October 28:  Yukon Cornelius makes friends and allies of the Babas

They called themselves the Babas and their cottage slunk into our backyard softly on cat paws in the middle of the night.  Bumble saw it come in, stepping over the neighbors’ fences, padding through the wavy grass. Then the legs laid themselves down like a cat would, and the house settled lower and steps unfolded over the resting legs until they touched the ground. It did nothing.  He fell asleep. It was there when we awoke.

Houses on feet? I’d heard of such a house. The house on chicken legs, a house of a witch with a dangerous reputation in Russia. I’d never met her, and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to. She made me afraid.  But then we knew many who had gotten a bad reputation from encounters with people. We knocked on the door anyway. When the three women answered the door introduced themselves with Baba in their names, I asked if they were related to Baba Yaga. They rolled their eyes. Baba Sola said, “Our Sister of Perpetual Trouble? We know her.”  Baba Luna said, “Do we know her! Ha! Do we claim her?” Baba Stella said, “We assure you; we are not going to hurt you. Please don’t be afraid of us. We made breakfast. Would you join us? We came a long way to see you, Yukon and Bumble.” The three of them looked so sincere. In the stories of witches who harmed others, had they ever walked their house over to see you?  

Banana Bread was enough to convince Bumble it was safe. He’s easy.  Coffee, muffins, pastries and little quiches.  We might have been in danger of being fed too much. Bumble and I soon found ourselves stuffed. Baba Stella kept bringing more and more out of the oven till her sisters stopped her, asked her to come join us in the living room. Baba Luna made sure we felt comfortable, offering us different, better pillows, “I think this one will be better for your back,” she said to me. Bumble sat on all the pillows Sola could carry, and he signed, thank you. As the two sisters fussed over our food and comfort, Baba Sola told us, “Sabitha, our house, is mobile and we love to travel!  We just never wanted to settle in one place—so many good places, how do you choose one forever?  So a moving house seemed like the best idea. This way, Sabitha travels the world and we can still find our favorite teas whether we’re in Belgium or Bangkok, and have our own pillows to sleep on at night.”  Luna echoed, “It really is the best of all worlds. Our house is good natured, affectionate travel luggage.”  Stella said, “We meet such nice people too. If they aren’t afraid of Sabitha’s legs.” We talked for hours about each other, and I felt they sincerely wanted to get to know us. They had heard of us, through their well-connected network. “You have empathy. You have heart. You solve problems in a way that is beneficial for most of the people involved.  We like that.”  They nodded and smiled. “It’s not the way things have always been done.” They asked us very detailed questions about how we dealt with certain situations, why we made these decisions. They were very intense questions.

Then, Baba Sola, the eldest of the sisters, folded her hands in her lap, “Why we’ve come.” She paused and took a great breath. “You were right to think of Baba Yaga first. We are here because of our wayward sister. She’s in trouble.” Luna chimed in, “Trouble she caused. Trouble she made.” Stella said, “We think there’s hope though.” Luna did not agree, “I’m afraid she might have gone too far.”  

Sola began telling a story, moving her hands now comfortably to the crocheted armchair covers. “Baba Yaga does not like to travel, but her hut does wander the forest where she lives. She’s always trying to get farther away from people, but the encroach of civilization has reduced her forest to not much more than a park. People have built bridges and fountains and trails and families walk through all the time. She could see them, hear them, laughing through her yard. It sapped her very strength.”  Luna said, “She’s very much an introvert. She needs her space.”  Sola continued, “But there was none.  Everywhere the hut looked were apartment complexes and strip malls and endless suburban housing. She wanted her forest back. So our sister—who has rarely encountered a guest she didn’t curse and make miserable, or chase down, or torture—starts a candle-making business—creating hundreds and hundreds of candles in a jars with names like “To rid yourself of bad dreams” and “Cure for an Aching Soul” and “What You Really Need” and “Everyone Else Thinks this Smells like Apples”—and she stood in front of her hut and sold as many candles as she could to everyone.  

“They bought them not because they needed them. Who buys candles for that? They bought them because of how they smelled — like—” her hands reached up above her as she looked upwards, “like everything they wanted, everything they dreamed of. She’d made them irresistible.

“Baba Yaga walked her hut to a suburb, set down and sold even more candles. Once she had sold 1000 candles, she and her hut walked back to the most secluded part of the park, within a sacred ring of trees.”  Luna interrupted, pointing at me with a brownie, “And then she screwed everyone.” Sola looked over at her, “Luna,” she chided. “A story is like a good tapestry; it must be unraveled slowly.”  She turned back to me, “That night she sent a spell out into the city to activate all her candles at once. They burned down every home they were in with inextinguishable fires. No matter the fire trucks and the water and the pink goop.  Every home burned to the ground. She knew, though, that even after the charred possessions were removed and the homes torn down that they would rebuild again, because she believed with the deepest part of her being that they were uncontrollable, unstoppable monsters. They would return forever, again and again if she didn’t do something.  But Baba Yaga had thought of this ahead of time! Each of those candles housed the seeds of a forest, and as the wax melted and dripped into the soil, a magical forest began growing in suburbia. She combed her hair the whole night long, and as she did, the forest and her hair became thicker and thicker and thicker. In one night, she had regrown two thirds of the original ancient forest that she’d settled into long ago, and her long luscious hair fell in tresses down to her feet. She was happy.”

