Krupov screamed. A wave of glass swept over Nadia’s shoulders and she fell flat. The photographer jumped up with a cry, dropped his camera, scrambled to retrieve it in the crush of militia reforming into a defensive line. Another explosion ripped through the gym. The remaining windows burst into winged shards of sunlit glass. Krupov saw Nadia rise up on her elbows and look around dazedly. He called to her, and through the din and smoke she seemed to hear. She looked straight at him, still loopy. She’s hit her head, he thought, she doesn’t know to get moving. As he started toward her, she turned away unsteadily, rocking on the balls of her feet, her underwear ragged and soiled. With an off-kilter hop she crested the sill of the shattered window and evaporated into the smoke billowing from the gym.
“Did you see it?” The photographer was holding his cell phone aloft. “That kid just went back in. Jesus Christ. Unbelievable. Why would she do that?”
“To get her mother,” Krupov said dully.
As the line of soldiers streamed across the courtyard to take the school, Krupov saw the shimmering outline of bared arms emerge from the smoke and stretch high above the lick of flames to hoist a big girl back through the window. Nadia again touched the earth. A soldier scooped her up; another grabbed the ethereal arms, pulled them roughly over the shards of glass.
Katarina had found her way to a window.
As his wife and daughter were being restored to Krupov, the photographer let out a whoop. “The connection’s up. I got the perfect shot with this piece of shit phone. Everyone’s going to see that little girl crawling back into hell to save her mother.”
Krupov watched him heft the phone high to catch the signal, Nadia’s flesh and bones confetti for all the world.