For Sale: Free Range Izbushka Eggs

It’s mid-October, late in the afternoon.  The day is warm and the sky is that piercing blue that only exists for a few brief weeks, contrasting beautifully against the red and orange leaves of the trees.  You pull into a small rest area to stretch your legs after several hours of driving, and to maybe get something to eat from the little attached diner.  The parking lot is pretty quiet, and it’s a nice day, so you decide to stop and eat at one of the picnic tables off to the side.  As you sit down, a flash of color catches your attention.

At a nearby table, a woman is sitting beside a plain brown woven basket filled with what looks to be brightly colored eggs, like the kind you see in the spring.  Beside the basket is a handwritten note stating that they are for sale.  There seems to be more writing, but you can’t quite make it out from where you sit.

The woman notices you looking, smiles pleasantly, and gestures that you are welcome to take a look.  You point at your food, and she nods.  After you finish eating and dispose of your trash in a nearby waste bin, you give in to your curiosity and approach her table.

FOR SALE

Izbushka Eggs – $6 each

Free Range

Guaranteed to be mostly helpful.

 Not knowing what to make of this, you ask her what an Izbushka egg is.

She smiles and begins to tell you about hand-raised chicken-legged huts.  You blink nervously, trying to decide if you’re dealing with a Halloween prank, a local artist, or someone with some sort of mental health issues.  As surreptitiously as you can, you glance toward the rest area employees who are leaning against the side of the building on their break, and see that they don’t appear concerned at all, so you’re pretty sure that she’s probably fine.  Artist, most likely, then.  You relax somewhat and turn your attention back to her, as she tells you about her flock of rare breed izbushka (barely the size of a child’s dollhouse!), and how this particular breed is known especially for their gentle natures, brightly colored eggs, and high rate of beneficial laying, as opposed to most of the larger breeds, who are prone to being more aggressive and liable to lay harmful eggs.  Unfortunately, they do have a higher chance of laying neutral eggs, so you’re as likely to get a small roll of stickers or cute pencil erasers as you are magic rings or the like.

She asks if you’re interested in buying one or two and, after a moment’s hesitation, you decide “why not?”.  A little whimsy is good for the soul, and it’ll make a good story when you get home.  Besides, you’re pretty sure the rest area employees would have stepped in by now if she was any kind of threat or whatever.  You pull out your wallet, hand her some money, and select an egg from the basket.  Definitely feels like plastic, though it does have a somewhat odd texture that you can’t quite place.

You thank the woman, wish her a good day, and continue on down the road.

Later that night, tucked up in your hotel room, you pull the egg out of your bag.  You smile and open it, curious to see what you’ll find.

Inside the pale shell, surrounded by vaguely iridescent fluff of some kind (you think it feels like some kind of unspun fiber, like raw silk maybe, but you aren’t sure), is a small, gold-colored ring.  Must be a “magic” ring, you think, and chuckle at the silliness of it all.  You go to sleep, pleased with your day’s little side adventure.

It takes you some time to notice it, but whenever you have the ring with you you have strangely good luck finding parking spaces.  Always in the most convenient locations no matter how busy or crowded a parking area is.  You think of the strange woman at the rest stop and wonder.  You shrug, and tell yourself it’s just a coincidence – after all, magic rings and chicken-legged huts that lay eggs aren’t really real – but you also never leave home without the ring and you never have to struggle to find parking again.

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Sponsor-A-Monster?

Auntie Yaga’s Home For Wayward Monsters

Sponsor-A-Monster?

Yaga turned on the tv and flopped backwards onto the reclining chair with a groan.  She’d been staring at bank and budget spreadsheets for hours, and desperately needed to turn her brain off for a bit.

She’d bought the old farmhouse at auction for practically pennies.  It had been empty for a couple of years after the previous owner passed away, and had needed a fair amount of repairs to make it livable again.  It had taken months to fix all of the things that had fallen to entropy and reclaim it from the spiders, even with Glatis and a couple of other Lurks helping, but eventually it had been turned into a habitable place again.  Unfortunately she’d spent the majority of her savings doing so, and recouping from it was taking longer than she’d hoped, no matter how frugal she was. Due to her rather unique circumstances it was almost impossible to hold down a “normal” job (monsters were not very good at understanding that they couldn’t just show up whenever they wanted), and after the Broom Closet Incident, it had become clear that she had to figure out a non-traditional path of acquiring a paycheck.  Sadly, freelance gigs for a folklorist who specialized in childhood monster lore and whose availability was erratic at best were hard to come by and didn’t pay as well as one might wish, which brought her to her nearly empty bank account.  She had to find a way to bring in more money on a reliable basis, or else she and the crew would be living in a camper.  Again.

A commercial, overflowing with images of tragic puppies and kittens came onto the tv screen, accompanied by a woman singing mournfully about salvation and angels, begging for people to rescue these poor, pitiful animals.

“Hah!  Easy for you.  Your strays are cute and cuddly and unlikely to give someone screaming nightmares or attempt to eat your houseguests!” she grumbled at the television.

“To be fair, that only happened the one time, and it was an honest mistake,” said a soft, hollow-sounding voice from the dark hallway.

“It was twice, and last I heard, great-aunt Cecilia is still in therapy for it,” she replied.

