Julia Warren made her way down the Neva River along with her husband Mike, hoping to catch a glimpse of the spectacular firework display held every New Year’s Eve in St. Petersburg, the old capital of Russia. Although a relatively short stretch, the vast frozen, snow-coated surface of the body of water impressed her.
She’d wanted to visit the country ever since she studied its intriguing history back in her college days, but could never find the time to do so until now, already in her late twenties. Nevertheless, she didn’t mind. Where better to visit on a honeymoon with the love of her life?
The city ahead of them presented a spectacular view in the darkness; multi-coloured lights adorned the sky like stars. Streaks of yellow, red and green shot up into the sky. Then, after a brief delay, the booming sounds erupted. She took out her camera and snapped a few quick shots before sticking her hands back in her pockets to avoid freezing her fingers off. The temperature was well below zero, enough for one to feel their own breath turning into flakes of ice around their lips.
The mouth of the river lead directly to St. Petersburg, stretching through the heart of the city. That meant no map was needed to find their way around it; all they had to do was keep to the path alongside the frozen water. They weren’t too far now. Crowds of people were already emerging into view.
Her head turned abruptly after hearing someone cry out for help them. The yelling, a distinctly male voice, continued for a few moments before it faded into silence. There was nobody walking beside the river except for herself and Mike as far as she could see, though it was too dark to rule out the possibility.
They exchanged alarmed glances before dashing a few feet back down the river, searching for the owner of the voice. A few were walking around in the streets and alleys branching off the path, but she felt they were only straying further.
The cry came again, as suspected, from further in the distance. It was so quiet that the people around them dismissed it, but the couple had heard the shrill yell at full volume a few minutes before. They were both certain it was a cause for major concern.
The sounds were coming from the river. As they got closer, Julia became sure of it. She peered across the stretch of ice and searched for clues. A dark patch – a watery gap in the ice caught her attention. The voice came again, from the exact direction of that gap, and Julia squinted as she further up the path. A human hand reached out from beneath the surface of the ice. Julia blinked and rubbed her eyes as her heart lurched, questioning what she had seen. The hand grabbed the rim of the water and tried to pull its body up, but the fingers kept slipping off the edge just as hints of the scalp would bop up above the surface. The gargled cry came again.
“Mike, s-someone’s drowning in the water,” she stammered with urgency.
Mike turned and upon spotting the hand reaching out from the ice, he questioned no further. He looked around. Where the base of the Liteyny Bridge met the beach sat a conspicuous orange life ring on a hook, waiting to be used in such a situation. It seemed to be a few hundred yards away.
Mike glanced back out into the river, then turned and bolted towards the life ring, circumventing the stone ledges in front of it, trying not to slip on the ice. He retrieved it and rushed back, throwing it to his wife. Julia caught it and threw it as far as she could in the direction of the crack in the ice, a swift course of action which only took about a minute.
The couple watched anxiously as the ring swirl and spin across the ice, only to gradually slide to a halt, still dozens of yards away from the victim. The gargling cries came again, this time weaker, suffocated.
“Blast,” cursed Julia, “I didn’t throw it far enough. He can’t get up onto the ice, so he won’t be able to reach it from there.”
Mike tapped his foot on the ice at the rim of the river. He spat and removed his backpack, slamming it forcefully down on the ice twice. It didn’t crack.
“Don’t just stand there, call the police… or the fire guys… or whatever! I’m gonna deal with this shit, just stay where you are.”
“No, Mike! Don’t! What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You could die! Michael! Mike!”
“Just call them!”
Julia ran to the side of the river to try and drag him back, but he was already too far gone. She uttered a silent prayer that the ice was thick enough to withstand his weight, and that he would return to her that night a hero, not a drowned blue corpse. Watching him treading on eggshells like an acrobat scaling a tightrope, she took out her cell and tried to remember what Russia’s emergency services number was. 102? 112? That was probably it. Hopefully they could understand English.
She kept her eyes fixed on Mike, watching him from the riverbank as she spoke into the receiver. The further he walked, the faster her heart raced. Julia was able to breathe a small sigh of temporary relief after Mike raised a thumbs up from the distance, signalling that he’d reached the life ring. She smiled in response. He bent down and picked it up cautiously, wary of the thinning ice.
