“There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.”
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The younger one cried over the grave, a small but large thing all the same. The mass of dirt, piled up with the small wooden cross ejecting from its ground, felt the rain of salt-inspired tears falling upon its brown shell. The older one kept his hand on the young one’s shoulder, the rubbing it softly in comfort.
The younger one hadn’t known the dog as nearly as long as the older one had, but he felt like it, and as the emotions of a young boy are stronger than anything, he sobbed with small gasps of miserable shakes. The older one didn’t; he couldn’t cry. He couldn’t allow his younger brother to see him in such a state.
“Why?” whispered his sadness. “Why did he have to go? Why does anything have to die?”
The oldest one smiled lightly. “Zhenya, everything must die eventually. It’s the way the world works. The universe works. That way new and wonderful things can begin.”
“But what if the new isn’t good? What if we don’t want the old to leave?” the young one said back. “All that you were is gone. There’s nothing you can see...or feel…anymore.”
The old one’s smile grew wider, and he knelt next to the young boy. His brown hair appeared black in the night, and his green eyes a smooth grey. It was cold, but they were dressed in their jackets, and enough warmth carried in their bodies to remain. “Have you ever heard the story of Beautiful Joe?”
The young one’s head shook, and the old one sat down. “Well, it’s a story from America I read in one of our English books. You see, Zhenya, an old dog named Joe died too. He faced terrible hardships in life, because his owner abused him so badly. But a man found him and saved him from that horrible owner. Joe loved his new owner, and the new owner loved him, but just like everything else, Joe died too.
“When Joe died, he woke up in this beautiful place, filled with sun and rolling hills and warmth all around. Other dogs were there too, and they were all waiting for the masters to come to them. It was a wonderful and happy place, and the dogs all helped him forget about that miserable old owner. And in the end, his owner came to him, and together, they climbed into a great balloon, and it carried them away into an even better place. And I think that’s where we’ll go too. Where you and I will go someday.”
The tears were still there, but they were drying. Quietly, the young one asked a question. “But Abram….Father said places like that don’t exist. How can you think that? How do you know it’s there?”
The old one stood up, and looked down at his crying younger brother. His smile was still warm, despite the cold winds brushing by. “I feel it. I feel it in the way the wind blows; I feel it in the way the stars shine in the dark sky. I know it's there. And I know we’ll all be there someday.
The young wiped the tears away. “But how can I feel it? I don’t feel it, Abram.”
The old one outstretched his hand. “Don’t worry, Zhenya. You’ll feel it someday.” His eyes gleamed to the young one’s; he seemed so sure. So positive.
Then, the older one walked away. The younger one watched as he did so, wiping away the tears. He turned back around to the grave in stoic resolve, reading the name “Abram Vasiliy Getkhovska” as it stretched across the tombstone in its freshly carved letters.
1986, June 7
Near the Exclusion Zone
Kiev Oblast, Ukraine
The fog was thick that day, drenching the trees with a thick, frozen mist. It ran like a stream through the hills and forests. He couldn’t see beyond their trunks; above him, the sounds of birds and wildlife passed through the trees and rolled through the entire countryside. It was peaceful to the young hunter, who trudged through the valley and thick brush. His rifle was strapped over his shoulder, his camouflage vest thickened with ammunition, his hat neatly over his head and his balaclava shielding his face from the chilly mountain winds. Next to him, his dog stepped carefully, the three-year’s head low and his ears alert.
The rifle he carried was an heirloom from his grandfather, who met the face of the German war machine in the brunt of winter back in 1943. The rifle was 40 years old, but his own father had kept it in great care, and the cracked yet shining wood, littered with the scars and knaves of flying bullets and other abrasiveness, gave a testament and meaning as he carried it in his hands.
The hunter hadn’t been in the woods long. He was from a generation of collective farmers, and his home was a short distance away to enter the Zone. The government man had come again, to hire he and his father for the “decontamination of radioactive legacy Chernobyl inducted to the wild life.” Basically, to go hunt the poor animals suffering the affliction of mankind’s disasters. His father, however, was crippled from his days in the industries, which left of course, only him to do it. They would need the money; times were changing and ideas were stirring. It was like his brother had always said...
It must not distract me, he thought to himself. Nothing could be done for him. It was out of my control.
