In response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Unusable Photo Challenge , I took a break from NaNoRiMo and current WIP to remind myself that writing can be fun …
To my dismay, the random number generator selected # 18 . To my surprise, it turned out to be fun after all. Enjoy!
Baba Yaga and the Celery Head Man
Slender, strong fingers caressed my ancient shoulders. These frequent visits stirred me up like nothing else could, at least in recent memory. I loved the way she left me feeling clearer, more open to new growth.
Today she was rooting out a particularly tenatious irritation, and I lay quiet under her touch, exposed to the morning sun.
“Not so fast, Baba.” The reedy voice took us both by surprise.
Her hands stilled, and I held my breath, just as I have for eons. Had it just been my imagination? Maybe old age was at last getting the better of me.
“Committing another murder, witch?”
Ah. Not senile, not yet. But who –
“You think you can get away with it, because I haven’t got fists to fight back with? nor feet to flee with?”
Baba’s fingertips twitched. Was that amusement? A low chuckle confirmed my guess.
The strange voice continued. “You think it’s funny? Think again, murderess! I may not have legs, but I can still STALK you!”
At the word “stalk,” I felt a slight tug, and the woman shouted aloud. Her feet dug into me. She was pulling away, trying to escape. But from what?
Not for the first time, I wished for eyes. I had even asked her once… After all, she was the only one who could hear me, the only one who could know I had a wish. The answer had warned me off, however.
At length, Baba collapsed on top of me. “Fine.” Her breath came in hard gasps, and I could hear the strain in her voice. “You win. What – what do you want?”
“What I want…” A faint rustle filled the air, as if leaves trembled in anticipation.
“I want to be free! I want to walk, to travel! I’m sick of this horrid, boring square of dirt!”
Don’t take it personally, I told myself. Most living things didn’t realize I could hear them. I could, though – in fact couldn’t shut out the constant chatter – thanks to the vibrations against my tender outer layer.
Again, the hum of laughter. No mistaking it this time, as her soft body was pressed down firmly against my hard planes.
“So…” She braced herself and pulled again, still trying to get free. No luck, though. “Let me get this straight. You want hands and feet, a body that can take you places?”
“Yes. Yes! That’s it!” The squirming, writhing eagerness disturbed me.
“And in return you’ll release me?” The arrangement seemed innocent enough. Except this was Baba.
I sensed a trap, although not its specifics. Someone should warn that foolish young life not to be so careless. I, however, could say nothing.
Baba’s attention turned to me, and for the first time ever, I crumbled a little under her focus. “I don’t suppose you still want eyes?”
She sighed in mock disappointment. “Fair enough. Forgive me for the inconvenience, but I’ll bring you back here when it’s over.” She paused. “Witches’ honor.”
Wait – what? *Bring me back here?* Was I going somewhere?
And what was all that nonsense about witches’ honor? As if!
I almost missed her reminding the youngster that this was the one and only wish Baba would ever grant.
“Are you sure?” The witch didn’t even try to hide the irony in her tone. “Perhaps you should wait…”
“No! You promised!” The voice shrilled in its agitation. Its reckless demand to have such a wish granted chilled me almost to the core.
“Very well.” Baba acquiesced. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She mumbled a long, undulating chant that left me shivering. Shuddering. Quaking, even.
Then I screamed in horror as I was ripped apart.
“Does it actually hurt?” Her voice sounded oddly disembodied. Her interest seemed genuine, though.
I stopped screaming and assessed the damage. I was a thin fragment of my former self, split off from the whole, floating nearly unanchored in the air. Only two little touches connected me to where I belonged.
But … no. No, it didn’t hurt.
It tickled, though. I felt defensive. She hadn’t even warned me. And why had she done this to me? I wasn’t the one –
“Here.” She grasped a long, cylindrical part of me and pressed the end of it against my larger center. “Feel that.”
I moved – MOVED! – the slender portion. With it, I could actually feel the crusty chunk of me that had fragmented from my huge, normal self. Didn’t have to wait for someone else to push, or pile, or shovel me. I could move, and feel … by myself.
“You have two of these – they’re called hands.” Baba touched the stubby end of another cylinder, showing me how to move it like the first one.
Oh. I knew hands. Hers touched me daily. Strange, though – to have my own.
She slid her hands along each narrow piece. “Arms.”
Then, “Legs.” Her touch drifted down along two larger cylinders.
And lastly, “These are your feet.” Her fingers touched the two small, precious places that still connected to the whole.
I shivered. Please. Don’t break me away.
“Now, let me just…” She smoothed her palms over my exterior. An odd sensation crawled across the entire, broken-off bit of me, sealing me in somehow.
“You look quite the gentleman, in that suit.” She sounded pleased. “Nobody would ever suspect. Well…” Her voice changed, sounded like she was looking upwards. “Except for that, of course.
