Something Weird Is In The Woods

I was walking through the Woods one night, and saw a strange, pale creature walking along the road.   The Wood was silent as snowfall, despite being a clear, spring night, as if all the other creatures held still and quiet as it walked.  It nodded slowly as we passed one another, and continued on it’s way.  As it passed out of sight, the trees seemed to sigh and the Wood released the breath It had been holding, and the owls and chorus frogs began to call once more…

I have a suspicion that my new friend here may have other friends somewhere in the Woods, as well, and I am looking forward to meeting them.

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

KonMari’ing A Room and Life Path To Better Suit The Way Things Are

Lately I’ve been staring at my work room and I’ve got to tell you, it’s been driving me out of my skull.  It’s cluttered, and the shelving (or lack thereof) is not working for me, and the lighting is frustrating, and and and…

I need to KonMari this room, but in the process, I need to figure out what the path I’m going to take going forward from there is, because that is a huge part of determining what stays and what goes.

It’s more than a little daunting, and I’ve been hemming and hawing and staring at the walls and avoiding thinking about it, like a good little packrat.

Earlier today, Himself mentioned that he’s been wondering why we didn’t make this room the bedroom and floated the idea of swapping the master bedroom with the work room.  (He wasn’t aware that I’ve been pondering a massive overhaul in here.)  See, when we first moved into the house, we sort of defaulted to “X is the master bedroom because that’s the master bedroom, so obviously that’s where it goes”, and to be honest?  It’s a massively wasted space.  It literally has the bed, two nightstands, a table for folding laundry on, and a whole lot of unused space.  The dressers are kept in what is basically an antechamber that separates it off from the main house, which doubles as a sort of walk-in closet.  The work room is half its size at the other end of the house (standard New England ranch) , and is a much more reasonable size for a room that is literally only used to sleep in.

So, we’ve decided to swap the rooms and see if it works better.  I mean, we own the house, it’s not like we’re moving any time soon, and if we hate it, we move things back.  Which means that I need to do the thing with the going through All The Things so we can do so is a sane fashion.  Which also means that I need to figure out that thing where I decide the creative path I head down is.

To be honest, I’m pretty sure I’ve already decided that route, but this is going to make it official.  There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been hanging on to, unused, for nearly a decade now, and honestly, if I haven’t used it by now, I’m really not going to, and if I change my mind later, I can replace it.

Something tells me that I will never bother replacing things like the plastic rabbit I found at a junk shop that I was going to incorporate into a mixed media sculpture that I don’t remember anything else about, or the now-rusted shut old tin that once held skeleton keys but hasn’t even been opened since 3 homes and 7 years ago.  They honestly don’t spark joy anymore, or even a glimmer of nostalgia, but are starting to spark guilt and self-reproach, so it’s probably long past time for them to be thanked for the happiness they once brought me, and for them to go on their way.

Let’s face it.  I’ve been mostly focused on writing and paint/ink based art for a long time now, and that’s where I’m happiest.  It’s time my work area reflected that.  (Also, the other room has exponentially better lighting and enough space for me to actually set up and use the floor loom, which the current room is too small for.)  On to new things!

(As a note, for the applicable tiers, due to vaccine-related joint pain, the monthly postcard is going to be delayed a bit.  My hands have been REALLY unhappy with me, and not up for the level of dexterity I need to do something I’m happy with.)

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

This Monster-Filled Life…

Apparently getting my first round of vaccination did manage to shake a bit of brain cells loose and once my arm stopped hurting (seriously, Day Two Arm Pain is NOT KIDDING) and the weirdly fluctuating headache and fatigue wandered off (mild, overall, but enough to make me want to do nothing more than eat soup and read), I’ve managed to reorganize my work table, restart an Auntie Yaga story (nightgaunts!  midnight runalong rescue! a cute and fluffy mock-wolpertinger!), and start a new piece of art.

I might also be working on a piece of interactive fiction based on a really neat portal fantasy dream, though I’m still trying to figure out how to present it.  I had to get a cork board to tack sticky notes to to track the paths…

I kind of also impulse-bought a new set of watercolor pencils that should be arriving tomorrow.  In my defense, the current ones I have are an old, cheap set that do well enough for what they are, but are probably not great in the lightfast department (meaning they’ll fade fairly fast), and there are only twelve of them.  The new set is professional-grade and there are 72 of them.  I am super excited!

Hope you all are well!

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

Steps Forward, Steps Back…

Just wanted to make a quick post, since I’ve been radio silent for a few weeks.

