Part I of V.
The city is wet and the sun is out. It is spring (as much as Russia can figure out what spring is).
I decide to go for a walk in the park. It isn’t a big park. The ground is mostly slush and dog shit. I take a seat on a bench and light a cigarette. It is warm enough that my thumb doesn’t hurt when I strike the lighter. I smile.
The air jumps aside as a man plops himself onto the bench beside me. I look at him, then around at the multitude of empty benches on the other side of the path. I sigh. He looks at me.
“Can I have a cigarette?” he asks, in Russian. I nod and pull out my pack. He places one in his mouth and I light it for him. His beard goes to his belly-button, his hair is a messy length of knots. It is green. He takes a drag. I shift a bit away. The arm of the bench digs into my side. He says something else. I turn. He repeats it.
“I don’t understand Russian,” I tell him, in Russian. He points at his mouth. I feel around in my pockets. There is a bag of peanuts I was saving for later. I shrug and hand it over. He rips it open in a hurry and pours the whole bag down his throat.
He coughs, he gags, he dies. It all happens in the time it takes my cigarette to get low enough that it burns my fingers. I toss it away. I shake the man. He slumps onto my lap, colder than he already was. I shove him off and stand up. He slides off the bench onto the ground. I look at my phone, realize I don’t want to attempt explaining me and a dead guy in the park in Russian, and put it away.
I look around. In the trees behind the bench I see something. It looks like a large cardboard box, with a chimney. I head toward it. As I get closer, it grows bigger. It is a soggy hut made entirely of cardboard and soda cans. There is even a door; strips of plastic taped together draped over a poorly fixed stick.
I push it aside and walk in. A bed made of newspaper stacks occupies a corner. On it, a girl of about twenty, completely naked, staring at me, wide eyed.
“Run!” she says. I step back.
“He is coming!” she says. Then, she starts speaking too fast for me to understand. She says one word over and over.
“Leshy, Leshy, Leshy.”
She gets up at runs at me. I back away but she is faster, she shoves me out of the hut. I fall back in the mud. I look up. She is standing over me. She has stopped hollering. She is looking at something behind me. I turn. The dead man is still on the ground, not far.
“Ah, uh, yeah, death?” I manage to say, in Russian. She looks down at me, then back at the man.
“Death?” she repeats.
Then, she smiles. She begins crying. The tears fill the corner of her mouth and she falls on me, holding me tight, covering us both in mud. She continues crying, gurgling the word “thank you, thank you, thank you,” over and over. I wait for her to calm down. Then, gently, I push her off. My back is wet with mud. I point to the man. Then at my phone.
She looks at my phone, takes it, and puts half of it in her mouth. She spits it out into the mud.
“What the hell!” I reach down and pick it up. I clean it with my shirt.
“Look,” I say, taking off my jacket, “I don’t speak Russian well.”
“But,” I add, in English, “you can’t go running around like that.”
I put the jacket around her shoulders and zip it up. It’s good enough. I walk over to where the dead man is laying. The woman follows.
“Leshy,” she says, pointing at the dead man.
“I don’t understand what that means,” I tell her.
“You die him?” she manages, in broken English.
I nod, “well, no, accident. It was an accident.”
She smiles. and says a word at me I don’t understand. She walks closer and grabs my hand. I frown at it. She repeats the word. I pull my hand away.
“Just, hold on,” I tell her.
I take out my phone and call N.
“Yes?” N answers.
“Hey, so, awkward. Some dude kinda died in the park–”
“Are you there?” he cuts me off.
“Yeah, don’t be there.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just there is a girl here,” I pause, “naked. I think this guy had kidnapped her.”
N sighs on the other end of the phone. “Yeah, don’t be there.”
“One more thing, what is a Leshy?”
“The spirit of the forest. Why?”
I look at the dead man on the ground. “Of course he is,” I mutter.
TO BE CONTINUED…