Yet no matter what he told himself, he couldn’t stave off the sadness that came to him. It ate away at his heart slowly, like a mad dog biting away at the flesh of a dead man.
Suddenly, the husky paused, moving his attention away from sorrow to curiosity, sniffing the ground around them. Does he have a scent? pondered the young hunter. “What is it, Borzoi?” the hunter asked. The dog answered in a soft growl as it lifted its head up in the direction in front of them. Quickly, the dog scanted forward, and the hunter followed close behind.
They sifted through the thick fog, the dog leading the hunter on his trail of smells. Off in the distance, a sporadic noise of growling and madness spurred a distance away. The hunter had drawn the Mosin, already loaded, and expected to encounter a malefic wolf with a disturbed body, growling and awaiting them. He didn’t know much about the effects of radiation, but he knew, after seeing the death toll of the firemen, they were horrid and insane.
It was indeed a wolf, but not the type he was expecting. As they had sprinted toward the noises, the wolf had leapt from the brush, and the hunter gasped in surprise as it lunged toward him. Its eyes were wide and mad, its mouth open in a vicious growl, saliva-drenched teeth shining. Blood snaked along its fur coat, fresh and gleaming with crimson.
The dog growled himself and leapt, but the wolf was fast, amazingly fast, and its speed surpassed the husky greatly. The husky found only air as it snapped for its legs; the hunter raised his rifle, not to aim but to block, as it fell upon him. He went down on the ground, the wolf tackling him, and he felt its teeth sink into arm and tear away. The pain hit him instantly, but he was shocked to feel it surprisingly dull.
After biting him, the wolf scampered to its feet and leapt further into the brush. The hunter sat back up, appalled. The husky growled and leapt forward toward the way the wolf went, but the hunter reflexively grabbed the husky’s collar. He could feel its body shake as it growled and sputtered in its throat, its whole body vibrating under his gloves.
“Borzoi, heel!” the hunter commanded. The husky stopped pushing against him, sitting on his haunches, but the growls were still vicious as his lips revealed his sharp jaws. The hunter gazed over at his arm where the wolf had bit him. However, it had barely torn away any fabric, and he bled very little; it hadn’t even tried to bite him really, just nip him and run.
In confusion he stood. His rifle was on the ground, and he lifted it up, the wood seemingly unscathed. He glanced in the direction the wolf had ran, and then back to the way it came. He had felt the fear of the wolf as it had struck him; what had it been fearful of?
Suddenly, the dog began to growl violently, violently than he had to the wolf. Saliva dripped from his mouth, but the Hunter could tell this was not a kill-growl; this was different. His body shook and his hair stood out on end as he growled, his tail low. The hunter stood up, appalled. “Borzoi? What’s wrong?”
The fog swirled around him, and his eyes scanned the shadows of the early morning. A chill tingled along his back. Suddenly, something within him knew what his dog was feeling: something was out there, in the fog, and it was nothing good. He gripped his rifle in slight fear; he couldn’t pinpoint what it was, and perhaps that was what frightened him the most. This was the most primal fear a human knew: the fear of the unknown.
The sounds of the wildlife were gone. The forest was silent.
Carefully, he began to move forward, the dog still growling at his side. He inched closer to the destroyed brush the wolf had rampantly fled through to him; it had been in a frenzy trying to escape. His hair began to stand on end, the chills and sense emerging from the fog; like eyes stalking him in the darkness.
Suddenly, a muttering emerged quietly further off in the brush, but if anything it smoothed him a little. He could tell it was human, and that meant something he knew was out there. The dog, however, didn’t yield its growling.
He couldn’t tell what it said, but as he moved forward clarity began to wash within it, and he could tell it was a male that was perhaps in his fifties. He began to smell smoke, winding with the fog and wind. The dog sniffed at it but growling still, ready to pounce and attack anything that he would see. The young hunter was hoping to find comfort in the sights of someone else out in the rolling trees and swirling fog and the strong sense of dread he felt, but however, what he found would shake him to his very bones.
Using the smell of flames, he reached the clearing, and his eyes fell upon the corpse. It was muddled in the mesh of ferns and early morning frost. The hunter’s eyes widened; he was used to the bodies of dead animals, but another man? He sucked in a deep breath; he had to investigate. No one deserved to die out in these woods nameless, and God knew the officials wouldn’t come to get him.
