Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 6)

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They were led through a strange sort of village. All the buildings were the hollowed-out trunks of house-sized mushrooms. Some houses had neat little fences keeping in what looked like strange, one-eyed roosters, except that what should have been tail feathers were actually hissing snakes.

“Miniature cockatrice?” asked Iskra, to which all the other girls shrugged, unsure themselves.

As they walked through the community, villagers stopped and stared. Younglings peered around skirts and walls to get a better look while staying out of sight. All four of them felt weirdly on display and were eager to get to the queen.

They arrived at what had to be the palace. Where the rest of the houses in the village were toadstools, this building appeared to be hollowed out from a giant white mushroom none of them could identify. It had a thick inner trunk rising up to a deep pointed cap. Two smaller stems rose up from the front like columns, and along the sides were more thin stems that evoked towers and turrets.

Their guide hurried them along through the large doors and into the main hall. Although not sure what to expect in the palace of a giant ant queen, they certainly had not expected a series of counters with long lines of ant- people waiting to be seen. Behind the counters were the most clerk-seeming ants they had ever seen. Which was unusual since none of them had ever considered the possibility of a clerk-seeming ant.

Their guide marched resolutely to the table in the center, making rapid hand motions at the clerk ant behind the counter. They both turned to look at the witches in their presence, before going back to talking at each other too quick for Anna’s translator scribe. Finally, the ant at the table stood up and scurried through a large door at the back of the hall.

– “It will just be a moment.” Signed their guide.

The clerk-ant returned and beckoned them forward.

They followed down an ornamental hallway filled with pictures of ants wearing crowns and holding ornamental scepters, before entering what looked like a grand library. There was a large desk, and a small ant, bent over a pile of paperwork.

You’re majesty? Translated the scribe spirit.

Yes, Yes, what is it?

You’re majesty, we found these four witches in our fields. We don’t know what they’re saying, and we thought perhaps you might be able to understand them.

-Oh, Hmmm, yes one moment, let me get the crown.

The queen began rummaging through the various drawers of the desk, pulling out all sorts of strange artifacts, and finally a circlet with a golden shaggy mane encrusted with garnets. With the crown firmly in place, all three ants turned expectantly towards the thoroughly bemused witches and waited.

“Um… Hi?” ventured Iskra.

“Greetings oh Midnight Acolytes of the Dread Boney-Legged –“ replied the queen, to the shock of all but Anna who was still looking at what the spirit scribe was transcribing.

“Midnight Acolytes?” whispered Kasia.

“I like it” responded Lidiya in hushed tones.

“I am Queen Adam, elected leader of the Shaggy Mane ant Village.”

“elected?” replied Kasia

“Yes! We did away with the system that determined that the ability to procreate meant you were divinely inspired to rule and instead we began to chose leaders in a yearly election. This will actually be my 8th year as Queen.”

“Fascinating! So were you a linguist or a translator previously?”

“Hmmm? Oh! No. Actually the crown has a language spell that which translates into the appropriate language of any visitors and vice versa, granting our monarch the ability to communicate at need.”

Their original guide ant clicked, in a way much like someone would clear their throats.

“Oh, yes, right, where was I. Dread acolytes of the Boney Midnight-Legged, my greetings… Why are you here?”

“We’re following a knight who stole something very dear to us.” Replied Iskra.

“And you tracked him to our village?”

“No.  We were trying to figure out which exit he had used when the rain caught us and we set up camp for the night. We had no idea we were by a village at all.”

“Oh.”

“You aren’t hiding him are you?” asked Lidiya, teasingly.

“Oh no Dread Lady. We’re only obligated to help him if he saves the queen. Otherwise we mostly spend our time farming Bantam Cockatrice for trade at the Great Antish Fair.”

“So many questions and so little time.” Whispered Anna.

“Do you perchance keep tabs on the comings and goings from the forest?”

“Why yes Dread Lady” said Queen Adam excitedly, beckoning them before disappearing among the various stacks of books. “Here we are” called his voice from among the rows, and they finally found him with a large volume in hand. “Invocation of Vasilia’s ruse, mounted knight… exited through the Morel Grove, which was partway through it’s quadrennial East-West Migration.”

“Great! Can someone show us where that would be?”

“We can have someone take you to the last known location of the grove, and point out the usual route if it’s not there. But it will have to wait till we leave for the fair in two weeks. At the moment we do not have an ant to spare as the toads are about to finish hatching the eggs and we will need all hands on deck to help take care of the chicks.”

“Two weeks! We can’t wait that long. By that point who knows what they will have done to Baba Yaga!”

