An extract from Sharon Blackie’s new short story collection, Foxfire, Wolfskin and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women (September publishing, £14.99 hardback, out now)
Meeting Baba Yaga
I saw her ad in Resurgence magazine the day I came back from my first time at the Glastonbury Festival. I was trying to cope with a magic mushroom hangover, and still having flashbacks. It hadn’t been a bad trip, but the talking mailboxes were a bit weird. ‘Journey to the Bone House’, the ad said. ‘Shapeshifting a speciality.’ I’d recently done a weekend course in shamanic journeying, but it hadn’t felt like the real thing. One of the teachers came from Peru, or somewhere weird like that, and I couldn’t understand a word he said. I wanted to connect properly with my power animal, and this looked just the job.
It was a long way to go, but frankly I needed a holiday. I was feeling the call to adventure, I suppose you could say. Things at work were dragging me down, and I really needed to spend some more time on my own self-development. I’d been trying to find myself for two years now, and if the Russian woods were the next step on the Heroine’s Journey of my life, then the Russian woods it would be. I felt as if I’d done all the right things, so far – moved down to Totnes, read everything from Louise Hay to Deepak Chopra, subscribed to Kindred Spirit. I’d dabbled in Buddhism and Wicca; done a course on past-life regression – the lot. But somehow it just wasn’t happening for me. The Secret didn’t give up its secret. The universe just wasn’t aligning, you know?
So: a week in the taiga it was. It’d probably be a bit fresh there in early October, but it’d make a nice change from my usual yearly yoga retreats on Skyros. I packed my angel cards; I packed my portable altar. I packed my newly minted copy of The Power of Now. And away I went.
It was the human skulls on top of the fenceposts that gave the place away. Though I have to say, it wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting. Every one of them had a candle inside, eye sockets all lit up, grinning away in the late afternoon gloom like some half-crazed band of jack-o’-lanterns. Not exactly your average turnip. So a bit of internal reprocessing was required. If she was going to turn out to be some weird Russian goth, then I could go with that . . . maybe. Because then I saw that the fenceposts were actually bones. And the gate looked like it was made out of a ribcage. It had a skeleton’s hand for a latch and a lock made of clacking teeth. Oh, come on! I thought to myself. What was this – some kind of oddball, super-boreal Hallowe’en-themed Disneyland? But then it got worse: I saw the house. If you could call it that. More like a madwoman’s hut. It seemed like a regular sort of log cabin until you looked down at the ground – and then you saw it was perched on a pair of giant chicken feet! I kid you not – chicken feet!
‘What the f—’ I began, but my companions just sniggered. We’d all met up at the airport to share a ride, because apparently this place was sort of ‘out of the way’. Out of the way? It had taken us three hours through the forest in a clapped-out old minibus with a driver who looked like Igor out of one of those old Dracula movies, and any minute now I was expecting the bats to come swooping out of the trees. I was knackered, and this was frankly freaking me out. It was all right for them; they’d already told me they’d been here before – well, four of them had, anyway. Except for me, and an Irishwoman called Deirdre. And Deirdre was turning out to be one of those really irritating people who just take everything in their stride. And who stand about grinning inanely while Rome’s burning and the barbarians are gathering at the gates, you know? Saying, ‘Ah sure, we’ll work it out.’
So anyway. We all climb out of the minibus, stagger a bit as we try to get our arms and legs moving again in the cold, rub our eyes – and then all of a sudden, all these blood-curdling screeches start coming from the house. No, I’m not making all this up! It sounded like a klaxon going off; it sounded like the end of the world. I almost wet myself; I’d been dying for a pee for the past hour, but old Igor wasn’t exactly the kind of bloke you asked. I looked at the house again, and it was shaking. Moving from side to side on its stupid bony chicken legs, shimmying in time with its own shrieks. And then I realised something else strange about it: I couldn’t see any doors or windows; couldn’t see any way we could possibly get in. That’s assuming we’d ever want to. And I can tell you, it wasn’t anything I was counting on wanting right now. If all this seriously screwy malarkey carried on for much longer, I was getting back in that minibus and scuttling off down the road with Igor. I’d cosy up with my power animal some other time, thank you very much. Preferably in Totnes.
An extract from Meeting Baba Yaga, one of the stories in Sharon Blackie’s new short story collection, Foxfire, Wolfskin and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women (September publishing, £14.99 hardback, out now)
Charged with drama and beauty, this memorable collection by a master storyteller weaves a magical world of possibility and power from female myths of physical renewal, creation and change.
It is an extraordinary immersion into the bodies and voices, mindscapes and landscapes, of the shape-shifting women of our native folklore.
Drawing on myth and fairy tales found across Europe – from Croatia to Sweden, Ireland to Russia – Sharon Blackie brings to life women’s remarkable ability to transform themselves in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. These stories are about coming to terms with our animal natures, exploring the ways in which we might renegotiate our fractured relationship with the natural world, and uncovering the wildness – and wilderness – within.
‘I didn’t just love the fox, you see – I wanted to be her. Longed for it, as I had never longed for anything in my life. To be sleek and fast; to be beautiful and fierce, feral and unconstrained. To run wherever I wanted to run, to make my dark home in the belly of the fecund earth, to hunt at dawn in the wildness of a moonlit wood.’
EXTRACT FROM ‘FOXFIRE’
‘Part rally cry, part warning, part manifesto and all parts enchanting, Sharon Blackie’s Foxfire, Wolkskin is a deeply evocative and haunting collection. Humming with the strength of our immutable voices, each story sings with the transformation that is possible when women take agency of our lives. I want to press this powerful book into the hands of everyone I know and say, listen.’
HOLLY RINGLAND, AUTHOR OF THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART
‘Sharon Blackie has wrought a new-old magic for our times: glorious, beautiful, passionate myths written for this critical moment in time. They show who we could have been, and they give us a glimpse of a world-that-could-be. There’s still time to make it happen.’
MANDA SCOTT, AUTHOR OF THE BEST-SELLING BOUDICA SERIES AND A TREACHERY OF SPIES