| 04:59:37 13 September 2012
On forum: 11/07/2011
With Hare gone so also went my intuition. When I had woken up this morning I had been blindsided by the disbelief that I had not been dreaming all of yesterday, and I was indeed now trapped in this nightmare that I felt I would never wake up from. I was in the Zone, I did listen to a criminal guide and follow him into the depths of a radioactive wilderness, a place without laws, without safety, or respectable human beings with consideration for one another. I was now alone, in a strange land filled with monsters, both human and animal, a place forgotten and untamed.
I had to make all of my hard decisions by myself from now on, with my gun and my will as the only enforcers of those decisions. As I stood outside the door of my weather-beaten little cottage I examined my surroundings. Early in the morning, abundant trees and shade nearby, few people were stirring at this hour, yet it was eight o'clock in the morning. I had been awakened by a tree brushing against my new home, that groaned as the wind put stress on the old and weakened boards.
I walked to the coals of the fire I had sat around last night, smoldering, black now, with tiny whisps of smoke and heat visibly distorting the air around it. When I looked up I saw someone come out and greet me.
Dog had exited from the cottage to my left, said something to me, and had handed me some food. He wasn't wearing the body armor he wore yesterday, instead he was wearing the usual camouflage uniform he wore under it, with his AK slung over his back. Right from yesterday I noticed that he had a very scruffy, unkempt appearance, he didn't shave, then again there aren't many razors or clean water in this place. He also looked somewhat different from most of the people in the Zone, in that he had long, dark curly hair, which he was now wearing a military cap over. He took a swig of vodka and looked out at the small clearing behind me and to my left.
"Seer's sleeping now, but last night he had a vision. He said the Zone is spreading, because the Zone isn't really just this place, it's a plague, an unstoppable plague that will spread to every corner of the globe and put us all under its perpetual darkness. There will be nowhere safe from this, your children will have to live with it, and if you survive and make it out you will have to teach them how to live with this place."
Dog said this to me as he blankly stared off at the clearing, and then he looked to me and he said. "Look, I know this is a lot to deal with when you just got here, I'm sorry if this sort of thing ruins your day, and if you make it out alive, we'll be there to help."
How did you know I had a son? I asked him.
"I didn't, Seer did." he remarked.
"Hey, got an artifact detector?"
I fumbled through my bag to show him the detector I was provided with for the trip.
Dog looked at it, turning it over in his hands.
"This is shit, here have this one, the one they gave you isn't even the right one for that frequency."
So he handed me the detector he had in his pocket, and taught me how to read the display. He didn't tell me how to follow the pings because he assumed I knew better, and I did.
So I put the detector in my bag, and I left through the clearing Dog had looked at earlier when he spoke to me.
Not five minutes after I had entered the grove I heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, off in the distance, muffled by vegetation and its far-off location, it was to the right of where I had entered from the trail. The short scuffle had ended. I resumed moving through the hollow trail surrounded by green leaves, clutching my AK, finger poised near the trigger, but not on it.
Despite having killed several dogs yesterday while sleepless, today the thought of having to kill another living thing to survive unsettled me, but it's a risk I am willing to take. Perhaps with luck I will encounter no bandits or headhunters in this place while I search for an anomaly, and I don't know much about what an anomaly is, other than what the outfitter told me and what Hare had told me to watch out for, and to use the anomaly detector I was given to find and avoid.
After travelling a considerable distance into the woods, I turned back to look at the end of the trail from where I entered, a small, jagged piece of light at the end of the muddy trail, surrounded with dark woods on all sides, I had gone deeper now, away from the only sliver of civilization I knew in here, with mud caked on my boots and the bottom of my jeans. It was still humid from yesterday, and I was sweating, small clouds of black flies swirled about near my face, riding the thermals of my breath. I watched them there, in a continuous, mesmerizing state, shimmering before me, until something more pressing drew my immediate attention.
A sudden explosion of automatic weapon fire erupted from my right, much closer than the earlier skirmish I heard shortly after entering. Now I realized how stupid I had been to continue down this path. I grabbed my rifle, and hid low near a poplar tree to my left. I looked around through the green and brown underbrush, for some movement, trying not to make sudden moves and stay out of sight from any trespassers. So I sat there, crouched, with my weapon ready to fire, I stayed there motionless, scanning the forest for what seemed like a half an hour, maybe it was half that time, but several figures emerged from the woods on the path ahead, from the right side of the trail, too distant to make out, vague human shadows obscured by the sunlight coming my way. I watched them walk across the road, here for a second, briefly, then seemingly out of existence.
I decided to stay still, even after the men had gone, a wise decision, because I could not make out who these people were, and I did not want to make any noise, or move. Piss-scared for what seemed to be an hour. Me, a young, cowardly novice stalker trying to blend in, and survive this whole ordeal. Before I came to this place I had never fired a gun before, now I'd have defend myself if I got into an altercation with hostile strangers, uncertainty is the reality of this place, nobody gives you orders or informs you, so it's up to you to figure out who could help you or kill you, and at a distance, in poor lighting, everyone seems to blend together, so it's best to keep down, and out of trouble, lest it come to you.
I assumed after all this time had passed that it was safe to continue, I broke from the trail, to my right, into the vegetation, in the direction of the scuffle I heard, looking for scraps. I stayed in a ready position, low, moving aside errant branches, and poised behind trees scanning the forest with my rifle, until I reached a small break in the grove, where the firefight had occured.
Four bodies lay motionless on the forest floor, the nearest lay heaped atop of a bed of chartreuse ferns, with bright red blood staining many of the leaves a scarlet color. Warm, sticky, blood. The blood of an unknown man, staining the leaves and the soil, forgotten here, in this murderous forest.
I checked the pockets of the corpse, with blood staining my hands as I did so, it rolled off the waterproof fabric of his outfit, he was a stalker, and I had now become a scavenger, feeding from the dead and learning from their example. Three AK mags, polymer, black matte ones, some food in a plastic bag, a watch, and a note. Soon I would find that note very valuable, I checked his gun, AK-74, scope, wood furniture, standard stock, non-folding. I considered for a second using his gun, then reconsidered. instead I took his belt and wrapped it around the end of my metal stock. Good enough. When I had looked at the scope of his gun I thought taking his weapon would leave me much better suited, until I examined the scope and had seen that the lenses were broken. Oh well, onto the next corpse.
