The One Who Knows

Murrey put down the camera and wiped the snowflakes off of his binoculars, holding them up to his blue eyes. He spun the focus and tried to shield the lenses from the driving wind as he gazed out across the icy plains. He lost feeling in his hands after only a minute of searching. It was hopeless anyways; the driving snow obscured anything over a few hundred yards away. Sighing, he lowered the binoculars and put his gloves back on, turning to face me. “No way we can get back to the Jeep in this stuff,” he said, “the blizzard’s gonna be on top of us within an hour and we better have some shelter by then.” I struggled to hear him over the shrieking wind, “What? No. No, we have to get back; we’re supposed to be shooting the next segment in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. If we don’t start driving tonight, we’ll never get back on schedule.” “You’re worried about the filming schedule?” Murrey gave me stern look, “You’ve never been in a Siberian blizzard have you? If we get caught on those open plains when the storm hits, we’ll freeze to death in ten minutes! Fuck the schedule, I’m worried about making it through the night.”

I knew Murrey well, he wasn’t the kind of guy who exaggerated. If he said we were in trouble, he truly meant that our lives were in danger. “Well, shit. Fuck the schedule then. What do we do now?” Even as I spoke I could feel the freezing wind gusting stronger, little jets of ice shooting through the seams in my parka and chilling me to the bone. Murrey had to yell to be heard over the gathering snowstorm, “Let’s head back to that forest we passed earlier. We can pile some branches and try to make a shelter before the worst of it reaches us.” “Alright Mur, you lead the way, I already feel half frozen.” Without further discussion we set off back across the snow laden fields; me struggling to follow Murrey as the driving gale buffeted me about, thick sheets of snow blocking out the golden evening sun and the dark shadow of my cameraman hurriedly trudging along before me.

By the time we reached the first line of trees the sun had set and the storm had begun to attack us in earnest. As we marched deeper into the forest I began to appreciate the sense of fear that this storm had given Murrey. Never before in my life had I been so cold; although I was running as fast as I could over snow banks, burdened by thirty pounds of cold weather clothing, I had already lost all feeling in my feet. Just over the howling of the wind blowing through the trees I could hear him yelling back to me, “Deeper, deeper, we have to keep going, we have to go deeper into the forest!” And so I half-ran, half-stumbled behind him as the numbing cold slowly crept along my skin and the sky grew darker and the drifting snow fell thicker.

45 minutes later and I had lost all sense of reality; the white flurry blanketed all sounds, obscured my vision. The bitter wind clouded my brain and froze my muscles. I forgot why I was running, I forgot that I was running, I forgot who I was supposed to be following. All that existed was my thoughts and the swirling blackness. I could have run like this for hours or minutes and not known the difference, time had stopped; the cold froze my thoughts and stung my eyes, it even stopped my watch, delicate fingers of ice stretching over the hands and freezing them in place. I have no idea how long I ran within those dark woods until a sudden flash of thought stopped me in my tracks. Gasping for breath even as the frigid air seared my lungs, I realized that I had no idea where I was. Murrey had disappeared into the night. I stood there bewildered, a creeping sense of doom slowly crawling across my dulled mind. I had no idea where Murrey was. Hell, I had no idea where I was. What was I supposed to do now, trudge onwards and try to find him or attempt to make a shelter and survive the night by myself? It dawned on me that I had no idea how to make a shelter and without Murrey I would doubtlessly die, a rescue party eventually finding me frozen to a tree, half-buried in the glimmering snow, my black lips drawn open over a blue face. But a hopeless rush to find my partner would be just as deadly, in the night I could never hope to find him. Eventually I would just collapse under my numb feet, quickly dying where I had fallen.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, I beheld a wonderful sight; two glittering blue eyes swimming out of the darkness, a hand reaching down and pulling me to my feet. “Get up you idiot, you want to die?” Murrey brushed the snow off my back, “C’mon big time reporter, there’s something I want you to see.” He grabbed onto my shoulders and dragged me through the forest. As the cold swept in around me, I felt my eyelids falling, the last of my strength seeping from my tired body; but just as I fell asleep Murrey whacked me on the top of the head, “Wake the fuck up you lazy bastard, I found shelter. Check this place out.”

