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Things that go bump in the night

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  08:39:20  10 March 2006
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On forum: 07/31/2003
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Things that go bump in the night

The times spent in the Zone for most people was nothing but that, time; often scarred by adverse conditions and people. Most people that did leave alive went with a twinge of satisfaction, knowing that they had gone to Hell, and come out with something to show besides scars. Their lives were changed, and they had the stories to tell. The Zone had become the next Mount Everest; something else for man to conquer. The Zone wasn’t something that man conquered, it conquered man, but no one realized that until they got there. The Zone had its own plans, or so it seemed . . .

John Howell didn’t think much of it, although it had better potential for making money then the grocery store ever had. Three months of living there, it was the same almost every day.

He looked south, seeing the outline of some buildings in the setting sun. Night was quickly coming, a time that he didn’t want to greet in the open. John took a brief break, dropping onto a rock and setting his AK-74 aside for a moment while he took off his pack and removed an old MRE he’d taken out of Vladimir’s backpack, an old comrade.

Vladimir hadn’t stayed in the Zone very long at all, only three weeks. John had liked him from the moment they met. But it didn’t last long. One night, the pair had nestled into a lone house, sitting on a small hill near the edge of the zone. Something had come that night, one of the reasons that John hated the night still. Vladimir didn’t think well, and had fired at it with only his Colt 1911. It tore him apart. John had left the house with everything usable in it, and never looked back.

John ate the food, than picked up his rifle before going down the hill. The sun was setting. All of the junk in the air created a filter for the light to go through, casting a reddish glow on the land as the sun descended. John hated that too. He walked through a field of brown grass, than looked south again. The buildings were getting closer, and John smiled a bit. He needed to be careful. The mutants weren’t the only things after him. He had gotten into a gun battle with a pair of Stalkers from the Ukraine, and killed them both. Their friends hadn’t taken well to the news, so not many people could be called friends.

He arrived at the buildings just as the sun ducked under the nearest hills. John looked back up the field he’d crossed to get here, and than turned for the nearest building. They didn’t look very inviting in the first place, but it was all he could manage for now. John slung his rifle, and lifted his Colt 10mm Delta Elite, preferring it for the close work he would have to do now. His time spent in the US military hadn’t been wasted, it was well used in the Zone. He knew just what to carry with him, and was a superb shot.

Years ago, he used to be in the Army, a member of the Army Rangers. He’d learned everything that they had to teach. After eight years in, he retired, going back to North Carolina to bag groceries. The Zone offered something that he needed, but he didn’t know what.

The door opened agreeably, creaking like a rusty hinge typically would. John stepped inside, exhuming a few rats from under the floor. John eyed them with suspicion as they scurried away. He knew the stories. The damned things could take apart a Russian military post in an hour or two, and he didn’t want to screw with any of them. He wasn’t particularly worried about rats, as his focus was on the big ones. The Delta Elite wouldn’t hold them off for long, but it would do the trick for most of them. John closed the door behind him and clicked on his flashlight, surveying the room with light for a brief moment. It was occupied by a single armchair, in the corner. A broken television set was strewn over the floor, remnants of a possibly quiet life.

He quickly rummaged through the building, finding an old pair of D-cell batteries. They were agreeably dead, and tossed onto the floor. The only thing that truly had him interested was a room upstairs, empty except for a single table and a chair. It would make a good spot to put up his feet and have a drink. That was the place he headed, dropping into the chair and taking off his pack in the same motion. He holstered the Delta Elite, and put the AK-74 on the table before placing his last weapon on the table also, Vladimir’s Remington 870 shotgun. After a brief forage through the pack, he produced a bottle and a lantern. Before he opened the bottle, he took off his trench coat and vest to get comfortable. The bottle was some Wild Turkey he’d taken off the body of one of the Ukrainians, nearly shot by John. He’s gathered the AK-74 and several grenades from the pair, along with another handgun; a Beretta 9mm, that he kept in his pack. Beyond that, he’d gotten nearly twelve full magazines of AK ammunition from them, and a couple of boxes of shotgun shells. He still considered the kills genuinely worth it. Until he’d gotten the AK, he’d been stuck with the Remington and the Delta Elite. Before Vladimir had died, John had carried an old hunting rifle from home.

John took a brief drink from the bottle, than looked at his watch. It was nearly ten at night, long past the time that John felt comfortable outdoors. He would have cared less anywhere else on earth, but things came out in the night in the Zone, as per the usual cliché of places like this. He would have the stories, and possibly even the money that he was looking for when he went back. His life didn’t really factor in right now, but it would eventually; or so that was John’s plan.