The next victim was wearing a green, waterproof jacket, small black flies danced around his eyelashes. The back left portion of his skull was missing, leaving bits of ochre colored pieces of his brain on the forest floor near where he lay. A large pool of dark red blood had poured out from his head and settled on the soil and the mat of ferns that his body was now resting upon. I took off his jacket to search his pockets for anything useful, and discovered in the process that he was wearing some sort of bullet proof vest. I considered using it, it would be minimal protection, but it appeared to be only a soft bullet proof vest, despite not providing enough protection, it would be lighter to carry than one that utilized a plate. I decided to take the vest off of the corpse and continue my search. Having discarded the vest, I checked the pockets of the jacket, and the corpse's clothes, a pack of cigarettes, some canned meat, 2 bakelite AK magazines, one in each jacket pocket, a flask half empty on the inside pocket, I didn't really care for drinking today, but oh well. So after throwing out the cigarettes, and taking the food, and the liquor, I moved on to his gun, which in retrospect should have been the first thing I checked, but I was not rushing here. Much earlier on I had noticed that he was carrying an AKS-74u, and although it would probably be a better weapon for this forest, I think I could hack it with a full-sized AK.
The third body was lying near the second one about two meters behind him, wearing a leather jacket, filled with dark, deep crimson holes, and partially stained. The leather was also torn in many places, suggesting it had been shredded by underbrush and other unknown things in the Zone. Beside him lay a Winchester model 1912 with a cut down barrel. Besides the jacket, he was wearing a baseball cap, and a pair of blue jeans, stained in places from the multiple gunshot wounds in his chest. In one of the pockets of his jacket I found a compass, in another pocket I found a lighter, which would come in handy at night, I checked it to see if it worked. Now I had a working lighter and a compass, these would both help me on later, as well as the note in my pocket. Also important to note, was that with the shotgun he was also wearing an ALICE pack with shotgun shells in the pouches. For a moment I thought of taking his gun, it would certainly help against dogs and other creatures in this place that I had not heard of yet, but then I reconsidered. My AK was good enough at the moment, and I had far more ammo for it.
On to the last of the fallen, like the first victim he was wearing a stalker suit, rubberized and waterproof to keep out the elements, but this stalker had something else on him that was immediately apparent. He was wearing a tactical vest with several mag pouches, I would later find this to be very useful, no longer having to carry AK magazines in my coat, I would be able to have more space to carry items in my backpack and pockets. Like the second victim, this one had died from a gunshot wound to the head. When I found him he was laying curled up on his right side, the bullet having gone through the left side of his head, but something was peculiar about his fatal wound, when I turned his body over, I found pieces of splintered skull, yellow brain and a pool of blood, not scattered everywhere, like the other stalker, but comparatively neat in that it was arranged in a cone that went downwards towards the soil. Apparently, this stalker was executed, at close range, he also had a gunshot wound on one of his legs, which may have hindered his mobility and sealed his fate here. Whoever killed this man was close.
Another thing I found peculiar about all these corpses as I scavenged them was that they were not picked clean of everything of value. If someone was close enough to execute this stalker, then why did they not take everything from him and the other ones? I looked at his gun, It was an AKS-74, same as mine, but less dinged up, and this one had a scope, but the lenses weren't broken, I decided to take it over my own, since it wouldn't be wise to just take off the scope and put it on my gun, I'd have to zero it, and it would be a total bitch to do here, or back in the village. There was one odd thing about his gun and this corpse in particular, he had no ammunition, no magazine in the gun, no magazines, nothing, whatsoever. Perhaps the party that had killed this one began to scavenge ammo, but something had caused them to stop just after taking the ammo from this stalker, but what could scare off a small gang of armed robbers? In any case, there was no ammo in his mag pouches, but I searched his backpack and did find several cans of food, which the labels were mostly weathered off, one of the cans bulged at the top and bottom, so I threw it into the woods. I could die a lot of different ways in the Zone, but botulism wasn't one of them.
I took inventory of what I had raided from the dead. 5 AK magazines, food, a watch, a bullet proof vest, a flask of vodka, a compass, a lighter, a tactical vest, and a new AK with a scope. I had put on the armor, and the tactical vest, put the magazines in the pouches, food in my bag, and other stuff in my pockets. The smell was really getting to me at this point in time, and I headed off. After getting to some cleaner air I took the the note out of my pocket. on it was drawn a small map with pen ink, and below it read:
"The field is up here somewhere, by the river, with the twisted beams and tractor, close to the pond. Mincer, use a EHF/SX oscillator detector to search."
I got my artifact detector out of my bag, on it was a piece of electrical tape with EHF/SX written on it with a marker. Compared to my anomaly detector, which I had in my left coat pocket, my artifact detector was bulky and heavy. It was the one Dog gave to me, but how did Dog know it was the right one for this field? Then again, maybe it was Seer that knew, and he had told Dog to give it to me, in any case, I quit speculating and continued on my way. I went through the disorganized forest, without a road now, until I heard rushing water, I had reached the river that the note told of.
I wondered which way to go, left, or right, and remembered, the note already mentioned the anomaly, and they were going towards the road, from the river, which means they must have found the anomaly, So I went right following the river. Water twisted over the rocks, creating a surface of distorted glass, reflecting sunlight back at me like sparkling jewels. Green, translucent leaves glowed overhead with sunlight shining through them, down to the forest floor where all manner of chatter from the tiny critters that lived here.
As I followed the river over the pebbly ground it soon led to a bank that sloped up from the river, and down on each side towards the water, gaining shoddy footing over gray roots that criss-crossed each other, surrounded with moss, reaching up to blueish trees that tried to grasp at all the sunlight they could. Off in the distance, from the hill I saw through gaps. Dark and silver trees in the sun, surrounded with every shade of green.
I continued along the embankment until the slope of the hill eased off into rocky ground once again, with a small tributary brook snaking its way through, water swirling over smoothed stones, and off through the forest underbrush. The tiny stream was about a meter wide, and I saw no branches or logs to place over it, so I jumped over it, with all my gear on, and continued on my way.
Eventually the river came to a bend that opened up out of the forest, giving way to more pastoral landscape filled with reeds along the shoreline. I turned right, and walked up a small hill at the mouth of the river's entrance to this still water, from the top of the hill the river gave way to a marsh in the middle of a large clearing surrounded by forest. In the middle of this marsh was a road going across a bridge supported by a concrete pipe in the center. I decided this would be the place where I would stay the night.
After following the reeds around to the hill where the road lay situated across the marsh, I used my scope to survey down the road both on my left, and my right. The storm drain here is a terribly obvious place for a shelter, but it is also the place with the most visibility and the highest elevation, its only drawback is that it lacks concealment.
But now in the afternoon, and far from camp, I realized that I can't be picky about where I take shelter. So I would have to stay here for now. With that in mind I began the preparation, while I still had time I would try to fortify my shelter while I still had daylight.
I moved my head, scanning the foreground for scraps of things to construct a crude shelter. nothing on this side, up over the right side of the road, nearby, but not in the immediate distance I could see some stuff sinking into the bog, surrounded with reeds and algae-coated mud.
I could see it was plastic tubing, laying in 2 stacked rows, on a bank that was slightly higher than the surface of the water, and snaked its way back to the embankment that I was standing on.
I decided to go and retrieve it, pushing aside long, sharp reeds and getting my boots covered in black muck.
