Tonight, wind batters the brittle panes of my hovel’s weary windows. Had they been skin instead of glass, they’d no doubt be bruised. This high in the mountains, the winds are wicked. They drag drifts of snow with them, freezing the air till it’s very touch is painful. On nights like these, it feels like the dark is trying to rip and tear its way inside. Even the ferociously flickering flame in our lone hearth is not enough to protect against such a relentless, bitter chill.
The holes in the walls don’t help.
The gaps may be nothing but pesky slivers between wooden slats during the day, allowing a whisper of wind to wander through, but at night, they became slashes, severing any hopes for a warm home in two. Wind wails though the empty spaces, spits bits of ice in your face.
When I was younger, I remember musing how much the jagged lines in the slats resemble teeth marks. It looked like something was gnawing on our walls, like something had tried to take a bite out of the place.
Baba laughed when I told her that, her own teeth gleaming in her smile. The rows of teeth she wore on several strings around her neck seemed to gleam in tandem in the fire’s glow. Baba never liked to wander too far from her cooking pot, seated firmly in the fiery mouth of our home. Unless she was going out to find dinner, of course.
A bite? Baba asked, smile still sharp. From what, my child?
The night. I said, then, like it was obvious. The night must be hungry.
Baba’s smile stretched across her face. Too wide, I’d realize too late. Her face, like the walls, should’ve split in two. Wrinkles cut her face into fleshy shards, deep divots marking her dimples. Even the fire’s flickering stretched her shadow into odd points.
Indeed, my child. Baba said at last, raising a veiny hand to finger one of the teeth wound around her throat. Their strings sunk into the loose flesh there, deep into its creases, making the teeth appear almost to grow out of her neck, as if Baba herself were one giant gaping mouth. The night is hungry.
Baba gripped the long handle of her slightly scorched ladle then, swirling the contents of her cooking pot. They clacked against the cast iron, a hollow sound easily muffled by the wind. A splash of broth overtook the lip and dribbled down the side. At my feet, a tooth fell.
And so are we. Baba swirled the ladle, side to side. So very hungry.
Now, I stand before Baba’s cooking pot, ladle in hand. The wood has gone from slightly scorched to nearly charred, parts of it chipping off in places, splinters biting into flesh.
But, it still does the job it needs to do.
Around my neck, several strings of teeth hang, a particularly gleaming set hanging on the lowest tier rests just above my heart. When I look down, they smile up at me.
A brutal gust slams into the shack then, rattling the windows and the rickety walls and shrieking unsorry through the empty spaces. Snow catches and clings to the rough edges, dripping like drool from a jagged mouth. Like blood, when it catches the fire’s heated glare.
It is a mean night on the mountain.
It reminds me of the night Baba found me. Wading through waist-deep snow drifts and wailing against the wind’s screams for anyone at all to help. To help me and my baby sister, swaddled in my arms as I tried to keep both our heads aloft the piling snow, our faces tucked away from the air’s frigid assault. It was a fruitless effort. We were going to die. Like mother and father did when our cabin’s walls caved in, burying them beneath a life that seemed so meager and empty until it fell on top of them.
Baba slithered out of the darkness just as the snow was starting to swallow us whole. I was trying to raise my baby sister above my head, to keep the snow from encasing her like it had me from the chest down. It was that movement, which finally disturbed her rest and it was her cries, somehow, that summoned Baba. It wouldn’t be until much later that I would wonder at how Baba could’ve possibly heard my sister’s whining over the wind. At the time, I didn’t know to be wary of the things attracted to the cries of wounded creatures.
What do you need? Baba asked as she neared, her body except for her wrinkly old woman face hidden beneath a thick cloak. The night swallowed most of her finer features save for a slight smile that might’ve bothered me more had I not been freezing to death.
Help. I begged, teeth starting to chatter. We n-need h-hel-lp.
But, Baba shook her head. Stretched her smile.
No. She leaned in, the lines carving across her face becoming more pronounced, the gleam of her smile more glaring. What do you need?
I started shaking my own head, not sure what she meant and so very, very cold. In my gums, I swear I could feel my teeth shivering, each tooth clacking against its neighbor in my jaw. In my head, I could hear the echo, a soft pounding sound. Or, maybe that was my heart, slowly freezing in my chest. While the wind seemed to quiet and the weather settle at Baba’s appearance, I was still buried almost to my neck in snow. From all sides, I could feel the press. It was a soft bite but the pressure would grow. I thought of mother and father, buried—no, eaten by the mountain. Swallowed by the night.
We should’ve left sooner. We should’ve let go.
A cruel chill crept over me.
I looked toward my sister then, raised like an offering above my head, and I felt the full weight of her for the first time. Felt the weight our meager home tried to hold. And, I felt the press of something not against me but from within. Something sharp. I heard a crack—possibly a tooth, perhaps another cabin collapsing in the distance, or maybe my frozen heart finally splitting—and then I felt nothing much at all. I should let go.
I looked at Baba, who was all teeth.
I need to let go.
My mouth wouldn’t open, wouldn’t speak the words, but Baba seemed to know what I had decided without me having to spit it out. She reached for the bundle in my arms, took it from me almost reverently as if she, too, could feel its true weight, its burden. She cradled the bundle with one arm and with the other, she pulled me from the snow in one steady, practiced motion. As if I were not the first child she pried from the mountain’s maw.
Baba tsked at my bony wrist in her grip.
My child, Baba said, digging her nails into my icy skin, their points almost biting through. We need some meat on these bones.
Some meat, Baba said, the bundle I gave her tucked out of sight.
I never saw my sister again.
Not whole, at least.
Since then, mean nights on the mountain have always made me hungry. I hear my own screams in the wind, feel each snowflake on my skin like a tooth sinking in, a dug-in nail demanding blood. I no longer sit in the shadow of a shut mouth waiting to be swallowed. I am a mouth. I must fill myself.
Outside, a cry joins the wind. Small, familiar. Wounded and needy.
I run my hand along one of the rows of tiny teeth strung around my neck, finger the smooth edges. Boiled water in a cast iron pot will polish anything if you let it soak long enough. Baba taught me that well.
Baba made sure I could do what I needed to.
The water begins to boil as the cries tear out of the dark and bleed through the walls. Another gust carries a whimper, offering anything to be spared and I smile with all my teeth.
The night is hungry.
Hey~ So… I started up grad school again for the fall and it has been a LOT to manage hence the delayed posting schedule. Honestly, I’ve hade barely any time to think let alone write a spooky story. That said, this story is inspired by the Russian folklore figure, Baba Yaga. I’ve always found her to be a more plausible monster than most. Especially when I think of the cycles of starvation that occurred in Eastern Europe during different points of history, I find a Baba Yaga-esque figure to be all the more plausible and, because of that, more chilling. I wanted to explore the becoming of such a being in this work.
Hope you enjoyed~