in this bizarre horror about the Transnistrian war, a policeman tries to track down missing people, but instead stumbles upon terrifying monsters, an ever-changing reality and an unspeakable evil only he could ever challenge…
Oleg had had it with all the darkness. The hunger. The fear. The shelling and the shooting, all those fearful grey-faced people sneaking alongside ruined walls. Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Moldovans. Even Cossacks like him. All looked the same in the dusk, even though they hated each other bitterly.
When he had moved there in 1986 from Rostov, for his Irina, militia first sergeant Oleg Nikolayevich Kovalchyuk had found an easy life. Only drunkards, malcontents and petty thieves to beat up, and the Union gave him a free one-bedroom flat and a bonus.
Not anymore. Now his salary had not arrived for months, since no one knew whose cop was he: the still nascent Moldova’s? The old, dying Soviet Union’s? Mother Russia’s? Some new country’s on the Dniester?
As for Irina, she had long left him and moved to Kishinev. Their empty home felt cold now, inhabited only by himself. Sleeping alone on the living-room couch, like a refugee in his own former life. And instead of drunkards, his job involved a new, unwanted war present: too many missing people.
He slammed a heap of files against the table and briefly browsed them: so many different faces, so many mysteries… Shot in the fighting? Runaways to some better, less murderous places? Killed by jealous rivals or in robberies gone wrong? Who cared, anyway?
Oleg gulped some tea from the cold cup, lightened a no-filter cigarette and looked around him. A rusty sink, filled with dirty dishes, a filthy sideboard covered in half emptied jars, a gas lamp in case of power shortages. On a chair, his police cap and coat, carefully folded. He took those up and went to the hallway mirror, next to the empty bedroom locked with a heavy padlock. Oleg watched himself: broad-shouldered, large belly, short hair of undefined color, unshaven bristle cheeks, dark circles around the eyes.
He leaned on to tuck the shirt into his pants, then started swearing bitterly when, like almost every night since the civil war, the power went off and he found himself in pitch darkness. He started towards the kitchen, feeling the wall with his hands, passed the bedroom and suddenly stopped. He could faintly hear some rustling inside. As if something rubbed against the walls. Rats maybe? Some stray cat sneaked in through the window?
He felt around for the key, inside the one drawer of the shoes cabinet. For a while he couldn’t find the keyhole and fumbled at the door, but the sound did not stop. The intruder was clearly not afraid of him. Then, just as he almost unlocked it, the lights came back on. Oleg turned the switch on and looked inside. Nothing. Just an empty room with a dirty, cracked window. Much colder inside than the rest of the apartment, and moister somehow, so he went to the balcony and brought some planks inside. He nailed them over the window and coveredeverything with a pinned old blanket. No cold would come in anymore, nor some animal. Oleg locked the bedroom up and went for the couch, to get some sleep.
In the middle of the night, he heard the rustle again. He stood up and turned the switch on, but in vain. Sleepy, naked and bare-footed, Oleg waddled into the dark, towards the bedroom’s door. It was wide open. Waiting for him. Inside, because of the covered window, the darkness was even thicker than in the hallway and all he could see was that in the middle stood a table. With something on it. He waited for a few moments, to get used to the darkness, then froze in fear. It was Irina. Dead, stiff, her legs missing from bloodied knees. He stumbled inside.
With each step, the darkness in the bedroom seemed to grow more palpable and huddle to the center. He had almost reached the corpse, when its face turned to him. Terrified, Oleg found himself staring into the dead woman’s cold eyes. Her hand fell over the edge, as if calling for him.
Oleg felt his legs melt with fear and he fell. He started crawling backwards to the door. The corpse did not move, but from his sides Oleg could hear the rustle moving fast against the walls, trying to reach the exit before him. Whimpering, he turned and scrambled on all fours, rushing through the frame. Not daring to look back for the source of the noise, he kicked the door with his bare feet and forced it closed. Something pushed back, feebly, as if not willing enough. Not yet.
Oleg slammed the phone. Just as bitchy as always, Irina had laughed, asked him to stop calling and mind his sorry loser life. She was all-right in the capital, with her beloved dentist. In the morning’s grey light, the bedroom hid nothing – just bare, quiet walls. Oleg locked it and, somewhat more relaxed by the thought that the life-like nightmare had been caused only by the stress of his investigations, took up the stack of files and went out.