“Borzoi, heel,” he commanded. The dog sat on its haunches, its growling ceased but its hairs still puffering forth. He knelt next to the corpse; it was on its stomach, and through the smell of wet, frozen dew and nature, panged a sickly sweet smell. He turned it over, and gazed upon it in unkempt surprise: the man was disembowled. The blood had frosted upon its corpse, its intestines trailing out of his hollow stomach.
These cuts aren’t very well, he thought to himself. Like a blind man trying to skin a rabbit. What maniac did this? This isn’t someone just wandering in the woods and dying: this is murder!
Suddenly, the dog spazzed behind him in a fit of barking fury. The hunter turned around, to see a grinning man and a flash of steel. Pain danced along his forehead as he jumped backward in reflex. He went down in the dirt, and suddenly, a huge hulk of a man stood over him, and the fear coursed through his body as his eyes widened to the pitchfork he held, blood and rust flowing across its pointed edges. The man seemed angry and wild, waving it around like a madman.
“It’s out there!” he yelled. “Get away from him! Don’t you get it?” the man screamed. He prodded the man’s body with a pitchfork, and the hunter grimaced as blood leapt from the corpse when it contacted. “It’s the only way it’ll stay away! The Devil’s in these woods! I saw him! I SAW HIM!”
The dog suddenly began to charge, barking and snappy wildly. The insane murderer turned around, just as the dog lunged for his throat. He pushed the husky off with the handle, and as soon as it hit the ground got back up, determined to defend his master. However, the man was ready, and as he charged again swung the handle, hitting the side of its skull. The dog yelped and was sent flying into the brush. “Borzoi!” the hunter cried. As the man went to finish the dog off, the hunter grabbed his arm, struggling. However, the man was quite strong, and flung him off with ease. Quickly, he raised the pitchfork, and though the hunter thought the man would stab him, smashed the end of it into his forehead.
Colors vibrated and danced across his vision. He hit him again, and the world pulsed red once. Around him, the fog swirled and churned, and he felt eyes watching in its silver mist. The trees rose above the clouds, beyond the sky and into the cosmos. He felt it in the fog, writhing and watching, like the devil upon angels. The man hit him again, and again, and again. Something’s in the fog! he wanted to scream. It’s coming! You have to stop!
Then the voice came, deep within the recessions of his mind, in the fog of memory. A voice he thought lost long ago, somewhere along the path of life and death. “It’s coming,” it-he-whispered. “Can’t you feel it?”
Blackness began to entrance his vision. He felt like he was drowning; sinking through a great fog.
“What’s coming?” he asked the voice, its voice answering from the depths of nothingness.
The sun glowered over the horizon, grazing over it with the washing rays of light. The valley wind was calm, flowing with the sky and clouds that kept above Zhenya below them. He felt strange here; he couldn’t tell if it was a dream, or perhaps a memory. In a way, perhaps it was both, and the peace of this place filled him with soft tranquility. Yet, he didn’t feel quite alone here; the presence was not bad, but lingering, as if it had been here, awaiting him for a long time.
Suddenly, something grabbed the young boy’s shoulder calmly. He turned around, and Zhenya saw him. His warm eyes and smile, a look that he associated so much with happiness. “Abram,” he whispered, and the older one sat next to the younger one. He gazed out to the smiling sun, and said, “Can you see it?”
Zhenya turned back to the fiery ball of light, and nodded. “Yeah, I see it. It’s a sunrise.”
“It could be many things. It could be a sunrise. It could be a sunset. It could be an illusion. But it’s there, and it’s beautiful.”
Zhenya gave a quiet look to his brother. “Abram? Where have you been? Where did you go?”
Abram smiled dryly. “I can’t answer that sort of question, because the question can’t be answered. I am wherever I am. Maybe I never really went anywhere and just became something else. Or maybe I only exist in this dream.”
Zhenya didn’t understand. He turned away, puzzled, trying to grasp what he was saying. Then, quietly, he began to sob. “I miss you…” he whispered. “I wish you weren’t gone.”
Abram smiled. “All things go after a while, Zhenya, it is the law of life. Everything will be gone, and someday you’ll be gone too. You can’t truly have life without death. If you didn’t have death, life would bear no meaning. You would exist endlessly, and anything you did wouldn’t make any of it special. I wouldn’t be so special to you.”
