The Bony Legged

by Maria Wolfe

Sami_Storehouse
Photo by m.prinke via Wikipedia. Creative Commons: Some rights reserved.

Catherine’s mother heard from her Realtor friend that an old lady was moving to Liberty Court. Everyone was gossiping about it, but no one knew anything. All the kids on the cul-de-sac were mad—the woman bought the empty lot between the Wilsons’ and the Rothmans’ where they played baseball and kickball and tag. But Catherine didn’t care. At age twelve, she was much too mature to take part in such silly games.

Early one Saturday morning, a fiercely-barking dog woke Catherine from a sound sleep. Dogs never barked that loudly on Liberty Court; the Home Owners’ Association expressly forbade it. Catherine grumbled over to her bedroom window to investigate. When she raised the blinds, her mouth gaped at the sight: in the space across the street that, the night before, had been a mess of uncut green grass and cast-off toys, a two-storied house with a two-car garage had appeared.

Catherine screwed her eyes shut before looking again. No, she was not dreaming. The new house stood on two large chicken legs, towering over its neighbors. The muscular, white-feathered thighs ended in yellow-scaled feet with large, nasty-sharp claws. A bleached-white picket fence penned in the now-dead-brown yard. Parked on the dirt driveway was a metal mortar, much too big for grinding spices but just right for carrying an adult; a pestle leaned against its side. Thick, black smoke spewed from the red-brick chimney, clouding the neighborhood sky.

Last night, the new house must have strolled over to Liberty Court on those chicken legs. But houses, Catherine knew for a fact, didn’t travel around on chicken legs. This was the suburbs, not some make-believe fairy tale with heroes and monsters. And picket fences certainly didn’t show up out of nowhere, not without prior authorization from the Home Owners’ Association.

The house scratched at the ground with one of its clawed chicken feet.

With a gasp, Catherine jumped back from the window. The lift cord slipped out of her hand, and the blinds fell with a shuffle and a bang. She spun around and sprinted downstairs to check on her little brother.

Catherine smelled the burnt pancake before she reached the kitchen. Her mother was mumbling over a sputtering skillet, a spatula in her hand. A smoky haze hung over the room. At the kitchen table, Ivan readied his plastic toy soldiers for deployment. Her little brother disliked pancakes and ignored the blackened one on his plate.

“Mom?” Catherine glared at her mother’s latest boyfriend as he forced chunks of produce into the feed tube of his masticating juicer. The pancakes were special for him. “Mom,” she yelled over the groaning machine. Rick wouldn’t be around for long, she bet.

“What? What is it, Catherine?” Her mother slid the spatula beneath a cooking pancake. When she withdrew the utensil, batter covered it. “Dammit. Look what you made me do.”

“The old lady moved in. Come see.” She dragged her mother into the living room. Ivan trailed behind Catherine, a toy soldier grasped in each hand.

With the green curtains drawn, the picture window perfectly framed the new house, now dancing on its chicken legs, across the street.

“Goddammit.” Her mother threw the spatula onto the carpet, just as the smoke alarm went off. “That’s really gonna fuck up our property values.”

***

At noon, the adults convened an emergency barbecue in the Martins’ backyard to discuss their new neighbor. Even Catherine’s mother was invited, despite her ugly feud with the Home Owners’ Association over her minimalist lawn care and lackadaisical home maintenance. Rick came, too; he had been spending a lot of time at Catherine’s house. In front of everyone, he draped his arm around her mother’s shoulders until Catherine towed her away for her own good.

A slab of ribs sizzled on the grill in Mr. Martin’s newly installed outdoor kitchen. On a nearby granite countertop, Mrs. Martin arranged colorful plastic bowls of side dishes that the neighborhood wives had made. Catherine’s mother contributed a lemon pasta salad, still in its grocery-store container, but, this time, Mrs. Martin didn’t mutter any nasty comments about her poor homemaking skills.

