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I work on the railroad as an assistant locomotive driver. I won't go into the details of my job, except to say that my position is the lowest in the train operating environment. I'm always busy wiping oil off the diesel, knocking the ice off the running gear, and sipping tea in the cozy cabin. All in all, I'm happy with everything. What's a 20-year-old guy who got a job right after his internship to complain about? Except for the permanent smell of diesel from the clothes and sleepless nights. This is one of those nights we will talk about.

It happened about two years ago, in the middle of January. I had just started working independently, and I was assigned to a large station in the middle of a military town (the airfield and the station actually kept the village afloat), fifty kilometers from my town. I lived in a rented apartment. I was not particularly happy with such a situation, but on the other hand, an independent life also has its advantages, although sometimes I felt homesick.

And so, as my fifth shift was coming up, tonight was my night. Sitting at my laptop, I looked at the clock. It was 16:02. I exhaled and thought to myself: "Here we go. I didn't get any sleep before my shift again. I'll be in a state of boiled beets again. All right, I'll get over it."

I was distracted from watching my show by a phone call. It was Andrei Palych, my driver. A cheerful, bald man in his sixties, he knew his job and the locomotive like the back of his hand. I picked up the phone.

"Hello, hello Palych!"

"Hello, Diman. Listen, I'm not coming in for my shift today. I had to go into town urgently, so I took the day off. When you get to the depot, go see the supervisor - you'll be paired with another driver for that shift, and then I'll come over and you'll be with me again."

His voice was a little different than usual: he was breathing more rapidly than usual, occasionally swallowing, and in general, his voice sounded a little scared or something.

"Oh, I hear you, I'll come in. Everything okay in there? Jumped off shift unannounced, had to leave in a hurry...?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. My wife asked me to go see her brother. What the fuck are you doing poking around in other people's business, anyway? You ain't getting out of the engine room till the diesel shines!"

"Ha-ha, okay, but don't hit me! Have a good trip!"

Andrei Palych hung up without answering anything. I looked at the phone with a disgruntled face, and continued watching my show with a sniffle.

As time passed, I looked at the weather forecast (-26 and supercooled fog. Just super...) got ready, and went to work. I went to the supervisor, and there I was introduced to the machinist. Tall stout guy, 26 years old. As it turned out, he had just graduated and got a job here. He was nice to talk to, had a knack for memes and games. "That's it!" I thought.

After all the hustle and bustle with instructions and other foreplay, we headed for our car. On the way, he let me know that we were working today at a "crumbling plant" (an industrial facility that makes crushed rock for the railroad).

"Well, that's expected. Where to send an inexperienced machinist except to a single track with cars at the ends? Just go back and forth, hauling cars," I thought.

And it's a good thing Palych left today. Every time we work at the camp, something happens to him. Either he misses a vigilance check, or he exceeds the speed limit. He has no luck here. I don't want to go back to the boss's carpet.

We took the car, got on the road, and got to work. Everything was going just fine. The train was going, I was chatting with a colleague and smoking inside the cabin (Palych didn't allow that). And so half of the shift passed. At 01:17 a.m. the long-cherished "Bunkhouse to the service yard" came through the loudspeaker of the radio. We had no lunch. Not officially. But they give us a couple of hours for "locomotive inspection and maintenance". And how to use this time, everyone decides for himself.

We left about midway: about 7 km to the station, and the same amount to the train yard. It was comfortable to sleep. No spotlight and the rumble of locomotives and other machinery. A single track and dense woodland on both sides.

Pulling on the brake, the driver sent me off to inspect the running gear, while he threw his feet up on the console and began to linger on his phone.

"What a lazy fuck! You could have helped!", I thought, and got down from the locomotive. I had a flashlight, a hammer, and mittens with me. I walked around the car in a circle in the deep snow - the undercarriage was fine. I could go back.

But the view bewitched me. A milky sea of fog, the rails going nowhere, and a lone locomotive, a majestic monster, a green metallic Hulk, whose light was drowning in this shroud literally 10 meters away. It was breathtaking. I lit a cigarette, and feeling that half of my thermos of tea was begging to go outside, I decided to go for a pee. I did not take a piss by the car. The driver could look in the mirror, and in general, it is not aesthetically pleasing.

I walked down the embankment toward the plantings, lighting the way with the flashlight. I didn't want to break in the dark. As I did my business, I noticed a rusty sign with spots of white paint not far from the thicket of trees.

Finished, I carefully moved toward it. After walking 10-15 meters, I removed the rusted and corroded plaque from the bottom branch of the tree. It still clearly read "TE3-692". It was a license plate from some kind of locomotive. "Troika" is a pretty old diesel locomotive. Such a find is a rarity, for a connoisseur.

"Holy shit! I'll pin it on the bumper of my car, or put it in my room! What a catch!", I was happily looking at the find, as suddenly something crunched on the right. I turned sharply, shining the flashlight. The light was drowning in the fog, and two bright lights were clearly visible a couple of dozen yards away.

