The Ural bounced along the muddy dirt road, the windshield wipers squeaking out constantly as they worked to keep the glass free of rainwater. Inside the cabin the driver shares a smoke with his friend, laughing at some crude, indecent joke over the growling V8 diesel engine. In the rear cargo area, a half dozen people jostle around as the truck moves over a particularly rough part of the road. On the right hand side of the cargo bed a man in a rain-stained parka leans up against the wood separating the metal driver’s cabin from the rear area, reading one of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s classics and using the swinging gas lamp as a light. Next to him, a vagrant wanderer plucks at his well-worn guitar, taking a swig from his flask in between tuning each string.
On the other side of the truck two soldiers sit, their uniforms and their guns intimidating the other four people with them. The Ural slows down before coming to a halt, the brakes squeaking out before the entire truck rocks back and forth slightly as it fully stops. A sharp hiss permeates the air as the driver engages the airbrake before he bangs his fist on the back of the cabin, letting the last two passengers know that their stop has arrived.
The human drops the wooden gate down before jumping off the truck and landing with a wet splash in a particularly dirty puddle. He grumbles to himself, upset that his relatively clean pants now have mud all over them. Brushing his hands on the unsoiled parts, the human adjusts his pack and rifle, moving the gasmask off to the side for the third time as he pulls the hood of his jacket over his head. The sixth passenger, a Kikimora, steps out after him, although she is a little more graceful in exiting the truck; gingerly lowering herself down to the ground with the help of her companion as to not ruin her tail feathers or outfit. After closing the tailgate and latching it, the human helps the Kikimora across to the side of the soggy road before crossing back over to the cabin of the truck.
The monstergirl looks at her companion as he talks with the driver, the two humans arguing with each other before her friend sighs and reaches into one of his many pockets and pulls out a crumpled pack of smokes and hands it to the driver. The driver smiles before giving the other human a slight nod before disengaging the brakes on the Ural, and with a groan and a lurch the truck drives away with a splash of mud from the rear tires. The two beings standing there watch it travel away for a few moments before the one standing in the road shakes his head and turns back to walk over to the monstergirl, muttering something about the driver being a сука.
“You sure about this Ivan? You said your family is S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or once before, and a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. shoots first and ask questions later.”
“I told you before Sasha, mother and father won’t care that you aren’t human. Besides, only gun father has left is his father’s father’s Mosin.”
“I know, I know. I just feel like they may disapprove of our, uh, ‘relationship’.”
“Nonsense. You are a beautiful thing, like the old Red Square in springtime. Besides, anyone who brings father vodka is his friend.” the man named Ivan said, pointing out the bottle of alcohol Sasha was holding as they continue walking along the road, slowly getting closer to the prefabricated yet still modest house ahead of them.
“‘The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. Yes, you say this many times Ivan, but I still feel like I won’t be family, perhaps worse.” Sasha responded. Ivan simply smiled and reached over to scratch behind one of her fluffy ears, making her blush.
“Sasha.” the human said as they finally reached the front door to his parent’s home. “You are my everything. You are like first day of spring after long Siberian winter to me. If mother or father say that I am no longer their child, then so be it. As long as I have you, then I am happy.”
The Kikimora smiled brightly before reaching up to kiss Ivan, holding him close to her for several seconds, her lips pressed up against his as the rain starts to increase from a light drizzle to something more worthy of a storm. She breaks the kiss after what seemed like an eternity to her and looked into her lover’s eyes.
“Ready Sasha?” The Kikimora nods once before exhaling sharply as Ivan reached forward to knock on the wooden door. For a few moments the only sound that could be heard was the sound of the rain splashing in the growing puddles or impacting against the tin porch roof. Soon though Sasha’s ears twitched slightly as she picked up the sound of heavy boot steps coming closer to the door before a middle-aged woman, Ivan’s mother, opened it.
“Ivan! Is so good to see you!” his mother exclaimed, immediately swooping forward to give her son a hug. “When you write home about wanting to visit because you found a woman I was so happy! Is this the lovely maiden you told about in your letters Ivan?” she asked, indicating the nervous Kikimora standing behind them on the porch. “I never expected she would be Mamono. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I was worried that you wouldn’t be accepting mother, giving father’s past experiences.”
“Oh don’t worry about him, he’s just bitter that the program ended. But enough talk about your father, you two shouldn’t just be standing there. Come on in!” Ivan’s mother finishes, beckoning them inside and out of the cold, wet rain.
The inside of his old childhood home felt much the same to Ivan the last few times he’s been in it. The same old family photos are up on the wall, and the Mosin Nagant his great-grandfather had during the war is still up in its usual place above the mantle and fireplace, although it looks a little less dusty than he remembered. He looks around the room for a bit before taking his boots off and setting his pack down next to it along with his rifle, and hangs up his jacket on one of the hooks near the door. With practiced grace Sasha follows him inside and wipes her muddy feet on the doormat, on account of not wearing any shoes or boots. She then walks over the fireplace to look at one of the pictures. In it, a man looking much like Ivan has a big smile on his face and one arm around a young woman, presumably Ivan’s mother. She’s wearing a plain floral dress in the photo while his father is wearing something much akin to what Ivan is wearing now, except there’s a visible tattoo on his right forearm that reads ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’. Unable to help herself, she blows off a little bit of dust that had collected on the frame.
“That was right after I became one, if you were wondering.” a second human male voice called out, making Sasha jump in surprise. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen is Ivan’s father. Most of his muscle had turned to fat long ago, but that hadn’t diminished his wide frame in the slightest.
“I can still remember the day on my first journey into a zone. She was so worried, she said that if it didn’t kill me, she would herself when I got back.” he said, walking over to the fireplace and picking up the photo. “In his letters to home, Ivan tells me you sometimes go with him. Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Sometimes I get word of something a Kikimora may want, but I know not of what it is, so I take her with.” Ivan responded.
“A Kikimora? I know your mother only just told me she was Mamono, but not of which one. You also neglected in your letters to give us her name, Ivan.”
“I-it’s Sasha.” the Kikimora spoke up.
“Sasha? I remember a Sasha once. Fine young woman. Good S.T.AL.K.E.R.. Whirligig got her.”
“Stop, you’re frightening the poor girl!” Ivan’s mother exclaimed, appearing in the same doorway Ivan’s father came from. “Why don’t you help Ivan settle in, and Sasha can help cook dinner with me.”
A few hours later Ivan, Sasha, and Ivan’s parents are all sitting around the fire after a delicious and filling dinner, cooked mostly by the Kikimora.
“I never thought I’d be tasting borscht like that ever again!” Ivan’s father loudly exclaimed. “Like they always say: the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!”
“Th-thank you. I learned the recipe from my mother.” Sasha responded.
“Nonsense! Come on Ivan, let us drink to her success! And to the two of you as well!”
A minute or so later everyone has their own glass of vodka, and Ivan’s father clears his throat.
“I’m no good with speeches, so here’s to Ivan and Sasha.” he says before everyone leans forward to clink their cups together so they can knock their drink back. “Блять! I forgot how stronk this stuff is!” Ivan’s father yells, nearly spitting his drink out all over the place and making everyone else laugh.
A few more hours later, Ivan and Sasha are laying together on Ivan’s bed, listening to the storm run its course.
“This was fun, Ivan.” the Kikimora said, turning slightly so she could look at him.
“It was, and I think my parents approve. Of us, I mean.” Ivan responds with a small smile. Sasha smiles back.
“I wish I could show them how much I appreciate me being family to them, but I can’t. I’ll settle for you though.” she finishes, leaning over to give Ivan a deep kiss while crawling atop him.