After having to take a few days off for health reasons (short version, I hemorrhaged a blood vessel in my left eye a few years ago that flares up sometimes), I drafted almost an entire new installment of “Auntie Yaga’s Home For Wayward Monsters”, got 90% or so through it, decided it was exactly nothing like what I wanted to write, and scrapped all but maybe two paragraphs.  Started over, but I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be, as a result. So that’s where I’m at with that.

It’s been a rough month.  Dad ended up back in the hospital and we nearly lost him a couple weeks ago.  He’s fine now, and hasn’t had an episode since, but it wrecked me pretty badly for a bit.  The good news, though, treatment is going well, overall, so hooray for small mercies.  March is historically a hard month for me, as it’s both the month that my mom was born in, and also the month that she died is, two weeks apart, which basically makes me want to just hibernate until April on a good year, so that scare REALLY did a number on my ability to function for a bit.

It’s spring, finally, and good gods, not a moment too soon!   The spring peepers have started screaming their little froggy mating songs in the wetland out in the woods behind the house, and soon it’ll be warm enough to sit on the screened porch and work out in the fresh air.  It’s looking like I should be able to get vaccinated shortly, which will at very least free up a few extra brain cells again, even if it’ll still be a while before I can consider any kind of travel.  (If nothing else, it gives me a timeline on when I’ll be able to visit my dad, even if I can’t resume any other travel-related activities for a while yet.)

So, yeah, just wanted to drop a quick update.  Hope y’all are doing okay.  

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

Patchworks and Palimpsests: Stories Older Than Bones

Recently I was wandering down a rabbit hole of podcasts and folklore, and I got thinking…Mythically speaking, New England is really fucking *weird*.

What do I mean by this?

So, most places have a pretty distinctive story type associated with them that is best described as a patchwork quilt, various pieces  sewn together to form a coherent theme.  (For Reasons, mostly that I could write entire libraries on the subject, and for the sake of brevity am going to narrow the field, I’m going to stick with a superficial overview of just the US for now.)  For example, if you’re talking about the New Orleans region, the story fabric is full of ghosts and Voodoo and cypress swamps and is very much this rich tapestry woven of the history of the various cultures who have lived there.  Even if you don’t know that the story is set there, the elements and images are so strongly tied to it, that you know This Is A Story Of New Orleans And Its Environs.  The South is riddled with Civil War ghosts and haunted plantations and again, it’s all tied to the history of it’s peoples, to form a recognizable fabric.  Pacific Northwest, cryptids, the Midwest, LOTS of road ghosts, etc.

Appalachia, though, things start getting – interesting – which I’ll come back to in a minute.

New England is more like a collection of badly scraped palimpsests, held together with a bit of rodent-chewed twine, randomly fished out of a harbor or found in an abandoned cabin out in the woods, which somehow still manage to be recognizably New England Stories.  It shouldn’t work.  There shouldn’t be anything to tie them together, nor link them so notably to this specific region, yet here we are.

(If you’re unfamiliar with what a palimpsest is, it’s a manuscript page which the text has been scraped or washed off of so that it can be reused for a new document.  One of the reasons we have fewer medieval writings remaining than we should is because this was done fairly regularly, so a lot of things were lost to reuse the parchment or vellum, which were costly and difficult to produce.  It’s not uncommon to still be able to see the residual ink or paint from the previous documents underneath the newer writing.)

We’ve got our share of ghost stories, sure.  Mostly Revolutionary/Colonial Era, but there’s also pirates and haunted mills and rather more witches than were ever actually hung in Salem or anywhere else in the region.  We’ve got a surprising number of cryptids, but they aren’t well known, even in the places they’re from, aside from one lake monster up in Vermont.  We don’t really have a solid folklore Theme like other places with the amount of history we have.  Not like other places have.

Except we do.  What we have is the Land Itself and it is Alive and Haunted As Fucking Balls.

This is where I swing back to Appalachia.

See, Appalachia has a LOT of ghosts.  On the surface, they’re much like the ghosts elsewhere, tied to the history of immigration, racism, classism, and violences done there, but when you start to look into it, there’s a lot of those ghost stories that start with something else, and a lot of other stories that don’t have ghosts but they do have Other Things.

They start with the mountains and the land itself.  They start with stories of Things That Are Older Than Humanity, things that are darker and hungrier and wilder that don’t stay quiet and still.  Don’t go out at night, close the curtains and don’t look out the windows after dark, take care in the woods, be courteous to the stranger you meet out by the old abandoned mine or down the holler (the one whose voice doesn’t sound Quite Right, but it wouldn’t be polite to ask about), and no, that’s probably not really a deer, so best stay clear of it….

Interestingly, this is more or less the same thing that happens with New England.  The specifics change, because the histories are different, but the heart of it is the same. It all goes back to the land itself, and the land in these places is a little bit different than it is elsewhere.

