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Short story entry: "Talkers"

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  15:42:42  24 November 2005
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On forum: 11/24/2005

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12/04/2005 11:08:38
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Short story entry: "Talkers"

Diggory used to say the anomalies talked. Tasha and Karl used to say he was full of crap. Nobody says that anymore, and as for Diggory - well, he doesn't say much of anything.

They all make a sound, you know, the anomalies. I don't mean when we steer some flare-blind mutie into one, either, although that can get pretty noisy. No: they hum, they crackle, they whine; like a radio tuned out past broadcast range. Sometimes it's real loud: you can hear them spitting and yowling a block away, like a cat screaming into the night. And sometimes they're quiet, and you only hear them between one breath and the next. Every time, I change my mind about which is worse.

Say what you like about Diggory, he was a great tracker. In fact 'great' doesn't begin to cover it; when it came to finding anomalies - finding anything - he practically qualified as an anomaly himself. He was also an unpredictable son-of-a-bitch. Sometimes he would bum around camp for days, not talking, just sleeping and eating and shooting at the sorry excuses for birds they have around here, while Tasha and Karl and me slogged our asses off and came up with zip. And then he would shake us awake an hour before dawn, all lit up inside and grinning, take us straight to some field or pylon or broke-down block of flats, toss a stone into a patch of air, and clap like a kid at christmas when it got zapped or eaten or spat back out. Then he would sit with his head on one side and listen, while we went to find something to put into it.

Truth be told, we made good money out of the guy. He wasn't much interested in the payoff - or in going solo, for that matter. Tasha and I talked about it sometimes, on those useless days of searching when he stayed at camp and popped crows: Tasha said he was just too damn lazy to cook for himself or haggle a good deal. I tended to agree. Karl only joined in once. He said:

"Diggory just likes to show people."

And that was that.

Anyway, a few weeks ago we hit a real dry spell. I mean we found nothing, and Diggory was being a particularly dilligent ass-hat. Karl lost the tip of a little finger to a pack of the big mutie rodents we call kangarats. By the third week were all pretty tired and frustrated and hungry, and when Diggory complained that his plate of rice and beans was still dirty from the night before, Tasha lost it big time. Diggory dodged the first couple of tins ok, but the third dinged him good on the temple and drew blood. He stopped giggling so fast it was almost funny, only it wasn't, because he had his crow-popper slung around his neck and we didn't. But he just looked at Tasha with these big, hurt eyes, and ran off into the dark. Tasha grabbed her gun and went running after him, and we didn't see either of them for five or six hours. Eventually Tasha came back, alone. She said she lost him in the trainyard, one of his favourite places to go and sulk. I remember Karl looking at me and I knew we were having the same doubts.
The next morning, though, he was back, and grinning from ear to ear: today we were gonna find something. He had even managed to scrub every pot and plate in camp without waking us, which was pretty Goddamn anomalous in itself and made Tasha look ever-so-slightly ashamed.

"Whatcha got for us, Digs?" asked Karl as we shovelled down the last of the Spam we had managed to save.

"A talker!" beamed Diggory. "A real blabbermouth this time. You just wait." When I told you he said they used to talk, this is what I meant: he called them talkers. He never explained why.

The weather also seemed in a better mood. That's not necessarily a good thing: direct sunlight is not a stalker's best friend. Still, it was good to feel a little warmth for a change, and it was soon clear that Diggory wasn't leading us towards any of the real hot zones. Other stalkers are always a worry, but there are places you need to be on your guard, and places you just don't go unless you plan on coming back a few bullets lighter - or heavier.

We gave the main built-up areas a wide berth. Funny, but from a distance on a really bright morning they almost look normal, like any minute people are gonna start stepping out of doorways, onto balconies, hanging out washing or heading for the queues at the bakery. Only it never happens. The things that crouch behind the shattered windows and sprawl across rotted mattresses don't even remember what normal life was like. At least, I hope they don't. We heard a few gunshots, but they were a good mile or two distant and we saw nothing.

We left town behind us and struck out across country towards a little farmstead we had once used as a camp. It was there, Diggory claimed, we would find the anomaly. When we were about half a mile away it became clear he hadn't been entirely accurate when he said this one was a blabbermouth. It was like a rock concert in hell. At a quarter of a mile we couldn't hear each other speak. By the time we were moving between the ruined farm outbuildings, we couldn't hear ourselves think. Karl leaned in to Tasha, who nodded and took up a flanking position, and then to me.

"Stay! Close!" he bellowed. "Hand! Signals!"

I nodded too. We hurried to catch up with Diggory, who hadn't even slowed. I tried to catch his arm, but he jerked it away, and I had to jog beside him, hollering at the top of my voice.


He nodded and grinned and kept going.

"I SAID..."

We rounded the corner of the farmhouse, and whatever I was going to say never made it past my lips.

There was no anomaly.

I looked across at Karl. He seemed as transfixed by the sight as I. Then I saw the dark stain soaking the neckline of his jacket, and he folded to the ground. I hadn't even heard the shot. Diggory: the bastard had set us up.

I span around, gun sweeping up agonisingly slowly, gut frozen with the knowledge that I was already a dead man. Diggory never missed. I didn't hear the second shot either; I just felt it hit.

There wasn't any pain at first, just an immediate sucking coldness in my chest. Then the world toppled sideways and smacked me in the side of the head.

A boot came into view, mushing into the half-frozen mud a few inches from my face. I managed to look up. It wasn't Diggory.