I blinked and rose unsteadily to my feet. Before me was a clearing in the woods. A miniscule amount of moonlight filtered down through the swirling clouds and the dancing canopy to illuminate two large structures squatting in the grove. The first was an old cottage, its wooden siding close to rotting off, the walls slanted at an angle, the middle of the roof sunken down. It looked like only the heaps of snow piled against it kept it standing up. No light came from its cobwebbed windows. As for the other object, I had to shake my head and ask Murrey if it was real to convince myself it wasn’t a hallucination. Towering above the dingy house, a cross was planted near the front door. It was wooden, Catholic Eastern Orthodox style, but of a very basic design, rotting boards hastily nailed together and stuck upright into the ground. If it wasn’t for its massive height, the cross would have been completely unremarkable. Clearly, it was almost as old as the house.

The main post was sagging over at a severe angle, as if the base of the cross had begun to rot away. But its size and its decay paled in comparison to the overall impression it seemed to give off, a strange vibe of foreboding. As I stared upwards at it I felt a shiver creep down my back that had nothing to do with the cold. This cross wasn’t an indication of salvation, it wasn’t a marker for sanctuary, this cross was a warning, a sentinel telling wanderers to run away, far away. As a wave of oppression swept out from the dark structures I felt a pat on the back. “Yeah I know what you’re thinking,” said Murrey in a quiet voice, “I don’t like this place either, but it’s the only way we’ll last the night. C’mon, there’s something I want to show you.” He led me up to the house, past the crooked cross as the storm blew in again with renewed fury, blotting out the moonlight and hiding the wooden sentinel from sight.

We climbed up a broken set of steps and reached the front door. Murrey pulled out a flashlight, “I need you to take a look at this, your Russian is better than mine.” He illuminated the door. Nailed to it was a large wooden plaque covered in worn Russian writing. Just below that a rusted dagger was thrust deep into the wood, bifurcating a single word that had been gouged into the door itself. Murrey shined his light at me, “So, Jim, what’s it say?” I squinted at the decayed wood, “I’m not sure, it’s worn out pretty good.” Running my fingers along the writing I tried to feel the letters cut into the plaque, “These big ones on the top are easy, they basically say ‘Warning! Do not enter!’ I-I’m not completely sure what’s written right beneath that. I can’t read some of the words, and the rest doesn’t make that much sense…. I think it’s supposed to read, ‘The old woman still lives here. Stay away.’ But, uh, obviously no one’s lived here for dozens of years.” “What about the word in the door? The one with the knife stuck in it?” “The word is ‘Ved’ma’, but I have no idea what that means. As for the knife, it’s got a little cross carved into the handle. Looks pretty fancy. If it wasn’t all rusted up it might be worth something. I don’t know Mur, I’ve got no idea what this means. Does this make any sense to you?” Murrey gave me a strange look, I could see his blue eyes reflected in the flashlight, his eyebrows raised quizzically. “You know, it kind of does. But, first things first, let’s get inside before we freeze to death.”

It took a couple of good hits, but together we were able to overcome the rusted hinges. A shower of splinters flew from the lock as we stumbled into the dark house. Without hesitation Murrey slammed the door shut behind us. Instantly, I felt warmer. It was freezing cold in the cottage, but at least there was no wind. With the feeble light from Murrey’s flashlight we retreated to a corner to check our condition. As I sat down I could feel the rotten floorboards sagging beneath me. Once it was apparent that neither of us was dying of hypothermia or suffering severe frostbite, Murrey began to shuffle around in his backpack for the camping light. As he set up the light he told me what he thought about the place, the cross, and the writing:

“It all made sense when you said Ved’ma. I might not be able to read Russian as well as you can, Jim, but I know a lot more about Eastern European culture. ‘Ved’ma’ is a really archaic term meaning ‘the one who knows’. Basically it’s a derogative term for a hag that lives in the forest. Historically, any old hermit that decided to live out in the wilderness was labeled a wizard or a hag. Usually they were just people with bad mental disorders or just loners who preferred the wild life. Unfortunately Russian peasants were a pretty superstitious lot, so any misfortune visited upon a town, say a bad crop or a plague of disease, was blamed upon the local ‘hag’. It was pretty common for a gang of vigilantes wielding stereotypical pitchforks and torches to come after and kill these people. According to tradition you had to bury their body underneath a cross to prevent their spirit from coming back and haunting the forest.” Murrey lit the lamp and light flooded across the room.