Then about 10 meters away from the tubing, the geiger counter the outfitter gave me suddenly started going crazy, I stepped back. No, this was not the way, unless I could find a way around.
I turned back to the embankment, defeated, but not utterly hopeless, I knew there was something else around here to take a look in, I noticed it earlier.
When I had first arrived at this location, one of the first things I had noticed while surveying the road was that a little way down on my left side, about half way from the bridge to the forest was a rusted abandoned truck parked on the road, and I had decided to walk down the road to examine it. Way down this corridor, on either side of the road, past the edge of the water, and the clearing, were high conifer trees with a few poplar here and there. This area worried me, as did much of the forest that surrounded the entire marsh that I was now, sticking out like a sore thumb in.
In a place like this there is a pervasive, corrosive sort of paranoia, that eats away at your state of mind. It is more or less this knowing that you're being followed by the spectre of death, being aware that at any moment your life could be cut short by someone watching you, tracking your movements, and waiting for you to stay still.
The forest raiders that I encountered twice earlier on my journey are nothing compared to this caliber of predator. Perhaps it was only my paranoia that made me aware of them, but I managed to walk down to the truck without getting sniped by someone waiting for me, but I hadn't felt better yet.
I climbed up into the bed of the truck, where I found it still had construction equipment. Several slabs of concrete that I could not bother to drag back, but there was sheet metal and rebar, which was easier, though still unpleasant to carry, and then drag down the road, making dirt tracks all the way to my hideout.
This was when I was most vulnerable, and felt a most-discernable presence watching me, utterly helpless in a field, dragging sheets of rusted steel, and carring bales of rebar.
After making 3 trips I felt somewhat better, although somewhat exhausted from walking here, and taking all this scrap metal with me, but I no longer felt I was being watched. If they had an opportunity to kill me, they would have taken it.
I dragged the shit down to the pipe opening, and propped up a crude sort of barrier on either side of the concrete pipe, then went up to the road and kicked about the dirt to cover up my tracks, partially.
The sun was getting low in the sky, and I felt uneasy, so I settled in the pipe, the diameter of which was in fact quite large, I could almost stand up in it. I thought about starting some sort of fire, but decided against it, it was too late to gather wood, and the light would give away my position, if I didn't hide it underground outside, inside the pipe it would just poison the air and I already felt quite claustrophobic.
So as the sun went down, I settled in, looked at what I had so far, ate some food, drank some vodka, and fumbled about with my flashlight when the sun was gone. Then I put my jacket over myself, and fell asleep, waiting for what tomorrow would bring.
During my slumber I remember having a dream, walking through an old, abandoned cottage in the Zone, stepping over creaking boards, all the paint long gone from the weathered, gray wooden walls.
There was a room ahead of me, that still possessed a door, upon opening it I entered the room, and then everything suddenly turned black, and a horrible, ominous feeling of something coming, of a presence that sensed me. I turned around to find the door and exit, but it was too late, I panicked, and woke up, and hit my head on the roof of the pipe.
I could hear it raining outside, I don't know when, but a thunderstorm probably rolled in while I was asleep.
Lying on my back, unable to see anything in the dark above me, I bent my neck slightly forwards, only to see the black outline of a thing crawling closer through the pipe. The feeling of dread grew more intense as I could sense it coming closer, and I stopped moving, paralyzed as it began to suck away at my mouth, draining all of my strength, and I felt like I was there, trapped beneath this creature for hours. I was unable to do anything, eventually, it finished sucking the life out of me, and I was left laying on the cold concrete, with the sound of the rain pouring around outside, above me, and around me, only accentuating the feeling of intense cold, and almost lifeless sickness that I now felt. I was unable to move and I felt as if I was going to die here, sapped of energy.
The sound of the rain was my only accompaniment as I drifted off again into the void of sleep.
| 00:05:43 12 May 2012
On forum: 11/07/2011
Although I had now begun to move, to keep up the pace with Hare, I was still in a trance. My mind was not here, somewhere distant and safe. I was extremely foolish to come here, to abandon my wife and child and go wandering through this unofficial war zone filled with the worst sort of characters that humanity had to offer. The lack of sleep was getting to me, I felt distant within my mind, withdrawing from the harsh brushes of reality that stroked me through my clothes as I walked through the underbrush. The pale, lavender flesh under my fingernails stood out naked and vivid against my pink hands with bulging veins, evidence of my own sleep deprivation. I wanted to be home, I would rather take the scorn of someone harmless than to brush more flecks of clotted blood from my gun handle, but like a walking zombie I soldiered on, without my will to reassure me of my sanity.
We had now passed the small clearing to where it entered another patch of forest up ahead, the dark openings of shade under the trees opened wide like huge black mouths waiting to swallow us whole.
I felt the gasoline running through my veins and the blurry thoughts shifting in and out of focus in my delirious, fading mind.
"Hold up!" Hare suddenly shouted to me, not loud, but softly, his entire body shifted backwards, bracing himself for something unseen.
"Listen." I obeyed the will of my master, for I had none of my own, saved from death once, I assumed he knew better than my so horribly clouded judgement.
I heard a cacophonous nonsense, of barks, first softly, then growing louder, accompanied by pained whines, yelps, howls and groans, all while twigs and sticks cracked and rustled, coming closer, through the impenetrably dense thicket up ahead.
"Dogs, I fucking hate dogs." Muttered Hare with a sort of dread, and a pained expression on his face. "Quick, come on, get up the tree."
And so I obeyed, stepping into his foot, being hoisted and climbing, struggling against gravity, a persistent, old friend now a mortal enemy, and Hare climbed too, grabbing the sandpaper bark of the conifer we climbed about ten, twenty feet up into the tree, looking down at a mottled orange mat of pine needles. Fast, hungry, leathery things with patches of fur scurried below us, howling, barking, and beckoning to each other, and to us to come down and join them in their feast.
And suddenly, my sleepless haze was shattered by the sound of Hare spraying lead down at the starving creatures beneath us, yelping and crying out in pain, then fading away as glistening heaps on the forest floor.
"Come on, shoot, help me out here man." He insisted, and I pulled the trigger, I watched dogs die through the crude block-and-post sight of my AK-74, I killed seven puppies there and then. Like skinned greyhounds laying on an orange fur rug, pink tongues lolling out of their sleek, eyeless heads.
The commotion had died down, and I had not even exhausted a full magazine, he said I didn't do bad for someone so inexperienced. I couldn't really care, I wasn't awake, I was dreaming some horrible nightmare.
We shuffled down the tree, scraping bits of dry and weathered bark off of the trunk. It was there that we inspected the dead, about 15-20 dogs lay dead on the ground, skin stretched taught over their rib cages, patches of fur interspersed with layers of scarred skin left bald. Bullet holes and twisted tears in the exit wounds from my 5.45 left violent distortions of these creatures anatomies. Broken, twisted, dirty teeth stood out of slender jaws, endlessly hungering for food.
