The downpour has changed into a steady drizzle and tendrils of fog is snaking through Crooked Bayou Swamp, quickly smothering the ground in a murky haze. Seen from the air, the tops of the Banyan trees and the old oaks covered in Spanish moss look like islands in a never-ending sea of grey.
The usually lively forest is eerie silent as there are no birds in sight. The smaller animals on the ground quickly take shelter as a slow swishing sound from above ominously breaks the monotonous smattering of raindrops against the leaves.
The old crone riding hunched on the giant bat, leans forward to avoid the cold rain drops pitting her body like they were bullets from above. Her sharp eyes scan the mist covered ground, but it’s too hard to distinguish anything through her rain splattered dark glasses.
‘Is easierr trrying to find needle in haystack… Take id down, letuchaya mysh’ (Bat)! Maybee de mist is less tick closerr to de grround…’
Sounds and distances are distorted in the peasoup, and the old crone is starting to believe that she has definitely lost her sense of orientation, when suddenly, Bayou Oaks Manor rises out of the gloom right in front of her. Even the bat, with its sophisticated capacity of acoustic orientation, didn’t see it coming. It veers upwards so brusquely in its haste to avoid the obstacle that it almost throws its rider off.
The old crone swears in Russian. Awkwardly steering the huge bat in a large circle, she takes them closer to the ground for each passage, until she finally finds a suitable spot where to land.
Painstakingly she slides to the ground, grunting and stretching her aching limbs. She lets her gaze stray over the old building until it fixes on a faint light in an upstairs window.
‘A cloaking spell id is… But not any longerr strrong enough to hide de coven frrom mee. Taarra should neverr have left, hehehe…’
She dismisses her ride, the giant bat, with a flick of her hand before hurrying up the slippery path and seeking shelter on the porch.
Taïga and Linn are lounging in the steamy upstairs bathroom.
‘Do you know what’s missing?’ Linn mumbles.
‘Umm… Noo…’ Taïga doesn’t really care – she’s trying to enjoy the relaxing heat of the bath. The flickering lights of the candles and the steady drumming of raindrops on the window panes and the roof, add to the sensation of well-being.
‘Music. We should have some music-’
‘What was that?’ Taïga sits up with a start and a slice of cucumber falls into the water. She fumbles for it as there’s another rapt knock on the door.
‘Is that somebody downstairs?’ Linn takes her cucumbers off too, looking alarmed.
‘Yeah… Did you order pizza, Linn?’
The girls look at each other, both thinking about the scary movies they’ve been watching recently. Suddenly, being all alone in a large mansion in the middle of nowhere, seems like a terrible idea.
Shaking her head, Taïga clucks her tongue. ‘I’ve got enough surprises for a lifetime…’ She puts the slices of cucumber back in place, reclining into the hot water.
‘Yeah. Let’s ignore it… I mean, who knocks when there’s a doorbe-’
As on cue, the doorbell starts insistently chiming, followed by fierce hammering on the door. Valkyria and Ruff are unusually silent, whimpering downstairs.
‘I knov you arre in derre! In de name ov de Goddess – OPEN UP!’
Taïga sits up straight. In the name of the Goddess? Only a witch would… Reaching for her robe, she scrambles out of the tub, water swooshing onto the floor, making her slide and almost fall in her haste.
‘Hey! Where are you going?’ Protesting, Linn follows her friend’s example and hurries out of the tub. ‘Wait for me!’
She rushes downstairs in Taïga’s wake, desperately trying to tie her robe with one hand, holding her slippers in the other.
The pounding stops as they reach the bottom of the stairs, and Linn gropes for Taïga’s hand. ‘Are you sure we should open?’
Taïga holds a finger to her lips in guise to shush her best friend. Her neck hair stands on end almost as much as Valkyria’s, who growling stares fixedly at a shadow moving outside the misty window. A hand with hooked fingers sweeps away the condensation so its owner can peek inside…
Linn lets out a sigh of relief. ‘It’s just an old lady!’ she blurts out and reaches for the door.
‘Don’t!’ Taïga grabs her friend’s arm and pulls her back, but it’s too late. Linn has already turned the key before Taïga had a chance to stop her.
The door swings open on a scrawny, ill-omened, silhouette. Dripping water, her stance weakened by the weight of her soaked clothes, the old lady takes a step inside, making both girls shy away and huddle together. A cold gust of wind blows the door shut behind her, letting a faint odor of wet soil and rotten leaves into the house.
The almost imperceptible flip of the old woman’s hand doesn’t go unnoticed by Taïga. A witch… But who is she? And why is she here? What does she want?
Valkyria approaches the visitor stiff legged, ready to shy away. Nervously she shows her teeth, a low growl rumbling menacingly. The Grey’s black cat, Minuit, hides hissing behind her mistress while the usually boisterous Ruff just whimpers, keeping a safe distance…
‘Кто… Who called mee olt lady?’
‘I vill glue yourr sveet lips togeder until-’’
‘I did. I’m sorry, I meant no offense.’ Taïga blurts out before the old woman can finish her sentence, or worse – apply her threat to an unsuspecting Linn!
The witch’s attention is drawn from Linn to Taïga who nervously crosses her arms, boldly meeting the strange woman’s birdlike stare. She is old. Very old, and thin on the verge of skeletal. But there’s power emanating from the frail figure. Power, and a fleeting sense of menace, that makes Taïga hold her tongue, waiting for the old witch to talk first.
No need to read a hand book in how to avoid accidents with psychotic old witches… She clears her throat and raises her chin. Mustn’t show I’m afraid…
‘You… must bee Тайга – Taeeguh. De daughterr of Shaasta.’ The old crone nods to herself, looking the cautious girl over from head to toe and back up again. ‘You look verry much like yourr babushka…’ she adds with slight disapproval, ‘… even vidh vhite face…’
The old woman’s accent is thick, Taïga guesses Eastern Europe somewhere. She sounds a little like her Romanian friends from her child hood days, rolling the r’s and stressing the words differently…
Unexpectedly, the old crone reaches out and touches the beauty mask covering Taïga’s cheek. The young girl has to steel herself not to flinch.
‘Hmm… Maybe I vill have some of dat plasterr on my face too. Take avay vrrinkles, hmm? Do you dink I need take avay vrrinkles?’
Taïga swallows. She has never liked lying, but somehow she feels that the truth won’t go down without consequences. She opens her mouth to answer diplomatically, but the nervous Linn is faster.
‘Oh no, ma’am. Your complexion seems very nice. For your age, I mean. Freckles are über-cute!’
The old crone stares at Linn.
‘Err… They are not freckles? Err… There are some wrinkles, of course, but not many. Err… You have to get really close to notice… Err… the wrinkles…’
Snorting with disdain, the old witch returns her attention to Taïga, who shrugs apologetically and tries a faint smile.
‘Hum… Maybee laterr… Layerr ov snail spit is bedderr anyvay. But nov, I vould like cup ov hot tea.’
She pulls off her gloves and slides out of her fur lined coat which she promptly hands to Linn without looking at her, followed by her hat and gloves.
‘No crream and verry much sugarr. Dank you,’ she adds, dismissing Linn, who mumbles something about snails and scurries away with her arms laden.
The old crone leans towards Taïga’s face, not looking her in the eyes so much as at her eyes. Taïga holds her breath, leaning slightly backwards.
‘Strannyy… Strrange. You arre Taïga?’
‘Hmm… I knov you speak de trruth, you look too much like yourr babushka…’ The old witch approaches even more staring at the young girl, who blinks nervously. ‘But vhy is yourr eyes not grrey? Maybe is yourr fadherr… Who is hee?’
‘I don’t know.’
The scary witch takes a step back. ‘Go vash yourr face, Тайга. I vill vait forr you… in derre.’ Without waiting for an answer, she heads into the living room. ‘Don’t bee too long. You hurrry.’
Taïga dashes to the kitchen, where Linn has already put the kettle on the stove and is washing away her face mask.
‘So much for a relaxing moment…’ she splutters. ‘Who is that commanding old hag!?!’
Taïga shushes. ’Not so loud. I don’t know who she is, I’ve never seen her before. Probably a friend of Granny’s. Or rather Missy’s,’ she adds thoughtfully, all the while rummaging in the cupboard for Granny’s favorite tea and turning over a pack of biscuits in the process. ‘Shit!’
‘Well…’ Linn dries her face on a kitchen towel, ‘she sounds like a Russian spy in an old James Bond movie.’
Taïga giggles, splashing water on her face.
‘Did you hear what she said about snails?’ Linn asks.
‘Yeah… Disgusting… Can you hand me the towel, please?’
‘But do they spit? The snails, I mean.’
‘I don’t know… They are slimy though…’
Linn grimaces. ‘Yuk. And she puts the slime on her face!?! I think I’m gonna throw up…’
‘French people eat them…’
‘TAAAÏÏGAAA! Idi syuda! Come heerre!’
‘Uh-oh. Better go and see what she wants…’
Taïga takes three mugs with her and hurries back to the living room, where she finds the scrawny lady lighting a fire with a flick of her fingers.
The old witch blows proudly on her fingertips like a cowboy on his gun. ‘You like?’
‘Err… Yes. But you should be more careful – Linn’s not a witch and it’s better if she doesn’t know about-’
Taïga hesitates, but obediently takes a seat, avoiding to sit on a relatively fresh pizza stain. She caresses Valkyria who has nervously taken up a position close to her mistress, a shield between her and the threating personage.
‘Who arre you to tell mee vat to do?’ The old crone says icily. ‘It does not madderr vat she sees. She does not madderr. She is not imporrtant. I can deespose ov shee… If I vant to. Vhen I vant to.’ She warms her hands on the fire, throwing a glance towards Taïga. Satisfied that the girl seems suitably impressed by the threat, she adds, ‘Maybee I vill eeat shee forr dinnerr!’
Taïga snorts mentally, the crone’s last comment taking the edge off what she had just said. I believe she’s capable of killing Linn, but eat her? No way…
Thoughtfully the old witch adds, ‘She seems clean enouff…’ making Taïga almost choke. She coughs a couple of times to hide her glee…
‘Err… Your tea.’ Linn is hovering uncertainly in the doorway. Did that old crone just say she would dispose of… of me??? And eat me? Like in some horror movie… Maybe there’s a whole bunch of inbred cannibals just waiting outside in the mist… She gulps, making a face at Taïga behind the visitor’s back.
Taïga tries to hide her merriment and smile reassuringly, but Linn can read her best friend’s emotions like an open book, and that smile is as fake as they come. What the hell is going on? And who is this old lady?
Linn puts the teapot on the table, brushing away some dog hair before taking a seat on the sofa. A little shakily she pours tea into their mugs and hands one to the visitor. ‘Sugar?’ she asks politely.
‘I beelieve I alrready told you.’
‘Err… Yes, ma’am.’ Linn puts a lump of sugar in the mug.
The old lady nods. ‘Morre.’
Linn adds another lump. And another, and another.
After six or seven the old crone reaches for the teacup. ‘Enough. Spa`siba.’
Definitely Russian, Taïga thinks. She doesn’t say anything, just stirs her tea thoughtfully, waiting for the old witch to talk.
‘Well.’ Linn isn’t as patient as her friend. She rubs her moist hands on her knees, clearing her throat. ‘Ahem… Why don’t you have a seat, Mrs…?’
‘Evdokia Vladimirovna Yagazhov’ she says haughtily. ‘But you call me Baba Yaga.’ She looks meaningfully at Linn. ‘Baaba. Yagaa,’ she repeats.
Linn smiles politely. Is that name supposed to mean something? Sounds like a cake recipe…
Baba Yaga frowns in disapproval at the blond girl and takes a sip of her tea. ‘Ant I prreferr staying herre, close to de firre. It has been long rride to get herre, ant my olt bones arre frreezing ant sufferring frrom sitting forr too long…’
‘Yes. But now you’ve safely arrived… Err… You’ve not traveled in this weather all alone, have you? I mean, we’ll call the cops if there are more of you…’
Linn looks desperately at Taïga who wide eyed stares back at her, vigorously shaking her head.
‘… out in the woods. Lurking- I mean waiting.’ Linn finishes nervously.
Baba Yaga raises an eyebrow. ‘Vaiting? Forr vhat? Dhe rrain to stop?’
To kill us and eat us! Linn thinks. But of course you won’t admit that…
‘So… You must be a friend of the family?’ Taïga advances carefully, ‘A classmate of Missy’s maybe?’
‘Tsk-tsk. Not verry frriends. Morre like… family.’
‘Ah… So you’re a kind of… of aunt?’ Linn ventures.
‘Tetya? Da, da. Tetya… Aunt…’
Linn nods and takes a sip of her scorching hot tea. An aunt? She really wants us to believe she’s family? Suddenly she catches sight of something moving. A fat black and white rat scurries past the fireplace and over Baba Yaga’s shoes.
‘Eek!’ Linn slams down the mug hard onto the table, spilling hot tea over her knees and the polished surface. She almost turns the table over when she clumsily scrambles up onto the couch, squealing.
‘Oh my God! A rat! There’s a rat! Over there!’ she points towards the wood basket next to the fireplace where the offending creature just disappeared.
‘Ah… Touckslieviyn!’ Baba Yaga bends over and picks up the little rodent.
‘Touckslivjynjyn?’ Linn repeats, struggling with the pronunciation.
Baba Yaga plants an affectionate kiss on the little rat’s head. ‘It is Rrussian forr… Kak ty skazhesh? Hov you say? … Sneaky.’
‘Fits the general picture.’ Taïga mumbles, blowing on her tea.
‘You said?’ Baba Yaga looks at Taïga.
‘Nothing.’ To Linn she adds, ‘I think you can sit down again, Linn. Ahem, Toucky here seems to be a tame rat…’
‘Oh, hee is morre dan tame rrat!’
Linn sits down again, not leaving Touckslieviyn with her eyes. ‘Is he?’
Murmuring in Russian, Baba Yaga pats the tiny animal who looks malevolently at the girls with its red eyes.
‘You see liddle rrat? Niet-niet-niet. Is my serrvant. Werry loyal serrvant. All crreaturres in de vorrld is my serrvants – dee birrds, dee animals of dee forrest… Even dee fish.’ She nods to accentuate her words. ‘My eyes ant earrs… Hee tells me everryding hee sees… ant hearrs…’ She continues murmuring to the little rat, holding him up and listening to him chirping into her ear.