All the kids from the cul-de-sac were at the barbecue, but none of them felt like playing. Though it was late August, they shivered in their hoodies and jeans. The smoke-laden air was thick with misery.

Even at age twelve, Catherine was turned away from the table with the adults. Her mother pointed her to a distant spot on the well-manicured lawn. Alone, Catherine sat cross-legged on a large beach towel unfurled on the ground, picking at a cheeseburger that bled ketchup and mustard. Her paper plate was soggy with potato salad. She had no appetite for lunch.

Torches lit the murky backyard, the flames casting shifting patterns of darkness and light. The grown-ups batted around low, urgent words like a tetherball. Catherine strained to listen over the confusion of children’s voices from the picnic blankets around her.

But then Estelle, Mr. Martin’s mother-in-law, leaped up from her lawn chair to speak. She lived with the Martins in their basement bedroom and taught the kids of Liberty Court Spanish curse words. Mrs. Martin urged her mother back into her seat—no one knew what would pop out of Estelle’s mouth—but Estelle swatted her away with a wrinkled hand.

“That fence,” Estelle said in her booming voice, ignoring the shushing from her daughter, “I saw it up close during my power walk this morning. Made my best time cause I was scared shitless.” She wagged her finger. “It’s made of bones. Human bones, I tell you. Femurs and tibias, I’d wager. Maybe some fibulas but coulda been a bunch of humeri instead.”

The adults hopped up from their seats and shook their fists in the direction of the new house. From her beach towel, Catherine overheard their angry whisper-shouts: human sacrifice, witchcraft, non-HOA compliant fencing. Mr. Martin climbed onto a bench and conducted everyone in the familiar chant: “HOA, HOA, HOA.” Even Catherine’s mother joined in. Rick, too.

“H-O-A.” Catherine fake-formed the letters to placate Mr. Martin and the neighbors. She couldn’t say it aloud, not when her family was also a frequent HOA target. The group grew louder, more furious. “HOA, HOA, HOA,” they roared. Still, she could make out the raspy yips of the Martins’ dog as he crouched behind the screen of their patio door; since the house appeared that morning, the dog hadn’t stopped barking.

Catherine trembled but not from the cold: the chimney smoke had thickened, coloring the sky above them a charcoal black. But, when she looked toward Pine Street, it was a cloudless blue. The sun had only deserted Liberty Court.

***

The Welcoming Committee dropped in on the new neighbor that afternoon. An unauthorized fence made of human bones could not be tolerated, the Home Owners’ Association had decided; their objections must be aired with the old lady. Mr. Wilson brought a copy of the thick HOA Guidelines along with his famous oatmeal raisin cookies; Mrs. Rothman carried a plastic container of her leftover, equally famous potato salad. Catherine peered from her living room window as Mr. Martin, the HOA president, led them along the sidewalk. The front gate screamed open, and the house squatted down on its chicken legs to meet the group.

Mr. Martin didn’t have to ring the doorbell: the front door was ajar. Catherine couldn’t see her, but the old woman was waiting.

First Mr. Martin disappeared into the house. Then Mr. Wilson. Before she entered, Mrs. Rothman paused to glance behind her at the crowd of neighbors gathered on Catherine’s front lawn. From his beach chair, Mr. Rothman waved at his wife. “Go get ‘er, honey,” he bellowed before sipping from his third bottle of beer.

Though the lawn chairs and coolers cleared out after an hour, the Welcoming Committee only emerged later that evening. Catherine had already changed into her superhero pajamas but insisted on attending the HOA meeting at the Wilsons’ house. The neighbors were shocked: Mr. Martin’s thick, wavy hair had fallen out; Mr. Wilson was stuttering; and Mrs. Rothman had not only forgotten her award-winning potato salad recipe but also left her plastic container behind. The Committee members refused to speak of the visit except to say, “She calls herself Baba Yaga. The Bony Legged.”

