Once upon a time in the deepest corner of the darkest forest, in a place – that was no proper place at all, sat a cottage. If anyone thought to ask where it came from, they would receive more answers than a WebMD symptoms checker, though the probability of death would be just as high for those who chose to venture too close. It was an eccentric little cottage, constructed like no other, just like it’s occupant. The floor of the cottage rested on a giant pair of chicken legs that kept the home in constant motion, spinning to deter those pesky solicitors. (No one needed three Encyclopedia Britannica’s and she was quite satisfied with her pest control.) Surrounding the cabin was a white picket fence constructed of human femurs with skulls perched atop each post like finials. The house would not stop spinning until the words, “little house, little house, turn your back to the forest and your front to me” were spoken. The first story of the home’s open floor plan consisted of a sitting room, receiving room, and craft studio, with an attached greenhouse nestled between the ritual room and the kitchen because sometimes making potions in the same space as one prepares food can be — problematic.
Every Sunday its occupant is host to others of her ilk as they work on their latest cross stitch projects and enjoy tacos. No one who frequented this house believed that tacos should only be savored only on Tuesdays, and felt it was a travesty that some people thought so! It has come to be known, affectionately, as ‘Stitch and Witch’ to those who frequent the gatherings. The wonderful smell of homemade tortillas and taco spices emanated from the modest kitchen. On this particular Sunday three women sat scattered about, all in various stages in their projects. Today’s occupants are Asteria, the Greek titan of prophetic dreams and falling stars. She was one of the beings who successfully evaded Zues’ lust, she did so by turning into a quail and then diving into the sea becoming the island of Delos. Even now she tends to grow roots when she stays in a place for too long. La Befana, a cantankerous crone whose origins are unknown. Some believe that she was the pre-Christian goddess Strenia, goddess of the new year, well-being, strength, and purification. Others believe that her roots reside in Christian Italy as an old woman, turned immortal witch, who brings good children presents on the Eve of Epiphany, while she gives those who have misbehaved coal. Lastly is Baba Yaga, depending on the story she may be a goddess or witch, villain or mentor, evil or difficult; from Slavic folklore who — likes to make her own rules — and is the owner of the cottage in which our story takes place.
We often get caught up in the hot topics of today, but what happens when the immortals do? Do those who have been around for years enjoy watching reality TV? Do they enjoy TV at all? In the corner of the room, La Befana sits in an old rocking chair, the motion of the chair causing a plank in the wood floor underneath to creak with her motion.
“I feel like kids today are so different than the way they used to be. Seemingly younger in some ways but older, more mature in others. They understand science in a way that is second nature and technology as though it is an extension of themselves, yet fairy tales have gone from tales of caution to always being happily ever after for all involved. These bambini today. They expect rewards when they have not been deserved. I blame this new tradition of giving participation trophies — bah! Now they all expect to receive gifts even if they are undeserving.”
“I am surprised to hear this coming from you. Are you not the one who gives all children presents on the Eve of Epiphany?” Asteria lifts a single brow.
“I only give gifts to bambini who have been good. If they have been bad, they get coal. I do not believe they should get something if it is not deserved.”
“Is coal not also a gift? It is something they didn’t have before, and it is useful, perhaps more so than treats, which is the real gift?” Asteria muses to herself, though her voice is loud enough to carry to the others.
“Participation trophies! I love participation trophies!” Baba Yaga booms in thick Russian as her hands abandon her project to raise high coming together in a single clap.
Befana’s mouth opened, then closed brows knitting together. “Really, Baba Yaga? I thought on this we would agree. Participation trophies serve no purpose except to make children believe they are always deserving — even if they do. Not. Try.” LaBefana accentuated the last words while stabbing her three-inch needle into the air.
“No, my dear Befana. It is not the participation trophies, but how those who receive them react after; like Dumbo’s feather. It is much like the practices that I have been doing for centuries. They bring out the truth.” Asteria and Befana look up at each other over their work, then at Baba Yaga, eyebrows raised to their hairlines.
