“So, when are we headed?”
“February 2nd, 1959.” Confusion laced the eyes of the pilot at his words, but he didn’t frankly care. This was the chance of a lifetime: to go back in time and answer one of history’s biggest mysteries. Plus, the chance to undeniably prove his theory that werewolves exist was too great for him to pass up.
The pilot flicked a few knobs in the massive sphere they shared before speaking again. “Where?”
“Serbia, Ural mountains, the Dead Mountain, Dyatlov Pass.” History could already tell him the effects of that mysterious night – nine experienced hikers simultaneously decided to go out into well below freezing conditions in just their underclothes for no apparent reason. The official record put their deaths at hypothermia, but four of them had internal injuries that simply couldn’t be explained. History knew where – they had found the bodies in a pass on Dead Mountain, eventually naming the place after the expedition’s leader. And history knew when – the hikers’ diaries all ended on the same cold night in February.
But no one could explain why, or how. He had a theory that fit all the facts, but now he could actually prove it.
“So, what do you do?” the pilot asked conversationally, turning the last dial and starting up the engine before settling down in the chair.
“I’m a scientist. Cryptozoology,” he answered promptly.
The pilot snorted once and grinned.
“That’s not a real science.”
“It is!” The study of creatures that may or may not exist was scoffed at by many scientific “purists” but, in his opinion, to deprive science of imagination meant limiting the study of anything they put their minds to.
“Whatever you say.”
He had had this argument before, and inevitably would again. “It is inherently un-scientific to assume we already know everything there is to know. Even the lion fell into the cryptozoology category until someone proved it existed. Look it up! Medieval drawings make the lion look like a dog wearing a wig.”
“And what exactly are you supposed to find during this trip?”
“Werewolf.” If he was right, this moment could catch one in the act of transformation.
“Right. Okay.” Derision laced every word.
“One of the tents was torn open from the inside. They all fled the camp from some unknown surprise. There was one shoe among the whole group. One of the female hikers had her tongue severed while she was still alive! All the signs are there.” He had spent years researching the event. If not a werewolf, it was some sort of super-human transformation. And in ten minutes’ time, he could finally prove it. The pilot’s glance of skepticism prompted him into pressing his point. “There is no Occam’s Razor for this one.”
“How could they possibly know she was still alive?”
The machinery began to hum as they started their journey back in time. “Autopsy showed blood in her stomach. A lot of it.” Vampire had crossed his mind, but she had died at the scene. Cracked ribs, plus massive blood loss – this felt more like werewolf.
The pilot shrugged. “Whatever. Your money.”
And a lot of it. But he would finally have real evidence, and it would be worth it.
Orange lights appeared overhead, swirling high in the night sky. They were visible even through the tent. Igor Dyatlov was still up with “the Yuris” discussing their upcoming classes at Ural Polytechnical Institute. Both the men awake with him were named Yuri, one of whom knocked over his skis in his exuberance of storytelling. That prompted Igor to look up, noticing the lights above.
As he stared, the lights seemed to drop faster than gravity could have pulled them down. For a brief moment, Igor thought the lights were headed for their campsite, but at the last wince of his eyes, it veered, just off course.
“Did you see that?” Igor interrupted Yuri. The flash of light had to have at least dimly lit the tent.
One shook his head, but the other started to stand. He must have seen it too! “Let’s check it out,” he decided with a typical college student’s mix of enthusiasm and recklessness.
“Are you insane?” the other Yuri asked, pulling at his pajama pant leg. “Sit down. It’s gotta be thirty below out there.”
“It’s only for a minute. Come on!”
Igor was less reluctant to follow. Together, the three crested the hill that marked the edge of theirm campsite on the side of the mountain. The orange lights were obvious now, illuminating the snow beneath them like Hell’s fire.
“What is it?” one of the Yuris asked.
Just dancing orange lights. The aurora borealis was the only natural phenomenon Igor could think of that would light up their surroundings like this, but it wasn’t orange, nor ever this physically close to the ground.
“Weird,” Igor answered.
“That’s helpful,” the other Yuri commented.
Igor continued to peer into the lights. Just for a moment, he thought he saw something flash within. It only flickered once, then the tree line beyond was visible again in the soft glow surrounding the event.
“Did you see that?” Yuri asked excitedly. “Aliens!”
Igor got an idea. “Why don’t you two go try to get a different angle. Climb a tree?” He indicated around the phenomenon to the nearby forest. “I’ll wake the others.”
