For Want Of A Better Topic
February 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Because someone hasn’t gotten back to me in time despite my best efforts, I need to wing it today. And by wing it, I, er, of course mean post something different from the norm.
Yes, that’s John-speak for “I wasn’t quite expecting this and am not sure what to do all of a sudden.” The past 7 days have been harder than I thought, and writing has been slower than expected. I’m sitting on most of the next chapter for Lovers, but it’s not done to a level of completion that I want, and so you won’t get it.
So sue me. I’m still technically amateur.
Instead, I’m putting up the second chapter to one of the other pieces I’m working on, The Zone. Yes, I haven’t mentioned this since December, and no, it’s not done. I have a terrible habit of moving from cool idea to cool idea. Blame Tanis. He’s the one who gave me license to work on a story I really like. In any case, this is Chapter 2 of The Zone. Remember, it’s my attempt at a sci-fi YA story, and you should be having fun! SO HAVE IT.
1335 Hours, 14/10/11
Dytyatky, Kiev Oblast, Ukraine
12km from the Zone of Alienation
Kevin hefted his heavy bag over his shoulder and looked up at the sign. It swayed drunkenly in the wind over the bar, and looked like it was about to fall down along with the rest of the bar. Kevin didn’t like the look of it, but it matched the description his informant had given him. “The man you’ll want frequents there, but that’s all I can tell you.” It wasn’t much, but it would do. It had to do. Kevin nervously looked up and down the road, but of the few people on the street, no-one paid him any mind. It was quiet. Kevin’s nerves were fired up enough as it was and he knew he could just move on, pretend it was all a mistake.
He hefted his bag again. But you didn’t come all this way just to chicken out now, did you? Kevin mentally kicked himself and pushed through the door.
The bar was dark despite the bulbs that burned in the ceiling. The only other light came from an old jukebox that screeched a polka. A few wooden tables were scattered on the cracked linoleum of the floor, and a few patrons looked equally scattered. Some old men playing checkers stared at him, but Kevin ignored them. He knew he was out of place in his thick jacket and sturdy clothing. Most of the patrons looked like they hadn’t had new clothes in years. Kevin reasoned that in this part of the world, they probably hadn’t.
He walked to the bar and dropped his heavy bag on the ground. The barkeeper, an old man with a face so wrinkled it looked like leather, stared into his eyes. In his best Russian, Kevin asked, “Do you know a man named Andrei Kaidonovsky? I was told he frequented this place.”
The barkeeper stared back, stone faced. Kevin suddenly felt flustered. Did the man not understand him? He had been assured that Russian was close enough to Ukrainian that they would understand. So why not answer him? Did he not know?
“Please, I’m looking for Mr. Kaidonovsky, it’s very important. I’ve come a very long way to find him. Do you know him or not?” Kevin tried again. The barkeeper stared at him, then muttered something Kevin didn’t catch in Ukrainian. Some of the others chuckled, and Kevin very clearly caught the word “Idiot” from across the room.
Feeling his anger rise, Kevin thumped his finger on the table. “Alright, that’s it. I don’t care if you think I’m an idiot or not, but I’m looking for Mr. Andrei Kaidonovsky. I’ll pay, good money too.” Kevin went to pull his wallet from his pocket when a voice snapped from across the room in sharp Russian.
“Get your hand out of there, boy. Let’s make this easy on the both of us. You looking for Kaidonovsky? Come, let’s talk this over.”
Kevin felt his hopes surge and looked over. A man, tall and lanky, sat alone at a table and beckoned him over. He grabbed his bag and hurried over, again ignoring the mumbling of the old men. Well, if you didn’t want to help me, you’ll miss out on what I was going to give you. Assholes. Kevin thought vindictively.
He dropped his bag and sat across from the man. Kevin got a good look at him then despite the bad light from the buzzing light bulb overhead. The man was tall with a shaved head. His features were lean, but hard, like he pushed himself constantly. His eyes were quick and cagey and darted about the room like a cat. A half-empty bottle of something was in front of him, and several glasses.
The man nodded to Kevin and offered him a glass. Kevin shook his head, impatient.
“Do you know Kaidonovsky? I was…”
The man cut him off. “Yes yes yes, you were told he came here. Yeah, I know Kaidonovsky. I’ll even tell you how to find him, but you got to answer some questions for me.”
Kevin scowled. The less people who knew about why he was here , the better. Anderson warned him that trying to gain entry into the Zone was strictly forbidden, and that the army would be very interested in those who tried.
“I’m looking for him. I don’t see why that’s any concern of yours.”
