Yasmine stood at her cauldron and read the spell over once more. She mentally checked off each item needed for the task, then set her grimoire on the small wooden table beside her. She hoped to have a wonderful Harvest supper with her extended family this year. The whole Babushka family was coming in from out of town. It had been so long since anyone wandered by Yasmine’s old cottage. She was due for some company.
She grabbed the long wooden ladle and stirred the boiling contents in the cauldron. Three chicken feet to heal the void of company. Five cups of water. The added balance would see that she received a boy and a girl. A half a teaspoon each of allspice, cinnamon, and cloves to attract the children to her. And a tablespoon of poppy seeds to confuse the two little imps into thinking Yasmine meant them no harm.
She swiped the oven mitts from the hook by the fireplace, heaved the heavy cauldron, and carried it outside. It was difficult work carting the steaming pot to the far corner of her tiny hut, but she managed. Setting the cauldron in the sparse grass, Yasmine ladled the mixture into the ground, around the base of her house. Making certain the liquid seeped into both the muddied ground and the wooden planks of her house, she circled the entire perimeter of her hut. While she did this, she mumbled the incantation to herself.
“From the village yonder, have them flee. Children that wander, bring them to me. As I will it, so mote it be.”
When she finished with her task, Yasmine returned to the cool dankness that was her humble abode. The children would be along with time, and she needed to search for her mother’s coveted stuffing recipe. No Babushka Harvest feast was complete without it. There were two places the list of ingredients could be. She inspected the few recipes she kept by her desk. No luck. Her shoulders slumped as she turned to look inside her cookbook closet.
Yasmine stepped up to the corner cupboard in the kitchen. She sighed and opened the doors. Two spiral-bound cookbooks and a series of single recipes, written on paper, tumbled to the floor at her feet. Knowing her mother’s recipe was one of the loose papers, she picked those up first. Of course, none of them were what she was looking for.
After digging for and unfolding each recipe, Yasmine still had yet to uncover the sought after instructions. A crooked smile crept onto her face, however, when she heard the unmistakable sound of children laughing. Her spell had worked.
She scrambled to the window, floorboards creaking underfoot. There they played, tossing a ball around. The girl a short one with chubby little arms and a red cape draped over her shoulders. The boy was taller than her but only by a few inches. His pudgy cheeks were just as rosy as the other one’s cape. Each had a candied stick hanging from its mouth. Splendid!
“Marketa dropped the ball,” the boy yelled. “I score two points!”
“And that’s all you’ll get, Johann,” the girl replied.
Yasmine tugged at her tattered dress and brushed her hair back with her hands. Hanging her head out the window she yelled, “Good day, children. Art thou from the village?”
“Yes, ma’am,” both children responded.
“Well then, you have come a far distance. Please, come inside. Rest your little bodies.”
The children looked at each other for a brief moment then the boy hustled into the hut. The girl’s mouth dropped open. Her candy fell out. She left it behind and followed the boy into the hut.
Their heavenly scent wafted through the doorway and made Yasmine’s mouth water. “Go. Sit by the fire and warm yourselves. I was just searching for a favorite recipe. When I’m through, we may start the cooking.”
The boy, Johann, removed the candy from his mouth. “Thank you, good woman.” He shoved the stick back, turned, and joined his companion beside the hearth.
Yasmine returned to searching for the recipe, thoughts of the impending feast making her hungry. She inspected each individual recipe and still didn’t come across the one she was looking for. She picked the two fallen cookbooks up and quickly flipped through the pages. More loose recipes came to her attention, but none were the one she needed. Yasmine selected another cookbook from the cupboard and was delighted when her mother’s instructions stared up at her.
Harvest Stuffing Recipe
o ½ pound child meat, browned and drained
o 8 Tbs. butter
o 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
o ½ cup celery, diced
o ½ cup carrots, diced
o ½ cup onion, diced
o 2 cloves garlic, minced
o 4 cups beef broth
o 3 cups day-old sourdough bread, cubed
o 2 cups day-old cornbread, cubed
o 2 eggs
o 3 tsp. paprika
o 2 tsp. dried thyme
o Salt and pepper to taste
Dice child meat and brown in a cauldron. Skim fat from the surface. To the cauldron, add butter and allow to melt. Add mushrooms, celery, carrots, onion, and garlic. Cook until tender. Stir in broth and bring to a bubble. Remove from heat and let cool.
