Want to know more about what kind of stories we've put together for you? Read an excerpt from "A Tale Soon Told" by Lissa Sloan, and one from "Boy Meets Witch" by Rebecca A. Coates below!
She can be the enemy of your nightmares or the spirit guide to your dreams. Her hair is wild and gray. Her teeth are made of iron, and she travels using a giant mortar and pestle and lives in a shack on chicken feet surrounded by a fence of skulls and bones. She is Baba Yaga, a crone who ruthlessly uses the needy and greedy for her own devices. And in this anthology of new stories starring Baba Yaga, she lands in some spectacular scenarios.
A Jewish resistance fighter in World War II Poland must gain the help of Baba Yaga to vanquish three supernatural men and avenge the loss of her comrades. A young mother leaves her family to serve the witch in penance for committing a terrible wrong. One story delves into Baba Yaga’s tragic origins, while another re-examines the classic tale of Vasilisa, following the young girl who comes to Baba Yaga for fire on her own journey from maiden to mother to crone. One tale transports the witch from the forests of Russia to the swamplands of the American South, expertly weaving together Slavic and African-American folklore, and another brings her right into the modern day, as a young boy goes looking for a witch to put a spell on a school bully and gets more than he bargained for.
The tale is soon told.
I have walked this path before. It winds through the wood, skirting gullies and rocky outcroppings, growing wide and narrow as it chooses. My feet know the way. They didn’t to begin with, though. Not that first time, when they were bare and soft and felt the prick of every pine needle and pebble underneath them. Every part of me was soft then.
“Keep going,” I breathed into the dark. All around me were the sounds of the wood at night. The hoot of an owl, the scratching of a mouse in the brush. The scream of a hare, a fox’s teeth around its throat. The breeze rustled through the trees, and I pulled my shawl tighter around my shoulders. The spring days were getting warm, but the nights were cold still.
“Which way?” I whispered, as loud as I dared.
The voice came from the little doll clutched in my hand. Between those trees, my love.
“I cannot see the path,” I whispered. “It is too dark.”
To your right, dearest, she said. I held her up so her bright gaze fell on the trees she meant, lighting them just a little.
“It is too dark,” I said again. “How could Anya see to make her lace in the dark?” I asked the doll. “Her pins make no light. She could see no better than me.” She didn’t answer. I kept walking.
I stumbled on a tree root, falling to my hands and knees. “And how could Olga see to knit?” I went on as I stood up, rubbing one stinging palm on my skirt. “Her needles make no light either. She could see no better than me.” Then I added under my breath, “And I could see nothing.”
My love, the doll said gently, never mind your sisters now. You have your task, and you must do it. Do not worry tonight. The morning is wiser than the evening. I knew she was right, so I said no more.
I went on through the forest. I walked a long time or a short time, the doll in my hand telling me to climb a rise or ford a stream or go straight ahead. And all the while I listened to the nighttime sounds of the wood: the howls and rustles, the creaks and shuffles.
At last I heard a new sound. It was the jingle of a horse’s bridle, the muffled tread of hooves on the soft earth. I dropped the doll into my pocket and ducked behind a tree, my eyes fixed on the dark path before me. When the horse came through the trees, I saw her clearly. She almost glowed in the blackness, her mane streaming out behind her in the breeze. She was white. White like snow. White like the moon. White like new milk. And so was her rider. He was dressed all in white from his boots to his helmet.
The pair slowed on the path, and for a moment I forgot about my stepmother sending me to fetch fire from the baba yaga. I forgot my fear of the dark. I found myself stealing out from behind the tree, my hands searching my pockets until my fingers closed on what I wanted. It was one of the carrots I had stuffed into my pocket as I left the house. I wanted to give this beautiful creature something. I wanted to be near her warmth, to stand in her glow, if only for a moment. I took another step onto the path, holding out my offering.
The rider watched me. Perhaps he could see in the dark. Or perhaps his brightness illuminated everything around him. He stopped his horse and beckoned me closer, leaning down with his arms crossed on his horse’s pommel. When the horse had accepted the carrot and moved on to nuzzling one of my braids, I heard a low chuckle. I looked up at the rider. His smile was warm, lifting his white mustaches at the edges and crinkling the corners of his eyes. He reached down and tapped my nose with one white-gloved finger. Then he winked, touched his mount with his heels, and the white horse and rider galloped away. The sky began to lighten. Dawn was coming at last.
The doll had told me that morning is wiser than evening; it was what she always said. I didn’t feel any wiser, though. I began to see the wood around me as I walked. But I still needed the doll to tell me which way to go when the path forked or seemed to disappear entirely. I kept walking, a long time or a short time, listening to the birds waking and calling to each other in the growing light.
From "Boy Meets Witch" by Rebecca A. Coates
In the deepest, darkest part of the forest, where the trees grow as tall as the sky, there was a small clearing, and in that clearing was a single-wide General Coach “Chateau” trailer on cinder blocks. Its white sides were dull with dust, its window curtains were faded, and its awning dipped at one corner where the supporting post tilted like a drunk.
Alex pushed up his glasses with a knuckle and tongued his braces nervously. Maybe the kids at school had been having him on. Maybe they’d known he was eavesdropping and this was all a big set-up.
He’d left his bike at the base of the trail where it branched off the old logging road. Dry needles crackled under his sneakers as he picked his way across the clearing. The sun was bright overhead, but the trees were so close together that only a slender shaft of light, still hazy with smoke from the summer forest fires, broke through. A double line of round white stones, half-hidden under dead twigs and snarls of browning ferns, led up the front path. Beneath the trailer’s front door, three aluminum steps dangled over the dirt. They echoed tinnily under his feet. Heart thumping in his throat, he raised a hand and knocked.
“Hey! Anybody home?” He knocked again, harder this time--bang! bang! bang!
The trailer trembled with approaching footsteps. The door flew open, and an old woman glared at him through the screen. She had a bird’s nest of dirty white hair and a wobbly jaw like a hound dog. Spotted pouches sagged under her watery eyes. Her whole face looked like it could slide off its bones as easily as an egg out of a frying pan. “Vat da hell do you vant?” she said in an accent like a B-movie Dracula.
“I—” His voice cracked embarrassingly. “I heard that, uh, that a witch lives here.”
She raised one hairy white eyebrow. “So?”
“I need your help.” He shoved his fists into his jeans pockets and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “I need you to, um, take care of someone for me. You know, like take care of?”
The old woman narrowed her eyes. “Go home, little boy,” she said, and slammed the door shut.
He flinched. Rude old bitch! He was 14! He wasn’t a child. He banged on the door with his fist, shaking the frame. “Hey! Hey, lady! C’mon, please?”
The door opened just enough for her to squint through it, looking him up and down. He was taller than her but only just, still waiting for that growth spurt he really hoped was around the corner. She sucked on her teeth, which were white and weirdly even. Probably dentures, he figured; it would explain why her s’s sounded so mushy. She licked her creased lips. “You are fat enough, I think.”
His face went hot and he had to bite his tongue, hard, to keep back something rude.
“Well,” she said, “maybe I will help you. And if not, you will make nice meal.”
“Yeah,” he said doubtfully, “I’m not much of a cook.”
She wheezed out a laugh like he’d just said something funny. Witch or not, he decided, this old bag was seriously wacko.
She stepped away from the screen door and shuffled into the trailer. Her red velour track suit was stretched and shiny across her lumpy bottom, which seemed to have sucked all the flesh out of her arms and legs. “Don’t stand in doorway,” she said without turning around. “Come in.”