All quiet. No machine-gun bursts yet, nor whistling shells dashing through the skies. It felt just like normal, old-times Dubossary. It was no such thing. The thick folders reminded him that each picture inside them hid some dark, unsolved story of men vanishing from the world, as if they had never even existed.
The policeman reached the first address he had to check on. A plump Bassarabian woman opened the door and invited him in. A kettle was boiling lively in the tiny kitchen.
“No, no, my Andrey would never have run away to the other side. Yes, he does have some relatives in Ungyeny, but he’s just too lazy to give up on his habits. And war-volunteer? Come on!”
She showed him a photo of the missing man.
“This is from five years ago, when he was forty-four. Now he’s fort’nine and even fatter. And softer. He’s just a music teacher, fat and docile like a seal. Where the hell could he go fighting a war, God forbid?!”
“Maybe he’s hiding? Did he have any vices? Gambling? Drinking? Owing money to the Bratva guys?”
The housewife laughed.
“Ha! He feared his middle-school pupils, what mob, comrade Sarge? His only vice was over-eating, my poor piglet!”
She poured hot steaming liquid into cups and turned serious, mumbling to herself:
“Yet, there was something strange. A hiding, perhaps, but, well, how to say it… it’s nonsense.”
“Meaning?” asked Oleg, carefully sipping the hot coffee.
“Meaning I’m all alone here without him, and, being a woman, I’m afraid. You know. I sleep in the living-room, since the phone’s there. But sometimes, at night, I feel like…”
She suddenly stopped talking and looked at him, undecided. He pretended not to pay attention, caring only for the cup, and said nothing. She sighed and went on:
“… like there is something in the bedroom. A… soft rustle. Sometimes I think it’s him, but when I turn on the lights, there’s no one there. And this is the fifth floor, how could he come in, poor soul?”
“As if sometimes there’s something there, in the dark,” said the old lady, pointing to the vacant bedroom, untouched since her grandson had disappeared. “Yes, my Sasha was twenty-three and he did want to join the fight, but he’s Russian. We are the winning side, so why go somewhere else? And if he had been shot, wouldn’t they have found his body?”
“But no, he’s nowhere to be found. The last time I saw him was the fourth of February, in the evening. Right here in his bedroom. But in the morning he was gone. We went to bed early that night, because the power was cut out, but I clearly remember that, late in the night, about two or three a.m., I heard something from his room. Something like a rustle.”
“What was it?”
“Ah, no idea, I didn’t go check it out. He’s a young lad, it’s not proper for his grandma to barge into his bedroom at night. But the next day… Sasha was gone. Nothing left of him. Not then, not now, more than a month later. What could it be, comrade?”
Oleg browsed the files, pretending to think. After all, what could he have answered? That Sasha was the fifth missing man he had no clue what had happened to? That, in three of the cases, when darkness fell, something seemed to rustle into their empty rooms? He could not mention such a thing, not to this nice grandma, nor to anybody else. They would think him crazy. Again. So, he just faked calm and said:
“We’ll find him eventually, babushka. Relax, he must be hiding at some friend’s. He went on to volunteer, I’d say, got scared from the shooting and now lays low somewhere till the storm ends. You find out anything, you call me at this number, o’right?”
The old lady nodded, her hands trembling.
It was already late evening when he finally reached the station, but his department chief, major Suharov, was still there. So was commander Kotnov. Barely heard thuds poured over the river from the powerhouse area, and the lights flickered every now and then.
Pinched with cold, Oleg huddled his overcoat and collapsed into a chair. He put a cup on the files and poured himself some vodka, then started chewing on a cold butter and ham sandwich. He looked around: a large hall, with fourteen desks cradled together. No one inside. Some of the officers had deserted to Moldova, others to Russia. The few remaining had gone home, tired with the town’s chaos and their own inability to do anything about it.
Only his two superiors could still be seen, hazy silhouettes against the glass door to the commander’s office. Gesturing vividly, arguing about something. They didn’t get along well and he would never interrupt them and suffer their wrath. The chief used to lock the door from the inside, anyway.
In dreamy stupor, he watched the night falling outside. Not so long ago, when the loved woman awaited him at home, Oleg never seemed to feel the cold, darkness or food shortages. Those just melted away during his 20 minutes’ walk home. He used to leave the station angry and stressed, but reach the apartment smiling. But now she did not love him anymore, and nothing awaited him at home. Just silence, an old, broken TV and all the bottles. The ugliness of life chased him into his own home, refusing to stay behind among police lockers.
