The Baba Yaga

A loud pounding could be heard throughout the valley. Disturbed by the noise, birds fluttered up, moving to another tree further away. A rabbit perked his ears up before disappearing in the tall grass. Squirrels scampered high into the trees.

Adriana rushed out of the small house and ran toward the corral. Her chestnut mare stomped her foot in agitation from the noise. The young girl didn’t bother opening the gate; she jumped over the fence and ran to the horse, making soothing noises as she went.

“Hush, Dove. Shh. It will be okay.” Adriana held out her hand toward the animal’s neck.

The horse’s nostrils flared, and its eyes were wide as they watched her. With every soothing sound from Adriana, the horse settled down just a little bit more. Letting her touch him, the horse neighed and stomped his hoof.

“I know. I know. That noise is not the most pleasant, but it will end soon. It always does.” She knew that soon was not soon enough. It would be dusk when the loud machinery would quiet.

Their part of the valley had been untouched for far too long. They were foolish to think it would continue. The villagers weren’t completely out of touch with the modern world. They dressed the same as the rest of the world around them. They possessed modern equipment for their work and had electricity since it was first made available. The only thing outsiders would consider archaic was that they grew their own food. Most needed items came through the village grocer who kept the fake processed food out and only brought in item..

The roads were still dirt. Paved roads were better, but the villagers had no desire to bring in all that equipment and disrupt their quiet lives. They’d deal with muddy roads when it rained.

Now, it seemed they couldn’t hold off the outside world any longer. The machines were moving in. Decades ago the railroad allowed for easier access to other towns, and the telephone was what touched every home. Now, the government was putting in a major highway within three miles of the village. Explosives were set off daily as they pushed through the hills. Even the construction workers were invading the village and creating havoc. Most locals who had originally flocked to see the construction and the workers out of curiosity now hid from them. Their crude nature was not common in the village, even to the most derelict among the locals.  

Adriana had only seen them once when she had to go into town for thread. Several of the men had stopped to ogle her, while whistling at her young teenage body. She had been terrified and ran into the store, staying there until they had all disappeared into a building across the street. Now, going into town became a secretive adventure where she snuck in and snuck out.

So much had been changing and not for the better. With all the newcomers, there had been an increase in theft and hostilities. Verbal disputes came between the local businesses and the visitors as well as the villagers who found the city cars parked, blocking their driveways or parked on their lawns. Most of the altercations had been between the native villagers as they directed their fears at each other. Directing their uneasiness toward the strangers would only cause trouble for the people in the valley. Taking it out on each other was safer, though it did encourage old resentments. It didn’t help that workers and tourists disappeared quite often after entering the village and the valley area. They would pass through the valley and never make it to their destination.

The encroachment of the outside world had attracted old evils.

Adriana heard another rumble from the opposite direction of the construction blasting. Her head whipped around as her eyes followed the road past her house and into the woods.

It was a well-traveled road, having the only road with a direct route between the village and a western city. Travel between the two took two hours by car. As a region known for its scenery, tourists frequented the area, enjoying their time away from the noise and bustle of the city.

Along the way were many farms that had roadside stands. Each side of the road was lined with fields and fences. With the increase in construction, the road had more traffic than usual. It was this excess travel that awakened the Baba Yaga.

******** 

Adriana had heard tales of the reclusive woman who lived deep in the valley amidst the thickest forest. As a small child, her grandfather had whispered about her as though she might have heard him. He’d hear a strange sound in the dark and mutter, “Baba Yaga.” Then he’d glance over his shoulder, eyes wide in fright as if expecting her to jump out of the shadows and claim his soul.

The Baba Yaga was known by all, or at least the stories of her were. Stories were told around the fires at night to frighten children. However, not all believed they were just myths. Many of the older villagers believed she existed. They warned the children and others not to venture down paths or roads that diverted from the main ones. Even if the arrogant young people thought it would be a shortcut, they were advised not to go down them. The warnings were so prominent that very few disobeyed, though the temptation was strong. The allure of the forbidden was always enticing. The knowledge of another small valley within the woods and hills added a beacon of mystery and danger, and would call out to those seeking adventure. Yet when a disappearance was reported, those urges to venture into the forbidden died down, and fear took over. The Baba Yaga was always there. When someone would disappear with no explanation, whispers of the Baba Yaga would circulate around the valley.

Yet it hadn’t been the Baba Yaga who took Adriana’s grandfather away. It had been alcohol and a tourist behind the wheel who wasn’t paying attention. That had been five years ago. It was only her and her brother, Peter, living with their new grandmother, Nana. She was the woman who moved in after their real grandmother disappeared a year before their grandfather died. They were told their grandmother had run off, but Adriana didn’t believe it. Her grandmother would never have left them; she loved them too much.

One morning, they woke up to find Grandmother gone. Nana was the one in the kitchen getting their breakfast together. Grandfather sat at the table staring at his cup of coffee. When Adriana and Peter moved into the room, confused as to what was going on, he had spared them a quick glance before turning back to his coffee. The strange woman in the kitchen turned around and invited them to sit and eat. Neither one of the adults mentioned the changes. When Peter asked where their grandmother was, silence descended on the room. Their grandfather closed his eyes, and he seemed to whimper. The woman gave them a tight smile and urged them to clean their plates. That was all that was said, though Adriana tried to find out the truth from their grandfather several times. Each time, his eyes would tear up and he would change the subject. Nana was part of their lives with no explanation as to why.

The woman they were forced to call Nana was nice enough. She was about the same age as their grandmother had been and worked all the time around the house. Before the sun rose, she was getting breakfast ready. Quiet sounds from the kitchen echoed in the house as she moved pots and pans around. It didn’t take long before wonderful aromas pulled them out of their beds. Throughout the day, she could be found working in the gardens, tending to the animals, or scrubbing the house. She never rested.  

She was always very nice to them all. They had clean clothes, and she tended to their needs. When Peter cut his arm deeply while trying to put up a new fence, she was right there tending to him. Nana taught Adriana how to cook, sew, and tend the garden. Overall, the woman was perfect for them, though not as perfect for their grandfather.

When Grandmother had been around, Adriana’s grandfather had been a lively man who loved to spend time with them. He would start whistling from the moment he woke up in the mornings until he went to bed at night. It wasn’t uncommon for him to dance a little jig in the course of walking from one side of the room to the other. Throughout the day he would fix little things around the house and would take time to talk to the children or play a game with them. They enjoyed being around him.

It was after their grandmother had disappeared, and Nana had moved in, that all that had changed. Papa, as they called him, stopped whistling, and stopped dancing a jig. He became depressed and lost himself in the bottle. In every moment of the day, he could be found with a bottle of alcohol in his hand.

Adriana never saw anything bad happen between Nana and Papa. She never heard a cross word. Peter swore that he once had seen Nana give Papa the evil eye, but Peter always made up stuff. For some reason though, Papa acted as though he was scared of something. He looked over his shoulder as he walked around the house or when he was in town. He jumped at the slightest noise. As the months went by, he lost weight and began to look like a living skeleton.

