Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning...
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My house has chicken legs. Two or three times a year, without warning, it stands up in the middle of the night and walks away from where we’ve been living. It might walk a hundred miles or it might walk a thousand, but where it lands is always the same. A lonely, bleak place at the edge of civilization.
It nestles in dark forbidden woods, rattles on windswept icy tundra, and hides in crumbling ruins at the far edge of cities. At this moment it’s perched on a rocky ledge high in some barren mountains. We’ve been here two weeks and I still haven’t seen anyone living. Dead people, I’ve seen plenty of those of course. They come to visit Baba and she guides them through The Gate. But the real, live, living people, they all stay in the town and villages far below us.
Maybe if it was summer a few of them would wander up here, to picnic and look at the view. They might smile and say hello. Someone my own age might visit – maybe a whole group of children. They might stop near the stream and splash in the water to cool off. Perhaps they would invite me to join them.
“How’s the fence coming?” Baba calls through the open window, pulling me from my daydream.
“Nearly done.” I wedge another thigh bone into the low stone wall. Usually I sink the bones straight into the earth, but up here the ground is too rocky, so I built a knee-high stone wall all the way around the house, pushed the bones into it and balanced the skulls on top. But it keeps collapsing in the night. I don’t know if it’s the wind, or wild animals, or clumsy dead people, but every day we’ve been here I’ve had to rebuild a part of the fence.
Baba says the fence is important to keep out the living and guide in the dead, but that’s not why I fix it. I like to work with the bones because my parents would have touched them once, long ago, when they built fences and guided the dead. Sometimes I think I feel the warmth of their hands lingering on the cold bones, and I imagine what it might have been like to hold my parents for real. This makes my heart lift and ache all at the same time.
The house creaks loudly and leans over until the front window is right above me. Baba pokes her head out and smiles. “Lunch is ready. I’ve made a feast of shchi and black bagels. Enough for Jack too.”
My stomach rumbles as the smell of cabbage soup and freshly baked bread hits my nose. “Just the gate hinge, then I’m done.” I lift up a foot bone, wire it back into place, and look around for Jack.
He’s picking at a weathered piece of rock underneath a dried-up heather bush, probably hoping to find a woodlouse or a beetle. “Jack!” I call and he tilts his head up. One of his silver eyes flashes as it catches the light. He bounds towards me in an ungainly cross between flying and jumping, lands on my shoulder, and tries to push something into my ear.
“Get off!” My hand darts up to cover my ear. Jack’s always stashing food to save for later. I don’t know why he thinks my ears are a good hiding place. He forces the thing into my fingers instead; something small, dry and crispy. I pull my hand down to look. It’s a crumpled, broken spider. “Thanks, Jack.” I drop the carcass into my pocket. I know he means well, sharing his food, but I’ve had enough of dead things. “Come on.” I shake my head and sigh. “Baba’s made a feast. For two people and a jackdaw.”
I turn and look at the town far below us. All those houses, snuggled close together, keeping each other company in this cold and lonely place. I wish my house was a normal house, down there, with the living. I wish my family was a normal family, too. But my house has chicken legs, and my grandmother is a Yaga and a Guardian of The Gate between this world and the next. So my wishes are as hollow as the skulls of the fence.
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Story Chair Special
Click on the link below for this week's Story Chair Special, brought to you by Mrs Smith and Lucky!