The Witch of Yamhill County (Chapter 8)

This nine-chapter novella is the first of two stories set in between the periods of Stranger Things: The College Years and Stranger Things: The New Generation. I advise reading those stories, as well as the third in that trilogy, Stranger Things: World’s End, before reading this one, which is supplementary and does not involve the Upside Down. Like the Upside Down trilogy, it’s a work of fan fiction based on the Stranger Things TV series. I do not profit from these stories and they are not canon. There is plenty of Stranger Things fiction to be found online (see here), but if I learn that the Duffer Brothers do not appreciate fan fiction of their work, or if they order a cease-and-desist, I will gladly pull the stories down.

                               The Witch of Yamhill County — Chapter Eight

                     The Witch of Yamhill County

Jane Hopper looked down at her father from mountain tops of pain. In some ways she resembled the avenging daemon she had just slain. Her face promised murder, and she bled from all places vulnerable: her nose, her ears, her soul. It was a miracle she was inside the Hut; that she had found this prison. It had cost her more than her worst battles in Hawkins.

“Dad?” she repeated. He was having trouble seeing her. The light in these cells was torturous. But then he recognized her, and cried her name like a desperate prayer. She sat down and took him in her arms. “I’m here, Dad.”

He was alive but crushed. She had never seen him this diminished. Through his anguish he was trying to make her understand. They had to find Sara. There was a bedroom. There was this, there was that. Most of it she didn’t make sense of, but the gist was that he blamed himself for everything, and for too many kids who were dead.

She interrupted him: “Okay, Dad; calm down. We’ll find Sara. We’ll get out of here. But where’s Baba Yaga?” Jane had expected to find the witch torturing her father, not some lackey. She was relieved to be wrong about that. Jane Hopper did not want to meet Baba Yaga under any circumstances. According to Mike and Lucas, psychic powers would be useless against the witch. Their D&D game knowledge had proven accurate so far.

Her father struggled to get up. “She’s due back any time. At midnight.” She checked her watch: 11:54. “I know where Sara’s room is. We have to go now.”

Jane had questions but let them go for now. “Can you walk?”

“I’ll walk,” he rasped. Her father would walk with broken legs if he had to.

“You need a doctor,” she said, helping him up.

“A red apple is what I need, and I’m shit out of luck there. Listen, did you see any rooms out there that might be storage for prisoners’ belongings? And what about other prisoners?”

“There are five more cells,” she said, “but they’re empty.”

“Good. I need my gun. And the backpack I had.”

“There was a door across from the one I came in; that might be where your things are kept. We’ll check on the way out. Come on.”

They stepped over glass and went through the cell door that was no longer a door, thanks to her. She had shattered it before shattering the daemon’s brain. That had cost too. Her head felt like a road tire. She was breathing heavily. Jane Hopper had almost killed herself getting inside this damned Hut.

“Jesus,” said her father, looking at her face. “What the hell happened to you?”

What had happened had pushed her far beyond her limits. She had arrived in Bellevue at around quarter after nine, and from that point had used her psychic radar to track her father’s location. The bandana and radio had been unnecessary. The Void showed her father on a ladder with another girl in a huge library. The path to her father had taken her off the road and into woods where she had to walk a long way before finding his sheriff’s car. From there it was minutes to the forest clearing. Mike had warned her about the skulls that shot fire. Two had been destroyed; her father’s handiwork no doubt. She passed safely between those two.

Then she had run towards the Hut — not really believing that it pranced around on chicken legs — until it sprang up at her approach. She had no idea how her father had gotten inside, only that he must have; her psychic tracking never misled her. Forcing the Hut to settle on the ground had been the worst strain she had ever put on her mind. The Hut was small on the outside, and on the outside it weighed just as it looked. But it was a multidimensional artifact, and its magic went deep; it resisted coercion with a vengeance. Her ears had gushed blood along with her nose, and her head felt like it would rupture. She was on the verge of passing out when the Hut finally bowed to her will. Then she blasted the door open — and did pass out then, collapsing on the floor of the entry hovel. When she woke, her watch said 11:09. She had been unconscious for over an hour.