Whisk eggs with paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir in bread cubes and child meat, mix until evenly coated. Combine broth mixture and bread, stir well. Allow to sit over an open flame until heated through.
Now all Yasmine needed to do was think of how to handle the children. She decided to carry the task out in the yard. The last time she slaughtered a brat, blood reached the ceiling. Not that anything so drastic was necessary this time, but out there, any fluids would leak onto the ground. If rain didn’t wash it away, the woodland animals would lap it up.
“You know, children,” Yasmine said. “I’ve been cooped up in my hut, here, all day. How would you like to play a game?”
“We like games,” Johann said, biting down on his candied stick.
“Which one would you like to play?” Marketa asked.
“Well,” Yasmine said. “I’ve got a set of blindfolds and a strand of bells. How about a game of jingling?”
Johann jumped and cheered. Marketa squinted, put a hand to her chin, and then nodded. Yasmine told them where the blindfolds and bells were, and the children leaped to retrieve them. While they were occupied, Yasmine grabbed her dagger from the desk and concealed it in the folds of her long skirt.
Outside, the sun was high in the sky, but it did nothing to dry the soggy land around the house. Birds, rodents, and other small animals left their prints as they walked in search of food. A gentle breeze blew, rustling the leaves in the trees.
“For the first round,” Yasmine said. “I’ll be ‘it.’”
“Don’t worry” Johann said. “I’ll catch you.”
“Not if I get to her first,” Marketa said.
“We’ll see who catches who,” Yasmine said. “Now come. Get your blindfolds on.”
Johann came running, Marketa followed behind. When the knots were in place, Yasmine bent over and picked up the bells. She held them steady in her hand. She didn’t want to get tagged at all, let alone within the first minute of the game.
In order to make the game convincing, she would need to put some distance between herself and the children. The soles of her shoes stuck in the mud as she walked toward the closest tree. She stepped over a root and nearly tripped on a large boulder that was partially buried in the ground. Then she crept behind the trunk. Stretching her arm out, she shook the strand of bells.
Marketa giggled. Johann smiled. Both of them turned, one to the left, the other to the right. Yasmine shook the bells again. The children corrected their directions and headed toward her. She shook the instruments again.
Marketa paused and calked her head, as if trying to determine if she was following the right path. Johann ran. His foot slipped, but he was able to keep himself from falling. He took three more steps and tripped over the large tree root sticking out of the ground.
Yasmine smirked at the boy’s misfortune. She reached for the dagger in her skirt and went for him. Her foot stuck in the mud. She tried to jerk free and her body lurched forward. The dagger went flying. Yasmine tried to catch her fall, but her hand slipped on the sodden ground. Her head smacked the giant rock. She screamed. Johann wailed in agony.
Yasmine’s head throbbed, but she managed to look in the boy’s direction. He ripped the blindfold from his head and cried out again. The dagger, with its hilt pointed toward the sky, impaled his forearm.
“Johann,” Marketa yelled. She pulled her blindfold down around her neck and ran for her companion. She crouched down beside him and hastily pulled on the blade. Johann howled as the dagger slithered out. Marketa tossed it aside.
Yasmine, though in much pain, scrambled to her feet. Marketa helped Johann stand. The children held hands as they ran. They darted around the tree, and Yasmine charged forward. She grabbed the dagger. Blood rolled into her eyes, and she swiped it away. She fell again. Desperately, she strained to reach the children.
Her hand found Johann’s calf. He toppled and let go of Marketa. Yasmine scurried to her knees.
Marketa grabbed onto Johann’s arm. A grisly game of tug-of-war ensued. Grunts and screams came from all of them.
Yasmine’s hand began to slip. She plunged the blade forward and it met with the earth. Her grip on Johann was easing. She dug her nails into his flesh. Marketa continued to pull. Johann screamed as Yasmine bloodied his leg. Soon, her fingers met with the leather of Johann’s clog. She clenched her hand, and suddenly, all she had left was the shoe.
She watched as the children ran. Marketa was always two steps in front of Johann. They never looked back.