A few weeks before he died, Papa began mumbling under his breath as he moved about the house. Periodically he’d let out a shout of warning, whether anyone was around or not. No one could figure out what he was trying to warn everyone against. If Nana tried to soothe him, he would scream like the demons of hell were upon him and run out into the road. He was lucky he didn’t get hit before that fateful night.

He had tempted fate too many times. The night he died, Nana had put her arm around him and whispered in his ear. Papa had thrown up his arms, screamed louder than any fabled banshee and ran out the door. Waving his hands, he screamed for everyone to run for their lives. The warning died on the wind as the sound of tires skidding on gravel was met with a loud thud, and an eerie silence descended. Adriana knew he was dead. He had finally given into the insanity that had plagued him since Grandmother had disappeared.

The weeks passed with neighbors dropping by to offer their condolences. They’d smile at Adriana and Peter but would shrink back when Nana approached with a wide smile. For some reason, they were afraid of her. It was probably for the same unknown reason that Adriana and Peter would cross themselves after she kissed them on the forehead. Something just didn’t feel right.

It was during that chaotic time that the noises from deep in the forest awoke. The older townspeople claimed it was the Baba Yaga waking up from her slumber. She would be hunting for food soon, which meant few went out after dark. Only the tourists tempted fate. The result was several missing tourists reported to the local police station.

The locals, who had been born in the area and had family that had called it home for generations, secretly believed in the Baba Yaga. To the tourists, however, the locals proclaimed it all a myth. Adriana wasn’t sure what to believe, but she knew something was wrong. Strange things were going on, and she couldn’t explain any of them. She knew locals disappeared during the winter months occasionally, but so many enjoyed telling tales of someone being taken or simply vanishing. It was hard to distinguish what was fact and what was fantasy.

Reality was the disturbing noises that bothered them all on this day. Adriana finished tending to the horse and turned her attention to the laundry. They had an old-fashioned wringer washer that did the job well enough, but the clothes still had to be hung out to dry. After Nana got the wet clothes together, Adriana carried them out to be hung up.

Adriana did notice a change in Nana. She was less talkative, not that she spoke that much to begin with. She was beginning to keep to herself a lot, and she watched Peter when she didn’t think anyone was looking. Adriana had caught her several times stealing glances at her brother. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something wasn’t right. She could feel something was about to happen.

A few days had gone by when Nana called Peter in from his chores and told him he had to run an errand for her. That was not unusual. Peter did that a lot since Nana couldn’t move as fast as he could. Many times he had run into town to deliver messages and pick up packages. This time was different; it was where she was sending him that shot alarm through Adriana.

“Peter, my boy, I need you to take this note to a woman on the other side of the gorge.”

“The gorge?”

Adriana could hear the tremble in his voice.

“Yes. You’ll know the house as it is a small cottage and has a lot of birds in the trees and a sign with a moon on it hanging by the road.” There was a pause. “You don’t believe in all that talk of a witch, do you?”

“Uh, no?” Peter didn’t sound too confident.

Adriana was about to walk in to volunteer in his place when Nana raised her voice.

“Peter, I expect you to be the man we need around here. Go on before it gets too late in the day.”

Adriana pulled back from where she was listening at the window. Peter rushed out, his legs pumping as he ran through the yard and into the road. Adriana started to follow, but the tight grip of Nana’s hand stopped her.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Adriana turned to see Nana raising her eyebrows at her.

“I…I…”

“…was going to finish your chores. It’s not your time yet.” On that cryptic note, Nana turned around and went back into the house, leaving Adriana staring after her brother.

The day wore on and evening was fast approaching. Peter had still not returned. Dusk fell on Adriana as she leaned against the fence next to the road and looked for his figure. Dark limited her vision with still no sign of her brother. Crickets began to chirp along the road as frogs from a nearby pond began to sing.

A voice behind her broke her thoughts. “Come inside, Adriana. It’s getting late. We need to lock up.”  Nana stood in the doorway. The lights from the kitchen framed her.

“What about Peter? He’s not home yet.” Adriana looked back down the road, hoping to see him returning.

“I’m sure he is fine. Come on inside.”

“But Peter!” Adriana’s voice rose in panic. “Peter is not home.” She couldn’t understand why Nana was not more concerned about her brother. Anyone who stayed out at night was in danger of disappearing forever.

“Adriana.” Nana’s voice took on a firmness Adriana rarely heard. “Come inside now. There is nothing we can do right now. We’ll look for him in the morning.”

With one last look down the road, Adriana complied and went inside. Nana closed the door and secured the locks. Adriana quickly moved into her room to get ready for the night. She moved about on autopilot as her thoughts stayed on her brother. The missing sounds of him playing with his cars in his room next door were loud. Adriana couldn’t ignore it no matter how hard she tried.

Lying in bed later, she could hear Nana moving about, tidying up as she always did. Even though the house was immaculate with nothing out of place, she was always moving things around to find better places for them. After she settled down from that, she’d take up her knitting and sit in front of the fire that she had going summer and winter. During the summer months, Adriana would spend most of her time outside or in her room where her grandfather had installed a window cooling unit. Nana still grumbled about the extra cost, but Adriana fought to keep it there, now that her grandfather was no longer around to fight for her.

The hum of the unit calmed her nerves enough for her to fall asleep. It didn’t stop her from worrying though as she woke up with Peter’s name on her lips.

Quickly dressing, she found Nana as usual in the kitchen cooking. She ignored Nana’s call to come eat. Instead, she raced out the door into the early morning. Looking around, she didn’t see her brother. She moved down the walkway and through the gate. He was not in the road. She ran a few yards down the road before Nana’s voice called out to her.

“Adriana, get back in here.”

Adriana stopped in the middle of the road. Dust floated in front her as she stood there looking at an empty road and fighting the urge to scream at the woman who was summoning her. Obedience won out as she turned around and made her way back to the house, still glancing back down the lane.

“Adriana, I’m shocked at your actions. Get in here and eat your breakfast. We have a lot of chores to get done today.” Nana’s hands were planted firmly on her hips. A frown creased her forehead. “Come on now.” She put her hands on Adriana’s shoulders and directed her inside. The door closed with a resounding click.

“Nana, we have to find Peter.”

“Yes, I know, but first we eat. Then we work. This place doesn’t work itself.”

Adriana sat at the table where Nana pushed her into her seat. She was shocked at the response she received. She stared blankly at the pancakes that sat in front of her.

“Eat up.” Nana sat across from her. “We have much to get done before the sun gets too hot outside.” She dug into her own plate.

Adriana’s eyes slid to the empty spot where Peter usually sat. There was no plate laid out for him. It was as though he never sat there, just like the other side where Grandfather once sat.

Pushing her chair back, she raced into Peter’s room. She breathed a sigh of relief to see his model planes still hanging from the ceiling and his comic books strewn about the floor. He wasn’t entirely gone from her life.

“Adriana, what is wrong with you?”

She turned to face an angry Nana. “Peter is not here. Why are we eating breakfast and talking about work? We have to look for him.”

“Eat your breakfast or you won’t have the energy to look for him. Come on.” Her voice softened a little as she motioned for Adriana to go back to the table.

Realizing she was right, Adriana sat down and ate. She quickly helped with the dishes and went about her daily chores, all the while thinking of what she was going to have to do to find her brother. She even ate her lunch before broaching the subject again.

