Vedma | Teen Ink

Vedma

June 21, 2022
By frosiac BRONZE, Sunderland, Massachusetts
frosiac BRONZE, Sunderland, Massachusetts
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments


If you look for the Vedma you will most certainly find her. As long as you search in the right places; deep within the woods, where it is cold and dark and there are no tree stumps for old crones to find respite on; in the bogs, where fog is perpetually hanging in the air, creeping its wet fingers along you, where the croaking and humming of the wildlife is an alarming thrum in your ears; beside your late mothers grave; by your deathbed. The Vedma is reliable like no other. 

Tonight a girl called Masha enters the woods on foot, observing her surroundings with nervous eyes. When a twig snaps somewhere she startles, breaths shortening to little puffs that she can see in the air. 

Masha tightens her kerchief, knotted securely beneath her chin. Her face is round and pale like a sweet moon, her braid a long line down her back. She stands amidst the gnarled woods, shaking and slight. 

She does not have to wait long.

The Vedma is never spoken of openly, yet stories of her are far spread. Masha, a village girl who liked to spend her evenings by the bonfire, listening to gossip and hearsay, was well versed in whispered stories. 

It’s because she knows those stories, she isn’t baffled at the sight of chicken legs approaching her, as tall and thick as apple trees. She tips her head back and traces her gaze up those monstrous legs, to the hut that sits atop them. The hut comes to a stumbling stop and crouches before her obligingly. Masha is faced with a front door, etched with dizzying symbols. 

In the stories, people always enter the Vedma’s hut the same way, so Masha doesn’t bother with manners and forgoes knocking as her father taught her to. 

The door swings in readily, creaking only quietly on its hinges. 

(From there the encounter feels like a dream, one that’s frightening and whimsical and shameful in turn.)

When Masha enters the hut, she is strangely reminded of her own home. Candlelight reveals the space, though it flickers occasionally, comfortingly. There’s a small cot in the corner, made of straw and layered with a quilt. Parchment is scattered throughout the entire place, though its chaos is most concentrated near a makeshift table. Masha startles when she sees a crow perched on the slate, but it hardly acknowledges her, busily grooming its wing feathers. 

In the center of it all, there is a barrel of water, the air around it curling with steam. In the barrel, a woman is bathing herself. Masha sees her, sees the fire caught in the droplets all along her. Her face is narrow and handsome, and her chest is very exposed over the rim of the barrel. Masha does not think any human woman would have so little modesty.

With a gesture of her hand, the Vedma beckons Masha closer. Then she sighs, slowly and contentedly. Her cheeks are flushed with the wet heat of the bath. She is humming something quietly. 

Then she says, “I’ll make us some tea.” She pulls herself up from the bath, and water streams down her body… Masha shuts her eyes.

When it is done, Masha does not drink the tea. She sits across from the Vedma at the makeshift desk and notices her eyes, the likes of which she’s never seen before. They remind her of beetle’s wings-- green and flickering.

“I’m so glad to have visitors” The Vedma is saying, “I get so lonely all alone, and it’s always such a pleasure to have company.”

The Vedma’s hair is still dripping wet after the bath, but either she doesn’t care or she doesn’t notice, even as a drop of water lands on one of the candles and extinguishes it. Smoke curls up in its stead.

Masha nods, for a lack of a better response. The crow is perched alarmingly close, fascinated with the shiny buttons of her blouse, and she is worried for them. Masha is worried. “I’ve come to ask for…” she begins, but can’t quite bring herself to finish. 

“A favor?” The Vedma finishes in her stead. She sips her own cup of tea, flavored with tree bark and forest things like Masha’s mama makes. 

“That’s right, a favor.” People often ask the Vedma for things, or rather, in the stories Masha had heard, people asked her for things. “Or advice-” Masha’s hands wind together in her lap, “I’ve come to you for help.”

“The help of Baba Yaga is a risky thing.” The Vedma says, in a voice that sounds joking.

Masha can’t find it in herself to laugh, hanging her head pitifully, “I know.” She’d known the risk full well. How many stories has she heard after all, of those who sought out dark magics and instead found darker ends? Masha had known and thought of those bitter ends even as she searched for the Vedma in the dark woods.

“Sweet Thing.” The Vedma murmurs. Masha’s head jerks up, but the Vedma is only talking to her crow, tracing careful fingers down its dark head. “Sweet needy thing,” says the Vedma, and the crow preens. 

