adapted to the darkness with an aurora of crimson light.
I examined the contents... four containers. Mercury balls.
The children stood and glowered at me with gleaming eyes. Their faces sad, they had not sing songs now as they always did.
I smiled at the children and approached them with open arms. They had backed away from me.
I looked around... they were standing everywhere. They all glowered at me with those eyes.
"Alright... I don't need you! I NEVER needed you!!!"
The children were gone.
I was now alone.
I grasped the bag into my hands.
The stench of death. The sound of terrifying rattling. The sickening screeching of the banshees.
The dark figures stood at a distance. I saw them in person for the first time. The sight of the controllers, the dark hair, horrifying semi-human faces that forever scarred your memory, the piercing eyes... all of your past mistakes and violence in your life comes back vividly to you as they stare into you with those sharp eyes, the pale skin.. the pale color of murder victims thrown into the water and found a week later, their long, bony necks.
This was my last battle.
I dropped the rag doll and held my rifle firmly.
I am ready to fight.
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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