The man laughed, a harsh, bloody sound. “Those who want to find Kaidonovsky want to find him for one reason: they have business inside the Zone, and I am a man who makes it his business to know everyone and everything that crosses into or out of the Zone. That makes knowing who wants to talk to him my business.” He leaned forward threateningly, even though his voice was still jovial. Kevin fought the urge to shrink back in his seat. Can’t let him see me sweat here, he thought.
“What makes you think I want to go into the Zone?” Kevin asked, trying to be nonchalant.
The man smirked again. “Why else would an American boy be in Dytyatky? You aren’t fooling anyone, you know. You don’t look like a Russian and you don’t smell like a Ukrainian, so you must be from somewhere else.” He waved his hand, dismissively. “So unless you want to waste more of my time, you’ll skip ahead and tell me why you want into the Zone.”
Kevin was getting frustrated, but forced himself to stay in control. “Canadian.”
“What?” The man asked.
“I’m not American. I’m Canadian.”
With another smile, which were now infuriating Kevin, the man poured him a glass of that something and slid it over. It smelled like fuel oil and pond scum, and Kevin left it standing in front of him. The man shrugged and drank it down, straight from the bottle.
“So, Mr. Canada, why do you want into the Zone? Fame? Fortune? Death? Of the three, you’ll only be sure to find the third in there.”
“My f…I’m looking for my father.” Kevin said each word slowly. He had given this speech hundreds of times before mirrors, train windows, and the empty road, but it felt so strange actually saying it to someone. People didn’t run halfway across the world, chasing after their missing parents. But he had, and so he had to say it. “He was a researcher and some of his work focused on the Zone. He was kidnapped on a visit to the Ukraine, and I’m certain they took him in there.”
“What did he do?” The man asked. Kevin could only shrug.
“Science-y stuff? Physics? Biology? Anything the government asked him to do?”
The man managed to scowl and smiled with the same expression. “Your father was kidnapped and might be in the Zone? The Zone’s a mighty dangerous place, boy, too dangerous for uncertainty.”
“I’m not a boy,” Kevin interrupted. “I know what I’m doing here. He was kidnapped, it’s the only explanation why he would disappear without telling anyone, two days before he was scheduled to finish his research on the Zone. Why else would he leave so suddenly? So completely?” Kevin hid the hurt he felt inside. Why did his father leave him like this? His mother had left them, years ago, and what did it mean now that his father was gone too? Was he going to be alone in this world? He was sixteen, almost a man grown, but Kevin didn’t want to be alone just yet.
While true, that he had spent most of his life alone shuttled from private school to private school, from bands to cadets to special classes, always following his father and his work around the globe. He was used to being alone, but this was different. His father, though absentee, was still there. Was still somewhere. Now, just like two months ago when he didn’t phone Kevin back, his father was gone.
It still seemed strange to Kevin. One moment, he was just finishing the last of his classes for the year, the same as any other kid, the next he was answering phone calls from lawyers, police, and child services, and all the while trying to figure out how a stove worked, or how to change the thermostat. It wasn’t long before he got fed up, accessed his father’s emergency bank account for all that he could withdraw, and set off to find him. Two months later, he sat across from this bald Russian, tired, frustrated, and sick of explaining himself to people who didn’t understand. Who couldn’t understand.
“I’m not a boy.” He repeated, tapping the table with a finger. “I may only be sixteen, but I’m sure as hell not a kid anymore.”
The man actually laughed out loud. “Not a kid? Says the one who looks like he’s going to walk into the damn Zone. Humour me, kid. What’s the plan, then? Walk past the guards, who’ll just as soon kill you as say hello? Alright, I’ll play along, this is a fun game, because even if you made it past the guards, the monsters would kill you. If they didn’t, the Scrapers will. If they don’t, the bandits will, and if they don’t, the cold will, and you’ll risk all that, just because you think your father might be in there?”
Kevin thought for a second. When he put it like that, it did sound a little ominous. But what other choice did he have? Now that his father was missing and most of his family was scattered all over the world, he could move into a foster home or move to Wisconsin with his dad’s half-brother. That wasn’t for Kevin, even if it would only be for two years. No, it went deeper than that. He had lost his Mom a long time ago, and had no plans to lose his Dad. The European police and the RCMP were no help and kept giving him bad answers. The decision had been made. If no-one else was going to look for his father, Kevin would.
Compared to that, travelling half-way across the world to one of the most dangerous places in it seemed relatively easy.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
The man exploded into laughter. “Well kid, I guess that does make you a man!” He bashed the table with his fist. “I like you. I like that. You might be killed in the Zone, but you’ll see it coming at least! Drink up, and let’s go meet Kaidonovsky.”