Dubinina woke to Igor’s call. Was he the one supposed to be on the lookout for avalanches? Confused and panicked in her post-sleep stupor, she sprang to her feet as she reached for the entrance of the tent. Her foot caught the sleeping bag as her hand caught the protective flap. The result was a spectacular face-first fall into the shins of her tentmate, shredding the front of their tent as she went. Oops.
Never mind. Avalanches were a very real threat on this side of the mountain. Heck with the tent – or even dressing properly – they had to get out of there!
“Get up! Avalanche!” she said, slamming her palm on her friend’s sleeping bag, only stopping long enough to grab a jacket before rushing through the hole she had just made.
Dubinina wasn’t the only one emerging from her tent only to stop in her snowtracks. This wasn’t an avalanche that Igor was warning them about. Beautiful orange lights emanated from just over the crest of the hill, near the tree line.
The sudden sound was accompanied by a bright pulse and a gust of wind from the same area. Nausea swept over her a moment later, but she was able to suppress any urge to lose her supper.
Igor called again, words inaudible in the mounting hum and steady wind originating from the event. Right. Time to move. Dubinina, and many of her colleagues, stumbled forward in the snow, including her tentmate some steps behind her. Fascination compelled her now, despite snow soaking her socks.
The whatever-it-was pulsed again, sending another wave of nausea and slowing Dubinina temporarily. She hadn’t joined this expedition to be shy in the face of uncertainty, though. She pressed on until she was near Igor’s side.
“Gather a few of them and go ‘round that way,” Igor was shouting, waving his hand toward the nearby ravine. “The Yuris have already gone the other way.” She could see now that he was talking to Semyor. At 38, he was the oldest of the group by far, but all the college students adored him. “Happy birthday, man.” Igor clapped Semyor on the back playfully, hair wild and lit with the strange orange glow.
With a glance at the strange orange lights, Semyor turned toward Dubinina. She knew he saw her searching him, and in that moment of eye contact, a suddenly real fear travelled between them. Semyor was clearly – and logically – terrified of this whatever-it-was, and that same fright compelled her to move again. It was easier to follow his lead than to try to understand what was going on for herself.
Two more people accompanied them to the far side of the lights. There was a flicker of something solid, there in the center of the event, suddenly darkening the landscape every time it made an attempt at existing.
They landed between the lights and ravine, staring. The wind was so loud now that shared speech was impossible. Snow soaked through her socks and bit at her toes, but no one else was moving, so Dubinina decidedly stayed put too. The object within the event was massive – as wide as a school bus and nearly as tall. It flickered in and out of sight, like some old movie, but so very real.
One of her classmates behind her threw up. It was all Dubinina could do to not join her.
Whoomp whoomp whoomp.
Everything was suddenly moving much faster. Anticipation mixed with dread as the object within was becoming more and more solid. Igor was barely and only occasionally visible on the far side of the phenomenon, but she could see his sudden, panicked gesture toward the two with him. Together the three started to flee the scene, back toward camp. Dubinina was more than ready to abandon Semyor and join them.
A hot, concussive blast launched Dubinina off her feet. Pain shattered through her side as her body shoved into a boulder, seeming to break her ribs. But her momentum didn’t let her drop to the snow from there, instead catapulting her wholly into the ravine like some discarded ragdoll. Pain accompanied pain as she landed biting her tongue so fiercely that it separated from its place.
Sudden silence made the ringing in Dubinina’s ears that much louder as her tongue splatted into her lap. A glance around told her she wasn’t the only one blown off her feet by the event. Her friends had all landed in the ravine by her side, every one of them awkwardly positioned and unmoving. Dead. She couldn’t scream – could barely think as her own blood filled her mouth. She could only swallow. Maybe Igor had made it safely and would come to rescue her. An unnatural darkness edged on her vision. He had better come soon.
The cryptozoologist waited eagerly at the hatch as the pneumatics opened it slowly. This was it! One of life’s biggest mysteries was about to be solved! He clutched a flashlight, secretly hoping he would be able to follow the doomed expedition’s campfire instead.
The first thing he noticed was three figures face down in the snow in front of him. No! Not that he cared about their lives – not exactly. They were condemned to death either way. No, these three dead before him meant that they were too late! He had missed the event that had brought them here. There was no new information to be gathered here now than the Russians had gathered from their investigations after finding their bodies.
He looked back at the pilot. “We have to go back!”