There is not much to the Siberian landscape. The never-ending tundra stretches as far as the eye can see, bordered by the mysterious Arctic ocean to the north. No forms of higher ground stop the deadly cold air from threading down to central and western Russia, burying its claws into people’s skins, making their fingers numb and turning their words into clouds of gray steam. Not many people are brave enough to live far in the North. Brave, or completely mad.
Dr. Brian Radley and his associates, Kevin Teller and Clare Hall, arrived at precisely 7:03 PM on February 17th. The airport near Norilsk is never crowded. They made their way outside, to the mini-van drivers who were standing outside, chatting over cheap cigarettes. After a brief conversation with one of them, they got into a car that looked as if it were to fall apart any second. Fortunately, the ride was not too long and they got out into the overly polluted air of Norilsk.
The bus they needed to catch to get to the Norilskaya river was not leaving until next morning so they checked into a motel that has seen better days. The heating was not working properly, so even under three woolen sheets Dr. Radley felt chilly and didn’t catch a second of sleep. His alarm clock informed him that it was time to wake up, and he turned it off. He was fully awake, but barely able to move due to the cold that snuck into his bones. After a poor breakfast, the team got to the bus station and into an old wreck of a bus that was to take them to the excavation spot.
The vehicle was cold, maybe even more than the outside. Dr. Radley knew that his business trip was not going to be pleasant, so he did not mind the conditions, but his companions, on the other hand, had completely different views. They never stopped complaining. Young people as they are, they were not used to being outside of their office with central heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, but Dr. Radley had years of experience.
The ride took longer than expected because of all the black ice on the patched road. Their destination lied ahead. Great white tents were being set up to keep the priceless artifacts safe. But the team was not interested in the objects a civilization once used. They were there for a greater reason. The excavations found a system of underground tunnels which were still to be determined whether they were a natural occurrence or man-made. For that, geologists were needed, so the three were brought. A chill walked down Dr. Radley’s spine when he saw the size of the entrance to the cave system. Surely no ancient civilization was able to dig through thick layers of solid rock. Or so he thought. They were given a torch and a hardhat at the entrance, along with a walkie-talkie.
The first thing that was noticeably odd at the entrance were the rocks themselves. They were not rough as in other caverns, but smooth as if they were patiently flattened. Dr. Radley and his colleagues entered the cave. Even though the cold white sun was still up, merely pointing out it was still daytime, everything inside the cave was pitch black. Clare was the first one to turn her torch on. The light revealed little, but enough for the three to realize that the cave was enormous. The stone walls, smooth as silk, rose up and out of reach of their flashlights. They needed more light. Dr. Radley exited the cave and went straight to the main tent. The other two wandered off in search of food.
Two days later a truck came and brought phosphorescent lights needed to light up the cavern. It took four hours to install them on one wall. Once all the walls have been covered, the team went in again. The cave was bigger than they thought. The lights were well up on the wall, but they still could not see the ceiling. What’s more, there were three more doors, similar to the cave entrance, just across the room.
“Well, Bryan, is this enough to prove that this cave is man-made?” asked Kevin.
“You know the procedure well, Kev,” replied Clare.
“Yeah, but what are the odds of a naturally generated cave system that looks like an ancient temple?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” said Dr. Radley.
“Let’s go out and get some sleep, we’ll come back here first thing in the morning.”
Each of them had a separate tent with a warm sleeping bag and a reading lamp. Dr. Radley lay down and closed his eyes. It didn’t take him long to fall asleep. His dreams were not pleasant. He was standing in a valley covered in a dense macabre fog. Something was making him uncomfortable. The silence. The dreadful silence was ripping his mind apart. Suddenly there was a howl. Not a howl like a wolf’s, but a ghastly howl that petrified him. Dr. Radley started looking around frantically and turned around to see a bloodshot eye. He woke up paralyzed, covered in cold sweat. The morning was cold; an ominous fog covered the archaeological camp. Kevin and Clare were already at the entrance to the cave. Dr. Radley took his torch, hardhat and walkie-talkie and the group entered the cavern. Dr. Radley thought he saw a glimmer of light in one of the tunnels, but it disappeared before he could take a closer look. A cold shiver went down his spine.
“Well, shall we go into one or what?” Kevin asked eagerly.
“Well, that’s what they paid us to do, right?” Clare replied with a smile.
Dr. Radley just shook his head and led the way into the middle tunnel. The tunnel was very dark, as if the light from the main cave couldn’t make its way inside. Hours seemed to have passed but the three haven’t found anything interesting, it was just a long tunnel. Suddenly Clare tripped. She fell down grasping for the wall.
“Are you all right?” Dr. Radley asked.
“Yeah, I tripped on a rock or something. But look at this.” She pointed her flashlight at the wall.
Something was inscribed into it.
“What do you think this means?” Kevin asked.
“That’s for the archaeologists to decide. Let’s go back, I’m tired,” Dr. Radley replied.
He copied the symbols into his scratch pad and headed out. He gasped surprised and froze in place. They were right at the start of the tunnel. It was as if they had passed as much as a few yards. They quickly walked out of the cave and into the cold Siberian air.
“How was that possible?” asked Dr. Radley.
“How was what possible?” Kevin replied with a question.
“We’ve been in the tunnel for hours, and yet we haven’t moved an inch.”
“You ought to get some sleep, Brian,” said Clare.
“Yes, maybe I should…”
They made their way to the main tent. An office was set up inside and at the desk sat a man.
“Have you seen anything interesting?” – asked Dr. Thelonius Davis, an archaeologist and symbologist well into his fifties.
“Yes, there was something inscribed into the tunnel’s wall,” Dr. Radley said handing him the note. He decided not to let him know about what happened.