As the snow disappeared and the ice became transparent like glass, his hubris dawned on him, and the fact that his life was in danger suddenly sunk in properly for the first time. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead despite the cold as he tried not to gaze down into the depths below him, wishing he’d paid more attention middle school swimming lessons. The water below the ice under his feet was almost black. It seemed to flow away from him, warning him to turn back.
It took him another minute to reach the crack. He looked tiny from the banks. Julia saw him try to squeeze the life ring through the gap in the ice where the man was submerged, but it was too large to fit. He stopped for a few seconds, considering his options. Then he leant forwards and reached into the hole, where the man’s hand was grasping out from. Mike caught the man’s arm and pulled him up. As thin as a bone, his upper half seemed to be completely naked, and his skin was almost grey from the effects of the prolonged exposure to the freezing temperature. Had we been a minute slower, thought Mike, the man would surely have died.
The man uttered something in Russian as he tried to clamber out with Mike’s help; most likely an exhausted word of thanks. It was then that Mike took note of his odd features by the moonlight; from what Mike could make out, his balding scalp was host to a curtain of dull, shoulder length grey hair that hung in long strips, plastered to the side of his face. His long, dripping beard was the most prominent feature of his visage.
His eyes were closed and there seemed to be a large, bloody cut in his forehead, still running fresh down his cheeks – Mike had no idea how this man was still alive. In fact, there was a creepy atmosphere surrounding the fact that he was still alive. Perhaps he was Chuck Norris’ grandfather, or Jesus, he joked to himself. At least, a guy that thought he was Jesus, but soon discovered he couldn’t walk on water. At least now, it looked like he had at least a slim chance of survival.
Mike made some gestures of comfort, pulling the struggling man out further, until he was just able to support his weight using his elbows on the rim of the hole. Then, he stopped trying to get out, and waited in that position for a few moments, nodding silently to himself. Mike tugged at his hand in confusion, trying to remind the man that his life was in grave danger after his exposure, and there was no time to waste.
The man opened his eyes. Mike’s heart jumped. He held still for a while, becoming more terrified by the second. The man’s eyes were the green eyes of a viper, glowing; emitting light in the darkness. This light illuminated his face, which was missing patches of skin and had exposed bones in its cheeks. The bones of his gums were exposed on the right side of his face, the flesh torn up. The left side of his head was deformed and caved inwards. The cut in his forehead was now clearly a bullet wound. But his stabbing, hypnotizing eyes were still his worst, most striking features as he began to smile. A wide, crooked grin.
The man, the ghoul, had incredible strength despite his emaciated frame. Mike felt himself being tugged towards and into the hole. He screamed and struggled, but balance wasn’t on his side. Julia watched in horror, shrieking Mike’s name. No way was this happening. She’d anticipated her husband’s life was in danger, but she definitely hadn’t seen this coming.
Snake-like fingers gripped Mike’s neck as he writhed like a piglet in the hands of a butcher. His lungs were on fire, as was his broken neck, the last sensation he would ever experience. In his final moments underneath the water, he thought he glimpsed the shadows of women surrounding him, unclothed, frolicking in the water. He could swear he heard them giggling, spitting Russian insults, cackling at his miserable end.
The ringing of ambulances’ sirens could be heard faintly in the background as Mike’s body was hauled over the side of the ice into the freezing depths, accompanied by the melancholy wails of his new widow.
“Ninety-nine years, I have been waiting,” the man whispered to himself in Russian, the wide toothy grin still plastered to his face.
“Exactly ninety-nine years… and one day.”
Holidaymaker Missing in Russia
The body of a British holidaymaker, Michael Warren, has not yet been found after the twenty-eight year old fell into a crack in the River Neva as a direct result of attempting to walk across the frozen ice, around two miles from St. Petersburg on New Year’s Eve.
Warren was on a honeymoon with his wife Julia when the couple reportedly spotted someone drowning in a gap amidst the ice. Authorities say Warren attempted to rescue the victim, causing himself to fall into the water. The search has been postponed by the Russian Authorities due to adverse weather conditions and will continue as soon as possible.
Written by Rinskuro13