Ill at ease, Linn lowers her eyes. Treat your dog and cat as your kids? OK. Lots of people do. But consider a rat a… a servant? And talking fish? She’s crazy… God knows what she’s capable of doing… She shakes her head, picking at her wet robe.
‘Err… Taïga, maybe we should go upstairs… And change…’
‘Da! Verry good idea. Go to rroom. Taïga vill soon come afterr you, but vee must hawe liddle… chat firrst…’
Hesitantly, Linn stands up, searching her friend’s eyes. But Taïga doesn’t move. She just sits there, with a cautious look in her eyes.
‘Yeah. Right. I’ll just stay with my… “aunt”… a little while.’
Taïga sips at her tea, feigning to be cool. So the rat is Baba Yaga’s familiar… And she has several of them, if what she said about all animals is true. Must be a quite powerful witch. I’m sure I’ve heard that name before… If only I could ask Linn to google her on her cell when she gets upstairs.
Baba Yaga stares after Linn’s departing figure. When she’s sure she’s out of earshot, she blurts out, ‘Is time to strrike deal.’
‘I’m not sure I’m following you here.’
‘Look arround you – it must have been – Kak ty skazhesh? Hov you say? … Helluva parrty, last night!’
The hot tea spurts out of Taïga’s mouth. She fumbles for a napkin, swearing. ‘How did you know?’
Baba Yaga gestures around her. ‘Stains, damaged currtains and verry many plastic bags outside. Vid very many rred cups. Typical teenage parrty cups… I see on television. I vonderr vhat yourr babushka vill say… And vee do not vant yourr frriend to get hurrt, do vee?’
‘OK. What kind of deal are we talking?’ And I used to think Sprinkler were a conniving creature!
Linn is pacing on the landing, impatiently waiting for Taïga.
‘There’s no network. I’ve tried the whole floor – and the balconies!’ She gesticulates with her cell. ‘I hope the phone downstairs is working, or we’re totally isolated with that evil creature!’
‘It must be the rainstorm, it happens all the time…’ Taïga answers. But to herself she wonders if the witch has meddled with something… If she has, it means she’s not only threatening to do something bad. She actually will. Oh, she’s up to no good… She pulls a sweater out from the drawer…
‘She’s up to no good!’ Linn echoes Taïga’s thoughts. Ranting, she follows her friend around as she rapidly gets dressed. ‘I bet she’s not your aunt, she just wanted to get inside the mansion and get us to trust her. I’m sure she’s got the rest of her inbred family outside, waiting to come in for supper. And we’re the main course! Like in “Silent Hill” or “the Hill’s got eyes” or whatever.’
‘Calm down, Linn. I don’t like her neither.’ Taïga hitches up her grey pantyhose. ‘I think she’s up to something, too. Better keep a low profile until Granny gets home tonight… The red or the blue?’ She holds up two skirts.
‘Yeah… You’re right… The red.’ Linn grimaces. ‘What did you talk about?’ she asks as they start down the stairs.
‘Nothing important. Family matters…’ Taïga answers vaguely.
Together they start preparing a late lunch.
‘OK. I don’t really understand why you won’t tell me about your little chat, but if it’s family matters, I guess it’s none of my business… But I’m a bit miffed anyway… And I still think she’s bat-shit crazy!’ Linn hisses. ‘You saw her. She was talking to that rat!’
Ruff sits at her feet, surveying the bag of frozen meat balls Linn is handling. He inches closer, looking at her with wide, wet eyes.
‘Don’t cave, Linn.’
A high pitched whine escapes Ruff’s drooling mouth.
‘Just one…’ She hands a meatball to Ruff, adding, ‘It’s the last one… You have to understand that a dog eats dog food, and this is human food!’
Ruff whines again, raising his paw and inclining his head.
‘OK. But just one more… That’s a good boy!’
Taïga raises an eyebrow, a hint of a smile playing at the corner of her mouth.
Linn hands another frozen meatball to Ruff, glaring at Taïga, ‘So what? It’s not at all the same thing, and you know it.’
‘If you say so…’ Taïga heats some oil in the skillet. ‘Give me what’s left of the meatballs, Linn. Before the poor dog breaks a tooth!’
‘No worries, he swallows them whole. Like I guess your aunt would like to do with us. At least me…’
Taïga rolls her eyes. Shaking the pan, she makes the meatballs sizzle. ‘C’mon. She won’t eat you.’ As if I really believed she would. Crazy old lady… She promised she won’t hurt Linn, but I’m not a hundred percent sure about that. She seems so vindictive… Out loud she says, ‘But I agree, I don’t like her. Better keep her happy until Granny gets home tonight.’
‘Uh-huh. I think we should add some pasta, I don’t like the thought of her hungry…’ Linn deftly empties the whole pack of macaroni into the boiling water. ‘Here she comes,’ she whispers theatrically. ‘Uh-oh… What is she doing now?’
The old crone has stopped in the hall, inspecting the piano. Tentatively she pushes down a key or two, grimacing at the awful sound.
‘Must bee accorrded…’ she mumbles, adding louder, ‘Dis vas verry nice piano once… Vhat happened? Who pushed piano dovn dee stairrs?’
‘It was an accident, really.’ Taïga answers from the kitchen.
‘Hum… Vee have to get it back upstairrs…’
‘No! I mean, I’ve already called someone.’ Taïga fills mac and cheese on three plates. ‘Lunch is ready!’ she adds nervously, anxious to get the old woman away from the piano, knowing full well that Linn would surely pass out if it suddenly swayed upstairs on its own…
Baba Yaga is already sitting at the dinner table, rubbing her hands, ‘Dis is so exciting. I have hearrd so much about Amerrican food…’ She glances meaningfully at Linn, who averts her gaze. ‘Priyatnogo Appetita! Bon appétit!’
She might be Taïga’s aunt, but she just looked at me like I was… tasty! Berk… That frail-old-woman-look is just a cover… Skinny? True. But her arms are sinewy muscles. And those disgusting nails… like claws… We could probably take her out with a weapon of sorts – like the candelabra in the study… Everybody knows what happens in the films – you think it’s all over and then the murderer rises again and comes after you… So we’ll have to hit really hard. There won’t be no second chance. Linn shudders.
Happily unaware of Linn’s thoughts, the witch pours red wine into three crystal glasses. Humming to herself, she sloshes some more into her own glass. Taïga hesitates. She doesn’t want to drink, but thinks it might be rude to decline. And Baba Yaga doesn’t seem to like refusals…
But then again, who knows what’s really in our glasses. Better say no… She glances at the bottle and does a double-take.
‘That will totally trigger a hissy…’
Baba Yaga looks puzzled, sipping at her wine. ‘Nieplokha. Not bad…’
‘I mean, Granny will be, ahem… exasperated when she finds out you’ve opened that bottle.’ Taïga adds wrily.
‘Rreally?’ Baba Yaga unfolds her napkin and places it ceremoniously on her lap, showing by her attitude that she doesn’t care.
‘Yeah.’ Taïga would like to shake the annoying figure. ‘It’s a bottle from her time in Paris with the love of her life!’
No reaction from Baba Yaga, who calmly spears a meatball on her fork, chewing thoughtfully.
‘She said she wouldn’t open it until I get engaged-’
‘Khorosho. Good. Id serrves ids purrpose dhen.’
Taïga frowns, clenching her hands on her lap.