From that point, she had tracked her father from the entry hovel to the prison, using the fastest route inside the Hut. She went into a huge throne room, then a domed room with planets on the walls, then a meeting hall, and then the work rooms. It had taken repeated searches of the cleaning room to find the secret door to the prison. Without her powers she couldn’t have done it. The door was magically sealed into the wall and completely invisible. She had probed mentally against every square foot of the walls, until the door’s framework finally showed.

“Long story,” she said.

“Well, how did you find me? Oh, yeah… I mean, how did you know I would need you?”

“When I mentioned Baba Yaga to Mike, he went crazy. You know the game he played with his friends? Dungeons & Dragons. There was this adventure called The Dancing Hut, and they played it. I called Lucas. Between him and Mike, they described Baba Yaga according to the game rules. I got worried about you. That game is usually accurate.”

“Yeah, well, praise fucking D&D,” said her father.

They walked down a corridor, passed between a pair of glass doors, and then came between two wooden doors. The one on the left led back to the work rooms. She pointed to the door on the right, and her father opened it. Like she had suggested, it was a store room for personal belongings; the shelves were mostly vacant. Her father’s gun was there, along with the backpack he had mentioned. He went in and grabbed his gun, and stuffed it in his belt holster. Then he tore open the pack. He took out and handled another gun, and then what looked to Jane like colorful balls, all very bright. Her father seemed satisfied, and then zipped the pack, saying that he was ready.

They left the prison through the door she had come through. It put them back in the cleaning room her father didn’t recognize. He would have been unconscious when he was carried though. It was full of mops, buckets, scrub brushes, rags, powdered soaps, and jars of polish. They closed the secret door behind them, and it was invisible again. They went out into the nexus chamber connecting the four work rooms. A stairwell descended below; Jane didn’t know where it went.

Her father did. “Sara’s down there. It’s her bedroom. Wait here, I’ll go alone. She sleeps under her bed because she’s scared of her stuffed toys. And all the other morbid shit in her room. If I’m not back in two or three minutes, come get us.” Then he looked at his watch. “Oh shit. It’s midnight.”

Her watch said the same. “How do you know Baba Yaga comes back at midnight?”

“The kids I was working with knew the girl who served Baba Yaga before Sara. It’s a long story, and those kids are dead because I was so damn useless. But you’re not. You give that bitch everything you’ve got if she shows up.”

“Dad –”

“From now on, we have to assume Baba Yaga is somewhere in the hut.”

“Dad.”

“What?”

“I think I’m useless against Baba Yaga.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the D&D game, psychic power doesn’t have any effect on her. She’s immune to mental forces.”

He looked appalled. “Maybe the game is wrong.”

“Everything Mike and Lucas told me has been right so far.”

He took off the backpack and tore it open. He took out the second gun. “It’s not hard to use,” he said. “Let me show you.”

“That won’t work either.”

“Excuse me?”

“Baba Yaga can’t be harmed by normal weapons. You need magic to hurt her.”

Her father was aghast. “You’re saying that if I pump her full of six bullets, she won’t feel a thing?”

Jane nodded, feeling sick. If Baba Yaga found them, there was no way they were leaving this place alive. The way to survive Baba Yaga was by avoiding her. “Go get Sara. We’ll leave the way I came to get you, unless you know a faster way out.”

He shook his head. “From here, your way is faster.” He ran down the stairs.

While she waited, Jane looked into the two rooms she hadn’t seen. The first was a laundry room. There were two tubs, a few lines for hanging laundry, and a pile of dirty linen. No one was working here currently. The other room was teeming with noise, and Jane was amazed to see mice running everywhere. It was a rodent sewing room, like the food room with the sparrows.

She closed the door as her father returned up the stairs. He was carrying a pretty black-haired girl. Jane smiled. One look at Sara Schwartz, and she knew her father was in love.

Sara looked scared at the sight of Jane. “That’s her?” she asked Hopper. Jane didn’t want to see a mirror. Her face was blood-streaked and she felt like a wraith, as if she had lost twenty pounds in the last two hours.

