I’m originally from St. Petersburg, or Leningrad as it was known when I was born, and that’s what I still call it. Growing up surrounded by the Sea, my grandfather – a Latvian Fisherman who left the country during the Purges of the 1950s – told me many stories of Giant Monsters living in the depths of the Baltic Sea, stories that made me shiver especially during the long, dark cold winter months. As I grew older, studied hard and eventually joined the FSKN, the Drug Control Service of the Politsya, the Russian Federal Police, the stories lost their effect on me. I brushed aside the myths I was told as a kid as superstitious nonsense – to me, the world of crime was plenty scary enough, in desperate need of fighting, and definitely real. But last month, everything I thought I knew changed forever.
Last year I was reassigned to Murmansk, a remote Northern port with a bustling shipping industry, but also a dark side – Murmansk was once a Soviet Submarine base, and today it still has the world’s largest collection of old Nuclear reactors as the areas near Murmansk have become a dumping ground for old Soviet junk. Clean up efforts are underway, but they won’t be done for almost another forty years. I wasn’t too pleased about being anywhere near a region with that much radiation, but reports of drug smuggling in and around Murmansk Port had to be dealt with by someone. I was just unlucky enough to be assigned.
Murmansk turned out to be even colder than I expected. Trudging through snow to examine suspect shipping containers in February is not a particularly nice task, especially when you haven’t turned up any suspected Cocaine shipments in three weeks and have both the Port Authority and your Superiors breathing down your neck for an arrest. To calm myself I took up smoking, watching the ice drift through Kola Bay under sheets of driving snow. This was a routine I kept up even during the beginnings of the mid-March warming, when being outside started to not require pulling up your face covering again.
One of these nights was especially clear. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and as I looked out over bay and at the hundreds of stars I hadn’t seen in months, I was smoking a cigar in celebration because I’d just received word I’d be getting a much warmer and cushier desk job in Moscow in just a few weeks, as evidence of drug trafficking had dwindled since my transfer. As I looked over the bay and savoured a return to my comfort zone, movement caught my attention. I frowned as I saw a mass, darker even against the pitch-black sea, moving through the harbour. I stubbed out my cigar as I radioed the port authority, asking them if there were any expected ships inbound – it was 10PM and the port should have closed an hour ago. “No, but we’re getting an unidentified trace passing the harbour,” the radar guy responded. “It’s now answering our calls – do you see something?” “Yes,” I replied, cursing under my breath. I figured it was just my luck that now, at the end of my tenure, smugglers would show up in the dead of night and ruin my transfer chances. I ran inside and got a powerful torch to light up the harbour. Running along the pier, I turned on the light – and froze.
The shape wasn’t a ship at all. It was long and thin, like a giant eel – but an eel that had to be easily 12 meters (40 feet) long. Its back was covered in scales so deep a blue they were almost black, and as I scanned my torch up its side the beam caught a reflective eye, like a shark’s eye, staring back at me. But the light must of startled it, because it turned almost a full 90 degrees and churned through the harbour, slithering its way back out to sea.
I couldn’t move, didn’t even respond to the yelling from my boss Yuriy over the radio asking what I’d seen. I didn’t move until he himself came running up the harbour wall, yelling at me to respond but stopping when he saw my mouth agape, eyes glazed in disbeleif. Yuriy took me inside and gave me strong tea, putting a blanket around me to treat my shock. He asked me to tell him what I saw, and I told him everything, how it reminded me of the sea serpents my grandfather told me of as a kid. To my shock, he didn’t seem surprised. “We call it Zmeya,” He said – the Russian word for snake. “No one knows what it is or where it comes from; all we know is it turns up every few months and leaves a wave of dead seafood in its wake: seals, sharks, whales, you name it – the thing is big enough to eat anything. Scares the Hell out of us – I’m glad you chased it off.”
Today I work in Moscow, but the image of that giant beast swimming through the Bay of Kola is still burned in my memory. If you ever go to sea, never remember how little you really know about it – the Zmeya may very well be only one of many creatures never seen by science in the dark waters of the world. Respect the sea, and don’t ever dismiss stories out of hand – you may one day be staring down a legend yourself.