The Reimagined Baba Yaga
By Izzy Astuto
There’s not always a place in any afterlife for a dead soul. Sometimes a soul has done nothing worthy of Heaven or Hell, subscribed to no specific religion and followed it to the bitter end, nor committed their life to sin so fully there is no other option than the fiery pits. And after all these years of those who are completely average, having remained non-believers, having stayed utterly unremarkable their entire lives… well, Purgatory is quite full. Leaving them undead, wandering the Earth for eternity, cursed simply by chance, is too cruel even for Death. Most of those people don’t deserve a punishment that bold. Besides, creating the supernatural has proven to be a bit too sticky for someone with a job as simple as Death’s. So naturally, a solution evolved. As Death enters into people’s homes, plucking an underweight newborn from their cradle or the frail, fragile elder crumpled at the bottom of the stairs, another stands and watches the extraction. Hunched and withered, skin decaying, the creature’s stare causes even a spirit to shiver in terror. And Death sighs, shielding their face, for even Death can feel disdain, disgust, and a little bit of fear. And the being, or beings, or thing, inhales the soul. The few times Death has allowed themselves to watch, even just a little bit, they haven’t been disgusted by the way it makes the process of eating an intangible thing so messy and gory they might as well be devouring the corpse’s heart. No, they are instead horrified (and the tiniest bit fascinated), by its reaction after finishing its meals. The creature’s skin flushes and its hair becomes sleek and lucious. Its spine straightens and skin becomes smoother, resembling something closer to human flesh as opposed to its usual mildew. For just a moment, the person’s essence does something to revitalize this thing that has no way of feeling true life on its own, and the hunger that Death sees in its eyes makes them miss the days where collecting souls was a solitary venture. But then the life disappears, extinguished by the aura of rot and dirt and finality surrounding Death’s companion, and it gives them a single nod before scrambling back to its hut, bounding after Death as they travel just a bit faster this time around, hoping one of these days it will never have to hear the skittering claw steps behind them ever again.
Izzy Astuto (they/he) is a writer currently majoring in Creative Writing at Emerson College, with minors in Journalism and Media Studies.
His work has previously been published by jfa human rights journal and Moonscape Press, amongst others. They are currently a Poetry Reader for hand picked poetry. Their Instagram is izzy.astuto.