“That’s my daughter,” her father said. “She went through a lot to come rescue us. Now we need to be quiet, okay?” Sara nodded, staring at Jane.

Jane turned and led them into the food sorting room. It was the way she had come; it connected to the meeting hall. The room contained baskets of grain, sunflower seeds, and all sorts of berries. Tiny sparrows swooped from one basket to the next, picking pebbles out of grain, shells out of seeds, and twigs out of berries. Sara was at once delighted and called to one of the birds. The sheriff hushed her, and they went into the meeting hall.

It was an auditorium that looked rarely used. A seventy-foot long table spanned the area, surrounded by at least thirty chairs. The walls were engraved with detailed pictures: battles between demons and devils; torture parlors, where hags and witches worked obscenities on helpless victims; vampire blood baths.

“I cleaned this room yesterday,” piped Sara. “The table and the walls.”

Jane saw her father’s jaw tighten. These were horrible images for a seven-year old girl to scrub.

Jane continued retracing her steps, taking them around the head of the table to the door at the other head. “The planet room is next,” she said. “We’ll be coming out of a globe.”

The planet room was a wonder. They stepped out of a huge globe of the earth: a relief map of the world six feet in diameter. The globe stood in a corner of a vast room over eighty feet wide. Each of the side walls were studded with four glowing spheres depicting the eight planets of the solar system, minus the earth. The detail was remarkable, and Jane suspected they explained more about Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune than any scientist could. The planets provided minimal light. The room was meant to be mostly dark.

Jane saw the alcove leading into a smaller room. She had already been in there; it was a library of star maps and solar charters. At the far end of the room was a round dais two feet high. It held a reclining easy chair decorated with silver stars. Over the dais was a domed ceiling that was higher than even the rest of the room.

“Jesus,” said her father. “This is an astronomer’s wet dream.”

“Where is it wet?” asked Sara, still in his arms.

Jane looked across to the other corner at their end. When she had first come here from the throne room, it wasn’t through a door. She had floated down a pit in the middle of a stairwell, and landed in a ring of balloons. She could see the balloons over there now. The only doors in the room were the one in the globe, and a black door on one of the side walls, between two planets. She had tried the black door before, and it was locked.

Her father saw the black door and reacted. “We really need to be quiet,” he said. “I think that door leads to Baba Yaga’s bedroom. There were black doors just like it in the library and the baths.”

“Do you know where it goes, Sara?” asked Jane.

Sara shook her head. “I’m not allowed in this room on my own. I was in here the first night, with the Mama. She sat on the stage, in the star chair, and she said something to make the ceiling open up. You could look up and see stars everywhere. And they looked close.”

“So how do we get to the throne room?” asked her father.

“The balloons,” said Sara.

“What balloons?” he asked.

“Over there,” said Jane. “It’s where I landed, when I floated down a magic pit.”

“You have to grab a balloon,” said Sara, “and it pulls you up to the throne room. But I’m not allowed to do it.”

“You’re doing it,” said the sheriff, kissing her head. “And so are we.”

They started walking across the colossal room. Her father was agitated about something, and she asked him what was wrong.

“What’s wrong,” he said, “is that someone gets screwed no matter what. It’s good that we’re taking the faster way out, and not just because it’s faster. I think when Baba Yaga comes back from her nightly prowls, she eats right away. So she’s probably in the kitchen right now. On the other side of the hut.”

“Then that’s good.”

“Not for some kid,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“The kid she abducted tonight. She gets one every night. That kid is probably hanging on her meat hooks now. Maybe already dead. Another fucking kid I failed.” He explained to her his original plan, which he had modified when he had reached the kitchen. Once Dash had found the buckets of little skeletons, her father had realized that Baba Yaga was a cannibal who was slaughtering the missing kids. “I wanted to find Sara, get her out, and then come back with reinforcements before midnight and ambush the witch. But I got trapped here a lot longer.”