There are two things that people often either forget or aren’t aware of.  One, that the Appalachian Mountains start down South, but they also run solidly through New England and up past Nova Scotia.  Two, that those mountains are far older than people think.  It’s easy to miss.  They’re small, as mountains go, worn smooth, and not particularly Exciting to look at.  Not like, say, the majestic cragginess that is the Rockies.  They’re..comfortable looking.

The Rocky Mountain range is, geologically speaking, pretty young.  It’s only between roughly 55-80 million years old; practically a toddler of a range.

The Appalachians, though, are approximately 480 million years old.  They once towered over the heart of Pangea itself, having been born along with it.  To quote a meme going around the internet, they are older than bones.  Those soft, rounded mountains are, very literally, part of a completely different land, relics of a place that ceased to exist before the lands we know of came to be.

Of course the land here is different. The land is older and wilder and hungrier.  This is why Appalachia tells the stories it does. This is what King knows about Maine, and Lovecraft knew about Massachusetts and New Hampshire and why their stories are the way they are, and why this is what people remember about us.

Our tales aren’t about the ghosts of teenage girls killed in car crashes trying to find their way home, or soldiers reenacting battles they died in, because we live in a place where we walk with ancient things from other lands, who never left, and who still watch us from the hollers and hills and the shores, and are older than bones and older than sin, and they Remember that we humans are the newcomers here.  Our mythological patterns reflect that we can still see the lines of them on the parchment clear as day, and know that if we aren’t careful, we, too, will be pulled deeper into the ink.

I don’t think they were necessarily the first, either.

It’s just my observation, though.  I could be wrong.  But I know what I’ve seen when I travel, and the things that I’ve seen in the place that I call home, and I don’t think I entirely am.

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

Road Lore: Bridges and Hungry, Old Gods

Not all of the roadside gods are kindly or helpful.  Some are, at best, indifferent to humans, while others…others have little but malice in them, and it’s best to continue down the road away from them and their domains as quickly as you can.

In a quiet New England town, small and forgotten long before the mills shut down and the trees grew through the abandoned factory floors, there sleeps an ancient, blood-stained god.  Its temple and altar stand at the place where two roads meet, over the river that doesn’t quite hide the stains of Its sacrificial tithings.

I came across this god and Its temple many years ago, when an unfortunate detour on my road led me to Its courtyard and I found myself out of gas with a busted engine and no money for repairs, stuck until I could find a way to get back on the road.  I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t realize, at first, that I was in the presence of an old god, nor that I was at the entrance of Its House.  In my defense, it was in the process of being rebuilt; the previous structure having been left to rot for too long, the townsfolk having forgotten that an old, mad god slept in their town until It had started to awaken, and so it was obscured by the banality of construction.

I had accepted shelter at a house nearby while I tried to get up and running again, and so I was able to watch as the new temple rose by the day.  

After a while, I began to notice the strange way the townspeople talked about what I had assumed was just a replica of an historical site; the exacting attention paid to the way each stone was laid, each board nailed in; the way it was referenced in even the smallest things -images of it in it’s completed state on coffee mugs at the local diner, the name of the small antique shop – but no effort was being made to draw tourists in, which was odd, given the reverent way they spoke of the structure.

The day it was finished, they held a great ceremony at the site, with prayers and speeches and a parade.  It seemed a bit overdone to me at the time, but I gathered that it had taken a near-Herculean effort and some years longer to complete than it should have, so it did make an amount of sense.  I’d be excited, too, if I’d lived through several years of constant construction and inconvenience, instead of the few months I’d been in town.

As the weeks passed, however, I noticed a strange trend taking shape, where every. single. time. a car would pass beneath the roof of the temple, they would honk their horns.  It didn’t matter what time of day it was, either.  This would happen even in the small, silent hours of the night, which changed from annoying to unnerving.  The first day or so, sure. A bit weird, maybe, but nothing notably unusual.  Months later, however, is disturbingly obsessive.

The thing with this god is that during the day, Its temple appears harmless to the casual observer.  Cheerful, even. The river it rests over is pleasant and one can often see herons and other water birds wandering the banks in search of frogs and small fish, and the whole thing is almost postcard-perfect.

And then the sun sets, and night descends.  Oh, then.  Then, does its true nature show.  Then, as the shadows writhe and dance in the mist, bathed in the sickly orange glow of the single street-lamp, while the river gibbers and cackles maniacally to itself, do you realize that you are in the presence of something More.  The reeds whisper and giggle and tell tales of the eldritch thing that lurk in the darkness below the bridge’s shadowed peak, and clings, wetly, to the beams that lie so close beneath the road, and only then do you realize that you are standing before the home of a hungry god.