“We might have a map somewhere, but they tend to not be very useful what with the landscape constantly changing.” The clerkish little queen scurried off down another aisle of books before diving into a section of stacked scrolls. He busily pulled out one after another, checking it’s contents, reshelving, and pulling out another one.

So absorbed in finding what he was looking for, he didn’t notice that the shelf was starting to sway from the furtive search. The wood creaked ominously, and there was a faint fluttering of paper. Still the queen kept furiously searching through the stacks. Finally with one loud crack, the bookshelf tipped and started to fall, and so did all the scrolls.

With a loud shot, Iskra stuck out her wand and froze everything in place.

Scrolls hung half out of their numbered cubbyholes as the shelf hung suspended at a dangerous angle. Concentrating furiously, the fiery witch tipped the bookshelf back into its correct position, and guided the scrolls back securely into their spots. After a few minutes’ effort, everything was back in its original place, while the ant queen looked at them in complete stunned horror.

“Oh, my goodness, you saved me!”

“Not really, the shelf wouldn’t have fallen on you.”

“Not THAT. Do you have any idea how long it would have taken to put everything back? Not to mention all the forms that would have had to have been filled out about the incident, the repair requests, the reports, I would have been absolutely DROWNING in paperwork! You really saved my life here.”

“Um… don’t worry about it. It was my pleasure.”

“No no, I am honour bound to repay you for saving me. Let me think. I really can’t afford to spare any ants during this harvest. Oh wait I know! My most splendiferous dread lady heroes, I will give you the Morell Compass!”

“Moral compass?”

“No no, Morell. It points to the location of the largest cluster of Morell’s in the surrounding forest. In a regular forest, it would be where to harvest them, but here. Here it should take you directly to where the grove is now. It is one of the prized treasury items which are mine to distribute at need. I will have my clerks find it, while we prepare you a mighty feast of our best assorted sweets in preparation for you long journey.”

With that pronouncement, the queen rang a little bell that suddenly appeared in his hand, and they were immediately surrounded by excited ants taking instructions, while the witches looked on bemused.

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 6)
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Baba Yaga’s School For Abandoned Girls (Part 4)

(Find chapter 3 here)

The information when it finally arrived came from a venerable lake sturgeon. His barbells were long and curled like the stately mustache of a Hussar, and his pointed back-plates were the deep grey of distant mountains that looked almost like winged armour.

“Roderyk Aleksander, Polkovnik of the Clan Sturgeon, at my ladies’ service.” He introduced himself, straight-backed enough to make any military man proud. “I was on my afternoon patrol when I spotted a foreign soldier riding away from the lake with a large bundle. I particularly noticed the cloud of spent magic he was trailing. Us sturgeons are very sensitive to that sort of thing.” He reported.

“…and?” asked Amaltheia impatiently.

Continue reading “Baba Yaga’s School For Abandoned Girls (Part 4)”

Baba Yaga’s School For Abandoned Girls (Part 4)

How the Hell Did You Finish Writing a Book?

It is one of the most common questions I am asked by people looking for writing advice. I understand the frustration. Before finishing Young, Sick, and Invisible, I had attempted and failed to write several different novels. I have a folder of dozens of half-written or half-outlined ideas that I still hope to revisit.

Writing YSI was a constant state of anxiety about whether it was something I could finish. Between ADHD making focus and starting difficult, and troll brain thoughts telling me I was unable to ever finish a project that wasn’t set by a teacher or a boss.

Even after I managed to finish YSI, I was convinced that it was a fluke. That telling my own story is easy in comparison to making up a story completely. I had started writing Hunting Blackbirds by this time, and still in the back of my mind were the thoughts telling me I couldn’t do it. When i wrote the final line of the first draft, it was overwhelming. I did it. I wrote a novel. Regardless of anything that happened next, I had completed a novel and no one would be able to take that away from me.

Finishing a book is hard, especially when you are dealing with mental illness and disability on top of it. Most of the advice out there for writers is mostly directed at either neurotypical people, or don’t include advice on breaking through mental barriers. I’ve been thinking for a while about all the things that helped me, with both books. What tools did I use to help with motivation, to help cope with troll brain thoughts, to help keep the writing going past the point of writer’s block and scene block? Here’s what I finally came up with, and I hope that other struggling writers out there find it useful.

Continue reading “How the Hell Did You Finish Writing a Book?”

How the Hell Did You Finish Writing a Book?

How to Survive Dating a Writer

Last April I was working hard on finishing a book I’ve been working on since about the same time the year before. Although I was already motivated by the desire to finish my manuscript, a deadline presented itself in the form of a very enticing writing contest. In order to reach my goal, several important things got put on the backburner, including time spent with my partners.