John woke up woozy, smelling something rotten. He reached for his Delta Elite immediately, and pulled it out before he sat up. The Wild Turkey had given him an awful headache, which hardly seemed fair; he’d only taken three little drinks. John looked to the door, and knew that something just wasn’t right around here. He stood up lazily, using the table for support. John had put the lantern out, and he quickly put it back into the pack, the bottle of liquor following closely. He slipped back into the vest and his trench coat before slinging the shotgun onto his back again. The Delta Elite went back into the holster, and the AK into his hands, up and aimed at the door. John wasn’t in the mood for shooting anything right now, as his pounding head reminded him. It would be a bad one, if anything was coming, John could just feel it.

The house came alive a second later, bursting into a flurry of activity. John heard footsteps crashing all about. He listened for a second. “It’s those damned Russians,” he said as he turned around. He got to the window, and put his booted foot through it. As he stepped out, he heard a burst of rifle fire erupt from the room. The rounds exploded on the window frame, just as John stepped out of the way.

One of John’s grenades went back in the room, to dissuade anyone from coming out the window to follow him. He scurried along the edge of the roof, keeping the AK at a low ready. A quick peak over the edge helped him to see that the people were just a group of Stalkers, not the military of some Special Forces. They didn’t have any military vehicles, only an old car. As he pulled his head back over the edge, the grenade he’d dropped in the room exploded, blowing apart the floor in that room. The wood was old and nearly rotted through already, and the explosion finished the job. John was perched on the top of the building, near a round tin chimney. He heard people still running around, and opted to get off the roof before they got out. It was nearly twenty feet to the ground, a bit too far to just drop. “Fuck it,” he muttered before sliding off the edge with a few old wood shingles coming down with him.

He hit hard, twisting his right ankle a bit, but ignored it as he turned from the fight and ran up the hill to the north. It was a quick scramble, but he was over the edge before the first enemy came out. They spotted him darting over the top, and took up chase.

John was on flat ground now, and ran at top speed; much faster then the people pursuing him. He slid to a stop on a gravely section of the land, and took a knee, aiming his AK-74 at the crest of the hill. The first head appeared to the left of his sights, and he altered his aim, firing a short burst of fire. Two of his rounds caught the man in the forehead, exploding his head in a jet of red. His three comrades were only further enraged, tumbling over the top and firing their own weapons as they closed on John’s position.

John rolled from his position into a dip in the ground, and then into the grass. Bullets were tearing up the ground all around him as he stood up, looking at the three men surrounding him. John fired off seven rounds, sending the trio onto their faces before he turned and ran further into the field. He turned as soon as he got near a twisted tree stump, and got onto his knees again, aiming for the furthest man this time. He fired two shots, catching the man in the right calf with one. His leg crumpled underneath him as he ran, and he hit the ground hard. The pain came a second later, and his scream ripped across the fields and into the valleys.

The last two men looked at each other, almost deciding to give up. With a silent agreement, they both kept running, knowing they would probably get killed or wounded and left for dead by this man.

John fired the rest of the AK’s magazine over his shoulder as he ran, then dropped it to its sling. The Delta Elite came out next. John had reached a rocky section of the Zone, filled with small boulders interspersed among the meadows. He crouched near one of them, and aimed his Delta at the two men coming. He fired the thirteen rounds in the magazine rapidly, hitting neither man with the rounds. They didn’t seem to care, and John didn’t care either. He set the handgun down, and lifted his Remington last. It was the last thing he always used, because no one lasted long from a shotgun blast to the chest. The first man approached, aiming his own AK at John. John didn’t hesitate, and he did. The shotgun’s muzzle erupted in smoke and fire, and the buckshot pellets tore into the man’s torso, killing him instantly. The last man skidded to a stop, looking straight down the choke on the shotgun. “Wrong place to play, partner,” John said with a nod of the head before pulling the trigger again.

He was worn out as he walked back to his building. The man who had bit the dirt hard was dead, having bled out soon after the round had mangled his leg. John had dragged the four bodies back to the buildings, leaving them in the open for something to have dinner on. The weapons weren’t really much to behold, but John did like the ammunition. An additional eight AK magazines belonged to him, along with some shotgun shells. They didn’t have any 10mms though, which wasn’t very surprising. John left the Delta in his pack and switched to the Beretta, because the four men had quite a few 9mms. He even procured a grenade to replace the one he had lost. The best prize though, was the car. It had been a little while since he had had one, and it would surely be useful as he continued traveling, searching for the thing that the Zone had to offer besides money.
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