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Five Lives and a Safe [Short Story 4.5k]


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“Sweetie, wake up.”

“Mom, what is it?”

“It’s time to wake up, you have to go to school.”


Ilya refused, preferring the cozy warmth of his bedroll. Until that warmth was taken away by the blinding pain of a fist crashing against his cheekbone.

“You ducking moron, get up!” yelled Alek as he continued his barrage by slamming his fist into Ilya’s gut. Ilya spluttered out saliva onto the floor, trying and failing to speak. Alek lifted him up out of the bedroll and put a Makarov into his hand. “Seven rounds, don’t miss.” Alek’s voice was grave and he gripped the Kalashnikov that hung loosely in front of him before sprinting out the room into the pitch dark courtyard.

Ilya could barely process the information, the stove in the middle of their hidden camp was extinguished and everyone was missing. The cold wind let itself into their cozy hideout, freezing Ilya’s cheeks almost instantly. He shuffled ahead, the fear masking his pain, and gazed out a broken window. The makarov in his hands was icy cold and his gloves did nothing to help. He decided it was best to go outside, but the thought was destroyed as soon as he heard the distant shots and saw flashes illuminating the small courtyard. Kalashnikovs were fired between two sides for minutes on end, bright automatic fire from one side while the other was far more sparse. One by one, all the gunfire on Ilya’s side died out.

Ilya gulped down his fear and snuck outside, his hands shaking and his breath heavy. In the blinding dark, he carelessly bumped into a crate and cursed himself. Not even a second later, two stray rounds wheezed past him causing him to drop onto his stomach in a panic.

“What the duck are you doing?” asked a man in the distance.

“I heard something... How about you? See anyone?” replied another man.

Ilya held his breath, trying to be as quiet as possible. He began to crawl towards the nearest exit, which was barely visible in the courtyard. Only a meter of progress was made before he heard heavy footsteps come towards him. He couldn’t hold his breath anymore and tried to take a quiet inhale, but accidentally swallowed saliva down his throat and began to cough like a broken tractor.

“Hohoho. Who’s there?” asked the second man gleefully.

Ilya stayed quiet, if he spoke, he knew he’d be shot.

“Come out! We won’t hurt you.”

Ilya gripped his pistol and aimed down the iron sights. Waiting for the man to pass the wooden crate, maybe he’d get a lucky shot, maybe he’d make it out. Until a horrid pain came, a foot pressed down hard on his wrist from behind, making Ilya drop his makarov.

“Kill him,” said the second man.

“Wait! Wait! Please! I can help you!” screamed Ilya.

“What the duck are you waiting for?” asked the second man.

The first man ignored his partner, “How can you help us? Got a tushonka, a Salewa?” His voice sinister, as if making fun of Ilya’s pleas.

“Better, I swear!” Ilya groveled as the man squeezed his boot harder.

“There’s a safe in the factory, a big one, I know, I know the password!”

“Oh, kill the ducking rat, he’s lying.” said the second man, taking out a hatchet from his belt.

“Six hundred thousand!” screamed Ilya, “six hundred thousand rubles!” The chatty man saw his partner’s expression light up and he became eerily quiet while his partner kicked away Ilya’s makarov and lifted him up. He slammed Ilya into the crate.

“Combination,” he demanded.

Ilya began to stutter, unable to speak in fear of being beaten, which he was anyway. The man’s knee connected with Ilya’s balls and he toppled to the floor, howling from the pain. He was promptly lifted again and the man asked once more:


“I can’t… tell you, or you’ll kill me,” Ilya murmured.

The man grunted and let go of Ilya, walking backwards and aiming the Kalashnikov straight at his forehead.


“Shoot me… If I tell you, I’m dead anyway.”

“He’s not completely ducking stupid,” said the second man, walking to his partner. The first man lowered his rifle and tersely replied, “I’ll get Mikhail.”

The second man nodded and smiled toothily at Ilya, his teeth were more dirty and rancid than Ilya had ever seen before. It was as if oral hygiene was an alien concept to him. As the first man walked off, he waited for him to disappear before beginning to speak, “Hiya Pal, you can call me Bark, drop everything in your pockets. If we find out you kept something, we'll kill you. No second chances.”

Ilya gulped again, emptying his pockets. He dropped two snickers, a knife, and a broken iPod.

“Why do you Scavs always keep the stupidest poo?” sighed Bark, he aimed his Kalashnikov rifle towards Ilya’s bruised testicles. “Pull out your pockets,” He ordered and Ilya did as he was told, patting himself to show he had nothing.