Then she turns her gaze back onto Masha. Shimmering, burnished green...“What is it that you need from me? What exactly?”

This is no simple question, and so Masha takes several moments to collect her thoughts. What does she need? To sink deep into a barrel of water such as the one the Vedma had used and never return for air, perhaps. “I am with child,” Masha explains. 

The Vedma observes her quietly, and so Masha explains some more. She tells the Vedma and her crow about that night after the summer equinox. Humid and aglow; a white night. Masha had worn her nicest clothes, the blue sarafan she’d been gifted for her names day, the ribbons her girlfriends had gifted her, braided into her hair. The man hadn’t cared about any of it though, tearing through Masha’s lovely clothes. He had touched and ruined young Masha. She ought to have resisted, but at the time she had barely even struggled. She’d felt entirely paralyzed by his eyes, which were so kind-looking that Masha could hardly believe it.

That’s what happened then. Now: the Vedma and her crow, candlelight in the hut with chicken legs, Masha with child. Her story hangs heavy in the air, and she feels a new wave of desperation arise within her, miserable and resentful in turn. Tears stream down her cheek before she can catch them and her nose grows wet. 

The Vedma circles the desk to kneel at Masha’s feet and offer solace. She clasps Masha’s wind-weathered hands in her warm ones. The Vedma coos, dabbing at the lingering tears. She waits until Masha has calmed. 

“It’s not what I wanted,” Masha says. Not for herself, not for her family, not for herself...

“You want to be rid of it,” the Vedma offers.

Masha sniffles, feeling both embarrassment and gratitude. What a balm, to be understood so immediately. “That’s right.” 

Then Masha’s breathing goes still as the Vedma smiles and unclasps their hands to cup Masha’s round face and tug it down, down, down, to her own. For a brief moment, Masha feels the warmth of the Vedma’s smile on her lips. 

The Vedma pulls away, but the feeling of a kiss lingers, “Then you will be,” a promise.

 

Returning home is something of an undertaking in the dead of night. Masha stumbles over tree roots and stones in the starless pocket of darkness beneath the forest canopy. Returning to the village is a trying journey, and by the time she can see her candlelit shack she is on her last legs and the sun is rising on the horizon. She stumbles a few times unlatching the door and then she finally gets it open and she can fall onto her cot, claiming what precious sleep she can get before it is time to rise. What took place in the woods may have felt like a strange dream but it didn’t earn her the revitalization most dreams did.

When Masha did wake, it was not with the cry of the rooster that usually began her days. Instead, Masha rose with acid burning at her gullet and nausea pulling at her stomach. She vomited all over her cot, and when there was nothing left continued to heave, merely drawing rattling breaths and listening to the pulse-pounding in her ears.

Needless to say, Masha set aside doing chores for the time being. Instead, she went that morning to visit her neighbor, the most world-weary person in the village. The old woman would surely know whether Masha had been struck by some grievous illness. If that was the case, Masha couldn't bring herself to mind. Even if Masha had been struck by an illness, at least there was nothing shameful in it. No scandal in an untouched girl dying pale and hollow on her bed.

The old woman lives in a shack-like all the others, though it’s smaller than those housing families. For as long as Masha can remember, the old woman has always lived alone. 

Masha finds her around the back of her home, mending worn shirts. Masha crouches down beside her and explains that she woke up sick to the stomach, and asks for any sort of examination the woman can offer. The old woman agrees to oblige her.

“You are looking a bit pale.” She appraises Masha as they’re entering the shack. They sit down in the narrow space between the woman’s bed and her loom and the old woman takes Masha’s hands, which are oddly swollen. Masha hadn’t noticed before, but the bloated shape of them is made obvious next to the old woman's paper-thin ones. The old woman asks a few questions about Masha’s health as of late which are easy enough to answer, and then she begins to examine her, touching her forehead and checking the color of her tongue, which is when she pauses. 

“Lift your skirts, please.”

The old woman examines what’s growing between her legs, in her belly, and it takes very little time after that, to get to the truth of the matter. Afterward, the old woman explains that it had been morning sickness that had caused Masha such a great fright. It was morning sickness, and Masha is still with child.

She leaves the old woman’s shack on swollen feet. She’s such a little fool. Had she really believed the Vedma to be her savior and herself the coveted maiden? Masha’s story is set in stone, ever since the man set his eyes upon her, his hands upon her, and she would raise his child rather than abandon it.    

