Scapegoat, by Justin Elliott & Nathan Drake
This room, its hollow black corners and its gloom, it suits this unholy mood that I’ve had forced upon me, a mood that stews my insides, a mood that time has made unbearable. A guest to this table many soldiers have been, an undeniable fact announced by the nail deep ridges left where their fingers begged to discover hold as they were drug away swearing their truths. This is a room where men are meant to meet their end and it has retained an odor that encompasses your every inhale, an ominous weight that one can sense with every shift in the air that surrounds you.
From this dilapidated chair I’ve been given, the clamor of boots parting ways becomes audible from the hallway outside. The Governor of Moscow, Count Fyodor Rostopchin is shown his place to the left of the door, his feet shifting and sliding while he is pushed aside, all the while pleading for understanding and forgiveness.
The door shakes on its hinges as someone in the hall works loose a rope that has been threaded and looped through a hole in the door and another in the joining wall. Having been set free, the door slides inward revealing our Russian Emperor, Aleksandr Petrovich, a man I have called friend for many years passed and hopefully many years to follow.
“Mikhail Kutuzov,” Aleksandr spoke, seeming rather joyous for the given occasion, “with what has transpired, we have much to speak of, you and I.”
“Aleksandr, the expression on your face hardly fits the situation at ha–”
“Mikhail, I am simply happy to see such a friend in times like these, that aside though, it is important that you tell me everything, we haven’t the time to turn our attentions elsewhere.”
“Where am I to even begin? I’ve never seen such horrors, even in the bloodiest of battles!”
“Mikhail, collect yourself and be calm, start where you find best.”
We were moving through valleys, from town to town, taking what supplies we deemed necessary. We would evacuate each town, sending the people to the smaller outer lying towns and finally we would conclude our stay and set fire to the town in its entirety, burning everything to the ground as we were only hours ahead of Napoleon and his army, and wanted nothing to be relinquished to them as a helping favor.
We had noticed that each town we came to had less and less villagers than the last. The ones left were unnerving to be around to say the least. A strange sickness had settled into most of the villages we passed through but it seemed to only get worse as we trekked on and the soldiers were in fear of contracting the ailment. The sickness was odd in its own right, having taken most of the villages and towns by the dozens, but even more strange were the villagers themselves who had positive signs of the illness. Some were still mobile but only barely as their faces read that of a tired depression. Others, barely breathing, were simply lying in the streets on piles of hay, having been put there by their families and neighbors, their skin had begun to turn a pale shade and their clothes stained in sweat, even with the frost having made its arrival. The food storages showed signs of a loss in appetite and the crops and livestock displayed very evidently that they had gone unkempt for days or weeks. Only a handful of homes were occupied, the rest, were simply in a state of abandon, furniture knocked around and broken, doors broken down and shudders ripped down, blood and other fluids covered the interiors and led outside. In the street, carved deep in the mud, was a trail of foot prints, hundreds in counting, all leading away from the town, on the same heading that we ourselves were following, straight to Smolensk it would seem. We couldn’t evacuate the villagers as they were so weak and disoriented that they revealed no signs of comprehension to even the simplest questions we presented them with. We packed everything that the men could salvage and left the townspeople alone to try and pass the illness.
“Mikhail, these are but small details,” Aleksandr interrupted, seemingly oblivious to the importance of what had been said, “And the varying symptoms of this sickness seems trivial compared to what I was warned I’d hear.”
“But Aleksandr, I think this sickness in responsible for what happened in Moscow.”
“Forgive my hastiness Mikhail, continue with the report. Tell me about Smolensk.”
Smolensk had come into view just as the sun was rising and the area was heavily smothered in a thick smoke that made it nigh impossible to breath and even harder to maintain composure while we attempted to storm the town. As the men spread out from house to house, attempting to find someone who had an answer for this madness, it became ever apparent that a true and rightful answer may not be something that occupies our realm.
“How do you mean? Describe it to me Mikhail, leave no details blanketed.” Aleksandr had an unusual expression at this point, one of intrigue, with a hint of pride from what he was hearing.
Smolensk was burning to the ground when we arrived, by hand of the townspeople. Men and women trapped in their homes by collapsed lumber and cinders. Some were pounding and begging to be assisted in breaking free while others stood at window fronts, beating and smashing their hands bloody against what were left of the shudders, moaning and writhing and howling, all the while with cadaverous stares on their faces. In the streets, children chased their parents with gnashing teeth, swiping the air as if trying to catch bees. A man, before my very eyes, missing the entirety of his lower extremities, buried his fingers into the mud, pulling himself closer and closer to me with every second, his insides snaking their way out of their cavity and onto the earth behind. Erected were, piles of people, stacked as high as you or I stand, cracking and popping as the fire that had been set upon them, burned them from existence. At first the mounds looked as if they were comprised of the burning deceased, but upon a seconds gaze, the men and I could see what appeared to be living beings climbing from beneath the dead on top. Most shocking of all, was the sight of one seemingly living person devouring another while bystanders stared on never moving an inch to intervene. Like the last town though, Smolensk had a wide strip of footprints stomped into the mud cutting directly down the main street. It appeared that some of the people from Smolensk had continued on towards Moscow, however, one of the men proposed, what if it wasn’t survivors that marched on Moscow, what if those foot prints belonged to the other people, the violent ones; the crazed ones.