“Baba,” Asteria says, drawing the name higher in question, “I think you have grasped the wrong end of the stick, please explain how cannibalism, dismemberment, and incineration would ever be compared to participation trophies.”
A coy look came over Baba Yaga’s face, “I don’t know, I participated and they were my trophies.” She gestured outside to where her fence of human bones surrounded them with a long cackle as she rocked back in her pestel with glee. “Really, Asteria, I have never actually eaten anyone, merely threatened to do so. I prefer my meals to be organic and not contain antibiotics or preservatives.” As Asteria glared at her, Baba Yaga’s hand began to smoke.
“Alright, alright! There is no sense of humor today!” Rolling her eyes, shaking away the first licks of flame from her hand. “My point, my dears,” emphasis on the last word was punctuated with a tight smile in Asteria’s direction, “is that participation trophies feed entitlement only if a child is already entitled. Such is not the fault of the trophy. Look at my dear sweet Vasilisa. Her doll was very similar to a participation trophy. She was told to treasure it, care for it, and treat it well, in return the doll would do the same for her. She did as she was told, understanding that she would have to continue to work in order for the doll to continue to help her. She did nothing to get the doll itself other than to be born to her father. You get what you give this is all that I am saying. I also greatly enjoy the chaos that comes from the parents!” She finishes with a grin showcasing her iron canines.
“What was it you were saying about not eating people?” Asteria said with a chuckle under her breath.
“I started a trend, didn’t you know? Metal teeth are ‘in’ now.”
Befana interrupted her friend’s banter before they got too far off the topic that she had not finished venting on. “I feel you proved my point more than your own. She continued to treasure the doll and it helped her in return. These bambini continue to do nothing, yet they get these trophies every season, and from the respective leagues, no less! If you wish to speak of Vasilisa, wouldn’t the trophy have been the flaming skull you gave her for completing her work?”
“The one that incinerated her step sister’s.” Asteria said completely all her focus on her project.
Baba Yaga flicked her finger in the air in Asteria’s direction, causing her embroidery that had been levitating in the air to take a sudden fall to the floor. “The skull was a trophy, but it was more of a first place trophy. Not only did it give her light, it got rid of the problems she was having at home, burning them a cinder.”
“That actually made sense.” La Befana said, knitting her eyebrows together. However by that logic, wouldn’t their trophy be simply playing the game, or getting the jersey?”
Baba Yaga’s head tilted slightly from side to side in contemplation. “I think not. A uniform is by definition, a requirement, that is also used to differentiate teams, and participation trophies have not taken away the placement trophies.”
Asteria was now holding her work, rather than allowing her powers to hold it in place. “I think I agree with Baba Yaga, It is much like Hecate’s crossroads. The participation trophy acts as a crossroads, once you have it you must choose what you do with it.”
La Befana was staring at the floor without actually seeing it, her arms crossed over her torso. “By this logic,” she said, nodding her head in an unconscious gesture, “my coal is also a trophy, it simply is a useful trophy, rather than one to cause excitement. I like this, unfortunately, you are not taking into account the parents and my having to deal with them. Even when I leave coal, they now replace it with treats. What am I to do with the parents? Must I teach them to stop?”
“It is not our job to teach them, only to react in kind. Or in Baba Yaga’s case, react in kind to the deserving while torturing everyone else.” The corner of Asteria’s mouth twitched then added. “Whether they rest on their laurels or continue to fight for them.”
“I object!” Baba Yaga straightens, puffing out her chest. “It is absolutely in kind. We simply have different views on accountability.”
“You really need to stop watching SVU, Baba, you now ‘object’ to something at least once every Sunday.” LaBefana gestures in the air to brush off her friends’ melodramatic ways. “Shall I send the parents to you then?”
“Please do! I need to restructure my fence, bone is impossible to keep clean!” The three ladies went back to their projects, all laughing quietly to themselves.