[At the request of Clara, I present to you all a familiar face...Welcome back our very own Baba Yaga! :) ]
Baba Yaga and I had been living in her home for almost an entire season now. The Season of Change was creeping in. The air was more brisk, mornings were cooler, Baba Yaga was ecstatic. This had always been her favorite season.
I soon figured out that no matter what time of year it was she was going to keep me busy doing all manners of chores. She had picked up her pace, and we were both working twice as hard as we had been during the hottest part of the Summer. We barely had time for our hour together before bed, but she insisted that we stay up. It was important to her that we get to know each other better. I didn't see much point in sitting up and playing cards or reading, but because it seemed to mean so much to her that I obliged.
One evening things had cooled off considerably. Baba was chilled so we lit our first fire of the season. She clapped and cackled with joy as the firewood crackled with life. It was easy to see how all the little things excited her, and that made me smile too.
I inhaled deeply, the smell of dry, burning logs filling my lungs. As I breathed out I met her eyes and asked her why we had to work so much harder now. If it was because the days would soon be getting shorter and the weather colder. She motioned for us to sit in our respective chairs. As we sat she told me a story.
For as long as she had been living in the woods, the people in the nearest village would bring her children every 18 years. Always girls. Always the 'bad ones'. She said it was because of a rumor she had started about herself- that she ate little children in a stew and especially liked the taste of naughty children. She had intended for the rumor to keep people away and not come looking for her. "I like my peace." She said plainly. When the first child was delivered to her doorstep during the first thunderstorm of the new season, she was beyond baffled. A note pinned to the toddler's cloak explained in detail why the child had been left there. Sometimes the parents thought that the child was possessed and would be a good servant to an old witch like Baba. Other times the child was deaf, blind, or mute. A travesty among the villagers. Whatever ailed the child, physical or mental, that was beyond the healing of local shamans- was brought to Baba. Either to be eaten or raised as a companion.
"Obviously I don't eat them." She said with a wry grin. "Never thought about it either, something about children doesn't seem appetizing. I hate the way you wretched things smell- Gods only know how one of you would taste! Blech!"
Without fail, every eighteen years a child would be brought to her stoop and left with nothing but what they were wearing. Baba had taken it upon herself to raise the little girls, teach them all that she knew, heal them if she could, and when they were grown she'd send them on their way. When her hands had been more adept, she would draw portraits of them when they first came to her, and again when the left her. Pulling out bits of parchment from under her seat, she showed them to me. Some she touched their faces gingerly, as if remembering.
"You are different, however." A bony, crooked finger reached out and poked me in the shoulder teasingly. "You came and found me. Of your on volition. You are not a bad child in any way. Not a trouble maker in the slightest. That's why you confused the Garden so- why it hasn't named you yet. You ruffled quite a few feathers since your arrival!"
She had just started to tell me about each of the girls that had come to her over the years, about their talents, who was truly good and which ones were truly haunted- when the storm came. Just as she had predicted earlier. It was a hard rain, the sound of ice could be heard against the window panes. Soon it became a deluge and the sound of splintering wood could be heard everywhere around the hut.
Baba simply put another log on the fire, sat beside me and patted my leg. The lull in the storm brought another noise- someone rapping on Baba Yaga's front door. Followed by the skidding, sloshing sound of feet making haste before they were snatched up and eaten.
I followed behind her to the door, she grabbed the knob and twisted it open, looking back she gave a "told ya so" smirk. Peering down on the stoop we both gasped.
In all the years Baba had been taking in stray children, there had only been one at a time. Now, looking down, a girl with coal black hair, no older than five, was holding her baby sister, herself not older than two months.
"Well, I'll be damned. This is about to get interesting." A comment, we would soon find, was an understatement.