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by John Hitchcock
"Irina," came a familiar voice as someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I opened my eyes to see the face of Vladimir. He was a wonderful man, always kind, and I respected his research work. Vladimir was a trained physician and biologist, and in both areas he was possibly the greatest in Antarctica. Then again, there was nobody else for miles so I don’t know for sure.
It was 1982. I was about twenty-five, working in Antarctica. More specifically I worked as a cook, providing meals to the other seven men on the team. Sometimes they’d find other jobs for me, though, simple tasks whenever an extra hand was needed. Things like setting up research equipment and cleaning up the laboratory when they were through. Still, it was a strange feeling being the only woman within miles of here.
For the past few days, Vladimir had been out in the field collecting meteor samples alongside our geologist, a fellow named Ivan and our pilot and mechanic, a young Romanian named Nicolae. I got along well with both of them, but then again I pretty much got along well with everyone except Miroslav the dog handler.
It was getting dark when the radio operator Alexei came into the kitchen. Pavel the meteorologist nd Yuri the station manager were helping me to finish cleaning the dishes leftover from dinner.
“I just got a message from Ivan," Alexei explained. “He said they’re on their way back, should be here in a few hours."
“In this weather?" Yuri asked. “It’s getting dark. They won’t be able to see a thing."
“Nicolae knows his way around," Pavel said. “They’ll be fine."
“Yeah, I hope so," replied Yuri.
We finished up the dishes and the two men left to do their own thing, Pavel probably ran off to go play Poker, and Yuri probably had some paperwork to attend to. Yuri did have a habit of acting professional. I rarely saw him engaging in recreation normally save for the occasional card game. Nonetheless he did have a hidden sense of humour and he was a decent man who loved his wife Natasha.
Alexei and I hung out a little while longer. We smoked and of course he had a couple of beers. I was a bit more careful on the liquor, not so much on the cigarettes, though for obvious reasons I’m not so proud of that fact anymore.
Alexei invited me to come watch another pre-recorded game show with him, but I decided against it, opting to wait for Vladimir’s team to get back, since I figured when they got back they would probably be hungry. I don’t remember much of what went on that night. At one point I decided to put some music on. I put a rock ‘n roll tape into a radio and listened to that for a while. Sometime later Miroslav’s voice came in over the intercom.
“IRINA!" he shouted angrily. “Would you mind turning that crap down? Some of us are trying to sleep!"
“Sure thing," I replied in response, but I just left it running. I don’t recall what happened then. I just remember Vladimir waking me later that night. I was sitting against the refrigerator, and I guess I’d fallen asleep at some point.
“I’m sorry, Doc," I said sleepily. “I tried to stay awake. I really did."
“It’s alright," replied Vladimir as he helped me up. “Why don’t you go to bed?"
“I’m ok," I replied. “I understand you’ve just got back and you’re hungry."
“I can take care of it," Vladimir replied.
“No, I’m fine," I said as I slowly walked over towards the stove. I was tired, but I quickly cooked up some eggs for his team. After that I finally gave in and decided to go to bed. I worked my way to the bedroom. Most of the men were paired up in their rooms, with two exceptions- myself and Yuri. I don’t know, they probably gave me a single room simply due to the fact that I was the only woman, but I didn’t mind. In fact I enjoyed it, it gave me some privacy once in a while.
Everyone had their own assortment of personal valuables from home, pictures of loved ones, and I had mine, just not what most expected. I kept a few things from home, but my most prized photo I kept carefully hidden in a drawer. The photo in question was my girlfriend, a young redhead. I loved her, and she felt the same. I often took a look at the picture, and on this night I stopped and got it out, I looked at it for a few minutes before carefully placing it back and closing the drawer.
I was just about to climb into bed when I saw something outside the window- a light. More specifically, headlights. I watched in disbelief, wondering if it was real or if my tired mind was just playing tricks. After a few minutes, I started to realize it was real and ran outside. Just as the other three men were finishing their meal, I burst into the kitchen and told them what happened. Vladimir got up and ran to the coat room. I got a flashlight and followed.
What happened in those next few minutes was soon going to change everything. Vladimir approached the snow-cat as it arrived and a figure stepped out. I got closer and saw that the figure in question was in fact a young girl, about my age. Vladimir tried to ask her who she was, but she didn’t understand. He tried in English, but the girl was just too terrified to speak, and all she could get out were tears.
That night, I found I couldn’t sleep. As I lay there, I just kept thinking about that poor girl, wondering what happened, how she got there, why she was so terrified. Finally I got up and walked into the recreational room. Vladimir had put a blanket on her and tried to talk to her. I quickly made her a cup of hot cocoa, which she took. She then finally revealed her name to be Kate Lloyd.
Vladimir and I did our best to comfort her. We finally laid her down on the couch with a blanket and a pillow. Vladimir hoped to find her better sleeping arrangements the next day. We sat down in the mess hall, where Vladimir explained everything he’d found out so far.
“Her name is Kate Lloyd," he explained. “She’s also American, doesn’t speak Russian which around here is going to cause a major language barrier."
“You seemed to talk to her fine," I replied.
“Yes, but how much English do you understand?" Vladimir asked.
I thought about it for a moment. “None," I said.
“My point exactly," replied Vladimir. “We’ll just have to make due for the time being. Tomorrow happens to be the first day of winter, and they probably won’t be able to get a helicopter in here. We’ll just have to do our best to take care of her until we can get someone to pick her up in the spring."
