Roadside Picnic

When you look at it, it looks like any other piece of land. The sun shines on it like on any other part of the earth. And it’s as though nothing had particularly changed in it. Like everything was the way it was thirty years ago. My father, rest his soul, could look at it and not notice anything out of place at all. Except maybe he’d ask why the plant’s smokestack was still. Was there a strike or something? yellow ore piled up in cone-shaped mounds, blast furnaces gleaming in the sun, rails, rails, and more rails, a locomotive with flatcars on the rails. In other words, an industry town. Only there were no people. Neither living nor dead. You could see the garage, too: a long gray intestine, its doors wide open. The trucks were parked on the paved lot next to it. He was right about the trucks–his brains were functioning. God forbid you should stick your head between two trucks. You have to sidle around them. There’s a crack in the asphalt, if it hasn’t been overgrown with bramble yet. Forty yards. Where was he counting from? Oh, probably from the last pylon. He’s right, it wouldn’t be further than that from there. Those egghead scientists were making progress. They’ve got the road hung all the way to the dump, and cleverly hung at that! There’s that ditch where Slimy ended up, just two yards from their road. Knuckles had told Slimy: stay as far away from the ditches as you can, jerk, or there won’t be anything to bury. When I looked down into the water, there was nothing. This is the way it is with the Zone: if you come back with swag–it’s a miracle; if you come back alive–it’s a success; if the patrol bullets miss you–it’s a stroke of luck. And as for anything else –that’s fate.”

[ From Roadside Picnic (1971), by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Roadside Picnic was the short story on which Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) was based. ]

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