"The beast is wandering. There's a twinkle in their eyes. I hope it's not a wolf," as I said these words, I saw the lights slowly fade, and then disappear altogether. The animal didn't turn and walk away, its eyes didn't look away, as if it had walked backwards. Absolutely silently, the lights disappeared. I felt uncomfortable; goosebumps ran from my top to my heels, and I turned around a couple of times and lit the space. No one was there. Everything was quiet. Too quiet, even, not even the rumble of a diesel. Either I'd gone that far away, or the driver had shut it down. I must have already got a leak in the hood from not sleeping enough. All right, we'd better get back. It's not the month of May, after all.

Holding the sign under my left arm, I hurriedly walked through the moderately deep snow toward the locomotive. It was safe, warm, and light. The beast wouldn't get in. I didn't want to think about what I saw.

Branches crunched beneath my feet, but suddenly, I heard a very different crunch. It sounded as if a large bone or someone's spine had broken. It sounded pretty nasty. The crunch sounded from somewhere behind me.

Freezing in place, I stood motionless for about 15 seconds, digging a bunch of thoughts into my head and counting the frequent beats of my heart. My legs were getting exorbitantly cold. Little by little, they went numb, either from the cold or from the terror. Then I slowly turned around. The lantern's light was fading again in the thick fog, and ten meters away from me, those lights were there again. But they were higher now than they had been the last time. About the height of my eyes. Now they were moving leisurely, outlining a lying figure-eight. And there was that crunch again. Now I understood what its source was. The creature was turning its head and crunching its vertebrae. After seven seconds of disgusting cervical gymnastics, my eyes stopped.

The crackling of bones stopped, but it was replaced by whispering. About ten voices were speaking at once, male and female, far and near. Even children's voices could be heard.

They all merged into a disorderly noise; it was impossible to make out what they were saying, as if they were getting into my head.

Through the flood of my own thoughts and the whispering, I was still able to give my body the command, "Run!

I turned around sharply and accelerated. I ran as fast as the mud under my feet and the heavy winter overalls allowed me to. As I ran, I maneuvered between trees and jumped over all kinds of holes and ravines. My legs were carrying me on autopilot. And I was carrying my junk and the cherished plaque. I'm surprised I hadn't thrown it away. It wasn't my fault for all this crap, and I was carrying it with me.

I ran without feeling tired, but I was starting to stress that the landing seemed longer than it had been before. It felt like I had run about a kilometer, and the trees still wouldn't end.

After another couple of minutes of walking, I ran out into deep snow, and the lane ended. The railway track embankment appeared, and I ran up it like on steps, though there was a good slope and gravel. Standing in the middle of the track, I stopped. A faint sense of calm followed. I got out.

"Okay, stop. Where's the locomotive?", I muttered grudgingly in a full voice. Looking around, I couldn't find my car.

Pulling myself together, I assumed that I had gone sideways in that landing, and the locomotive was somewhere further down the track. Because of the fog, I couldn't see it, expectedly. Well, I had nothing to do, so I went in the direction of the train depot. The snow was crunching under my feet and I was walking swiftly towards my only goal - to get to my iron fortress.

On the way, I began to pay attention to my surroundings: the rails were rusty, the joints were wide. Stopping, I kicked the snow under me a couple of times, and saw that under my feet lay an old, rotten, wooden sleeper. Twisting the toe of my work boot, I broke off a piece of frozen, rotten wood. It smelled characteristically of creosote (the substance used to treat wooden sleepers, a classic railroad smell). This is the wrong track. Where am I?

Looking around, I saw another sign. It was a kilometer post. On the concrete shaft was a white, in places rusty, angular sign. It had the numbers "276" on it, and on the other half, after the corner, "275. This was definitely not the way. The track to the gully depot is only fifteen kilometers, and it's on concrete sleepers. And there are no posts.

Looking at the sign, and trying to make sense of the crap, I heard a sound I was already familiar with. It was the same crunching of cervical vertebrae. But now, it was so close behind me that it felt like it was my spine breaking. But it wasn't. At the same moment, a cold sweat broke out over me. The blood rushed to my temples, and I fumbled for the handle of the hammer in the pocket of my orange vest.

As I grabbed the tool and squeezed it, ready to strike, I turned sharply.

A meter away from me it stood. I couldn't call it human, but it looked remotely like a woman: a hunched, pale body with twisted limbs in a tattered, dirty rag that looked like a dress. It twisted its head leisurely, arching its neck very violently. This was clearly not something a living person could do. Its face was ghastly: the torn skin exposed a pierced skull, and a scalp of sparse, gray and long hair hanging over a couple of centimeters of skin. The mouth was torn to the cheek on one side, revealing brown, rotten, beastly fangs, and a psychopathic smile on the other. The eyes were devoid of eyelids and eyebrows; they were completely white and emitted a greenish light.

