Manya wound her way through the dark forest on horseback astride her faithful horse, Thorn, seeking the one person in the whole world who might be able to help her—Baba Yaga.

She took one hand off the reins to stroke her growing belly—she was with child, but not by the man she was betrothed to. Prince Adrik will have the child put to death if he finds out it’s not his. Mikhail had a distinctive birthmark on his cheek, owned by all the males of his family line—it looked like a star. If the baby were to be born with that particular, distinctive scar, there would be no end to Adrik’s wrath. But Manya could not stop herself from having her midnight trysts with her lover, Mikhail.

Last week, as she was going to meet him, she’d convinced herself to tell him that it was over. That night, she’d reached the meeting spot by the old well. He’d assisted her in dismounting and then looked into her eyes, brushing back a tendril of her auburn hair. The closeness, the scent of him, the glimmer in his eyes, and his lean body pressed up against her, was too intoxicating to resist. So she didn’t. I’ll tell him another time, she told herself.

She approached the house of Baba Yaga, who was famed for assisting young women in their maternal woes—sometimes, anyway. This was a very strange house, for it stood on giant chicken legs, and every so often, it walked around, changing direction.

Surely she will help a fellow woman in her time of need. Surely she will understand my dire predicament, for surely Baba Yaga had been young and beautiful once, too.

The hut stopped turning with its door in front of Manya. The door slowly creaked open.

“Fie! Fie!” shouted Baba Yaga, sweeping an old dead cat out the door, its shriveled body covered in matted fur and bits of dried mud. Manya gulped down her fear, as she saw Baba Yaga, with her scraggly white hair, arms that looked covered in tree bark, long pointed nose with a wart next to it, but most menacing of all, were the iron teeth. Those teeth looked gross and weapon-like, as if they often were used to grind bones into dust. She spied Manya with cataract eyes and said, “You!” pointing an accusatory finger. “What are you doing in my woods?”

Though Manya considered making up an excuse and immediately leaving, she hesitated, biting her lip instead.

“I…um…I was hoping you could help me?”

“Help you, my dear?” Baba Yaga purred.

“Well, yes, um…you see…I am betrothed to a man…”

“What’s his name?” Baba Yaga interjected.

Manya was taken aback for a moment. “His name is Adrik Visenya.”

“And you love him not.”

“I…it’s not that I don’t love him…” Manya faltered.

“You’re fucking another,” said Baba Yaga.

“Well, yes,” Manya replied.

“And you have a child, a baby boy, from your lover…”

“Yes, I think so,” Manya replied, stroking her belly. She’d never thought of it as a little baby boy, before.

“Baba Yaga knows,” said the old woman. “Come inside,” she crooned, curling a long, withered finger. So Manya followed the woman into her hut. In the center of it, stood a giant mortar and pestle set, black as pitch.

Baba Yaga took a poker to the embers of the hut’s hearth-fire. “Are you here of your own free will or by compulsion?” she asked.

Manya gingerly stroked her belly as she thought. “Both,” she answered, as she’d come of her own free will, but also under duress, with the underlying threat to her child and, possibly, herself as well.

“I see,” answered Baba Yaga. “Do you have something that symbolizes your future marriage?”

Manya did—the silver necklace she wore, of two little silver bells. She removed the necklace and handed it over to Baba Yaga.

“Yes,” Baba Yaga said, “this will do.” Then she dropped the necklace into the mortar, and began grinding it with the pestle, around and around in concentric circles. The sound grew louder and assaulted Manya’s ears, making her wonder if she’d made the right decision. The grinding of the bells caused her to reconsider. Once, twice, thrice Baba Yaga ground the bells into dust.

“A week from today, on the night of the full moon, ride—ride to the well in the woods where you meet with your lover, the dark-haired Mikhail. Bring with you three items—a sprig of pine, for luck, a small bell, for beauty, and a coin for prosperity. Toss them into the well, and your troubles will be over.”

“Thank you, forest mother goddess.”

“You’re welcome. Now go, for you and your precious child.”

At least, Manya thought that “precious” is what she said, but it could have been “delicious”. She rode Thorn on toward home.


A week passed by. Adrik had invited Manya to dinner, and made advances, stroking her leg under the table and edging his finger under the hem of her lace panties. Manya smiled, picturing Mikhail’s face on his the whole time. As Thorn’s hooves found the forest dirt later that night, she imagined Mikhail inside of her, and her blood grew hot. Soon, she would have him again. Baba Yaga would make it so.

Soon enough, she reached the well, and with a little trouble, dismounted. She took the three items from her pouch—sprig of pine, tiny bell, and coin. And she dutifully threw them into the well, and then waited for a moment, looking down. Nothing happened. She looked up, and then looked behind herself—and screamed. She saw both Adrik and Mikhail’s heads, on spikes. Then she heard a cackle echo through the woods, and saw Baba Yaga flying through the air on her mortar.

Quickly, Manya mounted Thorn and rode for her life, past the trees, over rocks, with Baba Yaga following behind. Here and there, Manya spied Baba Yaga’s morbid craft projects—glowing skulls here and there on spikes. Manya urged Thorn on at a breakneck speed—if she could just reach her father’s keep, she would be safe, and her child would be safe—Baba Yaga was said to be fond of eating children.

Manya didn’t have time to scream. Baba Yaga reached out with her short scythe and lopped off Manya’s head. Then she took Thorn’s head as well. Baba Yaga would have a feast tonight—the men, the woman, horse and child. Huzzah. She smiled broadly with her iron teeth.