That is when you remember the odd reddish-brown tingeing that stains the stones and discolors the pools, and how the sounds echo strangely in places where there shouldn’t be echoes at all.  When you realize that the vehicles that you’ve seen pass through that failed to sound their horn in supplication are never seen again, and while yes, it could be coincidence, it’s too frequent to be able to fully convince yourself that.

Eventually I was able to break free of the town and get back on the road, away from the god.  Every now and then, though, I return to the temple out of some strange compulsion that even I don’t fully understand.  Maybe I slept too long beside It and It is trying to lure me back.  I don’t know.  

Yesterday was one of those times, and I noted how the new temple, barely more than a decade old, is already showing signs of decay, and I wonder if the townsfolk waited too long, and if the god is more awake than any of us realize…

I sounded the truck’s horn as I drove beneath the temple’s roof.  I’m not ready to find out what happens to those who fail to offer a prayer to this particular god just yet.

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

Fiscal Responsibility Is The WOOOORST

Also, I hate accounting and book-keeping. I hate it like Gollum hates Bagginses. Like a lima bean and liver casserole.

Sadly, it’s a fact of life, and having officially reached a point with Patreon where I actually need to deal with that sort of thing in a more formal manner, I now have the dubious honor of shelling out part of my income for book-keeping software. I looked at a bunch of things and in the end, decided to say fuck it, and went with Quickbooks Self-Employed. They’re all more or less variations of the same basic thing, and at least I’m already familiar with Quickbooks.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours bashing my head against getting things set up, because it would have been SUPER EASY TO SET UP, except for the fact that my bank, in its infinite wisdom, doesn’t think that someone might want to, I dunno, BE ABLE TO DOWNLOAD THEIR RECORDS IN A CSV FOR MORE THAN 2 STATEMENT CYCLES, and converting a bank statement from a pdf to a csv is basically impossible, so I have to manually create the damned cvs to import into the damned thing, so GO ME I GET TO DO A YEAR’S WORTH OF DATA ENTRY BEFORE I CAN DO THE NORMAL SET UP PROTOCOLS.

Oh, and then I have to figure out how to deal with the Patreon/PayPal issue, and get all that entered without triple-entering a shitload of duplicate data that’s all the same data, from each step on it’s little way…

This would have been so much easier last spring, or if my bank wasn’t technologically brainless. The temptation to borrow money from somewhere to pay someone else to deal with this is a likely more efficient manner than I have the knowledge set for is strong, to be honest. Sadly, my $68 a month isn’t enough for that option, so here I am, bashing my head against it, hoping to manage enough in time for getting our taxes done, and uuuuuuuuugh.

Yes. I’m whining about this, because while it’s a “good” problem to have, it’s also one that I’ve got a smidge of PTSD around (thanks, Hell Job!) and the fact that I’m having no luck finding the information I need online isn’t helping. I suspect the answer is, in fact, going to be “figure out how to come up with money to hire an accountant to get this set up properly so I can maintain it from there”.

/rant

Monster Movie Blatherings: The Blair Witch Project

Ever watch a movie and realize, days later, that you still have Opinions about it?  Yeah, that happened, and so here we are, because I had to write about it.

(Note: If you’re like me, and hadn’t watched this before, there’s going to be spoilers, so read at your own risk, I guess?)

The other day I decided to watch “The Blair Witch Project” for the first time.  I hadn’t seen it when it came out, due to a combination of my annoyance at the existence of “Shaky Cam” filming and an aggressive dislike of hype.  At a certain point, something or someone becomes so popular that I get sick of hearing about it so much that I refuse to engage with them at all, and this movie had a serious case of both problems going for it for a long time.

Also, I am REALLY picky about horror movies.  I *love* them, but I consider a lot of the staples (excessive gore, jump-scares, gratuitous sexual assault) to be pretty much the pinnacle of lazy, boring writing and, sadly, this is usually the content of most horror movies, and just… *zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz*.  Gore is gross, not scary.  Jump-scares are relying on the nervous system’s reflexes, not actual fear.  Sexual assault as a shitty plot device is an entire rant on it’s own.  Mostly, though?  I am highly critical of monsters.  I love nothing more than a good monster, but I very much insist that monsters be not only actually scary and also make logical sense.  “Because it’s a monster” as a reason for why it’s doing something is #1 of my Top 5 Worst Excuses For Bad Monster Writing. Finding a horror movie that doesn’t fall into these traps is depressingly difficult.  Everything I’d heard over the years about BWP led me to believe that the “monster” (witch) was going to be the kind that I despise, and so between that, the excessive hype, and the filming style, I just didn’t want to waste my time on that.  Recently, though, it was brought up in several unconnected places and something about what people were saying made me curious enough to check it out finally.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was wrong. In my defense, it had, much like the original Stargate movie, been positioned as something else, and I can only work with what info I have available.  I still don’t think it’s that great of a movie, and that it was very much overhyped, but I enjoyed it.