The tears flowed, and he rubbed his eyes with huffs of sobs. “But I…”’
Suddenly, he fell against his brother, who took him to his arms. He held him as he wept, pressing him against him. “Zhenya,” he whispered. “You must let go. You won’t ever be able to live until you let me die.”
Before his eyes, the trees began to wither and die, the grass scattering to the winds. Zhenya looked up, and gazed at the spectacle, as the whirling winds tore away at the prairie, which began to rot and churn menacingly. A smell came to his nostrils, like rotten food, or moss-glazed water. And suddenly, there it burst: the sea of claws that erupted from the ground. The earth blasted apart, chunks flying off into the sky as the claws tore away at it, small and greasy black hands with knives for fingers carving away at the world. A screeching sound emerged, like a mad siren, and he heard screams and fire as both sprouted in the trees and flora. It was madness. It was hell.
“Do not be afraid, Zhenya,” came his whisper. He turned back to his brother, terrified. “You must not be afraid. We will meet again; I promise. Where the light will be.”
The sun finally reached its peak, and contrasting against the dark sea of death before him, he watched as his older brother suddenly began to shine in the coming sun. He bursted into dust, twinkling like stars in the night sky.
And then, there was nothing but the screams.
“Aye, your eyes are finally opening,” the voice croaked.
His mind was in a daze as the aches and pains of being beaten were taken into effect. His eyes revealed the world he was in. It must not have been long after the beating, for the fog was still there, and the purple morning sky still shone itself into the clouds. The man with the pitchfork leaned against it as he kept it stuck in the ground. His eyes grimaced as he saw the dog, breathing but bleeding as it was tied to a rope around a tree.
The man gazed at him quietly, with an easy smile on his lips. At his feet, to the hunter’s horror, lied the corpse of the man that had his stomach ripped open. However, an empty, bloody cavity had replaced his entrails. At the same moment, he began to feel the soft, squishy and cold, and yet he still thought it warm on his wrists. He looked down, and nearly vomited; his hands had been tied with blood-drenched intestines.
The man laughed at this horror, standing up broadly. “I ran out of rope,” he said, as if matter-of-factly. The hunter was still in shock from the terrible sight of gore, and barely listened to the man, who asked quietly, “Do you believe in God?”
The man waited silently for the hunter respond. Suddenly, he peered in closely, and the hunter met his mad brown eyes. “Do you?” he asked.
The hunter swallowed, and tried to speak in a steady voice. “I-”
Suddenly, his nerves screamed as the man’s fist met his nose. He heard a crunch and felt warm blood spit from his nostrils. He groaned, laying his head down on the ground. “YOU. DON’T. TALK,” the man said in a straining whisper. Quickly, he turned back around, and the hunter watched as his hands ripped into the man’s chest. Is he digging in his body? the hunter thought, appalled.
Quickly, he tore out a plump of blooded tissue, turned back around and lowered the hunter’s mask, and quickly shoved it into his mouth. The hunter nearly vomited and tried to spit it out, but the man grabbed his lips. “KEEP. IT. IN,” he seethed.
Suddenly, he stood up. “To be honest, I don’t know if there is a god. I thought I did once, but I don’t know anymore.” He grabbed the sides of his head, shaking it wildly. “The voice in the fog...it tells me things. That we should be ashamed. That we went against His ways.” The hunter’s blood ran cold. This man is insane. There is no ounce of sanity left. ‘His ways’’?
He began to sob; he fell to his knees, his fingers dancing along the corpse of the dead man. “We weren’t supposed to do it...When that...place went down, that hell...It brought so much pain, and death. The world screamed in pain as all this evil erupted from the roots of humanity. All that darkness that came spinning forth from the depths of hell. We opened it when we began to work with the Devil’s tools.”
The hunter was confused. Is he talking about the Chernobyl Plant? he wondered, trying to keep his mind off the human meat in his teeth. “Radiation, whatever they call it; it’s a sin. It’s a power of the world we shouldn’t have ever used. I saw it all; the people choking and screaming. I was there. I saw it. And then it came out; from the grief and sorrow there. A demon. The Devil.”
His finger pointed out to the fog. “It’s out there, watching us. Watching me. It wants to take us. It has to have us. Don’t you see? It’s our punishment; our toll for working with the Devil. He wants you. We must deliver!”