Glatis chuckled, a low, guttural sound that would have been deeply unnerving if it wasn’t so familiar, as he came into the room.  His shadow-black form made no sound as he crossed the ancient floorboards, despite being more than 6 feet tall, with claws that would intimidate a bear.  Glatis was a Lurk and had been her dearest friend since elementary school, following a rather unorthodox deal she had offered him regarding her status as a menu option.  He was also the reason she lived amicably with a houseful of Humanity’s childhood nightmares.

“Why are you snarking at the television?” he asked as he settled himself on the couch nearby.

Yaga groaned and dropped her head against the back of the chair.

“I need to figure out how to reliably come up with several hundred more dollars a month, and fast,” she replied.  “It’s a lot more expensive to run a house and several acres of land then the camper was.  At this rate, I’m going to have to hold a bake sale to keep the electricity on.”

“What is a bake sale, and would it help?” came a soft whisper from the shadows behind her.  One of the other Lurks, who called herself Marsalette, was tucked in the corner.  She’d joined them only a few months before, and was still learning about the human world.

“It’s where humans bake cookies and things and sell them for far less than the amount of work they put in, to fund charity things.  Sadly, it wouldn’t really, amusing as it would be to watch you lot try to be tragically adorable at the humans to convince them to buy lemon squares”, Yaga replied.  “You can come out and sit with us, you know.  It’s okay.”

“I know.  I’m comfortable here, though.  This house has nice shadows.”

Yaga shrugged amiably.  The three sat in comfortable silence for a while, watching the tv.  The pet adoption commercial played again in the rotation.  Glatis tapped a claw slowly on the wooden end table his arm rested on, thinking.

“There might be something to that idea,” he said, after a moment.

Yaga burst out laughing.  “You can’t be serious!  Leaving aside the fact that you lot aren’t exactly cute and fluffy by human standards, a number of you are legitimately some of our main predators!  There’s no way that I could talk people into giving me money to let you around their children.”

Glatis grinned broadly, the blue light from tv glittering on wickedly sharp teeth.  “I didn’t eat you when you were small.”
“Only because you couldn’t catch me,” she replied, sticking her tongue at him.  “So, what is this idea of yours?”

“While actual adoption wouldn’t work, aren’t there human organizations that offer symbolic adoptions and sponsorship programs in exchange for things like certificates, tote bags, and that sort of thing for wild animals?”

Yaga chewed on her thumbnail, thinking.  There were some major differences and practical concerns she could think of right off the bat. 

“There are, but doing something like that would require exposing the fact that you lot are, in fact, real and not just figments of overactive juvenile imaginations.  I don’t know that any of us are really up for that, do you?”

“Humans have a remarkable ability to ignore anything that doesn’t fit with their assumptions of how the world really is.  Most would assume you were simply creating some kind of interactive artwork and look no further. “

“Good point.”

She looked back at the tv, but wasn’t really paying attention to it anymore, still considering the idea.  Oddly enough, it did have merit, and Glatis was right that humans don’t like to acknowledge that the world is vastly weirder than they insist it should be.  A number of crowdsourcing and support options had sprung up online in recent years, and if she started small she could probably manage to come up with a cute design to put on tote bags and maybe stickers.  Maybe a monthly newsletter with stories about the general goings-on around the farmhouse?  She wondered if she could convince them to make little ornaments or something that could be periodically auctioned off?  She should get a notebook and start making a list of ideas….

She paused in her musing and looked over to see Glatis watching her curiously.
“It might not be a bake sale, but if we can pull this off,  we may be able to save the house  and not have to crowd back into the camper again, after all.  What do you all think about the name ‘Auntie Yaga’s Home for Wayward Monsters’…?”

(If you liked what you just read, please feel free to toss a few coins at your mostly friendly resident word-witch! Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com )

Cursed Objects And Raspberry Jam

Does anyone else ever wonder why you only ever hear about the evil cursed or haunted objects?  Like, why don’t we ever hear about the annoying or benevolent ones?  Or the ones where the curse/haunting has no real interaction with the living, as it were?  For example:

– A stuffed animal  where the curse is actually that a hyper-masculine jerk is cursed to inhabit the body of the World’s Most Adorable and Plushy stuffed teddy bear, Mr. Flufferkins, and be the Guest of Honor toy for endless children’s tea parties and dress-up games until he unlearns his toxic ideas and learns that feelings and silly childhood games are not only okay, but actually good.  He’s a very slow learner, however, and has been stuck in the bear for a Very Long Time.  He refuses to admit that he’s developing a sneaking fondness for fairy bread with raspberry jam or that, in the deepest depths of his cotton-stuffed heart, he’s been thinking that maybe spending eternity as a children’s toy might not be so bad.  After all, it’s much easier to simply be a teddy bear.

– A painting haunted by a long-dead grandmother who stays around to keep an eye on her descendants and doesn’t do anything more sinister than glare judgmentally at houseguests she thinks are unworthy of her family.

– A small gold locket that curses its wearer to forget about their steeping cups of tea.

I dunno, I just think it’s unfortunate that we only ever hear about the murder-dolls and evil rings and things.  There should be more awareness of the rest of them, and I think I might have a new project to embark on here…

(Originally posted at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter. Patreon subscribers get to see posts 3 days before they open to the general public, and help me feed the cats and keep a roof over all of our heads.)

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.)

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.