***

Danny Wilson wasn’t in his bedroom when his parents woke up early on Sunday morning. He was neither inside the house nor outside in the shed. Since Mr. Wilson was still stuttering, Mrs. Wilson phoned the police and alerted the neighbors.

While Catherine peeked through the slats of the blinds in her bedroom, her mother and Rick rushed outside to console the Wilsons. The sun was rising over Pine Street but, under its cover of chimney smoke, the cul-de-sac was dark. On Liberty Court, the dusk-to-dawn outdoor floodlights were still shining brightly.

Police vans sped onto Liberty Court, sirens wailing, lights flashing. SWAT officers in helmets and body armor, their assault rifles at the ready, scrambled out. A group of neighbors, still in their pajamas and bathrobes, met them at the Wilsons’ front curb. Mrs. Wilson spoke to the lead officer, all the while jabbing her finger toward Baba Yaga’s house.

The SWAT team vaulted over the picket fence. The men surrounded the chicken-legged house, their rifles aimed and prepared to fire. The house backed away but stopped when a police officer with a megaphone instructed Baba Yaga to surrender.

The house sank to the ground, and the officers lowered their weapons. The old woman opened the front door and welcomed the team inside.

Several hours later, the SWAT officers rappelled from the front porch of the house as it paced around the fenced-in yard on its chicken legs. Catherine counted: of the team of ten, only nine departed. The surviving men rushed to their vehicles. The vans sped away from Liberty Court, sirens wailing, lights flashing.

The old woman wasn’t with them. Nor was Danny Wilson.

The gathering of neighbors slipped away from the Wilsons and their grief. Alone in their driveway, Mrs. Wilson sobbed while Mr. Wilson, his face expressionless, held her.

Baba Yaga added more pickets to her fence that afternoon. A couple of femurs, Estelle later reported at the HOA meeting. Adult femurs picked clean of flesh.

The police were called but declined to come back to Liberty Court. “It’s against department regulations after an officer has been eaten,” the chief said. “Not without an internal review first.”

The Wilsons put a “For Sale” sign on their now-lifeless front lawn. Danny still had a little brother for them to keep safe. The Wilsons moved out that day.

***

That week, the sky over Liberty Court remained a midnight black. The grass withered, the trees became naked husks. Only “For Sale” signs blossomed. The neighbors fled to friends and family. Once children had played outdoors; now the sidewalks and backyards were empty.

Catherine’s family couldn’t afford to leave. The kitchen had just been remodeled, and her mother had a mortgage with a high interest rate and student loans from her Masters’ degree in Russian Literature. Instead, Catherine secured the house against Baba Yaga. An extra deadbolt appeared on the front door, then another on the back door. She posted stickers advertising their brand-new alarm system on the windows and doors.

Ivan resumed sleeping in Catherine’s room, just like after their parents’ divorce. Her brother had been a baby, too young to remember their father, but Catherine did. The drinking, the screaming, the slammed doors—the man had abandoned them even before he left. While her mother had fallen apart, Catherine took care of everything.

Rick stopped coming around. After she read his breakup text, Catherine’s mother began to cry. “I thought he was different,” she said to Catherine. “But he’s just like your father. A huge disappointment.”

Catherine shrugged. That was exactly what she had expected.

***

On Friday morning, Catherine’s mother dressed in her power suit and high heels. She had an important meeting with her boss at the bank and couldn’t drive Catherine and her brother to school.

“Go straight to the bus stop,” her mother said to Catherine. The babysitter had just called to cancel—no one dared venture onto Liberty Court. Even Rick was too scared of Baba Yaga to retrieve his fancy juicer. “Don’t stop. Don’t look back.”

Catherine sat at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of oatmeal and sipping a glass of fresh beet-kale juice. She wasn’t worried: the mortar hadn’t been parked across the street that morning.

Next to her, Ivan and his toy soldiers were attacking a building-block house standing on building-block chicken legs. He paused to gobble down the sugary loops in his cereal bowl. With a whack from his hand, the blocks clattered down. Ivan clapped: “Baba Yaga is dead!”