Kevin opened up and forced the foul liquid down. It burned all the way, but it couldn’t quell the happiness that surged within him. It had been a long, long seven weeks alone, with only the advice and occasional phone call from his father’s friend Ryan Anderson to keep him going. Now, he was back with other humans and, perhaps, moving forward.
They stepped onto the street and back into the bright sunlight. The man sheltered his eyes against the sun, but Kevin just slipped on his shades.
“Heh, you sure like to stand out, my young friend. No-one from Dytyatky has glasses as nice as those. You’re just screaming that you’re a foreigner with those.”
Kevin shrugged. “Well, I doubt my accent and clothing aren’t helping much either.”
“Actually, your accent is not bad. A little bit like you come from Belarus, but not bad. And your clothes just make you look like a new worker, not yet broken in by the job.” The man drew his leather jacket about him, despite the warmth of the sun. His eyes darted all across the street, missing nothing, even though to Kevin it looked like there was nothing to see. The road was mostly empty, except for a few youths sitting outside a large, squat building. Likely the school, Kevin thought. Slackers looked the same the world over.
They turned a corner and suddenly the man elbowed Kevin into the corner.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Kevin asked, his side hurting where the man had shoved him.
“Be quiet!” The man fiercely whispered. “Kaidonovsky’s place is in a green warehouse just across the rail yard, do you see it?” Kevin nodded though he could barely see it off in the distance. “There are soldiers coming and they will want to question you. You do not want to be questioned! They don’t want foreigners here, not one bit! Here’s where we follow order now. When I say run, you run as fast as you can, understand?”
Kevin nodded, his heart pounding. He risked a glance around the corner, and saw two green-garbed men, carrying rifles, walking down the street towards them. Kevin darted his head back around and nodded. The man clapped him on the shoulder, and then lurched forward and stumbled around the corner like a zombie, pretending to be drunk. He crashed into the soldiers and stepped back, apologizing. Kevin pulled his head back behind the corner and tried to calm his breathing.
The soldiers yelled something in Ukrainian, and Kevin heard the man respond in Russian.
“Ashamed a’being drunk so early? Heh, shame? I got none. I’m just a lousy drunk who can’t even walk straight, but I could still run!”
Kevin burst from the wall, running flat out down the street. The soldiers, startled, choked out a cry. Kevin glanced over his shoulder and saw the man crash into them again, knocking one down and spinning the other around backwards. Without wasting any more time, Kevin put his head down and ran. His feet pounded on the pavement as shouts and whistles sounded behind him. The soldiers were getting more help, and that was bad for Kevin. I need to get inside, somewhere, before they see me. The warehouse grew larger in the distance.
In the intersection ahead, a soldier ran out and held up his hand in the universal sign for stop. Kevin, the heavy bag tearing at his shoulders and his legs burning, went sideways and dove down an alley. The soldier cursed and followed, but Kevin was too far ahead.
He followed the dank and dark alleys through the small town, threading through them like a mouse through a maze. More and more soldiers appeared, and Kevin wondered what happened to the man he was with. He certainly didn’t sacrifice himself, just for Kevin whom he had just met. There was something deeper going on here, and Kevin wasn’t sure he liked it.
Kevin slipped around a corner as soldiers piled into the alley. The warehouse loomed before him, and Kevin quietly snuck around the back. It was a cheap thing made mostly of sheet metal and wood, and Kevin found a loose sheet quickly enough. Pulling it back, he tossed his bag in and slipped into the building.
The warehouse was dark and strewn about everywhere were tables and chairs, while every other open centimetre of ground was covered in boxes. Kevin moved quietly until he found a light switch. He flicked it on and as the bulb burst into light, two men in balaclavas popped out of hiding and pointed ugly rifles at him. His heart pounding right out of his chest, Kevin dropped his bag and slowly raised his shaking hands.
One of them shouted something in Ukrainian.
“I…don’t speak Ukrainian!” Kevin said in Russian, his voice shaking. The rifles were steady in the hands of the thugs, and they were all pointed directly at him.
“You heard the kid, he don’t speak Ukrainian, so let’s use Russian and we can all be friends.” A door banged shut, and the balding man walked out into the pool of light. With some muttering, the men lowered their rifles and stood, expectantly.
Kevin looked up into the smiling face of the bald man from earlier. “What…what’s going on here? What are you doing here?” A better question occurred to him. “Who are you?”
With a flourish, the bald man pointed at himself. “Me? I’m Andrei Kaidonovsky, and I’m the guy who’s dumb enough to take you into the Zone.”