Kholat Syakhl, Soviet Union, 1959
The wind was howling, and the snow was relentlessly pounding the tent that housed Nicolai and his mountaineering team. The weather had gradually worsened over the night and Nicolai was worrying if he’d still be under a tent at daybreak. It was near two o’clock in the morning and his party had made camp earlier because of the harsh weather conditions. He knew it was to be expected. The weather at that time of year was going to be anything but kind, and one of his colleagues had turned back already, which got him thinking that it might have been a good idea for him to do the same.
His legs were burning from the trek up the mountain and he was feeling exhausted after carrying his equipment for nearly five days. Mountain treks weren’t new to him. He’d been doing them for several years. He always found it hard at about the halfway point but he felt going downhill was more troublesome than going uphill. He enjoyed mountain climbing; he had decided a long time ago that he was going to do something that would be challenging but worthwhile.
Igor, the expedition leader, had told him earlier that he was confident that they would make their destination around their projected time – should the weather ease up by morning. The snow was brutal. The expedition members were prepared and had the gear to do the trek, but the cold always found its way into Nicolai’s body. It never went away. A storm had moved in; the small icy particles of snow had been attacking Nicolai’s face like a thousand tiny daggers, and the wind had nearly blown him back down the mountain on more than one occasion. He was eager to move on as soon as the weather allowed it.
He was an experienced climber for his age, but what they had encountered during the day had the expedition baffled. And Nicolai, if not most of the group, started to feel a sense of anxiety. What made it worse was that the expedition was miles from any known civilisation: they were on their own.
The first incident happened around about midday as they started their ascent up the pass when the weather was calm, and visibility was near perfect. They were a few hours into the ascent when Igor stopped and complained about a high-pitched ringing he could hear coming from up ahead.
One after another everyone began to hear the ringing; it got louder and more intense, to the point where it started to cause pain.
Then the ringing stopped just as soon as it had begun. Yuri, another member of the expedition, explained that it could’ve been nothing more than an atmospheric disturbance, created by the approaching storm. Nicolai wasn’t too convinced by the explanation.
He’d heard that the military had previously conducted exercises in and around the area; he had started to think of horror stories that he had heard as a child, about things that had happened during the war. He was worried that the military had repurposed the area as a test site for new, deadly weapons. He was worried that at any second a nuclear blast would flash in the distance and engulf the area and the expedition. The thought of him and the entire group burning in a radioactive inferno didn’t do much for his morale, but he pushed on with the rest of the team. The remainder of the journey was mostly uneventful until they got nearer to the top of the pass. The white glare of the snow on the ground was blindingly bright to Nicolai’s eyes. The dazzling glow caused him to constantly squint, which brought on a slight headache. He was wearing They had already deviated from their path and ended up in the wrong position, and the sun was beginning its journey towards the horizon. As they were preparing to make camp, another member of the expedition screamed.
‘Oh my God, what is that?’
The team all looked in the direction she was pointing to. What he saw did little for his nerves.
Although the light was fading, and the snow was starting to get thicker, they witnessed what appeared to be orange flashing lights in the sky.
They looked like explosions, which would’ve made sense if the military was conducting ordinance tests nearby. However, there was no sound but the wind. The explosions were soundless. No noise, and no echoes. All the team had lived through the war, most of them as children, and knew the sound of exploding bombs.
‘It’s just an army exercise,’ said Igor. ‘There’s an army bunker somewhere on this mountain. We need to keep moving.’
But this did little to convince the group. Nicolai knew that this had scared Igor as he was determined they could keep going when light and visibility were close to nothing. The other members had to convince him to stop or they wouldn’t be able to pitch up the tent with the wind picking up. They got the tent erected and were sheltered from the weather outside.
Nicolai couldn’t sleep. He was listening to the howling wind, trying to make out if anything unusual was happening, but all he heard was the high-pitched howls of the wind and the pattering of a thousand tiny icy particles on kamikaze runs hitting the tent. He had heard stories when he was younger about human experiments that the army conducted on captive Nazi soldiers.