“Your plan was crazy,” said Jane. He and all the cops in Oregon couldn’t take on Baba Yaga. Besides that, it was impossible to surprise or “ambush” the witch. What had Mike said? That she could smell anyone thirty feet away. She told her father this. “You can’t be everyone’s savior, Dad.”

“Jesus, kid, don’t you talk to me like that after the night I just had. I’m a cop. I’m supposed to save people. Especially kids. And I let three kids under my protection die tonight. Can’t I at least save one child from ending up in a crock pot?”

“You’re saving Sara.” Jane already knew what she would try, for her father. And that she would die for it. She was powerless against Baba Yaga.

Sara had been following their discussion and was very upset. “The Mama eats kids?”

Hopper hugged her tight. “You’re going to be safe. Don’t worry.”

They were at the ring of balloons now. There were nine of them, all tied to a ring set in the floor. The balloons were maps of the earth, like the huge globe they had come from.

“I’ll go first,” said Jane, picking a balloon. As soon as she removed the string from the floor, she was jerked into the air. She rose fast. She looked up and could see a giant hole in the ceiling. It was the pit she had floated down.

“We’re right behind you,” called her father softly. Jane could see him working with Sara and making her go next. Soon they were all rising, surrounded by a stairwell that winded up almost two hundred stairs. After a full minute Jane saw the stairtop. She noticed a bar set into the wall — presumably for balloon riders to grab onto and pull themselves onto the stairtop before their balloons hit the ceiling. She reached for the bar with hand, and swung onto the stairtop; when she was safe she let go of the balloon with her other hand. Sara drifted up beside her, and Jane pulled the girl to safety. Then her father landed. The three balloons continued floating up twenty more feet, and popped loudly when they hit the ceiling. Her father swore at the noise they made.

“That was fun!” said Sara.

Hopper hushed her. Jane looked and saw the door she had come through less than an hour ago. She opened it and they passed into another huge hall. And gasped in shock.

It was the throne room as she remembered it: about the same size as the observatory; over eighty feet long and wide. The floor was solid gold. Four iron statues stood in each corner: grotesque representations of what Lucas had called “daemons”. Eighty feet away, at the far end, was the throne. Jane had gotten a good look at it before; it was priceless beyond imagination, studded with hundreds of gems — rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls. A golden brazier sat on each side of the throne, making the gems sparkle in their hissing light. Elsewhere in the room, light came from torches hung on the wall. It was the throne room as she remembered it.

Except that it wasn’t. Because now there were people present. And the throne was occupied.

The people were two. One lay broken on the floor, her arms and legs torn from their sockets. She was on her stomach, and her head was twisted one hundred and eighty degrees, as if to plead mercy from gods above. There were no gods here tonight. The woman was in her thirties, or had been; she was now certainly dead. The other person stood up straight, facing the throne. She looked like a teenager, but it was difficult to tell with her back facing them.

The throne’s occupant was hard to see, but there was no mistaking the terror she radiated from even that far away. It was Baba Yaga.

Hopper set Sara down and drew his gun. Jane moved to preempt him. She knew that whatever was about to happen would end terribly for them all. She summoned her power and threw it at the witch on the throne. Her psychic blast may as well have been a cough on the Great Wall of China. Eighty feet away, the throne’s occupant sat unmoved, glaring at the intruders.

We have to run. If we stay, we die. But she knew that her father would never do that, and Jane somehow doubted they would get ten feet before the witch obliterated them with death magic. Jane went after her father.

He had reached the teenager standing in the center of the hall, and now got in front of her. Immediately he began firing his gun at the throne. Except it wasn’t his gun; not his revolver, which was still at his belt. Nor did it sound like it. It was the other gun Jane had seen in the backpack when they left the prison. Ear-splitting bangs went off as Jim Hopper shot Baba Yaga, and kept shooting her over and over. Far more than six bullets went into the witch; to Jane it sounded like sixteen. It must have been what her father had once described as a “semi-automatic” pistol. When it ran empty, everyone stared at the throne.

Baba Yaga still sat unmoved. Then, with a slow menacing theater, she stood. The bullets hadn’t harmed her at all.