“Good puppy.” Bark smiled and rested the Kalashnikov against his thigh. They waited for almost ten minutes before three more men arrived, all as heavily geared as Bark: Black kevlar with camouflage vests and frightening firearms.

“What’s your name?” asked the first man, his voice calmer and more gentle than before.


“I’m Scalp,” He pointed a thumb towards his own chest, then gestured his hand towards Bark. “That’s Bark. The two men behind me are Crack and Grandad. Got it?”

Ilya nodded.

“We’ll take you to the factory, you’ll open the safe and we’ll let you go, understood?”

Ilya nodded again.

“Dawn breaks and we move,” finished Scalp.

“And why not now?” asked Crack, walking to Bark’s side. Crack wore a black kevlar vest with a black duffle bag on his back and carried an SKS with a scope attached. Strangely no helmet on his head, only plastic glasses without any lenses.

“Risky, we can’t let Puppy get away during the night,” laughed Bark, putting a hand on Crack’s shoulder. Crack leaned in and switched on the safety on Bark’s Kalashnikov. “Just put a collar on him and a leash,” joked Crack. The two men began to laugh.

“Dawn’s in half an hour. We can wait” snapped Scalp, shutting both men up. Grandad sighed in the background and turned to Ilya. The man looked much older than the rest, with a fairly grey beard. He wore a camouflage helmet and carried another Kalashnikov, strapped onto his back. He came closer to Ilya, so close that Ilya had to lean back as to not bump their heads together. Grandad gripped Ilya’s jaw and stared straight into his eyes, his thumb pressing against Ilya’s bruise. The mercenaries watched Grandad in silence, until he spoke with a simple but disheartening word. “Liar.” he said and clicked off the safety on his Kalashnikov.

“Don’t. We need the money,” said Scalp, gently trying to calm him down.

“Skier is a rat, do not trust him,” said Grandad.

“Prapor won’t buy our merchandise,” interjected Crack, “not after what Bark did.”

“Plus Factory’s ripe for picking!” laughed Bark.

Grandad huffed, but silently accepted the decision, not before giving Ilya one last distrustful glare that suggested he’d skin Ilya alive if given the opportunity.

Scalp looked to Ilya and gestured towards the hideout. Ilya entered first and sat down onto his bedroll while the mercenaries began to fortify their position: First, Bark shut the door and locked it with a makeshift chain, while Crack had fortified his position behind the window, Scalp watched Ilya with an intense soul-piercing gaze and Grandad looted the hideout (and complained loudly about any junk he’d find.)

Ilya tried to fall asleep and kept trying until sunlight.




After four hours; no looters had come, nor any scavengers. Daybreak arrived and the orange sun illuminated the courtyard. The four men ate their makeshift meal, not offering any to Ilya, and ordered him to stay near Bark. If he was caught running away or being suspicious, he would be shot.

Ilya asked before they left if he could take the special belongings of his recently deceased comrades, especially that of Alek, but was harshly denied. The bodies were now meat for stray dogs.

“Estimated time?” asked Crack.

“About an hour,” replied Scalp.

Ilya was shocked, “An hour? But it’s only a twenty minute walk to Factory, why would it take us so long?” he realized his mistake prematurely, in the middle of his sentence. Bark only smiled as there was no response from Scalp or Crack. Grandad shoved Ilya forward. “Walk, Pup, don’t ask stupid questions.”

Ilya had resigned to his fate in silence, walking with a mild limp as his balls still ached. He hadn’t gotten enough sleep, but the pain kept him alert. The path they took was not simple. It twisted and turned, and they would stop at any potential danger. They walked in silence, outside of a witty remark by Bark and a short response by Crack. Scalp and Grandad obviously preferred silence, but Ilya was the odd one out, he had gotten used to the loud and rambunctious attitude of his fellow Scavs. He wasn’t as violent nor did he swear as often, but he appreciated their honest, somewhat toxic attitude. The way these mercenaries acted and moved was completely alien to Ilya, as if they were a group of dancers and he was the only one without the choreography.

It was fast, efficient and emotionless, and so was their punishment: If he made any mistake or even slowed down. A slap against the back of the head, a harsh cold remark from Bark or even a kick to his rear would be given. It wasn’t sadistic abuse, rather more necessary precaution. Ilya realized this, but he still wished they wouldn’t be so violent.

Scalp raised his fist into the air and everyone froze. He gestured downwards and the whole squad dropped onto the grass, outside of Ilya who naively stood until forced down by Bark.

“Bear,” said Scalp.

“Bear?” Ilya asked quietly, “But aren’t you guys on the same side?”

