This is a continuation of No Return From Dead Mountain. Read previous parts:
“Good God!”, Mikhail tried to sweep snow off the collapsed and torn tent in front of him. He had volunteered to help with the search for 9 missing hikers, not really thinking about what his search might uncover. He just wanted to help his classmates’ families put their minds at ease. The past two weeks had been virtually unbearable. He had watched the families of the missing adventurers arrive one by one at the university, grim and somber. He had no idea how these families were coping with what was now becoming clear, was a tragedy.
9 of them, he thought. How do you lose 9 people?
He pulled a torn tent flap from the ground and saw two shoes, sitting next to each other, as though someone had placed them there after they had taken them off. Mikhail felt dread build up inside of him. The way the shoes sat seemed to indicate that someone had removed them before getting into bed. If that was the case, he realized, then the feet those shoes belong to are probably still in here somewhere.
“Oh god!” He groaned, backing up and stumbling into the snow bank behind him. Anxiety washed over him as it suddenly dawned on him that there was probably a dead body in there. Not just any dead body either. It was probably one he would recognize. Not wanting to be the one to discover any of his deceased friends, he yelled for help, “I found something! Come quick!”.
As Mikhail waited for the Officer who’d been exploring the forested area about a kilometer away, he spotted something in the snow outside of the tent he’d just found. Footprints. They were leading away from the tent and appeared to be the prints of bare human feet.
“What the…?” Mikhail muttered as he cautiously began following them. Who would go strolling barefoot in the snow in 30 below weather? He continued along the tracks, looking up every so often to spot the Officer. These footprints seemed to go on forever, which was causing more and more confusion in Mikhail’s mind. What’s more, he was almost perfectly sure there was more than one set. All barefoot. He could not, for the life of him, figure out what would make more than one of his friends leave their tent in these conditions without proper footwear.
Perhaps they were being chased, the thought made his skin tingle with fear. Looking around, however, he couldn’t see any other footprints. Just human feet. Bare feet.
As he made his way further and further, fear was starting to overcome him. What would be at the end of these tracks? Why had they gone walking in bare feet? Had they lost their minds? Mikhail’s mind raced with possibilities.
Then, in the middle of an open blanket of snow, the prints simply stopped. Now, Mikhail was really confused. He bent down to look closer at the snow. The last print was half gone, it looked as though snow had covered it. The snow seemed to become deeper from there. He figured it must have snowed over he remaining footprints.
Perfect. Now we’ll never know why they’d been walking in the snow in bare feet. He looked up to see if he could spot the Officer yet, and sure enough, there he was, about 500 metres away, waving Mikhail towards him. Mikhail made his way toward the earthy green of the Officer’s army uniform as fast as he could, breaking into as close to a sprint as he could in snowshoes.
A few minutes later, Mikhail greeted the Officer, who pointed to the ground. They were at the edge of a forest and the depth of the snow was tapering off. He saw a few footprints on the tapering snow. He followed the footprints with his eyes and took a few steps with the Officer.
“Now look at this” The Officer said, kneeling. Mikhail took a step closer and let his eyes focus on what the Officer was pointing at. As the realization of what he was looking at sunk in, he began to recoil in horror. He knew he might see something like this eventually, but nothing could have prepared him for it.
He had just laid eyes on a perfectly preserved, frozen human foot, sticking out from under the snow.
Mikhail’s chest tightened and he felt his stomach twist. He turned his back to the officer and the scene he had just taken in, and tried to breath. Hearing the Officer get on his radio and call for the other searchers, he tried to calm himself down. He overheard the Officer explain he’d found 5 bodies. Five? What?
“Eight bodies?” Mikhail interrupted the Officer. “I only see one. Where are the others?”
The Officer began to walk along the tree line. Mikhail followed, trying to keep his breathing normal. Every few steps he had to stop and reorient himself, as he began to feel dizzy. The officer took him to a mound of snow, and as they rounded it, Mikhail’s world began to spin. Leaning his hand on a tree to stabilize himself, he peered around the mound and saw a scene more terrifying than anything he could think of on his own. There were Alexander, Zinaida and Rustem, laying in the snow, face up dressed in nothing but underwear. They were frozen solid, the expression on their faces preserved in the sub zero temperatures. Their mouths were wide as though they were screaming and their eyes were wide with sheer terror. Rustem had his hand up as if to fend something off, and Alexander’s wide mouth was missing his tongue. It was literally as though they were frozen in the middle of an attack by something beyond terrifying.
