A cold wind blows over the snow covered ground. Each step taken crackles under each foot. I slowly look around and see Donovan slowly making his way towards me.
“Hurry up.” My voice echoes through a slightly wooded area and my breath hangs in the air slightly longer than it should.
“I’m—— coming. I think I’m carrying too much shit.” Donovan is breathing heavily and leans forward resting his palms on his thighs as he gasps for air. That rather large pack hanging onto his back almost causes him to topple over but he manages to keep his balance. He swallows hard and looks up towards me. “Why is there a foot and a half of snow on the ground? It’s fecking September.”
“It’s always like this here. They get like one week of summer a year. Absolutely no fall, and spring is nonexistent. Not to mention the constant sepia tone.” I slowly bend down and grasp the snow, forming it into a ball. I toss it playfully in my hand a few times.
Tilting his head towards me, Donovan raises a hand. “Don’cha even think about it mate.”
Donovan saw it coming, but at that point it was too late. The snow ball was flying in the air and in a glorious display that would make the Slow Mo Guys cream their pants, the snow went flying everywhere in the shape of a halo as it smashed into the left cheek of Donovan.
If for only a brief moment. “I swear I saw something above your head D.” I shake my head and rub my eyes. “I might be going snow blind.”
“Told ya to pack your sunnies.” Donovan sets his knapsack down and begins to rummage through it. It’s almost as if his arms disappear completely from my view. “Here ya go mate.”
Donovan pulls out a pair of sunglasses and tosses them to me.
*Na Naa Naaa Naaaaaa*
“What the hell was that?” I slide the glasses on and everything starts to focus better. I glance down at my hands and for some odd reason I’m not wearing gloves.
“What was what?” Donovan struggles for a moment before tossing the bag over his shoulder.
“That noise I heard?” I looked at him as if there was no way he couldn’t have heard it. He simply shrugs.
“I’m not sure if there is anything pertaining to Snow Sound Phenomena but I’m sure it’s nothing.” Donovan waves his hand and begins to walk down the path. “Come on mate. I feel so unencumbered right now.”
I quickly raise an eyebrow and follow behind him. The path seems to be well traveled. The snow no longer crunches under our feet and stone lines the ground marking the way. On either side of us is a forest denser than Ivan Stanislav. You can barely see through them, that seems like a metaphor just waiting to happen but we will pass on the low hanging fruit for now.
After what seems like an eternity of getting pelted in the face with snow, we eventually come to a clearing. Near the bottom of the hill is a small town. Nothing special about it, other than the fact that it’s literally in the valley between two mountain ranges.
On one side of the town there seems to be a few houses, smoke billowing out of the chimneys, and a few pets roaming around in the yards. The real curious thing however is there isn’t a person to be seen. On the opposite side of the town, that’s where the shops and other amenities are lined up down one side of the block. There’s a small general store, neatly marked ‘General Store’, a bar, conveniently named ‘The Bar’ and a hospital, a giant Red Cross emblazoned on the exterior wall. Donovan and I stop for a moment before entering the town.
“Are you sure this is where we are supposed to be?” I glanced over at Donovan before looking back at the small town.
Donovan nods. “Yeah mate. It’s the only place on the path.”
“Maybe we missed a turn somewhere.” I turned around and it was as if the path was disappearing in a sudden white out of snow. “On second thought…”
As I turned around the town was full of commotion. It’s not like it was Mardi Gras levels of commotion, but still compared to what I saw on the way there, it was basically a bachinalia. “Where the fuck did all these people come from?” I quickly look around, dazed and confused, I stop and take a deep breath.
“Come on mate. You know the draw distance isn’t very good up here.” Donovan tilts his head and walks into the town.
“Tha fuck you mean draw distance?” I quickly ran up behind him. “Oi! What do you mean?”
“Draw distance, sight lines, snow blind. Whatever you wanna call it mate. They were here the whole time, I’ve got to pick up some supplies. Wait here.” Donovan takes off towards the General Store leaving me standing in the middle of the town.
All around me I can feel eyes. No one walks up to me. No one says anything. Watching them for a few minutes I begin to notice trends. They all seem to be following a set pattern, and never deviating from it. Even when Donovan came bursting out of the store rather than break their line, they stopped in their tracks and waited for him to pass.
“You get everything?” I said while not taking my eyes off of an older woman walking up and down the street.
“Oh yeah mate. I got some snow shoes, a thicker jacket and some potions.” He smiled as he began jamming them into his bag.
“Potions?” I quickly cut my eyes towards him.
“Yeah mate. Potions. Like Coke, Mountain Dew. I guess that’s what they call them here in Russia.” He simply shrugs his shoulders.
“No.” I grasp Donovan by the shoulder and pull him up. “In Russia they call Coke…. Coke. They call Red Bull, Red Bull. Why the hell did you call it a potion?”
