0 - enter
There was a thick fog all around. So much of it, in fact, that you could barely see shit around you. Yet, for some strange reason, Harakternik always liked fog. It always served as an indispensable shelter, especially when, something, resembling a human-hunting game, was slowly brewing in such wicked environment. But was his victim really a human? And was he, himself, a predator by nature, a human? Who knows at this point… Perhaps, such a timely fog made answers to these questions - insignificant. It just felt right. It felt like a veil of ecstasy, wrapping all around, covering him from head to toe. And it made Harakternik feel good. It made him feel invincible. It just gives him another reason to view oneself as the most powerful creature that has ever lived. He moved silently, barely flickering and casting a grayish shadow, appearing out of nowhere and, just as quickly, disappearing into nothingness. For many, if not for everyone, such weather conditions were an unbearable obstacle in movement, perception, and even more so in hunting. But not for Harakternik. He viewed himself as a carnivorous fish, a hungry shark in the water, sliding through those misty clouds like hot knife through butter. And if a normal human beings would panic, not being able to see beyond their nose, Harakternik could see. He saw everything. Literally. It was impossible for anyone and anything to hide from his gaze. His hearing was not inferior to sight, and his sense of smell allowed him to sense his victims from a mile away, if he needed.
A split second later, his target finally revealed its whereabouts. Yes, this one turned out to be much more agile and smarter than all the previous ones. This unexpected guest could hide from him and wait for the right moment to sneak away, or maybe even to fight back, which seemed extremely strange to Harakternik. Everyone knew his, Harakternik‘s, reputation. But to get the courage to pounce on the predator that is tracking you down is something new. That is why Harakternik was taken aback when his prey, while still running away, about ten paces ahead, with one sharp movement turned 180 degrees and stared right at the pursuer. Harakternik wasn’t so struck by the agility of the target, as by the one’s face. He saw the face of his potential victim... And that made him stumble. For the first time in his existence, he hesitated.
Sirko hated the fog. More precisely, not the fog itself, but how often, and with shitty timing, he always found himself in it. Another half a mile back, an obsessive sense of persecution clung to him. Someone, or something, like an owl, without a single sound moved, somewhere very close, almost breathing down his neck. He couldn’t get rid of the thought that, any minute now, he would have to face the one whom he had tried avoiding in every possible way, all these years. He was almost certain that the illusory stalker was the exact unwelcome confrontation he always hoped he’d never have to experience. But at the same time, Sirko understood that this skirmish was inevitable, and therefore he deliberately moved too self-confidently, not even trying to hide much, one might even say, with a too outstanding gait. The sooner he’ll get this shit over with, the sooner he’ll leave this god-forsaken place.
He needed this entity to fall for the bait, and he was sure that by pretending to be a simple-minded fool, without the slightest idea of what he was dealing with, he would be able to reduce the vigilance of this entity and at the right moment deliver a crushing blow. And if it is the will of God, then it’ll be more than enough. In addition, Sirko was, more than, sure, his plan B, his Glock 17 will finish the job where brute force will not cope. Adding speed, he made a sudden turn to the left, and hid behind a stone wall, which just happened to be in the right place, at the right time in this musty place. Leaning against it, he took two breaths, and on the second exhale, lowered his pulse to a minimum in order to tickle the nerves of the one he had come here to eliminate. If luck is on Sirko’s side, then the pursuer’s inhuman senses will run him into a dead end.
Sirko himself could boast of an excellent instinct, but now he simply did not hear a thing. Could Harakternik suspect something or maybe figure out Sirko’s intention? This "creature" surpassed all his expectations after all. In reality, everything turned out to be much simpler. His enemy was just a few steps behind as all. And this handicap of 5 seconds was exactly what Sirko needed so badly to close the distance between them, and without losing the element of surprise. Having estimated the approximate distance that would be between him and the hunter, he without a drop of doubt jumped from his place and increased his pace, reprising the role of a gazelle, running away from a lion. He was picking up speed, but just enough to not fall on his ass during a quick turn, that will allow him to finally face his pursuer. At last, he was able to make out a shadow with a peripheral vision. That shadow, in some strange, impossible to explain way, fell on the walls of fog. Not for long though. As the hunter approached, the fog began dispersing, allowing Sirko to finally feel the presence of the hunter more clearly.
