Baba Yaga squats, legs spread, and focuses on relaxing every muscle in her body with Lamaze breaths. On her next exhale, she slides the tray of shrinky dinks inside herself to cook. Her toes clench in the straw spread on the henhouse floor as she concentrates on holding her powerful quads in a squat. From the row above the mantle, she picks a sand timer and flips it over. The grains settle soft at the bottom of the hourglass.
In this menthol ache of late winter, the demonic souls of dead children play pranks in Baba Yaga’s yard. She glares at them through the window as they run backandforthbackandforth and wear down the yellow grass into dirt tracks. Their high-pitched giggles distract her from her crafting. They move so fast they appear as an ectoplasmic blur. The children chomp the heads off live chipmunks and slide the spines over their teeth, which sounds like the end of a spoon dragged over a washboard. Irritation rises inside Baba Yaga like vomit. An engorged vein throbs at her temple.
Inside her, one of the portrait heads jumps from the pan and tries to bite. Its squared-off chiclet teeth chomp uselessly at her insides. At her wrist, a souvenir charm bracelet tinkles with the heads of her enemies rendered in colored pencil. Their heads go clickety-clak. Sometimes she takes commissions from other women with mythological prowess: for Circe, shrunken pig heads encased in charms on a brass anklet; for Io, a giant with a hundred eyes.
In addition to her commissions, Baba Yaga runs a virtual craft store whose tagline reads UPCYCLED GENUINE HANDCRAFTED NATURALS. After a peak, her sales projections are down twelve percent for the next quarter. Sculptural bone wind chimes sell almost as well as her eroto-ornithological art: the oil paintings of sandpipers looking coquettishly over their shoulders, the blackbirds with genitals as red as their wings, the tufted titmice whose blue feathers frame the slope of a bare breast. When one of her paintings goes viral, it’s of a bird of paradise with his neon yellow throat spread open wide to the world. Baba Yaga crops an image of a shocked warbler eyeing Venus as she rises from a pond in the woods. Baba Yaga considers which tags to use: #adorbler #bestial #birdpussy #featheries #furries #handmade #hoodedwarbler #painting #upcycling #wildcrafting. Each listing includes a disclaimer about the creatures’ deaths being due to natural causes, though Baba Yaga does not specify that the natural cause is often her own hunger or the claws that extend from the corners of her house.
Instead of venting the plastic fumes from the shrinky dinks, Baba Yaga huffs them. Breathing the dioxins speeds up time so that she does not see the children moving. They stutter-skip from place to place or are invisible. When the children tire of the outdoors, they stand still and haunt the paintings hung from the henhouse walls. Their visages appear as the odd shapes of human noses set over bird beaks. Baba Yaga tries to ignore them. Her cheeks burn. When the children notice Baba Yaga noticing them, they spit pfffft, unhinge the halves of their faces, and nip at the paintings. Baba Yaga seriously considers re-murder, but instead she lets the anger flow out with her breath.
When the sand timer finishes, Baba Yaga pulls the tray out from between her legs. It’s covered in an opalescent hot goo. A few creamy drops melt the floor when they fall from her, through the floor and into the dirt, through the dirt far inside the crust of the earth, all the way to its molten core, where they fertilize the planet. It gets big and round and pregnant. The house scuttles back and forth on its chicken feet.
Emrys Donaldson's work has recently appeared in TriQuarterly, Passages North, Redivider, Fairy Tale Review, and The Rupture, among other venues. He holds an MFA from the University of Alabama and is an Assistant Professor of English at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama.