Three Sisters in the Woods

Flash Fiction | Duration: 5 Minutes

Dear Reader,

Thank you for opening this letter of tales and imagination. There’s a special relationship between reader and writer, something unique to the medium. Without you, there’s no story. True, the writer facilitates the journey, but it all comes alive when you, the reader, make it truly amazing. So here’s a story written for you, and I can’t wait to see what you make of it. Welcome to The Storyletter! ~ WM

“Babushka, we are so hungry,” the girl-child said in a weak voice, drumming her wooden spoon in the empty bowl. Her two identical sisters nodded. The old woman’s eyes were pink-edged, moist with rheum and tears. She frowned and lowered her red-kerchiefed head in shame. 

“We will go outside and look for mushrooms, Babushka,” one of the sisters said. 

The old woman rose from her seat at the small table in the middle of the hut. She shuffled in her bast sandals to the stove and lit the punched-tin lantern. She gave it to one of the girls who took it. 

The wind skirled through the branches of the woods. The hut was lodged in the cleft of a ravine and the trees rose high overhead. Their branches were interlaced so thickly that even at midday the light barely penetrated the murky world beneath. The girls walked out of the hut and down the path, their golden hair and white dresses drab with soot and dust. The old woman watched from the heart-shaped window. She saw them clamber over the vast, mossy log that lay aslant the ravine. They dropped out of sight. In the gathering fog the punched-tin lantern cast a light that grew thin, diffuse, then vanished altogether.

In another part of the woods near a clearing, four peddlers sat in a close circle, chewing pieces of bark. They were lean, their skin taut from hunger. When they weren’t chewing on sticks or leaves or grass, their mouths hung open in the shape of an “O”. The jowls of the one who once was fat hung slack in two vertical lines. He knew he was next to be eaten, just as they’d eaten their fifth companion. Was that a week before? He couldn’t remember how long ago it had been, none of them could. But now he was ready to sacrifice himself in the same way. He would part his collar, and beg the others to slit his throat and eat him. “If we only had food,” he sighed. “We’ve found a clearing, and at last we can see the sky. Novgorod lies that way,” he said, pointing with a trembling finger. “We could make it in a week, maybe two.”

“I don’t think I can go on,” another said. And then they froze, and through the vines and thorns they witnessed three little girls emerge at the edge of the marsh. The men felt their throats tighten.

“We can’t,” said the man who had once been fat and had resigned himself to being eaten by his friends. “It would be murder. It would be wrong.” The others seemed to agree. But an eloquent man turned to the leader, and, with tears in his eyes, said, “But what of my children? I have three babies, as innocent as these. Without their papa, they will die. These girls who are scavenging for food—Are they really girls? Perhaps they’re lambs! Or angels God has sent to succor us. Their meat would sustain us. And then we can return to our families. We will reform our lives and do good to counter the evil we’re now considering.” 

The man who had been fat touched the shoulder of his friend, and the others nodded in agreement. The four peddlers rose from their hiding place, refusing to look at one another, refusing even to look at the three girls at the edge of the marsh. The sisters gathered in a knot, staring wide-eyed at the four men, and the one sister dropped the lantern and gasped.

The old woman heard neither scream nor scuffle, but she felt a pang in her heart. She went to one corner of the hut and braced a foot there, and then she seemed to grow, and thrust her other foot in the opposite corner. The hut rose up on two scaly columns, feathered at the top, thin at the base. And Baba Yaga’s hut shook mud from its chicken’s feet, and walked out of the cleft in the ravine and into the woods in the direction the three sisters had gone. When the hut came into the clearing at the edge of the marsh, Baba Yaga’s throaty laughter filled the sky and fog. The chicken legs scratched the mud at the edge of the marsh, wriggled its hind parts like a hen about to roost, then sat down in its new home.

The four men were dead. One of the girls sat on the once fat man’s chest and was chewing his entrails like a string of sausages. Another sister lowered the bleeding forearm of the eloquent dead man from her mouth. She seemed to sense disgrace in her ravenousness. The door of the hut flew open. Baba Yaga stepped out. “It is the most nourishing meat for growing Yagas: the flesh of righteous men driven to the brink of sin.”

That night the three sisters sat around the table, which was presided over by the evil babushka. In front of each of the four hags was the upside-down head of one of the dead men, hacked in half, with a wooden spoon sticking out of the porridge that had been his brains with the up-rolled eyes facing one another across the table. The girls were now as tall as Baba Yaga. Their breasts were supple, but their hideous faces were already growing pinched and their hair hung gray and lank.

“Soon, my lovely Yagas, one of you will grow big-bellied, she will eat her two sisters to make her strong enough to litter and bring forth three more Yagas as lovely as you. You will miss me when I am gone,” Baba Yaga said. She pointed to the shriveled hags’ heads swinging in the rafters between the crockery—her predecessors. She laughed so hard that blood squirted from the corners of her eyes. The sisters smiled, although one smiled uneasily. And no one knew nor ever would know why.

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Thanks for reading! Until next Storyletter ~ WM

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