Suddenly, the dog began to stir. The hunter’s eyes looked over to the husky, who slowly began to raise his head. With swift, unfinished growls, it stood up shakily, slightly straining against its rope tether.
The man yanked the pitchfork out of the ground, stomping over to the hunter. “It’s telling me….To take you. To placate our doom, we must feed ourselves.”
Behind him, an uproar of barks and growls started as a dog, desperate to defend his master, began to spur. The crazed man paid him no attention however, raising the pitchfork to descend upon the young hunter. Fear began to course through the hunter’s body, but suddenly, a warmth entered his body. Easiness and calm settled into his heart. It was a warmth that had turned cold long ago.
You are safe, came the whisper. It is not your time yet.
The pitchfork gleamed red as it thrust downward, but a few feet away he heard a loud snap and bounding paws. The hunter left his euphoria and his eyes widened as a large, burling mass of bloodied dog stampeded into the man. The two tumbled into the ground, the dog biting away at the man viciously. The mad man screamed in fury and pain, trying to wrestle the dog, but the dog was just as mad as he was. Quickly, the hunter spit out disugstedly the gore in his mouth and began to strain against his restraints, pulling against the human flesh tethering him together. With a fierce pulse of oily blood, the entrails snapped like ham torn into two.
Quickly, he stood up, and his eyes went to the pitchfork lying on the ground. He grabbed the shaft of it, lifting it into his hands, then smashed it against the mad man’s head.
The mad man grunted and went down in a daze, blood shooting of his nostrils, but he quickly regained composure. The dog leapt for him, and the man grabbed his snout and and jerked the head madly, trying to snap his neck. With a yell of protectiveness, the hunter smashed into the man, sending him flying. Punches went flying and blood went sailing as they tumbled into the dirt, the hunter on top, repeatedly punching the mad man in the head.
The mad man grabbed his fist and flung it away, then punched the hunter’s throat. With a gurgle he fell backward, and once more came the dog’s charge. The dog gouged into the man’s arm, who screamed like a bludgeoned rabbit. Quickly, the man man threw him off and stood.
The hunter caught the dog’s collar and pulled him back off the man before he killed him, the dog still snapping wildly. Shaking his head and sputtering, the man stood stood up, and that moment, a chill ravaged through the hunter’s skin. He didn’t know how or why, but his eyes lifted to the churning fog. Once again, the presence was there, buried deep in the mist, the trees guarding its expensure.
“What are you doing?” the insane man crowed, stumbling backward. “You have to let it have us! The horror it holds must be stopped. Blood is what it wants, what it will take!” But the hunter paid no attention, holding his dog firmly, his eyes widened as the fog slowly began to swirl around the man man. Run! he wanted to cry out. It’s there, behind you!
Suddenly, the dog began to shake and snap violently, trying to yank from his grasp. The pale mist began to cloak the man, beginning to take him. Once again, the voice came to him. What you are to witness is beyond what any human must see. Do not hold fear.
He saw the hands first, silhouetted in the mist. They were gnarled, vicious curls of fingers, the hands scrawny and bony. There were dozens of them on the long, slinky arms. The fingers moved and twisted as they jutted outward, like leaves on a tree branch. He couldn’t make out their color, for the shadows cloaked most of the appearance, but its shapes stood through the mist, and he saw other things; a scrawny, twisting body, and a strange, malformed head he couldn't quite percieve. He was in awe at the sight; a horrorific beauty transcended from the scene, and despite his fear his eyes would not leave it.
Shivering and muttering, he turned around, and could not even bring his mind to scream. Slowly, the claws descended, the hands reaching out from the arms, trying to grasp him. It hunched over, its height inhumanly tall, and with a flash he could barely make out the sight of great, humongous teeth, larger than any earthly thing he had seen before. It grabbed him, pulling him closer to it, and slowly lifted his face to its. The man’s eyes widened and he screamed and struggled, but it mattered little. After a few moments, his struggling ceased and he went slack, sluggishly leaning up on his knees.
The hunter waited in terror, to see the great thing smash him to pieces, or lift him up with its powerful jaws, but it did neither.
Instead, the mad man brought his own demise.
