"Cold Beautiful" by Yamila Abraham
Edited by Michele Henson
Cover by ~Himitsu-Studio
The novice prison guard Yolkov was taken hostage during a riot at a notorious Russian penitentiary. He would have suffered an excruciating death if not for Zhirov, a burly and soulful inmate who protected him. After the ordeal Yolkov can’t help but seek out Zhirov’s companionship. He believes that his hero was sent from a higher power not just to protect him, but to save him from the abyss his life has become. Zhirov may be feared by the other inmates, but Yolkov sees him for his wisdom, depth, and sublime spirit. He’s put in the precarious position of being willing to do anything for the prisoner.
There’s talk of a Corrective Colony on a polluted arctic island. Volunteer prisoners can have their sentences reduced if they complete the clean-up. Zhirov is too extreme a criminal to be eligible, but this is the favor he asks of Yolkov. He wants to be outside again, even if it’s working with toxic waste. Yolkov takes his request to the warden. She’s incredulous, but finally agrees when Yolkov volunteers to go to the island also.
Yolkov has only heard rumors of the disaster at the last Corrective Colony. He has no idea what kind of chaos he’s signed up for. He only knows he’ll do anything for Zhirov, and that may mean relying on his protection once again.
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“You should never trust someone like me,” Zhirov said. “It makes me worry for you.”
Yolkov finished chewing his kasha before answering. “If you wanted to hurt me you could have done it during the riots.”
The burly prisoner scoffed through his nostrils. He took a hunk of black bread from the meal Yolkov had laid out before them. Zhirov salted the bread casually, as if it wasn’t a delicacy he’d been deprived of for the last fifteen years.
“So, I protected you during the riots, and now my beautiful dreamer thinks he owes me?”
Yolkov looked away. “Maybe you believe I’m only going to be nice to you a few times, and then will leave you to rot in the pit. The truth is I actually like your company. You’re more intelligent than any of the shitheads I work with.”
Zhirov laughed. “How romantic.”
Yolkov’s brow rose, but then he realized he deserved the admonishment. He’d provided the most intimate setting the prison could afford them: dinner alone in the second floor monitoring station. No cuffs. No other guards.
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