“Life can be a strange beast, can it not?”
The strange animal on my shoulder spit out the words, “Only to those required to experience it.”
I exhaled loudly before I disappeared back into my thoughts.
You see, I have walked this earth for centuries and for every place I have stopped at long enough to become involved with someone, I have left family in my wake. I have descendants from my first marriage over a thousand years ago up to the last woman I buried in the ground who died from the effects of time.
As if it could sense my thoughts, my odd companion groused, “You leave them because you tire of their chattering.” It looked me in the eyes and I was caught in the deathless void that circled within their depths, “More like you grow tired of their jealousy as they see you never age while they eventually turn to dust.”
“Always so cruel, you are,” I muttered. “But the truth is a harsh mistress.”
At my discomfort, a blustery laugh gurgled from the throat of the monkey thing until it segued into coughing. I ignored it as it cleared its throat. The two of us remained quiet as we continued our way through the northern woods.
While most of my progeny have made their way into the beyond, I still have many living grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and more. But I have only one living child and he had gone missing. I had not heard from him in months, which was not all that surprising. In fact, I only knew that he was missing because of the news.
Someone had broken into his home and murdered his husband. The neighbors had reported hearing him yelling as something large bore him away into the darkness of the night. At the first opportunity, I made my way there to find that the air stank of brimstone. A demon must have taken him.
“How odd is it that a demon would take the only child of a demon hunter?” chattered my strange companion. “These two facts would almost seem related, wouldn’t they?”
But I do have other family that is not of my blood, not even of my species. Little grandmother is one and she is who I am hoping to find in these dark woods. She can be hard to track or easy to find. Her home moves where she wants it, or so she says. I think the house itself decides where it wants to go and she is born away with it.
The one eyed man I called grandfather had taken me to her when I had reached a particular age. “You have work to do,” he had blustered. “You owe a debt incurred by your mother, a debt to make the world right. Your life is not your own to lead.” He had grabbed me by the shoulder and pushed me out the door. I could still hear his voice raised as the door swung shut in my face, “You are to hunt demons, child! Find the mother and she will show you the ways… or eat you out of spite!”
I wandered for days through a forest not unlike this one and stumbled upon her house. Little grandmother decided not to eat me and took me in. She was a strange old lady and her home rang with a cacophony of voices. I lived with her for many years, and in truth, I only left because I felt she wanted me to go. She did have a habit of eating the unwary and it seemed as if she didn’t want to see me that way.
During my stay with her, I learned many an odd skill while helping out. A guttural voiced quill taught me the forging of documents. A quivering knife instructed me in the fine art of coin shaving. A deck of cards with the shrillest of tones taught me card tricks and sleight of hand and an incredibly talkative wig taught me how to disguise myself into whatever or whoever I chose to be. I was to learn later that each of those voices belonged to a soul that had been ensnared by her. “Only deserving souls!” she had cried. But I was never truly sure. Perhaps her home was like the hanging tree of grandfather.
We came to a small clearing and in its center sat a shabby little shack. No smoke rose from its single unstable chimney and no voices emanated from inside. What hung for curtains flapped lazily in the light breeze. While it had been ages since I had seen it up close, it was definitely her home.
“Grandmother?” I called out as I knocked on the door of rotted wood.
My fingers grasped the knob and twisted and I almost fell inside. Dust lay thick on the table and the sills and no footprints had disturbed the dust on the floor. I searched the three rooms of the small hut and it was like it had been before, the inside was far larger than the outside could possibly hold. But the place was empty.
“Baba? Are you home?” I called out. “Baba Yaga?”
My diminutive companion giggled at the silence that replied. I ignored it as I found pen and paper and jotted down a quick note. Baba was not always home but she always made her way back and Baba could find me anywhere in the world if she desired to.
I stood there in contemplation, “Who else do you turn to for help when the mother of all monsters no longer heeds your call?”
Dry laughter wheezed from the small demon that sported an animal skin on my shoulder, “When no one hears your call, only you can answer it!” Its rows of pointy teeth grinned at me, “Now, quit being a muttonhead and whatnot! There’s hunting to do!”