Hare said something to me then, about how these creatures are the only thing he really fears in the Zone, not bandits, not anomalies, not even some of the more horrible monsters that live here. He hated dogs, and hated them more than any other creature here, Their speed, their persistence, their propensity to hunt in packs, the very sound of their barking tortured him in a way that I could only vaguely glimpse of, and most of all, their eternal hunger. Even the dead dogs that stared at us stared hungrily, their mouths open and agape, still seeking to devour our flesh, even in death these things hunger.
And so we had left the scene of our crime, where dark wine colored blood stained the tangerine mats of pine filaments. And after losing ourselves some more navigating through the brush we had come to another clearing.
The sun shone upon our skin, and our dreary clothes, as the wind brushed across the open field of grass up to us from down in the valley where broken wooden beams pointed out of old village homes with paint that had long weathered away.
It was here that Hare told us that our place to rest and relax was finally in sight, as I watched eddies of wind dance above the tawny colored grass I could only think of how wonderful it was to have a safe place to rest my head for the evening.
And so, we moved on, through long grass, with patches of brush and thistle in our way, and crossing a small plank bridge over a dwindling brook, where frogs and unseen aquatic creatures played in the pools of mire.
We approached the little hamlet, hiding itself away from sight under overgrown trees and a rusty chain link fence filled with holes. Of course Hare was not the only one who took a pair of bolt cutters to this place. Bushes grasping towards us like prisoners behind bars, wound around steel and deformed by the blue latticework of wire.
We entered the village like getting reacquainted with an old friend, in my case someone I had always known, but had never met until now, in Hare's case some he knew much better, but each stranger here, felt like he belonged, like a relative in a distant memory.
A grubby young man in a leather jacket greeted us, leaning against a building being consumed by the very pieces of nature it was constructed from. His cigarette burned as a small orange ember against the mild shade of the late day.
"Oh look who we got here, a couple of strangers, where did you come from?"
"Hell," Hare remarked to the man.
"No, hell is that way." the man replied, gesturing in the opposite direction from whence we came.
"Who is the boss around here?" Hare asked him.
The man leaned against the wall, and pondered, intentionally delaying him
"Dog is his name, He's in the building over there, but you should ask him to go visit Seer first, since he's the real boss around here, even if he's not all that well."
"So the group Soyuz are here, this is their place right?"
Again, the man hesitated to answer for a brief second, he seemed caught up in a moment of reflection.
"Yeah, they run this joint, but I'm not one of them."
"Any reason why?" inquired Hare.
"Not my cup of tea." And as he said this he made a gesture, inferring to the dubious nature of their mental fitness.
We headed to a small dacha somewhere close around a few houses, where a man clad in olive colored, thick and oppressive body armor lay with his back against the outside wall of the small, now weather-beaten home. He sat there, eating something in a wrapper.
"So what do you want, stalker? What brings you here?"
"I'm looking for someone called Dog."
"You're lookin right at im, Junkyard Dog is the name."
He smiled and shook both our hands, then resumed eating.
"So where is this uh... seer of yours?"
"He's over there, in that building, the one surrounded by guards, be easy on him, he's been sick quite a bit lately, although he is doing pretty good today. You're not looking to exploit him, are you? He doesn't do things for people's personal gain, keep that in mind."
"No, no, I'm not asking anything like that, I have something simpler to ask of him, stuff that's around in this area." Hare said to him, with a hint of apprehension.
"Like what?" Inquired Dog.
"Just where I can find something that a client of mine is looking for, and some directions." Answered Hare.
"Well, he can't answer everything you ask him, keep that in mind, he is a mind reader, but he's not omniscient."
I was perplexed at this conversation between them, and even more mystified by this apparent psychic, and his eccentric minions and apostles.
"Oh, one last thing, is there anywhere to sleep?" Asked Hare.
"Everywhere." Dog, replied to him, look around you, it's a village.
So I followed Hare, into a barn tucked away in the village, surrounded by armed guards wearing thick, body armor, to a room, where several small candles burned in this manger surrounding a meek man in a flora BDU with a bandage wrapped around his head. He sat in a chair, propped up like a puppet, leaning against the edge of a beam to his left. Smoke from incense and candles rose and created a thick, transparent blanket of ether shimmering about him. A few moments after we had arrived here he became animated, pulling his heavy head up to stare at us, with the wisdom of a person that knew us all our lives he stared deep into our souls, knowing the very questions we would ask him. His sullen eyes from sleeplessness and restless wandering in thoughts. He had deep violet bags under his eyes and his skin appeared pale and cold, almost dead. He didn't appear to show any emotion, but even in his distance he conveyed a sense of familiarity to us.
Before the words even left Hare's mouth he had answered his question.
"So Hare, you came here to look for something, right?" "You won't make the Colonel upset."
The words he told him did not appear to be so clear, and I was perplexed at how Hare paused upon his remark, as if to ask another question, but he appeared to be listening to some conversation within his own mind.
"Wait, and how do you know the Colonel?"
"I know everyone Hare, I am everyone."
And as I listened to this man make such an audacious claim I could hear him speaking to me in my thoughts, he knew what I had come here for, he knew my motives without me ever speaking them to him, and he mentioned my wife and my son, by name, but I did not know if he really knew them. He told me not to worry about Hare, even tomorrow, I asked him in my mind, what Hare would do tomorrow, but he would not give an answer, he just re-assured me that Hare was out for my own good as well as his own.
"Please go, I need some time to rest." Seer had spoken to us, so we left, and scraped us up some dinner, by the fire with a few of the men in the village. After eating we remained around the campfire, told stories, drank, some played guitar, and when the light burned down to coals we each went to our respected places in the abandoned homes and slept on the primitive mats we brought.
And I dreamed, about the family I left behind.
I awoke the next day to find tree branches and leaves scratching against the empty frames of broken windows. Light pouring through, mottled against the shade of leaves. I walked through the decrepit cottage, and out into the village, I saw familiar faces that I met yesterday, but Hare was gone without even telling me he had to leave. So I figured I was going to be on my own for now.
| 00:02:44 12 May 2012
On forum: 11/07/2011
The doors of the car slammed shut, we walked through the rain, on the cracked pavement towards a graying weathered building, upon the triangular section over the double doors was a clock. I looked at the water wash over the hood of Hare's jacket, down to the ground, and coating the cars and asphalt giving it a slick, waxy appearance. He opened the door, and a soft, amber glow came out of the inside of the place, reflecting off of the rain-soaked pavement.
I immediately sensed the smells and color of the place. The interior of the building was spacious, and the walls were lit with a deep yellow. Smoked curled from various tables where people talked, and every type of character that you could imagine was in this place, some talking, sharing stories, bullshitting, lying. Others waited with a determined, unknown goal in mind, and seemed weary of our very presence, the newcomer they didn't care to enlighten with their deeds.