In the distance, she hears crows cawing.


Months pass and Masha’s shame grows tangible and impossible to hide. She stops attending the evening gatherings by the fire, despite how much she wants to hear the stories spoken there. Masha stays at home instead, where her parents’ shame for her grows in correspondence with her belly but they care for her nonetheless. 

Several months pass, blearily, with fatigue and grit building beneath Masha’s fingernails. Winter is approaching. Soon, a baby will be born: Masha’s and his. 

She learns a new kind of hunger when food grows predictably sparse. The lack of bread and subsequent ache for it is all the worse in the midst of pregnancy. A bitter, vindictive feeling begins to fester within her like a second child curled within her stomach. 

Her father looks at her with shame written on the contours of his face. He has always known very well what is proper and now Masha has become a drastically improper thing. Words between them become far and few in between.

Masha’s mama still speaks to her though. One day she asks Masha what she plans to name the child. She explains that it is important to her, too, the name of her grandchild. Masha hasn’t thought of a name. It hadn’t occurred to her to think of one.


When the first snow falls, she watches it through the crack of the barely-open doorway and shivers. The snow this year arrived late, several storms that seemed certain to come down earlier in the season simply stopping in their tracks or diminishing into mere flurries. Masha knows that oftentimes a baby dies before it is even born. Would that be the answer to her prayers or would it hurt her too? She isn’t sure. She doesn’t consider it. 

Masha adds a log to the woodstove and shuts the door.


The child is born late at night. Masha’s mother helps her, standing close and comforting her as she screams, and the pain of it is so intense that in retrospect she can hardly remember it. Afterward, she holds him, and he is bloody and small in her arms. The dark of the night conceals him from her, but from what she can see of him in the light of the woodstove, he has all the right bits that a newborn baby human ought to have, and all of them are in the right places. 

(You are my son, Masha whispers to him, possibly. It’s also possible she merely thinks it, the words never reaching the air, never shaping her lips: You are my son, but you are also his.)


Morning comes, bright and abrasive in the village. Masha wakes to the crying of the rooster, and then the baby, in quick succession. Masha startles and tumbles out of bed, landing on the floor with a soft grunt. 

Reorienting herself, she moves towards the baby- her baby. Ah.

She picks up the swaddle of noise and tears and feels her heart stutter a little. In her arms is her very own child, and when the baby finally begins to settle she sees his eyes. She sees that they are green and that they glimmer like a carapace, like fluttering beetle wings.


The author's comments:

Baba Yaga is a slavic folktale. She is a story exchanged by the campfire. She is akin to the feeling of finding oneself in the woods alone just as it's getting dark, of taking a faulty step, of making a promise you know you can’t keep. Baba Yaga is a scary scary witch, a “vedma”, and Masha has no one else to turn to.


Similar Articles

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

This article has 3 comments.


on Jul. 14 2022 at 10:00 pm
TessaDreamAuthor_3000 PLATINUM, Tomball, Texas
35 articles 2 photos 141 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." - Dolly Parton
" Balance your life with spiritual experiences that remind and prepare you for continued, daily ministering to others." - M. Russell Ballard
"Love is expressed in a smile, a wave, a kind comment, a compliment." - Thomas S. Monson

This was an amazing story, and I liked how you tied old fairy tales and myths into something new, but if Baba Yaga had 'bettle wing' eyes and the baby did too, makes me suspect...?

on Jul. 14 2022 at 3:07 pm
ILiveToRead PLATINUM, Wailuku, Hawaii
24 articles 3 photos 149 comments

Favorite Quote:
"My music will tell you more about me than I ever will, don't ask me what i'm feeling, ask me what song am I listening to." "I think I'm afraid too be happy, because whenever I get to happy, something bad always happens."

Startling, disconcerting, thrilling, a bit creepy (which I thoroughly enjoy) and beyond captivating. Please believe me when I say that if this were a novel going for $50 dollars a piece, I'd buy it, no hesitation. Please make more of these type stories!

on Jun. 26 2022 at 1:47 pm
Bella_Queen DIAMOND, Plymouth, Ohio
80 articles 25 photos 79 comments

Favorite Quote:
Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.
-Walt Whitman

Wow! That was so atmospheric and interesting! Great job!