April 27, 1986.
The young, nuclear city known as Pripyat, founded during the reign of the Soviet Union, met its decisive end following the catastrophic meltdown of the nearby nuclear power plant, Chernobyl. Radiation spiked to lethal levels, summarily leading to the full evacuation of the riverside city. To this day, Pripyat is a place of ghosts and fearful memories. Lives were halted and transposed within days; the city deemed a faulty cog in the well-oiled machine of the Soviet Union. No one on record remained, as to do so would result in death; a symptom of the debilitating effects of radiation poisoning.
In the aftermath of the evacuation, several of the citizens spoke of an old hermit woman that lived in seclusion among the woods. They said that she was mad; driven to the dark recesses of the forest following World War II. Little was known of her at the time, except that her husband had been a vocal opponent of Russian involvement in the war, and subsequently, he was arrested and processed through one of the Soviet Union’s innumerable labor camps. They filed him as a political dissident, and it was later discovered that after several months in the extremely poor conditions of the gulag, he died of malnutrition. The woman, it is said, became severely distraught at the news of his death. She fled her home in Kiev to an undisclosed hunting cabin that had belonged to her husband, located somewhere in the neighboring forest of what is now Pripyat. Although the cabin itself has never been formally revealed, friends and relatives swear to its existence, as it was visited frequently by both the woman and her husband.
Before the catastrophic meltdown, citizens would occasionally report seeing a woman drifting along the edge of the forest. Accounts claim that in the few clear glimpses the witnesses had of her, she appeared to be foraging for wood or food. Whenever anyone tried to approach or call to her, the woman would disappear back into the forest as swiftly as a shadow. As the years passed, accounts remained few and relatively clouded. Only one detail seemed to change; the woman’s appearance. In the month’s before the meltdown, only two sightings occurred, and both of them confirmed that the woman’s hair stretched nearly down to her knees. Her face and body were almost completely obscured by her hair, but both witnesses could identify that the woman wore no clothing. Authorities found it unlikely that a human could survive in the harsh conditions of the Ukrainian wilderness with no clothing, but the witnesses seemed all but certain. The mysterious woman became known as the hairy woman of Pripyat; a haunting legend that people often spoke of in whispers. Children especially feared her, yet few others were brave enough to venture into the forest for long, especially after dark. It is said that as the sun fell in the evening, the forest would grow watchful eyes, as if the hairy woman had cast a spell across it. The people eventually became convinced that she was a witch and descriptions of her began to take a darker and more ominous tone. Shortly before the nuclear meltdown of Chernobyl, people claimed that she did not come to the forest’s edge to forage for food, she came for animals: cats, dogs, rabbits, anything that she could catch and pull back into the unknown regions of the forest so that she could perform her unholy rituals. Reports do mention several missing pets, but no sightings of the woman capturing animals have ever been officially confirmed. Following the evacuation, some people urged the military to do a sweep of the forest to warn the woman of the potential dangers, while others claimed the woman was purely a myth. Ultimately, the military did not believe the expenditure of resources to rescue one woman was reasonable. The hairy woman of Pripyat was soon forgotten, lost to time and memory by the few people that had even glimpsed her. It was not until radiation levels began to recede that the woman was seen again, decades after the last unofficial sighting. Aside from the fact that no human could survive in such a heavily contaminated region without protection, what is most ominous about this sighting is that it corresponds with a terrible tragedy of those who witnessed her. A young man, part of a documentary crew that was scouting locations for their film, became separated from the group and seemingly vanished. For many hours, the crew searched for the missing man, but could find no trace of him. Finally, exhausted and frantic from their search, the crew decided to cancel their shoot and leave before nightfall. As the crew loaded up their van, one of the members saw a discoloration against the forest’s edge from out of the corner of her eye. When she turned her head, the crew member noticed what appeared to be a large animal that was standing on its hind legs. When she called the attention of her associates to the bizarre animal, it turned and appeared to “melt” back into the shadows of the forest’s void. Fear gripped the crew, as they suspected that their missing comrade might’ve been attacked or injured by what they saw. They returned the next day at dawn, but no sign of their friend was ever found. When they filed the missing person’s report, one police officer made the connection between the local legends of the hairy woman. Most of them laughed it off as superstition, but investigations of the abandoned city have thus far yielded no clues to the missing crew member.
The forest has been perceived as a forsaken and haunted place ever since.
