“Why go to that nasty hole in the first place?” the driver asked on our way to Brodnikovo. “You’ve got a grandma down there?”
“An old friend”, I said, watching the drizzle run down the windows of the car.
“She must be pretty old,” the driver laughed. “Everyone who could leave has left. Only the elderly ones stay”.
“Ordinary story…” I sighed, suspecting that Seraphine’s biological mother must have moved somewhere, too.
We stopped at the gas station - it must have been the station mentioned by the nurse Tamara. While the driver was refueling the car, I ran to the shop to grab a coffee and see the saleswoman. However, I was served by a man. I asked if he had a colleague called Sveta. "There's another shift man, his name is Boris," he smiled.
When we arrived, it graciously had ceased to rain. I gazed at the row of the pitiful small houses before me, hoping to see any soul around. Finally, a grumpy old man strongly smelling of booze emerged from a barn carrying a fishing rod. He whistled to a shaggy gray dog and threw a piece of bread to him. The animal caught the treat in the air.
First, the local was glad to see someone new. But when I mentioned Seraphine and her mom Sveta, he shuddered as if I poked him with a red-hot crowbar, сrossed himself and moved backwards to his barn. I sighed and showed him a banknote.
“They both died long ago. Why do you need them?” he asked suspiciously, staring at the note with his hungry eyes.
Goddamnit! Who then was the girl Xenia wanted to call daughter?..
“We are investigating a criminal case to which Sveta may be related”, I answered. The old man laughed. “I will be grateful if you tell me about what happened to them.” I handed the money out to the man. "And, by the way, who was Seraphine's dad?"
“Sveta gave birth soon after she left school and never mentioned her daughter’s father. Believe it or not, no one had ever seen her with a man. Some said she was gang-raped by a bunch of jerks from the city. Others said it was Sveta’s own brother. He’d been in the military and died far away, days before Seraphine was born; however, nine months before her birth he’d been at home. Bullshit... We won't ever know the truth... Sveta was too young for motherhood. She wanted a better life and a husband but thought that no one would take her with such a strange and unruly daughter”.
“Was she kind of sick?..” I asked.
“Seraphine was smart but she would kick or bite you if she felt unsafe. At night, she would creep from the house and hunt small animals, like a cat. Once I went fishing before dawn,” the man looked at his fishing rod. “And saw her yellow eyes gleam in the dark… The brat scared the shit out of me… Sveta placed her to some research center in the city. I guess, they experimented on the retarded children or something like that… She never went to see her daughter, never took her back on holiday. That bitch only brought men to her home. every week she came with a new fucker. One of them stayed a bit longer. Sveta called it “love”.” The man spat under his feet.
“No one expected that one day Seraphine would run away. Sveta’s man was in the house when the child knocked at the door. Sveta got furious. She wouldn’t let Seraphine in, she pushed and hit the poor thing, yelling that she wasn’t her mom. I could hear her сurse… One must not curse a child like that… Just mustn’t. The girl hardly defended herself, she kept silent, and suddenly, in a heartbeat, she was at Sveta’s throat. Five villagers including myself were unable to pull her away… Then Sveta’s lover tried... She fought like a beast, and he ended by breaking her neck. The police never found him. Or just didn’t take the trouble.”
“Horrible,” I murmured. “Are you sure he actually killed the girl?”
“Girl, I fought in Afghanistan. I can differ between living people and dead ones. I wasn’t present at the funeral, though. The ambulance removed the bodies, and I’ve got no idea where they took’em.”
“Would you recognize Seraphine on the photo?”
“Sure. Yes... It’s Seraphine, for sure. That wolven gaze… Those canines… Devil...” he said, seeing the picture, and fear pierced me like an icy arrow. “Where did you get this? It cannot be a new picture, can it?”
“I shouldn’t discuss this, sorry...” I murmured, feeling nothing but icy, unbearable fear.
The local drunkard was not the most reliable source, however, I would never forget the primal fear in his eyes, when he saw the girl’s face once on my smartphone. I had to tell this story to Xenia and have the weird creature removed from her house, be it human, beast or anything else.
I called my friend and asked if we could talk somewhere in private. Xenia answered that she was waiting for a guest and could see me the next day. Exhausted by the journey, I agreed and asked the driver to take me home. I felt a kind of alleviation: Xenia had given me some time to calm down and sort the things in my head. I have to admit, that after everything I had learned, I feared to see the yellow-eyed girl again...
However, forty minutes later, when we already approached my block of flats, I felt an urgent need to drop in at Xenia’s place and make sure she was OK - just to make sure that everything was OK. The whole story of Seraphine was too dark and disturbing that I could keep it within myself. Whatever lived in Xenia’s house now, I didn’t have the right to leave her alone with it. If even she mentioned a guest… What guest? It had cost her an effort to confide in me, and she had no other close friends in the town...
The first voice I heard, having left the car, was the voice of Xenia’s “despicable” neighbor. She yelled at me through the fence, begging not to approach the house, as “someone had just been killed out there”. As weak as a toddler, I stumbled towards the half-open entrance door on my shaking legs.
Horrible cries pierced the air. I clearly heard the words: “Get lost, you monster, I’m not your mom! Just leave me, I’m not your bloody mother!” My heart sank: it was too late… The cry I heard next did not belong to a human being. Nor to an animal… It was higher and louder than any scream I had heard before, as someone had just had their heart pierced with a stake...
Dialing “112” on my phone with unruly fingers, I forced myself to step inside. Heavy metallic smell… A male corpse in a pool of dark blood… A featureless, unrecognizable mass instead of the face… A familiar phrase tattooed on the hand: Homo homini lupus est. Xenia’s ex-husband was fond of phrase-mongering…
In a trembling voice, I reported manslaughter. The operator asked if the criminal was still at the scene. Next second, I heard the sound of the broken glass and whispered: “I don’t know…”
I couldn’t stay out when my friend needed help. Bracing myself, I stormed into the living room. Too late: Xenia lay next to the bookcase, her eyes wide open, her throat brutally mauled and half of her right hand missing. The amount of blood on the floor and on the walls didn’t leave the slightest hope… A pale bloodstained demon with messy blond hair stood on the windowsill, on all fours. She grunted, showing a row of predator’s teeth. Mesmerized with the glare of yellow eyes, I prepared to die and did not even try to cover my own neck...
Xenia’s ex was the last person she called that evening. Most probably, something in Seraphine’s behavior frightened her so much that she didn’t want to stay alone in the house. Knowing that I was in Brodnikovo, she refused to trouble me any more. I guess, she still was somewhat attractive to the man, but her foster daughter strongly disliked it… Please, if one day you meet a small light-haired girl in pajamas, bring her to the police or to the hospital but don’t take her home right away. And most importantly, avoid at all costs saying that you're not her mom.