People who end up in relationships with writers soon learn what it means to be a novel widow. Sometimes when a deadline is looming, or inspiration is driving you, we writers can get a little hyper-focused on what we are doing to the exclusion of everything else.

To that effect, I wanted to offer some advice on how to survive a relationship with a writer.

Continue reading “How to Survive Dating a Writer”

How to Survive Dating a Writer

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 2)

(Find Part 1 Here) 

The next morning dawned sunny and warm, so the girls decided to spend the day on laundry and some spring cleaning. They threw open the doors and windows – airing out all the rooms – gathered up all the bedding and clothes, and exited the kitchen door. The cottage followed them obediently, followed along by the kitchen chairs and table which had run out of the door to follow the cottage like chicks following their mother hen. At the very back of the line of chairs was an old claw-footed tub, trying desperately to keep up.

The river by the house widened out just a short distance away, the rocks helping create small pools of calmer water. Lidiya handed out little carved statuettes. Placed in the water, they would warm a small section of the river to a warmer temperature. Some were hotter than others so that each of them could find the right spot.

All told, there were 12 of them, and those that could hiked up their skirts and waded into the water with stacks of linens. Anna and Lidiya helped the girls spread out the clothes to be washed. Iskra stood up from her chair. She supported herself on one side with Kleks, and on the other on Kasia’s arm. She help guide Kasia to avoid the rocks, since she was currently looking through a ravens’ eyes and keeping a sharp look on the younger girls. Klara stayed on the bank with the two babies.

The house found a spot in the clearing that was in direct sunlight and settled down, much like a hen taking a sunbath. The chairs settled down around the house, as did the tub.

Laundry days were much like holidays. While there was work to be done, there was also a lot of laughter and storytelling. The water was nice, and the sun was out. As soon as the laundry was clean, they laid it out in the sun to dry. This gave them all a chance to relax. The young girls were chasing Kleks around in the water, as the ecstatic hellhound chased them back. One of the babies was crawling around on the grass. Iskra was singing along with the song that Lidiya was playing on a guitar.

After a short lunch, they worked on folding the laundry while Anna and the older of the young girls, Mika, worked on cleaning up the chairs. Anna was just finishing off polishing the kitchen table when she saw Mika, carrying a scrub brush and some soap, chasing the bathtub which was full of water and running away from her.

“Get back here you blasted tub before I cast you into next week!”

“Shuush Mika!” Called out Anna, “Don’t insult the bath. It holds a grudge forever and a day! You’ll never have hot water in your bath again.”

“That’s right Mika.” Added Iskra, who had just joined them. “You should know better. After all everyone knows that witches can’t cross running water. Well there is water and it’s certainly running, now don’t cross it!”

The young girl looked properly rebuked and apologized to the bathtub, which blew bubbles in the water in response before bouncing away.

They were just putting away the last of the linens when the flying Mortar and Pestle landed by the river. Out crawled a muttering Baba Yaga.

“Welcome back Babcia” called out all the girls, glad to have their teacher and protector back with them.

“How was your trip?” asked Iskra.

“It was fine. Can someone explain to me the rational of building a house out of butter? I just don’t understand it! Every time I visit, I come home feeling greasy. Thank goodness it was cold when I got there I’d have to spend the next week cleaning out the mortar!”

The girls all giggled, and Kasia offered to make some tea for Baba Yaga to help her warm back up. Flying long distances always left the old woman’s joints aching from the thin cold air high in the sky, and warming her up as fast as possible would help. Iskra was just thinking about the best one of her ointments to give her mentor to help her knees, when a scream shocked her and Kasia out of their thoughts.

A tall rider in shining armour had emerged out of the forest on a tall white horse. He looked every inch the hero, with blond hair fluttering in the wind. At his side was a great sword, while in his hand was a large black sac. Without slowing down his horse, he scooped Baba Yaga into the bag and shut it tight, throwing it over his shoulder, and riding away. He was gone before any of them could react with more than a scream.

There was a moment of silent shock, and then the cottage took off as fast as its chicken legs would carry it. Most of the girls started off after it, but stopped when they noticed that Kleks was pulling Iskra’s chair faster than any of them could run. The previously playful hellhound was now deadly serious and moving as fast as the wind, flames bursting from his paws as he ran. The chair followed behind closely, floating over any fallen debris or unstable ground.

It took a bit of time, but finally they caught up to the hut’s long stride. It was blocked from moving forward by the appearance of giant lake the colour of amber wine. It was wide enough that the house couldn’t cross it with a stride. It paced angrily on the shore of the lake, scratching at the ground with its claws, and shifting forward as if to peck at something.

Kleks bayed as Iskra shouted, trying to get the houses attention.