Vadim shined his flashlight into the engulfing darkness along the road. The beam danced and flurried like a burning moth, yet it revealed nothing within the soft mist that caressed the forest’s edge.
“Officer Dmytro, no sign of the perp. Request backup. Half a kilometer up from the park entrance.”
The walkie clicked lifelessly. Looking back over his shoulder, Vadim studied his patrol vehicle along the side of the road. He hesitated, but only for a moment. Backup would be arriving soon, but if he didn’t pursue the perp, it was likely the man would be lost forever. He sighed heavily before facing the yawning maw of the forest. The woods around these parts always made him feel strange; disquieted. As he stepped down the steep bank from the road, his gear clinking noisily in the dark, he felt an extreme sense of isolation, almost like sensory deprivation. Even as he breathed, the sounds of his lungs purging air seemed to muffle the closer he came to the trees. For a moment, it seemed as if his own breathing was being drowned out by the rhythmic wind that blew through the trees. The living forest, his parents used to call them. The thought made him shudder, but he reflexively suppressed his childish fears, knowing full well the repercussions he would face if his comrades ever saw him p*****g himself in the dark. Clumsily, Vadim unholstered his flashlight again and shone it into the woods. The mist cast a faint moisture across the bark of the trees which made them appear to glow as the light struck them. Beyond them, however, the light faded into nothing; consumed by the peerless vacuum of the night. Vadim’s breath steamed in the frigid air, lingering around his face like a persistent cloud. As he walked, Vadim strained his ears, forcing himself to discern any and all disturbances from the world engulfing him. He suddenly stopped as he realized something that chilled his blood quicker than the cold air. There were no sounds. The forest was as still and quiet as a tomb, save for the muted crinkling of leaves beneath his combat boots. He spun his torso as he scanned the forest around him, searching for any trace of passage. He had seen the suspect cut off the road as his patrol car eclipsed the hill. The man ran like a thing possessed, but he had seen him. Yet now, as Vadim searched the ground around him, there were no sign of footprints. Everything seemed untouched. Vadim cursed silently under his breath. It didn’t seem possible.
Had the forest just swallowed the b*****d?, he thought. As his beam constantly swept across the ground beneath him and beyond, a faint glimmer of light blinked at him in the distance. Vadim snapped his light up, and instantly his gut twisted in his stomach. Two glowing eyes shifted and vanished as his light struck them. Tapetum lucidum. Like those of the eyes of a wolf, or a large dog. Vadim fixed the beam on the spot where he had seen the eyes, but there was no other movement. It didn’t make sense.
I would have heard a large animal running from that distance, he thought to himself. He realized that whatever looked at him was still there. Fear knotted itself in his throat. Cautiously, Vadim reached up and clicked the transmitter on his walkie.
“That backup on its way? I think I might be in some trouble,” he said softly. He waited silently, not daring to move. His eyes did not turn from where he had seen the eyes.
“Acknowledged. Do not pursue suspect alone. Backup inbound.” an indifferent voice cackled through the speaker.
“Bastards,” Vadim said to himself. Placing his hand onto the holster of his pistol, Vadim studied the faintly illuminated area for a moment longer before he turned back towards his squad car. He did not take more than two steps before he heard it. A high pitched sequence of squeaks coupled with the shuffling of leaves indicative of rapidly approaching footsteps. Vadim felt his bladder release even as he turned, the murky shadow of a large creature approaching him in the dark. He lifted his light, but not before the squeaking animal leapt at him, eliciting an ear-piercing shriek. He had time enough to realize that the scream was not something animal; it was a human female. A hand swatted his flashlight away, sending it tumbling to the ground. The beam became half-obscured by forest debris, but it was enough for Vadim to see that the woman who leapt at him was draped in hair that extended from her scalp to her feet. The woman-thing shrieked like a wild hog as she pounced on him, her long and jagged fingernails clawing across his face like dull knives. Vadim struggled as his cries of surprise and fear echoed through the dense foliage. Together, their bodies cascaded across the ground. Her strength was something unnatural. Every time he felt he had a sure grip on an arm or a leg, the woman’s greasy hair and clammy skin would shirk it loose. As the woman scratched his face yet again, Vadim’s arm spasmed and knocked the flashlight’s beam upon them, basking the woman-thing in light. Her hair was as black as tar, and he could see the twigs and leaves that clung loosely in their tangled embrace. The woman clenched her hand-claws around his elbow and twisted it back. Sensing an opening, Vadim thrust his hand onto her neck. The entirety of her face was covered in hair. How she could fight blinded in such a way eluded Vadim, but nevertheless, his hand found its target. Gripping with all the strength he could muster, Vadim choked the woman until she squawked like an injured bird, her arms instantly falling limp at her side. Fumbling for his cuffs, Vadim struggled to maneuver his body so that he could control the mad woman.