A tinny shriek interrupted her inspection. “What have you done! I’m still just me! You didn’t change anything, you lying witch!”
“I did exactly as promised.” Baba’s voice curved with the lazy smile of a well-fed reptile. “You have ‘hands and feet, a body that can take you places.'”
The complaining vegetable was rooted in the center of my current highest point – certainly no Mount Everest, but I was in no state to complain. It continued to babble incoherently, until the witch leaned close.
“If I were you…” She barely breathed the words, but I felt the plant’s roots shrivel at their sound. “I’d get to traveling right away, before some LYING WITCH decides she’s hungry for, say, cream of celery soup.”
A panicked whine pierced the air, and the plant’s root system twitched. The movement triggered something that ran down one of my “legs” and did something to my “foot.”
Without warning, one of my tiny anchors came loose.
Oh, HELL no. Don’t. Don’t get lost.
I slapped my slender “arms” down to the thick leg that was now lurching forward. Shoved downward with all my might. The foot hit earth, reconnected once more. Thank God.
The vegetable atop my body swayed back and forth. “Hey! Stop that! What are you doing?”
Pesky little bugger was far too wiggly to sense any vibration I might try to send through its roots. So I ignored it, and focused on stablilizing my foothold.
Until the plant twitched a different part of its root system, sending my other leg hurtling through empty space.
The detached feeling was less unexpected this time, but no less shocking.
I, who had been the foundation for everything since my core had formed…
I, who attracted moon and meteor…
I – who vomited boiling, crimson rivers of death; gave birth to life; and quietly swallowed the bones of the dead back down again until they were digested and reborn –
I now clung to my essence by a thread, a few tiny specks of soil.
And what was breaking my hold? A young, headstrong sprout of greenery, hell-bent on adventure, heedless of the danger.
My foot found the earth again. Better not relax this time. Sure enough, the other foot was once more torn from its secure hold, and only set down after a dizzying flight.
The process repeated uncountable times. At first, I tried forcing the legs back down where they belonged. I tried collapsing the whole chunk of me. But the damned plant’s roots – somehow they controlled the feet and legs, so I didn’t have a chance.
Odd, though. I could manage the arms and hands well enough. Wouldn’t be surprised if Baba was watching, laughing her ass off at my expense. Maybe she expected me to waste my own wish, to escape this trauma. Would I hear her? Would I ask for help if I did?
I listened – and the chaos stunned me. Not Baba’s knowing cackle, but the other two-legged gardeners. They filled the air with their shouts, cries, and shrieks. Add to that the rising and falling wails and honking blasts of non-organic noise, and I couldn’t have heard that witch if she’d been having a fit of hysterics inside a poorly-dug grave.
Skittering over the cacophony was the frenzied gibberish of an deranged celery plant.
At last, a voice cut through the chaos. Authoritative, controlled, the speaker clamped down on his emotions so well that only I could sense the horror and fear leaking out.
“The head! Shoot it in the head!”
A volley of incredibly loud cracks erupted from all around. Hard, sharp seeds pierced through the “suit” Baba had smoothed over me.
What in – Why? My arms waved frantically. I had to escape! But then I remembered … *Does it actually hurt?* … No. It still didn’t.
The celery stiffened, pulsating its strings in one last screech of protest. After a moment, it wilted, flopping over in ultimate surrender. The roots loosened their hold on my legs and feet.
At last. I collapsed to the ground. But this was cold, artificial, smooth. No earth here! That witch – she promised! Baba? Baba! BABA!!
“What’s this?” The authoritative voice from a moment ago. “Where’s the creature?”
An argument broke out. Another voice.
“I don’t care what you think you saw – the only problem at the moment is a bullet-ridden bunch of celery and a pile of dirt! I want an investigation! And get a custodian in here immediately after that!”
Many of the gardeners came and went. Lights flashed. The metal seeds were carefully plucked from my scattered parts.
In the end, there was a shuffling of feet. A mumbled apology. A broom.
All the little bits of me swept into a copper pan.
Dumped into a thin, slick bag. Not organic – at least it hadn’t been for millions of years.
Dropped into some kind of bin. Sealed away. Alone.
Loneliness … doesn’t end just because of despair.
Baba cackled. I’d kill her…
The bag opened. I was poured out onto the ground. My crumbled bits tumbled over each other and mingled their scent with the dark, heady fragrance of earth. Sweet, blessed earth. I sifted down, spread out, and stretched, feeling the world around me.
Dear God, I was whole once more.
The witch laughed again, dragging her fingers through my topsoil to grab a potato.
“It’s like I always say.”
I remembered, all too well.
A sharp fingernail pierced the skin of the potato as she removed the eyes.
“Be very, very careful what you wish for.”