One of my favorite things is, weirdly, that it’s a monster movie that has no actual monster.  There is no witch.  There is only the creeping horror of watching three people literally drive themselves to madness through the power of their own imaginations, fueled by sleep deprivation and probably mild hypothermia, in an environment that they had no solid experience being in.  The penultimate scene, the guy standing in the corner, is viscerally horrifying not because of any supernatural influences, but because it’s such a brutally, painfully, stark display of just how far his psyche had broken in such a short amount of time.  It’s terrifying as a statement on the fragility of the human mind and how easily it can be destroyed.

As someone who has spent much of her life in woods far deeper and wilder than the ones the characters found themselves in, I know how sounds can carry strangely, and how animals going about their day are louder than one would expect.  Squirrels and rabbits make as much noise as you might think a deer should.  A deer sounds like something the size of a moose, especially at night.  I’ve seen suburban folks cowering in their vehicles, terrified, because they saw eyeshine peering at them from the undergrowth and were convinced it was something far more sinister than a family of raccoons eyeing their improperly secured cooler.  The characters in BWP were suburban folks who had already primed themselves to be looking for supernatural dangers and expecting witches and ghosts, before they ever set foot beyond the treelines, and were not thinking that maybe the screaming they heard were more likely the sounds of foxes dining on rabbits, and less the ghosts of dead children.  They lost their map and didn’t know how to navigate without it.  They were walking around in wet clothing, in the cold, for days, and hypothermia fucks with your ability to think clearly.  This is a dangerous combination even when one isn’t already primed to look for supernatural reasons for everything.

The fact that this movie could only have existed in that specific time in history, due to the way that technology works currently (it was the early days of the internet, and it was a much different place than it is now), makes it all the more delicious.  I’m not sorry that I didn’t get to see it when it came out, because I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate a lot of it then (I was only a couple of years younger than the actors, being all of 19), but I’m so glad I decided to check it out this week.

Still not ruling out one of them being crazier than the others and going on a killing spree, though…

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)

Palimpsestic Cartography And Maybe A Little Necromancy, As A Treat.

In Which Our Heroine Finds Herself Retracing Steps And Reopening The Blog.

Patreon is, once again, making Choices about their billing cycles and fucking shit up. As a result, I decided that, even though I can’t really afford it right now, I’m reopening my own blog and working out how to maintain both sites in a functional manner. Really, I was planning to do it at some point, anyway, but I’d been hoping to have more funds available when I did so. Such is Life, though, so here I am. I’m keeping Patreon as long as it’s making me money and people are subscribing, but yeah, I’m also going to be working here so I’m not screwed if everything goes tits up over there.

Ugh. So much of this site didn’t survive the WordPress plan downgrade. Most of the posts vanished, and those that remained lost things like all of the images that were in them. Now I have to decide how much effort I’m going to put into trying to resurrect lost posts for reposting, and how much I’m going to just let go of and effectively overwrite with new posts.

One definite decision is that here is where all of the blogging type stuff is going to be. Patreon is going to be solely art and writing, which will then be cross-posted over when the early access period end and posts open to the public. This will be my primary “home”, Patreon will be the office. So, here will be where I put everything else that I’ve felt unsure of posting on Patreon… bits of daily life that don’t fall into neat Art Related Content boxes, musings about art-related things that aren’t fully formed enough to end up on Patreon yet, that sort of thing. Basically, what I’d originally been intending a year ago, before the Pandemic started and the country went to shit, torpedoing everything I’d been planning into a fine powder.

So, yeah. That’s where I’m at. Now, it’s time for me to go grab the duster and broom and start cleaning this place up…

Making Friends With Monsters: An Afternoon With Auntie Yaga

(At long last, the first installment of “Auntie Yaga’s Home For Wayward Monsters” is completed and ready to be shared.  I think I even tracked down all of the typoes, which of course means there are egregious ones hiding in plain site.  I hope you like it!)

A magazine page. At the top, a photo of a middle-aged woman with greying dark hair, sitting on a mildly worn clawfoot couch. She is somewhat heavy-set, dressed in a long batik-printed skirt and lightweight sage colored sweater, and is looking down at the floor toward her left boot.  The room is a typical old New England farmhouse; exposed beams and scuffed wooden floor covered with a large, multi-colored braided rug, modern pellet stove set into the old brick fireplace, floral print curtains that offset the faded blue-grey painted walls.  It’s a comfortable looking room, at first glance.