Tasha stared down at me for a moment, smoke curling from her gun-barrel, then looked around and made a throat-cutting gesture. Behind her I could see Diggory jog over to the equipment stacked in the middle of the farmyard. He fiddled around and the yowling and screeching ceased. A radio. A Goddamn radio hooked up to a pile of truck batteries and a rusty PA system.

The pain was starting; thick tendrils of agony uncoiling from the cold lump in my chest. Diggory came walking over, and a detatched part of me was oddly touched to see how upset he looked. My thoughts were losing focus. I remember thinking: damn, that radio was loud; my ears are still ringing. Tasha was kneeling beside me, talking to me.

"Sorry," she was saying cheerily. "Nothing personal, but you guys were just... dead weight anyway."

I didn't look at her. I was looking at Diggory.

"I mean, three weeks! Three weeks and you can't find squat out here. Digsey here can find one a night, with the right... encouragement." She giggled. I still didn't look at her. Diggory had sat down, his head cocked to one side.

"Well, I guess I'll be going," said Tasha. "I... what's so funny? What's so damn funny?" She straightened up.

It was funny, too, though it hurt like all hell to laugh.

Diggory's eyes were closed. He rocked slowly back and forth, listening to voices only he could hear. All I heard, between one red-hot breath and the next, was the pitter-patter of shredding flesh and the faint whine and scratch of a radio, tuned to nothing.

Diggory snapped out of it eventually, dragged me from under the anomaly, and patched me up. Tasha never had been as good a shot as Digsey. We left her legs and abdomen where they had fallen. Diggory poked around in the rest of her for a bit, but found nothing of value.

Since then we've got on pretty well. It took a couple of weeks before I could move around on my own, and I still get tired easily. Diggory doesn't say so much any more, or eat so much for that matter, but he's finding more anomalies than ever. I just count the cash and try not to think about why that might be.

But each morning when he wakes me up, thinner and sicker than ever but still grinning, all lit up inside and raring to go, I have to wonder: what will I hear this time? Empty, meaningless static, or something else? Something like words, maybe. If I do, will I be able to walk away? Or will I sit down next to Diggory, tilt my head, and start to listen?

For make no mistake: if madness has a throat and a voice, it is here.
  11:56:25  1 December 2005
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On forum: 11/24/2005
Messages: 9
Any feedback (no pun intended) greatly appreciated, guys and girls
  14:08:19  1 December 2005
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Local Law-Enforcement


On forum: 03/02/2005
Messages: 7378
Well, I like the new spin on the anomalies, very well done. It flows, but sometimes the water gets rough. I can see alot of though was put into this. It could be longer, and I hope you continue it. It is not very different from what I have read, except for the story. I think you should give the story its own flavor, make it stand out from the crowd, I know that is hard to do, but wuth the right deal of effort and determination, it can be done. If you decide to continue, I have a strong feeling that it will be in the top ten once the contest is re-started.

Keep up the good work.

P.S. Some feedback would be VERY appreciated in this section.
  11:19:34  4 December 2005
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back with a vengeance


On forum: 07/31/2003
Messages: 1729
welcome to the literary contest

first of all, let me welcome you to the contest on behalf of GSC. I'm the board moderator for this part of the forum, I also handle contest entries. I'll assume that you're interested in the contest itself, hence I', signing you up! (It's probably not going to end up in the website though, an executive decision to override the website will be taken soon/)

You will have to forgive me for being so late in replying to your thread: I recently just dived into summer holidays here, and life is beginning to catch up with me (or rather, I'm beginning to catch up with life). Gym, work, money, games...

Onto business:
1) You can be a bit laborious sometimes. "Cutting corners" sometimes would do: you don't have to elaborate EVERYTHING. For example, we'll do fine if you describe someone as a male instead of "the sex of tall brooding organism with hairy chest and pubic hair and the willie".
You get what I mean. IT isn't too prevalent though.

2) No "clear" plot. I get the thing about the Diggory guy, but seems a bit empty... like downing a Sneaker bar into an empty stomach at lunch time. There is this bit of a feeling something more can be done.

3) Story seems a bit... empty too. 2D characters. Try being a bit more in-depth with your Tasha character. The shock value of her turning traitor just doesnt' register. Also try doing something about the "I" character: a bit more narrative on him (don't tell me you're a she-man! "would certainly be nice.

Aside from these, not bad at all! I like your informal narrative all along the story, certainly keeps the reader going.

Hope thats' all
  15:25:39  5 December 2005
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The man lacking a plan


On forum: 08/02/2003

Message edited by:
12/05/2005 16:04:57
Messages: 273
Nice, casual prose, just the right air of weariness and stoicism about it, pretty much how you would imagine a Stalker to talk.

Interesting idea too, people becoming one with the zone and being exploited by the others - nobody wants to know their story, all that matters is they get results.

It reminds me a story called 'Glimmer Rats' from the renowned U.K comic 2000AD ( home of Judge Dredd ), prisoners who were dropped into a newly discovered sub-dimension as unwilling explorers, one of them having spent so long there that he had evolved into knowing the safest route through any given area, at the cost of his basic humanity.

If I have any criticisms it's that, as Amoki said, there is sometimes just too much information packed in there. I can't see how you'd alter too much of it without upsetting the piece itself, just don't be offended when you come across a voter with a short attention span ( there are quite a few of them out there ) and they dismiss it unfairly.

I also agree that Tasha just kind of mills in the background until she becomes a traitor, if you fleshed out her character even a little ( personality traits, small conversations with the main character ) that would provoke a greater reaction when she does betray him.

Besides that, very good work.
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