Old Hags Nag

In this short story by Thomas Gallimore Barker, two of the strangest people are reunited under the most strangest circumstances. Will they creep it real, or are they tricking themselves silly?

Photo by Cederic Vandenberghe on Unsplash

I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout for this year’s convention. Having tens of thousands in the same hall deserved its own little celebration. Certainly, it was very lucky to have at least half that amount tonight. Previous years had shown how difficult it was to get even a handful in the same room: Often the conventions had to be cancelled last-minute, because so few turned up. Work commitments, a death in the family. The regular excuses, ones I never had the unfortunate experience of dealing with.

But this time it was important. Missing this one was inexcusable, especially since it was me who had offered my castle for this year’s venue!

Every attendee walked, swam, or flew the length of odysseys just to get here, travelling far and wide. From the Ivory Coast of Africa, to the steppes of Russia and to the South Pole they came. I observe them now from the staircase, coming through the grand entryway and mingling with the crowd. Poised like the gracious host as always, I heard their many trials and tribulations they have endured since the last convention.

It was something marvellous to behold. Not because of the fact that we have been through so much as a collective (even for me the limits had been passed in this regard), but the beauty of when it seemed like no time had passed at all. Old hatchets were quickly buried, and rivals once at each other throats now merrily joked beside the buffet tables that my servants had wonderfully prepared.

Etched on (frankly ugly) faces were the recognisable grins of surprise as old strangers met under the moonlight. There were many conversations, mostly reminiscing about the ‘old times’ and so on. But these were mere trifles in comparison to the moment when the ‘old ladies’ met one another after nearly one hundred years apart.

Baba Yaga is the classic babushka, ugly and fierce as a Siberian blizzard in July. Her wicked nose can detect the Russian Scent–as she puts it–of anyone brave or foolish enough to cross her path. Sometimes she kills them if she is in a pernicious mood, diced into tiny squares and left to boil in her Borscht; Other times, she might spare a traveller who’s lucky enough to resemble her two sisters; If I could, I would die to meet their mother! What woman could possibly birth not one, but three, of these fine ladies?

But it should come as no surprise when I say that Baba Yaga has few friends, nor does she receive many visitors, for she can be as cold as a midwinter night to anyone that comes to her abode. Only one person outside of her small family has ever been able to warm up to Yaga’s icy heart: Sedna.

Even amongst our kind Sedna is a rarity. An Inuit from the frozen depths of Greenland, she is in her element when surrounded by the cold. Oh, how her story breaks my dead heart! Sedna has never once told a living soul her entire life story, but her broken childhood is nevertheless an open secret in our society. If memory serves me correct, Sedna’s father sold her to a rabble of fishermen when she was young, who inevitably had their slippery way with her. So, to spite all the men in her life, she married a dog! Of course, this was not received well. Her father hated the fact that the family name would be stained with mongrel blood, and out of revenge he cut off her fingers. Where family honour fits among a society of rowdy fishermen still eludes me. Nevertheless, Sedna’s experiences with the other gender meant it was practically drawn by tarot cards that she became a man-hater.

However, these details are already well known by my many guests. What I know is far more intriguing!

Likely because my eyesight is so perfect, which my good friend Doctor Jekyll has cited as the finest in the land (much to the benefit of my ego), I can always see something stir beneath their icy surfaces whenever they meet. A flicker in their dead eyes, a stare that lasts for a microsecond too long. Oh, how I wonder about what goes on in their frozen depths!

Some say they are merely close friends, but I know the scent of true love when I see it. Centuries of preying upon lovers and pure daughters have taught me its signs. When they ran to one another, nearly taking each another off from their feet, I saw it then. I craved to see their affection. Would they kiss? Oh, must they declare their love to a world of monsters!

It was never meant for my eyes it seemed. Like a neck snatched from my mouth right at the last second, their rekindled love was stolen away. My attention was violently gripped by the rowdy antics of Mumbo Jumbo. That insufferable fool, I thought, always the first to cause trouble at every convention!

Mumbo Jumbo shouted his nonsense as he raced across my hall, ecstatic at the sight of so many women. One might think he was incredibly eager for female attention, but sadly this is never the case with him. He existed because his purpose was to abuse women through the use of harsh words and pointy stick. Unfortunately, my servants couldn’t pry it from his hands this time–I swore I would punish them for their inability to do so—and he began to wield it as a weapon.

“Ooga booga, ooga booga!” Mumbo Jumbo gobbled as he rapped the ‘poky stick’ against Mari Lwyd’s head. Poor thing! He/ her (hard to tell!) has no arms to protect his skull, which rattled defenceless from every blow. No sooner had he started did Mumbo Jumbo hobble towards Sedna and Yaga. His antics tonight had gone on long enough, I reasoned: Not in this convention! Not in my castle!

This so-called god would not lay a millimetre of bark on my girls! In a blind rage I flew (literally) at this infernal creature; It was, looking back on the whole affair, the first time in a long time I did anything for love. Was I ashamed of losing my cool, as someone of such high stature as a Count, no less? No.

My last memory, and certainly the last part I would like to disclose about that evening, was I—the Count of Alnwick Castle—hurdling towards the punch stand with Mumbo Jumbo in my claws.

© Thomas Gallimore Barker



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