Baba Yaga

Submitted into Contest #37 in response to: Write a story that takes place in the woods.... view prompt

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Mystery

Sarah ran into the woods with tears welling in her eyes. She had just discovered that her brother had died. Through the thicket and the bramble, she made her way with nothing more than her bare feet, the soles of which now bled and bruised from the cuts she received. For a long time she ran, and she went as far as her breath would allow her. When she could go no farther, she collapsed to her knees in the understory and heaved sobs to herself. Time passed, until her weary heart grew calm, and, curling up into a ball on the forest floor, she fell into a dreamless sleep.


When she awoke, she found herself in a place not at all familiar. The forest had darkened and the trees now looked so alike one another that she could not make out which direction she had come from. 


Though she had run away without thinking, fallen asleep in a wild, unknown place, and now found herself disoriented by her surroundings, Sarah was no dummy. She had grown up hiking in the same woods which skirted her backyard, and, though they spread out over several dozen acres, they were woven with trails and pathways with signs and maps, so that losing one’s way, even in the dark, was almost impossible, especially for someone as experienced as Sarah. Still, after she had wakened, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and gone some distance away from the place where she had slept, Sarah was no closer to finding or recognizing the way home.


Though sleep had somewhat improved her mood, she felt crushed by the loss of her brother and tired out from the tears she shed, and she began to think to herself as she walked along.


“What’s the use! James’s dead, and I’m alone. He left me that way! And now what can I do? No amount of tears will bring him back. And no distance great enough will separate me from that truth! But still, how can I go home? When all that awaits me there is pain? Pain and the memory of him. No! What pain can match the hurt I feel already? I’d better go home. Mom and Dad must be worried. It’s a wonder that Dad hasn’t found me already! I shouldn’t have run off like that. Not when my absence must add to their grief!”


Though her feet were stiff and store and the cause of much pain, Sarah walked through the trees, passed meadows and saplings, which she had never seen before, and deeper into the darkening woods, all in the hopes that she would strike a pathway, of which there were many as I have mentioned. At length, when she began to realize the severity of her position, that she had somehow lost herself in the pitch darkness of the forest, she grew worried and thought to herself.


“I’m not lost. Am I? How can I be lost in so familiar a place? Have I not walked every inch of this forest before? Have I not often said that I could find my way even by night? Ow! My feet hurt. I can’t be lost! Not when the way must be near. Still, why does everything look so strange? Even my hands seem different. I wish it weren’t so dark! Where’s the moon? The light of the moon would show me the way. No! What have I gotten myself into?”


Sarah gazed up through the canopy, but not a single star shined in the dark sky, and neither the moon nor its light was anywhere to be seen. She was left by herself in the quiet of the forest, broken only by the sounds of nature – the chirping of crickets, the rustle of the trees, and the distant coo of an owl – and at once she felt alone and frightened.


Then, without warning, a voice called out from the darkness.


“What have you gotten yourself into?” it said, as if whoever had spoken had read Sarah’s thoughts.


“Wha–?” Sarah spoke in shock. “Who said that?”


A silence filled the air, and Sarah froze in place, while she looked for an indication of the sound. When none came after a minute had passed, she thought to herself again.


“I must be losing my mind! Or else I swear that trees could talk. I should never have come this far. I should never have left home!”


“Have you lost your way, my child?” spoke the voice again, sending a chill down Sarah’s spine. “In more ways than one?”


“Who said that?” Sarah repeated, and she looked around, bracing herself for whatever might come from out the shadows.


Fie! Your brother’s dead! Your brother’s dead. And you’ve lost your head! Lost your head,” the voice sang out.


“Leave me alone!” Sarah shouted into the darkness with tears in her eyes.


“No, my dear. How can I leave you? What confusion that would create! Can you imagine? No! Fortune has brought us together, and fortune must now run its course, for good or ill. Whether I leave, well, that’s for me to decide and for you to hope. But, my dear, do not be afraid! Though I would rather eat you, the head now quells the stomach, so to speak, and curiosity gets the better of me!”


By the time these words had been spoken, Sarah still had not located the source of the strange voice, for it seemed to reverberate from the trees all around her.


“W-Who are you?” Sarah stammered. “How do you know about James?”


“I’ve gone by many names in many ages” spoke the voice. “But that’s not important right now. You can call me Aunty! I’m witch of the ramble and keeper of these woods! I have been watching you for some time and have divined many things – the death of your brother being the least.”


