A Bone Picket Fence


By Kyle Matthews

“The meat is especially sweet,” Mother Baba cackled from a parched, wrinkled throat. “It is cut from the belly of a pregnant woman close to her birthing time. The fluid of the womb is still upon it, darling Starling, still warm. Do you see the steam?”

“Yes, Mother Baba,” answered Starling, seeing it and smelling it, too, thick in her nostrils like cooked egg, but twisted. Cooked human egg. It smelt good to Starling, who hadn’t eaten in seven years and felt hunger carving her stomach to pieces like those in the bowl before her, pink and steaming.

“Does it not look good? Does it not smell sweet?” Yellow teeth showed from between withered lips, in their cracks pieces of purple flesh that had been rotting for millennia.

“It does both, Mother Baba.”

“Then eat it, dear one.”

Starling bowed her head. “I am not hungry, Mother.”

Baba Yaga raised her head. The thing she was knitting she set on her lap and her eyes glared with deadly sorrow. “You will lie to me, little girl-child?”

“I will not eat, Mother Baba.”

Every night within the Night, Starling walked in from her wall of bone to find such a bowl of human meat as steamed before her now. It was how she counted the days in the Long Dark. Every time the meat smelled sweeter, and she was hungrier, and Mother Baba was angrier and more insistent that she eat. But she never did.

“I took much time to prepare it for you, pet,” Baba Yaga hissed, dipping a wrinkled hand into the fire and into the depths of the great cauldron. Another hiss came, scalding and painful. “Does it lack spice? Here…”

She flung her hand and dripping crimson splattered across the meat. Spots struck Starling’s cheek and burned like salt pressed into an open hurt.

“Here is the birthing blood of the woman and her unborn babe. I have boiled it to take the chill of the forest from you. Are you not grateful?”

“I am grateful, Mother. I love you.”

“Then you will eat.”

“No, Mother… I will not.” Starling bowed her head over the bowl, and waited to be beaten.

The rocking chair scraped on the floor as the old witch pushed herself to her feet. She grew, still frail and fragile as the bones of a bird, but huge so that she loomed in the room and had to bend her snowy head away from the ceiling. Her enlarged hands, papery thin, closed around Starling’s throat with feeble force. No pulse beat in them to match her own, thudding beneath her jaw, no warmth of flowing blood either. They were cuttings of darkness, five-fingered nights that made Starling shudder and gasp.

“One day you shall be Baba Yaga in my stead.” The witch’s voice came louder but stretched thinner, so shrill it could barely be heard by Starling’s still-mortal ears. “You shall eat the flesh of man and savor it under your tongue. The juices of mortality, dear one, are sweet.”



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