Week 14

Putin turned back to the Yunker. Best to hide it, to prevent anyone from discovering that he was here … and he might need it again, later.

Working quickly, he grabbed handfuls of brown leaves and downfall branches from the ground and began covering the machine.

Before the motorcycle was fully obscured, the leaves burst into flame. The machine was hot from days of contact with Putin’s radioactivity.

He stomped out the fire, then knelt and placed his hands on the Yunker’s scorching tailpipe, drawing the radioactivity back inside himself.

In seconds all the heat was withdrawn, and the bike was covered with frost. He would have to learn a more delicate control of his powers.

Putin finished covering the Yunker, then turned back to the edge of the forest. He stared ahead into thick underbrush and trees without end.

He felt this was the right place, yet nothing looked familiar. He shrugged and began walking, relying on instinct to take him to his goal.

Often he thought he had found a familiar landmark, but it was never quite as he remembered. Remembering …

Did he really remember anything? How could he know? Perhaps all his memories were false, implanted during his time in the White Room.

Everything was the same, yet different. It was disorienting. How long had he been gone?

He came to a stream with a log across it. His memory said he had placed a log in this spot as a bridge, but this one was rotted and useless.

Putin waded across the stream, looking for salmon. He had to take care not to cause the water to boil with his radioactive Putinessence.

At last he made his way to where the Great Den used to be. There was a cave, but it looked small and sad to him now, and appeared abandoned.

Suddenly he heard a snuffling noise from inside! His heart leapt up … but then, silence.

Gradually, he detected the sounds of something very large, moving slowly as if trying to be stealthy but not succeeding very well.

After an agonizing pause, a large, disheveled bear wearing an eye patch stepped out into the sunlight and squinted at him.

They stood facing each other for many minutes before the bear uttered just one word: “Putin.”

Putin could not conceal his surprise. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, trying to access some memory of this creature, but failing.

“Ah … yes, it has been a long time. I have changed, everything has changed … Even you: You did not used to glow like a firefly.”

Quickly, he tamped down his radioactivity. The bear continued to stare at him. Putin waited.