The major’s hoarse voice interrupted his nostalgia.
“Kovalchyuk! Come here, damn pisdetz!”
Oleg shrugged and moved slowly towards the half-glass door, dragging his feet in fear of the storm of reproach waiting to be unleashed upon him. He finally got inside and Kotnov locked the door, absent-mindedly, as usual. The commander, a tall, bald, dark-skinned man, plumped into his armchair. Suharov, a fair-haired hulk with bulged eyes, stood next to him like a frowning statue.
“Comrade Sergeant, for how long should we put up with your bullshit?” yelled the chief suddenly, leaning over the desk as if to bite him. “Na hui, till when will you keep mocking our patience?”
Oleg Nikolayevich, awe-struck by the unexpected bout of fury, mumbled:
“But, but, but… but what have I done wrong, comrade Commander?”
The man sniffled in contempt and growled:
“Just that, what the fuck have you been doing? Weren’t you supposed to check the missing people’s files? Weren’t you supposed to go talk to the families?”
“But how! That’s exactly why I’ve been walking all over the town, all day long!”
Kotnov turned towards the other man and mockingly said:
“Just listen to him, listen to what your insubordinate says! He did this, he did that, it’s the two of us who went crazy!”
Suharov, face dark with anger, yelled:
“You’ve been nowhere, Kovalchyuk! Marin went instead, to cover for you, because you visited no address today and now you lie like a piece of crap, you damn drunkard.”
Oleg attempted to answer, but his voice got covered up by a succession of explosions. The lights went out and they suddenly found themselves in silence and darkness. The room seemed strangely lit by the moonbeams crossing from the hall into the office, through the glass door. The officers had remained still and quiet, all of a sudden.
No answer. Confused and a little scared, Oleg inched closer, one step at a time. From the hall behind he could hear the familiar rustle, but he paid no attention to it and just tried to see something in the pitch black.
When he finally did, he froze. The men were petrified, their skin grey and hard as rock. From under their uniforms fell undefined tails, black lines snaking over the floor all the way into the back of the room, melting into blurry corners. Something else shocked him even more: their eyes. The men had no more eye globes and in their sockets sank pits of nightness.
Fascinated, Oleg started raising a hand to their faces, but a loud bang interrupted him. The man turned to look at the door and saw it shook under a renewed kick. Something was trying to force itself in, but the door was locked and held on for the moment. He took his Makarov out and armed it with a short click. The push stopped, as if the unseen assailant knew damn well what that click meant.
Oleg watched the two still bodies: frozen in the same posture, lifeless, only their tails quivering and their socket holes whizzing faintly. He gathered his courage and sneaked along the walls, then briefly stared through the glass door.
His heart sank with a thump and he jumped back in fear: right beyond the door, just tall enough to be seen, was a black tiger. Unnaturally long, snake-like, the beast waited tensely, its huge yellow claws sinking into the red carpet.
For the brief moment he had stood in the door, the thing had turned its head, as if looking straight into his soul. And he had no idea how he knew that, since the tiger had no eyes. Not even empty sockets, simply nothing: the fur on its head stretched on from the tiny pointed ears all the way to the monstrous overgrown muzzle, filled with gigantic ivory teeth, in overlapping rows.
The beast seemed neither angry, nor hungry. Simply determined. Its bloody drooling mouth pointed at Oleg the whole time, growling low, almost unheard, and the tiger slammed itself against the door. Again and again, methodically. Oleg uncocked the pistol and slid it back into its holster, then went, dreamlike, to the door. He put his hand on the handle. The creature stopped and turned around. Behind it, a massive undefined red mass oozed inside the station, salty smelling , feeling warm. Oleg touched the key and…
… stumbled a few steps back, blinded by the neon lights.
“What the hell are you doing? Trying to sneak away?” yelled the commander.
Oleg gazed in confusion. Everything seemed back to normal. Just a dirty, cramped old police office, with a worn-off wooden floor.
“No bonus for you this month, you wretched Cossack! Get out! Out! And tomorrow start working properly, you son of a bitch!”
He lowered his head between the shoulders and started out the door, but suddenly stopped. Where the tiger’s claws had sunk into the carpet, he could still see two deep, ripped marks. He turned around and babbled:
“Comrades, have you seen those marks on the carpet?”
