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Something's always drawn me to abandoned places. "Urbex'ing", urban exploration, they call it on the Internet. The exploration of cities, towns, even small buildings or structures left untouched and abandoned for many years, devoid of human contact for one reason or another. Something about seeing the old architecture, the grimy dust caking the walls, the tossed and torn trash of a bygone era and bygone residents... it fascinates me.
Probably because I've been a history nerd most of my life. From high school until now, my senior year of college, history has always intrigued me, and to me, exploring the abandoned is all part of it, whether running into old houses with friends or just hanging about abandoned sports fields. It's all urbex'ing to me, and I relish in it.
But recently, my longtime friend Charlotte started talking to me over Christmas break. She said she got me and two of our friends tickets to travel somewhere. Something "neat" we could document. She told me she discovered a place called Kadykchan.
Kadykchan, located in the Magadan Oblast. A region with a density of .3 people per square kilometer. An old city in the wild and half-uninhabited Far-East of Russia, it was abandoned after the Soviet Union fell. The government couldn't afford to keep the isolated city up and running, and when a mine explosion killed six workers, they abandoned it, then... forcibly relocated all of its residents. I'd heard of abandoned places in Eastern Europe and the old U.S.S.R., with places like the Exclusion Zone being the most famous, but I'd never heard of Kadykchan, and this place was different. It was dozens of miles from any populated area. No tour guides, no rules, no restrictions, and best of all, no radiation! It seemed like an urban explorer's dream.
Just reading what she told me about it, looking up pictures, my heart was already jumping out of my chest (I told you, I'm a nerd for this sort of thing). With two weeks in our Christmas break, I got this on the second day, and I immediately began packing my things, planning out what we'd do, our schedule. The places we'd go, the buildings we'd venture into... I couldn't sleep that night. I tossed and turned in my small apartment, clenching the bed sheets as I stared at the ceiling in wonder, feeling like I was a young child again trying to doze off the night before Christmas while wanting to stay up to catch Santa.
The morning was cold and foggy, but I set out with all the enthusiasm possible. I drove about an hour to the airport, where Charlotte, along with Adam and Jackson, our two childhood friends and classmates, were waiting. They greeted me joyfully, and it seemed like we all were exuberant about our upcoming adventure. We packed our bags, dealt with the obviously-awful airport security, and were on our way to Russia.
"It's been abandoned since the 90's?" Adam commented.
"Since the 90's. Nobody's ever been there but some tourists." Charlotte told him as Jackson and I sat in the row of plane seats beside them, looking over our maps and the photos we'd printed of the city.
Feeling like such a geek was fun when in the company of others.
The flight seemed like an eternity, but we finally arrived at the Sokol Airport, a day's drive from Kadykchan. We rented a hotel and stayed the remainder of the day there. All night we were up talking about the city, what we'd do and how we'd spend our time. But at some point we all finally dozed off, the patter of the rain outside becoming our little Russian lullaby.
Of course the area was wet and slick when we left the hotel the next day. Our rented ride at in a small car dealership in town. We rented a pretty decent van, nothing too fancy but nothing that costly. We took our bathroom breaks and got some snacks, and prepared ourselves for the long drive out into the Russian countryside.
The sights were beautiful in the spring and summer, we said, but being the dead of December, there wasn't much out here worth viewing. In fact, we found it a bit ominous. The vast hills and mountains surrounding the poorly-maintained pavement, then the forests surrounding the dirt roads we hit off on after some time, all were dead and lifeless. Occasional flocks of crows or a lonely passerby on the dirt highway were all the life and activity we saw out here. We hit some rough and cracked pavement and continued on for several hours...
Until we got into Kadykchan.
Adam and I sat in the back while Charlotte drove and Jackson sat in the passenger seat, and all four of us were leaned forward, looking out the windshield at the towering apartment buildings in the distance. The cracked road began to narrow into an overgrown, almost concealed main street which led into the city. It was everything we'd expected.
