first policeman stepped into
the shadowy barn. He slipped on something moist. His nose curled from the smell
sure… rotten meat? His mind tried to comprehend
what hung from the rafters: it dripped gelatinous matter. His chest heaved and
he swallowed back bile and breakfast. His partner entered, looked up, drew his
gun, and ordered Zasha Semenov to come down.
Zasha bowed, seized two control bars, and started a performance. The
police watched, eerily entranced, and then startled, the first policeman
shouted, “Drop your weapons!” Both officers opened fire until the magazines of
their Glocks were empty.
Zasha delighted in her remote,
country life. As early as she could remember, her favorite activity was to walk
through the woods, to get lost in the woods, to jump over the countless small
streams on her parent’s acreage, to talk to the birds and squirrels, and, to
the trees – mostly to the trees.
The first toys her parents gave
her were puppets. By the age of six she was a skilled puppeteer, by ten she was
able to use control bars and strings to make them sit, walk, dance, and bow.
Her parents, Adrik and Anastasia
Semenov, emigrated from Russia before Zasha was born. Their expertise in the
art and science of puppet making enabled a modest living. They sold their toys
at specialty shops and craft fairs. Then,
a set of coincidences led to a contract from the Salzberg Marionette Theater in
Austria for a whole cast of life-sized puppets to support the theater’s
performance of The Sound of Music.
Broadway called next. The husband and wife team gained worldwide renown.
Zasha was trained in the family
craft and her own skills grew quickly.
While her parents struggled with fluency in English, Zasha’s ability to
switch back and forth between Russian and English was effortless. Where her
mother did most of the fine carving, and her father designed and assembled the
mechanics of movement, Zasha was skilled at both.
Into her teenage years, Zasha
never tired of walks through the woods. Until the day she sat on one of the
many stumps, a great basswood tree that had been felled for puppet material.
She shut her eyes and listened to the wind, soon she realized there was no
wind. It was screams she heard, not human screams, something more organic. Jagged.
Agony. She realized it was the trees.
She ran from the woods, chased
by shrieks of fear, sobs of pain, and cries for help. Her parents were in the
barn when Zasha entered, hands pressed hard against her ears, now screaming
herself. She opened her eyes and saw
both parents perched over logs, stripping the bark with drawknives, piles of
the basswood’s flayed skin on the ground. She picked up a claw hammer and
attacked her parents.
I wanted the screaming to stop, she told the Doctors,
wanted my parents to stop the torture.
After many months, Zasha’s
doctors settled on a combination of medications to stabilize what they labeled was
a schizophrenic break with reality.
Zasha stopped working with her
parents, and spent her days walking through the woods. The screams had stopped.
She gradually noticed something else. The wind swayed the tops of the trees,
the leaves of the trees breathing, she could hear their roots drink water and draw
nutrients from he ground. The birds picked at insects, squirrels ate nuts,
clouds passed the sun, sunlight caressed the earth, colors shape shifted, and
coalesced—it was all one, she thought, all interconnected. She was one, she was
everything, and she was nothing; her breath the breath of the trees; her
heartbeat attached to the pulse beneath the soil.
To destroy this, she thought,
After being put on
administrative leave, the first policeman disappeared through a labyrinth of drug
houses and homeless shelters. The second policeman, unable to remove the images
of the Semenov’s grotesque smiles from his mind, settled on a shotgun as the
Zasha sat in a metal chair, at a
metal desk, in a twelve-by-twelve interrogation room. “Why did you do this?”
In the barn, the policemen took
out their guns. The investigation revealed that after overpowering her parents,
Zasha worked for weeks. She flayed them, removed all the skin except on their
torsos, and left them intact from their genital area to their necks. She
dismembered the bodies at every joint, reattached the hands, feet, and sections
of arms and legs, randomly between the two torsos. She switched the heads,
stitched facial expressions. She hung them from an elaborate rope and control
bar system in the barn rafters.
Now with an audience, she made
her parent’s hug, separate, and dance, in what one officer would say was like
that Riverdance stuff. Zasha raised her parent’s arms and the
puppets pointed the wooden revolvers that she carved and painted with
meticulous precision, at the officers.
The police fired off thirty 9mm
bullets in four seconds. The meat puppets hung in parts: shattered bone, ripped
muscle, and blobs of organs.
Why? Zasha’s mind
skipped back and forth between Russian and English. Yes, she thought, the key
was in her parent’s
names: Adrik meaning dark, Anastasia meaning resurrection. Dark Resurrection.
She felt transformed, completed, destined before
the beginning of time to be the defender, the rightful owner—of everything.
Why did I do it? She thought in
Russian, Ya Bog, and spoke the last
words she would ever utter:
Michael Hopkins was born
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His book and music criticism has appeared in the Philadelphia
Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The
Scene (WI), and Magnet magazine. He has a degree in Electrical
Engineering from Drexel University. His stories have won awards from Glimmer
Train and The Mill. His short fiction has been published in Millwork,
Pleiades, 365 Tomorrows, Wisconsin People and Ideas, and Moss Piglet. He
is the winner of the 2018 Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters annual
fiction contest, and 3rd place winner in the 2019 contest. He
lives on a small Farm in Wisconsin, with his wife and their dog, cats,
chickens, and bees.