Her mother leaned down to kiss Catherine’s forehead. “Take care of your little brother.”

“Sure.” She brushed off the imprint of her mother’s lips. Catherine always took care of Ivan. “Okay, Mom.”

“And Ivan, you be sure to mind your sister.” Her mother hugged him to her belly. “Be a good boy.” She smoothed down his blond hair where she had mussed it up.

As she turned away, Ivan seized her leg. “No, no, no. Don’t leave me, Mommy,” he bawled. His little fingers wouldn’t let go. “Baba Yaga will steal me away just like Danny.” With each of her steps toward the door to the garage, her mother dragged Ivan along the tile floor.

Catherine wrenched Ivan away. “We’ll be fine,” she said to her mother. “I’ll protect Ivan. You go.”

Her mother’s red car backed out of the driveway as Catherine stared, her nose scrunched against the living room window. Her mother was wiping away her makeup along with her tears, but Catherine was dry-eyed.

As the red car approached the corner, the mortar flew onto Liberty Court. Catherine’s mother honked and swerved to avoid it. Her car disappeared into the traffic of Pine Street while the mortar continued along the road toward the chicken-legged house.

Baba Yaga sat in the bowl of the mortar, steering with her rudder-like pestle. The noise of the pestle against the asphalt was a horror of a hundred dry-erase markers against a whiteboard. The old woman landed the vehicle in her driveway. Stuck to the side of the mortar was a bumper sticker: “I Brake for Animals.”

A black caftan whirled around Baba Yaga’s bony legs. Her smile had a metallic glint. The old woman waved before Catherine could duck behind the curtain.

Mierda, Catherine thought. Baba Yaga’s back.

***

Catherine rushed along the sidewalk, eager to reach the safety of the bus stop on Pine Street. Her book-filled rucksack thumped against her back. She heard her brother’s short breaths as he fought to keep up with her longer legs. He was only five years old, but he knew the danger; Danny Wilson had been his best friend.

Then Ivan was no longer beside her. “Don’t look back,” her mother had said, but Catherine spun around. Her brother was kneeling on the cracked sidewalk with his shoelaces undone. His fingers fumbled at making bunny-ears like Catherine had taught him. Tears streamed down his chubby face.

Catherine lifted her brother into her arms and hurried to the main road, just six driveways away. He was small, but she struggled with his weight. His tiny arms clutched at her heaving shoulders, his little legs at her waist.

The yellow school bus rumbled along Pine Street, toward its stop on the corner. She quickened her steps. Four driveways to go… They were so close.

She heard a howl coming from behind, like a knife being sharpened by the bearded old man at the grocery store. Catherine kept running, her straight brown hair streaming in the wind. Ivan hid his face against her neck and whimpered. Two driveways… The dreadful noise grew louder.

Darkness dropped over them. Catherine punched and kicked at the rough cloth sack that had swallowed her and Ivan. The stench of onions was overpowering. The bag was hoisted up. Together, Catherine and Ivan tumbled to its bottom. Her brother wailed her name and squeezed her tighter.

Inside the bag, they bounced again and again against a hard surface. Footsteps padded. Hinges creaked open, then closed. When the bag fell to the ground, Catherine was knocked apart from Ivan. He let out a strangled cry. She slapped away the lax cloth to find him. Her hand touched his arm.

“Little ones,” an ancient voice said, “come out of the sack.”

Catherine whispered to Ivan, “It’s going to be okay,” but she was lying; it hadn’t been okay for Danny Wilson. She crawled out of the bag into a dim room. Ivan followed Catherine through the mouth of the sack, the burlap sliding to the ground behind him like a snake regurgitating its prey. She pushed her brother behind her. He grabbed her hand.