Quickly, he grabbed his own throat, and began to dig in with his fingernails. “NO! NOT THERE! NOT THEM!” he cried madly. He shook his head wildly, shouting to the creature. “LET ME GO! DEMONS! HELLSPAWN! I AM NOT AMONG THEM!” He screamed, clawing upon his throat madly and swiftly with intense force, and it wasn’t long before the first spurts of blood began. He didn’t even react, and kept clawing and clawing, his nails slicing through the warm flesh of his throat and his jugular clawed open.
The hunter watched with horror as blood spat and ejected into the mist, and with disgust he watched a red mist slowly form. Then, before the great beast, he slumped over, and the hunter knew he was finally dead. Slowly, the hands grabbed his body, lifting it up, and like a spider carrying away its prey, gripped it upon its chest and shook the earth as it leapt away.
Quickly, silence enveloped the trees. The mist crept along through the woods still, and the trees seemed even taller than they had before. He was in shock, his mind slowly trying to work through what had just happened. Next to him, the dog whimpered fearfully. The hunter’s eyes gazed over to the grass, and saw the blood stains and ripped flesh, some still remaining there. No thought was in his brain. He was just seeing to see.
Then, with speed he never knew he had, he turned around and was running.
He stampeded through the brush, hyperventilating, his mind on autopilot. My god, why does it exist? Why is it there, it’s coming, oh god.
The dog had sprinted ahead through the mist, and he followed it, sprinting through the same destroyed paths the frightened dog had already created. He did not know where he was running, or what would happen when his energy expunged. All he did was sprint, his legs tearing through the rising mist.
You cannot run from it, returned the voice. It will find you. You must face it. Only then will you understand. You can’t run from it any longer.
He ignored it, continuing his sprint through the trees. He had to get away from this hell; he knew not what the madman had seen, but he knew now that he was dead, and he had committed suicide. Whatever that hell had been, he did not wish to see it either. Around him, once more, the fog carried on, wisping and churning in great tendrils of white. His skin tingled, and his hair stood on end. It’s coming, it spoke again.
He pushed forward, reaching a wide, clearing valley. He was unsure as to where this was; he knew not in which the direction he had to run. All around him, the fog thickened, the greying morning sky giving the glimpse of coming rain. The wind raged and the trees began to sway, as if with the same madness that the insane one had.
Stopping in the valley, he looked around, trying to get a catch of where he should run, when his hairs began to stand on end. He shuddered, his blood feeling like ice, and his eyes widened as he felt a presence behind him. It was a great stomping sound, as if a giant were charging him. He turned around, and gazed at a sight he had seen not even moments ago.
Its body had appeared from the mist, and it had the skin of a human being. Blue and red veins puled all through its scrawny, wrinkled arms. Its ribs were completely exposed, its abdomen shriveled to his spinal appendage. He saw eyes and lips along its body, all opening wide in screams of pain and death. Hands clawed at its stumped feet, and all along its back he saw writhing bodies lifting and lowering, as if attempting to free themselves from the awful gathering. Specks of hair traced along its arms and legs, and on his arms, were dozens of hands jutting forth. Yet, its head was what disturbed him the most; it was a great flower-like head, with a mouth, wide and sharp in the center. Three pedal-like appendages jutted around it in a trio, one on each side of its face spare its chin. Eyes sat within them, bloodshot and gazing at him with a look he had never seen on any creature before, or human even; it was something beyond what any true earthling creature could make. Yet, the limbs and shape, he knew deep down, it had once been a human being.
Its claws stamped at the ground, standing upright on its knuckles and haunches like an ape. It made no noises, spare the mutterings of the mouths along its body and its heavy breathing. He was frozen in fear; he could not move, only stare and shiver at the sight as it slowed strode over to him, strange guttural noises clucking from its throat.
It raised its arms, and all the hands spread out to their palms. The claws grabbed his temples, and its head grew closer to his, and he smelled the stench of death and decay riddled with its ungodly breath. Darkness filled his vision, and like dust through the air, his mind withered away.
The hands grew from the abyss like towering spires. Zhenya gazed at them in a fear he had never felt before. Their skin was coal black, dressed in darkness, as ashes danced along their fingertips. From the pit they came from, screams chorused like an awful choir, filling his ears. Too many emotions filled his mind at once. Grief, sorrow, sadness, loss, longing; all at once they brunted upon his consciousness.
They grabbed at him, and he felt their cold claws grip his arms and legs. He screamed as they tugged on him, pulling him into the darkness they came from. He tried to claw away, but one grabbed his face, covering all but a single eye, and he found himself slowly sliding backward as they took him away. The sky was gone, and the sun had disappeared with Abram. He felt so alone; so lost, with no one there to save him.