Everything went according to plan. The distance was shrinking. Ten meters, in just 3 seconds, were reduced to 3... 2... a U-turn... Sirko was fully confident in his actions, and even more so in his abilities... Until finally... he saw the face of the pursuer.
His own face.
He took out a crumpled pack of Marlboros, opened it, and peered inside. There were 12 cigarettes left. He was never a heavy smoker, so he managed to make the pack last for several months. And it became more and more difficult to get a new one every time, almost as if God himself ordered to reduce the nicotine ration. That nightmarish sequence, always taking over his dreams, every time he fell asleep… It just wouldn’t give him rest. A need for smoke was just unbearable. He slipped a cigarette between his teeth and took out a lighter. On the fourth attempt, the lighter gave way, and a dim fire ignited the tobacco. He lit a cigarette, and let the acrid, at the same time pleasant, smoke, fill his lungs. After a couple of seconds, he’d slowly let it escape through his nostrils.
"Maybe I shouldn’t sleep at all?", he thought silently, staring into the deepening darkness of the evening.
Today it seemed colder, but it also seems to be a repetitive case day to day. It has always been like that, it’s just hard to tell nowadays… Every now and then, he’d look around cautiously, sitting on the hood of his old Gran Torino and organising his thoughts. Sleepless nights forced him to take a short nap in the car for half an hour. And he had already regretted it. He, sometimes, hated himself for his incredible sense of hearing. He’d often end up overhearing gossip and rumours, prompting him to unjustifiably optimistic thoughts about the fact that his way home isn’t lost forever yet. If only all those drunken imbeciles, who practically sleep at those pubs every weekend, knew how much such chatter bothers him... after all, he has long resigned himself to his fate, accepted the fact that he will never see his wife and children again, and will spend the rest of eternity in this miserable shit hole... Why reassure oneself with stupid hopes, knowing that this is all nonsense, and there is no lumen in the current situation and never will be? If only they kept their damn mouths shut… But no, they start scratching each other’s ears with their tongues, and for what? For nothing...
Sitting and staring at a whole lot of nothing, Sirko only wrinkled his forehead, suppressing his anger and annoyance. Somewhere around the block, some awful screams tried breaking the pleasures of silence, crackling and clinking of broken glass followed. Nothing new… At such a time of day, it was and is contraindicated to stroll down the street without a very urgent reason. No one is safe from stepping into a steaming pile of trouble, and that’s if you’re lucky. With his right hand he fumbled under his jacket the holster of his Glock 17. As sad as it may sound, one simply cannot find a more reliable friend these days. Only this old-ass firearm, in any situation, will cover you, prevent any escalating tension, or even save your life. Of that, unfortunately, he got convinced of more than once, especially over the past few years. He drove deceitful thoughts away, hoping that the cigarette would decay faster, and he, at last, could quickly hide in the walls of his flat. Every day felt like a duplicate of the one preceding it. Life in this murky place was smouldering just like this cigarette. The engine of the car, not yet completely cooled down, warmed the trouser leg through the hood lid. Later tonight he had to work again, most likely he would have to stay awake almost until the morning.
The stream of thought was disrupted by the bitterness of the smoke, as the filter became unusable. He threw the rest of his cigarette under his foot and stamped it out, maybe out of old habit, for he didn’t like to litter, but he kicked a wet goby off the side of the road somewhere in the direction of an overloaded trash can on the sidewalk. What’s the point through? Who knows... The goby went out on its own, barely touching the wet, from the gray snow covering, ground. And whether it could be called snow in it’s traditional sense is another matter of discussion. A muddy mixture of water and ash, which never stops pouring on the heads of all the smart-asses, who dare to poke their nose outside. No one was going to fix those, gradually growing, holes in the dome over the city. The fact that this filth from outside the city was poisoning the environment was of little concern. Every day, the dome collapsed more and more, letting the winds with this so-called snow, right in. Having locked the huge, old garage doors, and hung a rusty lock on them, Sirko headed for the residential buildings, pretty lopsided and looking like gloomy birdhouses.
