Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 46

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The Path Home

“I taught them how to dance,” Marya explained to Mother Holle, which is what the old woman said Marya could call her. She introduced her to the shovel, coal, hearth, dough, and bag, and explained that they were so grateful they agreed between themselves to give her coal or bread whenever she asked. She introduced her to the spider, the fly, the frog, the fish, the hawk, the raven, and the fish, and explained that they were so grateful that the spiders gave her silk, the fish gave her food, the insects left her alone, and the others brought her rabbits or eggs or plants to eat. “They only needed to know how to work together.”

The old woman was less impressed with the talking shovel, which still stammered and became flustered whenever Marya touched it, than she was with Marya’s ingenuity and generosity. “You’re a rare one,” she said. “You’ve asked for nothing and you’ve given a great deal. Is there nothing you want for yourself?”

Marya smiled. “Nothing I want but a great deal that I wish. I miss my mother and my sister, and I hope that one day they will join me here.”

“Oh, my dear, I don’t think that’s very likely.”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” said Marya. “You’re the first person besides myself to arrive here. I should have thought that in Death, there would be people arriving all of the time.”

Mother Holle’s jaw dropped the slightest bit before she gave a guffaw that outsized her small frame. “Death? My dear child, we’re not dead!”

“How is that possible, Mother? Animals and bags don’t speak.”

“Of course, they do, if you know how to listen and hear. My house, for example, fell in love with a dog-headed bird. It’s a relationship that’s doomed to fail, I’m sorry to say,” she added with a sigh a sad wag of her head. “It’s made her so happy, but you can’t tell a simurgh where to fly and you can’t make it land for long.”

“Can I see my mother and sister again?”

“The path is neither straight nor true and there is more than one hazard along the way. Won’t you miss your friends here?”

“I’m afraid I will miss everyone I am not with,” Marya said, “but my friends here will be with me always.” To prove her point, she withdrew a warm lump of coal from a pocket and blew on it. “Fire does not burn me and I always have enough food.”

“Your gift is wonder,” approved Mother Holle. “I could cover you with gold and you would not be richer than you are now. Your flaw is that you do not pair your wonder with curiosity. You must learn your own dance.”

Marya’s eyes sparkled. “I see. Yes. Thank you, Mother!”

Mother Holle told her how to leave and how long it would take to get to the castle, and when the ground shook she said, “Ah, me, how time flies.” A large house then hove into view, lurching from side to side on enormous chicken legs. It settled sadly before the two women and the air it pushed away sounded like a sigh.

“Are you Baba Yaga?” asked Marya.

“I am who I am. When people seek me for their own gain, they call me Baba Yaga. But I am always Mother Holle. Few and far between are those who meet me thus. Farewell, daughter,” she said, and stepped through the front door. “You poor silly thing,” she said to the house, patting its door. “Had your heart broken again, did you?”

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