The two officers looked at each other, unsure, then Suharov lost it and started bawling:
“Oleg Nikolayevich, are you completely crazy? Wasn’t it you and the other stupid mule of Marin that pushed a locker the day before yesterday and ruined the state’s carpet? Get the hell out and stop drinking crappy home-made vodka!”
Oleg unlocked the door to his apartment and pushed the weeping man inside. He had found him on his way home, at a block’s corner, and had immediately recognized the man: Sasha, the presumed deserter. The lying son of a bitch claimed his name was actually Andryan Vetrar and that he wasn’t even Russian, but Moldovan. Well, truth would be proven with the files in the police station. The next day, since this late he would never go back and face his superiors once more. The policeman pushed the young man before him, removed his cap, then his coat and belt.
“Comrade militzian, please, I beg you, let me go! I have a family waiting for me at home and I did nothing wrong!”
“Comrade Sergeant. I’m as starving as a wolf, and tired as hell, too. Don’t want to join dinner, your problem, I’ll leave you here to soften up. Tomorrow you’ll see things differently. Come on!”
He grabbed the man’s hands, pulled them behind the back and cuffed them. Oleg unlocked the pad to the empty room, pushed the man into the darkness inside, locked the bedroom again and put the key in the drawer. He went into the kitchen, took out a vodka bottle, gurgled half of it and sighed. Not much later, he fell asleep on the couch. The prisoner’s whining seemed to be joined by a different background noise. The mysterious rustle. Oleg was too tired to get up and check, though, so he just pulled over a quilt, covered his ears and slid into a deep slumber.
What woke him this time late in the middle of the night was not a noise, since the apartment was eerily silent. On the contrary, he woke up because he felt something lacking. Not a need, like a hunger or thirst, but some murky void reaching out from the stairwell. Oleg wrapped the quilt around his back and got out the apartment. Indeed, on the stairs, between the floors, on the lowest step, some shapes could be vaguely discerned in the obscurity. Three male figures, dark, motionless.
“Who’s there, blya?” he asked, still calm.
No answer. He moved three steps forwards, reached for the switch and pushed it up. Nothing. He turned back to the silhouettes and noticed that, though still motionless, they were two steps higher. Hurriedly, he went back in the apartment and, half leaning inside, pushed the switch over there, too. Still nothing.
Oleg looked down the stairs. The undefined shapes had come three more steps up, silent and inert. Fearful, he slammed the door and locked the latch, in a hurry. He peeped through the visor, preparing to await the intruders’ arrival. But he jumped back: the things were already there. Faceless. He ran to the living room and hid under the covers, shaking. He peeped from under the quilt. No sound and no movement, but the figures were in the door, waiting. Oleg pushed against the wall and started praying. He could not dare look out again and so he just laid there till dawn, trembling.
When the first sunbeams reached the couch, Oleg slowly raised his head. The room was empty and no one stood in the door frame. Relieved, he took the pad key from the pillow and rushed to the bedroom. He unlocked the pad to get Sasha out.
The man was on the floor, carefully outspread on a plastic sheet. Eyes wide open, face frozen in a grimace of indescribable terror. Lacking his arms under the elbows and his legs under the knees. In a corner’s shadows, a bloodied bag hoarded a pile of bones, seemingly cleared by some large carnivorous beast. A tiger-like beast.
On the kitchen table, among plates covered in tomato sauce and old bread crusts, the cuffs awaited him.
Oleg was not a believer and had lived all his life quite sure that religion was just a load of superstitious crap. Actually, he still felt that way. But when terrorized by things one cannot explain rationally and finding no hope for a way out, one tends to push aside skepticism and try out faith. Just in case.
He decided to skip work and to go to church. There was one just five minutes away, if he took a shortcut behind the blocks. He put on a pair of civilian pants and a sweater and watched himself in the mirror: he looked bad. Tired. Saggy face, large underbelly. When did he get so fat? Oleg hadn’t seen himself in a mirror for a few days, but he couldn’t remember being so plump. He was as round as if something had crawled into his stomach and inflated it from inside out. He felt his cheek: a bruise. Since when? Where from? He hadn’t fought anybody.
Oleg went out and shuddered. It was raining hard and cold, but his umbrella was upstairs. He did not dare go back to his accursed apartment, so he just started pushing against the wind. After the first block, he stopped. He felt like being watched. He slowly turned around and saw it was true: the few stray dogs that lived around there had all come out from under cars and stairwells and gathered behind him. None barked, growled or wagged its tail. They just stood there, watching him warily, as if waiting for Oleg to deliver some important message.