Baba Yaga filled the open-concept kitchen. Her terrible head with its iron teeth bumped against the pendant light fixture. Each bony leg with its orthopedic shoe-clad foot occupied a different corner of the room. She reeked of mothballs and mold.

“Little ones,” Baba Yaga said, “I must leave you to gather more wood for my stove.” Her gray teeth flashed as she smiled. “Then I will eat you both and suck the marrow from your bones.”

The massive door shut behind Baba Yaga. Catherine and her brother were trapped.

Catherine searched the entire house. The doors were bolted. She couldn’t force them open. Bars blocked the blacked-out windows. She couldn’t bend them apart. The cabinets and drawers were padlocked. She couldn’t break the locks.

She slumped onto a chair in the formal dining room. Her chin quivered as she fought her despair. “If only I could save Ivan…” Catherine had always protected her little brother from bad dreams and bullies. Impossible this time—she’d found no weapon to defeat the witch, no route to break out. “I’d do anything.”

When she shuffled back to the kitchen, Ivan was huddled on the bamboo floor, his face hidden against his bent legs. Catherine stooped to stroke his shaking back. At least he couldn’t see the broken bones scattered on the poured-concrete countertop. Or the large, black cast-iron stove, opposite the farmhouse-style kitchen sink.

Over Ivan’s sobs, Catherine heard a squeak. Then another.

A white lab rat scurried across the room and onto Ivan’s foot. “Wipe away your tears, child,” the rat said in a formal tone. “All is not lost. The house heard your sister’s plea and sent me.”

Stopping mid-sob, Ivan raised his head to stare at the rodent perched on his shoe. “Catherine, that rat is talking.” He wiped his runny nose on his sleeve and grinned, his fears forgotten. “Can I keep him?”

Catherine shook her head. A talking rat was just as nonsensical as a cannibalistic old woman and a large, flying mortar. “No, Ivan. Not without his permission.”

“Thank you, child. That is more autonomy than Baba Yaga has ever accorded me.” The rat ground his front teeth. His red eyes bulged. “She gave me the ability to speak but threatens me if I use it. Like the house, I am merely her unwilling servant.”

With a giggle of delight, Ivan scooped up the rodent and clasped him against his chest. The rat hissed.

“Let him go, Ivan,” Catherine said. Her brother frowned but loosened his hold. The rat wiggled free.

The rat’s long tail swished over the floor. “Children, if you give me food, I will assist you.” He drew back his small pink ears. “After I denounced her murderous conduct, that witch Baba Yaga ceased to feed me. She would not even share Mrs. Rothman’s famous potato salad.”

Catherine rummaged through her backpack and handed the rat her pita with hummus and her carrot sticks. She would be dead by lunchtime, she figured, and wouldn’t need the food. The rat refused the bag of artisanal cookies—since Baba Yaga had rescued him from the Obesity Research Lab at the University, he couldn’t tolerate sweets.

In exchange, the rat brought her a stained, white hand towel; a brush matted with wiry, gray hair; and a comb missing several teeth. “These are magical objects that will aid in your escape.” He nibbled at a carrot stick dipped in hummus. “Baba Yaga enchanted them, to support the fight for animal rights.”

For Ivan’s sake, Catherine hoped that the rat was right. But she didn’t believe in magic, just like she didn’t believe in happy endings.

***

Hours passed before Baba Yaga returned. The burlap sack over her shoulder was heavy with firewood. The old woman ignored Catherine and her brother as she loaded the wood into the vintage stove. The flames became hotter and brighter.

A muttered spell unlocked the kitchen cabinetry. Baba Yaga removed a large roasting pan from a base cabinet. She added large-diced potatoes and carrots and onions to the pan.

The old woman placed the pan on the ledge in front of the open stove door. Pointing at Ivan, she said, “Get in.”

Catherine stepped in front of her brother. “No.” That was not what she had planned. “I’ll go first.”

