Weekly feature by: Hannah Kludy

Mika was crouched outside a low running bush. It was scratchy and nearly as wild as the forest behind him. Nearly as wild as he felt. Only in fucking America could such a travesty occur, only there could injustice reign, but not in his Mother Russia. Everyone was pleading for compassion and understanding. His family was comforted by friends and sympathizers. The community had mourned his sister’s death along with him. But compassion could not bring back Ini, his little Inessa, so Mika was through with that. His anger burned it all up, raising his body temperature with hatred.

She was the most beautiful child Mika had ever seen. She was golden, from the color of her skin to her curled locks. Her eyes were the same shade of blue as his, and nobody ever looked at him with so much love. He would bring her home a candy bar from the drug store every day after practice and she would give him a hug that felt like it lasted for hours. She could play catch, ride a bike, dress in their mother’s heels, tie dad’s tie around her hair in a little bow and announce that she had just discovered she was Princess Anastasia.

Alexei Boris had taken her from him. He had stolen her away as she walked home from school. The candy bar that Mika had brought home that day was still sitting on the table in the kitchen, just waiting. They had called the police immediately because Ini was never home late. Thankfully, the bastard had picked her up at a traffic light, just swooped next to her and scooped her up. The camera on the light had caught him and his license plate. The tracing took some time with the system they had, but they arrived at his home in less than four hours. He lived across Moscow in a nice apartment building, nicer by far than the one their family lived in. Mika had  looked around after he managed to duck under the tape.

It was decorated sparsely and in a modern way. Everything was all geometric, cool greys and silvers. It looked mostly unused, it was so bare. The kitchen was neat with only one dish in the sink. It was a cup with thick protein shake residue in it. He walked past a dark bathroom with black tile, past a long bedroom with a black bedspread and perfectly plump silver pillows. At the last door of the hall way, Mika pushed open the door and couldn’t stop the scream.

Ini sat at a small pink table in the lavender room. She was wearing a lavish blue princess dress, sparkling tiara on top. Her hair had been done in an elaborate up do that Mika knew Ini wasn’t capable of. She had just perfected pony tails. She held a small porcelain tea cup in her hand, stiff and still. It had only a tiny puddle of tea left in it. She was pale, except for her neck which was purple, all purple and black. Her head lolled at a strange angle. From where Mika was standing, though Ini’s back was to him, he could see her eyes. They were red, full of blood. Her body was barely there, insubstantial in its strange stillness.

No man should be able to take life away like that from a child, not even God, Mika had thought. This man deserved death the way he had given it. If Ini and Jesus could be killed, why not Alexei too? It is justice. But they said Alexei was mad. They had sent him to a psychiatric hospital just fifty miles from Moscow to live the rest of his days sipping tonic from silver spoons and being fed three times a day. When they had told Mika the verdict, he had thought he was going mad as well. Now, crouching behind the bush, he was sure of it. He could feel the gallon of gasoline pressed against his ripped jeans. He could taste ash already.

Steadying himself, he grabbed his fuel and walked briskly to the front entry of the hospital. It was an old brick affair with wooden paneling on the inside and a wooden roof with wooden beams. It was flammable, Mika had checked on the building plans in the Moscow archives before setting out. Weeks of preparation made his steps comfortable, confident. The walk was dirt. The door was a thick oak. The windows of the one story hospital were barred and Mika couldn’t see through them to know if someone was waiting on the inside. He assumed there would be someone at reception though, and he was prepared.

Walking in, an older, plump nurse in uniform looked up at him over a pile of papers she was arranging on a clipboard. Mika collapsed when he was just inside the doorway and the woman rushed to his side. Just as she leaned over, putting a hand on Mika’s back, he reached into his pocket and flicked open his knife, jabbing up and through the woman’s button up light blue blouse. She gasped and Mika twisted, pulling out slowly as blood crept over the thin fabric, shirt clinging to her chest in a way that Mika found unflattering. He stood and surveyed the dark room, with ugly phosphorescent lights dotting the low ceiling. Nobody else seemed to be coming, and Mika wasn’t really concerned even if more did come. He looked innocent, trustworthy with his short brown hair, broad smiling face and tan, athletic body.