Sola frowned. “The city was not. They have reacted quite strongly towards Hiddens because of our sister’s actions. She got her privacy, but they—other Hiddens—received the punishment. A great fear of Hiddens has started again and is being stoked by those who have always hated us—anyone different. But they are using Yaga’s drastic measures as reason to make everyone afraid of Hiddens even more.”

Luna said, “I fear it’s partly our fault. We’ve not always been the best sisters at curbing Yaga’s appetites. At compelling her to make decisions that don’t harm others. That is not the way she has done things. For most of our lives, she only harmed those who came to her doorstep. We looked the other way because often—these people thought they could take advantage of an old woman. She fought back.  She was justified.” They looked at each other. “This time is different. She has attacked others.”

“Um… so the eating children?” I asked, regretting it as soon as I did.

Luna said, “You of all people, Yukon. You do know that every Hidden gets that reputation. We all eat children. Even Abominable Snowmonsters,” she said looking at Bumble. He nodded, pointed to his mouth, and then rubbed his tummy.  I rolled my eyes. She said, “If you can make children frightened of us, they will then grow up as adults afraid of us who tell those stories to their children. Does Yaga have a cruel streak? She does. She likes being seen as powerless so she can flip the tables. She might even be the very definition of ‘entrapment’. We fear this will only get worse.” She leaned towards me, “We can’t think of them as monsters, Yukon—as she does. We can’t think of people who try to harm us as inhuman. We can’t afford to. We just entrench them as a permanent enemy and justify their reactions. We become the monsters they want us to be.  We have to live together at some point. We must educate them, illuminate the truth if we can. It doesn’t matter if we feel like we shouldn’t have to–that they should know already.  It always benefits us if we can make an ally out of someone who didn’t know.  So, in light of our sister’s decisions, we have also made decisions.  We have decided to align ourselves with a side that is not fighting fear with fear or violence with violence.” They suddenly all smiled at me.

Sola put her cup on the table, “We’d like to join you.  Do the work you’re doing.  Help with the load.  Our house is your house. Our services are your services. If you want us to go check on anyone, we will go. If you want to come with us, use our house to get there faster, we want you to do that. We don’t want you to be burdened with mundane travel—especially as it has gotten so tedious and sinister.  You can’t always jump on the next Gryphon to Egypt. We would also, frankly, enjoy the company and the travel. And the chance to cook for others. Dinners, breakfasts!”

Stella said, “But we also have some ideas on helping out in our own way.  We three sisters want to tell stories to children, take Sabitha from neighborhood to neighborhood, and from our porch, tell them about the amazing Hiddens out there who just want to be loved! And who will love them back.”

Sola said, “We’re weary of being hated in every story. We can’t fight it by fighting them. By burning down everyone and making a bigger place to hide. Baba Yaga is going backwards—she is the past. We want to move forward. We believe that’s here. Would you allow us, occasionally, to let Sabitha rest here in your big back yard?” Stella looked at Bumble, “We can bake a lot of banana bread.” He looked at me and nodded.
I asked them, “What do you think her response will be when she finds her sisters have abandoned her? Are you afraid of that? Should we all be afraid of that?”
Sola sighed. “She has not seen us for a long time.  We’ve not spoken in many years.  And now that she is sequestered in her forest again, she will have to make a choice first—she would have to leave her hiding places to confront us. And if she came here, she would see a different path opening up.  She’s never really seen people getting along with Hiddens. Maybe she would see what we are doing.”

Luna said, “The thing with Yaga—you can’t go to Yaga and win any argument.  You have to let Yaga come to you. When she’s ready, she will.”

I was happy to welcome the Babas to the neighborhood.  It was nice to have friends so close. All of ours were scattered across the world.  Now we had people who cared for us right next door.  That’s a special kind of love and I can understand every grandmother who wants to move in to love her family closer.  Bumble received so many wrapped loaves of banana bread, I would shake my head at him, playfully accuse him of taking advantage of them.  He denied he was using them for sweet breads, signed that they were giving this to him, but crumbs of banana bread would just shake from his fur onto the table. And we’d laugh. This is what is like to be loved by others.  I believed this is what we were trying to get Hiddens to feel–to feel loved whether they wanted to stay in their forests or if they wanted to join this chosen family of unique people.  Sometimes I would look out and notice the Babas’ home was not there. They were off telling stories, or checking in on one of those we cared for. Then they would creep back in during the night, and in the morning, there was Sabitha exhausted on the lawn. I wanted to get used to having them around, to relax enough to allow myself to be cared for by others.  Sometimes, though, I thought about what might happen if Yaga came calling to our home.  We would, no doubt, do our best to love her just the same. She’d already made such a journey to find us. We would need to show her who we are when our walls, our forests, are down. That wouldn’t be easy.

I only hoped, if that happened, that two walking houses, a cat and a bird, would get along without kickboxing in the backyard.