Hare told me to not speak a word to these people, I don't know whether he did this out of my own safety, or out of distrust of me. but I followed him until he stopped at a dark, wooden door. Hare knocked, and the door pulled open and away, just a crack, A man's eye drifted forward into view, looking sullen, bloodshot, and very busy.
"Who is the kid?" He asked him. "He's a client, I'm taking him here as part of a business arrangement we made, we'll need to get him some stuff, and he'll have to pay me, he agreed to do that, after all."
And it was true, I did agree to pay him, but I didn't remember how much, in my mind it was like a year ago, I just had money in my pocket, although I was no longer worried about money for some reason, I found that very strange.
"Is that my old friend Hare? Bellowed this voice somewhere distant inside the unknown room. Footsteps came and the door swung wide open. "Hare old boy, I haven't seen you around here in a while, how you doing? And who are you bringing along?"
Hare looked a little uncertain, but kept his act together. "He's my new friend for this trip, he wants to become a stalker."
"Well, we'll have to see about that, we'll get you both all set up for the journey, I got some vodka in the back, come on in."
So me and Hare followed the man to the back, it was evident that they knew each other, but Hare seemed a little apprehensive about talking to him. I would later come to figure out why. The three of us sat at this table with two other men that I did not know, and would never see again. Hare's good friend poured the two of us glasses of vodka, and we sat down, I tasted the sweet, clinical scent of liquor on my tongue and down my throat. Much of our conversation was unremarkable, and at this time it is almost completely absent from my memory, but I do remember this. Hare talked to the man about me, and I mentioned my dilemma, and the man told me about how such wonders are not all that hard to dig out of the Zone, but it is getting in or out that is the difficult journey, as well as surviving once you are in there. Hare showed the man on his map where he would go, and he said that he would make the "accommodations" to suit his plan, at the time I didn't know who this man was, and after some time I had to get up to to find my way to the bathroom.
After referrals from different patrons of this place, I had come to find where the bathroom was, and shortly after entering it, Hare entered. He didn't have anything to do in here, but he came to discuss something with me. "I see you've met the Colonel." He told me. "Wait, this guy is a Colonel, in the army, or something?" I remarked. "Yes, in the army, not that I can't get in here without him, but it makes things significantly easier for us." So, you're putting in a good word with this Colonel, you're paying him, right. "In a way, yes, but he doesn't want a monetary payment. He asked me to do something, I'll tell you all about it once we're in the Zone, for now you just keep quiet enough to play along with what is going on."
So we made it back to the table, and we continued to drink, me, Hare, and this "Colonel," who was in reality a deeply corrupt member of the military. Well, outsiders would say he is corrupt, but as we had come to find, he was just another man out for his own best interests, and the interests of those he associated with. I would soon come to find that he was still working for the interests of the army, but he had taken a different approach. Most of the brass wanted the Zone locked down, this separated them from the stalkers, their mortal enemies, but the Colonel knew the best way to keep tabs on us stalkers was to be of service to them, for exchange of mutual favors.
After a good deal of trading stories, he invited Hare to another room in the place, and told me to stay, they were going to have what the Colonel called a private chat. In the meantime, I had a discussion with the two remaining men at that table, both of them stalkers, sharing with each other stories of their horrible encounters inside the Zone, many of them made me squeamish, much to their delight of course, less competition for them, being all the better. Hare returned, looking very disturbed, and the Colonel did not return, Hare had told me he had left on business. I did not ask him why he was so distraught, but I would find this out later on my out of the Zone.
And so, after sharing many stories under the lights in this opaque, smoky, dirty room with a filth-caked carpet and cordovan walls that vaguely resembled the inside of a person's skull, one of the Colonel's underlings, or just a patron, with just an order from him came to get us, we were led to a room somewhere off to the side, a waiting room of sorts, a prep room. A shabby, bearded man came to the room, dressed in a coat, reeking of vodka. And had handed us each pistols, Hare, got a fairly-worn CZ-75 from the man with 4 mags, And I had gotten a rather new Fort-12 pistol with 3 mags, He had also given us various provisions and tools for the journey in a backpack.
Of course Hare was an experienced stalker, so he didn't get any tips from the man, this man barely traveled to the Zone himself, but gave me sort of half-hearted instructions on what to do when near anomalies, how to use my detector, and some rudimentary tips on how to operate my firearm. He even suggested that I go with him to a sort of firing range to test my new pistol, but Hare knew he was just fishing for more money at this point and said he would teach me some time along the way.
So the outfitter left, and it was now only me and Hare inside the decaying white walls of the waiting room, where our conversation echoed uncomfortably off the dirty tiled floor about any last minute regrets I may have had here, and when that inevitable pause did come along, I thought hard about my decision, but in the end I knew what had to be done had to be done, in my mind there was no other way.
I wondered why Hare had taken that long to press me for his payment, perhaps he was testing my conviction on this matter. I would imagine him to be more up front with his clients, but I never got to ask him that question, and I would soon forget it.
We returned to the car, and had noticed that the rain had stopped, it had now lessened to a misty precipitation. Like a stray dog looking for home, Hare drove around the poorly paved roads in search of the path he had in his memory. Once again, his behavior became erratic when he saw a white truck parked suspiciously up the road, near the woods in an area near a forest, on the border of the Zone.
"Shit, it's the fucking guards." He put his car in reverse and turned back sharply around the corner, made a U turn and tried to look for another route in. Although I thought Hare may be paranoid, and at times overly-cautious, I never doubted him. He was the expert here, and I wasn't going to tell them that it could be just someone innocent parking by the side of the road, it was better to be safe than to find out and risk our endeavor at hand. And besides, Hare would probably tell me that no one in their right mind other than guards would park there lest they risk being harassed and interrogated.
So after what seemed to be a half hour of probing different roads for the right location to enter, both in reality, and on the mapped approximations of it, we had come to find a little trail in the forest next to the road near the border. Hare had parked in this place and made it very clear that we had to rush out and get everything quick. I had taken my backpack with the provisions and some equipment for the trip, and Hare had taken his, which had some equipment, but mostly tools, maps, and his fraudulent license plates. In this span of time, he had also pried the plate off the car and put it in with the rest of the ones, and of course Hare buried his plates in the forest about half a mile in under a tree that he marked with his hatchet. Hare told me of many such similar stashes made in the Zone by men who never came back to take them, and that the claim to them belonged to those others who could find them first.
We were not in the Zone yet, we were only about 800 meters in from the nearest road, and we would soon come to the fence. Hare had told me that the perimeter is varied, in some areas there is no fence, and it is easy to cross, but it is in those areas that land mines are often placed, to deter those who followed the fence to find a gap. In Hare's opinion, the fence was the much better option, and I agreed.