His imagination mixed with his fear was starting to get the better of him. He imagined a bunch of crazed Nazi soldiers that had been living in the region since the end of the war, bent on killing the Soviets that had tortured them. Insane and feral, with nothing but a thirst for blood. He’d seen the horrors that the Nazis had inflicted on his people during the war and had known friends and family members who weren’t as lucky as he was to survive the ordeal. Then he remembered the local tribespeople living in the area.
The Mansi tribe.
He started to panic, thinking that the tribe could be hostile to outsiders and had been following them since they entered the region. He tried to calm himself in the knowledge that neither tortured prisoners of war nor native tribesmen would have the means to create high-frequency sounds or soundless explosions.
It provided him with slight comfort, but at the same time brought about a new fear within him. Could it have been some abandoned Second World War or Cold War experiment which was now out of control?
His best-case scenario was that it was a natural atmospheric occurrence that seldom happened and what they had experienced was completely harmless. Whatever he thought it was, each minute that passed felt longer than the previous one.
He heard the high-pitched noise again, but this time it was accompanied by the flashing orange lights, which were forcing their way through the stitching in the tent. He hoped that he was dreaming, but he was still wide awake, and reality was turning into a real-life nightmare.
His body filled with cold fear and he froze.
The lights were blinding, like a barricade of shells, and the noise was a continuous, unrelenting high-pitched shriek.
He heard screams and shouts from the other expedition members, cutting through the high-pitched noise. It was only then that he noticed he was completely alone in the tent. The others had already fled. He heard Igor shouting.
‘We need to get out of here! Head for the woods.’
Nicolai knew he needed to do the same, but he was frozen with fear and unable to think clearly about what he had to do. Perhaps, inside the tent, he’d be safe from whatever was happening outside. The flashing lights got brighter and more intense near the entrance to the tent. He tried to muster up the courage to release himself from his frozen stance and do something. He forced his arms and legs to move. He had to get away from the blinding lights that had descended upon the camp.
The lights grew to a point where he thought the tent was on fire, so he grabbed a nearby knife, ran to the other end of the tent and slashed his way through the fabric. The blizzard invaded the tent like a swarm of insects; the soundless explosions made it feel like the camp was being bombarded with shells. He stumbled into the cold of the night, chaos surrounding him everywhere. The frozen air hit him hard, and momentarily knocked the wind out of him. He looked up to the sky, which should’ve been dark and thick with snowflakes. What he saw was beyond belief. It was the most he’d been scared in his entire life.
Just above him was a bright, glowing sky. Like someone had just sliced part of the surface of the sun and dangled it above the camp. He wanted to run back, but he couldn’t move. He looked around for his colleagues but they were nowhere to be found. His eyes were burning from the brightness of this furious sun. The burning sphere was kicking up snow in a whirlwind of white and orange. The vortex engulfed and surrounded Nicolai, forming a barrier around him. The tent behind him collapsed like it had been stood on by some monstrous invisible force, but that wasn’t what scared him the most. In the burning mess, he could make out a shadow that was getting larger and as his eyes started to adjust, he could see that it was taking the shape of a giant figure that looked as if was walking towards him.
He heard another noise over the hissing sound in his ears, which he could feel were bleeding. It felt like he was living in slow motion and his brain was working too slow before he realised that it was his friend Alexander shouting to him.
‘Nicolai, run! Run fast. Now!’
He turned to see Alexander about a hundred metres from him on the opposite side of the pass, screaming at him to run. But something didn’t look right. It looked as if time was speeding up on the other side of the violent orange barrier. It was like someone had pressed fast forward on real life and Nicolai was being left behind in real time. He turned back to the sphere, to the burning sun, to see a dark shadow emerge. The figure struck him hard on the head.
Everything went black.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, T.J McLaughlinWrite a Review