The air was still as snow fell upon a forest clearing outside of Minsk. Here and there a few dead tuffs of grass would appear above the powder, but otherwise the blanket of snow was pristine. At the center was a single, black, pine coffin with a white orthodox cross adorning its lid.
By the clearing’s edge stood two men and one woman. Each turned to the others in silence before one, a tall man with a chin coated with a thick layer of stubble, nodded for them to continue. They were Researcher Lee, Researcher Hastings and Agent Navarro. The date was November 15th, 2012. SCP-1760-16 had returned.
Normally, 1760-16 was identical to other 1760 instances save for the name Pyotr Astapenov etched onto the lid. This year, however, twelve additional names were present. Each one belonged to a prominent anartist on the Foundation’s watch list. It was for this reason Agent Navarro, anart specialist, now found himself in Belarus.
As they approached the casket, a loud scratching sound could be heard. They stopped moving and watched as a single name appeared etched onto the lid below the others.
“That’s… really unsettling.” Researcher Lee commented as she eyed Navarro. Her feet refused to carry her closer.
“This is the first time one of the instances has been externally altered. I don’t like this at all.” Researcher Hastings also kept his distance. “What do you think, Navarro?”
“Keep to the plan,” Navarro replied. “We’re safe if we don’t open the box.” He coolly gestured for the researchers to proceed.
Without another word the two researchers went to work. With the same level of care one might use to clean a glass figurine, they measured, listened, and recorded. Navarro stood at the ready, hand on his pistol as he looked for calamity to strike. As the researchers worked the casket remained silent.
Eventually, all requested data had been collected. 1760-16 had failed to produce little more than a creak the entire time. The researchers and agents stepped back and looked upon the coffin quizzically.
“This is it?” Lee’s chuckle faded into a frown. “Just names engraved onto the lid?”
“It would appear so,” Hastings nervously giggled. “I guess we just wait for the 20th now.”
Navarro nodded in agreement. One by one, each made their way back to the nearby facility. Before heading through the door, Agent Navarro gave one last look back at the coffin. His eyes glanced over the white cross that adorned its lid. He felt the coffin staring back. Navarro quietly shivered and turned away, closing the door behind him.
The next four days came and went without incident. Unfortunately, this made the site personnel more and more uneasy the closer November 20th came. The night of the 19th was by far the worst. Few in the facility could sleep. The rest were fixated on the sword of Damocles sitting in the front yard.
This is how Agent Navarro found himself walking towards the clearing at 11:15 PM. The thick trees appeared to twist around him in the dark as he slowly crept through the snow. As he approached the clearing’s edge, three security officers emerged from the trees. Their hands tightly gripped their guns as they moved to intercept the intruder. Upon seeing it was Navarro, the officers frowned, but waved him through with a nod.
For a few moments Navarro stood motionless at the edge of the clearing. The moonlight illuminated the snow and cast a white glow on the waiting coffin. By its side, Navarro could make out the silhouette of a woman. He could feel his hand reach for his pistol as he approached, but relaxed after seeing that it was just Researcher Lee.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.
“What… what are you doing out here?” Researcher Lee, gasping, turned on the spot.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Navarro replied with a small smile. “This thing really has everyone on edge, doesn’t it?”
“You can’t blame them.” Lee turned back to face the coffin as she whispered. She was there in 2006. She remembered how a pig carcass erupted from 1760-16 and exploded in a shower of human bones. One of her colleague’s heads had been pierced by half a femur. A piece of rib had left a deep gash in her right thigh. They remained silent for several minutes before Navarro placed a hand on her shoulder. Lee shivered.
“You can’t help but feel the shit is going to hit the fan in the next few seconds. Even if they brought a specialist out to ensure all goes well.” Lee nervously smiled. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Navarro said with a shrug. “To be honest I’m not sure what they exactly thought I could do out here. Normally I’m assigned to deal with anart threats, but this object didn’t really give me that ‘anart feel’ when I read its file.”
“Well, it was on display when we found it,” Lee replied. “Someone wanted others to see their work.”