“Can I search for Peter now? Everything is done that has to get done.” She watched Nana as she pulled the weeds from around the vegetables. Though early in the summer, her vegetables were growing faster than any other gardener’s or farmer’s. They did every year. Most of their money during the summer came from the produce she sold to the tourists who marveled at their size and flavor.

“Yes, you are right.” Nana sat back on her heels with a sigh. “I really think you should wait for him to return.”

“No.” Adriana lowered her eyes when Nana looked at her. “I’m sorry. I am just worried.”

“Yes, I see that, but keep in mind that darkness will come quickly. You’ll need to get to the other side of the valley before the dark. There are many houses there where you can find shelter.”

“I understand.” Adriana clapped her hands with joy. “I’ll get my backpack together.” She rushed into her room. After retrieving her backpack, she found Nana in the kitchen waiting for her. On the table were several packages of food and bottles of water for her to take.

“You’ll need to have something to eat later.” Nana reached into a cabinet behind her. “Here is a flashlight as well and some matches. Oh, and a knife.” Nana placed them on the table. “I have to admit that I don’t want you to go, and I really think you’ll be safer staying here.”

“I need to go find Peter. He’s not home and he should have been.” Adriana filled her backpack with the supplies and zipped it up. She paused and looked at Nana. Despite everything, she was the only one Adriana had left. The young girl moved around the table and pulled Nana into a hug. Nana returned the gesture.

Adriana pulled back. Tears pricked at the edge of her eyes. She saw similar ones in Nana’s. “I promise to be careful and to hurry.”

“This is one time I wish those cell phones worked in this area.” Nana followed her to the door and watched as she walked to the road. “Be careful!” Nana called out.

Adriana turned and waved before resuming her fast walk in the direction she had last seen Peter walking in. She had to agree that she would feel more comfortable with a way to call for help. In their area, cell phones were not functional. That was one of the biggest complaints the village received from the tourists, but no one ever pushed to have the towers installed. The village loved its seclusion, and the tourists must not have minded too much as they came back year after year. Now though, Adriana wished they did have the abilities.

Completely on her own, she was walking off into the afternoon sun with no way to call for help if she needed it. It had been a long time since she had been down these roads. When her grandmother had been home, they had gone to the next village every month for dances. Since her Nana had appeared, they had remained home. Whispers of the Baba Yaga had all the locals scared.

Adriana had never been to the other side of the valley via the supposed shortcut. From what others had said, the road was a straight shot through the valley and into another village. She had been to that village a few times as well, but it had been many years ago. The usual route was around the hills. It was longer, but no one voluntarily went through the valley. When Adriana had asked why they never followed the short route, her grandmother had shushed her and told her to never ask again. Later, she had asked her grandfather, who had whispered that few who traveled the short route ever made it out. That was one of the reasons she had feared Peter being sent that way, but Nana had been so sure that he would be okay. It hadn’t been okay.

Now she was going down that same path she had been warned against; she was taking the shortcut. Adriana had to admit she was afraid as she stood at the entrance to the road that would take her off the well-traveled path and down a way full of uncertainty.

The road was overgrown yet not blocked. Those driving down the main road wouldn’t have noticed there was another one leading into the other valley until they were passing by and looking right at it. The road was dirt, like most of them in the region. The trees were thick and hung over the path, giving the appearance of being late evening already though it was still early afternoon.

Adriana swallowed and raised her hand to push her hair back from her face where it had fallen out of her ponytail. Her hand shook as she brushed the strands from her face. Thoughts of Peter calmed her down and steeled her. She straightened her back and took a step forward, then another one. Just ten steps had her completely surrounded by the valley trees.

The sunlight trickled through the thick branches above her. Like many off the beaten path, the road was wide enough for two cars to pass with a tight fit. Wild bushes and tree limbs crowded the way from lack of use. As she walked, Adriana could see where people had tried to make their way down the road as branches were periodically broken or bent. Here and there, the branches above her opened up, and the sunlight brightened the path, picking up Adriana’s spirits.

A glance at her watch showed her it was only one in the afternoon. She had been traveling for little over an hour. So far, she hadn’t seen any evidence of Peter, which worried her. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find, but it wasn’t there.

An hour later, she came across a washed out area of the road, which now had a creek running right through it. Adriana bit her lip as she looked for a safe place to cross and fought the urge to sit down and rest. She couldn’t give into the tiredness yet. She had to find her brother.  Where had Peter crossed it? Did he? Thoughts of Peter falling flashed through her mind.

She was looking around for any sign of him when she caught sight of a fallen log that straddled the creek. A smile tugged at her lips. Peter loved to climb. He would have crossed over the log.

Getting to the log wasn’t hard since most of the sides of the creek were cleared. Adriana paused as she approached the log which appeared to be stable. There was a footprint. She bent down and touched it with her finger. It had to be Peter’s. It wasn’t huge like a man’s, and it seemed to be fresh. Hope sprung in her heart. Peter had come this way. She only prayed she’d find where he made it through the valley safely.

With renewed hope and energy, Adriana quickly crossed the log and returned to the road. Another hour passed when Adriana began to notice small trails connecting to the road. She had dismissed them early on as animal trails, but most of them were wider than typical ones used by animals. These looked to be man-made trails. The further in she went, the more numerous they became. She also noticed the growth she was experiencing on the road was not evident on the trails; their use appeared to be much more frequent.

She stopped in the middle of the road as a distant noise drew her attention. It almost sounded like the noises from the construction crews, but they were too far away for her to hear clearly. This noise was closer, yet she had a hard time determining what it was. It sort of sounded like a thump but with a more resonating feel to it like a wind chime. She had never heard anything quite like it, though it did sound like the noises Grandfather had attributed to the Baba Yaga.

Legend had it that the Baba Yaga lived in the valley long before the first villagers moved into the area. She had welcomed the new people who would visit, until she found herself betrayed by one of them. When one of the villagers stole a loaf of bread from her house instead of just asking for it, she had turned against them all. She believed in honesty and treating friends well. Now they were her enemy, and she discovered how sweet revenge could really be.

She banned them all from her house and from her valley, and those who entered were never seen or heard from again. It was said that she ate them, used their bodies to decorate her houses or even used them as added ingredients in her infamous baked items.

Adriana wasn’t one to believe in fairy tale. They were just stories the older people told in order to scare the younger ones into going to bed on time or so they would avoid certain areas. But she also knew that danger could lurk anywhere and in any disguise. She also had no doubt that the Baba Yaga was based on some real person or event and was embellished over the years.

Now she stood in the valley of the Baba Yaga. Because no one came through the valley, she did believe that it could be dangerous which confused her even more as to why Nana was so adamant that Peter take the valley road. She had thought about that many times during her walk to find him. It just didn’t make sense. Nana knew the dangers of traveling a road that few used, especially with night coming on. Now she was sending her out too instead of calling the authorities or asking the neighbors for help.

Adriana’s thoughts were interrupted as she stepped out of the woods into the main valley. She couldn’t help but gasp at the sight before her.

It was a picturesque valley with a large house in the middle and several smaller buildings surrounding it. Much of the valley was rolling grassland with a few flowers scattered about. It was something one would have seen on a postcard, yet it was not quite right. Only as Adriana continued down the road that looked to be well-maintained did it dawn on her. Though a farm, there were no farm animals.

