Aside from Laz, the cat dozing on my lap, I was left alone with my thoughts. The twinkle lights on the Christmas tree felt homey, and traditional holiday music played softly, recalling gilded icons and stained glass. Lovely to have some time off from waitressing and my work as a shaman. I settled deeper into the couch, and at some point, I slept.
Laz pawed at my face, GET UP GET UP GET UP!
I woke to a creaking and groaning of wood. My world tilted, and a vase of flowers in the hallway slipped off its table and crashed. It must be an earthquake. Laz’s claws dug into my thighs. Stupidly, I gripped my throw blanket in clenched fists as the couch slid across the slick bamboo floor.
Then everything tilted the opposite direction, and the couch slid back. A corner of my brain asked if this weren’t unusual activity for an earthquake, but then, I’d never been in one before.
Laz’s fur stood straight up, and she bared her teeth. It’s walking! As I extricated myself from her grip, she clung to the couch.
The house moved forward, swaying right and left like a girl in a swing skirt. We moved along at a good pace, over the neighbor’s lawn and out to the main road. I overcame my terror to crawl out on the porch. Maybe this is how it felt to travel by ostrich, because the house had grown legs and yes, chicken feet, which strode along stepping over cars and hedges.
How was this possible?
It’s those bloody magic dolls, Laz grumped from her place on the oscillating couch.
Maybe so. I pictured them standing on the mantle where I’d displayed them, fabulous Russian nesting dolls my grandmother had left me in her will. But as I crawled into the living room, of course I found them with the rest of the decorations sloshing around my house. Snatching up the littlest one, the size of a peanut in a shell, I crawled back outside onto the porch.
Where were we going? We’d reached the beach and, therefore, had run out of island in that direction, so we turned and followed the coast. Gentle waves lapped in the moonlight. We got to the inlet, where the house clucked and flapped its doors like wings. Maybe this would be a good time to turn around.
On hands and knees, I scrambled to the kitchen to find anything a house might eat. Cracker Jacks were basically popped corn, right? I jumped to the ground and sprinkled the kernels out behind us, the way we came.
The house turned and scratched the sand and, oh no, pitched forward to peck the ground! I leapt aside just in time before it smashed its front porch against the ground, and being top-heavy, it fell over. Its useless chicken legs were struggling in mid-air. What a shame, it had been a lovely cottage, there on the cove with the others.
Should I call the fire department? Clenching my teeth to control my shaking, I climbed back into the kitchen to dial 911. After I described what had happened, the dispatcher forwarded my call to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Agonizing minutes later, sirens and the sound of large trucks rumbled toward me. Fish and Wildlife had come out with a crane and flatbed.
“Are you Baba Yaga?” a man with a badge asked.
Babushka, my grandmother had been called that. Now I’d inherited both the name and the gifts, apparently. “I guess I am. News to me.”
He gave me a strange look and a form to sign. “Well, can you fly in a mortar and pestle?”
I shrugged. “Never tried it. Don’t know.”
Meanwhile, others in uniform had inspected my struggling abode and decided it was possible to replace the house on its pad. Mr. In Charge motioned to the crane operator, who worked his levers, picking up the house and setting it on the flatbed. I considered calling my friend Drigo, but didn’t want to wake him.
Our cottage walked away, I messaged.
He was awake and replied. With you in it?
Yeah, but I’m on the ground now.
Are you hurt? he asked.
No, I’m fine. A flower vase broke. I think a railing is damaged.
Did you put it back? he asked.
The house, he answered.
Oh. Yes, we’re doing it now.
Okay, good. I’ll be there as soon as I can. He sent a little heart.
I sent one back.
“You want to ride in the house?” the officer asked me. “That might keep it calmer. Maybe play some soothing music.”
I doubted it, but did as he suggested, taking Laz along with me. I turned on the stereo, which by some miracle, still worked. The classical station played The Nutcracker, a Christmas favorite. Laz and I took places on the front porch as we rumbled down the road on top of the flat bed, a merry holiday parade behind the mobile crane.
Our procession had just reached the naked foundation where our home should be, when the Russian Dance came on the radio. Apparently, the house loved this music as much I did. It stood up and jumped off the truck, while Laz and I tumbled to the ground.
My house leapt forward in a Cossack-style dance—down to a crouch and springing up and kicking, down to the ground and up again, its chicken toes extending into the air, doors flapping wide. My heart raced with the notes of the Tchaikovsky classic and the house’s running steps.
Suddenly, I knew what to do. Gripping the tiniest Babushka doll tightly in my left hand, I ran back into my yard to find kayak and paddle.
Was I really Baba Yaga? Time to find out. I jumped into the boat with Laz right behind me. She had barely settled in my lap when the kayak rose into the air. I followed my cottage, its quick-quick, chicken steps carrying it forward. Now it stopped to scratch the ground and attempted to peck at a worm with its roof.
“House!” I called out. But the music swelled, and it executed a series of straddle jumps—one, two, three, four splits high in air, toes reaching the height of its internal ears. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve! I couldn’t help being impressed by its athleticism.
“Bravo!” I cheered and waved my paddle.
Don’t encourage it, Laz warned.
Perhaps she was right. In any case, as the song reached its crescendo, the cottage performed a number of turns on one leg, notoriously difficult, sending it crashing through a row of hedges into the next yard.
Steering the kayak after it, I searched my mind and came up with the Russian word for house—it rhymed with home. “Dom!” I called to it, and it paused, along with the music.
I landed my kayak near it. How to make eye contact?
Peering into its windows, I slipped my consciousness inside its brain, such as it was, in the crawl space full of pink insulation. At last I felt on more familiar territory, since my duties as shaman often called for communing with untamed creatures. I praised the house for its performance and made soothing noises, willing it cluck-cluck back to its foundation. It complied, perhaps worn out from its exertion, and there it settled, as if on a nest.
Drigo’s taxi pulled up and before it stopped rolling, he sprang out, eyes wide with wonder. “Everything okay?” he called out.
I smiled. “Sure, nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“How did this happen?”
I opened my palm to reveal the littlest Babushka doll. “A little Christmas magic, I guess.”
Drigo shook his head. “This is why I’m a Buddhist.”