On thin hands without two fingers, it held some kind of lump wrapped in an old newspaper. Out of it could be seen...arms and legs! It was a baby. It was a baby.

Dark, stinking blood dripped from the newspaper.

What I saw made my muscles cramp up, and the sign from the locomotive fell out of my armpit and crashed onto the rubble with a clang. In the same second, the thing bent its neck down sharply, looking at the sign. When it saw it, it slowly lifted its head and grinned vilely at me, letting out a uterine wheeze. I knew I had to hit her. Or she would eat me. I swung my arm back, ready to put all my strength into the punch to crack her skull to mush.

But... someone had done it for me.

A hand with a hammer appeared behind the creature and smacked it on the temple. The impact part went into my brain, making a squelching noise. But the bastard didn't give a shit! She just twitched, turned back around, and ran off into the landing, bellowing out some pathetic noises! If I had hit her, I would have been dead.

Out of the fog, a man stepped toward me. It was an elderly man in an old-style railway uniform from about the seventies. On his head was a blue cap with a shiny emblem of the USSR Railway Ministry. He had a wide, stern face with green eyes and a gorgeous white mustache.

Dumbfounded for a moment, I continued to stand in an attacking pose. The grandfather exhaled, brushed the hammer in the snow, staining it black and brown, and looked at me and said: "Put the gun down, don't strain it. And why are you frozen?"

His words sounded like an incantation. I immediately put my hand down and stood straight in front of him.

"Father, where am I?" I said, swallowing my saliva.

"Are you blind? You looked at the post for a minute and you didn't remember the number?" He said kindly, but with a kind of reproach at the same time.

"I know it's 276, but there's no such mile on this track, and it's the wrong track, and I don't know where the locomotive is... and what the fuck was that thing standing in front of me, and..."

Grandpa interrupted me: "What are you babbling like a machine gun? "Do you believe your eyes? It says 276, so that's the way it is. Where else but on the tracks could your car be? On the highway? Follow the track and you'll find it. What do they teach you?" he grinned.

"What the hell was that thing standing there? You hit it with a hammer!"

"The less you know, the better you sleep. Don't worry about it. Go on, the driver's waiting," he said, and pointed behind me.

"Well, all right, we'll see about that later. Thanks, Dad! Take care of yourself," I said, and was about to pick up the sign, but the old man grabbed it first.

"It's not okay to steal, though. That's mine. And say hi to Andrei, tell him it's from Egorych," he said, with a slight frown on his eyebrows.

I pretended to be like, "Okay, boss, whatever," and turned around and went in the right direction. After about 20 seconds I heard a "Don't turn around!" behind me, it sounded like a kilometer away from me, even though I had walked about 100 meters.

After walking about two kilometers, I noticed that the rails had become shiny from the takata and were lying on the iron and concrete sleepers, then I saw a huge square silhouette ahead. It was my diesel locomotive. The rumble of the diesel charged me with momentum and I sprinted toward my target. I ran into the locomotive, closed all the exterior doors, climbed into the cab and sat down, just fell asleep on my desk. The driver woke me up in the morning, we turned in our shift and went home.

In the smoking room, the old workers were talking about Palych. They said it was hard for the man, he'd been through so much, and they were sending him to this place on the anniversary of the crash. When I had finished, I caught up with one of the locksmiths and asked him everything I could.

He told me that earlier, in the early '60s, there was no way out of the wrecking yard, nor was there a way into it. There was a line between the stations, and there was a machinist's wife. The poor woman went blind and crazy at 32. She took her infant child and went onto the track and threw herself in front of the train. That train was driven by her husband. Since then, there's been a lot of shit going on at kilometer 276. Traffic lights turn red, radio communication gives out some noise, whispering and baby crying, and in the fog or rain, you can often see some kind of kikimora with glowing eyes. Trains would be there afterwards, and the track would collapse. Then the track was dismantled and another one was laid to the communal base. The men don't like that place.

"Does all this have something to do with a certain Yegorich?" I asked, lighting another one.

The locksmith looked as if I had found out something I was not supposed to know, lit up and reluctantly told me that in 1977, this Yegorich was a machinist, and his assistant was Andrei Palych. For some unknown reason, half of the crutches were torn out of the sleepers at that kilometer. The train was derailed and the driver perished. He sent his assistant to the diesel room and kept the train-brake crane till the last moment and radioed back. Since then, Palych constantly sees Yegorych on the side of the track at kilometer 276. They were travelling in a "Teshka" of the third series with the factory number 692.

It turned out that Palych did not go to his wife's brother, but to the cemetery. To visit his fallen colleague, who had given him a chance at life.

A week later I applied for a transfer to a station in my own city. It was smaller and paid less, but the main thing was that I was less likely to meet that bastard again. I've been working that way ever since.

Palych retired and is living peacefully. As peaceful as possible after all this.

Last week I got a telegram saying they found inhumanly mutilated bodies of a locomotive crew and an abandoned locomotive...

I will never go back there.

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