Apartment buildings standing gloomily against the afternoon's overcast sky, their windows gone and blackness on the inside. The dirt and grime having built up along the sides of the buildings, small shops and hovels either collapsed on themselves or taken over by vines and grass. Occasionally an abandoned car, sitting rusted and forgotten.
We parked outside of a half-collapsed gas station and stepped out into the cold wind of the Russia winter, and we gazed around in wonder at everything around us. The city wasn't exceptionally large, probably could house about 5,000 people in a small area, but it was so pristine. It was so... untouched, and unspoiled. I felt like some kind of modern-day Meriwether Lewis, travelling out into the great unknown, seeing sights very few had ever seen before.
Charlotte started snapping pictures and taking some notes on what she saw, while Adam and Jackson, brave as they were, immediately set off towards one of the high-rise apartment buildings. They beckoned us to join, but I was more interested in some photography anyway. No, Charlotte had a boyfriend, I wasn't interested in spending alone time with her or something.
We took some photos of the gas station we'd parked at, had fun trying to read the signs within it, and finally we stepped into the building. It was half-destroyed, as I mentioned, so not all of it was open to us. It appeared to have been some kind of convenience store, the gas pumps outside long gone and the interior's shelves long since stocked only with cobwebs and dust. We stepped through the broken door frame, glass cracking underneath our hiking boots as we did. The wallpaper inside the station was molding apart, and we could see spiders scurrying away, unused to these new intruders trampling on their land.
I pulled out the torch I'd brought along, while Charlotte snapped a few pictures. The torch beam shot through the darkness of the interior of the store, dust particles dancing about within it. I made my way inward, behind the clerk's counter. Behind it was nothing much of value; some old cans, a beer bottle or two, though I did find a few Rubles stacking in one of the counter's shelves. If you're an urbex'er, you'd know finding something like this, something this old... it's just great. I stuffed them into my pocket but found little else. Charlotte finished up looking around and we exited the store. We saw Adam and Jackson in the distance, walking to another apartment building, but we decided to keep things small for now ourselves. Charlotte and I set off to find some other building worth note.
A few hours passed. A couple at least. We scoured some more small homes and huts, scanned through piles of refuse and bundled belongings. A few old dolls here and there. But then, then...
We found it. A schoolhouse. A medium-sized square building with large windows long since broken, roof colored a faint green. It seemed in better condition than some of the other overgrown or half-fallen-in buildings around. After seeing pictures of the schoolhouses in other abandoned Russian locales, we knew we had to check it out.
But... something didn't seem right. The door to the schoolhouse was intact, and it didn't have the same layers of dust on it everything else did, no signs of all the disuse. I didn't want to mention it, didn't want to seem paranoid, but... I don't know, probably nothing.
The room was dark, cold, a little damp. I shined my torch around again and the two of us began to venture around the one-room interior. Old desks sat in rows, books lined the counters, some "motivational learning" posters were half-ripped from the walls. The poor place must've been nice back in the day, I thought. I picked up one of the old books and had a fun time browsing through it, looking at the pictures of what seemed to be education on technological advances; man, those old 1996 computers sure are the future! I laughed faintly. Charlotte meanwhile continued looking around the room, perusing over the various piles of trash or old belongings scattered on the floor. It was still light outside, but being the winter in one of the environmentally-harshest countries on Earth, daylight was dwindling and evening was approaching.
I looked up from the book I had and noticed something in the corner of the room, however. A large rectangle. A door. It wasn't a one-room school after all. Curiosity gripped me and I walked over, trying the doorknob, and it... was locked... Jammed?.. No... No, it was definitely locked. Charlotte looked after as I rattled the doorknob. She seem puzzled as well, and walked over to help me out. We gave the door a few solid pushes, and finally it gave, splinters clattering to the floor beside the doorframe. It was a supply room, or maybe a teacher's lounge. It was dusty and dark, but we immediately could make out shapes inside it. I brought my torch up and illuminated the room.