The lighting is somewhat dim, and the longer you look, the more you begin to notice that things aren’t quite what you initially thought.  The far corner beside the built-in bookcase has oddly distorted shadows, and something in the back of your mind nervously whispers that it is occupied, though you can see nothing definable.  The points of light on the evening-darkened window panes that you had dismissed as lamplight reflections look unnervingly like eyes looking back at you the more you look at them.  Your gaze is drawn back to the woman on the couch, or rather, to the shadows beneath it.

They are too thick for the amount of light in the room and as you try to see into them the darkness begins to resolve into something that sends a chill down your spine.  Deep in the shadow, you can just make out a pair of eyes shining a deep red and, worse, the faint glitter of too many barely concealed needle-sharp teeth.  An unnaturally long-fingered hand the color of lampblack and ending in stiletto-like claws is reaching out from underneath that couch and rests lightly on the woman’s foot and ankle, at which she is smiling fondly.  The scene is, overall, a blend of homey tranquility and deeply unsettling shadows in perfect balance with one another.  Something about it makes you sure that there are no camera or clever editing tricks involved.

Below the photo, in bold, black font, the headline reads:

Making Friends With Monsters: An Afternoon With Auntie Yaga, The Woman Behind The World’s Only Monster Outreach Program.written by R. Morganson

{Disclaimer: I’ll be straight; when I first set out to do this interview, I honestly thought that the whole thing was some kind of immersive performance art or something along those lines.  I was not expecting to find it to be exactly what it was presented as being. ~RM}

It was late in the September afternoon when I arrived at the entrance to Auntie Yaga’s Home For Wayward Monsters.  I had more than half expected it would be a grand and spooky Victorian mansion, perhaps with an ominous wrought iron gate covered in a bat motif, so it was  pleasant surprise to find a perfectly ordinary New England farmhouse, complete with a picturesque old horse pond in the large front yard and fenced around with neatly maintained fieldstone walls.  There was no gate at all, in fact, just a modest sign proclaiming the name of the organization, beneath which were hung two smaller signs.  The first stated that visitors are welcome by appointment only, the second that one should “Beware of Graswolves”.  The house itself was set back roughly an acre from the road, behind which the land slopes down toward the neighboring conservation forest.

There was a middle-aged woman sitting on a wooden patio chair on the wrap-around porch as I pulled up in front of the white and black-trimmed house.  Like the house, she looked nothing like my expectations. I was beginning to get the feeling that this was something I should get used to.  As I got out of my car, she came down the wide porch steps to meet me, and I got my first full look at the woman known as Auntie Yaga.

She’s about average height and looks to be in her mid-40s, with grey-green eyes and long grey-streaked dark hair that she was wearing pulled back into a simple braid.  She was dressed simply in an ankle length batik-printed skirt, lightweight sage green sweater, and laced-up brown boots.  What little jewelry she wore was equally simple.

“Not what you were picturing, huh” she said by way of greeting.  Sheepishly, I acknowledged that this was true.  She laughed, a warm, friendly sound.  “Don’t worry.  Almost everyone has the same thought the first time they come here.  It’s partly intentional” she explained.  “Since the majority of our residents tend to be a bit…intimidating…Glatis and I decided that it was best to make the rest of surroundings as comfortable and calming as we could.”

“Glatis is the co-founder, right?”  I asked as we walked up the stairs.

“He is.  He’s what we refer to as a Lurk.  He was originally the not-so-proverbial monster under the bed when I was young, but I got tired of being on the menu one day and decided to try and make friends with him.  It surprised him so much that it actually worked.  A couple of decades later, here we are, running a business together!” she laughed.

We were now at the front door, but instead of opening it, she stopped and her demeanor became very serious.

“Before I open this door, I need to ask you to be sure that you are okay with this interview being done the way you requested when we spoke on the phone.  If you aren’t, that’s fine, and we can stay out here on the porch, or we can reschedule and meet someplace that you feel more comfortable.  There’s no shame or judgment if you’ve changed your mind and would prefer not to.”

I told her that I was fine. (I was sure this was performance art, and I live for haunted houses at Halloween and all that, and so was eager to see what would happen when we got inside.  I was wildly incorrect in my assumptions.)  She looked at me appraisingly, with a hint of amusement, for a moment, then shrugged, opened the door, and went in.