She pulled out her wand and shot bright sparks in front of where the house’s eyes would be, if it had eyes. The hut stopped, staring at the bright sparks. Taking the cue she produced more bright coloured lights and trailed them like streamers until the house was completely entranced. Now that it was a bit calmer, Iskra began to murmur soothing words and coaxing the house closer. If you’ve never seen a house shiver, it’s hard to explain exactly how it looked.

Desperate to calm the nervous domicile, Iskra starting singing an old lullaby that Baba Yaga sometimes sang for the girls. Finally, the house lowered itself down, allowing Iskra to climb onto the porch. She let Kleks out of his harness. He would have to show them the way back. Now she just had to think of a way to make the house follow. Except for chasing a mounted knight, it was mostly behaving like a chicken might. On a whim she produced an illusion of a giant mealworm, wiggling it in the air in front of the house. The house responded like any bird might, following the worm and trying to reach for it.

Using magic as one might a fishing rod with a treat, she kept the worm illusion floating just ahead to the hut, letting Kleks lead the way when broken treetops didn’t provide enough of a path.

By the time they arrived back at the riverside, evening was just beginning to set. The House had gotten distracted a few times and she’s had to get its attention once more.

The older girls had stayed behind to keep the children safe and in line. This was Clara’s element. She had set the girls in collecting sticks and built a big bonfire. Some worked on catching fish. Clara had turned a scary experience into a festival. Most of the girls were already asleep around the campfire.

As soon as they appeared, the chairs and the bathtub ran up to the house, and the whole group curled up together. Iskra floated down and joined the older girls a short distance away from the fire.

“Good job” congratulated Lidiya as she joined them. “We had tonight covered but I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t gotten the house back.”

“Looks like you had things well in hand. I don’t suppose any of the food is still warm?”

Together the older girls used their wands to float the sleeping children back to their beds, before meeting in the kitchen.

They sat around the table, looking at each other in perfect silence for some time. Although nominally nothing was different, it felt somehow colder in the hut than it had before. Somehow diminished.

“What are we going to do?” asked Anna, breaking the silence.

“We go after her, obviously” responded Iskra.

“It’s not that easy, Iskra.” Argued Kasia, “There are babies and children here that can’t really come with us. You got the house back, yes, but none of us really know how to control it so we would have to leave it and you know it gets lonely.”

“Not to mention someone has to mind the goats, and be here if someone shows up needing magical assistance” added Lidiya, “Someone would have to stay behind.”

“Clara can handle it,” said Anna, looking over at the blond girl at the table. “She’s great with the kids and she has most of the basic spells that are needed down pat.”

“I don’t mind staying behind, but how are you going to find her?” Offered Clara.

“The house chased her to the edge of a new lake. I think the thief, whoever he was, is using Vasilia’s Ruse.  If we follow the trail of those spells we should be able to find them.” Offered the redhead.

“Vasilia’s Ruse?”

“It’s from that old story, when the fair maiden was running away with her prince and were being chased by her captor, she dropped her handkerchief which became a large sparkling lake. Then she dropped a comb which became a forest, with trees as straight as the teeth of the comb. Finally she drops a crystal necklace which becomes a mountain.”

“So all we have to do is follow the landmarks?”

“Lake, forest, and mountain, all of which will positively reek of magic.”

*************************                             *************                             **********************

The next day dawned bright and sunny. Kleks and Iskra led them along the path they had chased the house. This was the forest they knew. Each of them had spent time gathering ingredients for spells, and getting to know some of the local creatures. They had had to walk through the forest to get to nearby villages. It was enough of a magic forest that things changed pretty quickly, a path might suddenly go through a different clearing than it did before, a new tree or bush might sprout overnight. Sometimes the Dryads made the trees dance around. But overall the basic idea of the forest remained the same. They were witches so they followed more than just physical landmarks, they followed the idea.

That all changed when they reached the lake. It was jarring finding such a large bit of landscape appear where it hadn’t previously been. The lake itself was glorious, the water was like amber in the light of the new day; nearly glowing. Along the shore they could see the trees, some of which were starting to bud, reflected in the water, like dark veins dispersed through the tawny surface. The other shore was far out of sight.

The four girls stood at the bank of the lake. Although the sun was warm for this time of year, they shivered. The crystalline water fairly shimmered with magic. It whispered along their senses like a gentle breeze.

Lidiya pulled out a small block of wood, and began carving out a rough design of a boat. She hummed as she worked, the scraping of her carving knife moving in time to her song. Her melody seemed to draw the magic too her, like the way dust motes in the air seem to follow the path of the light’s rays.  Once she had a basic carving down, she pulled a hammer off her belt.