The shapes were chairs, arranged in a circle around an open book. A desk sat at the back of the room, a ruler placed on it. In the chairs were... dolls. Heads of dolls, old stuffed animals, sitting neatly, pencils shoved into their hands or their eyesockets where applicable. The wall behind the desk was scratched heavily, clean of dust, the molding wallpaper torn away. It seemed like it had... Russian writing on it, words and letters carved out upon it, with a grimy pillow situated on the left side of the desk, along with a stained sheet. Closer inspection showed the stain were not just mud, but also of blood, with tears in it as if it'd been scratched.
Charlotte and I simply looked over this room, clearly arranged in some bizarre way after the city was abandoned, but before either of us could speak, a blood-curdling scream broke the silence of Kadykchan, the utter stillness. My heart nearly burst and I jumped, almost letting out a girlish scream of my own at the sudden shock. Charlotte looked over her shoulder, mortified.
The only other people around were our two friends.
We bolted out of the schoolhouse and rushed towards the apartment building they'd been walking towards. Another ear-piercing scream let out, echoing across Kadykchan and into the rolling hills beyond. We sprinted past the gas station and off the road, into a small field that separated us from the apartment building. The scream emitted again, and we knew we were in the right place.
I reached into my pocket, withdrawing a switchblade I kept on me for self-defense. Charlotte turned on her camera light and took my torch.
What chilled me more than the screams of what could only have been our friends was the silence, the absolutely deafening silence... There was literally nothing. Not our friends laughing from some practical joke, not the sounds of birds or animals, I couldn't even hear myself breathe. Everything fell into a deathly quiet.
We stepped along the floors carefully, Charlotte shining her lights all around us, keeping watch on our flank while I pushed forward. The apartment was wide, with one long hallway having several rooms lined down the sides, staircases leading up to the other floors in the middle of the building. We looked in every open door in the first floor, and... nothing. We slowly paced up the stairs, with my blade kept out front, the only protection I had against... whatever was going on.
The second floor yielded the same results, but the second floor was odd. Plates were lined up outside of each room door, strings attached to them leading inward. Why, I couldn't explain. As we searched every room, we came back to the stairwell, and as I put my foot to the first step, Charlotte froze, shining her light up to the top of the stairs to the third floor. I looked up, and saw it as well.
A bloody figure, one of those old marionettes with few features, sat atop it. However, the features that were worth noting were its face... Its eyes and faced were chiseled perfectly, its face so life-like and realistic, its eyes... almost staring at us. It was coated in blood from the neck down, blood that dripped from the top stair downward. Fresh blood.
We stared for a moment in the maddening silence before Charlotte whispered, "Let's get the fuck out of here," over my shoulder. But then... another scream. Another brutal, ear-piercing scream. A woman's. It wasn't a sound of agony like we'd heard earlier, a sound of fear or sound of pain, it was a sound of anger. Of pure, unadulterated anger. It came from behind us.
Charlotte and I both screamed, and glancing over my shoulder, I could make out a figure in the darkness, a human-shaped figure, but that was all I saw. We half-tumbled down the stairs back outside, running as fast as we could back to the van. I ran to the driver's side door, with Charlotte following close behind me, but I stopped. Inside the van were dolls hanging on strings, their heads swaying ever-so-slightly as they were suspended from the interior ceiling of the vehicle. And as I glanced down, I noticed our tires had been shredded, slashed to pieces. We couldn't get it on the main road, nor on these rough back roads. I looked back to Charlotte, who kept her lights back on the apartment buildings.
The clouds turned a dark orange as sunset hastened, the dead trees in the hills beyond Kadykchan piercing through the streams of late sunlight. It was barely light enough to see clearly any more, but we could see the apartment buildings, and we could see the figure run from the door. It seemed to dart its head to the side, towards us, and another loud shriek came from its direction. Charlotte dropped our torch and camera and immediately took off. I followed her and sprinted as fast as I could, our boots slamming into the pavement. We could hear the figure behind us, its own breathing and panting audible as ours.