Travelling across the world I’ve stayed at some pretty damn creepy places, but this cottage took home the bronze, silver, and gold. Although the propane lamp sitting on the floor was usually so bright that one could read by it, here it barely illuminated a single room. The harsh white light spread outwards across what was once a living room, casting long shadows across broken and rotten furniture. As soon as the warm glow hit a wall it seemed to stop; I can’t really describe it better, it was almost as if the ancient wood was sucking in the light, leaving the two long hallways on the other end of the room pitch black. With every movement we cast up clouds of dust, every step caused a rain of mold to fall from the rafters above. Murrey cautiously walked across the creaking floor to peer into the two dark rooms. “One’s a bedroom,” he yelled back, “and one’s a kitchen. They both look pretty grody, I’m not sure if the floor could take our weight. We better sleep in this room for the night.” I nodded my agreement and we collapsed back into the corner with the lamp. Curling into a ball, I felt warmer than I had in hours. As I drifted off to sleep I saw Murrey turning off the lamp.

It was the heat that woke me. When I had fallen asleep I was barely warm enough to feel all of my extremities; now I was so hot that I was literally drenched in sweat. As I stripped off my outer jacket I noticed that the room was lit by a flickering orange light. A roaring fire was blazing in the crumbled stone fireplace. Now, I trusted Murrey, after all he had saved my life, but it seemed like a stupid idea to light a fire in a house that was close to falling apart. I turned to face him and saw his blue eyes glowing from the dark corner of the room. “Hey man,” he asked me, “did you light that fire?” “No. Didn’t you?” “Wasn’t me. Don’t fuck around with me right now; did you light that fire?” “I swear it wasn’t me.” “Then who the fuck was it?” “I don-“ “What the FUCK is THAT?”

I turned and stared off into the dancing shadows. In the narrow entryway a shadowy form stood hunched over. It rose about 4 feet off the ground and had the texture of mildewed rags, like a pile of laundry that had been left to decay for years. Was it swaying back and forth or was that just the firelight playing tricks? “What the fuck…” Murrey was slowly creeping towards the door. “Let’s get the hell out of here.” I couldn’t take my eyes off the strange figure standing just barely in the living room. It was definitely moving. It was walking, hobbling, across the floor towards us. As it moved further into the room the firelight splashed across its face. Or at least the half of a face it had.

Bent double underneath its tattered robes, the thing’s head emerged from the layers of rot at about chest height. Its skin was peeling off in patches, dripping from the scalp; it was bleached white except for patches stained a deep red. From the left side of the face a blank white eye peered at us from above torn blue lips. Worms burrowed around under the skin, bursting from holes and falling onto the decayed floorboards. The right side was completely missing, just shattered bones pieced together. Thin red nerves tangled with bits of dripping grey tissue hung from the empty eye socket. The Jaw was gone. A hole ran down the length of the neck, back into the folds of clothes that hung around the thing.

I was frozen in spot as it slowly stumbled across the floor towards us. Lengths of intestine and organs spilled out from its robes, dragging along the rotten floorboards. As it neared us a hand green with rot emerged from beneath the folds of clothes. In its skeletal fingers it grasped the knife that had been stuck into the door. Gurgling and spouts of blood flowed from the hole in its punctured throat. Soon it was within arm’s length of me, spluttering, swaying, brandishing the rusted knife towards my face. The smell of something long dead, something buried for decades, filled my nostrils. Something grabbed my shoulder.

It was Murrey. The spell was broken. As fear flooded through my veins I felt my body stumble to the door, open it, and run back into the dark forest. As we tore pass the cross I noticed that it was completely uprooted. A dark hole yawned up from where it once stood, piles of bones and rotten flesh spilling out onto the snow, staining it red.

