By Mark Lentz
Jan. 17, 1952
Millions of stars sparkle in the pristine night sky high above Mashuk Mountain. Red, brown, and purple hues of the Milky Way Galaxy are visible to the naked eye. The landscape is dominated by thick stands of oak and beech trees, making line-of-sight trekking for a group of 20-something-year-old backpackers more difficult. The only real way of navigating these woods is with a compass and a map, but this close-knit group of friends need neither of these. All of them are accomplished mountain hikers and climbers who are just as comfortable in the wilds of northern Russia as most people are in their own living rooms.
All three men have large frames, making it difficult to maneuver inside the confines of the tent.
“Hey Sasha!” Igor yells over from his nearby tent. “You better snuggle close to Anna and Dominika tonight.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?” Sasha says, putting her long blonde hair into a ponytail.
Viktor says, “It’s supposed to get cold tonight. Very cold. Minus 58.”
“So I guess the same goes for you three then too.” Anna replies.
Alexei, Viktor, and Igor all look at each other, not sure what to say.
“Don’t even think about it.” Alexei says, straight-faced. Instantly, the group breaks into a fit of laughter.
Each tent faces the other, separated only by a few feet. Snow banks reach half way up the height of the tents, providing an excellent windbreak from the bitter cold. Embers from their diminishing campfire are swept up in the increasing winds, burning brilliantly before blinking from existence. The winds are pounding the sides of the tents, rocking the lights they have hanging inside, moving them in wild concentric circles and giving the interior a night-club feel.
“Igor!” Dominika says out loud, competing with the wind to be heard. “You picked a great night to be camping at the top of a mountain!”
“I do my best.” he says.
“Hey… guys?” Anna says.
“Yes Anna.” Viktor says sarcastically.
“What’s going on?” Anna looks at the other two, eyes wide.
“What is it?” Dominika says.
Anna points her finger at Sasha. “It’s Sasha. Look.”
Dominika flinches and rocks away from Sasha, her dark hair falling in front of her face, she leans against the wall of the tent. “What the hell?”
“What? What is it?” she says. “Come on, stop screwing around.”
“No, look. It’s your hair. It’s standing straight up.”
She puts her hands on top of her head, trying to force her hair back down.
Igor hears something. “Hey!” he says. “Guys, listen.”
Outside, somewhere from the pitch of night, a low-frequency hum emanates through the heavy canvas walls. All six of them stop to listen.
“Where is that coming from?” Viktor says.
There’s electricity in the air. The hair on their heads and naked arms are standing at attention.
A faint blue light, manifests in the air, quickly escalating to a blinding energy. So bright, even with their hands clamped over their eyes, the light burns their eyes.
Alexei screams, “I can see the bones in my hands.”
The frozen ground beneath them feels like it’s moving as a low-frequency hum builds at a fantastic rate. Their teeth begin to chatter uncontrollably, coating the inside of their mouths with flakes of tooth enamel.
“What is going on?” one of the girls yell in terror.
Everyone is in agony. They can’t stop the light from burning their eyes, or their teeth from annihilating each other. Sprawled out on the floor of tent, they turn their faces towards the floor with no effect. Searing heat builds inside the tents, causing the bulbs inside the flashlights to explode, scattering small shards of glass.
As quickly as it began, the light, the heat, and the hum, it stops. Blood drips from their ears and noses.
“What the fuck was that?” Dominika says, her voice coarse. She starts to cough, spitting up blood laced with white gobs that were once part of their teeth.
No one answers right away, they can’t. Paralysed with fear, unable to cope.
Viktor moans in pain, he grasps his stomach as he rolls onto his side to sit upright. The blurry shapes in front of him are coming into focus. Alexei and Igor are trying to sit up too, and blood is running from Igor’s eyes.
“Sasha, Dominika, Anna. Are you okay over there?” Viktor says, blood dripping down over is beard.
Sasha says, “We’re okay, sort of.” She looks at the other two. She reaches out to each in turn, their skin is hot to the touch. She places her hand on her own arm; her skin is hot too. “What just happened?” she mumbles to herself.
Alexei, sitting upright on his knees, hears something in the distance. It’s faint, but it sounds like a mix of clicking and a high-pitched metallic screech. “What the hell is that now?”
Igor pulls back the corner flap covering the windows. He can see light moving through the forest. “Hey guys, look. Look at this.”
The girls in the other tent hear Igor and move to look outside their tent too.
