Hexed in Texas

Prologue


Baba Yaga peered into the blizzard, squinting one sulphur-yellow eye as gray hair lashed her face. She bent a cavernous ear to listen to the howling of the wolves and grinned. The ruby in her incisor glinted. “Tak, tak,” she muttered, “Molodtsy. Good boyses.” She had heard the sound too rarely in recent times, especially in the last hundred years.

    Events were awhirl, after long stagnation. She lofted her colossal nose and breathed deep: mud and decay and steel and tar, laced with wormwood. Faint and far away, she caught a whiff of something else. Her yellow eye popped open. Could it be—after all this time? She scrunched both eyes shut to sniff harder. Her nostrils distended until she was almost borne aloft. The scent was nearly imperceptible. But it was there—far, far away. On the other side of the world. Amidst the swirling snow, with her black dress whipping her bony frame, she strode through the skull-topped gate back to her hut.

    The mottled yellow legs of the hut squatted hastily as she approached. The door swung open with a creak. Ignoring the snow gusting in behind her, Baba Yaga grabbed the mirror that hung above the huge mortar and pestle. The copper face of the mirror was framed on three sides with oak carved into snouts and fangs and tails and horns. The fourth side was unframed.

    Baba Yaga squinted at the dull surface of the mirror. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she growled a long incantation. She concentrated on the elusive scent: dank and rich and salty.

    The surface of the mirror clouded then resolved itself into a dim image: vehicles threaded among buildings. She scowled as the image wavered, clenching the mirror so hard that it winced. The street scene was replaced by a swirl of impressions: lilting music, a crumbling stone façade, a spicy taste. The picture was fading again. She slapped the mirror, which yielded one last convulsive image: six gaudy banners. Above them shone a solitary star.

    A lone star.

    Baba Yaga had no time to pack. The surface of the mirror was already growing matte. She placed it on the floor, snatching a bundle from the mantel above the fireplace and her twig broom, which gave a little shriek. She glanced around the room. The mortar and pestle were too heavy to carry. Clutching her bundle and broom, she stepped through the mirror, grabbing the frame at the last instant and pulling the mirror itself after her.