It was only a few hours before he’d be leaving for work, and he was already impatient to quickly fall onto the mattress and sink into oblivion. Briskly he walked around the corner of the building and headed for the red metal front door of the nearest building. Pulling on the doorknob, he fell silent for a second. The rustling on the other side of the door stopped in an instant. Maybe a while back, he would have boldly assumed “its just damn dogs that huddled here from the winds”. But dogs have already gone extinct, with the last one recorded dying three years ago. He hadn't heard their barking for a very long time. That made him alert. Whatever was emitting those weird sounds, his instinct suggested he kept his ears open.
Slowly squeezing his shoulder through the doorway, he peered into the dark space ahead of him. Through impenetrable darkness, he noticed, lightly pale-coloured silhouettes. He didn't even have to guess. Here even the smell began to give away the presence of some vile guests. He removed his hand from the holster of his Glock and exhaled in relief. Instead, he reached over his right shoulder, in one swift movement, took out a black, weighty baseball bat from a barely noticeable case sewn into the backside of his jacket. For a second he thought of himself as Lancelot, pulling an Excalibur out. But that momentarily reminded him of his old shashka sword that’s been collecting dust on the shelf. He swore to himself to never use it again, even if the situation calls for it. Nothing good comes out of it. And he kept his word. He always remembered his grandfather’s old saying, that “in a skilled warrior’s hand, even a stick becomes a lethal weapon”. Plus this baseball bat wasn’t too harmless either. It wasn’t your typical softball-pitching piece of fake firewood. This one is in a major league of it’s own. It was molded from a hard plastic all over, and with an iron core inside it for better balancing. This massive club could easily withstand blows that could split any standard wooden bat like a dry stick of French bread.
"Tokoloshi" he figured, "well, who would have doubted!".
Ugly, undersized creatures, according to legend, were called tokoloshi, created by a human hand, or to be more precise, by ancient African shamans who put the bodies of these creatures together from the remains of human and animal corpses, and then somehow breathed "life" into them with their voodoo magic. What for, you may ask? Most likely in order to annoy some neighbouring tribe, because releasing this undead thing in some village is tantamount to poisoning a well. It’s decaying flesh carries nothing but infection, in any shape or form. How exactly this subspecies of evil spirits entered, once thriving, but now slowly deforming, world is a mystery shrouded in darkness. The common folk have long dropped all attempts to figure out the truth. Sirko took his time. When his eyes gradually began to get used to the darkness, he was finally able to spot at least half a dozen of these shits. Well-known fact, it is better to see several enemies in the open, than to know about the presence of one, but it lurking somewhere in the dark. Pale-skinned, with long, gnarled limbs, they resembled fully shaven monkeys, which suddenly came to life without having enough time to really decompose.
- Now, look at you! Aren’t you a wild bunch of cheap whore’s ugly offspring, - grinning, muttered Sirko, examining the entire staircase, just to make sure, that later, if something happens, not to miss a single one.
By themselves, these miniature zombies weren’t much of a danger, except for, maybe, a sleeping person. But giving them slack is also extremely risky, since if they breed, and they somehow can, it will be much more difficult to deal with the horde. The neighbors would not bother, they would just call a special service, that specialises in extermination of all shades of supernatural, and such a cleanup would most likely affect the whole house. He did not need any of those “professionals” showing up at his doorstep. And he knew for sure, in order to fulfill their annual plan, these liquidators would surely have raided every apartment, so to speak, for maximum reliability and prevention of spreading, so that not a single tokoloshi would accidentally sneak into someone's home.