At first he had fought, but the hands had kept grabbing after his arms had torn them away. The scared child could not fend them off much longer, and he wriggled and squirmed from their grip, with the fleeting will every human has to live. But the weariness was growing, and he could barely regain an inch, and they tugged a foot a time.
Lonely screams wailed from the depths. They longed for him to join them; he felt it in their cries, longing for someone else to join them. Tears flowed from his eyes; the fighting was more and more tedious. He was tired and weary. His will was fleeting. Joining the crowds of the damned seemed so much easier than fighting for nothing.
“I'm sorry….” came his low whisper. And then, he let go, the hands pulling him into the abyss.
Then, the light came.
It shine upon him like a great sun, washing over the decrepit darkness. The screams howled in pain as the incandescent rays washed upon them, like winter upon spring. Zhenya’s eyes widened at the glow, warmth he had not felt for decades glazing over his body.
Suddenly, the face emerged, bearing a small smile so familiar, and extending an arm so protective out to him. Tears flooded his eyes, as he muttered a name that was so loved to him under his breath. The hands retreated, and he grabbed Zhenya, the light so blinding. And then all there was, was light.
An unearthly growl emerged from the creature as he let the hunter go, and he dropped to the grassy floor. Quickly, shaking his head, the hunter sat up, gazing up at the monster before him. It covered its head, its pedals tucked over its faceless mouth, as if protecting it from fierce light. Finally, it dawned upon the hunter.
It saw the vision too. It was within my mind. It saw…..
Fear no longer carried within his chest; it had been replaced with vigor and strength he had not yet felt for ages. The creature, shaking its skull, reopened its head and screamed to the sky, almost as if in anger.
Then its head settled unto the hunter, its claws outstretched, its eyes on its tendrils looking into his own. The hands along its arms whirled and swayed, and its scrawny body and ribs seemingly moving in as it screeched. It was disturbing to the young hunter, but not enough to take away the courage he now had. In his hands, he felt the grasp he had upon the pitchfork; an uncommon and not quite well regarded weapon, but it was sharp, and it had tasted the blood of two men before, and as he gazed into its monstrous tooth-filled jaw, he felt that it would now taste the blood of a beast.
It rested on its knuckles, then suddenly, launched a claw upon him, the shadow falling over it as it went to crush him. All the hands had outstretched as well, eager to feel his blood-drenched flesh.. The hunter’s eyes widened and he sidestepped it quickly, the earth giving a tremor before its might as grass and soil puffed up from the dirt. Immediately after, it swiped, dirt and and grass trailing behind the claw in a whirlwind. He leapt backward, and he felt the tip of its finger graze the collar of his jacket. It lumbered forward, its claws a rush of death as it slashed for him madly. He dove to the side, then scrambled up and rushed to his right to avoid another strike.
Quickly, he got up, spun and took a lunge. It brought its hand to block it, and the pitchfork sank through its flesh and out through the back of its hand. It screeched, black oily blood spurting from the new holes it had in its palm. It let out a yell and rushed forward, ignoring the pain it must’ve felt and smashed him into the ground, the pitchfork flying from his hand and landing somewhere behind him.
Its hand smashed against his arm, and he growled in pain. He grimaced as he heard cracking bone, and though he tried to move it from its claw, its grip was strong and the pain nearly unbearable. The hands slunk from its arm, tightly grasping his now crushed one, and he began to scream as they began to squeeze with terrifying force. Popping sounds erupted from the bones, and pain he never before knew shot across his entire shoulder.
It leaned in close, saliva dripping from its maw as it roared, and he felt the stench of blood dripping from its teeth. Then it reared its head back, and lunged for his neck. The hunter’s mind went blank as the fear of death hit his throat.
Not yet, returned his voice.
Abram, came his own.
Another set of teeth flashed, and barreled into the creature. At that moment, the beast found itself being smashed by 150 pounds of pure muscled Siberian Husky. The hunter, snapping out of his death state, looked up, and saw the creature throw it off. Quickly, after rolling a few feet, it regained its footing, and charged again. Sensing his chance, the hunter stood, thanking his dog under his breath, and rushed for the pitchfork, his arm shambling against his body in numbness.