“A lone bear can’t be trusted, Pup. We work in squads, if he’s alone, he’s most likely dangerous.” Bark answered with a shrug. “Or insane!” laughed Crack. Bark nodded and turned to Ilya “You can’t survive Tarkov alone, it’s a poo-hole.”

“Quiet.” Scalp ordered the two, he then turned to Crack and nodded. Crack returned the nod and crawled away.

Ahead of them was a long road and at their side was a green forest full of camouflage but almost no cover. The other side was an industrial nightmare, a broken chain link fence with a blue cover surrounded the entire district and the amount of cover was massive, but irregular. Either way, Ilya kept his head down, he had no idea where the Bear was nor how Scalp had spotted him.

“You guys want to try diplomacy?” asked Scalp.

“duck no,” replied Bark.

“I agree with Bark,” said Grandad.

Scalp sighed, “Guess it’s my turn,” he gestured towards the road, “I’ll flank left, Crack’s got the vantage point. I’ll try speaking, unload on him from this position if I or he starts to fire. Do not fire before.” Scalp crawled away.

Ilya stayed quiet and fumbled with his thumbs. He watched Grandad and Bark take position in the grass and aim towards the chain-linked fence. Bark’s hatchet was on the back of his belt, Ilya could steal it with ease and hack the two to death, It was the only way to survive, he knew deep inside, that they weren’t going to let him live. As soon as he was done being useful, he’d be executed;

He knew it, he knew this was a death sentence. No matter what was in the safe, or whether it even had the rubles, they were going to kill him afterwards. It was just easier that way. Ilya gulped and leaned in towards the hatchet, he had to be quick, there was a short moment of opportunity, while their rifles were on safety. Ilya inhaled a breath of air and…

“Friendly, do not fire!” Scalp yelled out. Ilya shook out of fear, he collapsed onto his rear and did not move. Fear had taken control of his body and now he was paralyzed.

“Friendly, do not fire!” Scalp yelled once more, Ilya could see that Scalp held his hands in the air, walking towards the chain-linked fence. He took cover behind it and yelled again. “Friendly! Do not fire!”

“He’s going to get himself ducking killed,” snapped Bark and, as if Bark had magically foreseen the future; a shot rang out, echoing in the distance. Scalp collapsed to the ground, while the blue cover of the fence shook, covered in blood.

“God damn it,” yelled Grandad. The three had seen the muzzle flash of the Bear’s rifle from one of the windows. Bark and Grandad began to fire multiple shots towards the last position of the shooter. After a few seconds, the bear could be seen sprinting across from window to window, until Ilya heard the signature sound of an SKS being fired, and just like that, he didn’t see the shooter moving anymore.

“Grandad, stay with Pup, I’ll go check.” said Bark, getting up and sprinting towards the fence across the road. Crack fired another shot towards the same window, but Ilya assumed that was more to suppress the Bear if he was alive rather than to kill anyone.

Grandad kept his eyes on his Kalashnikov, aiming at the window. He was eerily still, and couldn’t stop breathing heavily. As if stress was rising slowly until it would explode in a thunderous finish.

Crack’s SKS rifle started to fire multiple rounds and Grandad turned towards the sound. Ilya couldn’t see any of the shots hitting the build, but he saw that Grandad had become uncharacteristically panicked and gripped Ilya’s collar, dragging him upwards.

“Go go, do not think. Go to Bark, now.”

Ilya shut off his mind and just ran. His legs turned to water, and he was numb to the ground beneath him, shaking violently as he ran towards Bark with Grandad straight behind him.

Bark yelled at the two. “Scalp’s dead. Where’s Crack?” the way he said everything so matter of factly scared Ilya, but he did not dare voice his opinion now.

“Crack is firing too many shots for one target. He is most likely caught by a squad, we have to wait here for him to come to us,” said Grandad

“Time limit’s five minutes. If we see any Scavs, we get him or his stuff back,” said Bark. “Though, a ducking custom SKS and his duffle bag aren't worth poo.”

“And if USEC?” asked Grandad.

“Then we ducking pray,” laughed Bark.

“Are you certain he’s dead, maybe he can kill all the USEC?” asked Ilya, looking to Scalp.

“Solo versus a squad, you’re fucked,” Bark shook his head.

