Hours felt like days as we drove up the long, beaten road to the abandoned city in the dark blue, rusting four door. Pripyat. Many know the story of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, all the families losing loved ones, daughters losing loving fathers, brothers, uncles, aunts. Nobody was spared the horror and destruction the radiation caused. Many died while others became sick and weak, succumbing to the devastation. Near the meltdown site, those who rushed in to aid had their skin nearly melting off their bodies, clothes scorched from the heat. The radiation would have melted their organs from the inside out causing gruesome and violent deaths for those not near enough to just drop dead, but not far enough to escape the horror.
Pripyat was the city where the family members of workers in the plant stayed. When the disaster struck they left their lives instantaneously, leaving food on the table for meals, children's toys strewn across rooms. Clothes were left in closets, no time to pack. Many made it out but there were few who remained behind to attempt to save valuables and possibly scavenge for others belongings. The lucky ones died. The others were believed to be dead, nobody could have survived the radiation they said, the government. I knew of this to be false. If only I would have known before we left three days ago to go explore the ruins of the abandoned city.
As we rounded a slight right turn, the city was finally within view. The fog hung low over the many buildings that made up the city, many residential. We came to a ninety degree right turn that led into the city, instead we decided to take some pictures by the river. We continued down the road for a while until we took a left turn, drove straight, then took another left down a dirt road. We drove a short distance before we came to a bridge with water on each side and stopped. Vladimir, the driver, stepped out first and stretched his long, wiry frame. He was a good man, a bit dim, but good. Vera was Vladimir's lover since as long as I remember. She had dark hair and striking green eyes that seemed almost unnatural in the right light.
"We are here, after all the time we planned and never came, we are here!" I remarked with pure delight as I stepped out of the back seat, polaroid in hand.
"Let us take pictures quickly, I want to explore in town before night," said Vera, clearly just as excited as me and Vladimir.
I handed the camera off to Vera so she could take pictures of Vlad and I. We stood near the waters edge and Vera snapped a few shots. We waited for the pictures to develop completely before looking at them. I put them in my back right pocket thinking to myself there will be plenty of time to reminisce when we are on the way home. Vera gave me the camera to take some pictures of her and Vlad. The first picture she lay her head on his shoulder and smiled, he held a straight face. Just as I took the picture I swore I could see a ripple in the water. That can not be right. Nothing could survive out here, I must be imagining things. I pocketed the picture for later. The next picture Vera puckered her lips and pressed them against Vlad's thin cheek.
I said, "Smile Vlad!" teasing him. He made it clear to put as much effort into smiling as possible. *CLICK!* "What was that?" I yelled, motioning towards the water behind my friends. as they turned I saw a dark green mass of something seem to glide quickly underwater and away from us. I wasn't seeing things this time but, what could POSSIBLY be alive in that water? I put those thoughts aside as we got back in the car and headed towards the center of town.
We parked in a mostly vacant lot. A few vehicles remained broken and unusable throughout the city. Vladimir shut the car off and leaned back in his seat. As soon as he relaxed he was as tense as if someone had put a gun to his head and shot straight up and down, his eyes glued to the rear view mirror. He whipped his head around and looked past me, I did the same. There was nothing there.
"What?" I asked, beginning to think that he was trying to mess with my head but I saw genuine fear, something rarely seen in Vlad.
When he didn't respond and kept his eyes behind I said, more firmly "What did you see, Vlad?" His face had grown pale and he looked as if he was about to vomit. Then, out of nowhere, he was fine. He wasn't smiling as if he had just pranked us no, it was more like he had just blunk, and when he saw me staring at him, a quizzical look developed on his face. Vera had just been looking on at Vlad with concern up until this point. She looked at me, then back at Vlad, who looked at the both of us in turn like we were crazy.
"What did you see?" I repeated once more, not as forceful as the last time.
"What are you talking about?" Vlad said, I could hear the sincerity in his voice, see the honesty in his face. He really didn't remember what occured over the last few moments? Something wasn't right. I knew it and Vera knew it but before we could say anything Vlad was out of the car, scoffing at us as if nothing was wrong. Vera and I held gazes, conversing without words. Something was off but since neither of us could logically come up with a reason to leave, we followed Vlad.
Walking up the ruined stone pathway we came to a set of double doors, the glass broken and laying on the ground around it. I pushed on the left side door, grabbing the cold metal bar I applied the same amount of strength you might use to push a button to call the elevator. *CLANG!* *CRASH!* *CRACK* Glass shattered into smaller pieces on the floor as the door fell straight down, echoing loudly and eerily in the hallways of the abandoned building. Glass crunched and metal scraped as we stepped over the door one by one and proceeded down the main hallway to the staircase. Our plan was to take a picture of the city on each floor from different rooms and then to take a picture on top of the building.