“Hmmm, this is interesting. This writing was used by people who lived in Vinca 6000 years ago, but this makes no sense.”
“What is it? What does it say?” asked Kevin.
“It says P-S-O-G-L-A-V.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. The historians and mythologists are not to arrive before tomorrow, and even that is questionable due to the blizzard that’s coming.”
“Well, thanks anyway Dr. Davis.” Dr. Radley shook his hand and they left the tent.
That night Dr. Radley tried not to sleep, but his eyelids were too heavy. He fell asleep in an awkward body position. He found himself in a valley covered with a dense fog. For a moment he thought he saw a shadow in the fog, but it disappeared. His heart started beating faster, adrenaline rushed into his blood. He heard the sinister howl he heard last night. He started running for his life. There were footsteps behind him. No, those were not footsteps, they sounded like hooves. He wanted to turn around but he couldn’t make himself do that. He started losing his breath and felt a searing pain in his lungs. He fell on the cold ground and turned to his back.
An eye was watching him, inches from his own. He woke up paralyzed, covered in cold sweat. His back was sore since he didn’t take a comfortable position in his sleeping bag. The morning was very cold. Dark gray clouds covered the sky. His colleagues were already in front of the cave entrance, waiting for him with his equipment. They entered the cave. Dr Radley stopped, petrified. He heard a howl. The haunting howl from his nightmares.
“Come on, Brian; don’t tell me you’re afraid of wind’s noises,” said Kevin and chuckled.
They entered the left hand tunnel. There was a glimmer of light somewhere in the distance. Dr. Radley stood in place. Kevin insisted on checking it out, so Dr. Radley reluctantly continued with exploration. The further they went into the tunnel, the less the flashlights were effective. It was as if a dark fog was rising. Dr Radley heard footsteps. No, those were hooves on solid rock. He was frightened more than ever in his life. He started shivering. The three reached a pile of rocks.
“Well, this was a waste of time,” said Kevin.
“Wait, do you see that? The symbols from the second tunnel are inscribed here,” said Clare.
“Yeah, but, it seems as if these were done in a hurry. Maybe the people wanted to keep something out,” said Kevin.
“Let’s go back, this is a dead end, we’ll check out the third one tomorrow,” Dr. Radley said and started walking towards the exit.
There was a howl. A howl that made fear sneak into Dr. Radley’s bones. Then there were the hooves again. Now the other two were startled as well. They started running. They ran for what had seemed hours and reached the main cave.
They rushed out. Snow started falling. Their vision was blurred by the fog as well. They were stumbling through the rising blizzard, looking for a way to the main tent. A sinister howl ripped through the air. The three started running again. They reached the tent by pure coincidence.
“Hello, Dr Radley; have you reached a conclusion?” asked Dr. Davis.
“We’ve come upon a dead end in a tunnel. It was covered in the symbols I brought you. It looked as if someone wanted not to let someone else in.”
Or something, thought Dr. Radley.
“Well, there is still one tunnel left. Let’s go into the building before the blizzard takes its toll, shall we?”
Outside the tent stood a newly built house. None of the three noticed it before since it was finished while they were inside the cave. Everyone was inside, chatting over hot coffee, reading or just resting. It was warm due to the large fireplace and so many people in one place.
“Is everyone here?” asked Dr. Davis.
“No, doctor; we’re missing two electricians. They never checked in after setting up the lights inside the cave.”
Dr. Radley’s stomach turned. He thought he heard it again. The howl. He remained quiet and found his sleeping bag. He knew he would fall asleep so he didn’t even try to suppress it. It was dark. He couldn’t see a thing. He heard a howl. The well-known shiver found its way into his bones. No matter how well anticipated it was, he couldn’t stay brave. He heard hooves. The moon shone, revealing an eye staring at him. It was inches away from his face. He felt the stench of a thousand corpses. He tried to scream but he couldn’t. He saw a flash and woke up. He was covered in cold sweat. He heard scratching. He couldn’t make himself move. The scratching was getting louder and louder. It stopped. He heard a quiet growl, but then everything went silent. Dr. Radley didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.
“Well, it’s a good thing we aren’t snowed in,” said Dr. Davis the following morning.
“What happened here?” he asked looking at the door from the outside.
“Probably wolves, doctor,” said another man.
“Yes, perhaps you’re right.”
Dr. Radley didn’t want to go back into the cave, but that’s what he was paid for. This time he was the first one in front of the entrance to the cave.
“I didn’t sleep well last night, had this horrible nightmare,” said Kevin.
“You’re probably homesick,” said Clare and smiled.
They entered the cave. Half the lights were out. A fog rose inside the cave, it was dark due to the lack of lighting. Dr. Radley saw a light down the right hand tunnel. Despite his fear, he led the way into the tunnel. He heard hooves somewhere in the dark, but he couldn’t tell if they were in front or behind him. Then there was silence. He couldn’t even hear his own breathing. Not even the footsteps of his colleagues. He looked behind. There was no sign of the two. His heart rushed. He started running back. There seemed to be no end. He couldn’t decide which the right way was. Dr. Radley tripped and fell. He dropped his torch, but picked it up just to see a pile of rocks like the one in the right hand tunnel.
This one was different. There was a huge hole in it. He finally realized. The rocks were there to keep something inside. He heard the howl he dreaded. The hooves followed. He didn‘t want to make himself turn around, but he did. The abomination stood in front of him with its devil-like hooves and monstrous arms on the ground. Its body reminded him of a human’s yet it was larger. But its head, it was his worst fear. A hound's head with a single red eye in the middle.
The creature let out a growl and charged.