“Fucking bitch!” Her father threw the gun aside and drew his own, which Jane knew had six bullets. Not that it mattered; all guns were toys in this room. He fired it anyway, as the witch hobbled toward them. Every shot was a bullseye, nailing her chest, neck, and head. She neither bled nor flinched.

Then Sara screamed. She had run up to the immobile teenager, whom she clearly recognized:

“Abby!”

They must have been sisters. Abby was rigid and apparently unable to speak. Sara hugged Abby’s waist and kept wailing her name. Then Sara saw the dead woman on the floor, and went hysterical. It was obviously her mother. Hopper reached for Sara and clasped her as she cried in his arms.

The witch stopped fifteen feet away, hunched over a walking stick. Her face was the ugliest Jane had ever seen: the eyes were spiteful and yellow; the skin a battleground of sores. She addressed the girl whose world she had just shattered:

“Let go of the pig, little dove.” It was the voice of disease and a million blades.

The pig had plenty to say. Hopper’s face was a tornado of protective fury.”She’s leaving with us, you bitch! Just let us all go!”

“And Abby!” cried Sara. “Let Abby go too, Mama! Don’t hurt her!”

The witch didn’t suffer intrusions or defiance. Nor betrayal, for that matter. Sara’s family must have been brought here because Baba Yaga had known they called the police. Witches knew everything. And they were unforgiving when contracts were broken. The mother lay dead for her treachery, and Abby was next. Baba Yaga barked a string of incantations, and waved her hand impatiently. A gelatinous beam shot forth and slapped wetly over Abigail Schwartz. With hardly a transition, Abby’s skin turned to blue ice. Baba Yaga spoke again, and the girl’s body cracked… and cracked….

“Abby!”

… and exploded into a hundred fragments.

Sara went mad on the spot. Hopper cried in rage. The witch turned her gaze on him. Jane’s bowels turned to water. Her father was clearly next.

He saw that he was about to die and let go of Sara, so that she wouldn’t be collateral. No. Her father was doing it wrong. According to what Lucas had told her, Baba Yaga would never kill a child servant of the Hut. Jane yelled to her father: “Dad! Pick up Sara! Pick her up now!”

Jane supposed her father had done many questionable things that evening, but she could see that he was not, under any circumstances, about to use a seven-year old girl as a human shield. He looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. She cursed him, knowing what she would have to do.

She summoned her power and threw it at him. His body spasmed, as if invaded by a demon. She twisted her forces around him, and manipulated his arms to pick up Sara and clutch her to his chest.

“Stop that!” he yelled at Jane, his face a wall of outrage. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

What she was doing was obscene. She was possessing him; robbing him of his free will. And if she were wrong — if what Lucas had read from the module was just a game fantasy — then she had just killed him and Sara together.

Baba Yaga made a noise at Jane. It sounded like a snarl, but Jane thought the witch was laughing at her. Then Baba Yaga turned back to Hopper and began growling — but a different, deeper, and more insidious spell than the one she had cast on Abby. Apparently there was no danger of collateral with this spell; Sara was now a useless shield. Helplessly, Jane threw another psychic blast against the witch; another sneeze into the gale of a hurricane. Baba Yaga laughed. Then her spell took effect.

A web of blackness appeared on her father’s face, and spread over him like varicose veins. He was seized by a black terror and let go of Sara. He began screaming, and couldn’t stop. It was a fear spell of mammoth power. Jane had never seen anyone this terrified, except for Mike Wheeler. Mike woke up at nights screaming exactly like her father was doing now. It was a fear that nested in every cell of the body.

Hopper fell cowering to the floor. Sara was crying over her mother’s corpse, begging her to wake up. The witch turned and faced Jane. Jane knew it was over.

“Please,” she begged the witch. “Let us go.”

Baba Yaga limped towards her.

Why does she hobble? She could win the Boston Marathon.

The witch got closer. She was sniffing something.

I’m sorry, Mike. I had to try. He’s my father. She couldn’t imagine Mike Wheeler surviving without her.