“Who’s out there?” Dominika whispers to the others. “Something is definitely coming”
“Oh shit.” Anna says.
“What…what is it? Do you see something?” Igor says.
“Straight out, what the fuck is that?” Anna cups a hand over her mouth, trying not to scream.
Through the trees, three glowing figures are passing by, about 50 metres away. They’re walking, but don’t appear to be touching the ground. The group can’t distinguish any facial features, just a glowing shape resembling a humanoid. The beings stop in a small opening in the trees. They have a clear view of the tents now. A metallic screeching sound is coming from them.
“Oh my god! Are they talking? Igor says.
Alexei cups his hand over his nose. “Shit! What is that smell?”
The girls smell it too. Sasha speaks. “It smells like rotten cinnamon.”
Dominika says with a shaky voice, “Guys, what are we are going to do?” She waits for an answer. “Hey! What the fuck… are we going to do?”
At that moment, one of the creatures turns its face toward the tents.
“Oh shit.” Igor says, peering out the window. “They see us.”
“We have to get out of here, now.” Alexei yells.
Igor grabs his knife and slices the canvas to make a large opening. Standing up with his upper body well above the top of the tent, he looks at Alexei and Viktor “Run!”
He moves over to the girl’s tent and slashes hard across the roof and pulls the canvas wide, “We have to get out of here right now.”
They already had their boots on, Dominika grabs her coat and dashes off into the night. Igor turns toward the three creatures approaching, they are only 15 metres away now, the smell is overpowering.
Alexei and Viktor run blindly away from their base camp. Wearing only long johns and a t-shirt, they forget their boots and they leave barefoot. Scrambling away from intruders, they go a different direction than the others.
Igor, who is the last to leave the tent, stands with boots in hand, watching the now still visitors. He can still hear the crunching of the snow as Viktor and Alexei make their getaway. Carefully, he puts his boots on, keeping a watchful eye on the visitors. So far, they aren’t moving. Then in one fluid movement, one of the beings raises its arm directly at him, an intense, high pitched vibration penetrates his mind. After only a few excruciating seconds, he blacks-out and collapses into the snow. One of the three creatures approaches the tent and grabs Igor’s foot, dragging him away. The other two break away, one toward Sasha, Alexandra, and Anna, the other toward Alexei and Viktor.
Five minutes later, Alexei and Viktor are huddled against a large oak tree, sitting in a large depression in the snow around the base of the tree carved out by the wind.
“We’re going to die, Alexei.” Viktor says. He looks at his feet in the dark, the snow is sticking to them without melting. “I already can’t feel my feet.”
“Be quiet.” Alexei says. A faint glow illuminates the trees in front of them. “Here it comes again.”
Before Alexei has a chance to stop him, Viktor takes off running. Stunned, Alexei looks up at the glowing figure above him. Some kind of weapon is fired, but he hears nothing. There, in the darkness of the night, sitting in that wind-carved hole at the base of the oak tree, Alexei has every bone in chest crushed instantly by some unknown force. Death is instant.
Viktor is overcome by the intense cold. Fifty metres away from where Alexei was taken by the being of light, he can no longer feel his feet or legs. His breathing has sped up, cooling his core temperature even faster. His state of panic has been replaced with devastating fatigue. Slumped against a rock, he closes his eyes and lets go, drifting off to eternity.
The girls are half a kilometre away now.
“We have to make it back to the valley.” Anna says, shaking from the intense cold.
“We won’t make it.” Sasha says.
Dominika looks at Anna and nods. “The temperature is dropping by the minute. We have no shelter, no food, and I’m the only one with a coat.”
Dominika unzips her coat and opens it.
“What are you doing?” Sasha says.
“We’ll take turns while we walk.”
Anna looks stunned. “We can’t.”
“We have to try.” Dominika says. She hands the coat to Anna. “You first.”
She slips it on, hugging herself in the warmth. “Sasha, what about you?”
“It’s okay. We can do this. We have to try. Now let’s move.”
The three women turn and disappear into the night, armed with only one coat and an unknown being trailing somewhere out there behind them. Above, the stars blink and shine in the clear, crisp, sub-arctic air.
“Sasha, I can see something glowing behind us.”
I'm a 44-year-old guy currently planning my first long-distance hike. It will start on the first of May, 2016, and will cover 2518 kilometres, from Echo Lake in California to Manning Provincial Park at the British Columbia border. This will be my biggest, grandest, most epic accomplishment in my life so far.