She didn’t even hear the chirp of a bird or the rustle of animals in the brush. It had been too quiet. That was not normal. Animals lived all through the woods. Even a farm would have a dog or two running about. This one seemed to have nothing.

Her pace slowed as she neared the house and looked around for any sign of Peter, hoping she’d find him at the farm just tired from the long journey. She looked at her watch and noted that it was four o’clock. She’d have to hurry to get to the other side of the valley before dark, but it could be done. Adriana just wanted to check in with whoever lived here to see if they remembered her brother.

As she approached the house, she noticed the large stone fence. Adriana looked curiously at it. Each stone was just laid on top of the other and was unique in color and shape. She reached out and ran her hand over it. It was rough and looked close to falling apart from her mere touch.

The grounds of the farm were well tended. The grass was cut, flowers bloomed, and the paint on the house appeared to be fresh. It was so inviting that Adriana didn’t hesitate to climb the few steps leading up to the door.

She knocked on the door. Looking around, she noticed a porch swing was on one end of the porch while the other end held three chairs and a small table. Adriana hoped Peter had reached the farm and was safe.

The door opened. Adriana turned back and smiled at the pleasant woman who opened it.

The woman was short with a head full of white hair pulled back into a bun. Adriana noticed the lines around her face that scrunched up when she smiled, as well as the sparkle that lit the woman’s eyes. They gave the impression that she knew some secret and wanted to share it.

“My dear, what are you doing about this afternoon? Dark will be coming soon, and you don’t want to be out in the woods then.” The old woman pushed opened the screen door. “Come inside. I’ve got something cool to drink waiting for you.”

Adriana allowed herself to be ushered into the house and smiled at the homey feel she got as she passed through the foyer and into the bright, sunny kitchen. She couldn’t help but feel comfortable. It was as though her grandmother was there taking care of her. It just felt right.

As she settled down in a chair around the wooden kitchen table, the woman moved to the refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher of lemonade.

After glasses were filled, the woman began asking questions. “Why are you out by yourself, dear?”

“I’m looking for my brother,” Adriana answered after swallowing a mouthful of cold lemonade. It was perfect after such a long walk.

“What would your brother be doing way out here?”

“He was delivering something for Nana.”

“Through the valley? No one comes through the valley.”

Adriana nodded. “I know, but Nana wanted Peter to cross it to get to a woman on the other side and deliver a note.”

The woman’s eyebrows arched. “A note? What note would be so important to come through here?”

Adriana shook her head. “I don’t know.”

The woman was silent for a few moments. “When did your brother come through here?”

“Last night. Nana said he could stay the night with the woman on the other side of the valley, but he never came home today.”

The woman nodded. Adriana drained the last of her drink.

“Have you seen Peter, my brother?”

“Peter you say?” The woman stood up and moved to the sink, wiping down the counter.

“Yes, Peter. He must have stopped by here, or you had to have seen him as he passed by.”

“I don’t recall.”

“It was just last night.” Adriana couldn’t believe that the woman would forget someone stopping by or walking through as so few people did.

“My memory isn’t like it used to be, dear. I forget things that happened just minutes ago.”

“Surely you remember. He comes to my shoulders and has curly brown hair. He is also talkative.”

The woman turned around and smiled. “No, I don’t remember him.” She looked back out the window. “Night will be here soon. I can make a bed for you.”

Adriana shook her head. “No, thank you, I have to keep going. I have to find Peter.”

“Don’t be silly. You can go tomorrow after a good night’s rest.”

“No. There are still a few hours left before it gets dark. I can make it to the other side of the valley.” Adriana stood up and opened her mouth to thank the woman.

“No, child. I insist.” The woman moved and took Adriana’s arm.

“Thank you for the drink and the rest, but I really do have to go. My brother needs me.” Adriana moved past her, turned thank her again and moved out the door. “I really do appreciate it.” Before the woman could stop her, Adriana was out the door and down the path to the road.

She looked around as she reached the road. The woman was on the porch waving at her. Adriana waved back and moved with more energy than before. She looked up to the sky and noticed how low the sun was. She had to hurry to get out of the woods before dark had fully descended.

At the edge of the woods, she paused for a second before plunging into the thick trees. Her journey was more than half over. She could do it. Peter was somewhere nearby.

This side of the valley was much creepier than the other side she had passed through. The trees were denser and the brush along the road left only a narrow lane. Several times along the narrow trail, she felt briars snag on her shirt. The trees above her closed in tightly, forming a canopy that blocked out most of the sun. The limited light made the area around her colder, causing her to shiver. When able to move more freely, she pulled out her jacket and put it on. She also pulled out the flashlight. The darkness was growing as the seconds went by.

The flashlight helped to keep her on the path as she pushed through the thick brush. The little amount of light from the fading sun vanished, leaving her in complete darkness with only her flashlight. She glanced at her watch. It was only five o’clock. Darkness was at least three hours away. She stood in a forest that gave the impression that it was closer to midnight. Adriana looked around her as an eerie silence descended upon her. She could hear a slight thump similar to what she had heard on the other side of the forest. This time it was slower and seemed to call out. Adriana’s heart beat wildly in her chest. Her breathing was shallow as she fought her fear. A noise behind her caused her to jump and turn around, shining her flashlight all around her. The snapping sound was dull, but she heard it echo in the woods. She saw nothing on the trail or in the brush, though if anything had been there, she wasn’t sure she would have seen it. Her chest heaved from the fear that was beginning to consume her. With one last glance behind her, Adriana turned and began to walk at a fast pace. A wall of solid briars forced her to stop abruptly.

Moving closer Adriana examined it from top to bottom. It reached to the top of her head and all the way across the path. The branches had grown tightly together to prevent her from even looking through the hedge. Standing on her tiptoes, she shone her light up over the hedge. She could not see the end in the dark. Her light barely gave her a few feet of visibility. Adriana looked around, trying to find a path that had been cut around the obstacle but saw nothing as she moved up and down.

“What do I do now?” she cried out loud.

She turned back hoping to see something new she had missed. Nothing had changed. Her way was completely cut off. She tilted her head as a thought hit her. If she was blocked, that meant Peter’s way had been blocked, too. He couldn’t have made it to the other side of the valley on this path. Then where was he?

Her mind raced but only came up with two solutions: he either found another path around it, or he had gone back to the old woman’s farmhouse. If he had found a way around it, she needed to slowly retrace her own steps and find it. If he had gone back to the house, the woman had lied to her. Why would she do that? Adriana frowned at the thought. Nothing made sense.

She moved back down the path. This time she moved a step at a time, looking all around her for some opening in the thick brush. A few feet down, her heart leapt at a small opening. She stretched her hand out to test it. Could someone push through it? Reaching into the small opening, she yelped and pulled her hand back. Looking down at it, she noticed a drop of blood on the tip of her finger. She put it in her mouth and cleaned it off. Something had pricked her finger.

Adriana moved closer and shone her light on the space. There were briars everywhere. Getting stuck wasn’t too surprising. She just needed to know if she could get through without too much damage. She put her hand in again. Before her very eyes, a branch moved and slapped her hand. She cried out in pain. Her eyes widened as she stared at the space.

