This is the log of Yuriy Pavlovsky; my journal in these hard times. I recently... acquired this Personal Digital Assistant as my own personal going away present, courtesy of my former boss. He never used the thing anyway, and besides, I needed some my severance pay since he fired me for rushing home to be with my dying son. The heartless bastard… maybe if I sell it I can finally make enough money to buy food for my family. In the mean-time, I feel like writing so I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

I live in a small nowhere town in Ukraine with my wife Emelia and my recently deceased son just beyond the 30 kilometer exclusion zone put up around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant after the 1986 disaster in what everyone calls the “The Zone”. The first incident at the nuclear power plant has always had a sense of dread attached to it - but it was the second incident that gave the place the reputation and name that instills fear in everyone. The government refuses to release anything about it, and occasionally even denies that it even happened, even with all the media coverage. But everyone knows the truth.

Over two decades ago there was an explosion at the plant. It happened after a safety test on the reactor went horribly wrong and, due to the system’s rushed design, one of the reactors melted down under the stress. The brave rescue workers – knows as the Liquidators - fought hard to clean it up, but radiation blanketed the area around the plant, spread by the ashes of the fires that burned inside of it. They evacuated everyone within 15 kilometers of the NPP, sealing it off and declaring it the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone”.

There are lots of rumors, but none of them could explain what happened soon afterwards. Sometime, in the middle of the night, about 5 years ago and almost exactly 2 decades after the first tragedy, the ground shook and a bright flash lit up the sky like day. We thought Chernobyl had exploded again, spewing more radiation over our town. I don’t remember if it was the reports of the lights or anomalies that came first – but I do know that after news of the first sightings got spread around, everyone went crazy. People panicked, packed their things, and disappeared. All that’s left is an economically ruined and contaminated area that’s shrouded in fear. Some call it the “Shadow of Chernobyl”.

The Zone continues to expand for unknown reasons and more and more towns along the border are becoming abandoned as a result. The government won’t say anything and the rumors are getting worse all the time. I’ve even heard people talking about animals that have mutated into bloodthirsty beasts and come out at night to hunt for anything with meat on it. Some even say they’ve seen strange people roaming around like animals – maybe victims of the second incident. I don’t know if any of it is true... I don’t like to think about it, but after seeing and feeling the effects of the second incident all these years I won’t say it’s impossible.

We still feel the shakes and see the light filling the sky in the middle of the night… what the hell is going on in there? People say the remainder of the nuclear fuel that was not expelled in the first explosion is burning beneath the plant and large pockets are being triggered which are causing the explosions. If that’s the case, why does it keep happening and who’s behind it? Whatever the reason, it scares the hell out of me.

I’d be lying if I said all the rumors about the Zone were bad. I hear people are talking about looters of some sort known as “Stalkers”. I think there was an acronym for it… Scavenger, Trespasser, Adventurer, Loner, Killer, Explorer, Robber. Word has it they go into the Zone in search of loot, adventure, refuge, or a new life. I’ve heard that there are several places inhabited by these Stalkers, and that they have even formed factions that compete for valuable anomalous objects known as “artifacts”. I don’t know much about artifacts, but I do know that they’re highly sought after by scientists, mercenaries, and the government – and that they’re extremely valuable.

So, the reason for me writing this; like I said, I am now un-employed. I used to work at a small manufacturing plant nearby. Work was long and grueling, but I had little choice with a wife and son to support and few job options due to failing businesses in the area. Times are tough when entire towns are being abandoned and the Zone attracting international intention as the deadliest place on Earth. Nobody wants to go near the place, and anyone who does is shot on site by the Ukrainian military that guard the area. Failing business means pay cuts – it must have been a no-brainer to fire me for walking out on a shift to let some other guy try to make the money he needs to survive. I wish the poor soul luck; he’s going to need it.

I remember coming home that night to Emelia. One of our neighbors came to the factory when I was on break and told me our son wasn’t eating. I didn’t have the money to pay for the bus so I had to walk all the way across town to get home. My son meant everything to me – he was the one little beacon of hope I had in my dreary life. It was the longest walk of my life. When I finally got there she was awake and crying with her back to the door as I entered. I approached her to find out what was wrong and saw her holding our little boy close to her chest. When I came to her side, I noticed that he wasn’t breathing. That was the night that changed my life forever.

I remember his hopeful little eyes and those tiny grasping hands that would reach out for me whenever he was awake and grab my face. Something about the way he looked at me said that he had faith in me… even though I knew how much he was suffering ... and Emelia along with him. It was then that I realized that I’d never see those innocent little eyes looking back at me, believing in me and begging for something more than stale food. That was the day that what little hope I had left died along with my baby boy, and I vowed to make a better life for me and my wife and I.

It was at that moment that I decided to act. The Zone, ironically a place of abandonment and decay, became my last hope for prosperity. I hope to make a new life for myself, and do whatever it takes to provide for the tattered remains of my family. I owe it to my wife and son, wherever he may be now. But, most of all, I owe it to myself.

So here I am, sitting in this park deciding what to do next. The Zone is only a few kilometers to the north and I don’t have the courage to return home. It’s funny that I’d rather walk uncertainly into what is probably a deathtrap then back to my devastated wife. But something about that place calls to me, like it’s promising me a life of adventure and excitement away from the pain of this world. I don’t know what it is, but something in my gut tells me my future is there, and it’s rarely wrong. So here I go. I’ll make some final preparations and then make my way over the barricade and into the Zone. I’m unsure of what lies ahead of me, but I know it’ll far surpass the life I’m leaving behind.