The man waved his hands and shouted, but the mutts did not go away. On the contrary, a large black one, with tiny nasty eyes, approached him carefully and sniffed his pants. The cop stood still and swallowed hard. The hound sneezed in disgust and backed away, still watching him intensely. The others followed up and vanished, in silence.
Bewildered, Oleg kept on walking and went into the church. It was dark inside, cold and bleak. No candles lit, so the darkness crammed around the altar. He sighed and passed his hand above the tapers, absentmindedly. He startled, palm burned. He stepped back and everything changed instantly: flames flickering, lights on, a priest minding his chores around the altar.
Oleg rushed to the cleric, but stopped midway, struck by some unpleasant sweet odor. An scent of putrefaction. It came from the wine chalice in front of an icon. He looked inside and grimaced: gore. He reached for the wafer. Not bread, but green, moist cartilages.
“Can I help you, my son?” asked the priest, in confusion.
Oleg thought hard what to say, but he got distracted by a movement behind the minister. A black smoke thread snaked silently from the altar, inching towards the priest, ever nearer. He tried to warn the man, but could not open his mouth: something had come up his throat and clenched his teeth tight.
“Sir? Are you all right?”
The Cossack tried again, but in vain. His jaws were firmly stuck together as if cemented, so all he could let out were mute-like growls. Meanwhile, the mist thread had sneaked under the minister’s robe and seemed to move up his leg, in the same rhythm as his eyes were turning black.
Oleg turned around and ran. Strange sounds followed him, like a sick man gasping and trying to throw up.
Where was he? Oleg had calmed down with liquor, and then had fallen asleep on the couch, half-dressed in his sweater and underwear. He had woken up in the bedroom, naked. It was dark. The complete silence outside told him it was some impossible hour, three or four in the morning. He looked behind: the door wide open, but nothing could be seen in the pitch dark hallway.
The room was completely empty – no corpse this time. Nothing else, either. Just him and a large, old leather suitcase. The one in which he had crammed unwanted things after Irina had left him. But he remembered having taken it to the basement; why was it back again? Oleg grabbed it and tried to force it open. He failed; it had a lock and the lock was stuck. The cop got angry and tried again. Still in vain. He bashed the damned thing against the walls, again and again. The suitcase seemed to mumble and felt incredibly heavy.
Pissed off, Oleg rushed to the kitchen. He flipped the switch, but the light bulb remained black, so he forced out the drawer and searched just by feeling inside it. He grabbed the hatchet he used for breaking chop bones, went back to the suitcase and struck at it repeatedly, till it broke. Inside, instead of clothes and books, he found some wine bottles. Long, elegant, wrapped in whitish paper, covered in unclear drawings. He took a few out, but they wouldn’t stand up and kept rolling over. One of them shattered and a wide, sticky puddle spread out. Still raging, Oleg ran to the kitchen again and returned with some rags and two bags, orderly cramming the bottles into them. He carefully wiped the slop, too, then took the rags and bags into a corner.
While kneeling to set them there, he heard a growl from behind. He stood up slowly and turned around. He glimpsed the black tiger in the hallway, crossing towards the kitchen. On tiptoes, treading carefully so as not to make any noise and holding his breath, Oleg sneaked alongside the wall, into the hall and then inside the living room. He flinched when he heard the bedroom door slamming itself closed, then something turning over the chair he kept next to the cooking stove.
He anxiously closed his door, too, pushed an armchair against it and slid under the quilt, frozen in fear. He grabbed his knees and brought them against his chest, shivering. He felt the salty taste of blood in his mouth and thought he must have bit his lips really hard.
Another day wasted wondering around the town, aimlessly, purposelessly. He just could not tie up coherent thoughts together, just horrible, gruesome images. Every now and then he felt his mouth, amazed to find his lips unharmed.
He had visited all the five addresses, all over again. Or at least he thought it was again. He remembered the blocks and apartments, especially the rooms of the missing persons that relatives had complained of strange rustles. But he did not recognize the people. This time, the bedrooms were not empty, but inhabited by brothers, children or wives. Even those he talked to were different. Different mothers, different spouses, different grandmothers. Only the pictures of the missing ones were the same.
The conversations also went badly: they got nervous, claiming to have already been interrogated, just not by him. By Marin. And, they said, the Dubossary police was no good in finding anybody, anyway. So, instead of shooting at their former mates from beyond the Dniester, shouldn’t they rather do something to protect the locals from whatever roamed the nights, using the civil war as a cover?
