I couldn’t identify the object until he fit it in Svetlana’s mouth – a wooden spoon, maybe to ensure she didn’t swallow her tongue. My skin creased and my mind locked on this isn’t happening like a scratched record, while the sight of her limbs slowly gumming in twisted positions burned into my memory. It never really left me.
Things Dad had taught me about breakdowns stormed to the front of my mind as Svetlana began moving her head from side to side, giving out feeble sighs.
“Let’s take her to bed, I’ll look after her,” I addressed Hector.
Without further questions, he scooped her up and followed me to the bunkroom. The others trailed like a flock of curious chickens, but Ruxandra’s confident voice stopped them at the door. “This ain’t the Big Brother house, the woman needs to rest.”
Hector laid Svetlana on the bed and shuffled the blanket over her.
“See if anyone has vitamins with them. Or any kind of medication, we’ll see if there’s anything we can use.” My tone was more assertive and matter-of-fact than I’d ever thought myself capable of, which made Hector stare at me puzzled.
“What exactly are we looking for?”
“I’m not sure, I’ll get an idea when I see what you get, but basically calcium and magnesium,” I offered a brief explanation, taking a seat by Svetlana’s side. “Better yet, talk to Ruxandra. She’ll know what to pick.”
“How will that bimbo know what to pick?” Svetlana said in a faint but resentful tone after Hector left the room.
“She’s a smart-ass bimbo.”
Few people knew, but Ruxandra had been labeled a genius four years ago, when she’d applied for university. People of her heritage required previous examining and testing before they went to the “higher” circles such as universities, which were reserved for those of nobler – “fairer” – descent. She should’ve been admitted to anything from law to med school, but her origin was nothing short of a scarlet letter even after she’d passed all tests. She only made it in English, where Mom managed to pull some strings.
“All I need is to get out of here,” Svetlana whispered as I lit the leftovers of two candles.
She looked aside, the small flames casting eerie light on her face and sending a strange sensation up my throat. Black and deep circles around her eyes made them look sunken in her skull, but what really drew my attention were her cheeks. They were sucked in, as if the person who’d laughed at me just yesterday had fallen heavily ill. I stroked the sweaty tendrils off her face with an automatic impulse. They felt like mine when I had nightmares.
“We all do. Just hang in there, the others will find help. We’ll sure be out of here in the morning.”
“In the morning . . .” A tired smile curled her mouth. “None of us will make it till morning.” She trembled, her lips white and her eyes foggy. She looked delirious.
“Try to get some rest. Fatigue and paranoia go hand in hand,” I insisted and stood up, intent to ask someone to bring water, so I could lower her fever. Otherwise I feared she’d be beyond repair before help came. But, before I could turn, she clasped my hand.
“Don’t take me for a lunatic, Alice. We won’t survive this, not unless we break them, all of us.”
“Break what?” I grimaced to keep her calm. It failed.
She took her hands to her face, her polished fingernails scratching down the skin of her throat, blood trickling in their wake. “The confinements of our flesh . . .”
She’s mad! I jolted to her, pushing her hands down in panic. “Svetlana, for Christ’s sake!”
Her grin stretched to her ears like the sneer of a skull. The blizzard now whistled beyond the walls as if aligning to her growing intensity, making the window chatter from its hinges. Chills coursed down my spine.
Her voice caught guttural, low stress. “What miracle do you expect by invoking him, that usurper? This isn’t the work of god or devil.”
“What are you, a philosophy major?” I tried for a joke to ease the ill temper that seemed to build up in her. But, before I could blink, her hands wrapped around my neck, squeezing so tightly that I panicked, sure I’d swallow my throat bones. My tongue pushed out of my mouth, I choked on every attempt to pull in air and this isn’t happening turned on fast forward.
Only when my ears stopped buzzing, making way for the voices around me, I became again aware of where I was and what had just happened. After a severe fit of coughing that abused my still sensitive ribcage, anger slowly replaced shock. Still, I didn’t get up from the floor. An ugly truth hit me – I was so darn weak, Barbie could’ve easily disposed of me. I raised my eyes to her.
Ruxandra – probably my savior this time – restrained Svetlana, whose sweat-damp hair whipped around her head as she struggled.
“You’re lab mice for the strong!” She cried over and over again. “Lab mice” was especially frequent and accompanied by spittle as Ruxandra and George tied her to the bed with wound sheets and some rope Hector brought in.
I scrambled up and dragged myself to the main room, stumbling over drunkard sleepers – people too wasted to realize anything of what happened around them – and boiling in my own juice. Tripping over bottles on the floor I fell by the terracotta stove, feeling miserable and breaking out in tears. My brain refused to think until a cluster of people walked in, led by Hector. With weak hands but strong pride I wiped the tears and blew my nose in a dirty glove I’d found around.
“I’ve seen this before,” one of them said, his voice too loud. “A cousin of mine, last year. They took her to a hospice, branded her nuts.”