Grandad looked at Scalp with a sad look, but it was all he could offer the corpse. He turned his Kalashnikov towards the road and waited for Crack.  Bark turned to Grandad, “Cough it up.” and Grandad reluctantly passed a fifty dollar note to Bark, strangely Bark did not smile, he only replied quietly, “Told you I’d last longer.” After about two minutes, the three men saw two USEC soldiers moving across the same pathway they had come. One of these soldiers was carrying an SKS on his back and a black duffle bag. Bark sighed, “Let’s go, before we get spotted.” He dragged Ilya along by the collar, painfully tugging at his neck.

“ducking garbage,” he growled at Ilya, “if there’s nothing inside the safe. I will make you regret every decision you have ever made in life.”

“Do it now. He is a liar,” nodded Grandad.

“No, he’s too much of a coward to lie,” said Bark.

Ilya gulped and stumbled forward; he didn’t know what to say, and the cold air had frozen his lips.  They walked towards the nearest metal door into the factory building. Ilya opened it, smudging his gloves with gasoline in the process and walked inside first. Grandad went second and Bark last, who shut the door behind the three.




“ducking USEC shits.” grumbled Bark, walking towards a red painted metal door. He opened it and peered outside, seeing no one. He beckoned Grandad along with Ilya and the three exited the small cramped room. Ilya had never seen the inside of the factory, he had only heard of how decrepit it had become from Alek. The walls were falling apart, metal staircases ruined and rotting away. The rubble from the ceiling covered the floors all over and a sickly smell of rotten meat and gasoline choked Ilya. Bark and Grandad seemed to be unaffected, walking in a slow, tactical pace into the center of the building. They went towards a staircase to the second floor and dragged Ilya along. He fell onto his knees and cried out as the sharp pain of the grate dug into his flesh. Grandad smashed his stock against Ilya’s back to shut him up and Ilya collapsed onto his stomach. He was then lifted onto his feet by Bark who shoved him forward.

“Fetch, Pup,” he ordered Ilya.

Ilya limped into a hallway, opening a red door. The smell was disgusting and he nearly vomited from the stench. “Grandad, can you check the stench?” Bark asked him while aiming behind them. The three entered the hallway, and Bark shut the door behind them. Grandad entered an abandoned shower room, full of broken lockers covered in dust. He whistled out quietly to himself. “Big firefight. Lots of dead Scavs.”

“Anything good?” Bark sounded hopeful.

“No. All looted,” replied Grandad.

Bark turned to Ilya, motioning towards the stairs. “Last chanc-” He was shortly interrupted by an ear piercing scream as a USEC soldier leaped from the stairs railing down onto Grandad, smashing his foot against his nose. He swung a hatchet towards Bark’s arm and carved into his wrist, causing Bark to drop his rifle, “Argh duck!” screamed Bark. Ilya fell backwards and pushed himself back until he hit a wall. He watched the Bark and the USEC wrestle for the hatchet, unfortunately as Bark only had one hand, he had little chance of winning, but Grandad was already getting himself back up. The mad man flung Bark over his shoulder and smashed the hatchet in Bark’s neck, jamming it deep. Grandad turned around and unloaded his gun towards the man who, abandoned his hatchet and sprinted towards the shower. “You ducking fuckers!” He yelled in English, with a thick American accent. “I’ll kill you all, understand? I’ll ducking butcher you!” The voice became more distant as the American ran off. Grandad chased after him into the showers.

Ilya crawled to Bark and checked the wound. Bark was miraculously still alive and coughed blood onto Ilya’s jacket. “duck… What a way to go. Give me my gun.”

Ilya picked up Scalp’s Kalashnikov, giving it to Bark, “Thanks Pup… Reach into my cargo pocket… Left leg,” he coughed blood onto Ilya’s face. “Get the flask, let me drink.”

“Is it a good idea to drink now?”

“Don’t fuckin’ lecture me now,” he barked at Ilya, who reluctantly passed him the flask.

Grandad returned with a weary face, sweating heavily. He turned to Ilya and shook his head, “We got medicine and a bandage. Pup, fix him up.”

“I don’t… I don’t think I can.” Ilya turned to Grandad who only offered an angry glare, his meaning obvious. He wasn’t going to ask twice. Bark laughed, “I’m dead anyway.” He drank down a handful of alcohol from his flask.

Ilya reached into Bark’s combat vest, opening a satchel and took out a bandage, trying to work around Bark’s neck and the hatchet. He wrapped it the best he could and offered a number of painkillers, giving them to Bark in a random number.

“Good enough… ducking… Go get the money and come back. I’ll cover this side. Then we leave, I’ll be up, I’ll be up… I know it.” Bark laughed awkwardly, Ilya could tell he didn’t believe himself.

Grandad angrily lifted Ilya up and dragged him up the stairs, pushing him forward. “Walk.” he ordered the young Scav.