“Oh God… Oh God. What’s happened here?” Mikhail looked at the officer, pleading. “What’s gone on here? What did this?”
The Officer responded, visibly shaken, “I-I-I don’t know… I’ve n-n-never… I can’t… I have no idea what could have d-d-done this”.
“Where are the rest?” Mikhail demanded. He was promptly led to three more bodies in a similarly shocking scene. He leaned down and rested his hands on his knees, trying to calm his breathing.
You knew you would find them dead, Mikhail. Just relax. He said to himself. You don’t want the others to see you like this. He slowed his breathing and began to regain composure. He turned back around to face what he had come here for. With his stomach in knots, he took a step closer.
As he scanned the area, something else suddenly caught his eye. It looked like a piece of paper sticking out of the snow. He leaned down and brushed away snow. He felt his breakfast threaten to come back up as he realized there was a human hand holding it. Ludmila’s hand, he recognized the ring. As sadness continued to envelope his mind, he unfolded the piece of paper.
What he read, was both inexplicable and horrifying. He couldn’t explain why, but it sent chills up his spine and made his skin rise with goosebumps.
“From now on we know that snowmen exist”. Mikhail turned his head, and lost his breakfast in the snow.
“Snowmen? What does that mean? Did they find the others? What happened to them?” Emma’s questions were firing at Mike faster than he could register them.
“Come”, Mike answered, and led her into his living room. He made his way to the small cabinet in the bottom of a hutch, opened it and pulled out a large book. Gesturing for her to sit on the couch, he took a seat and opened the book.
“A scrapbook…” Emma mumbled.
All of the hikers together
Mike thumbed through the book, landing on a newspaper article. It was all in Russian, but there was a photo. It was of all 10 hikers, presumably before they had left for their trek.
“This is Vlad.” Mike, pointed to a face Emma slightly recognized. She scanned the rest of the faces and felt an uneasiness build up inside her as she realized another of them looked familiar.
“Mike…” She looked up at him and then back down at the picture. She pointed to the third face from the left. “Mike?”
He looked at her knowingly.
“That’s you.” She said, backing up, eyes wide. “That’s you.”
“Yes, Emma. That’s me” He confessed, looking into her now watering eyes.
“B-but, you said none of the missing survived. Your name is Mikhail! You volunteered to search for them!” She asked, her mouth gaping in astonishment.
“My name is Mikhail, yes. I changed it.” He looked down. “I was the sole survivor, I was not the volunteer who found them.”
“Then you know what happened? What happened that night? Tell me!” She demanded.
“No, Emma. I don’t.” His face drained of colour as he began studying his aged hands once again.
“What do you mean? You were there. You had to know what happened!”
“I do not. I have no recollection of that night. All I recall was arriving in Vizhai the following day. I arrived alone.”
“What? How can you not remember? What happened to the rest of them?” Emma was frantic.
Mike slowly turned the pages of the book and rested on the last page. A water damaged, yellowing piece of scrap paper was carefully taped to the page. It read, “From now on we know that snowmen exist”
Emma clasped a hand over her mouth, her eyes widening further.
“I don’t know what happened that night.” Mike pulled a notepad and pen out from the side table drawer. He looked at his friend and then down at the notepad. He began to write something. “But I am pretty sure I saw a … a sn-” He hesitated. “… a sn-… a… something I could not explain.”
He threw down the notepad, next to the withered paper in the scrapbook. He had written the same phrase,
“From now on we know that snowmen exist”
Emma gasped in horror as she compared the two notes side by side. The handwriting was identical.
“Mike? What did you change your name from?” She had gone completely white as she searched her friends eyes.
“Igor. Igor Dyatlov.”
GM Note: This story is based on the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which occurred in the Ural Mountains of Russia in 1959. Read about it here.