‘Why don’t I get us a bottle of water?’ Linn excuses herself and leaves the table, anxious to spend as little time as possible with this intimidating Baba Yaga person. And get a knife or two from the kitchen.
‘Shee looks delicious… So sveet ant tenderr id makes my moud vaterr…’
‘Don’t forget our deal!’ Taïga lowers her voice, ‘You promised not to hurt her.’
‘Da. Of courrse. Ant you prromised to cooperrate!’ The old woman holds her glass of wine up by the fragile stem. ‘To happiness! Za schast’-ye!’
‘Uh-huh…’ Against her will, Taïga lifts her glass too, letting the rich red liquid swirl around and watching it slowly slide down the sides.
‘Ahh… You not sulk.’ She looks slyly at Taïga. ‘De bottle vas alrready opened. Prrobably durring yourr liddle parrty. Nov, drrink.’
Taïga takes a tiny sip, and to her astonishment it tastes really good.
‘You have neverr tasted vine beforre, is dat so?’
‘Dere is so much good food ant drrink in Rrussia forr you to discoverr, child; pirogi ant vodka ant Beluga caviar!’
‘Yeah. I bet there is…’ she answers bitterly.
‘So. I knov you is currious. Go ahead ant ask. If you ask de rright question, I might let yourr frriend live…’
Taïga stares coolly at Baba Yaga over her glass of wine.
‘A deal is a deal, and it goes both ways. You hurt my friend, I’m out!’
Baba Yaga splutters wine. ‘Vat? Hov darre you deefy mee!?!’
Suddenly the dogs raise their heads and look towards the hallway. Ruff whimpers and they both scramble to their feet, pushing and shoving, sliding on the parquet floor in their haste to get to the door.
‘Down, Valkyria! Ruff!’ Taïga rushes after the dogs, stopping with them in the shadow under the stairs as the door opens on Arthur and Granny.
With a squeak her grandmother rushes forward, ‘Oh my God! The piano!’
Granny’s voice is the signal the dogs waited for. Tails thumping, barking and whimpering, they rush forward again to greet their masters. There’s no way Taïga can hold them back this time.
Taïga throws a glance at Baba Yaga who’s delicately drying her mouth with her napkin. Taking a deep breath, the young girl steps forward, not at all ready to face her grandmother.
‘Granny! Arthur!’ She smiles nervously.
‘Thank God you are safe!’ Granny hugs her hard, almost smothering her grandchild in the soft fur of her coat. ‘Are you all right? Have you called the police? Is anything important missing?’
‘Err… No… Why should I call the police?’
The clattering of metal on the floor draw their attention to Linn in the doorway to the kitchen.
‘Hi Mrs. Grey, Mr. Moon. I hope you had a nice trip!’
‘Linn!?!’ Granny lets go of Taïga and smiles weakly, ‘Err… Wonderful.’ She frowns at Linn who quickly squats to pick up the two large butcher knives from the floor.
‘I’ll just put these back. We probably won’t need them now anyway…’
Granny takes a step back and looks Taïga over. ‘Where were I? The police… The break-in, of course! You look tired… Thank God you didn’t walk in on the burglars. Both of you!’
Taïga meets Linn’s relieved gaze over Granny’s shoulder. Burglars!
‘Err…’ For a fleeting second she’s tempted to go along with the idea… ‘There were no burglars, Granny. No break-in. But you are early. We didn’t expect you until around eight tonight.’
‘We didn’t fly in on a regular plane-’ Arthur starts, but Granny interrupts him.
‘-so much happened in Lucky Palms! You won’t believe us!’
‘Ohmygod! Did you get married? In an Elvis Chapel?’ Linn asks, wide-eyed.
Granny blushes, catching Arthur’s eye. ‘Umm… No… We didn’t.’ She turns back towards the piano, eager to change the subject. ‘But if there hasn’t been a break and enter, what happened to the piano?’
‘Velcome home, Та́рюша (Taryusha), my frriend.’
Granny freezes. Slowly she turns her head towards the sound, feeling the blood drain from her face, ‘Yanca!’
Wide eyed she stares at the unwelcome visitor who is standing partly shadowed under the stairs.
The dogs are whimpering, their attention focused on Granny’s brand new silver-fox fur coat. Tails thumping, they sniff the bizarre material, not really understanding why the strange animal doesn’t want to play…
Taïga is relieved that Granny seems to have forgotten all about her and the grand piano. At least for the moment…
‘So they do know each other,’ Linn murmurs to herself. Grabbing Taïga’s arm and pulling her out of earshot, she hisses, ‘But didn’t you say they were supposed to come home tonight? Like in “Later”.’
‘They were! I don’t know why they are already here…’
‘You should have let her think there’d been a break-in-’
‘Are you crazy? And let her call the cops for nothing? They’ve already filed a complaint and we’ll hear from them soon enough without some “prank” call!’ Taïga shakes her head, glancing at Baba Yaga, who’s reaching out her hand to Arthur, fluttering her eyelashes but only succeeding in looking like a reptile going in for the kill.
‘Ant dis must bee Arrturr-chik?’ she coos.
‘It’s a pleasure to meet a friend of Tara’s.’
They shake hands and Baba Yaga leans towards Granny, whispering in her ear, ‘Hee looks delicious…’
Granny straightens her back and smiles nervously. ‘Maybe it’s time for Arthur and Linn to leave now. We heard on the radio that the Bayou risks flooding tonight…’
‘Sure, Granny. I’ll help Linn get her things. C’mon, Linn!’
Both girls hurry upstairs. Taïga is relieved to have Granny back and in charge. She hasn’t for an instant believed Baba Yaga would really eat her friend, but there’s something uncanny about her. She’s sure that the old Russian witch is absolutely capable of throwing some cruel spell on her best friend…
‘I can’t say I’m glad to have met your “aunt”! Seriously… Your grams have strange friends…’ Linn jams her toiletries into one of the pockets of her overnight bag. ‘If your grams is being too harsh, just call me. I don’t think it will change your punishment -because you’ll probably be grounded for the next ten years- but even if she doesn’t believe me, I want to tell her the facts.’
Taïga throws Linn’s unused pajamas at her. She catches it and stuffs it in her overflowing overnight bag.
‘Yeah. How we kind of got invaded and stuff…’
‘You’re right. She won’t believe you and I’ll be grounded for the rest of my life!’
They walk downstairs, only to find that Arthur and Ruff have already left. Linn waves to Granny and Baba Yaga in the sitting room. ‘Bye Mrs. Grey, Mrs. Yaga.’
The two old ladies wave absentmindedly in their direction, continuing their hushed conversation.
Taïga grimaces, pushing the door open. ‘I guess they’ve got a lot to catch up on…’
‘Hey! Where have all the trash bags gone?’
Taïga looks confused at the empty entranceway. ‘Err… Must have been a trash collection day after all!’
‘Cool. I didn’t really enjoy the idea of transporting all those bags in my new car anyway… Are you sure you’ll be all right?’
‘Nope. But I’ll get through this!’
‘I feel so bad about leaving…’
‘Don’t! Feel bad, I mean. I broke the rules but not the law, so at least I won’t get sent away somewhere this time…’
‘Are you sure? Serving liquor to minors must be a federal off-’ Linn’s words trail off when she sees the look on Taïga’s face. ‘-ense…’ Contrite, she asks, ‘I guess Ana’s Halloween party tonight is out of the question?’
