Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Horrible Hen of Hrastvecy

⟴ They both stopped for a moment and stared at their hands. The blood was inevitable, of course, and the trembling and the burn marks. Where had the chicken feathers come from, though? That was weird. Was there a chicken involved, and they were both so involved that they had missed it? Had someone been casting feathers from a high branch as they pummeled one another? Now that they were paying attention, there really were a ton of feathers under foot, and floating around them like snowflakes. Afanasy glanced at Frommers and made the “let’s take a break from brawling and figure out this chicken thing” gesture. It had gotten dark since they had begun to try to break one another, and a pair of crows had found an ear behind a log and begun processing it. Afanasy produced a glowing coal from a sack at his waist, and used it to start a little fire in a heap of dry pine needles. The thick smoke from the smoldering needles frightened off the crows and the light from the fire made the smoke heavy and weighty between the two foes. There was a pair of eyes reflecting light from the pine woods to the northeast, where the land declined into marshland. They blinked and then reappeared. Afanasy gestured again to Frommers. Abruptly, Frommers picked up a helmet and tossed it, rotating expertly, at the pair of eyes. There was a deep, throaty clucking from the gloomy void. A spreading of flightless wings and a determined charge over snapping underbrush. The two bitter enemies confronted the raging fowl as symmetrical parts of a whole, Afanasy striking with his left and Frommers with his right. The mindless creature, which loomed over them like a spinning cedar, coughed out a gob of foam and blood, and brought its sail-sized wings over and across them like a boat righting itself in a hurricane. Frommers and Afanasy felt their skulls bounding off each other with the force of a wave trying to dislodge a piece of coast. Baba Yaga’s hut looked a little better than the last time he had awakened there. She had taken down the depressing garlands of seaweed and onions, and widened the only window so that there was a view of the wet mud outside. There was a smell of damp hair, pepper and dried tar that drifted into Afanasy’s nostrils. A stream of determined-looking fleas crossed the floor and streamed over his boot. Something was definitely different. Had Baba Yaga gotten married or something? “Yaga?” “Baba Yaga?!” No response. The fleas paused and staggered for a moment, as though they had lost their sense of purpose. A crock of pickled vegetation burst open, with a shower of brine, garlic and sochevitsa out into the wooden interior of the shack. Frommers hadn’t opened his eyes, but he turned to Afanasy and coughed “I don’t smell Baba Yaga.” Afanasy reviewed replacement ideas in his mind. Who else lived in Baba Yaga’s haunted shack? Who would dare? Who else needed a place to live that bad? Then he remembered Yaga’s pretty niece from Yemen... what was her name? Baba Ghannoush. Please let it not be her.

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