25 Oct The Incident
“The Incident”Written by J. King Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 8 minutes
I won’t pretend to feel anything other than a deep dread at the receipt of your letter. How you came by my name and of my involvement in the mentioned incident causes me a great deal of consternation, considering the effort I have made over the years to hide my presence at the event.
I have heard some tales of you, your position and capabilities and therefore find myself obliged to believe that you could easily follow through on your not-so-veiled threats. Though I’ll admit that there is not much that could frighten me after that day.
As you correctly stated, I was indeed in Vizhai when the hikers passed through. After some trouble with the local government in my home town, I was spending time there on the “down-low”, as I understand the expression is. I had not met the group before, but we had the chance to meet during the purchasing of food and I found them friendly and forthcoming and I’ll admit that their little expedition seemed an enjoyable one to me, though I had not their experience in climbing and mountaineering.
My hesitation on whether to join them or not originally led me to start out alone on my own journey on a somewhat parallel route, though with a different destination, but I found myself oddly drawn to that intriguingly determined little group and so eventually changed my mind and my path. They had taken the first part of their journey quite easily and I was able to catch up with them in the highland area, around, I believe, the 31st, after Yudin had already departed the expedition due to injury.
The lone female member of the group, Lyudmilla, seemed pleased to have more female company and the group as a whole welcomed me as a friend. It warmed my heart. After all, I could have no idea what was to come.
The first sign that the journey would not be what we hoped was the worsening weather conditions, sharp snowstorms that destroyed our visibility. As a less experienced hiker, I found this quite disconcerting, but the rest of the group were made of sturdier stuff and were not so fazed, even when it transpired that we had become a little lost and had deviated from our path, finding ourselves towards the top of the Kholat. They merely decided that we should set up camp, Igor stating that it would be good practice of slope camping and not wanting to lose the height we had conquered.
Oh, that we had been more cautious, been less eager.
Despite the presence of women in the group, we shared one tent between the ten of us, practicality being far more important in the circumstances than propriety. It was actually Lyudmilla that woke up first that night. Her movement awakened me.
“Can you hear that, Veta?” She asked, and the concern in her voice made me hesitate.
In the silence of the night for several moments, all I could hear was the gentle breathing of our companions. And then…
There was a crunch of snow outside, and a sharp noise like the heavy breath of a large animal, a bear perhaps, though we were aware of nothing like it in the area. Lyudmilla and I froze, our eyes locked together and then she reached over and gripped Igor’s arm. His eyes opened blearily and focused on us, and I saw his expression grow puzzled as he watched me press a finger to my lips. He sat up carefully and stared at us, a question on his face. In answer, I just pointed to where the sound seemed to be coming from.
It was closer now, and whatever it was seemed to have its face pressed to the sides of the tent as I could hear it sniffing along the bottom of the material. I was aware of the other members of the group awakening, slowing sitting up, their bodies still and silent as they heard the thing outside investigating us.
I don’t know what we all felt at the moment. Some fear, certainly, but perhaps not terror. A large animal does not necessarily mean a predator after all and our tent was sturdy in any case. I caught Igor’s eye and his calmness soothed me. The thing outside was moving around towards the front of the tent, towards the opening that we believed to be securely tied.
And then the noise. Oh god, the noise.
I can’t describe it fully. Something like a scream, but furious. Somehow high pitched and shrieking and yet with some lower rumble of bass that seemed to make the ground shake beneath us. There were cries of fear within the group and we grasped at each other.
At my side and absolutely terrified, Yuri snatched his knife out of his bag and slashed it through the side of the tent. The slit he made was easily big enough for him to fit through and he fled out of it, followed quickly by Georgiy. As the thing outside pushed against the front of the tent, the rest of us surged forward towards this escape route, briefly bottlenecking whilst behind us that awful roar grew louder and then we were free and fleeing down the slopes towards the nearest shelter we could find. I don’t know how long we ran, freezing, terrified and pursued by that creature before we saw the woods ahead of us and barreled in.
We scrambled into bushes and up trees, breathless and trying to make each other out in the darkness as well as to see if that thing had followed.
There was silence around us, and I think we all dared to hope that we had escaped. But whatever elation could have been in store for us was quickly dashed by the realization of our situation – we were outside, in the freezing cold, most of us without shoes even, and with no way to find our way back in the dark to our belongings.
I’m not sure how long we cowered there before we realized that we were going to have to at least attempt to return back the way we came. Georgiy and Yuri were already beginning to succumb to the first signs of hypothermia. I heard Zinaida shushing Yuri, who was shaking violently, and hissing about his bare feet.
There were hushed discussions of starting a fire but I think we were scared that it would bring the creature back to us. Igor made the decision that the rest of us would stay in the woods whilst he, Zinaida and Rustem would attempt a return to the tent to fetch clothing and provisions. They left soon after.
We never saw them again.