We skipped out on taking pictures of the ground floor, too excited to wait we decided to head straight for the roof and take pictures on the way back down. The hallway was littered with papers, wallpaper that looked burned and rotted. As we reached the end of the hallway past numerous doors that were cracked open or completely gone that revealed the final moments of life before the evacuation. The stairway was mostly clear aside from some broken glass here, odds and ends that were dropped in the rush to escape. The sound of our shoes clacking up the first set of stairs was the only sound to be heard.
We stopped on the first floor and peered down the hallway when we heard what sounded like somebody dragging a chair across the stone floor coming from the end of the hall to our right. We froze, not daring to say a word. We stuck our heads around the corner one at a time to see what may have caused the nose when we heard soft footsteps, and they were heading our way. We put our backs to the side of the door frame, Vladimir pulled out a pistol from the back of his pants. My eyes went wide and I began to wonder why he had it in the first place but given our circumstances I was more relieved than anything. The footsteps slowly got closer, my heartbeat sounded like a cannon in my ears.
The footsteps stopped right before the entrance to the stairwell. There was a low, constant growling sound, that of a creature breathing. Sweat beaded on my brow, hoping whatever it was would move on so we could move downstairs and leave. Images raced through my head about what it could be when I remembered the picture. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the last picture I took of Vlad and Vera. In the lower left corner of the picture there was a figure, just clear enough to make out the almost scaly, slick green skin that looked as if it was rotting off the creature. It had strikingly bright white eyes like eggs, and row upon row of teeth in a mouth that seemed to be a mixture of human an lizard. Its eyes slanted, elongated skull and four long claws where a person would normally have fingers, webbed and dripping with - what?
I didn't have time to answer, we heard the unmistakable crunching of feet on glass below us. I looked at Vlad who pointed to the hallway where the creature was just standing. Vlad gripped his pistol tight and whipped around the corner left, then right. He turned and motioned towards us to follow when eight long claws lodged themselves into his shoulders and hoisted him upwards. Vlad's screaming only made the footsteps downstairs more hurried. Vera and I tore up the stairs all the way to the roof exit. The door was locked but I kept heaving my weight against it, praying it would give. Finally, as we heard the footsteps get about two floors below us I fell onto the roof, Vera climbing over me and scrambling behind a large vent. I was close behind, sliding next to her as I heard loud scratching on the door. There was a loud screech and what sounded like giant wings flapping followed by a loud *CLANG* as something heavy hit the door.
I mustered all the courage I could and peeked around. Vlad's body lay on the door, most of his face and skull and been crushed in, an eyeball hanging loose, it appeared as if all the ribs on his left side had been torn right off, bones in his legs were sticking out in various places which led me to believe that he had landed on them when the creature dropped him. I turned to look back at Vera and saw that she too was looking around the other side, I tapped her shoulder but she didn't move. Blood burst backwards out of her skull as those long, horrendus claws pierced through her eye sockets. There was a loud screech again as Vera was taken off into the sky by the creature.
There was more screeching from other beings and it sounded as if two were fighting over the corpse of Vlad. I heard a chilling cracking sound, and saw the other two creatures flying away, one had Vlad's torso, the other his legs. I waited for a few minutes in silence before I took off towards the stairs, flying down them skipping as many as possible. I sprinted down the main hallway and tripped over the glass and metal at the entrance. I could feel sharp pains in my knees and hands where glass was now protruding. I didn't care, I raced to the car, ripped open the driver door, sat down and turned the key. It started right up.
I took the same road out that we took in as I saw the three creatures flying away towards Chernobyl. In the rear view I saw the original three joined by a handful of others. Frightened beyond belief I hit the gas, flying down the road until Pripyat was out of sight. I finally began to let off the gas after about ten minutes of driving. Finally letting the horror of what I just saw sink in. I stopped the car to attempt to call emergency services. There was no signal. Just as I was putting my phone in the passenger seat, I saw it. In the rearview mirror, there stood the largest, meanest, scariest creature of all standing mere meters behind me. I heard it screech through the closed windows and the last thing I saw was the creature rear up and shoot forward, wings spread, with the ferocity of a lion starved of food for days and given a raw pile of steak.
I thought to myself that it was the end, at least I would die quickly. Everything went black. When I awoke I was tied down by my ankles and wrists to a hard bed. I was in some sort of hospital, bandages covered much of my upper body. I attempted to move but was restrained by a hand on my chest. Whoever it was I couldn't see from the blinding light of the examination light above me. They said something that was unclear as if they were speaking through a gas mask.
Something about "could not contain" and "only survivor" were the only parts I could make out before I was met with unconsciousness once again. Before my eyes slipped shut I could make out a figure pull something out of his pocket that looked like a gun being pointed at me. I attempted to protest but my eyes couldn't stay open. I heard the sound of metal sliding and clicking and the words "I'm sorry" from the figure before my eyes closed against my will for the final time.