‘Yeah, I guess… To tell you the truth, I won’t even ask Granny for permission. My head is starting to hurt again, I’ll just take a Tylenol and sleep it off. Now go, before you get stuck here until Wednesday! And have fun tonight!’
‘Without you? Really?’ With a last hug, she hurries through the rain and jumps into her car.
‘Call me as soon as you get home!’
Taïga stays on the porch until she can’t see the taillights anymore…
Head throbbing, she tries to sneak past the living room, but she only has time to take a few steps up the stairs before her grandmother’s chilly voice calls out for her. She retraces her steps, plastering a fake-happy smile onto her features before stepping into the warm light of the living room. Taken aback at the sight of the old settees, she stops and stares.
‘Ah… Dherre you are, Taïgeshka. Just look at shee. Full grrown woman alrready.’ Baba Yaga muses. ‘Shee is rripe and rready.’
Granny pats the upholstery next to her, encouraging Taïga to sit next to her.
‘Ripe and ready for what?’ she asks a little absentmindedly, trying to discreetly check out the damaged fabric. Or at least it was damaged before. Now it seems like all the stains are gone, and even if one of the sofas looks a little muddy with about a ton of dog hair on it, she recognizes it as Ruff’s and suspects him of sleeping there while she was getting dressed earlier.
I’m sure there were burn marks here… Did Baba Yaga do this? And the trash disappearing outside must have been her doings too… She glances at the Russian witch who shows her teeth in what she supposes is a smile.
Her grandmother just pats Taïga’s knee distractedly, addressing the Russian witch, ‘She’s still a child.’
‘Humpff… I can see no trrace ov child left on shee. Derre vas time you vere marrried at fourrteen, orr as soon as you had yourr firrst perriod!’
‘Archaic! In the Middle Ages, yes. And that was at least six hundred years ago!’
‘Dherre is still culturres vhere you marrry earrly-‘
‘-not our culture!’
Ah, so they’re talking marriage… Of course… Well, I have already agreed on cooperating with Baba Yaga about getting engaged to her son or grandson. Whatever – I didn’t really get the family ties straight… It’s not as if I had a choice – the old crone threatened Linn! She knew that I’d do anything to avoid Linn getting hurt… Wonder what she has told Granny? I better keep my tongue until I get a hum of what they’re really agreeing on…
Taïga’s headache gets worse by the minute and she’s terribly thirsty. So the old crone has kept her part of the deal – letting Linn get away safely, and she hasn’t told Granny about the party. Yet. She must have decided to add a bonus… It’s a pity we couldn’t take care of the piano with Linn here…
‘… you have bad influence on yourr offspring. Tsk-tsk-tsk…’
‘Bad influence! Just because I questioned what was supposed to happen to me? But I didn’t betray anyone – I was not yet sixteen, but I got through with the marriage.’
‘Vhich vas neverr consumed, if I rrecall dee facts.’
How come Granny got back earlier than expected? Gaah! I wonder if we have any Tylenol in the pharmacy upstairs?
‘It was not my fault my husband took his own life!’
‘Your husband killed himself?’ Taïga snaps out of her thoughts.
‘Rreally? You feel exempt ov guilt?’ Baba Yaga snorts. ‘He vould not hawe slit his vrrists on dee vedding night if he had not been forrced into a marrriage – vidh you! He vould still bee alive! Ant yourr babushka too! Ant you vould not feign insanity forr – how long vas it nov? 1962 until-’
‘Slit his wrists on the wedding night???’ Taïga can’t believe what she just heard.
‘That’s so unfair! I didn’t force him – the Council did!’
‘Unfairr? You not see dee big picturre?’
So Granny was a child bride and her husband slit his wrists? That’s just incredible! 1962… But what about my mother!?!
‘… dat is vhy you arre only grrey vitch, hiding in dee Bayou, Taryusha. No ambitions vhatsoeverr!’ Baba Yaga says accusingly.
Mom was born in… let’s see… 1981! That means Granny must have got married twice… So I could also marry again – if my husband dies… And what about her adventure in Paris? Wow… ‘Who was my grandfather?’
‘Ambitions? You talk about being ambitious? I call this force breeding, and I don’t like it! If I could travel back in time I would do the same thing all over again!’
‘Arre you saying you vould go against de Council, rrisking yourr life – again?’ Baba Yaga pauses for breath.
‘Err… What’s this- this risking your life part? Granny?’
‘Yes, I would! And the Goddess is my witness, I should have listened to my crazy sister and cloaked my grandchild too while I was strong enough!’
Baba Yaga continues, ‘You vent against de rrules once, ant you punished yourrself, drraining yourr magic by using poverrful spell forr such long span ov time… You knov you should not hawe cloaked Shasta frrom us! Norr dee Mansion…’
‘You’re talking about my daughter! My flesh! Would you have let them take Mariska-’
‘Da! I vould have! Bud is not option in ourr lineage!’
‘I bet you would! There was a time you feasted on your own daughter!’
‘Gah! Dat vas accident…’ She makes a gesture with her hand, signifying the comment is of no importance. ‘I should not have let de stupid girrl cook! Vho vould have thought de tasty liddle buggerr vould push herr inside de stove…’
‘What!?!’ Taïga stares at the scrawny woman. It wasn’t just talk? She’s really eaten someone! She has eaten her own daughter!?! She’s a… a cannibal? OMG. Linn was right about her all the time… And I can’t tell her…
‘-and you killed your daughters! All forty-one of them!’
’Forty-one!?! Forty-one daughters!?!’ Taïga squeals.
‘I thought id vas de boys I set on firre! Durak! Oh, vat fool! Liddle boy trricked mee!’
‘You set forty-one individuals on fire? Your family?’ OMG… She’s a full grown pyromaniac serial killer!
‘I think the discussion is over. Taïga is not going anywhere before she’s eighteen.’
‘But ewerryding is rready! Иван Алекса́ндрович (Ivan Aleksа́ndrovich) is vaiting forr shee in our dacha in ze mountains.’
‘No.’ Granny is adamant. ‘It’s not what we had agreed on.’
Taïga looks from Granny to Baba Yaga. ‘I think-’
‘I vill take shee vid me afterr de cerremony. Shee vill finish school in Moskow-’
Taïga jumps up from her seat, raising her voice to get attention. ‘I don’t wanna go to- to- any mountains! Nor to Moskow!’ She stomps her feet to accentuate her words. ‘No way am I going anywhere with a serial killer psychopath can-’
Both old ladies stop midsentence, looking at her as if they only discovered her presence right now.
‘… cannibal…’ her words trail off. Uh-oh…
Slowly Baba Yaga stands up. She brushes out an imperceptible plait on her skirt, inhaling slowly.
The bellowed order comes unexpected. Each syllable ringing of powerful magic, the words roll around the walls, making the curtains blow and the lights flicker and die. Baba Yaga seems to have grown until she touches the ceiling, her dark presence filling each square inch of the room.
The word is unknown to Taïga, but there’s no doubt about the meaning. Her legs almost buckle. Almost.
She looks for support at her grandmother who nods imperceptibly. Hesitantly, she sits down again, as close as possible to Granny.
Baba Yaga stares incredulously at the young girl. How come the magic had no effect on her?
‘Nov, baryshnya – young lady,’ She recomposes her features and sits down graciously, ‘maybee yourr babushka and I can finish talking about yourr futurre vidout interrruption?’