After several hours, Nikolai urged us to start at least a small fire if we didn’t want to lose Yuri and Georgiy, who were huddled at the bottom of a pine, deathly pale. Yuri had already tried to remove his clothes once (I’m sure a man of your education is aware of “paradoxical undressing”), though Lyudmilla had managed to stop him. Semyon agreed and we collected firewood and attempted a blaze, though without much luck, never really managing more than a sputtering failure, and after Yuri suddenly jerked his leg, knocking the fire out and singeing his trousers in the process, despite the bitter weather we gave up.
But you have to be practical in these circumstances, you see, so when Yuri and Georgiy were seen to not need them anymore, we took their clothing. Their troubles were over.
It was Alexander who first stated that he did not believe that Igor and the others would be returning and that, if we wanted to survive this we would need to set out on our own. Those of us that remained – myself, Lyudmilla, Nikolai and Semyon – had to agree. We were on our own.
We set out as carefully and quietly as we could, thinking to follow in the footsteps of Igor and the others and make our way back to the tent. We stayed close together, eyes wide and staring out into the darkness. That we had already lost our way only became apparent when moonlight burst out from behind a cloud and shone down on a gaping ravine that none of us could remember on our flight down from the tent to relative safety.
“Should we turn back?” Whispered Alexander to the rest of us.
But before any of us could answer, Nikolai glanced behind us and let out an awful cry. I don’t believe the rest of us looked to see what he had seen – we had a good idea after all – but instead just ran as fast as we could away from it. In the panic, Nikolai, terrified by what he had seen, stumbled the wrong way and I saw him disappear over the nearby edge. Lyudmilla screamed at that, and immediately changed her course to a path that led towards the ravine and down, perhaps hoping that we could somehow save him. Semyon, Alexander and I followed her – there was nowhere to hide up here after all.
We ran and slipped our way down to the creek at the bottom but there was no time to look for Nikolai. The creature had followed us. We could hear its fast footsteps, and its grumbling growl. I tried to sneak a look over my shoulder as I ran but could only make out a shadowy shape in the darkness. Our group found itself splitting up, each trying to make different cover. I saw Lyudmilla make for a group of boulders, whilst I lunged for a large shrub growing stubbornly by the freezing water. I didn’t see at that time where Alexander went.
Once hidden, I turned to see if the creature had seen me, might perhaps even now be bearing down on me. But it was not.
Semyon had slipped in the water and was trying to drag himself away. I could hear his whimpering and cries from where I hid. I could also see the creature for the first time.
It was tall and thin, human-like I guess but wrong in too many ways. In the moonlight, I could make out unnaturally long limbs, jutting bones. Its face wasn’t too clear, though I thought I could make out dark holes where eyes and mouth might be. It was bearing down on Semyon, who had twisted round to face his attacker, brave man.
The thing leaned down towards him…and screamed. The noise was worse than before, again with that strange split of high and low resonance. With wide eyes, I saw Semyon’s face contort in pain, and then I looked away, squeezing my eyes shut.
I heard a dull crack, like the crunch of bones, and then silence.
I peered out. Semyon was slumped back in the water, dead I had no doubt. The thing was standing where I had seen it last, its back to me. It was unnaturally still, like a statue. I glanced over to the boulders where I had seen Lyudmilla and saw her, peeping out as I was, her eyes on the monster. I realized immediately that she intended to run – her cover was not as good as mine and it was as apparent to her as to me that if the creature turned her way she would not be hidden. She moved carefully back.
Whether the creature had supernatural hearing or some other unknown sense, it turned immediately, those dark holes of eyes seeking Lyudmilla out. She screamed and turned to run, but good god, it moved so fast, those freakish limbs eating up the ground between them, its spidery hands grabbing her arms and pulling her up in the air. For a second it just stared at her face as she writhed in its grip and then it gave its banshee wail.
This time I didn’t look away, though sheer terror has purged much of what I saw from my mind. But, before I fainted, I remember seeing her eyes, and how they poured down her face…
How I survived until morning I’ll never know, though three fingers and most of my toes were the price I paid to the cold. I was luckier, though, than Alexander who I found further down the creek, frozen, face down in the water as it lapped gently against him. Of the creature, there was no sign.
I made no attempt to return to the tent and would likely have perished like my companions had I not eventually stumbled upon a somewhat shocked tribe of Mansi, who saved my life and to whom I am forever indebted.
Until today, I have never shared this story. My status as a fugitive from the law would have made me unwilling to divulge my involvement, even if the story had not been so unbelievable and the government so eager to cover up what aspects of it as they could.
Though mostly it is because I do not wish to relive it. I have such nightmares as it is, of the creature, of Lyudmilla’s face and of the details I learned later from the investigations. The families don’t need to know what truly occurred. Let them believe it was just an unfortunate accident.
I know enough of you, sir, to have no reason to believe in your goodness but I am an old woman now who is not likely to see many more summers. If I could prevail on you to keep this account hidden until I am no longer around to confirm or deny it then you would be doing me a great kindness.
Let the world go on without knowing there was a tenth member of that team. It has passed into legend without me. Let the dead rest, sir.
Though from what I know of you, I fear my pleas fall on deaf ears.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available