I ran for so long into that dark forest. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew that whatever terror I faced in the darkness was better than what stumbled towards me in that cabin. Tree branches lashed out at me like clawed hands, roots and bushes reached up and grabbed my ankles, pulling me to the ground. I lost track of Murrey. I ran for hours into oblivion. Each brief time I stopped I swear that I could hear that slow shuffling right behind me, and the smell of something long buried would cloud my brain.

I passed out after running for hours on end. The next thing I remember was waking up in an intensive care unit in Moscow three weeks later, a doctor staring down at me. He told me that two hunters had found me stumbling through the woods in the early morning. I was completely out of my mind, screaming at them, trying to claw their faces off. I was lucky to be alive, he said, frostbite claimed part of my ear and three toes, but other than that I was expected to make a full recovery.

A week later they found Murrey. A doctor came into my room to tell me that he was dead. He asked me if I wanted to hear the details. I said yes. Apparently the searchers had found his corpse leaning against a tree. He had died of cold before the storm lifted. By the time the rescuers had got to him his body had been picked apart by scavengers. Something, probably a pack of wolves, had eaten off part of his face and ripped into his abdominal cavity.

That was it. That would have been closure, would have given me a little peace. But the last day I was in the hospital, the night before I left for the states, one more person came to see me.

He nervously ran his fingers through his hair as he sat down. He said that he was the coroner who had led Murrey’s dissection. He said that some men from the government had threatened him, made him put down certain things on the official death report and leave out others. But before I left he wanted to reveal a few things to me personally:

“Murrey did not die from cold. He was frozen, yes, but he was killed long before that. My prognosis is that he died from massive blood loss and shock from grievous bodily damage. Murdered, essentially. Someone pinned him down and cut into his chest. After he was incapacitated they carved off the right portion of his face with a very sharp knife. This was done with a high degree of skill and precision. I do not accuse you of anything, Mr. Young, nor do I want to hear about what really happened. I just wanted to tell you the truth.” He left. That night I had a dream of a man wearing gloves trying to suffocate me. Behind him a pile of filthy robes rocked back and forth; issuing from its folds a horrible laughter.

Now I am back at my own house, but I do not feel safe. I keep glimpsing something creeping by the windows. I can’t go to work, I can barely muster the courage to venture out to feed myself. As I lie in my bed I hear a soft shuffling wandering through the room. Someone knocked on the door. When I opened it I found the rusted knife stuck into the wood, beneath it was gouged “Ved’ma”. The next time I heard a knock I looked out through the peephole; a glittering blue eye stared back at me.

People look at me oddly. Sometimes they blink and their eyes will change, one blank white, one sapphire blue. The dreams continue. The man with gloves has come into view. He has Murrey’s face. As he strangles me to death I can see the hatred in his face. He repeats himself again and again, “Ved’ma Ved’ma Ved’ma.” until I die. In public I hear people whispering it behind my back. In hushed voices they point accusing fingers at me. “Ved’ma!” they whisper, with venom in their voice, “Ved’ma!”

V I don’t answer the door ed anymore. I don’t ans ’ma wer the phone, though it rings constantly. The blinds are all drawn, the Ve windows bolted shut. The d’ whole house ma reeks of death and rot. The smell drifts down from the V attic, but I don’t dare find out ed’ma why. At night I dream of men in suits and crosses and rotting corpses. Sometimes I wake up with that damned knife in my hands, Ved’m dripping a blood. Something has taken over the living room. I have bolted the door shut, but still it speaks to me. Is it laughing or is it crying? How does it know my name? How Ve does it know the d’ name ma of my friends, my family? Why can’t I remember what it tells me to do? Why do I wander through my house, V gouging the same words again and E again into D the walls and the cabinets ‘MA and into my own skin? Vhy de ma the VEnser D’onw when I MA caV only to see thee hD’rrible thMA siVEng staring D’t mMA? VED’op what doMA iV Eant? D’M thAre is oVEy ouD’M and I mAst take it. Goodbye, tell everyoVED’MA VED’MA tD’MA housV in D’he foreDA VED’MA VED’MA

Author Information: Black Fedora
Story Title or Titles: The One Who Knows
Original Source: Unknown. Added to SCP-Wiki by Sanjuaro
Date: 28 Dec 2008

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