The witch was up in Jane’s face now. “Please,” Jane cried. “We just want to live.” The witch sniffed her up and down. Jane’s skin crawled. Please.

Jane then suffered what could only be described as a rape. The witch nuzzled Jane’s neck and inhaled sharply. Jane tried pushing away. Baba Yaga held her, and began breathing rapidly, as if approaching orgasm. Jane wanted to smash her face but knew that physical assaults were useless. The witch ran her tongue around Jane’s neck. It was the foulest thing Jane had ever endured. Her father and Sara were still on the floor — one screaming in fear, the other in trauma — but Jane would have traded places with either of them. Being tongued by Baba Yaga was an overwhelming violation. She felt filth inside her, flowing like rot. Waves of self-loathing swamped her. She hated herself and wished she were dead.

The witch’s tongue smeared Jane’s lips and slithered into her mouth. Jane gagged and pulled her head away, crying in revulsion. She promised the witch anything, if her father and Sara could be spared. She would be Baba Yaga’s slave; she would serve the Hut forever. The witch drank her anguish and seemed pleased. Gently, she rested a hand on Jane’s arm, stroking her. Then, with a savage pull, she tore Jane’s arm completely off.

The shock was so great that it took time for Jane to register the loss. Her left arm was gone, that was clear; a fountain of red sprayed from her shoulder. She would die losing blood that fast. Then the pain kicked in, and she fell to the floor howling. Above her, the witch bit chunks off her arm like Thanksgiving turkey.

Jane used her mental forces to staunch the blood spray. She was dimly aware of Baba Yaga hobbling back to the throne. The witch had served justice upon her audience: traitors were dead, and intruders had paid steep prices. They would pay more — probably in the witch’s prison — before dying like Betty and Abigail. Sara would go on serving the Hut. Jane should have allowed herself the mercy of a quick death. Instead she probed and plugged her shoulder socket, giving herself reprieve.

Baba Yaga sat back on her throne and ate her snack. Even from forty feet, Jane could hear her mouth smacking wetly. Munching noises echoes across the throne room. Jane was on fire with pain, and drowning in self-hatred.

As if reading her mind, the witch called to her: “Does it hurt, little cunt?”

Don’t talk with your stupid mouth full, thought Jane. She was starting to giggle and go delirious.

“Funny is it?” asked Baba Yaga. “Hah! After I finish this –” she waved the arm she was eating — “I’m going to have my four golems rape you. We’ll see you laugh then.” She drooled Jane’s blood over her shawl.

Jane’s giggles grew more hysteric. She didn’t know what golems were, but getting raped by them couldn’t be worse than getting tongued by the witch. Her father howled at the ceiling, and Sara cried over the floor of her family’s grave. Jane joined their madness, giggling louder. Surrendering made it easier.

I’m going to have my four golems rape you.

Then get it over with, thought Jane. Rape away. But something cracked her delirium and gave pause. Something in the witch’s threat.

My four golems rape you.

Four? Was Baba Yaga talking about the four statues in the throne room? They were vile looking, twelve feet tall each, and made of iron. Jane looked over at one of them. Its eyes seemed to gleam in the torch light. Jane had sensed the statues watching her when she was in the throne room before. It had only been a feeling, but…

My four golems rape you.

It occurred to Jane that golems might be magical: enchanted statues that were either alive, or became alive when given a special command. She made herself think and forced herself to blot out the screams of her father and Sara. She looked into each corner of the throne room, at each statue. Magic. Yes, Mike. Thank you.

Jane could not harm Baba Yaga directly with her powers. But she could try this.

From her lateral position on the floor, she focused on the statue/golem she was closest to, and loosed her power at it. The statue rocked a bit, and she gauged its weight. It was heavy as sin, just as she’d hoped. Holding out her only arm, she strained and lifted the statue into the air. She heard Baba Yaga snarl something, but Jane kept focused on the statue. She let her power build; and build. Then, with a scream to call avalanches, she hurled the golem straight at the witch.