How to describe that first moment inside the house?  Visually it is pure, cozy, New England charm; all wood accenting and warm, comfortable looking furnishings, the faint smell of freshly baked bread and dried lavender scenting the air.  It is the epitome of welcoming tranquility, and I was completely unprepared for the oppressive and almost overwhelming sense that something very, very dangerous was watching me from far too close by as soon as the door closed behind me.  Something was breathing, a soft, rasping sound that I hadn’t heard since childhood and had long-since forgotten, and I froze in panic.  I could feel my chest tightening as I instinctively started to hold my breath so as not to let the thing know I was there.  As I did so, I saw the large, misshapen figures in the too-solid shadows of the hallway and behind the doors.  A flicker of motion in the corner of my eye caught my attention, and as my eyes darted to look at it, an all-too-real tail of black fog slithered past the doorway of a room to my right. I felt my hands and feet flash cold with fear and go numb.  Every instinct was telling me to run screaming, and I started to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake in coming to this house alone.  I felt like I was a little kid again, afraid of the shadows in the closet and begging my parents to leave the light on because Something Was In There.

Just when I thought I couldn’t control the urge to run, I heard Auntie Yaga say to no one that I could see “That’s enough, I think. I don’t think he’s quite as ready to see you all fully as he thought he was, and we do want him to actually like us, after all.  Thank you.”

Immediately, the shadowed figures receded, the feeling of being watched faded to almost, but not quite, nothing, and I was left feeling more than a little shaky.  It had only been seconds, but I felt like I had just run a marathon, and was exhausted.

“Looks like you’re a bit less prepared than you thought you’d be,” she said, handing me a warm mug of tea.  “Chamomile and mint, with a little bit of meadowfoam honey.  It tastes like marshmallows, a bit, and it’ll help your nerves.”  I’m not ashamed to admit that I was deeply grateful for that tea and swallowed almost half of it in one go.  She was right, it tasted like apples and marshmallows, and I felt better for its sweetness.

“What was that?” I asked, my voice only shaking a little as I shoved the voice that was still gibbering about the shapes in the shadows into the back of my mind.  It could freak out later. Right now, I had an interview to conduct.

“That, my dear, was a couple of million years of evolution informing you that several large predators that you couldn’t see or hear were standing near you, staring, reminding you that you are not the apex predator civilization has told you you are.  Congratulations!  You have a healthy survival instinct!  Surprising, given your decision to go into journalism”, she replied, her tone light and teasing on that last part.

Despite myself I laughed at that and, in doing so, felt almost normal again.

“Now, if you’re feeling better, shall we move out of the entryway and into the living room where the chairs are much more comfortable, and get to this interview you came here after?”

I followed her through a doorway into the next room, and sat in the chair she indicated.  I glanced around nervously, expecting more too-solid shadows, but it was a perfectly pleasant, unoccupied room, as far as I could tell.  I took out my recorder, took a deep breath and another sip of tea, and started recording.

So, the monsters under the bed are, in fact, real and your business partner is actually one of them.  Isn’t this dangerous?”

That’s not really the question you wanted to ask, is it?  No, now that you’ve discovered that this isn’t the Halloween Haunted House attraction that you assumed it was, nor am I just some crazy lady in the woods making up wild stories for attention, what you really want to know is if this is all a set-up for some horror movie-esque deal where I turn out to be a villain who unleashes a horde of mindless, ravenous beasts on the world.

The answer is yes, it is dangerous, but no more so than it is for folks who work with, say, wolves or sharks.  They’re monsters, true, but no, they are not mindless, and we have no plans to terrorize small towns in the night.  Our goal is simply to facilitate a better understanding between our various species for those who wish to learn other ways to coexist.

“My apologies.  I made assumptions I shouldn’t have, and that was rude.  So, how does this work? How did you decide to start a boarding house and outreach program for the monsters of childhood?”

In order to answer that, you need to know a few things;  First, the world really is much larger and a whole lot weirder than our “civilized” society has conditioned us to believe it is.  Yes, monsters are real, and yes, they do hunt us and eat us, if they can catch us.  Second, they are just as intelligent as you or I.  They are not the mindless beasts that horror movies have led us to believe them to be.  Third, that most of the types of monsters who come here don’t typically eat humans.  It’s not unheard of, mind you, but it’s not as common as people think.  What they do eat, is fear.  This is important to know because I was one of those kids who was afraid of pretty much everything in existence.  Don’t laugh!  I’m not kidding.  Scooby-do cartoons were too scary and gave me nightmares.  It was ridiculous.

As a result, I had the dubious honor of attracting more than one monster to the feast, as it were.  Glatis, who took up residence under my bed, and another Lurk who generally hung out in the closet or behind the doors, primarily, but I’d also regularly encounter others outside of our house.  It was exhausting.  Eventually, though, I got mad about it, and informed Glatis that I wanted to make a deal with him.  I’d done the math, and decided that he lived closer, thus the biggest threat, and so the one that I needed to win over to my cause.  He agreed to my offer.  I think he was so caught off guard that he agreed out of confusion, but he’ll never admit it.  After a while, he decided I was sort of adorable and ended up becoming my guardian monster.  Usually they move on once we start believing the adults that there’s nothing in the dark to be afraid of, since we’re no longer good food sources, but by that point we’d gotten attached to one another and he decided to stay around.