However, the fence that surrounds the Zone is not a single fence, there consists of multiple types of fences used, with multiple layers, some secondary, some tertiary in places, as well as areas near road entrances or gaps in the forest which are heavily fortified and manned by the army, who tended to the direct borders drawn around the perimeter, rather than the police, which monitored potential entry routes and the potential stalkers that followed them.
In addition to fences there are also concrete walls, some of which with cement-lined canals on the outside edge, yet any stalker with a hatchet or ax could fell a small tree and use that to climb over these constructions.
There are mainly three types of fences used around the perimeter of the Zone. The first is a sophisticated electrified fence system with razor wire bales that is constructed in the better fortified positions to deter people from entering, it is usually constructed in multiple layers, and is often accompanied by gun towers and personnel to maintain it.
The two other types of fence used are simple chain link fence, with or without razor wire on top, or simple barbed wire fences in the most remote locations. Many areas lacked fence altogether, but since we were near a town, known for, and often catering to the interests of stalkers like us, it was guaranteed that we would encounter a fence of some sort.
And so we did encounter a fence, it was up on the crest of a small hill in the forest, young saplings and other trees twisted around it and through the holes in it, struggling to breathe the light of the sun through the spots of light that taller trees had left for them when they blotted out the sunlight and left us with the shade of the verdant green forest. Deep green leaves flickered, showing their pale green undersides intermittently, and the soil we walked on was soft and wet. Mud had accumulated on our boots since our trip from the car through this trail, to this silver lace ribbon that stretched through the woods for miles.
Hare put his rucksack in the mud near fledgling blades of green grass and took out his bolt cutters. Where there wasn't a door to this land he would make one, carve a small portal through a weave of steel wire. As he cut each of the strands of steel the entire fence would shake with a tense snap of the wire, as if someone were shaking a tambourine. Soon there was a large hole in the fence that was about twice the height of both of us.
Hare clambered in first, and motioned me to come along. So I had passed the threshold, it was that easy, and now we were both criminals, but we were no longer in Ukraine, a country with laws, a country with people to enforce the legitimacy of those laws. Sure this land was rightful Ukrainian soil, but it was unmanageable, horrible country, a black mark on a map. It was frontier.
We didn't even have to deal with the razor wire on the fence. A fence is easy to defeat, human beings are less so. Hare placed the missing mass of steel wire into its jigsaw hole, and tied stands of wire he had in his bag just for this. He didn't want the holes he cut into fences to be immediately apparent, he knew that by the time they would be inspected to find a hole, he would have cut another one in a different location on our way out. This was the most infamous part of his profession, but ironically it was also the least difficult, in that anyone could do this.
We went on our way, just far enough to get out of sight from the perimeter, and then Hare took out his map. He marked a small spot on the black line near where we entered, and traced the lines to places I couldn't make out, but he already knew.
"There's going to be a field up ahead, watch out. Things could get rough there, follow my advice when I say this to you, don't stay in open areas, especially around the perimeter. The forest is your friend because of the cover it provides, if you're out in the open in this place you're as good as dead."
I would take his advice to heart, soon up ahead, the vegetative cover we had grown accustomed to broke into open, misty, white and gray marbled sky. We could not see far into the zone, ahead of us was tall, green sawblade grass dancing swaying back and forth as the wind blew across it.
Then it happened, we heard rotors, we heard a dreadful roar from our left, fast, hurtling over the trees, a black, shark-like silhoutte. A military helicopter flew by fast and low over us. At first we thought it had missed, but the sound doubled back. Hare told me to dive down, into the harsh, tall, razor sharp grass. I knew it was bullshit, I knew the helicopter could still see us under the grass, now pushed over us by the rotor wash, but I obeyed him without thinking. There was nothing to do. I could feel the omniscient eyes of the Mi24 watching me and Hare, as we lay motionless under tall reeds in an open field, and then I heard something I didn't expect.
A voice crackled over an intercom "Hare, the Colonel told me about your little deal with him, don't forget Hare, he was pretty mad about the last promise you broke with him, we wouldn't want you to have a hard time coming back to this place. If that friend of yours wasn't with you I'd probably gun him down. I've killed three stalkers today, and I wouldn't mind making it five. It's a good thing you have the Colonel on your side."
Hare and I slowly, defeatedly pulled ourselves up from the muck, back up through the grass, to look at the helicopter, hovering, pulling away higher into the sky. All while the rotor wash whipped the grass around, tore at our clothes, cut at our exposed skin, and made it harder to for us to stand on two feet again, but soon it had vanished as quickly as it had come, and we were left alone with the wilderness, once again.
As we made our way through the tall grass, tending to the wounds on our hands and faces, I asked Hare what those helicopters usually do. He told me that they don't kill most of the stalkers they see, it's unproductive for them, and a waste of ammo, though it is "good fun" for them. He mentioned that since there are so few guards, the military often relies on helicopter patrols around the perimeter, in order to tally and keep track of the number of stalkers entering and leaving the Zone, they put the PA system in the helicopters specifically to warn trespassers to turn back and be arrested, with lethal force as the last resort. However, since they are trespassers, they are fully authorized to shoot them on sight.
After about ten minutes traveling through the maze of sharp grass, the vegetation broke suddenly into a small hill up ahead, we climbed it, and looked back over the field of reeds we had crossed through, back to the forest where we came from, and we ventured on.
We were now in a dark, coniferous forest with trees with sharp branches, and more space between them. We tread upon rusty pine needles soft, and fragrant from the rain from earlier today. We were about 50 meters into the forest near a clearing when we heard something stirring up ahead.
Something like 5-6 silhouttes came out of the shadows of the forest, pointed unrecognizable guns at us, and told us drop our weapons and get down. We were being robbed. Hare stood behind me, he told me to put my weapon down in front of me and lay down, I could not see him at the time, but I later found out why he had his hands behind his back when he said that.
I complied, shaking, I put my brand new pistol down in front of me, on a mat of pine needles and moist soil. Then I saw something small hurtle through the gaps in the trees and land next to the men up ahead. I heard Hare quickly dive onto his chest near me, behind me to my left, and I heard gunshots ring out through the forest, and then the thing up ahead exploded, fire and smoke, and cracked branches and scattered groans of those up ahead in the broken trees, barely alive.
I could not understand what was happening at the time, but Hare later told me that he told me to put my weapon down as an opportunity to keep them focused on me, and offer him a split second to throw the grenade he had taken with him, dive for cover, and kill anyone quick enough to respond before it went off with several gunshots. This is one of the tricks he had learned while in the Zone.
So we went up ahead, to where there were broken saplings, and the smell of scorched wood, a mist of blood, and seared flesh. The carnage was immediately apparent, and I wanted to vomit upon seeing it. I saw mangled bodies, scattered masses of offal, dismembered limbs, and blood and broken branches everywhere. I was sick to my stomach upon seeing such destruction for the first time. Hare tried to humor me, while he was looking elsewhere he picked up a dismembered arm and waved it, when I looked over. "Hey, over here, I need a hand."
