Dear readers, tonight we print a police interview, together with the detective’s notes and observations about the interviewee — a young woman, who claims the disappearance of her autistic sister is due to magic and time-travel.
From the closed files relating to the Ms. Orlova’s house fire and the disappearance of Sasha Orlov: Transcript of Alex Orlov interview with Hillsborough police department’s Detective Hendle. (Additional observations were added after the interview by Officer Tony Davids.)
Notes & Observations: Ms. Orlov appears young for her age. She is very thin, but it is hard to tell just how thin—she is hiding underneath a gray sweatshirt with a UC Berkeley logo that is several sizes too big on her. She has shoulder-length dirty blond hair, which looks unwashed and unbrushed. The girl’s overall appearance is a bit bedraggled. Given what her family is going through, I suppose it’s understandable.
Detective: Tell us, Alex, a little about your sister. How you grew up? What was it like?
Alex: As you know, this is a very difficult question to answer.
Notes & Observations: As she talks, Ms. Orlov continuously fidgets with the extra-long sleeves of her sweatshirt, picking at the unraveling fabric at the hem. She is obviously very upset. She avoids meeting the eyes of the detective and other officers in the room.
Detective: You mean so soon after your twin’s…we know it must be very difficult—
Alex: No, it’s not what I mean. And it’s not even like Sasha died recently. It’s been almost three decades now.
Detective: But you are only nineteen…
Detective: Can you explain what you mean, please?
Alex: I guess I should start at the beginning…or as much of the beginning as it’s really possible given…well, given that time is not really linear for my sister and me. We were born at the turn of the century.
Alex: Does it really matter?
Notes & Observations: I’m noting this as a classic avoidance behavior. I assume Ms. Orlov is lying to us. She is not a very practiced liar.
Alex: Sasha, as I’m sure you know, was…is…was severely autistic. Of course when we were babies, I didn’t know that. So we played together like other sisters, I guess. Only it was different. I usually ran around and got into all sorts of mischief, but Sasha toyed with things that were right next to her—a rocks, a pinch of sand, a flower petal, a spoon, her toes. Basically, whatever was within her reach. She wasn’t really into baby toys. She didn’t like clothes much either.
Detective: You were just babies.
Detective: Please go on.
Alex: We were born in Brooklyn, New York. But when Sasha was formally diagnosed, we moved out to California. There are more resources for kids like Sasha out here. And Aunt Nana was out here and she helped the family a lot in the beginning. Nana helped us buy a home and helped with finding Dad a job out here… Nana babysat us. But she was…
Notes & Observations: Ms. Orlov’s face flashes every time she mentions her great aunt—Ms. Nadezhda Orlova. “Aunt Nana” or “Nana,” as the girl refers to her. Note the variation of the family name spelling—something to do with Russian language.
Detective: The way you said it just now, sounds like you are not a fan of your grand aunt. No?
Alex: No…Yes! Yes, I am. I love Nana! But again, it’s complicated. Sasha was non-verbal before we moved to California. She said her first word—the name she chose for herself, Sasha—when we just stepped inside Aunt Nana’s house for the first time. Everything changed right then. I…we loved going over to that house. Aunt Nana let us play in her garden. As babies, we used to run around naked in there, playing in the grass amid all her roses. Well, I guess I did most of the running, but it was truly paradise. I don’t have many memories of New York, but I don’t think we went outside too much back there. And then here, everything was magically different.
Detective: Like the Firebird Estate?
Notes & Observations: The girl practically jumps out of her chair, eyes as huge as saucers. We got her! The detective overheard Mr. Orlov, Alex’s dad, mention this place to Mr. Blackbird. As far as we understand, Boris Blackbird was Ms. Orlova’s attorney. The man is a very strange character. We should push him further. He obviously knows a lot more about the fire than he is telling us.
Detective: Never mind. Sit down, Alex. Please go on.
Notes & Observations: Alex is obviously scared to tell us about this place, “The Firebird Estate.” It takes her time to gather herself together, but she does and goes on. I gave her a bottle of water. Something really traumatic must have happened at that house. The Firebird Estate might be a euphemism for something a lot darker than just a childhood make-belief. Too bad the evidence all went up in flames. Coincidence? After drinking the entire bottle, Alex sits back down and continues her story.
Alex: We were still toddlers, when our mom dropped us off at Nana’s that time. As usual, we went straight for the backyard, stripped to play in sun, ran barefoot on the grass. I don’t really know how it happened. I guess Nana looked away for a moment or went to use a bathroom or something. In any case, we…Sasha managed to open an old wooden door to a storage room out in the garden. It looked like a dusty place where discarded and broken garden tools were stored. Definitely not the kind of place little girls should explore, without shoes, no less. But Sasha went in, and so I rushed after her. Even back then, I knew that Sasha was my responsibility somehow.
Notes & Observations: Detective Hendle has to continuously prod the girl with questions. Without prompts, Alex would simply stop talking and just sit there, quietly playing with her hands.
Alex: And so we walked right past the old lawn chairs and grass mowers and just kept going and going.
Notes & Observations: I distinctly heard Ms. Orlov say that the room turned into a cave. Unfortunately, the microphone didn’t pick that up. Ms. Orlov seems very uncomfortable telling us the details of what happened to them in that storage room.