The very same moment, before he even had time to cross the threshold, two of the most persistent tokoloshi were already rushing in his direction with might and main. Without thinking twice, he swung the bat, as if the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, whom he once read about in an old magazine, and smashed the head off the first freak nearest to him. The already eyeless, toothless creature, having taken a decent, sweeping blow from the side, with a half-torn head, backed away, with it’s head dangling on some old nylon threads of unknown composition and origin. The second one suffered exactly the same fate, only it was much less fortuned at the end, with it’s head, swooshing three meters in the air, flew away into the corner, under the stairs. The screeching of these creatures stirred up the rest of their fucking tribe. They were helpless in aiding their relatives in any way, but there was no way to retreat either. There was only one way out for them. They could only attempt to slip underfoot, closer to the cherished escape route, which lay through the ajar doors, leading directly outside. Letting them escape meant inviting them “for a cup of tea” in a week or two (yes these assholes are vindictive), but in much larger quantities. Sirko could not allow this to happen. Even though there were about 10 people living in the building total (himself included), he, to some extent, felt responsible. He almost saw it as his personal duty, and everything that goes down, affects the well-being of the rest of the residents. To him it didn't really matter much whether the neighbors were friendly with him or not. For the most part, they simply bypassed him. And he liked things that way. He’d call it “being in a drum mode”. You don’t hit it, it don’t bother you. Them, not disturbing his peace was totally fine by him.
It took about 2 minutes to clean up this small "nursery". After making sure that each was reliably neutralized, he got a hold of a snow shovel from under the stairs, which had been lying here without need for as long as he can remember, and began to rake and carry the tokoloshi remains back to the street, and stacking them in a pile, right around the corner. When the last one was taken out, he revisited his garage, and after half a minute, with a 5 liter half-full eggplant and began to abundantly irrigate the pile with a translucent liquid. Having emptied and dropped the vessel on top, like a cherry on top of the cake, he quickly took out a small plastic bag from an inner pocket, with a small box of matches in it. The need for such a primitive means of producing fire is still considered priceless. You never know how long a lighter will last, and since refilling it is too expensive, there could just never be too many matches.
A small flash of a lit match, in an instant, engulfed a heap of remains with a fast and greedy flame and in a matter of seconds turned it into a black, barely smoking handful of ash. Just to be sure, he, with his kerzo boot, scattered it around the area, allowing the unceasing breeze to pick up and disperse it, gradually mixing it with the fresh "snow".
A couple more minutes later, he was already on the second floor, standing by a lead-lined steel door with the number 11 engraved, exactly where the peephole was supposed to be. The barely noticeable hole between the two ones was plugged up, either with cotton wool, or with a bunch of other rubbish, and this did not bother him much. It ain’t even something to be surprised with anyway. The neighbours, fearing that he could watch their every step through this pathetic semblance of a peephole, took action. It’s almost funny, but not funny.
Opening the first door, then the second, he entered a small space by the threshold, and tightly locking both doors behind him with heavy bolts, stretched out his hand into the darkness, feeling for the switch on the wall. A dim light illuminated the room. Two steps away from him, another, this time - cage, door was blocking the way, as if in a gunsmith’s basement. With the same stash of keys, he, fiddlingly, opened it too.
Turning out the light behind him, he took a step and found another switch, but on the inside of the grating, flipped it on. After taking his jacket and boots off, he stretched, listening to the crunch in his bones.
Such precautions never seemed paranoid to him one bit. Times were tough, and shit happened, and of it all, he happened to see the worst. That’s why such caution was never a bad thing, and probably never will be.
Having poured some samogon from a decanter (which he always forgets to put away), into a faceted glass, he sprawled in an armchair, looking at the cage door. Such armoured precautions never seemed paranoid to him one bit. Times were tough, and shit happened, and of it all, he happened to see the worst. Such caution was never a bad thing. Probably never will be. And who can judge him? He forgot the last time he even had a guest over. Why bother of what people may think? Why bother about the people? He’s not selfish, right? He prevented a tokoloshi outbreak, even though he didn’t have to move a muscle. He was never obligated to do anything. Did he really give a shit about the people, or is it just out of concern about unwanted exterminators, paying him a visit? Only one answer always ends being satisfactory. He just cares about what his wife would care about, and he does what she would have done. He still cared about the good, she always saw in people.
He took one last sip and placed an empty glass on a small coffee table near the armchair. The samogon was homemade, from natural products, so the throat-burning sensation, caused by the drink, only calmed him down. Having nibbled on a pickle, which had been lying on the saucer untouched since yesterday, already noticeably dry, he stroked his mustache and without noticing it, dozed off.