“I dunno mate. I just did. I can’t read this Russian writing.” He holds out the bottle and the writing on there does resemble Russian. “Let’s get moving. The shopkeep said something about a lumbering brute out in the woods to the north.”
“Hold on a second.” I glance over towards a woman walking towards us. “I want to try something.”
Before Donovan had a chance to say anything I ran up to the woman. As expected she stopped in her tracks. She didn’t say anything, she simply stood there. As I looked into her eyes it was like looking into a void. A blank expression, after a few moments she steps to the side. Without waiting I slid back in front of her. Once again we are in a standoff.
Donovan eventually grabbed me by the shoulder and began to pull me away. “Alright enough messing with the locals. We’ve got a brute to handle.”
“Why is it our responsibility?” I watched the lady scurry away quickly as Donovan continued to drag me away.
Donovan took a deep sigh. “That’s just how things work here in Russia apparently mate. You walk into a store, buy some potions and next thing you know you’re out there chasing the man-bear-pig.”
“Excuse me… The what?” I hadn’t noticed where exactly Donovan was leading us, but off in the distance I noticed a light emanating from the sky. Almost as if it were a beacon leading us to where we needed to go.
“You know. The MBP. The story goes that he was a failed military experiment from the old USSR. He broke free one day and has been living out in the woods. Killing and maiming anyone who dares cross its path. This is the real shit man.” Donovan raises his eyebrows to extenuate his point. “They skipped us right past the beginner levels.”
“Turn of phrase mate. I can’t see where we are going, do you?” Suddenly Donovan stops in his tracks and holds up his hands.
“Uhh. I’m pretty sure there.” I simply pointed towards the light.
“Right right.” Donovan palms his face in his hand. “Let’s hurry up.”
Donovan takes off in a dash. “Hey wait up!” I’m not going to lie, watching Donovan run was funny to say the least. His arms locked into place, shuffling back and forth. It was almost robotic. Seemingly slowing down to allow me to catch up and as soon as I was close he’d take off again. What a dick.
In what seemed like an eternity we finally arrived at the beacon. The bright yellow light is almost blinding. I shield my eyes as a weird sense of dread rolls through my body. A tree branch snaps in the distance, as Donovan and I both turn towards the noise.
From the horizon a massive being walks into the opening.
*Insert Boss Music here*
“What the hell is that? D, tell me you can hear that?” I turn towards Donovan and he’s frozen in place.
“Crikey mate, ain’t he a beaut? The illusive man-bear-pig. Standing in at just over seven feet and weighing in at 28.5 stone…. That’s four hundred pounds for you Merican’s.”
“Shut it D.”
“The strong and competitive MBP named Ivan, is as tough as they come. A single swipe from his massive paw will render even the strongest of man… Dead.” Donovan stops abruptly.
“Well great, let’s get out of here then. Last thing I want is a bad case of the deadsies.”
I turn and tuck my tail. Sure it’s a bit cowardly but there’s a fine line between alive and dead and I prefer being on the alive side of the equation. I reach the outer boundary and slam face first into a nonexistent wall. Blood begins to pour from my face. “What the fuck?!?”
“Running is not allowed in battle.” Donovan finally comes back to life.
“What the fuck are you a God guy now?” I wipe away the blood with the back of my hand.
“No.” Donovan said abruptly. “But Ivan’s weakness is…”
Before Donovan could say another word, I was catapulted into the air. My arms flail in every direction. In the blink of an eye MBP has vaulted himself into the air.
Me coming down.
Him going up.
I was met unkindly with a massive paw to the sternum. Blood begins pooling in my mouth and dribbling out the sides. I was then bear hugged in mid air. The last of my breath is forced from my chest. The world slowly begins to go black.
I feel the wind in my hair for one last brief second.
I was jolted by the VR Mask being yanked off my head and face. The headphones I was wearing fell and crashed in a million pieces on the floor. Standing there was Kasey with a scowl on her face. “Heeeeeeeey love. Penny for your thoughts?”
Kasey clearly wasn’t pleased with me. “Shawn, what the hell is going on?”
“Just giving Ivan a small glimmer of hope. You know the only way he could possibly fathom beating me in the middle of the ring is in a video game completely programmed by Donovan.” I smiled at where the camera would be.
“Dammit Shawn your nose is bleeding.” She reached over and wipes away the blood with a tissue from her pocket.
“Yeah. That’s D’s fault.” I nodded towards Donovan who was sitting in the chair adjacent to us.
“How is it his fault Shawn?” Kasey points towards Donovan. “He’s just sitting there.”
“Well he wasn’t. In order to bring everything to the full 4D experience, D was making sure not only did I see what was happening I should feel it too. So when I started to run away he shoved me face first into the wall.” I flip my thumb over my shoulder and sure enough there was an imprint of my face in the drywall. A small splattering of blood dead center.