“Did that just attack me?” Adriana whispered. She swallowed and looked down at her hand. Spots of blood covered the back of it. Not believing her eyes, she put her hand back in and sucked in her breath as she was attacked again. Blood now ran down her hand and dripped off her fingers.

“I don’t believe it.” She looked around for someone moving the branch. Adriana noticed a stick on the trail. She picked it up and put in the space where her hand had been. Before her eyes, the stick was pulled out of her hand and disappeared. Where the space had been was now thick brush. The branches were woven together so tight that she couldn’t see past them.

“What just happened?” Panic began to rise up within her. She swallowed and backed up. Her back touched the brush behind her. Another cry came out of her as she felt the briars prick her. Adriana swirled around to see a branch melting back into the mass of limbs. “It attacked me.”

There was only one thing she could do. Adriana turned and began to move quickly down the path back to the center of the valley. It wasn’t long until she reached the edge of the woods with the late evening sun low on the horizon. It was still light enough to see her way to the farm, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

A chuckle escaped Adriana. She knew she had let her imagination get away from her. She turned back to look at the path she had just exited and gasped. The path was completely barricaded by a wall of briars. She looked down at the path she stood on and followed up to the wall where it disappeared.

“I just came from there. I just walked out of there. What is happening?” Adriana’s chest began to heave from her breathing. “I’m going crazy. Or…” She spun around and gazed upon the house. “…was I drugged?” She shook her head. Why would the woman drug her? Then again why did she lie about Peter? The more she discovered, the more questions she had. Right then she needed answers.

As night fully descended on the valley, Adriana only had to get to the farmhouse. No matter what she thought about the woman, it was the only place for her to safely spend the night. There was no way she would make it back home.

With one last glance at the now closed-off path, Adriana ran towards the farmhouse. A light on a pole by the barn was her only guide as the night sky covered her. She paused at the first porch step noting that no lights shone through the windows. Turning around, she tilted her head and listened. Her eyes scanned the yard up to the road.

“I must be crazy.” She could not find anything, yet she could have sworn she heard whispering. An idea hit her that it possibly was Peter trying to get her attention.

Adriana continued down the path slowly as she moved her eyes about and listened closely. Yes, there was whispering. It got louder as she approached the wall that stretched from one side of the walkway all the way up to the incline.  Adriana stopped a few feet from the wall. The whispering grew louder. Moving closer, she leaned in. Her ears picked up on the sounds.

Leave.

Run from here.

Save yourself.

Adriana pulled back, looking around for someone who could have been pulling a trick on her. Nobody was there. A noise behind her caught her attention. She turned around and saw the porch light come on. The old woman stepped out onto the porch and peered into the night.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

Run.

Flee.

Adriana gave the wall one last glance before hurrying back to the house. “Hi. It’s me.”

“Oh, my child. You’re back.” The woman clasped her hands with delight. “Come in. It’s a good thing you did not continue. A storm is brewing.”

“A storm? I saw no clouds.” She jumped at the sound of thunder crashing in the sky above her. Lightning stretched across the sky. “Where did that come from?”

She felt a hand on her arm pulling her into the house. “Come inside. You’ll be drenched.” The woman said as the skies opened up and the rain began to fall in torrents.

As she followed the woman into the now-lit house, she could hear and feel the thunder as it crashed around them. “I don’t know where it came from. The sky was clear just minutes ago.”

The woman simply waved her hand to the kitchen chairs they had occupied earlier as she moved to the stove. “Oh, that happens all the time around here. You just never know.” She bent down and opened the stove. Adriana could feel the heat rolling from it as she sat down at the table. The aromas coming out of it caused her stomach to growl. She covered her stomach, hoping to silence it.

“I couldn’t get through the woods.”

“Couldn’t get through?” The old woman spoke as she turned to set a dish on the table.

Adriana sniffed. Her stomach rumbled again in response. It smelled like her grandmother’s venison casserole. Despite her desire to find Peter, she realized that she had to eat in order to find him. Thoughts of her brother drew her attention away from the food.

“My brother, Peter. He had to have come by here.”

“No.” The woman shook her head. “No. Nobody has come by here in ages.” She fussed about the kitchen getting plates and forks for them.

“But he had to. I know he came through here, and he couldn’t have entered the other side of the valley since the path is blocked.”

“Blocked?” The woman laughed. “The way is not blocked. It is used too much.”

Adriana paused in lifting the glass of lemonade to her lips. “But you just said nobody comes through here.”

The woman paused slightly before sitting in the chair across from Adriana. Her eyes darted about as though an answer would present itself somewhere in the kitchen. “Ah, I meant that few travel through this side of the valley.”

Adriana became confused at the woman’s words. “The way I came was clear as though it was used a lot. The way I tried to leave had not been used in years.”

“I think you are confused, my child. Here, eat some of my delicious food.” She moved the dish closer to Adriana, causing the girl to put a spoonful on her plate. “No, take more. You’ll like it.” The woman took the spoon and put two more spoonfuls on Adriana’s plate.

“I came from the way that was clear, but the other side was alive.” Adriana struggled with the hunger pains and the need to get the truth out of the woman.

The old woman gave a short laugh. “Alive? Child, you are delirious from hunger. Eat.”

“It was alive. I saw it.”

“Eat.” The woman’s voice got more stern as she pointed to Adriana’s plate. “You are weak. You need food in your stomach.”

“The brush blocked the road.”

“Well, if it is unused, then of course the brush would have blocked the road,” came a frustrated reply.

“This was different. The brush attacked me.”

All manner of friendliness left the woman’s face. “Don’t be silly. It could not have done that. Eat your food.”

Adriana looked down at the food in front of her. The aroma was wonderful and drew her to it. For a moment, the desire for the food outweighed every other concern, but Peter’s image floated across her mind. Memories of Peter cleared her head and brought her thoughts away from the food.

“Peter. My brother.” She felt lightheaded. “He couldn’t have gone past the woods. They are alive.”

The woman leaned over the table toward her. “Eat your food.”

“No! The woods are alive. You lied to me. My brother came here. Where is he?” Adriana stood up and leaned across the table, squaring off with the old woman. The smell of the food hit her hard. Something within her wanted to answer the call and sit down to eat.

“Child.” The woman’s voice was again sweet. “Eat your food before it gets cold.”

Adriana looked into the woman’s eyes. The voice was sweet, but the eyes were dark and menacing. The woman realized her mistake and softened her face. A smile spread across her face.

Adriana blinked several times before focusing on the woman. For a moment, she thought she was looking at her Nana. But now it was back to the old woman.

“What is going on here?” Adriana pulled back and shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. “Something is not right. There are too many strange things going on.”

“Nothing is wrong. You are tired from your journey. You need to eat and then rest. I have a room you can use for the night.”

Adriana backed away towards the door. “No. This is not right. What is going on?”

Backing across the room, Adriana noticed a slight change in the kitchen behind the old woman. The once bright kitchen seemed a little darker. The stove was different. It was now black and curved as though it had been caught in a large fire. Adriana’s breath came in short gasps as the counter near the stove became black and pitted. Next, the sink darkened and twisted, matching the look of the stove.