I overtook Charlotte and kept running, and she seemed to struggle to keep up, but I just kept running... Fight or flight, you know? I couldn't stop it. As I ran farther, and farther, as we got back onto the isolated dirt road, I heard Charlotte let out a gasp... then a gurgle... then a cough.
I looked over my shoulder and froze, my breakneck pace halting immediately. A long butcher's blade, rusty and stained, lodged in her throat. She sank to her knees, and in the pale orange light, I finally saw behind her what had pursued us. A pale, grotesque woman, with cracked and rotting teeth, coarse white hair falling to her shoulders, broken glasses adorned across her dark eyes. Her skin was wrinkled and twisted, her nails overgrown upon her tendril-like fingers. She stood there with a wide, toothy smile, fidgeting and making these... choking, wheezing noises as if she were... laughing, breathlessly, or starting to laugh and stopping. Her eyes remained on mine as she pulled the knife out, then struck Charlotte again, and again, and again, vibrant red blood splashing into her brown dress which barely covered her naked form. She stood there, head bobbing and shoulders jerking violently, but she stared at me, with that smile. In her other hand, a bloody marionette. Adorned with scratches and tooth marks. Its head replaced by the severed, vein-dangling skull of Adam.
I started to yell something to her, my switchblade pointed in her direction, but she responded first, with a... roar. An ungodly roar. Her contorted face and her dark eyes, they shot directly at me, and she tossed my friend aside and started towards me, her bow-legged knees creaking as she flailed herself in my direction.
And... fight or flight. I couldn't make myself stay. I couldn't help. I know I couldn't.
I know it.
I took off again, my heart pounding like a hammer to an anvil as I fled down the road. I glanced over my shoulder, and that thing, that monstrous thing, was still chasing me, but her figure disappeared as it grew smaller and smaller in the distance. But I didn't stop. I felt like I'd die, but I kept running until I hit the main road. Freezing, panting, coughing, choking, I fell to my knees on the pavement, but headlights caught my attention. I stood up and fanatically waved my arms, shouting for help, and thank God, the car pulled over. The driver didn't seem to speak English, but it seemed he understood I needed help, though he seemed hesitant to help me, sweating and panting like a maniac, stains on my clothes from my urban exploration.
I didn't tell the local police. The language barrier was bad enough, but above all I didn't want to be suspected of being the one responsible for my friends' disappearance. I went back to our hotel that night. I collapsed in bed, after locking the door as securely as I could. I couldn't sleep. I could only see the face of Charlotte in her gruesome death, and the face of that woman as she stood there, watching me with almost total silence. My eyes stayed wide open the entire night, sweat poured from my forehead, and the hours trailed by like entire lifetimes as sat like a petrified statue underneath the bed covers.
I flew back home a day later, as nervous and fidgety as ever. I told our own police, and they said they'd do an investigation. Thank God they didn't seem to pen me as a killer.
It wasn't until later that I began reading more deeply online just what Kadykchan's history was, and just what people said about it. Urban legends around there said that at least one resident chose to stay and resist the military's relocation of the isolated city. Tourists online posted that they found traces of habitation, that they caught out of the corner of their eyes some figure inhabiting the abandoned city. But none were ever certain.
The police got back to me recently and said that neither they nor the Russian police found any evidence of someone living there. No bodies were recovered, no blood was found. The van was still there, but besides its destroyed tires, nothing unusual. Our camera was in the front sight, and police mentioned it had pictures of those marionettes. And pictures of us in the buildings. Photographs of trees, and old buildings, and dolls staring into the lens. Pictures I don't even remember taking.
It wasn't closure. It wracked my mind and wracks it to this day.
I still sometimes think I see that woman. Walking to class, going to the store, even sitting at home, I always feel watched, in a way, and I can't help but seeing her face among the many faces I see every day.
Written by Orodruina