“Maybe, I mean it does have a ‘hey look at this cool thing’ quality to it. But, pig bombs…”
“The 1760-16’s didn’t appear until after we started containing this site, though…” Lee looked at her watch. It was now 11:30 PM. 1760-16 would be gone in 30 minutes.
“I can stand watch if you want to head back and try to get some sleep,” Navarro said with a smile. Without a word she returned his smile with a nod. Lee then began to make her way back towards the facility.
Navarro turned back to the casket. He waved to the several nearby security cameras before taking a seat on the grass as he waited alone. Fifteen minutes passed. The silence was unbreakable.
“Hello, Daniel,” a male voice whispered from the coffin.
“Shit!” Navarro jumped to his feet. A shard of ice ran up his spine as he drew his pistol. The security officer were quick to run to his side, but stopped when Navarro held up his hand for them to stand down.
“Frightened, are we?” The voice softly chuckled. It spoke English but had a very thick eastern European accent.
“Hello there, I guess…” Navarro’s eyes narrowed as he held his gun steady. “Who the hell are you?”
“In a prior life I was known as Pyotr Astapenov. I was a skilled mortician, a respected scientist, and a gentleman. If you would be so kind as to open the lid, you may see for yourself.” The voice whispered.
“There is no way in hell that’s going to happen,” Navarro replied. “There was nothing anomalous about Pyotr when we poked around his grave. You’ve got a huge hole in your story, pal.”
“I was afraid you might say that,” the voice sighed. “They’ve really changed you. Your curiosity has been replaced with certainty. What a shame.”
“You sure know a lot about me considering we just met,” Navarro said.
“Because I know your breed,” the voice whispered. “You’re an artist. They may have you dress in a suit, hand you a gun, and ask you to apprehend your brethren, Daniel, but you are still an artist at heart. One with a heavily compromised sense of morality, mind you, but an artist all the same.”
“I don’t understand,” said Navarro. “Where are on earth are you going with this?”
“My point is that you don’t want to open this casket to catalogue it like a scientist. You recognize the importance not only in expression, but expression in a manner that is truly unique. I’ve met plenty of men like you, and can guess that it’s torturing you to not know what’s inside this coffin.”
The security officers looked at Navarro nervously. All seemed to hold their breath waiting for Navarro’s response.
“I’ve got a pretty good idea what’s in your box,” Navarro replied. “Sorry champ, but I’m not opening it.”
“So sure of yourself yet again,” the voice said. “Are you afraid that I am just some horror waiting to be let out of my cage? Or, that I just might be Pyotr after all?”
“Fuck it. I’m not going to play this game with you.” Navarro shook his head. “What I do saves the lives of both anartists and civilians. If that makes me a sell-out, so be it. I’ll be the biggest sell out ever.” Without another word he took a few steps back and looked at his watch. 11:55 PM.
“So be it…” the voice said. There was a crack like a shotgun blast. All of the nails that kept the coffin lid sealed flew out of the wood. Navarro and the security officers readied their weapons. Their eyes widened as the coffin lid creaked open.
It was empty.
“It must truly be troubling to have sold your soul as you have, Daniel. Regardless of what you say to yourself to allow you to sleep at night, you have sold your soul. It is a shame. You had such promise,” the voice called from inside.
Navarro didn’t respond. The last few moments passed in silence. Upon the stroke of midnight the casket began to sink into the earth, eventually vanishing into the ground.
“Christ…” Navarro let out a heavy sigh, and sat back down on the ground to gaze at the sky. The report for this was going to be a nightmare.
Agent Navarro stood quietly over the grave of Pyotr Astapenov. He had wasted no time in obtaining clearance to re-exhume the remains. As much as he hated to admit it, the voice had been right to a certain degree about his curiosity. This seemed as good a means as any to put that feeling to rest.
Eventually the crew succeeded in reaching Pyotr’s casket. Upon Navarro’s order they opened it. Pyotr’s body was still present and displaying the expected decay of a man buried in 1959. Unfortunately, there was a small piece of paper held tightly within his right hand. One of the crew quietly handed it to Navarro. It contained a single note.
I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.
See you soon.
J. T. H.
Navarro sat down on the edge of the grave. He buried the note in his fist as he gave a nervous laugh.