“What is this place? Why is it changing?”

“Nothing is changing, my child. It’s always been this way. You are so tired that you are seeing things. Why don’t you rest? I’ll bring you a plate.” The woman came around the table and moved to help Adriana into the next room.

Adriana backed away. “No.”

Once bright and cheerful, the kitchen was gone and replaced with black and twisted furniture. Even the walls appeared warped and bent. Adriana’s eyes grew wide. The old woman moved toward her with hands outstretched. The once kind face was contorted into an evil, angry mask. Just as briefly as before, her Nana’s face appeared to Adriana, only to be replaced by the contorted face of the old woman. Adriana turned and ran out the door as fast as she could.

“Come back!” The old woman followed her and stood at the door yelling.

Voices called out to her as she ran down the walkway, getting louder as she moved closer to the stone wall.

Run, girl!

Get away!

Save yourself!

She will get you!

As she passed the stone wall, a sudden change to it stopped her in her tracks. The stones were no longer stones, skulls were now in their place.

The wall of stones was now a wall of skulls, their dark hollow eyes staring at her. It was from these many skulls that the voices came.

Why are you still here?

Your head will be here with us.

Run. She’ll get you.

She swallowed hard and looked back at the house where the woman still called for her. Everything had changed. What had once been an attractive farmhouse was now dark, grey and tilted. It now looked hundreds of years old, with only a few posts to keep it from falling over. The windows were mostly broken, their jagged edges glistening in the bright moonlight. Despair and hopelessness replaced the welcoming feel that Adriana first encountered.

Still calling to Adriana from the porch, her once sweet appearance grew more disturbing. She was hunched over with her grey hair shooting out in all directions. Her voice was now gravelly and sharp. Adriana couldn’t make out much more from where she stood, but the desire to leave only increased. Everything around the area was dark and foreboding.

Run, foolish child!

Adriana ran as fast as she could towards the woods that would take her home, the woman’s yelling fading only slightly as she entered them. The dark sky was lit by a full moon, which blocked out the stars. It gave her the light she needed. As she ran through the trees, she reached for her backpack only to realize that she had left it at the house. Her flashlight was with her backpack, so her forgetfulness forced her to push on using only the light that made it through the canopy.

She tried not to think of the darkness around her. The moonlight was enough to give her comfort from the evil she had left behind. The images of the skulls that flashed through her mind pushed her to run faster.

Adriana gasped as a sharp pain hit her back. She continued on, unsure of what caused it, but too scared to look. A few steps later, pain shot through her legs, yet she saw nothing when she spun around. She reached down and touched her leg. Blood came back on her fingers.

Her lip quivered. She turned to run home only to encounter a blocked road. Just like the other side of the valley, the path was blocked by a hedge of briars that had not been there seconds before. The light of the moon dimmed as the trees above her closed in. Light that filtered through was still not bright enough to see by.

Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath. She looked frantically for a way around the hedge, only to feel pain as she turned her back on the briars blocking her path. As she turned to look back toward the valley, she felt pain shoot down her arm. She jerked it to her and noticed a branch pulling itself back into the hedge. Blood dripped down her arm where the briars had penetrated the skin.

From her left side, she felt branches brush against her arm. She jerked away and found herself pressed against the hedge. Briars stuck against her whole body. She screamed and pulled away. The briars entangled in her hair, and the pain intensified as she struggled to get free.

“Let me go!” Adriana screamed.

As soon as she spoke, the briars pulled away. She was free from their thorny grasps.

“Get out of my way!” She screamed again.

The hedge parted. Adriana was on the cleared path once again. She held her breath as she took a step, waiting for the hedge to close in again. Another step, and nothing moved or blocked her way. She had moved several feet when a shout came through the edge of the trees.

“Stop her!”

Closing rapidly, the hedge once again blocked her path. Limbs coated in briars reached out and swayed before her. They appeared as though they were daring her to try to get past them. They pushed toward her, and Adriana moved back. They followed her movements.

Adriana whipped around to find herself within feet of the old woman.  She looked nothing like the sweet old lady that had given her lemonade and invited her to spend the night. This woman was a demon in disguise.

The woman wore a black dress with gaping holes throughout. It hung on her emaciated body. Her fingers were gnarly and long. Her face,, that had begun to change in the farmhouse, was now thin and drawn. Her black eyes shone with a strange light. Her hair was unchanged, but Adriana could now see that it moved as though it was alive.

Adriana stumbled back, revolted by the sight in front of her, only to have the briars behind her push her forward. The sharp needles dug into her skin, pushing her forward. She was being propelled toward the hideous woman. Adriana tried to slow her movement by digging her heels into the ground, but every effort only intensified the pain from the briars.

“You don’t need to run away, rude child. Come and eat your supper before it gets cold.” Her voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard. A shiver ran up Adriana’s spine, and her heart pounded from the fear consuming her. She had to get away. The hedge was closing in on every side, pushing her toward the woman.

The voices from before grew louder.

Fight.

Get away.

Save yourself.

With that, Adriana fought against the briars. Despite the pain, she pushed against them even as she felt her blood run down her body. Closer and closer, she got to the horrific woman. Adriana’s heart roared in her ears. The voices from the skulls grew louder as she inched toward the old woman.

You’ll die!

Escape.

Run.

With renewed determination, Adriana pushed back against the briars, feebly attempting to hold back the hedge. The briars dug into her. Every second brought her closer and closer to the old woman. There was no way to escape.

The old woman grabbed Adriana’s arms and pulled her closer. Adriana shivered as she looked into the soulless eyes.

“No one escapes the Baba Yaga.” The woman laughed and dragged Adriana with her back to the house.

Adriana pulled against the old woman’s grip, but nails bit into her arm, drawing more blood. She flailed as she tried to pull herself away. The voices grew louder as they approached the road.

Death!

She will kill you!

Run!

Adriana tried to pull away again. Finally she was able to free herself from the woman’s grasp. Without wasting a moment, she began running back to the woods.

Yay!

Run!

She’s behind you!

Hands pushed her from behind, sending her face down into the dirt road, and knocking the wind out of her. She felt the dirt on her lips as she was hauled up and dragged back to the house. Adriana felt eyes upon her as she passed the stone fence. As she looked at the wall, she saw the skulls turn towards her, following her with their absent eyes. She again focused on the old woman.

The hair, that Adriana had assumed was moving, was in fact doing so of its own accord. As she watched, some of the hair twisted into a braid, and then an eye, reaching out towards her even as she pulled harder.

Just as the hair was about to touch her cheek, the witch whirled around. Her dark eyes danced with delight as she pulled Adriana up close to her. The woman looked over the terrified girl with satisfaction. She smiled, revealing jagged teeth that dripped with grey saliva. Adriana felt her stomach turn as she fought the urge to vomit.

Without a word, the witch resumed pulling Adriana toward the house. The skulls continued to turn as they moved past the wall and up the walkway to the house. Adriana continued to struggle as they neared the house. Upon reaching the steps, the witch surprised Adriana with the strength to drag the young girl up the stairs and into the house. The door slammed shut behind them.

