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Don't Go There
Written By: LaLa Leo
Part II - A Hiker's Dream
"The best of the best can be the worst of the worst at times. Yes, misquoted, but still true." - LaLa Leo
Igor danced happily around a blazing campfire, juggling a pack of cigars and taunting the others about imports. He had spent most of the morning tinkering with the radio that he'd invented to withstand such low temperatures. Lyudmila glared wide-eyed as a pet bunny as she struggled not to burst into laughter at his behavior. Her attempts at stifling her outbursts resulting in small clouds as she coughed. Zina shook her head in disbelief as Yuri looked off, attempting to ignore the likes of everyone. Rustik, Tibo and Aleksander made their early departure from camp quite a while ago to search for more firewood and re-stock on water.
Sasha sat down harshly with a PLOP into the wet snow and laughed heartily as he motioned for Igor to bring him a cigar. The crystal clear lake's waters reflected in the distance illuminating the small clearing outside of the wooded highlands. The air was crisp and there wasn't another human soul around, but them.
"My good sir," Igor bowed as he stumbled while handing Sasha a cigar, laughing from his drunkenness at his mistake and Sasha smiled sincerely.
"Georgiy! Are you done yet? I'm bored over here," Igor called out as Georgiy had also left a few minutes prior, but in the opposite direction of the others to relieve himself.
"Privacy, Igor! Then, we can publicly embarrass ourselves in front of the ladies..." Georgiy trailed off with a loud THUD as if he'd fallen somewhere in the distance and to this, Zina chuckled, looking over at Yuri.
Yuri observed her for a moment, but hardly reacted and stood up abruptly to retire to his tent. She understood his reserved nature and felt an inclination to follow while watching him walk away, but her thoughtful gaze was interrupted when she noticed Lyudmila quiet and observing her.
She got up and dusted herself off lightly, grabbed an extra wooly navy blanket from her harness and walked over to wrap it around the young girl, who had resumed watching the men, quiet as a mouse. She barely looked up as Zina walked over to the fire just before Igor began to ask about who was going to scale the fish.
Sasha immediately stood and began to proceed in the direction of their spoils as Igor graciously nodded and held up his cigar in appreciation. Zina looked over them both, shaking her head slowly with an eye roll. Despite this, she was so glad she could feel the fresh mountainous air and see everyone again without constantly being watched or followed. It was a feeling like no other.
Shortly, Georgiy made his way down the short hill behind the tents within the edge of the highland area and rubbed his hands with rigor before putting them in front of the fire. Covered in snow, they were now sure that he had indeed fallen. Lyudmila chuckled a little at Georgiy's appearance being covered in snow and he quickly gazed over at her, smiling innocently.
Within a few more moments, Rustik and Tibo returned with the firewood, ready to help prepare their next meal before pressing onward tomorrow. Just before evening, they all ventured out to the cache surplus location they had agreed on to store resources for their trip back. They would prepare for climbing the next day that would ensure safe passage through the mountain pass.
They arrived at the preset coordinates and stored a nice quantity of rations and medical supplies deciding on what was best to leave behind. Once this was done, they collectively gathered their things counting the hours until the sun would set. Returning to the camp proved to be a bit difficult as dusk arrived early. With a blazing fire back at camp, Sasha and Igor were sure they'd be able to easily make it out from only a few miles away.
"Where was the last coordinate?" Aleksander inquired softly of the group as he was the first one to notice that the short trip was extending longer than expected. His paces slowed as he began to trail behind utilizing a flashlight to study a worn map. Only the hooting owls and whispering wind could be heard slightly over the rapid crunches of their feet from off in the distance. Everyone had been silently trekking up until this point about an hour from when they originally left camp.
"I am not sure..." Sasha responded after a moment in a firm tone, glancing over his shoulder at Igor. He couldn't make out his boyish face surrounded by the lingering shadows. No one said anything else for a few moments. This was before Rustik interrupted the awkward silence with his melodious bass.
"Should we split up to cover more ground? We are losing daylight guys," Rustik mentioned briefly while his mining hat light flashed a few feet in the distance like a bouncing ball.
"Wait..." Zina responded shrilly and stopped dead in her tracks causing a domino effect as everyone effectively did the same simultaneously.
"There it is," Lyudmila said carefully and in an alerted tone that declared an emergency.
Zina and Lyudmila worriedly stayed put with Yuri and Aleksander. Sasha, Igor, Georgiy, Rustik, and Tibo decided to investigate the camp scene that they seemed to so randomly stumble upon. They were all puzzled.
Tibo was the first to examine the campfire and even in the darkness, everyone could deduce him shaking his head slowly as in disbelief as to why or how the campfire was completely out.
He looked back, shining his light on everything he could make out. All appeared to be unaffected as he checked the perimeter of what he could see in the moonlight.
"We checked this place twice... I am sure of it!" Tibo frantically pointed out in a lowered tone as not to alert the girls.
Igor looked around carefully and saw nothing, but he also felt as if they had previously checked this area to find that it wasn't anything there before. He felt as if he thought to almost mention that this looked very similar to the highland area edge that they'd camped. He kept the thought to himself. For now.
"We move at first light," Igor responded moments later as he turned his back to collect the rest of the group.
The following morning, Igor stood by the fire contemplating the hike for today while Tibo sat silently staring into the fiery flames. Zina and Yuri had slept together in the same tent with Lyudmila and Aleksander as they were all utilizing their survival knowledge by staying huddled together during the night for warmth.
Sasha had left a little while before anyone had awakened and it could only be assumed that he was off preparing for the hike as well. Rustik and Georgiy were still fast asleep in their tents as the night before had taken a lot out of everyone.
"Today will prove our skill," Igor softly gazed off into the distance where two elk were watching their every move. Tibo did not respond, never averting his eyes.
Holding up the flap of the tent, Aleksander graciously escorted Lyudmila out of the tent into the radiant morning sun. The sheer whiteness of the horizon reflected in a blinding light over the nearby lake.
"We're heading out," Aleksander called over his shoulder to the two around the fire as he grabbed two oversized water basins to fill for their travels.
"Be careful and stay mindful of the time. We're leaving soon," Igor called out after them. Aleksander waved his hand anxiously without looking back brushing off the comments as if they were coming from his parents. Lyudmila meekly glanced back and nodded quickly before catching up to Aleksander's side. Her normally rosy cheeks were as pale and colorless as the snow this particularly windy morning.
"They are cute together, are they not?" Tibo admires the young blossoming relationship between the two youngest members of the group.
"Cute, yes. Foolish, also," Igor responded nonchalantly as he expertly tossed another long wooden log to the campfire.
Rustik and Georgiy seemed to rustle a bit within the tent but did not emerge as expected. The night had weighed in heavy on everyone's mind, but all were too afraid to speak on it. This may be because speaking things into existence has been known to make them come true.
In memory of 9 brave hikers that are now resting peacefully. Igor, Yuri, Zina, Lyudmila, Sasha, Aleksander, Tibo, Georgiy and Rustik will never be forgotten. Yuri as well in the late 2010s as the only survivor of the incident.
To Be Continued... Part III - A Hiker's Nightmare