Ilya slowed his pace down and walked up the stairs, he stopped as soon as the floor turned from stone to wood and gazed towards the left past a corner. Thankfully, there was no one, and the door to the office was open. He turned to Grandad, “I will run inside,” he said and Grandad nodded, following closely after Ilya as the two ran into the office and Ilya shut the wooden door behind them. The safe, miraculously was still there under the desk, never having been opened. Ilya sighed in relief and collapsed onto bruised his knees, taking off his gasoline covered gloves and throwing them away. He tried to remember, desperately, the combination of the safe.

He remembered distinctly of Alek telling him the code, if something ever happened to him, if Ilya had to leave Tarkov. He could use the money, in an emergency. The combination was something special, a number that meant a lot to Alek. Then Ilya remembered, it was Alek’s son’s birth, 2007

Ilya spun it once, then the other way, then the third way, until the last number failed to click. He kept spinning it unsure of where he had messed up. But it clicked randomly and the safe opened. He pulled the metal door open and saw the rubles all neatly stacked inside. Ilya felt Grandad’s breath behind him as the old man looked over his shoulder. He heard Grandad fidget with his rifle and hold his breath...

Ilya understood, if he didn’t do anything now, then this would be the end of his story. duck that. He threw himself back, knocking Grandad’s barrel into the air as multiple shots fired into the ceiling.

“Liar! Liar!” chanted Grandad as he attempted to correct his aim.

Ilya grabbed onto the handguard and pushed the rifle away from him. The sound of every shot deafened him, and the incredible pain in his ears was muffled by adrenaline. The two began to wrestle for the Kalashnikov, with Ilya on top of Grandad while the older man attempted to kick the Pup off him. Grandad twisted his body and successfully kneed Ilya once more in the testicles. Ilya screamed and lost all strength in his arms, as Grandad threw him to the side and forced his Kalashnikov handguard onto Ilya’s throat. He began to choke out the young Scav. Ilya’s eyes started turning red and his hands desperately clawed at Grandad’s cheeks, whom was grinning sadistically.

Fortunately, they were interrupted by the door into the office being kicked down, breaking apart as the same American man rushed inside and tackled Grandad off Ilya. He began to beat down Grandad’s face with a fury while Ilya inhaled as much air as he could, coughing afterwards. The American yelled “ducking Ruski bastard!”  and bit down on Grandad’s throat, before ripping it open. He then forced the Kalashnikov out of the old man’s hands and started using it as a club to beat down Grandad’s face with the stock. “How does that feel! I bet it ducking hurts you poo!”

Ilya, deaf and beaten, used the opportunity to sneakily lift himself up and grab a nearby lamp. Once the American turned his fury towards Illya, he was promptly smashed in the face by the lamp. “You’re ducking crazy,” said Ilya, his hand massaging his bruised throat. The American tried to move again, but Illya smashed the lamp against his forehead once more. After that, he didn’t try to move anymore. Illya wheezed for the air, the pain in his throat was excruciating and the ringing in his ears was horrible. He turned his gaze to Grandad, who’s forehead was but a mush of meat and bone with his helmet utterly destroyed. Ilya reached into Grandad’s vest, taking out a Kalashnikov magazine and swapping it with the rifle’s empty magazine. Then he put on Grandad’s kevlar vest and backpack, not forgetting to pocket all the rubles from the safe.

Ilya realized this wasn’t his city, this place had nothing but death and misery. The money, the action, none of it was worth it. He had to get out of Tarkov, he had to. But a Scav like him could never leave, dressed the way he was, with his fingerless gloves, blue jacket and cargo pants. He looked like a bandit, like a criminal. He sat down on a broken office chair and remembered: There was a peacekeeper outpost and six hundred thousand rubles was plenty of money. But he’d be shot before he could get near, unless he looked the part. He didn’t look the part… The dead American did.

Ilya turned to the USEC soldier and realized: Using his outfit, maybe they’d let him pass, he undressed the American and smashed his face with the stock of the Kalashnikov, as to not let anyone recognize the USEC and make sure he’s dead. The bone and muscle crunched and Ilya nearly vomited from the sight. After gathering up his courage, he put on the USEC’s clothes and climbed out the window onto the fire-escape. While climbing down the stairs, some hope came back into his life... This sensation was nice, he felt as if his plan might just work.

He promised himself after he was done, he’d find Alek’s son and apologise for his father’s disappearance. He’d explain everything that had happened, it was the least he could do for his late friend. But first, he had to leave this god-forsaken city. He had to escape from Tarkov.

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