Adriana tripped and was dragged by her arm down the hallway. Using her free arm, she reached out to grab something, but everything she reached for jumped out of reach. Chairs shifted positions, and the door frames seemed to lean away as well.  It was as though the house was unwilling to assist her.

The kitchen was almost bright despite the recently darkened interior. With surprising speed, the old woman forced Adriana into the same chair she had vacated earlier. However, it was not a kitchen chair but a tall black iron chair. As she made contact with the seat, the arms reared up and wrapped around her arm and wrist, leaving only her hands free to move about.

Her chest heaved as she looked around. The witch moved back to the other side of the table and nodded her head as she gazed upon Adriana.

“Eat.” The witch pushed the original plate back across the table, where it sat on the edge.

As Adriana shook her head in refusal, the chair moved forward. Her eyes widened in fear as it bent and put her face near the food. Adriana swallowed hard as she found herself looking down at a plate of food that had also changed in appearance.

What had once been appetizing now resembled something that had died long ago and was slowly decaying. Adriana closed her eyes and held her breath from the toxic odors coming up from the plate.

“I said eat!”

Adriana braced herself to have her face shoved into the plate, but the chair just held her head above the food. She held herself rigid, unsure what to expect next. Several moments went by. Her chest began to burn from lack of air. Just as she was about to open her mouth to breathe, the chair pulled her back, sitting up straight once again. Adriana sucked in air, feeling her lungs ache in response.

The witch still leaned across the table. Her eyes narrowed and fixed on Adriana. Her mouth moved up and down with the grey spit streaming out. Her breathing sped up the longer she stared at the girl.

“Why won’t you eat?” came her shrill cry.

“Let me go.” Adriana whispered while trying to catch her breath.

“No. Eat your supper. You have to eat and then sleep.”

“Why? I don’t want food. I want to go home.”

“There is no home. You are here with me. You will stay here with me.”

“No. I came for my brother.”

A shrill laugh came from the witch as she began to dance a jig. Her arms flailed about while her head moved in circles.

“She wants her brother,” she laughed out.

Adriana felt the house move along with the laugh.

“She wants to go home.” Another laugh from the witch and the house.

Adriana looked around in fright. “What is going on here? What are you?”

The woman stopped abruptly and whipped around to face Adriana. “What am I? You don’t know? Everyone knows me.” She began dancing again and singing a tune that resembled that of badly played bagpipes. She continued on for a few minutes before stopping to lean against the table again. “I’m the Baba Yaga.”

Adriana stopped breathing. This was the evil witch that had been whispered about for so long. She was real! It was not just a tale told around the fire. The witch really did live. Peter! That meant Peter had encountered the witch.

“You did see Peter!” Adriana screamed at her.

“But of course I did. He came here for a place to stay on his way to the other side of the valley. I gave him his supper and sent him to bed. A very cooperative child. Unlike you. Nana did a better job with him than with you.”

“Nana? What do you mean Nana?”

“You don’t know? Stupid as well as silly. The children of today are without brains. Well, I know they have brains, but they don’t know how to use them.” A wicked laugh filled the room.

“What are you talking about?” Adriana squirmed in the chair. The metal from the chair pressed against her shoulders and back.

“Brains. Delicious brains. What else would I be talking about?” The witch laughed and pointed at the plate. “Eat. You’ll see what I mean.”

Adriana froze. Her eyes moved to the plate. “Brains?” The dark blob of slimy food shifted slightly on the plate. Peter! Was it his?

“Yes. It might not taste as sweet as many. This one had to have been near sixty. They are always too limp from lack of use.”

Adriana’s eyes shot up to meet the old woman’s. “Sixty? This isn’t Peter?”

Another laugh. The woman began to dance around again. “Peter! Peter! Nope, this isn’t Peter!” She replied in a sing-song fashion.

Adriana’s heart began to pound louder. It wasn’t Peter! Relief flooded through her. A smile spread across her face.

“Not Peter! Not yet!” The woman stopped at the stove where a pot was sitting. Adriana didn’t remember seeing it before. She lifted the lid and sniffed. “Not yet!”

“No.” Adriana whispered, her eyes widened. “No. No. No.” With each word she got louder. Jerking herself up as she shouted, the chair pulled back, but let her go. Adriana stumbled from the lack of resistance and found herself falling into the plate. She slammed her hands onto the table, stopping her fall, only to end with her nose hovering just above the mess. The odor hit her hard, causing her head to spin and her stomach to tumble. She pushed back quickly and focused her attention on the witch who was still watching the pot closely.

Adriana froze but looked for an escape. She had to use the woman’s distraction to escape. A wall now replaced the door. She turned just enough to look towards the entrance to the kitchen, only to find a chair blocking it. With no other means for escape, she would have to deal with the chair.

With a deep breath, Adriana shoved herself from the table and bolted for the door opening. She expected to hit the chair but was surprised when it moved, allowing her to move past it and toward the door. The front door was open, with only a screen door to push through. When Adriana was within a few feet of the door, it slammed shut, and the lock moved into place.

Adriana collided into the closed door. She whipped around and stared in panic at the witch, who turned slowly from the pot. Her face was contorted with rage.

“Think you’ll get away?” Her lips pulled up on one side. “Think again. Please, the more you use your brain, the tenderer it will be.”

Adriana felt fear gripping her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed movement. As the witch began to move slowly around the kitchen table, Adriana looked up. The curtains fluttered on the stairway window and formed into the shape of a finger. It pointed up the winding stairs. Adriana looked back at the woman who was moving into the hallway. She glanced back at the curtains which were becoming more urgent in their movements.

A sound drew Adriana’s focus back to the witch who was now face down on the floor. A chair had tripped the old woman and flipped her over.  The door shoved Adriana forward, where she landed at the bottom of the stairs. The house began to shake. The witch’s muffled curses had Adriana on her feet and racing up the stairs. As she paused on the second floor, all visible doors slammed shut. She turned to the next set of stairs to see a candle on the wall turn to point up. Adriana heard the witch coming behind her. She had no choice but to continue up the stairs. The third floor doors shut with such force that the walls shook. The door at the end of the hallway immediately opened back up. It opened and closed repeatedly, as though beckoning to her.

“Come here, girl.”

The witch’s shout echoed from down the stairs. It sent Adriana racing down the hall and through the door that opened wide for her. Through the door was another set of stairs that curved up and out of sight. She moved quickly up the stairs that narrowed as she ascended. She paused hearing it, but her eyes landed on the door at the top of the stairs. It rattled and bounced around as though wanting her to open it. Adriana paused again, but the sound of a voice behind the door propelled her forward.

“Help! Help!” The voice was weak, but Adriana could hear it plainly.

The door rattled even more as she approached it. The hinges jiggled. She tugged at the door. It wouldn’t budge.

“Help! Please get me out!”

Adriana couldn’t believe her ears. “Peter? Is that you Peter?” She pressed her hands against the door and pressed her ear to it. “Peter, tell me it’s you.”

“Adriana? You’re here? Help before she finds us. The witch will eat us.”

She could hear him on the other side of the door pushing on it. Frantically, she felt around the door, hoping to find whatever it was holding it closed. There didn’t appear to be a lock, only the doorknob.

In frustration, she kicked at the door. It rattled in response.