Napoleon had appeared on the horizon behind and had sat oddly enough, patiently on the hilltop simply observing us but nothing more. His presence meant that he could simply attack at any moment and this village was no place for a fight of that magnitude. It meant that we had no time to try and help these people and since the town and surrounding areas were already in a smoldering heap as it were, that would undoubtedly slow Napoleons pace. We had no choice but to race to Moscow in hopes of stopping an event similar to the one at hand, but we failed miserably.
When we marched through the gates at Moscow, the entire city was already in ruins. Buildings were burning, people were attacking one another in the streets and the city echoed the sounds of prison bells ringing aloud while the guards tried to maintain their firing lines in front of a mass of skulking and blood soaked civilians. From the damage that could be seen and again, the mounds of burning corpses littering the streets, it was easily apparent that the battle had been raging on for hours before we had arrived.
We started our movement to the center of town once a few of the men pointed out Governor Fyodor, surrounded and protected by guards from the prison. Fighting through those monstrosities that were called civilians was no easy task and we lost dozens of men just completing the task of getting to the Governor. The people, they would take hold of the soldiers and seemingly collapse on themselves, using their weight to pull the soldiers to the street with them only to continue the attack by ravaging them like wild animals. A battle as fierce and frightening as this one, I have no recollection of ever taking part in.
Hours of fighting for mere inches had passed but we finally secured the Governor. He pointed to the opposite side of town and reported that there were reinforcements fighting this very same threat and making their way towards us to enable a hasty retreat. Down the street, we could make out rifle fire and see our brothers in arms, it was an uplifting sight to behold but it was quickly dissolved by the sight of Napoleon and his men, cutting their own path into the carnage behind us. On one side, we were cut off from assistance by hordes of flesh crazed citizens, and on the other side, we faced no option of retreat, only a wall of death separating us from Napoleon and his army.
“Mikhail, you are truly an exceptional General, and you being alive now is testament to that, but how did you ever lead the sons of Russia to the safety of St. Petersburg to report this to me now?”
If I’m honest, Governor Fyodor suggested that we order the gates to the prison opened and the release of the prisoners into the streets as means to separate us from the crowds and give us time to regroup with the reinforcements fighting to reach us. This was a considerably intelligent idea on his part and if he had not brought it to light we may never have survived to make our retreat. Once this was task was completed, our men and the guards from the prison banded together and fought our way towards our reinforcements, all the while the Governor screaming to the guards to burn the city to ashes behind us. We no longer gave care to being trailed by Napoleon as he too, found himself in battle with the same hellish adversary as we. Our only goal was to further regroup and break way to St. Petersburg, leaving Napoleon to survive this horror alone.
“Aleksandr, I know that this is a stressing tale to take for truth, but as someone who has served you loyally, in friendship and in war, I could nev–” Aleksandr abruptly stands from the table, interrupting me, and simply saying with a smile as he walks to the door, “Glorious results.”
In the hall outside, I hear Aleksandr give someone an order, that I am to be released and given leave for my triumph. He then informs the Governor that he’ll not be lightly forgiven for the destruction of one of Russia’s proudest cities.
“Emperor Petrovich, I never would have destroyed Moscow if I hadn’t thought it the only necessary direction for survival. I ordered the town set ablaze to save us all from that horrible insanity!” I hear the Governor bark on as he tries to defend his hide.
Aleksandr, briskly steps out of sight and down the hall.
“It was to save us all, my Emperor! I can’t solely be held accountable for such things! It can’t only be me th–”
I begin to stand, puzzled by the reaction received. I can hear Aleksander as he rounds the corner to the stairwell, he simply says aloud, “Scapegoat, Governor. How familiar are you with this word?”
The name is Justin Elliott and I’m as fervent when it comes to illustration as I am ardent when it relates to reading/writing horror and science fiction. If it’s macabre and gory I’m game; throw in a time machine and some space exploration and I’m all in. Grade School introduced my heart to art, my teens coupled it with literature and eventually I graduated to a love for creating and mixing the pair. When not writing and reading, I’m inking vellum and brushing canvas. Otherwise, I live in Kentucky and want to think Atlantis was a real city.
Well, to start things off, my name is Nathan Drake, I live in a small town in Kentucky, you haven’t heard of it, trust me. I first started writing early in high school, writing short stories for my chemistry teacher, who just happened to be an avid reader who enjoyed fantasy and science fiction. He enjoyed reading my work and that further spurred me to continue with that path, a path I fear and at the same time love. I love science fiction and fantasy; I’m a nerd, and an avid dungeons and dragons player.