Oleg had no answers to that. After all, he had shot nobody and couldn’t even understand much of the conflict, except that the payments stopped coming. What he did know was that he was terribly sleepy, that his stomach tormented him with a horrible indigestion,that his throat felt like throwing up and his mind was covered in a mist of confusion. And that inside his station locker awaited a nice bottle of vodka, that could greatly improve all things.
At work, he lingered only for ten minutes, in a hurry to grab the bottle before Suharov or Kotnov noticed him. Unfortunately, he was terribly disappointed to find no liquor in his locker, which was tilted against a wall. The files he was sure he had locked inside were not there, either, just some nicely packed clothes and three pairs of worn shoes. Puzzled, he looked for Marin, to confront him for the farce, but the man was out.
The policeman went back to his apartment. Along the way, he stopped at a shop where he was acquainted with the teller and bought a “White Stork” brandy. Next to his sink he also found the lost vodka bottle and sipped hard from it, till the spirits burned his throat. Suddenly overwhelmed by a horrible nausea, he rushed to the toilet and puked a thick, blackish paste. He washed away the bad taste in his mouth and exited the bathroom.
In the hallway, his eyes stopped on Irina’s picture: beautiful, happy and shiny. Then he saw himself in the mirror: pale, exhausted, sickly. Red eyes, dirty locks of hair under the cap. The coat crumpled and twisted. Depressed, he went to the kitchen and absentmindedly moved the chair with the cap and coat. Then he stopped and stared at them. What the hell? Oleg looked down: he was wearing just a shirt and pants.
He rushed to the mirror and, this time, the reflection stopped lying: he wore no cap or coat. But when did that happen? While thinking, bewildered, he thought he heard the rustle coming from the bedroom. The first time in broad daylight. He snatched the key and hurriedly unlocked the door, then barged in.
The corpse was still there, on the plastic sheet. The foil was no longer clean, but sprayed with fresh blood. The dead man was missing the muscles on his biceps, too, but not clean-cut like before. Now the flesh seemed to have been ripped apart by blunt teeth and chewed straight from the bone. In the corner, next to the bone bag, a pile of dirty rags. He felt them up. The blood was still moist; it had had no time to dry up.
Oleg looked at the empty room. Nothing. No hole anywhere to allow some animal inside. He checked the planks bolted over the window: they were still firm, nothing could get through. The only key was in his hand. So where from had the man-eating beast come from? Had it materialized from thin, dark air? Could it be the night itself, taking form to feast on human flesh? In the middle of the day?
Oleg had no answer. He stepped backwards, locked the pad, put the key in its drawer and grabbed the bottles. The voracious hunger had passed and he just wanted to drink himself into an all-forgetting stupor, so he slammed the living room door and poured the first glass.
Oleg woke up in the middle of the night, probably around 3 a.m.. Too dark to see the clock. He had a terrible headache, his mouth was filled with a disgusting taste, his bristle chin covered in dried saliva. He felt around, with eyes closed. The sheets were wet. He took his fingers to his nostrils to sniff the liquid, but could not intake any air. He opened his eyes and saw the reason: two thin, trembling threads of darkness went out his nose and through the half open door, into the hallway. He stood up, grabbed an empty bottle, held it like a club and followed the tentacles. They led him into the empty room, pitch dark like a cave, the door wide opened and the pad dangling, unlocked.
Oleg kicked the door and rushed in, squeezing the bottle as if it was some magical sword. In the middle of the chamber, a black cloud loomed over a stiff dead body, flashing dozens of large, white grains. Teeth, he realized eventually. The beast was chewing hungrily, ripping strips of bloody flesh and swallowing them up in a hurry.
The two threads of darkness from his own nose went all the way to the creature, but they were not the only ones: five or six more were feeling the walls, rustling along the plaster, while four others held a man in a corner, pushed against the floor. He recognized the man: Andrey Tatar, the teacher. The fat man kept whimpering, looking in horror at his plump legs cut under the knees. The blood flowed from the wounds over a plastic sheet, carefully laid down. The missing limbs were nowhere to be seen, but a new bag awaited next to him, ready to be filled with bones.
The victim saw Oleg and extended his hands into a begging gesture, crying:
“Please, no more, no more! Please, stop it!”
