*Part 6 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.
The night before the bus comes the kids are tasked with coming up with and presenting their own religions. They spend the whole day preparing so I take a long walk to the closest shop two kilometers down the road.
At night everyone is gathered in the main hall. I don’t understand much but I am no less impressed by the things the children have made. One group comes out all taped up with pillows.
“We are the church of Pillowism!” They declare.
They sing a song and then everyone smothers each other. It goes on for maybe an hour; Instagramism, David bowieism, Dancism. Finally, the last group is up. They are dressed in tribal gear. They sit in a circle and sway and chant. The room goes silent and somehow, darker.
“What is going on?” I whisper to C. But, C is transfixed a sick, unreadable, look on her face. No one in the hall is moving, even the pillow people who’ve already come back to life. I listen close, in and among the chanting I keep hearing the same words over and over.
“Baba Yaga…Baba Yaga…”
“STOP!” K cries, standing up and throwing himself into the middle of the circle. The kids fall back, dazed.
“Hmm,” C whispers beside me. K turns and looks at us.
“C, stay here. Don’t let anyone leave. You, come with me.” he dashes out of the hall. I run after him.
“Where are we going?” I ask, trying to keep up. He doesn’t answer.
“I knew it, I knew it–stupid!” He berates himself in Russian.
Soon we find ourselves outside the disco hall. It sits there, no longer black sticks and ash. I frown at it, something is wrong. Then, I realize. There is no door. It is just a blank slab of wall.
“Hut, Hut!” K calls. “Turn your back to the forest and your front to me!”
I watch as the disco hall starts to turn. K doesn’t wait for it to get all the way around. He runs, pale. I don’t even bother trying to keep up with him. When I get to the hall, I can feel the fear and tension. K is looking around the room, counting heads. He is just finishing as I enter.
“Did you see Ivan outside?” he asks.
I shrug, “which Ivan, there are like five.”
“Did you see anyone outside?”
I shake my head.
“Who hasn’t died five times?” he calls over the crowd, in Russian. Two of the campers raise their hands. he pulls out a gun and shoots them. He sighs.
“Does anyone remember, did Ivan die five times?” Is what I think he says.
None of the campers say a word. He turns on the group all dressed in tribal gear.
“Who taught you!” he demands. One of the girls, the youngest, begins to cry. They look scared. Another, a boy named Roman lifts his hand to point. I follow his finger.
C sits on the couch picking something out of her teeth. They look wrong for some reason. Everyone in the room is watching her.
“What?” she asks, innocent. Then she smiles, “oh, right” she stands, stretches and begins to grow. Her teeth, now full and iron, jut out from her mouth. Her two eyes pop like blowfish. She is laughing. She stands up and starts walking through the crowd of children. She reaches down and scratches the top of one of their heads. K stands on the other side of the crowd.
“You,” she points at him, “are going to bring me back to Russia. Or, you will never leave this place.” She raises an eyebrow, “You suspected too late my dear, I’ve spent years pushing myself into this girls mind,–” she shudders, “every time she died, I got a little more, and a little more–” she smiles her great ugly iron teeth, “me.”
K doesn’t look angry, he looks defeated.
“Where is Ivan?” he asks.
Baba Yaga shrugs, patting her belly.
“What do you want?”
Baba Yaga smiles, “it is simple, you will smuggle me back into Russia and I will give you your Ivan back. If not, well I think being trapped for eternity with a bunch of tasty kids doesn’t sound so bad to me.”
“How,” K growls.
“Hair, I will turn myself into a single strand of hair on a single child. You won’t know which one. There I will stay and when we get to Russia you will bring all of the children to the forest. Someone will come and retrieve me.”
There is silence in the room. K nods. With that, Baba Yaga takes a breath, she coughs twice, grunts once, and vomits Ivan out onto the floor.
“Pity,” she grumbles. Then, vanishes. Ivan, covered in slime, rolls onto his back.
K, scratching just under his beard, walks up and shoots Ivan between the eyes.
“Everyone go to bed,” he says.
As he walks out he turns, “no snacks tonight,” he tells everyone. A few students pout but no one dares to argue.
TO BE CONTINUED…