Mika unscrewed the top of his gallon and started dousing the wood panel walls in a circular motion, fluid arcing and splashing. Ini loved to splash. Mika smiled as he thought of her on their last family vacation. They had gone to Spain and spent a week lounging on beaches. Ini had tossed water into Mika’s face, not knowing the salt would burn. When she had realized what she’d done, she had cried harder than Mika. He lit the match, dropped it into the closest puddle to the door, and watched the flame rear bright and yellow. He ran as quickly as he could and didn’t look back, not until he was sitting high in the tree across from the road. The view was incredible, Mika thought as he waited. He wanted to see Alexei’s spirit float into the heavens with the smoke, and rain down to Hell as ash.

He watched the ward burn until he had spent as much time as he figured he could afford. Authorities would be coming soon. Mika ran back to his car, the little orange one in the almost empty lot. He drove away before he could see the firemen arrive and stare in dismay at the engulfed hospital. It had caved in and was flickering behind the hot barred windows. Smoke was rising, thick with the scent of burning flesh and hair. Driving, Mika felt reborn, victorious.

Alexei was lost in his memories. Sometimes, with the certain medications that had been giving him, past, present, and future blended together in his mind. Now he was having a tea party with his sister, no, not his sister, but his all the same really. She was blonde like his sister. A little princess. But not as pretty. They never were! Never were once the purple flowers grew. His hands could make them no other color, he swore. The girl didn’t look nearly as pretty as his sister did.

But still, thing were not so bad. They had told him he would go to jail and he didn’t. They said he would be put to death, but he wasn’t. They might say he was insane, but they didn’t really know. And what was insanity but a word anyhow? Words like sister, murder, tea party, they were all subjective.

Not that he loved it here. He missed his apartment. He missed his protein shakes and morning jogs. He missed his office job and his big bed. Here, his bed was narrow and the straps kept him tight on his back. Some nights he snored so loud that way that he woke himself up. Other times, they would put him on medication and he wouldn’t wake up at all.

Tonight though, he slept well and dreamed about it. The girl was his sister this time, and he smiled even more broadly than usual. Oh, he had missed her. What was that smell? It was distracting, but he breathed through his mouth and added more sugar to his tea. And more to hers. She smiled and stood to curtsy. But the smell! She didn’t like it either, she was afraid. She hid under the wardrobe.

“No,” Alexei shouted, reaching for her. “You died there last time, don’t you remember? Don’t you recall? The firemen couldn’t find you, not there! You couldn’t breathe, not with the smoke.”

She just shook her head, eyes shining bright from under the dark recess. Alexei was determined that she would listen to him. He was the oldest, after all. He reached under, fumbling. As he caught her hand, it went both limp and stiff. It wouldn’t grab anymore, but it was hard! He yanked knowing how it would end. It would be just like when the firemen dragged her out the next morning. She would be all hard, skin not moving like it should. She couldn’t breathe, smoke in the lungs. But her neck, there was no purple, no black. But she couldn’t breathe. Why? She was slipping though, before Alexei could pull her out properly, and there was shouting, shouting. There was fog, and then clarity.

The nurse was untying his straps and the air was dark and heavy. It was just like his dream, the heat, and there was orange and red that was creeping across the ceiling. The straps wiggled away and then he was standing on his bed, soft on his feet. Another patient was free and tugging on the metal bars, grunting and howling. A third one was sitting on the floor, banging his head hard on the stone. There was a red puddle, gleaming brown in the hot light. The nurse ran to another patient as Alexei stood, breathing in the smoke. He could see his sister crawl like a ghost up the ceiling, twisting. Alexei was determined to follow. He waited patiently, backing deeper into the ward. Soon, the ceiling collapsed and the sky showed through the smoke for a moment. Alexei dashed over and stacked a bed atop the rubble, and a two chairs on top. Climbing, he slipped onto the remaining areas of the roof. He couldn’t see his sister, but he was sure she was around. She had always loved hide and go seek. He pushed the chairs down into the flame below so that nobody could follow, could find her before he did. Straight, she always ran straight.

Alexei ran for what felt like an hour, though really it must have been no more than a few seconds, back into the parking lot. He intended to go into the forest beyond since his sister was sure to be playing among the trees. But he was so tired, and had grown thin on the hospital food. He had no shoes, and he was starting to make wet footprints that hurt with every step. He had to stop, to catch his breath. Near him was a little orange car with the door unlocked. Alexei curled into the backseat. It smelled like his sister.

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