Taïga nods, letting her ill will show.
‘I not hearr you.’
‘Yes.’ She mumbles.
Baba Yaga looks sternly at her.
‘Yes,’ she repeats. ‘I won’t interrupt.’
‘Ochen’ khorosho. Very Good.’ She inspects her long claw like nails, ‘Ceasarr, Djenghis Khan, de Grrand Katarrina ant Napoleon… all verre my frriends. Ant Rrasputin and Jack de Rripperr too… Vell. You get dee picture. You vill boast about knoving mee.’
Taïga gapes. Djengis Khan? Rasputin? How old does she think she is!?! Deftly she shuts her mouth before she says something “improper” again. Crossing her arms she slouches back into the sofa. She’s crazy… I can’t do this… No way! She glares at Baba Yaga from behind her grandmother. But if I don’t, that scrawny beast of a woman will most certainly hurt Linn… and maybe Granny as well. And we’re talking major damage here. Like forever dead. Or forever burning in Hell or something worse. But definitely forever…
‘… I vill perrsonally suck oud vat is left ov yourr life forrce ant trransferr into stadue. Ov stone. De Council vill be morre dan happy to dispose ov yourr poverrs…’
Taïga looks at Granny, waiting for her answer. But to her disappointment, her grandmother lowers her eyes, blinking.
So even Granny doesn’t dare stand up to that hag? I can’t just let her hurt my grandmother! What did she say? Suck out Granny’s life-force? Sounds painful… No, I must go through with this… It’s just a matter of promising that I’ll get married one day in the future to someone in her family, and I’ve already assured Baba Yaga of that… But I didn’t realize who she truly was when I promised. Maybe she will hurt Granny anyway? Oh, she’s such a devious bitch! Perhaps Sprinkler can help me find a loophole of sorts? He’s no slouch when it comes to scheming…
‘… you not have much time, Taarra. I can feel id. You vant to leave yourr grranddaughterr unprrotected? Niet. Me is de only one vho can stand up to de Council, and yourr daughterr’s daughterr vill learrn frrom mee, safely tucked avay in Siberria, farr frrom de Council’s clutches…’
‘Is it true?’ Taïga interrupts.
Granny nods. ‘Yes. She’s the only one who’s powerful enough to stand against the Council…’
‘No. I mean… Are… are you dying, Granny?’
Granny doesn’t answer, but there’s no need to. Taïga knows that it’s true. Suddenly her whole world seems to crumble and she bursts out crying uncontrollably.
‘I have exams to go through before Christmas. Maybe there’s medication…’ Granny tries, but her granddaughter doesn’t listen.
‘But you can’t die, Granny!’ she hiccups. ‘You can’t leave me all alone! I don’t want you to die!’ Taïga’s shoulders are shuddering, tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘I don’t want you to die…’
‘Hush… The doctors will surely help me…’
Baba Yaga sits in silence for a while, listening to Taïga’s hysterical sobbing and Granny’s soothing words. Finally she decides enough is enough. She clears her throat.
‘Ahem. I vill take avay herr memorries nov. Shee vill get overr it and dank us one day.’
‘What!?!’ Taïga stares in disbelief at Baba Yaga. ‘Do you seriously mean-’
‘Can we have a moment? My granddaughter and I?’
‘Ov courrse.’ Baba Yaga rolls her eyes heavenward, but doesn’t budge.
Clenching her teeth, Granny stands up. ‘Come with me Taïga. We have to talk.’
Without saying anything further, Granny stalks out from the sitting room, holding her sobbing granddaughter’s wrist in a firm grip.
Taïga clings to her grandmother, inhaling her comforting perfume of violets and something that can only be described as Granny. It feels like she never wants to let go. Firmly Granny loses her sniveling granddaughter’s grip on her shoulders, and holds her at arm’s length.
‘Here. Dry your tears. We have important matters to discuss, and you can’t break down in front of Baba Yaga. Her threats are never empty…’
Taïga dries her tears, accepting the tissue Granny hands her. ‘She can really take my memories?’
Granny nods. ‘That’s why you have to keep from crying.’ She sighs deeply. ‘But back to more important matters – I hate to force you, child, but Baba Yaga is right. Getting engaged to her offspring is the only way to keep you out of reach of the Council.’
Taïga nods solemnly. ‘I’ve had time to think things over since last year, Granny. I know I have to get married…’ She blows her nose, ‘… and if it’s the Yagazhov’s or someone else’s family, it’s the same to me…’ She hopes her grandmother believes her. ‘We have already discussed this, before you arrived…’
Rapidly she tells Granny about her deal with the frightening old witch earlier that afternoon, about how scared she was of her hurting Linn -even before she knew how terrible the old crone really was- and how accepting her offer seemed like the only thing to do…
‘… and I truly intend to keep my part of the deal. I just don’t want the people I love get hurt because of me… And I don’t want you to be punished for trying to protect me. You heard what this Baba Yaga character said. She’ll suck out your soul and trap you in a statue!’ she pauses for breath, ‘And then I’ll have to marry the one the Council picks out for me anyway…’
‘… and as soon as they realize the extent of your powers, you’ll have to do their biddings…’ Granny adds in a whisper, ‘… as their prisoner… And I won’t even be around to keep an eye on you.’
Granny sighs. She pulls her granddaughter close again before she glimpses the tears glittering in her eyes, threatening to overflow. ‘We’ll find a solution, honey… Better play along for now, I promise I won’t let her take your memories… But don’t give her a reason to try, Baba Yaga hates tears and lamentations,’ she whispers in her granddaughter’s ear. ‘Now, you must be strong. I have faith in modern medicine, and you should too. There’s no need to grief before we know for sure what’s wrong. OK?’
Taïga nods. Her heart seems like it will burst any moment now, but she’ll be strong – for Granny’s sake…
They return to the sitting room, where Baba Yaga is comfortably waiting on the settee. She has lit a cigarette, and leisurely she blows smoke rings, a hint of a satisfied smile playing on her lips. Taïga is hers. Now that the girl knows that her grandmother is threatened, as well as her best friend, the outcome is sure…
Even if Taïga has already given her word, Baba Yaga needs her to say it in front of a witness. And then she’ll need a written consent to show up the snotty Council’s nose…
‘So?’ Baba Yaga feigns disinterest.
Taïga wants to tell the old crone to go to Hell, but she can feel her grandmother’s worried gaze. So she does what she always does – what’s expected of her.
‘Dat is settled den. I have contrract heerre forr you to sign…’
‘Wait a minute.’ Granny didn’t expect this. ‘A contract?’ I hope Taïga hasn’t signed anything! How stupid of me to think Baba Yaga would come “unprepared”! It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a whole bunch of Russian lawyers and other henchmen hidden behind the sofa… ‘Err… That’s very well, but… err… I think an engagement ring is more appropriate than a slip of paper. And not something magical, but a real ring that-’
‘Shov mee yourr hand, baryshnya – young lady.’ Baba Yaga orders, interrupting Granny.
Obediently Taïga reaches out.
The intimidating old witch snickers. ‘Is rright size…’
She fumbles in her bag at her feet and produces a little brown box that she ceremoniously places on the table.