“Yes, yes, yes. You will taste much better than your brother, little one.” Baba Yaga pinched Catherine’s arm. “There’s more meat to chomp from your bones.” She cackled. “And perhaps you are tall enough to provide two more pickets for my lovely fence.”

Catherine settled into the pan. “Oh, no,” she said. “I’m not such a little one, it seems.” Her legs didn’t fit inside the roaster: one pointed straight up, the other straight down.

The old woman gnashed her metal teeth. “No,” she shouted. “You will not go into the stove that way. Do it again.”

Catherine switched her legs. “Oh, no,” she said. “This isn’t any better.” Now one pointed straight down, the other straight up.

“No,” Baba Yaga yelled. Her gray hair crackled with electricity. “Not like that. Do it again.”

Again, Catherine adjusted her legs. “Oh, no,” she said. “I just can’t get it right.” Both pointed straight out of the pan.

Baba Yaga tossed Catherine from the roaster. The potatoes and carrots and onions fell with her onto the floor. “No!” The witch arranged herself in the pan, her spindly arms and bony legs tucked inside. “This is how you do it.”

Catherine shot up from the floor and shoved the roasting pan into the hot stove. Ivan slammed the stove door shut.

Baba Yaga screeched and pounded against the cast iron.

Catherine grabbed her backpack and her brother’s hand. The rat climbed from the backpack onto her shoulder, his claws digging into the fabric of her hoodie.

“Hurry, children. The flames in the stove will not kill Baba Yaga,” the rat said. “She is a magical creature and must die by magic.”

The front door opened for the children, and the house squatted down. “The house wants to help,” the rat had told them, “despite the risk. It never wanted sentience or giant chicken legs. All it yearns for is to be a normal house once again.”

The children raced from Baba Yaga as fast as they could.

Metal ground against the road. Catherine looked over her shoulder. Baba Yaga was behind them, flying in her mortar. The stove hadn’t harmed her.

Catherine took the rat’s dirty towel from her backpack and threw it to the ground. A wide river appeared, stretching beyond Liberty Court. Baba Yaga couldn’t fly her mortar above its turbulent currents. She stopped to slurp the waters dry.

The children sprinted by the Wilsons’ house, then the Martins’ house. Ivan was panting, but he didn’t fall behind.

Metal scraped against the pavement. Catherine looked over her shoulder. Baba Yaga was again behind them, flying in her mortar. The river hadn’t slowed her.

Catherine took the rat’s hairbrush and flung it at the ground. The sidewalks crumbled, the road cracked, and a thick forest sprang up. Baba Yaga couldn’t pass her mortar between the trees. She stopped to gnaw the wood to splinters with her sharp, iron teeth.

Pine Street was busy with cars. Catherine stood at the corner of Liberty and Pine with her arm across Ivan’s chest. When the pedestrian signal displayed the walking man, she pulled her brother across the road.

Baba Yaga was coming, and Catherine let her approach. Closer. The old woman was bent forward in her seat. Closer. Her head was thrown back as she cackled. Closer. The mortar accelerated. Closer. The shrill scream of the pestle grating against the road was deafening. Ivan clamped his hands over his ears.

Almost…

Catherine took the rat’s comb and hurled it to the ground. It landed in the middle of the street, right in front of Baba Yaga and her mortar. A wall of fire exploded up toward the sky.

Even from the sidewalk, Catherine shied away from the intense heat. Cars entering the intersection honked and skidded away.

Baba Yaga couldn’t fly over the fiery barrier. She couldn’t fly around it. Her pestle-brake squealed, but it was too late. Shrieking, the old woman and her mortar barreled into the enchanted flames.

Caught in the blaze, the witch, Baba Yaga, burned.

***

With Baba Yaga’s death, the night-cloud over Liberty Court vanished. Grass grew, trees sprouted. Catherine’s mother sent a group text, and the neighbors returned. The “For Sale” signs were discarded. Children swarmed the broken sidewalks and waterlogged backyards. Splinters of wood carpeted the road, and all the kids on the cul-de-sac were mad—it was barefoot weather, yet they had to wear shoes.