“You said that his kind of monster eats fear.  If you weren’t afraid of him, dare I ask what he was doing about meals?”

Who was he feeding off of, you mean?  Children can be cruel by nature, and a strange, solitary girl who claims to be friends with monsters has no shortage of bullies, nor does she see a problem with having those bullies learn to be afraid to torment her.  It’s a bit brutal, but let’s face it, kids are feral little creatures before we get civilization trained into us and child culture is a fascinating study in human development. Now? There’s still no shortage of terrible people who like to harm others, and fear is fear.

Before you ask, no, they were not feeding on you a few minutes ago.  The ones you encountered are all long-term residents of the Home, and the rules of hospitality are that friends are not food, after all.

“I have nieces and nephews.  I can see your point about little kids and the casual cruelty. Also, I appreciate not being on the lunch menu!  You had originally started the outreach program during college.  How did that happen?”

By accident, really.  It turns out that college campuses have an astonishing number of scared people on them, and so Lurks and other types of monsters are attracted to them.  It also turns out that folklore majors are less likely to freak out than most when they stumble across you outside in your bunny slippers, in the middle of the night, explaining to a monster why it needs to leave your roommate alone, regardless of how her anxiety disorder made her the equivalent of a walking plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  The Lurk was curious about the human who was under the protection of one of her kind and not afraid, and the other student was desperate to know more about the monsters, and somehow I found myself explaining each of them to the other, and me, and Glatis (who was also standing there, rolling his eyes), at 3 in the morning on the lawn.  It ended up not being the last time.

“Why folklore majors?”

Most already want folklore and fairy tales to be true, so it’s exciting when reality obliges and presents you with an honest-to-Grimm monster straight out of childhood nightmares.  Instinct makes you react like, well, much like you did, but they’re more likely to have their innate curiosity override it significantly faster than other people.

“What does a typical day look like here? I’m guessing it looks quite a bit different than it does elsewhere.”

To an extent, it’s not as different from a normal house as you would think. It starts a bit later than most, due to the majority of the residents being nocturnal, but that’s about it.  Get up, have coffee, take the Runalongs out for their daily run (there’s an old highway nearby that doesn’t get used much since the new one was put in a few decades back that’s good to take them down without causing accidents).  Come back, deal with any paperwork that needs attention, and the rest is mostly spent being available for the residents or host families, and dealing with any issues that may come up.

“Host families?”

Humans who wish to sponsor a resident who is interested in staying with other human families in a guardianship capacity.  Glatis and I accidentally became a kind of ambassadorial template for human/monster interactions spanning both communities.  There have always been a small percentage of monsters who are more inclined to view humans as something other than a mere food source, as well as humans whose fear of monsters is tempered by their curiosity about them.  We provide a way for both groups to interact with one another in a way that’s safe for each of them.  Most of the time, it’s a temporary arrangement, and our residents return here before going to stay with other families or exploring other options on engaging with humans.  It’s also not unheard of for a monster and a family to adopt one another, and the monster takes on the role of generational guardianship.  There are issues with integration, from time to time, but we have a fairly rigorous vetting process to minimize the chances of these occurring.

“One last question before we finish.   On the way in, the sign says “Beware of Graswolves”.  What is a “graswolf”?”

Graswolves are a subspecies of feldgeister.  They originated in central Europe, and live and hunt in fields with tall grass. Their cousins, kornwolves, are the real reason why people are afraid of cornfields, despite what a number of people on the Internet think.  There’s a small pack that lives on the property that ensures we don’t get trespassers. They’re smart enough to differentiate between guests, curiosity seekers, and actual threats, so they make an excellent security system.

                                                                               * * * * * * * * * *

After we wrapped up the formal part of the interview, Auntie Yaga allowed me to investigate the entry hall for theatrical tricks to try and explain what had happened when I had first arrived, and I found nothing.  I’d been too shaken up to remember to do it, initially, but as I could see the hall from where I’d sat, it was clear that no one could have tampered with the room during the interview without being seen.  Once I completed my search, I had the amazing opportunity to actually meet the co-founder, Glatis, and take photos with the residents that I had encountered on my arrival.  This second encounter was much easier on the second introduction, as I was more prepared and also allowed the introduction to follow the standard protocols, which I had originally, in my hubris, insisted be waived.

I could write entire novels about the rest of my experiences at Auntie Yaga’s Home For Wayward Monsters, but those are tales for another day.  If you have the opportunity to do so, however, I highly recommend taking the chance to meet them, and perhaps even sponsor a resident.

(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)