Katya Dvarzhnik dwells in the highest reaches of the tangling black branches of the Red Forest, and she always has. Clothed in the very shadows that dance between the trees, she is every creeping vine, every glowing eye vanishing between bushes, every dank pool of mossy water that freezes sickly green in the winter. Her hair is a tangle of moss or a fall of sparrow-brown silk; her limbs are tattooed in the tangled Cyrillic of alchemical secrets stolen from Grigori Rasputin himself. In the villages on the edge of the exclusion zone, they hang crosses over cradles and tell stories of the mad witchwoman who killed her own daughter (begotten on an Army man) for her lovely snow-colored skin and the love of a draughtsman.

They say she rides the wild horses and whips up the ghosts through the wood that glows in the night, and when cancer chews at your innards, she has conjured it out of horn and milk long-spoiled and dried in lost Pripyat. They say she was born from the guts of the first scientist killed at the plant, and she has taken it for her castle, which she haunts. They say the small things of the wood creep about her in blue-lit panoply, like a cloak of deathly spirits that once might have been fairies.

Hang the image of Christ in a horseshoe, suspend the rosary or a votive image above the front door, and she won't creep through, stroking the skin of your men in the night. Sometimes, they whisper, she is dressed in Western jeans and she flaunts herself brazenly the street corner, in the guise of a whore seeking employ. Look for the briars in her eyes, the suspicious redness of her lips, the small cat's eyes lurking in the shadows, waiting to devour her prey.

"Patient is one hundred pounds and shows clear signs of disassociation from reality. She was found naked, smeared in her own blood and clutching a doll. We have restrained her for the sake of the nurses and herself.

Western men say she goes under a hill at dawn and comes out with a horde of dogs at her feet, but even the mongrels in Kiev take to howling when her shadow passes from between the trees. The diplomat's wives smirk over their diamonds and their glasses of wine at the good, pious people, and there are thorns between their teeth when they laugh, white between perfectly red lips and chemical-stretched skin. When they go out to see the forest, as they sometimes do, they leave roses and diamonds between the stones for she, the queen, the woman. The temptress.

Pray, the priests say, and pray, for sin strikes all of us, but it glides away from her like butter from a hot plate. She is older and younger than the forest, than the stone, than the very river running the poisoned land. But even the mean herb crones are more ugly than her. She laughs, white and cream over decay, her hair a fall in the black, her hair a tangled mossy thing in the woods. Speak quietly of her, for she sets spurs and briars in place to catch your skin and poison your very marrow.

They never ask why witches curse good men, of course. Merely that all witches are evil, and she, a witch before witches, has always been poisoned and rotten.

Patient remains disassociated and uncooperative. Police investigations have revealed skulls under the floor of her house, carved in Cyrillic. Katie... patient shows clear signs of sexual abuse, though no evidence of visitors has been found in her place of residence.

Patient has been attempting to save the milk from her meals, and becomes increasingly violent when the cartons are taken away...

Men ruin women, they say, but what man could ruin this one who eats them alive? She is pure wormwood, the wood and plant itself, the rotting skeletons of grinning vehicles parked forever. She is the rust and poison of the river, and she leaves curses in Cherenkov radiation scrawled across the walls of the villages.

Patient escaped from the secure ward this evening and killed several of the nurses with a pair of scissors left unsecured on a tray. When the guards found her, she was in the gardens, eating rose vines and tangles of poisonous weeds. She has since been heavily sedated and restrained for the protection of herself and others.

Video footage from the ward has so far been heavily damaged, with many frames completely corrupted by spots of light and exposure across the lenses of the camera.

They say, once upon a time, there was a girl, a boy, a golden ring, and a pirate king, but that was long ago, and the fairytale has been corrupted as the wormwood corrupts. Once she was spoiled, who would touch even one as lovely as her?

She was a whore, so they said, and she deserved what she got.

One of the doctors attempted to murder the patient this morning with a dose of cyanide. He has since been remanded to the authorities for further investigation, and the patient is due to be transferred to the next district, to a more secure ward. May God have mercy on her soul.

Do not pity the witches and whores, for they will murder you in your kindness.

Katie escaped this morning and has come again in the dark before dawn, tangled in wormwood and roses. She was curled in my bed with a skull and the scissors, and when I woke her, she smiled at me and said something in Russian. I must follow, for the sun is rising, and the cats are staring from the shadows...