Mr. Martin, as the president of the Home Owners’ Association, organized an emergency barbeque to celebrate. He and Mr. Wilson spent the morning of the party at Baba Yaga’s house, wielding a chainsaw. Their eyes were wide and wild. Snarls deformed their faces, making them grotesque.

“Please, please don’t kill the house,” Catherine begged. She stood between it and the two men, her arms spread wide. “The house helped save me and Ivan.” Now she had to defend it. “It didn’t hurt anyone. It had been a normal house until Baba Yaga enslaved it, and it hated her for that.”

But the two men didn’t care. “Baba Yaga murdered my son,” Mr. Wilson yelled. Behind him, Mr. Martin began yanking on the starter rope to get the chainsaw running. “Because of your meddling, I can’t kill that goddamned witch. But someone must pay.”

“Don’t punish the house because I killed Baba Yaga.” Catherine pulled on Mr. Wilson’s arm. “I didn’t want to do it. But I had to. For Ivan.”

Mr. Wilson shoved Catherine aside, and she stumbled to the ground. “I will have vengeance, little girl.”

Catherine clambered to her feet. “This is wrong,” she said to the rodent sitting on her shoulder. “I have to stop them.”

“No, child,” the rat said, his voice low so no one would suspect his magical gift of speech. His long whiskers twitched. “Look at them. These men are beyond reason. They will dispatch us both if you again intervene.”

The house tried to flee on its chicken legs but, the rat whispered to Catherine, it couldn’t escape the enchantments that imprisoned it within the fenced-in yard. The two men cornered the house. Terror radiated from its two stories. Its windows banged open and closed.

The chainsaw sputter-buzzed through the chicken feathers and flesh. When the chainsaw failed, the two men hacked at the legs with axes. Blood saturated their clothes and dripped from their hands.

For hours, Catherine witnessed the dismemberment though she wanted to scurry to her bedroom and hide with Ivan under the covers. She had to look; otherwise, no one would remember the bravery of the poor house. The rat buried his head in her long hair, letting only one red eye peek out: the house had been his only friend.

Finally, Baba Yaga’s house, separated from its chicken legs, crashed onto the ground. Its mouthless screams faded, replaced by the wild cheers of the frenzied neighbors crowded onto the street. The loudest shouts came from Catherine’s mother despite her knowing the true story of the house. Catherine heard it all, even with her palms pressed against her ears.

Mrs. Rothman washed the blood away with her garden hose while Danny Wilson’s mother gathered the red-stained white feathers in large yard waste bags. Mrs. Martin butchered the meat, slicing it from the bones. Estelle carted the chicken feet away in a wheelbarrow; “the yellow,” she said, “matches the decor in my basement bedroom.” The kids knocked down the picket fence and threw the bones into a truck sent by the University.

That night, the neighbors feasted on chicken. The stench of grilling meat clouded the air. Dark red barbecue sauce smeared their voracious mouths and savage fingers. The neighbors broke the chicken bones and sucked out the marrow. They circled and jeered the burning carcass of the once magic house. Catherine’s mother joined them. Rick, too—he had slithered back to their house on Liberty Court, and her mother allowed it. That was exactly what Catherine had expected from her mother—a huge disappointment.

Catherine refused to take part in their cruel celebration. She, Ivan, and the talking rat sat alone on a beach towel and shared lemon pasta salad from the grocery store. Everyone glared and grumbled at her. “This is a happy ending,” they all declared. But, as the hero who had slain the evil witch, Catherine knew better: this story had no “happily ever after.”

Monsters still lived on Liberty Court, no matter what the neighbors said.

 

 

Maria Wolfe lives and writes in northeast Ohio, where she also practiced as a surgeon. Her fiction has appeared in The Examined Life Journal, Please See Me, and Coffin Bell. She is currently working on a novel.

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