“What’s Yuri going to think?" I asked nervously.
“I don’t know," replied Vladimir. “He might be sceptical at first, but we really don’t have much choice. We either take her in or leave her to freeze to death in the snow."
Vladimir and I stayed up a little later to make sure our new friend was alright. We did our best to make her comfortable, and I quickly put together a hot meal for her. In short, we were up for a few hours and neither of us got much sleep.
The following morning during breakfast Yuri sat down next to Vladimir. Yuri was talking to him as I brought them their food.
“Her name is Kate Lloyd," Vladimir explained. “She’s an American."
“What happened to her?" Yuri asked.
“I don’t know," replied Vladimir. “She drove into our camp last night. She seemed terrified of something but I have no idea what."
They argued for a little while, but Vladimir eventually talked Yuri into agreeing to let Kate stay until an American team could pick them up.
“There’s an American base just a few miles from here. What was it." Vladimir explained. “Station 31 I believe. We could try to talk to them."
Yuri gave Alexei instructions to contact the nearby American base. I later learned that communications problems had prevented him from doing so. It was just as well, however, seeing as we later learned thanks to two men from there they had some problems of their own."
Outside of that, the rest of the men went about their normal duties, specifically unloading the meteorite samples from the tractor which were collected over the past few days. I however was excused from duty. Vladimir explained to Yuri that I hadn’t got much sleep the previous night, and Yuri agreed to take over my work while I took a nap. “I’m ok," I said to Yuri when he arrived. “I can do this."
“No," replied Yuri. “I really think you ought to get some rest."
I nodded and went back to my bedroom. As soon as the door was closed, I opened my drawer and removed that prized picture of the girl I loved. I wondered what she was doing now. Maybe she was thinking of me. Of course, we kept our relationship a secret, and only now am I willing to admit to the truth, though she has requested that I do not state her name.
I lay down on my bed holding that picture close to me. At some point or another I must have fallen asleep, because I was woken several hours later. I rolled over to see Pavel standing over me.
“What’s going on?" I asked as I rolled over.
“It’s that girl," replied Pavel. “She’s gone mad."
“What?" I asked, somewhat sleepily. Pavel quickly led me outside. Alexei was crouched down in the hallway with Nicolae and Miroslav.
“I don’t know what’s been happening," Alexei said nervously. I could hear someone shouting and smashing something. Pavel led me towards the radio room and I saw it. Kate had a large fire axe, and she was smashing up the equipment. She was shouting something angrily as she did so, something I couldn’t understand. I later learned from Vladimir she had been talking about a “Thing" that copied people. Supposedly she had started looking into people’s mouths for fillings, but that wasn’t enough. She became convinced that this “Thing" was here and started trying to smash up everything to keep it from getting out.Whatever happened before left the poor girl paranoid. It seemed so strange as I could still remember seeing her the previous evening, where I couldn’t help feeling terrible for her. Now she was on a rampage.
Vladimir tried to walk in from another door. He briefly tried to reason with her, but Kate drew a pistol and fired in his general direction.
“She ran all over the place," Pavel said. “She stole one of our guns, an axe, and I think I saw her with a flamethrower."
Yuri came in through the hallway, armed with a small pistol. He aimed it towards Kate and shouted out to her to put down the gun in English. She shot back but missed.
Yuri tried to aim but was unable to get a direct hit. “What we need is something to catch that axe," Nicolae said.
“Easier said than done," replied Yuri. “Can you get me some canvas or something?"
Nicolae ran off. He and Ivan showed up a few minutes later with a wooden table from the lab. As they ran inside, Kate swung the axe into it by mistake. From there they were able to force it out of her hands. I ran in there at that moment, hoping to help. I don’t remember fully what happened next. I just recall Kate throwing me against the wall. She aimed her pistol but was out of bullets. She pushed Nicolae aside as he tried to strike, knocking him against a garbage can. Kate started to attack me, punching and kicking, throwing a boot at me. Then suddenly she was grabbed from behind. Yuri threw her to the ground, he kicked her and beat her as hard as he could until she finally stopped resisting.
Yuri kept the girl pinned down. “Nicolae, Pavel," he said. “Give me a hand with this man.
The two men quickly ran over and slowly helped Kate up. “We’ll lock her in my room for the time being," Yuri instructed. The three of them slowly helped the battered girl out of the room. Alexei and Ivan came out of hiding and ran over to me.
“Irina, are you alright?" Alexei asked.
I moaned as I struggled to stand. “I think so," I said. Vladimir quickly came in to help. He got me to the infirmary and examined me. It turned out I wasn’t seriously hurt, but I was still in a lot of pain.
“You’ll be alright," Vladimir said. “Just try to take things easy."
The next few days went more or less normally, outside of the fact that I now had to cook a little extra, and I’d have to bring some meals into the bedroom where we were keeping Kate. She had calmed down by the next morning, but after her previous actions Yuri felt it would be best to keep her in there for her own good.
I later learned she had told
strange stories, something about a “Thing" that attacked her and killed her
teammates. Initially we dismissed these stories, believing them to be delusions
brought about by long-time exposure to the cold. Four or five days later that
changed, when Nicolae spotted a faint light in the distance. It did not take
long for us to deduce that this was a fire. Vladimir and Nicolae left in the
helicopter, they came back with two frostbitten men, the only survivors.