“Did your cousin mention lab mice?” George laughed and slapped the guy’s back.
“I wonder whether you’d still talk shit, if it were your mamma in her place,” the first one countered.
“My mamma doesn’t strip for mobsters who fuck her into madness,” George reacted with a scowl.
“Hey, I hear neither did Svetlana,” another one chimed in, although he also sounded amused. “She used to go to the club as a client, and her dances were meant for the delivery boy, namely Novac.”
“I guess it caught the wrong guy’s attention.” That was George again. “By the way, Hector, is it true that Temptress and Muscle Tank are having an affair behind the mobster’s back?”
Now that’s direct. I perked up my ears.
“You ask dangerous questions, George,” Hector replied.
Great. Just what I needed to glaze over my wrecked self-esteem – Damian and Svetlana as protagonists in a forbidden love story. My heart ached. I’d go for someone bald and fat like Svetlana’s sugar daddy next time, but broke.
Hector’s thick fingers slid over the cords in a lilt melody, as if to block further inquiries. But his tactics had its downside. The group changed the subject but kept on opening one too many bottles – impressive how much they’d saved from the train and carried through the snowstorm like veritable addicts.
Soon the talking turned loud and chaotic. I could only make out isolated words but no sentences, while the sharp smell of alcohol gave me a headache. Just as the party went wild again, Ruxandra dropped by my side with a groan. Judging by the tucked up sleeves she must’ve gone hard on Svetlana. I didn’t pity the girl, honestly.
“No amount of calcium or magnesium could’ve stilled her, and we don’t have any anyway, so I put a bag over her head. Let her inhale her own CO2 until she turned into a vegetable. I know, it sounds horrible, but it was for a noble cause. Now she’s asleep.”
“How’re you feeling?”
“Fine,” I lied. “Thanks for getting her off me.”
“George helped.” She dismissed the subject, but urgency was obvious in her face as she tried to touch on another. She looked tense as hell. “Alice, we need to talk.”
I couldn’t care less right now about what she had to say, sinking in the pain Damian’s affair with Svetlana caused me. My cheeks burned with jealousy.
“You were wrong,” I said, unable to contain myself. “Damian and Svetlana do have something going. Either her blackmailing strategy worked, or she’s just irresistible.”
“Alice, we have more pressing matters to discuss now,” Ruxandra insisted, growing exasperated.
“What’s pressing is that you weren’t straight forward.”
“Now hold on.” She put up her palm. “I honestly don’t believe he’s interested in her. What I really think is that he’s being halfway nice to keep her from spreading what she knows. Or . . . at the most . . . he’s been sleeping with her to ensure she keeps her mouth shut.”
These words shot a stinging image into my head, an image of Damian’s muscled, honey-skinned body undulating between Svetlana’s long legs. I couldn’t hold back a pained sigh.
“You shouldn’t have let me get my hopes high.”
“I honestly thought you had a chance there.”
“Just look at me, Ruxandra! I’m a bad joke! Do you think me so dumb as to really compare myself to Svetlana, or you, or others in your league? Are you dumb enough to do that?”
Ruxandra pulled me to my feet, keeping a tight grip on my shoulders.
“It’s that bastard Tony you have to thank for this arsenal of complexes,” she grunted through her teeth. “I can’t wait to get back home so I can seek him out and make him suffer.”
“I’m just looking truth in the face.”
“You’re a very, very pretty girl, Alice.”
“That’s right, girl. Not woman.”
“Oh, stop, please.”
“Maybe that’s why Damian rejected me when I tried to turn him on in the bunkroom. I must’ve made him feel like a pedophile.” My face caught fire as I confessed.
“Or maybe he respects you too much to do you in a filthy bunk. That’s what my gut tells me.”
“Oh, drop it, Rux, that’s just sugar coating. He simply doesn’t want me. I might as well strive to plant a flag on the moon.”
“Alice, your ruined self-esteem really has to wait,” she pressed, now shaking with urgency.
A huge frame passing the threshold drew my attention, and my resolve to quit the chase for the unattainable barbarian threatened to tumble. Damian stopped in place, his tresses and eyebrows adorned with snow, a heavy sheepskin cladding his broad shoulders. Another guy limped and hung on him like a cloth on a huge tree, seemingly ravaged not only by the blizzard but also shock, while their other companion stared at Damian as if he were Batman.
Before anybody got to utter a word, the wretched guy hanging on Damian crouched from his waist in spasms, throwing up as if all his organs constricted. Hector dropped the guitar and jumped to his feet, hollow wood and cords resounding against the floor.
Hope you enjoyed this:) If you did, I’d love to read from you in a comment. If the story of The Executioner now happens not to let you sleep, it’s available in whole here. Enjoy!
Also, stay tuned for a new episode of The Marquis on Friday, it’ll be a special one! The title of the episode is “Why Wild Roses Kill,” and it will contain shocking revelations. Check out all previous episodes of The Marquis here.