“What do you want from me?” Sarah exclaimed, trembling all over.


“What do I want from you? Ha! What little can you give me, my pet? How about the truth. Yes! Let’s start there. Give me the truth, and I’ll grant what you so desire.”


“You’ll leave me alone?”


“Yes, my little darling, and more than that. I promise! But lie to me once, and you’ll suffer the wickedness of my appetite. For I would rather eat you than be made a fool of!”


Here, sensing that she had no other option than to play along, at least for a time, lest the witch corner her in the darkness, Sarah responded in these words:


“Okay. I’ll answer as you say.”


“Tell me, my little friend. What is your name?”


“Sarah.”


“Ah! My little princess! And what brings you to these woods?”


Sarah paused for a moment, while she thought to herself about the right words to choose.


“Grief, for the loss of my brother, James.”


“That, I already knew. I see that you answer truthfully, but now I shall put you to the test. And do not lie to me, my child, for I can see through all deceptions... Tell me. Did you love your brother?”


“Yes!” Sarah spoke without giving a second thought. “More than anyone.”


“Good, my dear. Then, tell me, truly. Your brother, did you treat him with compassion? Show him the love that he deserved?”


“Yes! Yes,” Sarah repeated with tears welling in her eyes again. “The best that I could!”


“Yes, my pet. There’s no wavering in your heart. That, I can see. But, tell me, my little darling, where is he now?”


Sarah grew quiet, while her lips began to quiver and her hands began to shake.


“Ah, it is worse than I feared,” spoke the voice at length, “for I can see your thoughts and sense your pain. But, answer me this, my little friend, and you must not deny me an answer this time, why does your brother hang in his room?”


Tears came streaming down Sarah’s cheeks as she heaved silent sobs, and she clenched the palms at her side into white fists. A minute passed before she could muster the composure to respond.


“Because...Because...I don’t know! He seemed unhappy, but how could I have guessed? That he would do something like that? I should have known he was hurting. Even when he never said anything about it. I should have known.”


In the next moment, silence filled the air, interrupted only by the sounds of the forest and the sobs of Sarah, and for a long time, the voice made no reply, until Sarah spoke again.


“I’ll never forgive myself! Not for as long as I live.”


“Come, child!” returned the voice. “That you’re upset is only natural. But do not make such unwise promises! For only a fool would rather bear hate in her heart than nurture the peace of forgiveness. I’ll say more. Your brother died not because you failed to love him, but because he failed to love himself. What else could be worthy of blame?”


Sarah rubbed the tears from her eyes, though they had become red and patchy, and sniffled to herself. The witch continued, saying:


“Sarah, my little princess, grieve if you must. I will not take your sorrow from you. For through its tears we can come closer to comfort. But answer me this, my dear, and answer well if you can, for I shall grant you something in return if you do – the spirit of your brother, to what place is it bound?”


Sarah paused to herself for several minutes, while she again thought of the right words to say. Then, looking pensively into the palms of her hands, she said these words:


“I don’t know... Heaven I would hope, but do souls go to heaven? Not even you must know that. Still, what should happen to the spirit of James, who died by his own hand? What place would receive him, but my own heart? I cannot bear to think about it! But since you ask and order me by threats, I will tell you what I think: He lives in me, always and forever, passed the day I die.”


For a long time the voice made no reply, and Sarah began to think that the witch had abandoned her. She looked up through the canopy and saw nothing but the darkness of the night and the sway of the trees in the wind. When Sarah was about to leave, the voice spoke again.


“You have answered wisely my dear. For that, I will reward you. Take this! It is a precious stone, and it will light you the way home. May it be a guide to you, when you are lost and weary.”


At once a stone near Sarah’s feet glowed beneath her, and she picked it up.


“The stone will glow when you head for the place your heart desires. As for me, I will leave you now. The fortune that has brought us together is the same that calls me away. Be well! And treat these woods with care. For I am ever watchful and quick to anger! Goodnight, my dearHickory, maple, oak, birch!


With these words the voice died out, and Sarah was left alone standing in the woods, holding the pale stone in her hands. The tears on her cheeks had dried, and the pain in her heart had somewhat lightened. She now resolved to herself to go home, using the stone as her guide, though she had no need of it, for already the dawn was breaking.

April 16, 2020 17:11

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