Carrying the Haul: Origins of Cenek Forman
Distant sounds of men and women bickering rang through his ears as if through a mist. He could see blurred shapes in front of him and around him, yet, what they gestured or spoke, he could not make out. It felt as if he was in a cave - his breathing ragged, sweat dripping down from his unwashed skin and falling to the ground, and of course - the weight above him, threatening to break his spine and crush him whole. It was gargantuan, felt like it, at least.
He didn't pay attention to the pathway and stepped into a puddle, and it appeared he had gotten quite a bit of the water onto his companions. Fuck.
"Cenek, you piece of shit!" hollered a large-framed man to his left "I swear to fucking god your Chernarussian ass is nothing but a nuisance!"
"Hey, hey..." Spoke a woman with a thick Russian accent. She tried to calm the man "Do you really want to carry all of our food and equipment instead of him, hmm? Come, Cenek, hurry up."
And hurry he did. Cenek was used to being treated this way - insults, shouting, and even the occasional kick to the side if he dropped anything of value. He had been travelling with this group from the very start, back when the infection broke out. While some may have seen it as a damnation, he saw it as a blessing - how lucky he was for his sister to have pulled him out of their house. He would have stayed there, probably died in less than a day, scared and confused. Speaking of his sister, there she was, walking at the head of the company, chatting with the self-proclaimed leader, all composed and tranquil - the siblings were complete opposites.
Cenek began to lull back into the same monotonic rhythm. Step, step, avoid puddle, step, step, vault over branch, step, step, trip over shoelace -
And there he fell. Precious food and equipment laying about on the forest's soil, his face full of dirt and his mouth filling with the metallic taste of blood. Shit, shit shit. Get back on your feet you screw up, come on, gather the stuff, tie your shoes, they won't notice. They won't noti-
"Cenek!" He heard the same man bellow out once again a few dozen feet away from him "Oh, now you've asked for it" The man began making his way down hill and towards Cenek, who was still laying flat on the ground, trying to shove all of the goods back into his bags.
Cenek froze in place and took a large gulp, a mixture of his saliva and blood travelling down his throat. He knew what was coming, and his side was going to hurt quite a bit for the next couple of days. No worries, they had nearly reached the Russian border, and the way downhill would be quite easier...
"Oh, just leave him be!" Shouted his sister from further up ahead "Or else you're going to have to carry some of the bags yours-"
She stopped, why did she stop? His unspoken thoughts were quickly answered when he saw he limp body slump down onto the forest floor beneath. Cenek wasn't sure what his mind registered first - the fact that his sister was dead, or the fact that he was about to die, himself. Not a second later, the sound of the shot itself rung out through the hills, and in mere moments the whole forest broke out into a cacophony of death. Series of shots sent his companions tumbling down the hill one after the other, and one caught the man that stood in front of Cenek. The man fell down right beside him, nearly face to face. Staring into the man's blank expression, Cenek continued to lay there, motionless - too scared to move, too scared to even think of standing up and running.
Minutes went by, then hours. The sun began to set and he felt a chill start to crawl up his arms and legs. He knew he would die either way - whether he ran or stayed, yet he realized, there was nothing he could do. Therefore, he gave up, and slowly closed his eyes.
When he opened them once more, he couldn't see a thing, and his whole body felt numb. Was he dead? Is this what death felt like? Cold and dark, sounded about right. Well, the distant shouts in Russian appeared to prove him wrong - unless there's a lot of Russians in heaven, hmm... Maybe he was in hell.
His chain of thought was soon cut short by a ray of light, shining across the hillside, rid with dead bodies. One glance towards the source of it and Cenek knew all too well that they had come across one the border's checkpoints - a few dark silhouettes were standing by the beacon with guns in their hands. How foolish of them! He knew that this was a bad idea, but would the group have listened to him, even if he had voiced his opinion? No, of course not, why would anybody listen to stupid ol' Cenek-
No! What was he doing! He had to get up, he had to run. Shit, shit, the bags are too heavy! Cenek squirmed his way out of the straps and bumped his forehead right into the dead man's face. A silent whimper left his mouth and he stumbled onto his feet. Immediately, he began darting down hill, thin clouds of warm breath leaving his mouth and his chest heaving from the adrenaline. He was fast, faster than he'd thought, now that the weight was off his shoulders. And so he ran, free from the burden that he once carried, but now with another - weightless, yet heftier than he'd ever carried - surviving on his own.
Months had gone by since that faithful day. He had avoided all human and non-human contact so far. A small bag on his back, worn yet sturdy clothes keeping him relatively warm, and a Makarov pistol by his side, yet to be used. He was sitting, leaning against a wall of an abandoned building. A poster clutched in one hand and a short-length radio in the other.
"Hello, is anybody out there?" He had been repeating the phrase for the past hour, switching from frequency to frequency, evidently to no avail. He was sick of being alone, stuck only with his own somber thoughts. He needed people, he needed them more than ever, and the one time he tried calling out to them, there was no answer. Hopelessly, he continued on switching, looking, talking, and then-
"Hello? Who is this?" Spoke out a man with a thick local accent.
"Hello, yes! My name is Cenek!" He was nearly lost for words, and was surprised how rasped his voice had become.
"Cenek?" The man asked and then spoke out in Chernarussian "That sounds like a local name, am I right?"
"Yes, yes! I'm from here. I... I'm looking for people, good people."
"I'm assuming then, that I am the first person you'd spoken to over here, hmm.. Lucky for you, you'd contacted a branch of the CDF, currently posted in Zelenogorsk."
And so, his burden grew lesser.