Deep in the darkest part of Ukraine’s Volen forest stands a little hut. The hut rests upon two chicken legs and is surrounded by a fence of bone.
This is the home of Baba Yaga, whose appetite knows no bounds and who devours unruly children with her iron teeth. Whenever the light of a candle flickers in the night, Baba Yaga is said to be passing by in her mortar, rowing the wind with a pestle and sweeping the trail with her broom.
Very few have entered the home of Baba Yaga and lived to tell the tale. One was a little girl named Sonia. Sonia and her mother lived happily on the edge of the Volen forest until Sonia’s mother became gravely ill. It was said Baba Yaga possessed the miraculous healing water that could cure all illness. Packing bread and butter, Sonia set off into the forest. At dusk she came to a bone fence. Light poured from the sockets of a skull mounted on a rusty iron gate.
As Sonia pushed open the gate the hinges creaked in protest. Scooping butter from her bread, Sonia oiled the rusty hinges.
Suddenly, she heard a voice coming from the skull. “You are not safe in the house of Baba Yaga,” it said, “dig into the earth under this gate. If ever you are in danger, throw this gift behind you.”
Sonia dug with her fingers and uncovered a small, dirty mirror. She tucked it into her apron and passed through the gate.
Before her, on its chicken legs, stood the house of Baba Yaga. A skinny dog approached and bared its teeth.
“You poor thing,” thought Sonia, “has no one fed you?” Sonia gave her bread to the dog.
“Fear the house of Baba Yaga,” it said.
“I do,” said Sonia, “but my mother must have some healing water.”
The dog sniffed among the thistles and pulled out a wooden comb. “If ever you are in danger, throw this gift behind you.”
A crackling in the underbrush announced the approach of Baba Yaga’s mortar.
“So,” said the witch, “another fool has come to visit Baba Yaga.”
“Please, Mistress,” said Sonia, “my mother is dying. I have come to beg for a drop of healing water.”
Baba Yaga sneered, “If you want something from me you must earn it. You will stay in my house for three days. If you do my bidding, I will give you a vial of healing water. If you fail in any of your tasks, I will eat your flesh and use your bones to patch my fence.”
Baba Yaga left at dawn the next day. Sonia swept and washed, chopped and boiled. That evening, Baba Yaga observed the girl’s success but said nothing.
The following two days passed like the first. Baba Yaga left at dawn and Sonia worked.
At the end of the third day, Sonia repeated her request: “Mistress, I have done all you asked. May I please have the healing water I was promised?”
“You’ve served me well,” said Baba Yaga, “and you are clever and true. But you are too useful to me to give up. Tomorrow I shall turn you into a puppet and keep you as my servant.”
That night, as the witch slept, Sonia lay weeping. The dog’s wet nose touched her hand, a small glass bottle between his teeth.
“This is a vial of healing water,” he said, “go now and RUN. By dawn Baba Yaga will know you are gone. Remember the comb. Good luck.”
Sonia stole out of the hut with her little bottle. As she passed through the gate, the skull whispered, “Her mortar moves quickly. Remember the mirror. Good luck.”
Sonia ran into the night.
At dawn, a furious witch called to her dog, “Why did you not bark to warn me the girl was escaping?”
“She fed me,” the dog replied, “you have left me to fend for myself.”
Baba Yaga climbed into her mortar. As she passed through her gate she scolded it, “Why did you not creak and wake me?”
“The girl greased my hinges,” the gate said, “you have left me to rust.”
The witch slammed the gate and set off in hot pursuit.
Seeing Baba Yaga nearing, Sonia threw her mirror behind her. At once it became a massive lake. Baba Yaga set her mortar in the water and rowed with her pestle. The crossing was difficult but she was soon on land again, gaining on the tiring girl.
Desperate, Sonia flung the comb.
It grew as tall as the highest trees, and as wide as the forest. The teeth of the comb were set tightly together. Though she gnashed her iron teeth and groped the air with her bony arms, the witch could not reach Sonia and she could not follow.
Sonia did not stop running until she reached her cottage. She opened her little bottle and poured every drop down her mother’s parched throat.
Sonia’s mother was soon well. They sold their cottage by the forest and moved to the sea. Though on some wild evenings the flames of their candles occasionally sputtered, Sonia never saw Baba Yaga again.
~ Lauren Kresowaty, Vancouver, Canada