“Open up!” she yelled.

The door stilled. The only sound was of the witch slowly climbing the stairs. With a creak, the door opened. Adriana stepped back. She watched with wonder as the door gave her access to the room beyond.

The small room was dark. Very little light shone in to reveal the inside, yet her brother’s face was visible. Peter smiled when he saw his sister, and with a sob, he launched himself at her and hugged her tightly.

Adriana’s tears fell freely as they hugged. She had never thought to see him alive after experiencing the witch’s chair. She kissed his hair that was matted with dirt. It tore her heart to know he had been through so much.

“Let me in, you stupid old house.”

Peter’s grip tightened as the witch pounded on the door at the bottom of the stairs. Adriana looked down the stairs and gasped as the house shook. The door next to them began to swing.

“Hurry, get inside.” Adriana pushed her brother back into the room. The door slammed shut.

“Why? We were free.” Peter’s voice cracked as fresh tears began to flow.

“No, we weren’t. There was only one way out, and that was through the witch.”

“But now we are stuck here.”

“The house is helping us for some reason, Peter.”

“It is helping her trap us. It does whatever she says.”

“No, there is something going on. We have to trust it.”

“Why?”

“What choice do we have?”

Peter lowered his head on her shoulder and shook with fear. The pounding on the lower door grew louder until they heard the wood splinter. Urgency was renewed as Adriana began to explore the room in the dark. She put her hands out and felt around, finding nothing but walls, a floor, and a ceiling. When she came to the last wall, she felt a windowsill. Adriana’s heart leapt as her hand touched the wooden shutters covering the window

Despite her efforts to pull them free, the boards would not move. She stepped back and began to cry.

“Please! Please, open!”

With a shudder, the boards rattled and whipped open. Before Adriana could kick the window, the house shook, dislodging the glass. The house shook again, sending her falling onto her bottom. Catching her breath, she looked up at her brother’s gasp. The shaking of the house dislodged the panes. They fell crashing to the floor.

Adriana grabbed Peter by the arm. “Come on. We have to get out of here.”

They raced to the window and looked down on the moonlit valley. The storm was gone, leaving the sky clear with a full moon. All the way down the side of the house, the clapboards shook. Peter fell into the back of Adriana. She gripped the window edge tightly as the house tilted. She felt herself falling out the window.

Fearing she’d fall to her death, she screamed, “Okay, I get the message.”

The house stilled and Adriana let out a sigh. The sound of footsteps could be heard pounding up the steps. Adriana knew she had to act. Turning, she grabbed Peter by the waist and moved him towards the window.

“You have to climb out.”

He began to shake his head. “But…”

“No, buts!” she screamed. “Get out.”

Again the house tilted under them.

“Hurry.”

She shoved Peter out the window. He turned to grasp the house but his fingers slipped. The house tilted further, causing him to hang in the air.

“Adriana, I’m falling.” Peter let out a scream as his fingers slipped.

Adriana reached out for him but missed. Before she could scream his name, his descent was suddenly stopped. Adriana couldn’t believe her eyes. The large oak tree near the front of the house had bent over and used its branches to cushion Peter’s fall. He looked up at her in shock and waved.

With a smile, Adriana began climbing out the window. The house tilted over further.

“Yes, yes. I know. Give me a second.”

Her words were barely out of her mouth when the small turret door burst open. Adriana had most of her body out the window, with only her head and shoulders still inside. She saw the witch’s face, only this time the face was that of Nana. The once pleasant look was replaced with an angry and deadly one.

“I will not eat!” Adriana screamed and let go of the window sill. She felt herself rushing down toward the ground. The witch’s head appeared at the window in time to see the tree catch Adriana, its limbs cradling her.

“Traitors!” the witch screamed.

Adriana held onto the limbs as she was lowered to the ground to stand next to her brother. She took his hand and stared up at the witch who screeched and grabbed at the window to follow them. The house shook again and pulled itself back up to its original position. Lightning flashed in the sky, and thunder crashed, and voices floated on the breeze.

Run.

She is losing.

Save yourselves.

The limbs that had rescued them lowered again and swayed back and forth. Each time they moved, they got closer and closer. Adriana pulled at Peter.

“Come on.”

They turned and ran toward the road. The screams of the witch filled the night and pierced even the edges of the valley. The two did not stop until they reached the road where the skull wall was. They turned to look back at the house where the screams were getting stronger.

The house looked like it was being shaken by some unseen force. As the shrieks grew louder, the force of the house’s movements also increased. The intensity became so much that the house was a blur as it moved about and then the house exploded. The valley was filled with the bright light. Though light filled the valley, there was no flying debris nor was there any noise. Only silence filled the air as the children covered their faces with their arms, shielding their eyes from the burning light. As quickly as the light erupted, it disappeared, sucked into the ground where the house once stood.

Adriana peered over her arms as the deafening silence grew. The moon was now the only light, and it revealed an empty space where the witch’s house had been. Her attention was pulled from the empty spot to the large oak tree that had helped them. It began to tremble with fog billowing up from its base and enveloped it. Gradually the fog faded, leaving a ghostly figure making its way to them.

Peter moved behind his sister and gripped her arm. Adriana took a step back as the translucent figure move closer. A familiarity with the shape kept Adriana from running away. When it stopped a few feet from them, Adriana saw what was so familiar. Peter voiced her thoughts.

“Grandmother!”

The figure smiled. “Well done, children.”

“What happened?” Adriana was still shocked by all that had happened.

“You have defeated the Baba Yaga. She wanted younger victims. That meant she had to get them here which meant she had to give them a reason. That is why she took me. By replacing me, she was able to get to the two of you. She planned to move on to other homes.”

“But why?”

“The construction angered her. That anger caused her to crave more. But she is gone now.”

She looked around the slowly changing valley. “Now you have to leave. Go home. You’ll be safe now.”

Pointing toward the path that would take them home, she began to fade back into the night.

Peter ran after her. “No! Come back.”

Grandmother was gone.

Noises escalated in the woods surrounding the valley. They could not tell if the noises were dangerous or not. Adriana rushed forward and grabbed her brother’s hand.

“Come on! We have to go!”

He pulled back. “But Grandmother!”

“Is gone. We have to get home now!”

They ran down the moonlit road, the gravel under their feet crunched loudly. A sound behind them stopped them in their tracks. Turning around, they found another ghost figure rising up from the rock wall. The figure of a man smiled and pointed toward their home. Without saying a word, he rose up, vanishing into the night sky. One by one, other ghost figures followed suit. Each of them paused to acknowledge the two youngsters by waving or pointing down the path.

Adriana was not about to question the message and pulled on Peter who did not resist. They ran past the wall, where each of the skulls whose spirit had left them were turning into real stones. The valley was healing.

Adriana and Peter had escaped hell.

More about the Baba Yaga

This story is based on an old Russian legend based on a witch who loved to have visitors. The scary part was that the visitors never left. You can find many variations of the story at these sites:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ftr/chap06.htm

http://www.oldrussia.net/baba.html

I did not write this story to imitate the legend but more to create a modern version showing how love can triumph over the darkest of evils. Even after death the mother watched over them and helped to save the lives of her children. I hope you enjoyed this dark tale of hope and victory.

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