I didn't really appreciate his joke, but I went over anyways, while inhaling the sickly smelling bloody air, he was going through the various guns of our assailants, and he had found a few out of them that weren't completely broken. He handed me an AKS-74, covered in blood, with a plum colored magazine sticking out. He wiped off the blood while I stood there, disturbed and very distant. He picked up an MP5 he found with a bent collapsible stock and scorched plastic handguard, and wiped as much of the blood off of it as he could. "I think I'll take this, same cartridge as my pistol, and good enough for dogs."
He went up ahead, through the broken saplings and branches, out into the clearing, where the sun was now out and the clouds were gone. He motioned to me, "Hey, come on, we got to get to the camp before dark." I stood there still, very distraught, then shrugged off my dismay and went on to follow him.
| 00:00:32 12 May 2012
On forum: 11/07/2011
So here I was, in the morning, outside my door, reading a barely-legible piece of paper that I scribbled on when I was a drunken invalid. The wind brushed past my face and kissed me with the scent of the thawing ground, It was spring, and the flowers were growing again, in colored patches in the deep green grass. Meet Hare outside the bar it said, with the words of my heart written upon it. Almost looking down through the paper at the striated rows in the concrete door step. With a heavy weight on my shoulders and a knot in my stomach I headed off, inhaling the new air.
I made it to my car, opened the handle, and climbed inside. I put my keys in, but just sat there, looking at them, watching them hang for about two minutes while I struggled with my own thoughts and fears. And then I thought, if I didn't do this things would only get worse. I had to take this gamble, and whatever came of it, because I knew in my heart that it was better to take the risk to get somewhere rather than to stay no where at all. Most of all though, I was not thinking of myself and my own cowardice, I was thinking of my son. He would probably grow up without the problems I projected onto him, but I knew I would always be the one carrying his burden.
So I turned the key, felt the engine come to life, watched the road, and pulled out of the parking lot. I drove my little car over the pavement, saw the trees weeping, and bowing in the wind, and the sad, gray sky up ahead, with the portent of rain.
It seemed like the drive over was so brief when I made it to the bar, and pulled into the parking lot, an ochre building, with a sign, just starting to rust. I placed my car between the stripes of paint of the asphalt, turned the engine off, and sat there. I looked over the note again, my eyes glancing almost through the paper once again to focus on my keys, swinging back and forth still in the ignition. I pulled them out, opened the door, locked it then closed it.
The moist, somber wind greeted me again as I walked towards our waiting place. I leaned my body against the chipping yellow paint of the wall, and I seemed to wait a month there, although I knew it was only a few minutes. A wiry, thin man with grayish brown hair came around the corner in a jacket. "So you ready?" said Hare. I looked at the expression on his face and in his brown eyes. He seemed worried, impatient. I put the note in my pocket and said yes. Hare took me over to his dirty, white little car, scratched up by years of wear, he opened the door with the ugly handle, and clambored in, I followed suit on the other side.
Inside, I smelled musty paper and tobacco. He motioned me to open the glove box, I did so, and was surprised by the amount of paper stuffed into such a small compartment. "That one." he pointed at a stained piece of paper. Hare took the paper, and unfolded it, It looked like a map, a sort of irregular circle was drawn, with roads and other places pointing into it, but most curiously there were areas marked with X's and stitched lines, dots, and large encircled areas with the inside crossed out.
And then I understood what I was looking at here, this was a map of the perimeter, he had marked areas where there were holes in the security measures that the military had taken to keep this place locked down. "We're going to have to go to the dark city," he pointed at a box on the map, near some roads and 2 X's. It's a border town, where my "friends" will hook us up with the right equipment to go to the Zone. "Ever fired a gun before, experience in the military, maybe?" I told him no, he seemed annoyed. "You'll learn." I think Hare was just reassuring himself.
So he turned the key and we were off, driving at a decent pace, with the drone of the roadway beside us. And while we were on our way to the dark city I couldn't help but ask him. "Say, uh, Hare, why do they call you Hare." "Don't ask me that until we get there, okay?" He did seem annoyed, something was testing his patience, he looked like he was concentrating on the road, but I think he was concentrating on this thoughts.
As we got closer to the border Hare's behavior became more erratic, and so did his driving. He looked worried, even more so then before, and checked is mirror often. It was almost as if he expected something, or someone. Then it got to the point where I could no longer ignore his paranoia. "Hare, what are you looking for?" "We're probably being followed, we don't live in this town, and people don't drive through it often, our plates are suspicious, so we're probably being tailed here." "So it's the military after us." Hare shook his head. "No, it's not the grunts, in many cases they're easier for us to buy off, these guys are police, they make their living specifically enforcing this border, they are harder to bribe and don't have the same people that I have to keep people nice. Harder to spot too, they don't wear uniforms and don't drive around in regular police vehicles." After several blocks Hare looked at the rear view mirror and pointed at it to me to look, in. "See that? No, you're looking at it from the wrong angle, there." It was a dark blue van parked behind several other cars. "That same van has been following us for six blocks now, staying behind us, and watching us, sometimes parking behind other vehicles to look less noticeable. We're being tailed."
So now we knew that we were being followed, and we had to come up with a way to get them off us. We needed to find a way to lose them, and a good way, soon.
"Alright, I know how to get rid of them, but you'll have to do what I tell you, and I'll have to know that I can trust you." "You can trust me, just tell me what to do."
"Well, we're going to lose them in a turn, and get to some place secluded where they won't know how to get to us. Then you get out, I'll give you all the incriminating 'stuff' then drive off and go talk to them, when we get there, there will be another car, we'll break into it, and you can put the 'stuff' in the trunk. Then wait in the car, They'll check me out and after I'm done giving them an alibi we can come back, and switch plates and head off again." That sounds somewhat on the crazy side, I told him. "No, it will work, I've done it, I have a whole bunch of plates in my trunk from doing this, tools too."
So we headed off, Hare made it imperative not to drive fast, or in an overly suspicious or evasive manner, but he did trick them in a quick turn and doubled back. He parked at a parking lot with a red car next to us.
We got out. Hare opened the trunk, handed me bolt cutters, and a large suitcase, and several different license plates. He broke into the red car using one of his many "tools of the trade" and hot wired it. I put the bolt cutters and maps and plates and stuff in the trunk then closed it, and got back in.
"Okay, so here's the plan, you wait here, with the shit in this car, stay down, they don't know you're here. I'll go off in my car and give them my story, then I'll come back, okay?"
I mentioned I was fine with this, so Hare headed off, about a half hour later he came back, looking rather irritated, but at least he came back. "Where are the plates?" He said, very distraught. "In the trunk." I mentioned to him very bluntly. Hare opened the trunk, went around back, took a plate out, then took the plate off his white car, and replaced it.