Five thousand pounds of magic iron slammed into Baba Yaga at the speed of a race car. Any human being would have died instantly. The witch was smashed in the seat of her throne, and fell to the floor like a rag doll. The statue crashed down next to her. Jane watched as the witch’s body twitched, trying to get up. Unbelievably, she was doing just that. She had been seriously wounded and slowed, but Baba Yaga wasn’t dead by a long shot.

Jane wasted no time. She sat up on the floor, ignoring the agony that was her phantom left arm. She went for a second golem with her real arm. Letting her power build again, she raised the statue and let it hurtle like a missile, straight at the witch’s face this time. The golem went straight through Baba Yaga’s head, tearing it off. Jane screamed triumphantly as the ugliest face in the world bounced off the wall behind the throne, rolled onto the floor, and came to rest only a few feet away from Jane. She cursed the head, and immediately threw her power at it — to make it explode. Nothing happened. Of course, stupid. You just wasted time.

In front of the throne, the headless Baba Yaga sprang to her feet. Jane recalled Lucas’ words: If one of her limbs or her head is severed, she is not slain; she can fight on and reattach the severed parts during or after the battle. Dustin chopped off Baba Yaga’s head with a vorpal sword — that’s one of the most powerful swords in D&D — but the bitch kept throwing spells at us. Mike was incredible that day, role-playing Baba Yaga like you wouldn’t believe. He even had a witch’s mask that he used to dramatize the way she held her own decapitated head while flaming us with curses and death magic. Jane was playing no game. There was no role-playing in this throne room. Baba Yaga wasn’t a figment being dramatized by her boyfriend. She was real: the deadliest witch who had ever lived. That witch now waved her arms, evoking some hideous spell. The head rolled closer to Jane, and Baba Yaga’s eyes burned with hate, as her mouth spat the words of a familiar incantation.

Without thinking, Jane rolled across the floor just as the gelatinous beam that would have turned her into blue ice smacked against the floor. As she stopped her roll, she seized a third statue. She stabilized herself and concentrated, then sent the golem flying. The witch pulled her own evasive maneuver by dropping at the last moment, dodging the statue as Jane had dodged her spell. It crashed into the wall like a cannon. As it did so, a flying object sailed into Baba Yaga’s arms. It was her head, returning to the body it craved. The witch dropped the head for now, at her feet, too engaged with Jane to reassemble it.

Jane and Baba Yaga were frantic now, each fearing the others power. Jane readied for the fourth statue, as the witch began murmuring another spell. As soon as Jane raised the golem in the air, it vanished; Baba Yaga had caused it to disappear.

“You hag!” Jane was almost at her end. She had been killing herself since making the Hut open. Her head was swimming again. She fought to stay conscious. I’m going to kill you, bitch, you understand? I’m going to pound you into the ground until you don’t get up again.

She proceeded to do just that. With a rupturing effort she poured everything she had into the three statues on the floor by the throne. Her nose ran riot. She could hardly survive this. She raised all three statues up in the air, until they touched the ceiling. Baba Yaga skipped left, then right, indecisive. Dodge them all, bitch. Jane released the golems one by one, raining them down on the witch in sequence, smashing her again and again — and then up and down again, repeatedly, like pistons. And again. And over again. Baba Yaga’s body and head were crushed and flattened and squashed, until her very life’s essence was flattened; obliterated by enchantments wielded at devastating strength. Jane yelled like hell’s angels, willing the witch to stay dead. She released the statues and let them crash on the floor. The throne room went utterly silent for a few seconds.

Then her father and Sara were wailing again.

Jane sank into herself. Baba Yaga was dead, but so was she. Her shoulder was cascading; her insides were torn; her face had no place among the living. She wheezed, hardly able to inhale. Time to let go. She was vaguely aware of her father trying to eat something that looked blue (eating?? now??), and of Sara clinging to her mother’s mangled corpse. Jane had nothing more for either of them. Nor herself. I’m sorry, Mike. She realized how much she loved him then. You did everything for me, and I hurt you. 

Let go.

She faded to a place where pain had no say, and memory couldn’t touch her.

 

Next Chapter: The Fruit that Heals

(Previous Chapter: Little Dove)

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