The other girls, familiar with Lidiya’s magic, had gathered a pile of wood and built up a fire. They had also floated over a decent sized rock. The curly haired girl, still humming,  thrust the boat carving into the fire till it glowed red then on the rock, began hitting the red boat with her hammer. Her humming now became a song, the hammer striking out the rhythm.

“Little tiny wooden boat, floating on the sea,

Little tiny wooden boat, answer to my plea

Carry me, Carry me, across to other shores

Carry me, Carry me, my song you implores”

 

Even more so then when she was carving, her song pulled particles of magic from all around her in through her head, down to her arm, and through her hand into the hammer. As she stuck sparks flew, dancing in rhythm to her beat and her song. From time to time she would stick the carved block of wood back into the fire, which took on different colours as she worked. While her pounding continued in rhythm, the outline of the boat grew larger and larger, till it was a row boat just big enough to seat all of them comfortably. The outline of the boat solidified at the rough wooden sculpture.

It took a bit of cajoling to get Kleks onto the boat, the poor hellhound whining at the thought of being surrounded by water. With the help of her canes, Iskra guided her chair into the boat, where she was promptly joined by the others.

As soon as they were all seated, the boat took off across the lake under its own power. It floated along creating ripples in the water as it went, breaking the mirror-like surface.

(Part 3 Here) 

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 2)

What’s the Story

In my last storytelling post, I wrote about how a lot of my paintings come with stories of their own. I usually just let it stay in my head, but I thought I might have some fun and actually tell you, dearest readers, some of the stories.

MEDUSA

Medusa from behind with a butterfly tattoo

Medusa is considered a monster, she is assumed to be so ugly that just looking at her face turns you to stone. But before she was ugly, she was beautiful. She had long lustrous hair, which is why it was changed in order to punish her. Her gorgeous locks turned instead into hissing snakes. But in her metamorphosis she went from being a victim to being a being of fear. Sometimes it is in change that you find yourself. For Medusa, metamorphosis is the meaning of her life, her own change and the change she brings on others. She commemorates this with a tattoo of a flying butterfly on her shoulder.

Continue reading “What’s the Story”

What’s the Story

Location, Location, Location

A friend of mine asked me recently whether I love writing and painting equally. It’s a questions I’ve thought a lot about. I spend a lot of time on both, and they take up a fair bit of my life. Ultimately however, I know the answer. I am a writer, more than that, I am a storyteller. Painting can and is a lot of fun. It is a great way to visually represent some of the things that happen in my head, and in the last few years I’ve let myself delve into it more fully than ever before.

But even my painting relates to my storytelling. Many of my paintings are of characters that I conceptualize and then decide to paint, or scenes from paintings I am trying to work out. Even when it doesn’t relate directly to something I write, my paintings are often about telling a story or at least suggesting a story on their own.

My writing is my most effective way of storytelling since it lets me take the time to fully work out the stories and put into it everything that I’ve wanted, but ultimately, it is the storytelling that drives me.

In another place, another time, I might have been a bard – telling stories, playing music. My social justice class is bard. I think that stories can teach, they can heal, they can move you, they can inflame you and entice you.

When I think about storytelling, however, this one anecdote comes to mind.

Continue reading “Location, Location, Location”

Location, Location, Location

Baba Yaga’s Magical School for Abandoned Girls

In a dark, dark, forest stands a dark, dark, cottage. In this dark, dark, cottage is a dark, dark, hallway that leads to a dark, dark, room. In a dark, dark, corner of this dark, dark, room stands a dark, dark trunk.

As you might imagine, given where this trunk could be found, it was a magic trunk. On the surface, it looked ordinary. The kind of place where one might keep spare blankets. To all appearances it seemed like just an empty trunk, and yet, if one knew how to look and the right words to say, you would find a staircase.

And this dark, dark staircase, led to a world of magic: Czarnoksięstwo
Continue reading “Baba Yaga’s Magical School for Abandoned Girls”

Baba Yaga’s Magical School for Abandoned Girls

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 1)

In a dark, dark, forest stands a dark, dark, cottage. In this dark, dark, cottage is a dark, dark, hallway that leads to a dark, dark, room. In a dark, dark, corner of this dark, dark, room stands a dark, dark trunk.

As you might imagine, given where this trunk could be found, it was a magic trunk. On the surface, it looked ordinary. The kind of place where one might keep spare blankets. To all appearances it seemed like just an empty trunk, and yet, if one knew how to look and the right words to say, you would find a staircase.

And this dark, dark staircase, led to a world of magic: Czarnoksięstwo

Continue reading “Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 1)”

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 1)