Shaking off the ethereality of the voice, he glared at the mutant-thing once more. Lifting it up with his left arm, he turned around, and saw the dog and beast still clashing. The dog scampered around its legs, biting away chunks of flesh, and it kept trying to kick him away, yet the dog glanced by each attack. He readied the pitchfork, and hurried to join his four-legged companion.
The dog got behind it, and his teeth clenched hard upon its bone, a popping sound emerging from its leg. The creature roared, and the hunter felt the anger of it to his very bones. It turned around, and swiped low, and to the hunter’s horror, twisted its arm all the way back and smashed into the dog. The dog yelped and was sent flying, and he heard a crunch as it landed in a knoll of grass.
Anger suddenly piercing his heart at the sight of his wounded friend, his run became a charge, and he yelled, a miasma of emotions trailing in his voice. It was filled with loss, with death, with grief; yet, underneath it, was the stinge of greatness. The will to live, to push forward, to move on.
He leapt forward, ignoring the astounding pain in his crushed arm as he put all his muscle into the next strike. The creature turned back to him, its leg crushed and on its knees, its eyes wide as he neared it. A roar passed through its gaping maw, and in return, he felt his own roar emit in equal fierceness, as he plunged the pitchfork through its bony ribs. He heard cracking and snapping, and pressure caving in as its chest imploded through. Blood, flesh, and other things so wild and inhuman escaped out the ends of the pitchfork. Black-tinted blood spat from out from its throat and maw as it fell to the floor, and he stabbed it, again and again, more erupting from its chest and mouth. Its body went with the pitchfork as it went slack, its evil existence passing into the air around it.
After twenty seconds of stabbing, the hunter paused. He breathed heavily, his mind blank and his emotions void. He groggily looked down, and saw his camouflage garments and boots soaked in its blood. The hunter looked back to the demon, and was awaited with yet another shock; its body seemed to be disintegrating. Slowly, its arms and legs withered, its eyes still open but blank, fleshing into a black ooze. Suddenly, he felt dazed and disoriented. He reached his hand up to touch his temple. He fell on his haunches, and felt, once again, a presence in the fog. But it was warmer this time; playful, and familiar. He looked up, and he saw him, standing in the fog. His smile wide, his eyes filled with the light of hope and wonder.
“Do you see it? It's there. You can feel it, Zhenya,” he said from so far away, yet so near. Tears swelled into the hunter’s eyes. “Yes, Abram,” he whispered tightly. “I can.”
Then, the older one turned around, and with a sense of finality, stepped back into the ocean of fog that drenched into the wilderness. The younger one fell to his knees, and for the last time, his eyes prematurely closed in rest.
His eyes opened, and immediately felt the washing morning sun dance along his vision. He sat up slowly, the ethereal glow of the wilderness coming in around him. The forest seemed refreshed; he heard birds chirping, the pines glowing with green light. He stood not too hastily, taking in the shining valleys and rolling slopes that stretched from horizon. As he gazed at the scenery, he felt something else new; something within himself, something he had never quite felt for a long time, he wasn’t sure what it was, yet at the same time he understood it.
He looked down, and found one last surprise to witness; the black stains across his clothes had vanished, with the black pool of evil the mesh of human and beast had delved into. Everything was gone, spare the pitchfork and wounds he had encountered in his body. His arm still hurt massively, and he wasn’t too sure if it’d ever feel right again.
Suddenly, not too far away, he heard a familiar whimper. The blood from his face drained. “Borzoi,” he whispered under his breath, and ran to the source of the sound. He stepped into the grassy knoll, pulling away the grass, and found the faithful companion he had through this terrible nightmare. His leg was snapped, and he was unsure if the dog would ever sprint again, but he took in breath, and that was all that mattered.
Ignoring his throbbing arm, he lifted Borzoi into his arms, and the dog nustled softly into his neck, and he felt the breaths it took in in his fingers. In his mind, he asked many questions he could not answered. What happened to me? What happened to Borzoi, or the insane man? What were those visions I saw? Was the monster I witnessed real, or….
He knew not what he saw, or why he saw it. But as he gazed at the beautiful, vibrant world before him, he noticed one final thing:
The fog was gone.
With that in mind, he stepped forward, and together, Zhenya and Borzoi hurried into the brush, beginning their return to home, a newfound peace within the young hunter's heart.