"So what happened?" I asked, rather innocently. Hare looked at me like he was just insulted. "They didn't buy my story, but they didn't know what the fuck to do with me since they didn't have any evidence, I told them I was driving through to see my sister because she lives near here. They really fucking rode me when they stopped me and interrogated me. Didn't find jack shit in the trunk or glove box.
We pulled out of the parking lot, this time in a car that the border guards have seen in this area. Soon drops of water had hit the windshield, and it had started to rain.
By the time we got to the dark city as the place was referred to by my new friend, it was raining heavily. We had pulled into a driveway in front of some old, large building, standing up over the pavement. Rain washed down the windows, distorting the town outside. "You want to know why they call me Hare," he said to me, as he looked dead ahead, engine still idling, because I'm the rabbit they don't like, I'm like one of the rabbits that get into your garden to get to the crops. Chewing holes in fences, digging under them, climbing over them. If there is a way into this place I know it, before I did this I was a cat burglar, broke into houses, climbed floors and broke into places through the balconies and the windows and the rooftops. Cut holes in fences, broke down doors and screwed them back on, cut locks, you name it, I could do it."
"I'm probably one of the best at finding holes in the perimeter of this place, they know they can't stop me, so they try to use me to do their own job, when we go into the place, be quiet, and keep your head down, there is someone I need to talk to there."
I calmly and quietly listened to what he said and obeyed him, as we got out of the car, in the pouring rain, and headed for the building that now loomed over us. Although I did not know what was inside there, he did, and he knew what was to come.
| 23:59:05 11 May 2012
On forum: 11/07/2011
I thought I'd post a couple chapters of this story, it's really more about the process of entering the Zone and the shadowy groups that have a hand in supplying and financing the people that go there. It's about a rookie, and the guide who takes him there.
Five in the morning, barely any light outside. I got out of bed after a night of very little sleep, and with a serious hangover, which is probably the reason why I managed to get any sleep at all. I pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of my pocket. 7:00AM, meet Hare outside at the bar.
Last night I was there, getting stinking drunk, I had been fired from my job, and my son is sick, he can't walk, and can barely move or speak, and as selfish as I was, I decided to drown out my troubles with alcohol. It started to get late, and I looked at my watch, realizing that my wife was going to kill me when I got home. She must be worried sick, and that was when it happened, This scruffy guy, the guys at the bar call him Hare, he's a strange sort, he's one of those "Stalkers," thrill-seekers, they sneak into the exclusion Zone and come out with all sorts of stories to share with the outside world. Anyways, I may be rambling, but Hare came over, he overheard me talking to some friends earlier. "So I heard your son is sick," he said. He said this with a sort of knowing inclination, as if it was a question with an answer, a challenge propositioned onto us by nature itself. I replied back by saying "Yeah, my son, is sick, but that's not any of your business." He paused for a moment, and then he said something that I didn't expect. "What if I told you that there is a way to heal your son?" And then I asked, "You mean you know a doctor who can help him." Hare shook his head. "No no no, I mean there's another way to help your son, I've known people in the same situation you're in. A doctor can only do so much, by the way, do you believe in Miracles?" I was quite taken aback by this. "Miracles?" Hare explained to me. "Yes, miracles, the Zone is filled with them, things that defy our modern understanding of the world we live in. I've seen things that you would never believe, not in a million years. People being brought back from the dead overnight, things that seem impossible. It's all there, but you have to work hard to survive."
Hare and I spoke and shared stories well into the night, until I realized I had to get home, hours had slipped through my fingers, never to return again. I turned the knob on the doorway to my home, and guided the ornate plank of wood as it scuffed along the dirty wood floor. Throughout all of this time, I was sick to my stomach, sick of these people whom I told every day that I loved, and I did love them, but being around them pained me.
Through the dark I crawled, like the miserable creature I was, barely able to support my own family, my own cowardice fuming off me as I did so, I felt my way to a seat, a couch, where I lay down, exhausted and warm, like a sunburned man on a shipwreck in the south pacific.
The lights came on, and my wife was standing there visibly distraught. "You were out again, weren't you?" I hardly even acknowledged that I was, it was like a dream, I didn't care what she thought, she wasn't the same person that I used to know, that I used to care for, that I sacrificed so much for, she was so ungrateful for all the work I did, just to keep us afloat. "So what if I was out, I'm under a lot of pressure at work, and even more here. I've done all of this just to keep you happy. I need some way to escape from this hell." She wasn't convinced, and then I made the mistake of telling her about Hare. "You're full of shit!" she spitted, and threw a candle, or some other sort of decor at me, I didn't even flinch or move, at this point I could barely form cohesive sentences.
I don't recall when I regained my composure, faint light had flooded the windows, suggesting it was already morning. She was gone, so I went to tend to my lame son. He was asleep so I made sure not to disturb him, I thought of the fear he had to deal with every day as his health only deteriorated. I didn't want to think about him anymore but I knew I had to deal with him, he was a weight upon the both of us, despite the fact that he didn't even want to be this way, he just wanted to be like everyone else.
My wife was behind me the whole time. "Come here." she whispered, and led me out of the room. Her demeanor was entirely different. Now calm, sated, but still upset. I had hurt her, I had betrayed her, by leaving her alone with this weight to drag alone. I knew I was a coward, but I didn't want to be, and knew that I shouldn't be. I had to keep us all together.
"Look, I know he has been making you upset, but you really shouldn't keep doing this to us." As she was saying this to me I could see the tears welling up in her blue eyes. She looked as if she hadn't gotten any sleep. And then I made my other mistake that night. "It doesn't have to be like this, Hare told me about some artifact with regenerative properties, scientists are studying them but it could..." She cut me off there, "You're a fool, you know that, a great big fucking fool. If you believe in those rumors you're a dead man, I know, my brother died in that place looking for some Wish Granter, he wasn't a greedy man, nor a selfish man, he went there regularly, he wanted to help us all, wish for something that could help all of mankind, but he never came back. We didn't even get a body to bury in his casket. One day, he goes there, just gone, no word of him ever again."
I stood there, staring at her, trying to look phased, trying to look convinced, lord knows I was afraid of going but I had no other avenue left to explore. I wanted to tell her I wouldn't go but I couldn't, I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted to stop breaking all of the promises I've made, but my mind was made up. I had already made the stupid, callous, stubborn decision to go when I was at that bar, and had made that faustian deal with Hare. My soul was on that piece of paper in my pocket, I had traded it for a chance to fix my little boy, and I wasn't going back now.
All that was left was to find my escape from this prison. These bars I had so thoroughly hammered in around myself, and obeyed like a dog. I was going to go back to bed, and sleep until it was time to go out and find some work. Except I wouldn't go to work today, today I start my new job, as a Stalker, in the Zone. The money they make easily beats my annual salary.