Leningrad, December 1979:
The flicker of your nightlight casts an unsettling glow throughout your small bedroom and the wind rattles your window, keeping you from finding sleep. Your young mind runs wild with imagination, only heightening your fear of the night and that which you can’t see. Fortunately your father senses that all isn’t well in your world and steps quietly inside the room. He sits on the edge of your bed and asks why you’re still awake, in an awkward combination of stern and gentle that is so characteristic of him.
“There is a monster under my bed, papa,” you whisper quietly, so as not to disturb or otherwise make it aware of your presence above. Your father smiles and gives a quiet laugh.
“Do you want me to look underneath the bed?” he asks with a grin. You nod, and his next words surprise you. “No, Pasha. There are no monsters. They are all dead.” Incredulous, you sit up slightly and ask, “How do you know?” Still smiling, he pats your head and says, “Pasha, your grandfather killed them all in the Great Patriotic War. Go to sleep.”
You believe him, and sleep finally takes you.
A Russian Federation army base, February 1995:
Snow billows and swirls around your face, obstructing your view of the man-shaped bullseye target hundreds of meters away. In your white-knuckled hands rests an almost ancient Mosin Nagant 91/30 sniper’s rifle, a relic left over from the Second World War, relegated to use as a training instrument for new potential marksmen. The metal is frozen and has lost much of its bluing, exposing the roughly milled receiver to the harsh elements you are now subjected to. The trigger group rattles and one of the lenses is cracked, sometimes making it difficult to concentrate. The wood is rotting away due to the dank storage arsenals it has resided in for so many years, but also displays a number of crude carved markings on one side of the stock-a previous owner’s morbid scorecard.
When your instructors distributed the weapons to you and your fellow marksmen candidates, the rest of them clucked their tongues and mocked the pitiful appearance of the weapons. Their jokes and spiteful comments escaped your ears at the time.
It is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, and is everything a weapon of war should be: old, battle worn, and victorious, with scars to prove it. You sense prophetically that years from now you will wish you had this weapon to call your own, but sadly you too will return it to the armorers to be given a cursory cleaning and then a dip in storage oils, until the next recruit comes along. It seems an unfair existence for something with so much history behind it, but you suspect it is more fitting than hanging on a collector’s wall as a showpiece, never to be used again.
Your eye peers through the scope, ignoring the cracked lens and seeking out the target through the mire of snow and fog ahead of you. You wait, wait for a chance, wait for God to clear the skies for you. A sudden break in the squall rewards you with a few fleeting moments of clear sight, exactly what you need.
You pull the trigger without hesitation, causing your instructor to turn from the spotting scope next to you and smile for what you think is the first time in his life.
Chechnya, May 1995:
Your senior sergeant glares at you. He is covered in an unspeakable and inescapable filth that infests this place, and eyes with scorn your clean (relatively speaking) uniform. Especially that marksman’s badge that you only just earned little under a month ago.
“You, boy!” he barks, and you stand at rigid attention. “Give me that fucking badge. Once you’ve killed something like the rest of us, you can have it back.” Obediently you surrender it to him, understanding your place in this war all too well, having to prove and reprove yourself to these men who have known nothing but misery and death for the past year.
You are attached to your first patrol the next day, in what on the map is labeled Grozny but in reality exists only as a smoldering cemetery of skeletal buildings, charred vehicles and mostly unburied corpses. Though the battle is officially over, it remains a place of wholesale slaughter and devastation, and you wonder why anyone would deem such a godforsaken place to be of any importance. Your squad picks its way through mountains of rubble and around mass graves, sweeping up a few stragglers here and there.
