It's an odd experience to have a doll who's been sitting on your hutch for years suddenly speak to you. "That," I said, "is a matter of opinion."
"You are not happy?" Matushka exclaimed, the circles on her cheeks turning pinker at this shocking revelation.
"Sorry. It's not you, I'm just having a bad day."
"Hmm--we are--how you say--havink confidential!" she said, clearly believing she'd recalled an appropriate phrase. The little Russian nesting doll in her peasant dress and babushka was definitely enjoying herself.
"When I get up at dawn, I want to experience a beautiful sunrise, not hike into a creepy forest where I'll meet someone who gave me nightmares as a child.."
"Is adventure and learnink experience!" she said with great enthusiam. Matushka had been riding in my tummy pack facing forward, but now she swivelled around to look me in the face.
"Going to meet Baba Yaga is--disconcerting," I said, not adding that it had creeped me out when in the blink of an eye our entire tour group had disappeared leaving us alone.
"You are afraid of her?" the bow lips pursed, as she tried to suppress an amused smile, and her eyes twinkled.
"She scared the chicken soup out of me when I was a kid--pinching Hansel's finger to see if he was plump enough to eat, poisoning Snow White with that apple!"
"You are grown woman, surely you know the difference beteen real fear and fairy tales," she chided.
"Her fence is made of bones."
"A reminder of death, that is all."
"Her hut sits on chicken legs!"
"Is funny, no?" she chortled.
"She zooms around in a morter pounding on anything that gets in her way with a pestle."
The doll shivered. "Be careful!"
"Another thing. Don't you think it's a bit much for the Enchantress to make us walk all the way? It's fine for the young ones, but some of us are getting too old for this kind of thing. We deserve some respect, a little kindness and understanding."
"Good point!" she exclaimed. "Remember it. Now, we are gettink close, is time for me to hide." She wiggled and squirmed until she was lying down inside my pouch and then whispered, "Zip quickly."
Matushka was right, we'd walked and talked the morning away and Crypt Lake was clearly visible through each gap in the trees. "I wish they'd named it something else," I muttered, but all I heard in return was a muffled,"Shhh!"
Despite Matushka's former assurances, I found myself walking more and more slowly as a feeling of dread began to build. Earlier the birds had been singing and a cool morning breeze had ruffled through the leaves, but now the heat was oppresive and as it approached noon, the only sounds I heard were my labored breathing and my lagging footsteps crunching the twig-littered dirt path.
I nearly stumbled over something snagged in a circlet of plastic from a soda six-pack. It went mute and froze in terror as I bent down to have a closer look. Puffed up like a blow fish, its spines extended, a tiny hedgehog lay on his back with his little legs poking straight out. I took a pair of manicure scissors from my pack and held my breath as I snipped, praying I wouldn't cut anything vital. After I put it right side up, it hesitated a moment as though I'd frightened it to death, then scurried off into the underbrush.
For some reason the opportunity of doing a small kindness cheered me but my courage nearly failed again, when a few minutes later I came upon a small clearing in the woods and saw Baba Yaga's hut with its bone fence surrounding it.
"Thinks are not always what the seem," I heard Matushka whisper.
"Riiight. . . . . ."