“Come on. You’ve got to eat your moussaka.”
My nose wrinkles as my mother motions towards my plate. Moussaka is honestly one of the most vile foods a person could eat.
“I don’t want to, Mama! It’s disgusting,” I say while I display an extra exaggerated gag at the food. This immediately warrants a frustrated sigh to storm out of my mother’s lips from somewhere deep within her throat.
“Zlato, this is what is for dinner and so you must eat it. Look at your brother, he’s nearly done and hasn’t complained one bit,” my mother groans as she places a hand on her hip.
“That’s not fair, though! He had far less than I do, so of course he wouldn’t complain as much.”
“He never complains as much, darling. Please just eat and stop complaining.” As my mother lets out another exasperated sigh, I give my bowl a hard shove, sending it flying over the edge of the table. A loud shattering fills the room and I shut my eyes tightly, afraid to see the mess that I know will be there.
“Anastasija, please! Can you just for once not be difficult about your food?” My mother berates me as she rushes over to the sink, grabbing the dish towel to pick up the glass shards. I sit in silence as I watch her quickly pick up each piece and then wiping down the floor. She walks over to the counter and dishes up more moussaka into another bowl. She dumps it in front of me and I immediately grimace once again.
“I don’t want it!” Surprisingly, my mother’s face doesn’t furrow, but instead a sly grin stretches across her cheeks.
“Ana, you know who’s going to come for you if you don’t eat your moussaka,” my mother teases in a sing-song voice.
I roll my eyes and let out a small laugh.
“Mama, stop, she isn’t real. That’s just what you say to little kids to get them to eat their sarma or moussaka.”
“No! She’s very real,” my little brother Teodor screams with his mouth still half full of food. “You’ve gotta eat your food or she’s gonna come for you and she’s gonna take you away and eat you!”
I can’t help but chuckle at Teo’s scared tone, as if warning me was the difference between life and death. Baba Yaga isn’t real, her existence is just told to little kids to make them eat their food. At thirteen, I’m practically an adult and I know better.
“Teo, she’s not real. Nothing bad will happen if I don’t eat my food, besides Mama getting angry at me.” This causes my brother to ferociously shake his head at me while I chuckle. My mother on the other hand… she groans and snatches the bowl from in front of me.
“Fine, Ana. You don’t need to eat your food, but Baba Yaga will come and punish you.”
Teo’s eyes get wide and he looks as if he’s seen a ghost, winning another round of belly-aching laughs to emerge from me. However, that wins me and Teo a berating and being sent up to our rooms, with Teo complaining the whole way that he’d done nothing. In all fairness, he hadn’t, but Ma was just angry.
Teo and I enter our shared room and quickly get ready for bed. As I hop into my bed and throw the duvet over me, Teo stands beside me looking worried.
“Sho, Teo?” I look towards my brother. “What, Teo?” He shuffles over closer to me and his voice is barely audible.
“Aren’t you scared that Baba Yaga is going to come for you?” He asks me as his eyes remain wide like a doll. I lift my hand and pinch his cheek softly.
“Ne. She doesn’t exist, okay? Mama just says that to scare us into eating our food. Go to sleep, alright?” I smile as Teo nods his head softly and crawls into his own bed.
I toss and turn for a short while until I hear a soft scratching against the wooden paneling of the wall across me. I groan as I squint in the darkness, expecting to discover that we have a rat problem again. It takes me a minute until my eyes adjust, but as I squint my eyes even more I see something sharp and slender reaching out from behind the wardrobe, scratching away the finish of the paneling.
What is a rat doing that high up?
Slowly, four more sharp and slender objects emerge from behind the wardrobe, scratching against the wooden walls, too.
It’s a hand.
My stomach sinks deep within me as I come to this realisation and I feel my entire being go stiff. All I can do is watch. My heartbeat quickens as the scratching quickens. My palms sweat harder and more profusely as the scratching becomes harder and more profuse.
“T-Teo?” I squeak, my voice barely above a whisper. He doesn’t respond. I clear my throat and try again. “Teo, do you see that?!”
As quickly as I’d spoken, the hands disappear and all is silent once again. I look over to my brother, hoping he is awake. Much to my dismay, he seems to be fast asleep, curled up under his blanket. I release a sigh that is burdened with adrenaline and anxiety.
It was a dream, that’s all it was.
As I clench my fist around my blanket, ready to pull it right up to my chin and fall fast asleep, I see something moving across the floor. It’s a dark, almost pitch black, shadow slowly rising from within the ground, draped in dark fabric. Slowly, it stands upright and something emerges from it, reaching towards me. I screech as I realise it’s a hand with razor sharp nails trying to grasp at my arm, and I bolt up from my bed and run towards the door.
My hand desperately clutches the doorknob and I can’t help but feel a slight bit of relief as I get ready to pull it open and run to my mom. As my hand starts to turn the knob, however, four sharp objects quickly curl around my arm and drag me back.
“You’ve been a bad child, Anastasija,” a voice whispered to me. It sounded muffled as if it were far away, but also close enough to have been said right by my ear. “Your mother warned you I would show up if you didn’t eat your moussaka yet you didn’t listen.” I feel my face pale and my body going numb.
It’s her. It’s Baba Yaga.
I let out a piercing scream as I try to wiggle my way free from the deformed old woman’s grip and fail miserably as she lets out a menacing cackle, tightening her grip on my arm. I shove and kick and push and scream and still I am stuck in her grasp.
“You should have listened to your mother, Anastasija,” the terrifyingly decrepit voice says. As I’m about to scream, I feel my body being pulled backwards yet again. My eyes widen as I look behind me and see the woman descending back into the floor. However this time, her hand is wrapped around me, pulling me down with her. I feel frozen as my vision comes closer and closer to the ground and as I start to feel splinters of the wooden floor scratching me as I sink into it. I start to smell her swamp, knowing that she’s dragging me back to her home so she can eat me for misbehaving. As I’m able to get a last glimpse of my bedroom, I look towards my brother who is still fast asleep. I try to scream, but a wrinkled and bony hand covers my mouth and it all goes black.
All of a sudden, I’m yelling bloody murder and back in my bed. My hands shoot up to reach for the clawed hand that is now no longer attached to me. My head darts from left to right, from up to down as I search everywhere for her, all the while still screaming.
From the corner of my eye, I see Teo bolt upright in his bed and look at me worriedly, and shortly after my mother comes in. Once she sees the state I’m in as I sit in my bed, she rushes to my side and envelops me in her embrace, soothing me with soft words of comfort. I can’t help but continue to scream as I recount what happened, albeit even if the screaming was a bit quieter.
“Mama, it was her! Baba Yaga came for me. She punished me for not eating my moussaka. She told me you warned me and that I was bad for not listening. She was holding onto my arm and dragging me into the floor. I could smell her swamp and she was going to eat me. I’m sorry, Majka!” I weep as I wrap my arms around my mother with all the strength and desperation I can muster.
My mother says nothing, brushing her fingers through my hair, as I let out choppy breaths and try to calm myself down. Slowly, tears start to dry up and I open my eyes. I look around my room and see Teo looking at me while still half asleep and my room looking normal once again, yet I can’t stop my eyes from scanning the room.
As I’m about to come to the conclusion that all is well, my eyes settle on something directly in front of me. I feel my breath get caught in my throat once more and my body go stiff, as if unable to work. Across the room and next to the wardrobe, there are scratch marks in the wooden paneling. And they produce a message.
‘Until tomorrow night.’
BY Kaitlyn Bews