“Ma’am, I don’t know what the F**K you’ve been taking, but you are going to be getting some severe psychiatric evaluations after this,” Vadim wheezed. As if responding to his promise, the woman chuckled faintly behind her veil of hair. It was a throaty and dry laugh, as bitter as a bed of weeds on the grave of a loved one. She sounded like a corpse laughing, and Vadim could feel his blood icing over once again. The woman’s limp arms suddenly reached up to her face as her filthy fingernails traced around the cusp of her hair and pulled it back, splitting the veil like a burning knife. Vadim released his grip involuntarily as her face suddenly appeared. Her pallid features glimmered in the light like wet stone, but it was her eyes that pierced through all other thoughts and fears. They appeared inverted; her pupils milky white, encompassed by an infected black iris and sclera. The pupils dilated horribly over and over again, like pulsing moons in the twilight. Her nose, or what was left of it, was mutilated beyond recognition. The cartilage from her nasal bridge hung visibly above her upper lip. Her mouth was caked in a dark substance of unknown origin, and her teasing smile revealed blackened teeth so foul, Vadim curled his lips around his own, as if his own proximity to her might infect him. The woman-thing leaned forward, and then whispered something to him in a language he did not understand. Her voice croaked like rotted wood. As she whispered her insane nonsense to him, Vadim felt slowly around his holster. Just as he unclipped his pistol, the woman suddenly jumped to her feet, her horrible face vanishing behind her veil of hair. Her head angled up in the direction from whence Vadim had come, and then without a sound, the woman sprinted like a demon back into the waiting dark.
“Officer! Vadim, is that you?” a voice called.
Vadim did not answer. His eyes watched where the woman-thing had vanished, his mind frozen.
“Who was that? Vadim, was that the suspect? What the hell are you doing? Are you injured?” the voice called again. Two officers suddenly appeared standing above him. Vadim looked up to them, his face streaked with blood and sweat. He could not speak; his breathing was so strained from what he had seen.
“That…” he finally grunted. “That wasn’t the suspect. That was something much worse.”
The two officers looked at each other apprehensively.
“What the hell does that mean?” the left officer asked.
“Shut the f**k up, Sasha,” Vadim said as he wearily rose to his feet. He looked from the younger officer, a sure-faced young female named Olga that had only joined the force a few months ago, to the grizzled features of one of the few real veterans on the force, Sasha.
“Look,” Vadim said. “There’s some crazed, hairy, f*****g disfigured woman out there that nearly killed me. She just jumped me, clawed me to s**t, then took off,”
The two officers looked him up and down as if deciding if he was telling the truth. Finally, Sasha shifted his weight and asked, “Which way?”
Vadim pointed in the direction where last he saw her and without any further words, the three officers began walking. For several minutes, none of them spoke. The stillness of the forest was bone-chilling, and even with all three of their flashlights cutting through the night, the forest seemed to swallow Vadim and the others in blackness. Finally, Sasha said,
“What did this woman look like? Do you think she’s connected to the guy you were after?”
“Hell no. No f*****g way. This woman was like a nightmare. She must’ve escaped from somewhere. She looked dead, almost. Damn near pissed myself,” Vadim said, trying hard to ignore the dampness in his trousers. Sasha chuckled.
“No doubt that would’ve been a surprise.”
Suddenly, Olga stopped them.
“Quiet. Do you see that?” she whispered. Vadim and Sasha followed her gaze. Not 20 meters from where they stood, a large body was sprawled in the leaves. Olga shined her flashlight, but the body was too far away to properly identify. “Looks hairy. That your crazy woman?” Sasha asked. Vadim did not respond. Slowly, the three officers stepped closer and closer, until Olga said, “It’s a deer. Jesus, its fur is all bloody.”
Vadim swallowed heavily. He couldn’t help but feel that this was the woman-thing’s doing.