Oleg raised the bottle above his head and started towards the darkness, but it growled a single word and night suddenly fell over the man. He could only feel his own body hitting the floor and hear the sound of shattering glass.
“Hunger”. That was the word. Oleg woke up and looked around. He was in the living room, on the couch. On the chair next to him, an empty bottle and a key. The door was closed. The sheets still wet, smelling of alcohol. He looked at the clock: 1 p.m.
He stood up. Naked, though he could clearly remember going to bed in a T-shirt. He looked for it and saw it on an armchair, carefully packed. Next to it, a towel. He took it up and sniffed it. Almost dry, with rust-looking traces on the edge.
He walked slowly to the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove. In the garbage bin, shards from the second bottle, and behind the door the broom and dustpan, in their usual place. On the table, the pile of files. He took them up and browsed them, annoyed by the persistent ringing of the telephone in the living-room. He sipped the tea and it hit him. He quickly opened the papers again and looked once more. True, indeed!
Puzzled, he took all the files under his arm, grabbed a chair with his other hand and, still naked, went into the bedroom. He slammed the door wide open and entered, put the chair in the middle and sat on it. He saw that, beside the half eaten Sasha and the fat man from last night, already missing all his limbs, a new corpse had somehow shown up. It seemed fresh, just killed that same morning, and had only a few pieces of flesh lacking from his forearms. Carefully cut out. In a corner, three bags filled with bones and a large pile of bloodied rags. In a different one, a few orderly packed plastic sheets. On a cardboard, knives of different sizes and shapes, a meat cleaver and a saw, all cleaned up and organized with military rigor.
He looked first at the files, then the corpses. The one he thought of as Sasha was not actually Aleksandr Godin, the deserter. He didn’t even resemble the picture, being too short and dark-haired. He browsed the other files: none of the pictures had anything in common with the bodies. The plump man was not really the flaccid Andrey Tatar, but a Gagauz-looking young man. None of the three dead men in the room was any of the missing people, whose pictures had mysteriously changed overnight.
He threw the folders down and got out. Some thought or memory kept trying to surface. Oleg did not wait for it to emerge: he got dressed in his police uniform and went shopping. He came back rather fast, holding a hammer in one hand and a few bottles in a bag, in the other. He locked the apartment, took down Irina’s picture and hid it in the closet, among his shirts. He ripped the phone line, packed his uniform nicely and put in on the armchair, took the bottles and the hammer and went into the bedroom.
He moved the pad inside, locked it and crushed the key. After that, he dragged the bodies under the window, covered them with the sheets, the rags and the bone bags, then put the police files on top. He took his hammer, butcher knives and bottles, sat down against the opposite wall and started drinking hard, refusing obstinately any thoughts.
Night. Numbed by the hangover, he opened his eyes and saw a black figure, darker even than the pitch dark of the room. The beast had hauled one of the corpses to the center of the room and was feeding it.
“Hungry?” asked Oleg.
“Hungry!” answered the monster.
The man grinned, grabbed the cleaver and in just one short, unexpected move, struck twice, howling.
“Hungry?” he yelled at the creature and threw his freshly cut feet at it.
“Pain!” screamed it horribly, roaring. “Why? Whyyy?”
“Tvoi mat, suka!” whispered Oleg and took up the hammer.
The beast shuddered in fear and threw out rustling tentacles, trying to stop him. The Cossack was faster and struck his teeth. White-red bloodied chips covered his chest. The creature screamed and its fangs started falling in rows over the bodies.
“Who do you bite now, bitch?” yelled Oleg again, striking his mouth in a wave of hits, crushing his lips and teeth into a red paste filled with bone splinters.
The beast wheezed and put out its tentacles, begging for mercy.
“Mercy, you bloody piece of shit? Really? Mercy?” said Oleg with difficulty and rushed it, mouth open.
He slammed the creature against the floor and started furiously biting it with his broken teeth. Howling, enraged. The darkness responded, rolling him up in its limbs and biting back.
In bitter struggle, they rolled over the corpses, spraying blood all over. With each bite, Oleg felt burning pain as the monster ripped him, too, and felt life leaking away. But he could feel the creature loosing strength, too. Ever weaker, gradually shrinking into nothingness. Oleg kept clawing and biting the beast like a tiger himself, until he finally fell down a senseless pit.
Down and down, into the darkness.
Originally published in Romanian in ”Gazeta SF”, the August 2015 issue.
Translated by the author.
©2015 by Miloș Dumbraci