Granny’s face falls at the sight. Oh no. She was so sure of herself she brought a ring. Or maybe she just made it appear, right now…
Dang! She has thought of everything… Taïga can feel the trap closing in on her, making her head pound and the air seem thick. Panic attack? Breathe slowly, you can do this. Granny promised she’ll help you…
‘Is pigeon blood rruby frrom Burrma … vid diamonds, ov courrse.’ Baba Yaga muses. ‘Noding magical, but verry rremarrkable… ant special. Go ahead. Look…’
She pushes the box towards the reticent girl.
Granny inspects the package. Could she trust Baba Yaga? The ring might have a spell cast on it, something that would tie the bearer… With a quick glance towards their unwelcome visitor, she puts her hands over the plain object. Closing her eyes she concentrates, but to her disappointment, there’s no trace of magic vibes around the box.
‘It is devoid of magic,’ Granny assesses with a hint of surprise.
‘Told you so. Nov, trry id on.’
Taïga crosses her arms. I don’t want it, she thinks. I don’t want no ugly pigeon blood ring! I’ll refuse to wear it!
‘Taïga?’ her grandmother inquires.
Taïga gives Baba Yaga a dirty look and reaches for the box. She’s angry at herself for her shaking fingers when she undoes the tiny ribbon.
The box is ugly and what’s inside is ugly too… Whatever. Effing fingers shake so I can hardly undo the ribbon. Brilliant! And Baba Yaga looks so dang smug – I suppose she thinks I’m soo excited to get a bloody ring. I don’t care what’s in this box, I don’t want it. Especially as it’s an engagement ring in it. My engagement ring. Bleh!
Derek’s mother’s ring on her left ring finger seems suddenly very heavy. She glances at it, biting her lip…
The plain brown box hides another, smaller jewelry box in smooth white leather. Fumbling a little to get it out, she hesitates before opening it. When she does, she has to draw her breath.
Granny gasps next to her. ‘Let me see.’
She hands the tiny box with the huge ring to Granny, impatient to get rid of it.
‘It’s beautiful…’ Reverently her grandmother puts the box back on the table.
‘Go on, Taïgeshka’ Baba Yaga urges. ‘Trry id on.’
Taïga hesitates, fiddling with Derek’s ring. She doesn’t want to take it off.
‘Niet! Rright hand, not left.’
With a sigh of relief, Taïga slips the ring onto her right ring finger. It’s much too big, so she changes to her middle finger. She can’t help but admire the large jewel. She holds it out towards her grandmother, letting the warm light from the fireplace play with the gems. The blood red stone seems to come alive, gleaming in different rich shades of rubescent. The surrounding diamonds catch the faint light, magnifying it a hundred times…
Exhaling, Taïga takes it off and puts it back into the little box, pushing it carefully towards Baba Yaga, who picks it up with a pleased grin.
‘Is it..?’ Granny dries her suddenly moist hands on her dress.
Baba Yaga nods with satisfaction that Granny has recognized the famous jewel. ‘Da… Id is.’
Suddenly the young girl feels nauseous. ‘I don’t feel well…’
Her grandmother and Baba Yaga are too busy admiring the ring to pay attention. Taïga touches her sweaty forehead, but it’s cool. Maybe too cool…
Granny nudges Taïga. ‘It’s the Jadwiga Bloodstone,’ she says in awe.
Taïga looks up and forces a smile. ‘It’s very nice. I don’t know what Jadwiga means, but I guess it’s something good. I’ll google it later tonight.’
Baba Yaga snaps the lid to the small box shut with a loud click. Angrily she puts it back into the brown box, tying the ribbon again with a quick flick of her hand.
Taïga doesn’t care. As far as she’s concerned, the old witch could pick a hissy fit right now. Feeling slightly dizzy, she rubs her throbbing temples, a sensation of numb drowsiness slowly settling in. The soft light in the living room hurts her eyes and she doesn’t want to move her eyeballs too quickly, or she might throw up… Why is my mouth so dry? Why can’t I go and fetch something to drink? And a Tylenol… And sleep. Yes. Sleep would be so nice…
‘Dherre is necklace ant earrrings going vid it. Shee vill vearr de full set at shee vedding.’
‘But… But isn’t it the Queen’s set?’ Granny inquires in a hoarse voice.
‘Id is. Did I not tell you? Ivan Aleksа́ndrovich is de King of Jadwiga, his lineage goes all de vay back to Ivan de Terrible, even back to Rrurrik heemself…’ Baba Yaga goes on and on about her offspring’s ancestors and the honor she’s bestowing Taïga…
Granny is totally taken aback. The King of Jadwiga, a man and kingdom surrounded by myths… She admits that she had toyed with the thought of asking Baba Yaga for help, but finally didn’t, knowing how vindictive the Russian witch could be. She would never have guessed that the powerful witch would come here in person. That she would travel so far only to assure herself of tying Taïga to her bloodline… Of course there must be something she wants, something of interest to her, Baba Yaga. The old crone wasn’t known for being charitable…
‘… is shame dherre is no more Tsarrs in Rrussia orr he vould have rruled overr de grreatest countrry in de vorrld…’ Baba Yaga nods, thoughtful.
‘What’s in this for you, Yanca?’ Granny asks in a low voice.
Baba Yaga purses her lips and avoids meeting Granny’s eyes. ‘Nodhing, rreally…’
Granny waits, impassive.
‘Nodhing much. Just gedding Vanika to seddle dovn and shoulderr rresponsibilities. Hee is in de full forrce ov his age. Tall ant darrk and strrongvilled. Dhey vill have poverrful child…’ She hesitates. ‘Ant theirr child vill bee family. My family.’ Lowering her voice, she adds with a hint of excitement, ‘I have seen id in dee starrs. Dheirr daughterr might bee dee Chosen One, dee rreincarrnation of Lady Rravendancerr…’
Granny nods. She isn’t surprised, even if she hasn’t let her mind travel too far along those dangerous paths… But she is astonished that Baba Yaga doesn’t seem to appreciate the value of Taïga’s powers… Or has she simply not noticed? She decides to change the hazardous subject. ‘But what about the other “candidate”?’
‘Vhat aboud he?’
Taïga groans and bends over. Her head pounds as if someone was hammering on her skull, from the inside, and her stomach is heaving. She could kill for a Coke. Or a Pepsi… ‘I really don’t feel well…’ she tries again.
‘The one picked out by the council as soon as they learned about Taïga’s existence. I think he’s from Roaring Heights down in Florida.’
‘Oh, he. You not vorry. I have sent my most trrustvorrdy serrvants dherre to take carre ov de prroblem.’
‘Take care of the problem?’
Baba Yaga makes a very explicit gesture with her thumb, drawing a line from ear to ear…
Taïga lets their voices tone out…
I guess facing a lifetime of chores and being grounded can’t even compare to the Hell that woman will put me through. I’ve never asked to become some Russian mafia Queen. She visualizes herself on a throne, ridiculously bejeweled and surrounded by men in Borsalino’s and carrying AK47’s… She giggles nervously, but stops when the parquet seems to start undulating. She closes her eyes…
If my fiancé speaks with the same accent as Baba Yaga, I’ll probably kill myself before the first year is through. Or maybe he doesn’t speak English at all! Hah! That would be just perfect… And I will refuse to learn Russian… Or maybe I will, better know what people are talking about. But I will tell no one… God, I’m thirsty. I wonder if I could just sneak out to the kitchen and get a Coke…
‘Disfigured?’ She snaps out of her morose thoughts and stares at Baba Yaga who, irritated at being interrupted, stops midsentence.