Out of the corner of your eye you spot a teen aged boy, his face covered in a few dirty rags and carrying a soldier’s rucksack over one shoulder. The sergeant screams at him to halt but instead the boy breaks into a run, darting away from you. Your sergeant turns to you, pointing, and bellows, “Snaiper!” leaving little doubt in your mind as to what he is ordering you to do. Before you even realize it your SVD is nestled snugly upon your shoulder and the scope is at your eyes, the graduated sights already aligned on the fleeing figure. The rifle jumps violently in your hands and the boy drops to his knees, blood spilling from the exit wound in his chest as he gasps for air. Dust settles around him, and he is still.
Your sergeant jabs a fist in the air, ordering the rest of the squad to hold as the two of you fall out to examine what was in that bag. Approaching the corpse, your eyes notice something you had missed before: long strands of dark brown hair fall from the crude balaclava, now jarred out of place and showing the boy’s facial features more clearly. You are suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that “he” isn’t a boy at all, but actually a young girl- only about 17 or so by the looks of it. Her blood soaks the charred ground and her empty brown eyes stare lifelessly at the perpetually cloudy sky. Your hands begin to shake as you riffle through the bag and you pray, pray to god that there are grenades or something, anything to justify taking this girl’s life.
All you find are a few meager scraps of bread.
Nausea overtakes you and you fall to the ground and retch violently, your sergeant standing over you with his ever-present scowl. He grabs you with his giant’s hands and forces you to stand on your feet and look him in the eye. “Looks like you can shoot after all, boy,” he says as he pries open your clenched hands and returns the marksman’s badge.
Jimmy Durante’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” lilts through the air from a radio somewhere on the street below you, conveniently distracting passersby just finishing their antipasti at the streetside cafés. The beach is deserted save for a young girl sprawled across a tiny dock, her shapely legs kicking playfully in the warm Italian water, frilly pastel-yellow dress glowing in the soft luminescence of the setting sun. A smile plays across her face-she’s pretty, and you find it difficult to maintain your professional detachment whilst observing her through the rifle scope. You try to keep focus, but part of your mind keeps drifting, longing to be on the beach with her, holding her hand, telling her how beautiful she is and how happy she makes you feel by just looking at her.
“Delta One, in position.” Dr. Clef’s voice responds through the radio in a terse command, “Delta Six. Go.”
She turns to look at the older woman approaching her from the beach, affording you a perfect view of her face. You barely feel the weapon move as a .22 caliber bullet leaves your suppressed rifle and impacts her head squarely between the eyes. She doesn’t feel a thing, just crumples like a broken doll, still smiling, blood streaming from the tiny entry wound and glimmering in the sunlight.
“Delta One, target neutralized.”
“Delta Two, confirm.”
"Delta Three, engaging target."
"Delta One, moving to support."
"Negative, Delta One, Delta Three. Delta Six will handle this one personally."
The older woman stops in her tracks, dropping a basket of wine and cheese at her feet in disbelief and horror just as Dr. Clef clubs her across the face with his pistol. Your concentration lapses again and you ignore the ensuing brawl and flurry of radio activity. Instead you gaze at the young woman’s face, even now still smiling as her skin grows pale from blood loss. You manage to hold the bile down as your spotter takes a shot; SCP-784’s body collapses atop the girl and breaks your line of sight. Silently, you thank God for this small gift.
Later, you come across a folded note on your desk. It’s a commendation from your Mobile Team leader for assisting in the termination of SCP-784, a “dangerous and destructive entity that posed a grave threat to both the Foundation and mankind in general.” You fold the note and place it atop your gun rack, in which reside two rifles: an SVD Dragunov, and a suppressed .22 rifle of Czech design. Each has a single mark carved in the stock. Each has only been used once, now they both collect dust in your office.
You collapse onto the stiff bed and contemplate the day’s events, your mind returning to something you told yourself many years ago in a place far away from here.
The only thing worse than killing an innocent girl, is getting a medal for doing so.
The thought remains with you all night, keeping you awake. You wish your father was still alive, wish he could give you some advice, wish you could ask him what all of this was for. You remember what he told you when you were a little boy, and wonder now if you would have the fortitude to tell him that he was wrong. The monsters are still very much alive.