“Jesus f*****g Christ. Look.” Sasha breathed. Vadim turned, and nearly choked on a surge of bile that forced its way up his throat. Littered across the forest floor just beyond the deer were dozens of dead animals. Deer, raccoons, cats, dogs, nearly every kind of wild and domestic animal he could think of. Vadim scanned his eyes across the forest floor. Every animal was intact, but their fur was matted and stained with blood as if each of them had been exsanguinated. Vadim stepped carefully around the bloodied corpses, his horror growing with every step as the field of dead animals seemed to stretch deeper and deeper into the woods. Then he heard it. The sequence of squeaks. Sasha drew his pistol before Vadim could blink.
“I heard it! Where the f**k is that coming from?” he shouted. Olga had mimicked his actions and was mirroring his motions perfectly, watching every angle that he was not. Vadim lifted his head to where he had heard the noise. A tree stood in the center of a clearing. He raised his flashlight as the beam slowly revealed what was wrapped around the trunk. There, suspended 3 meters above the ground, the skin of the perp he had been chasing was tied around the circumference of the tree. Fresh blood streamed down the fleshy folds of the man’s taut skin and onto the glistening bark. Vadim pitched forward and vomited.
“Holy mother of God,” Sasha whispered. As Vadim puked, a soft ringing began to grow in volume. It was subtle at first but quickly became deafening. It rattled in Vadim’s ears and he rose to his feet as he clenched his hands tightly over his ears.
“Make it stop! Make it…stop!” he screamed. He saw Sasha and Olga run to him before everything went black. The ringing stopped. That was when he heard it. The woman’s whispering. He still could not understand it. All he knew was that it was horrible. Uselessly, Vadim flailed in the darkness as the whispering continued unabated.
“Please! Please, I’ll do anything,” he pleaded.
Suddenly the woman appeared. She stood not more than 5 paces away from him. She was silent and still. There was no more whispering. Her hair concealed her almost entirely, her pale, dead arms the only visible part of her. Vadim drew his pistol and aimed at her heart.
“Go back to hell, you f*****g b***h,” he hissed. The woman cocked her head curiously.
Vadim fired one shot. Suddenly, the woman disappeared and then reappeared beside him, like a light that had flickered in the dark. Screaming wildly, he twisted his gun around and fired again. The woman collapsed to the ground, as Vadim fired round after round into her body. Sickeningly, the woman-thing’s body twitched with every shot, but the sight of it filled Vadim’s heart with bitter satisfaction. It had seemed like minutes, but finally, the lifeless clicking of Vadim’s empty pistol brought his senses back to him. He looked at the corpse of the woman and blinked. It was the body of a woman, but it was not the woman-thing. Olga was sprawled across the leaves like a ragdoll, her bullet-ridden corpse leaking blood across the ground. Vadim turned his head in disbelief, only to find Sasha’s body collapsed against a tree trunk, not more than 5 paces away. Vadim shook his head manically, not believing what he saw. He turned his body and saw the black, dead eyes of a deer staring at him. It was standing only a few steps away, its fur wet with blood. It did not breathe or move, but there it stood, regardless, watching him with vacant eyes. Vadim stumbled back in fear and turned to run, but a group of animals blocked his way. Dozens of them, deer, cats, dogs; all of them stood, facing him with the same empty eyes, the light from his dead partner’s flashlights reflecting off of them like mirrors. Vadim spun in place, his cries growing more and more hysterical. He was completely surrounded by creatures, all dead, yet somehow alive. Around and around he spun, desperately hoping that an escape would present itself. He stopped as he heard the whispering, this time behind him. He slowly turned, and there she was. The woman-thing stood before him, her face hidden, yet he could feel those hellish eyes watching him. He looked at her, sweat dripping from his brow. Suddenly, he lifted the pistol to his temple.
“You won’t have me, demon.”
He pulled the trigger. Its dead click seemed to laugh in the silent night air. The woman reached up and pulled her hair apart, revealing her milk-white pupils and demented smile. Her lips twisted as she spoke, uttering words that Vadim could finally understand.
“Your blood will feed the forest.”
The forest suddenly erupted in shuffling as every animal twitched to life. Like broken marionettes, the animals jerked and spasmed as they walked, quickly closing the distance with Vadim. Soon, they enveloped him, biting and clawing at his flesh. Even as they tore him apart, Vadim desperately pulled the trigger on his pistol over and over again, hoping that with each squeeze, a bullet might deliver him from his suffering.
The bullet never came.