‘Da. Boarr hunt. Orr vas id bearr? Vhateverr.’ She dismisses the question with a wave of her hand. ‘It has not destrroyed manhood. I have much trrouble seeing to id hee not get inapprroprriate offsprring.’ She winks conspiratorially. ‘Rrussian girrls rrun afterr de King! But you, Taïgeshka, catch him.’
The old crone pushes a pile of papers over the table. ‘Just sign herre, herre… and herre.’
‘What is this? The contract you mentioned earlier?’ Granny picks up a copy and starts reading.
‘A contrract of marriage. Set dhings strraight if dhey divorrce one day…’
‘Do you mean there’s a chance that we’ll divorce?’ Taïga perks up.
‘Err… Da. Vee live in moderrn times. But you must prroduce child firrst. And I vill keep dee child.’
Taïga grabs the outstretched pen. ‘Good luck with that,’ she mumbles, quickly signing, and handing the pen to Granny who hesitates before appending her signature.
Baba Yaga rubs her hands together. ‘Id is settled dhen.’ Her thin lips grin in a rare smile. ‘My offsprring vill be pleased to knov you have accepteed. I shall have to leave nov…’ She quickly folds the contract and stuffs it in her bag. ‘Zakhoditye Na Chaj! Stop by for some tea!’
‘I will.’ Granny stands up and kisses the old Crone lightly on her lips in guise to seal their deal.
Taïga recoils. No way I’m kissing that… Berk! Ostentatiously she offers her hand to shake.
The sudden correction comes out of the blue. Gaping in horror she puts her fingers to her burning cheek, where the outlines of Baba Yaga’s fingers are already showing in bright red. She slumps back onto the couch, crying with pain and shame.
‘What the Hell was that for?’ Granny tries to console her granddaughter, throwing a murderous glance at the old crone who’s fuming with rage next to them.
‘I have killed forr less dhan dhat. You knov. Yourr grranddaughterr vill also learrn. Shee vas lucky today. Maybe nod so tomorrrov.’
Granny knows better than to answer back. Baba Yaga has passed from the relatively normal “Earth mother” to the “Terrible Old Crone” in a matter of seconds. She could lose it and do something totally off the wall at any instant. The cruel witch has wiped out whole families before, just for the Hell of it. Slowly she strokes her grandchild’s hair and shivering back, making soothing noises.
After having studied her nails for a while, the old Russian witch clears her throat. ‘Yourr grranddaughter is werry beautiful, but terribly rrude. Id must change. She cannot crry all de time or shee vill make husband unhappy. Shee must learrn ourr Rrussian vays.’
‘Of course, Yanca- Baba Yaga. I will see to it she gets the right information.’ Granny hates having to rub up to the mean old crone.
‘Education.’ Baba Yaga corrects.
A loud crashing sound interrupts them.
‘Hush! Vhat vas dat?’
‘The thunder probably struck the old mill-’
‘Niet. Not dat!’ Baba Yaga turns on her seat and peaks out from behind the curtains. ‘Bychit!’ She lets the curtain fall back. ‘Count Olaf and hees Frrench beetch – Lugubrre Chantelamorrt!’
With a gasp, Granny stands up, and for the second time that day, she resolutely takes Taïga’s arm and hurries towards the stairs. Baba Yaga is laughing hysterically, making Valkyria growl, flattening her ears.
‘What’s going on!?! Granny, talk to me!’
‘I’ll explain later. Get up to your room and don’t come down unless I call you.’
‘Go!’ She pushes Taïga rather roughly towards the stairs. ‘Hurry!’ she hisses between clenched teeth.
Taïga turns and scurries upstairs, heart beating and cheek burning. What the Heck is going on?
Scared, but too curious to go straight to her room, she lingers on the landing, hiding behind the corner with a clear view of the hall. When the door opens, she peeks through the railing at the visitors. Granny is having her hand kissed by a tall, thin man with a black top hat who’s generally looking like he’s going to an evening at the Opera. But there’s no Opera in Fairview Heights…
The woman accompanying him looks like a drenched cat next to the man’s elegant figure. With her tousled, wet grey hair and down jacket over a long black skirt, she looks more like a bag lady than a Parisian socialite…
They must be important though, as even Baba Yaga seems unnerved by their presence. Suddenly the man turns his head in her direction, and even though she can’t see his eyes in the shadow of the top hat, she knows that he’s looking straight at her.
Heart beating so hard it hurts, she scrambles backwards, out of view. She leans against the wall, waiting for her breath to slow down again. Carefully she peeks around the corner once more, just in time to see the small group disappear into the living room.
Head throbbing, she goes straight to the bathroom and turns on the tap. The sound of water pouring seems divine. She rummages through the pharmacy for a Tylenol, and gratefully takes the pill, drinking avidly directly from the tap. She finishes by splashing cold water on her burning cheek. The faint trace of Baba Yaga’s hand is slowly fading. Too slowly. Nobody has ever raised a hand on her. Not her mother. Not Granny. Nobody.
She closes her eyes, letting the hatred she feels for the mean old woman wash over her. The sound of the windows bursting open snaps her back to reality. The floor is already splattered by rain and dead leaves are scattered all over the floor. She hurries over to close the windows again, but she has to struggle against the fierce wind. Grumbling, she cleans up…
Filled with remorse she decides to do something useful. Baba Yaga’s arrival disturbed the carefully planned cleaning program, and she recalls that they didn’t have the time to finish getting the bedrooms arranged. She picks up some clean sheets from the linen cupboard and busies herself, making Granny’s bed first, then her own. The doors and windows have been open the whole morning to get the party smell out, but at least nobody had been smoking in the bedrooms so there was no need to wash the curtains. With the clean sheets, there’s no sign of a party upstairs.
It’s cold though, but she doesn’t dare use her wand to light a fire in the fireplaces, not with the bunch of über-witches downstairs…
She slumps down on her bed, sitting on the edge, studying her feet. With a sigh she lets herself fall backwards. She lies watching the ceiling for what seems like an eternity, thoughts swirling in her head. She sits up again and walks over to the closed door, but thinking better of it she decides to get some air instead. It’s still raining but the little balcony is sheltered. Avidly she breathes in the fresh, moist autumn air. There’s movement over by Granny’s garden. She can distinguish something bright red in the haze. Sprinkler! So at least she knows where the little gnome is… She wonders if he knows about Granny…
If only she had a cell. She needs to talk to Linn… But what would she tell her? That she just got hit in the face by a scrawny psychopath witch, after being rude about becoming a Queen? She sighs. No. But she could tell her about Granny’s illness. Unfortunately the telephone is downstairs in the study… She checks her watch. Linn should be home by now…
As if on cue, the phone rings downstairs. After four shrill signals, there’s a bloodcurdling scream.
OMG! Something must have happened to Linn! Without thinking, she rushes downstairs, sliding to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. Granny is standing in the middle of the hallway, and she is furious…
Part II – End of Chapter 37
Thanks a million to the wonderful creators of the characters in this chapter:
Zabeth0, who let me download and use her old crone Baba Yaga in this story.
Count Olaf who is a creation by Devea on Mod The Sims
Lugubre Chantelamort aka Baroufella, by Sandy on Around The Sims 3