Untouched The Girl in the Box - By Robert J. Crane


Above the Podkannaya Tuguska River

Russian Empire

June 30, 1908

His skin was wreathed in flames, burning red and yellow, as he streaked across the early morning sky. Aleksandr Timofeyevich Gavrikov was not yet eighteen. I can’t believe I killed her, he thought. I have done murder.

The air felt cold in spite of the fact that his skin was covered by a solid inch of fire. How is that possible? he wondered. The wind that whipped across his face did not affect the flames. This is unlike anything I have ever seen...unlike anything Father has ever seen too, I think...The smell of rank, stale water rose up from below him in the swamps. A river cut the land, the shine of the rising sun refracting off it. He was several hundred feet up, flying—as though I were a bird, he thought. Without flapping my arms, I can fly! Just like Father.

He felt a thrum in his heart at that thought. He will hurt me for this; worse than he ever has before. Perhaps things would have been different if mother had lived, he thought for the thousandth time, then dismissed it. I am on fire and flying through the air and I have done murder. Had mother lived long enough to see this, the shock would have killed her.

Seventeen years, he reflected. Seventeen years of hell for me and Klementina. But no more. The flames on his skin burned brighter as he thought about it, of all the abuses, the beatings, the nights he heard Klementina squealing and crying when their father went to her—

The flames that covered him changed, grew hotter. The cold air was warming around him, and he hovered a few feet above the water, staring at himself, his reflection, in the river below. How many times, Klementina? How many times did he hurt you? He and Klementina were forced to stay on the farm on all but the rarest of occasions. His sister was fair—beautiful, he thought. More beautiful than the peasant girls he had seen when they had gone into Kirensk. Her green eyes were hued with some blue, and her skin was tanned and freckled. Her blond hair hung about her shoulders as she carried buckets of water in from the well. She was far, far more beautiful than the girls he had seen in Kirensk.

He drifted close to the surface of the water, looking at himself. No skin was visible; he was a glowing fire, shaped like a man. What...am I? Even Father does not burst into flames when he flies...

“Aleksandr!” The word crackled through the air, and panic ran through him. He whipped his head around to see his father flying toward him from above, eyes narrowed, his teeth bared in rage.

I will get such a beating for this, Aleksandr thought. I will be chained and locked in the shed for a week.

He remembered the time when he’d had courage. A year earlier he had awoken to hear Klementina crying, his father slapping her in the only bedroom of their farmhouse. It happened so often, and every night it had, he turned over, shut his eyes tight, and covered his ears with his old, threadbare pillow. It almost shut out the cries of his sister and the primal, disgusting grunts of his father.

He had thought he couldn’t bear it any longer. He had run into the room in the middle of the night and grasped his father by the shoulders, throwing him off Klementina. She huddled, clutching a sheet to her, moaning and sobbing, her eyes wide with fear. The first two punches had been so satisfying; he heard his father’s nose break, watched the blood run down his lip. Then the drunken eyes had focused on him, and his father had brought a hand across his face in fury.

Aleksandr had gone flying across the room. After landing, he could dimly hear Klementina crying, saw her covering herself with the blanket as his father approached him. He could smell the awful night smells, the stink of sweat and fear. The blood was slick and running across his eye as his father leaned down to him. With another punch, everything went dark.

When he awoke, it was midday, hot, and he was chained to a stake in the middle of the shed. No water, no food, until after dark when Klementina came to him, bringing him some crumbs of supper and something to drink. Her eyes were black and swollen, and a trail of dried blood led from