Detective: The storage room couldn’t have been that big—
Alex: Huh. It was big enough to change everything. Sasha kept running deeper and deeper inside. And she normally doesn’t run. She is clumsy, not too well coordinated in our time. Just another side effect of her autism, I guess. So even back then, I knew that running like that was a strange thing for Sasha to be able to do.
Notes & Observations: Alex continues to refer to her sister in present tense.
Alex: Sasha practically ran all the way to the other side. She was graceful, like a ballerina, every time she got to the other side.
Detective: Every time? You went in more than once? Who was there? What was on the other side?
Alex: The Firebird Estate. We didn’t know it right away, of course. It took years to figure it all out. And by then my mother told me the time tunnel in Nana’s garden was just a figment of my imagination, a childhood fantasy brought on by the sibling syndrome. Apparently lots of kids with sisters or brothers with special needs experience psychiatric disorders and anxiety.
Notes & Observations: Alex is practically ripping the ends of her sleeves to shreds. Better cloth than skin, though.
Alex: It’s hard when the family always focuses on the sick child. It’s hard to get attention. And when you do, you feel guilty. Lot’s of stress… Mom thought I was acting out. She was actually very supportive.
Detective: Huh? And do you believe you suffered from such syndrome?
Alex: I was made to go to all kinds of therapists, doctors. They gave me medication. Mom forbade us from visiting Nana’s. We practically stopped seeing our great aunt all together.
Detective: Did you miss Aunt Nana?
Alex: Very much. But I had school and friends. Sasha only had Nana and the Firebird Estate. Sasha was devastated. You see I believed Mom when she said that none of those things that happened to us when we walked through the time tunnel in the garden were real. It was all a make-belief game we played with Nana, I was told, and it was dangerous. But Sasha couldn’t speak in our time, in the present. She only became verbal back there, back then. She was trapped in our time. She got sicker and sicker. Sasha was dying and I did nothing. I felt like if I believed in time travel, then I was crazy. So I’ve stopped playing with Sasha. I stopped going and even speaking with Nana. I knew it was all real, and yet I pretended that it was just a childhood fantasy. And then…
Notes & Observations: It’s obvious that Alex is very upset. She is clearly on the verge of a full breakdown; tears have been rolling down her face as she answers our questions. Given what we know, I feel very uncomfortable with what we are doing right now. The girl should be talking to a therapist, not a detective. Even as she is lying to us, she obviously believes that she had time-traveled with her sister to this Firebird place. Perhaps it’s a protective mechanism? She could be lying to herself. This alone seems to indicate that we are being unethical by conducting this interview. But Detective Hendle keeps pushing the girl to tell us more. Her twin is still missing, presumed dead.
Detective: Yes? What happened then?
Alex: Fire. Aunt Nana’s house burned out. The time tunnel is gone now. There is nothing left but rubble. There is no way to go back. Not ever.
Notes & Observations: Alex is crying. She has difficulty breathing, hyperventilating. We should stop. This is just wrong.
Detective: And Sasha?
Alex: They say…they say a lot of things. I…I…I don’t really know any more. They say she died. But…but I wonder… I wish…I wish… Sorry. Can we stop now? Do you have any other questions for me? Really, perhaps you should talk to Dad or to Boris Blackbird. He knows a lot. He has old photos. You might want to take a look at those.
Detective: We’ve interviewed Mr. Blackbird. The photos and other family memorabilia appear to have gone missing.
Notes & Observations: Alex seems scared of Mr. Blackbird. She practically jumps out of her chair again when the detective mentions his name.
Detective: He said that you might have some of those photos now?
Alex: I think we are done now.
Notes & Observations: Alex got up and looked around, obviously hoping to simply walk out on the interview. If it weren’t for the case of her missing sister, we would let her. But time is of the essence.
Detective: Please, Ms. Orlov, please sit down. Would you like some more water?
Alex: Yes, please. But really, I have nothing more to add. I don’t really know anything. I just wish…
Alex: I wish it was me.
Notes & Observations: Alex collapses back into the chair, crying into her sweatshirt. I’m trying to signal for our team to stop. The poor kid doesn’t even have an attorney present…or a parent. Although technically, Alex Orlov is an adult. She comes across very young, very vulnerable.
Alex: I wish I believed more. I am the Countess…that painting looked just like me.
Notes & Observations: Alex spoke too softly while crying into her sleeves. The tape didn’t really pick up the last thing she said. But I believe I got the above right. Alex said “Countess.” The girl is obviously too distraught to go on. Fortunately, the interview just got interrupted by Mr. Blackbird. He insists that he represents ALL members of the Orlov Family, as his family had for three generations, going back to Harbin, China.
Detective: Thank you very much, Alex. You are free to go.
Notes & Observations: Frankly, I’m relieved that we let this child go. The story of the Firebird Estate is too strange to be taken seriously by a modern police department. Hopefully, Alex will get the psychiatric help she needs to move on with her life after the death of her twin.
Olga got her B.A. from Columbia University in Mathematics and Astrophysics and worked at NASA on the Pioneer Venus Project as a programmer. She received her masters from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology and went on to earn a doctorate in education. Together with her husband and business partner, Olga conceives, designs, and creates products, ideas, websites, and exhibits. Along the way, she writes science fiction (with an extra helping of science). Olga is an indie author. Her stories have won awards and got some nice reviews (thank you, readers!).
You can find Alex on the pages of Twin Time.
Join us on Friday to meet a young woman destined to become a dark monster. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.