“Dammit Shawn! I just had the painters here!” Kasey walks up to the wall and begins to inspect it closely.
“Aye, that’ll buff right out.” Donovan smiles and give me a thumbs up.
“Leave.” It was that succinct. Kasey turned and stared daggers at Donovan. “Just leave.”
“Oi!” Donovan looks over towards me with a confused look. “You’re just gonna let her talk to me like that mate?”
I look between the two of them, and honestly what did Donovan expect? “Yeah. Talk to you tomorrow D.”
Like a scolded child Donovan holds out his fist for a bump, and I reluctantly hit him back. Kasey walks over to me and gently places a hand on my cheek. “I’m going to need your credit card for the new painters to fix this fuck up.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s in my wallet.”
With a quick kiss on my cheek Kasey walks out of the room, leaving me there alone. I calmly look over the wall and run my hand over it. Then in a great act of fourth wall breaking I snatch the camera. I shake it violently and then release it. I give the camera a quick wink and wave for it to follow me.
I sit down on the couch and kick my feet up on the coffee table. A wide smile and a slight chuckle.
“This whole thing came to me because I was listening to Jamaroqui’s one major hit. It really struck a chord with me. Deep down in my soul it was all I needed to hear in order to jump to the conclusion…” I sat back with my hands behind my head. “Even in virtual reality the deck had to be stacked against me.”
“Look man, I’m sure whatever backwater swill you’re passing off as vodka has you feeling all high and mighty. Full of that liquid courage, ready to bash through a wall. Ready to make Mother Russia proud.” I playfully hold my hand over my heart and tilt my head upward proudly. “It just sucks for you that Mother Russia is infertile and is saddened that it is you that is representing her. Have none of you read anything on the history of the damn place? It’s not just the Putin stuff that is mind boggling, it’s all of it, but don’t worry we will get to that in a few moments.”
“So what I need to do right now, is throw some pop culture your way. Since Russia is always trying to take Americans’ best things and bastardizing it over there. Don’t believe me? Look up ‘Guardians Russian Bootleg Avengers’ and tell me what pops up.” I pause for a moment and look at my watch while tapping my foot on the top of the coffee table.
“No, that’s not where it all begins and ends. It’s been happening for decades and decades but that’s to be expected by people who chose to live exactly where they do. So I’m honor of Russia, I’m going to bastardize some American Pop Culture, just so you feel like you’re at home, m’kay Ivan? Here we go.” I shake out my hands and pull my hand over my face while taking a deep breath.
“It’s funny how I am like American Rapper and platinum selling artist, Drake.”
“Started from the bottom, and it’s just a matter of time until I’m there. I guess that means there are a few bumps in the road on the path to the top, yeah? Even if it means standing in the ring with someone who is clearly over compensating for the fall of the Iron Curtain.” A single finger is used to mimic a tear rolling down my cheek. “Ivan, I see you. Ivan, I hear. Ivan you’re nothing special. The only thing that could be intimidating about you was squashed in Rocky 4. It was that very movie that spelled the end of Gorbachev. It showed that the Ruski’s aren’t anything great. They are just another group of people trying to find their way. Trying to become a superpower, only for a stuttering Philadelphia ass clown beat the Russian in the end.”
“Foreshadowing?” A classic Warstein shrug if there ever was one.
“Kinda. Only I’m not from Philly. I don’t stutter unless I’m near climax. The rest though?”
“Spot on.” I make an ‘Okay’ symbol with my hand while clicking my teeth.
“There is something you need to understand Ivan. I’m from Chicago. Chi-raq. Straight from the south side, where people with this complexion aren’t accepted. Yet I was, and I made it out. Murder capital of the world and I strolled out of there like a main character.”
“Callback.” I point towards the sky after kissing my two fingers first. “You see, your time here in PRIME has been short. Only one match under your belt and it is a loss, I know it’s just something that I have to say and get out of the way. I have several of them here as well and that’s Okay. I’ll have time to right the ship. I’ll be able to sail onward and upward, while your time here will be shorter than Georgy Malenkov’s run at the head of the Soviet Union.”
“Go ahead. Google it. I’ll wait.” Once again a quick watch check and continuing on.
“Only a few months as the leader of the Soviet Union. If I didn’t know any better I’d say the clock is ticking on your time here in PRIME Ivan.” I start to look down at my watch but quickly realize that that particular bit has gone on too many times already. “See, unlike the posturing that the Russians always do about pressing the big red button and setting off World War 3…”
“I, as a red blooded American, will press that button without a second of hesitation. You will finally see why Russia will always be second fiddle to America, but more importantly actually…”
“How you’re second, third or fourth fiddle when you’re compared to me.”
I blow the camera a quick kiss and wink as the camera slowly fades to black.