Graham Masterton

The September Special Guest Writer is Graham Masterton

Feel free to visit Graham HERE


by Graham Masterton

“That’s all of them?” asked Grace, as Kasia came down the stairs, carrying a bundled-up blanket in her arms.

“The very last one,” said Kasia. She lifted the corner of the blanket to reveal a boy of about three years old, with a white face and bright red lips and curly black hair. His eyes kept rolling upward and off to the left, and his chin was glistening with dribble. This was little Andrzej, who was suffering from cerebral palsy and a heart murmur.

“Thank God for that,” said Grace. “Now let’s hope they knock this terrible place down.”

She took a long look around the hallway: at the faded olive-green wallpaper and the stringy brown carpet, and the sagging red vinyl couch where visitors were supposed to sit. The windows on either side of the front door were tinted yellow, so that even the air looked as if were poisoned.

“So many children have suffered here,” said Kasia. “So much misery. So much sadness.”

“Come on,” said Grace. “Let’s get out of here. It’s a long drive to Wrocław.”

“Your husband is coming this evening?”

“He missed his connecting flight to New York, but he’ll be here by tomorrow morning. He’s bringing Daisy with him.”

“Oh! You will be so pleased to see her!”

Grace smiled, and whispered, “Yes.” It had been over a month since she had last seen Daisy, and she had missed her so much that she had been tempted more than once to give up the whole project and fly back home to Philadelphia.

But each time she had revisited the twenty-seven children in the Katowice orphanage, she had known that she could never abandon them. Ever since she had first been taken to see them, seven months ago, she had been determined to rescue them.

As Kasia had said, “These children, they are not unhappy. To be unhappy, you have to know what it is like to be happy, and these children have never been happy, not for one single moment, from the day they were born.”


Last September, as the poplar trees of southern Poland had been turning yellow, Grace had been visiting the industrial city of Katowice to take photographs for a National Geographic feature on “Newly Prosperous Poland.”  But on her last evening, at a crowded civic reception at the Hotel Campanile, she had been approached by Kasia Bogucka and Grzegorz Scharf.

Kasia was anorexically thin and very intense, with cropped blonde hair and high angular cheekbones and startlingly violet eyes. Grzegorz was much more reserved. He wore rimless spectacles and a constant frown, and although he couldn’t have been older than 35, his hair was receding, and he had a middle-aged tiredness about him, as if he had witnessed more misery than he could bear.

 “We work for a charity for disabled childs,” Grzegorz had explained in his broken English. “Both physical disabilities, if you understand, and also mental, in the brains.” 

“You must come with us to see the Cienisty Orphanage,” Kasia had pleaded with her. “You must take pictures, so that people will know.”

Grace had sympathetically shaken her head. “I’m sorry. My flight leaves at eleven tomorrow morning. I won’t have the time.”

“Then, please – why don’t you come now?”

It had been well past nine. Grace had been wearing her red cocktail dress and red stiletto heels, and she had already drunk two-and-a-half glasses of champagne. Outside, the night was black and she could see raindrops sparkling on the hotel windows.

“I am beg you,” said Grzegorz. “These childs, they have no hopes, none at all.”

Even now, she couldn’t really explain why she had decided to go. But ten minutes later, she had found herself in the back of a Polonez station-wagon with no springs, jolting her way along a rutted road toward the south-eastern outskirts of Katowice. Grzegorz had lit a cigarette, and when he had wound down the window to let out the smoke, the rain had come flying into her face.

After fifteen minutes’ driving, they had reached a scrubby, desolate suburb, with only the illuminated sign of a Statoil gas station for a landmark. Off to the right-hand side of the road there was a tall stand of fir trees. Beyond the fir trees, Grace had been able to make out an overgrown garden, with overturned shopping-carts in it, and a large square house, with peeling purple stucco on its walls.

Grzegorz had driven up to the front of the house, and parked. It had stopped raining now, but water had still been gurgling down the drainpipes. The three of them had climbed the steps to the front door, but even before Kasia had been able to knock, it had been opened by a plump round-faced woman with a headscarf and a tight checkered overall. Her eyes had looked like two raisins pushed into unbaked dough.

“Ah, Panna Bogucka,” she had said, as if she hadn’t been entirely pleased to see her. “I hope you don’t mind, Weronika. I brought a photographer with me.”

The plump woman had eyed Grace with deep suspicion. “She is not going to take any pictures of me? What happens here, this is not my fault. I do my best but I have no nurses and you know how little money they give me.”

“Weronika…I just want her to take pictures of the children.”

Weronika had clucked in disapproval, but had stepped back to allow them inside. Grace had noticed how worn-out her shoes were. The hallway had been dimly illuminated by a chandelier with only two of its six bulbs working, and it had been deeply chilly. It was the smell, though, that had affected Grace the most. Boiled turnips, and damp, and urine-soaked mattresses, and something else – some sweetish, nauseating stench, like rotten poultry.

 “The Cienisty Orphanage was first opened after the war,” Kasia had explained. “In those days there were so many children who had no parents, and nobody to take care of them. But now they use it for children with anything from cystic fibrosis to cerebral palsy to Down’s syndrome. What do you call it? A garbage dump, for children that nobody wants.”

“Aren’t they given any treatment?” Grace had asked her.

Grzegorz had let out a bitter laugh. “Treatment? You are meaning therapy? There is nobody even to wash them, and to change their clothes, and to give them foods. Nobody even talks to them. They are forgot, these childs. They are worse than being orphans. They are worse than dead people.”

As they were talking, a girl of about seven years old had materialized from one of the side-rooms, as silent as a memory. She had approached them very cautiously, to stand only three or four feet away, listening. She had been painfully thin, with straight brown hair and huge brown eyes. She had been wearing a black tracksuit that was two sizes too big for her, and soiled red slippers that were almost grey.

She had been clutching a doll. The doll had a white china head, with a wild shock of white hair, but a strange and beautiful face. Most dolls have a blank, witless stare, but this doll looked both serene and knowing -- as if she were alive, but far too shrewd to let anybody know.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Grace had asked the little girl. At the same time, she had lifted her Fuji camera off her shoulder, and removed the lens cap. She had understood at once why Kasia had wanted her to take pictures. There could be no more graphic way to explain what these children were suffering. It had all been there, in the little girl’s eyes. The loneliness, the constant hunger, the bewilderment that nobody loved her.

Weronika had tried to put her arm around the little girl’s shoulders, but the little girl had twisted herself away.

“This is Gabriela. Say ‘dobry wieczór’ to the ladies and the gentleman, Gabriela.”

Grace had hunkered down in front of Gabriela and reached out her hand. “Good evening, Gabriela. How are you?”

Gabriela had lowered her chin, but had kept on staring at Grace with those enormous dark eyes.

Grace had taken hold of the doll’s hand, and shaken it. “ ‘Dobry wieczór, dolly! And what’s your name?”

Kasia had asked her the same question in Polish. Gabriela had hesitated for a moment, and then she had whispered, “Anka.”

“Anka? That’s a nice name. Do you think that Anka would mind if I took her picture?”

Again, a long hesitation. Then Gabriela whispered something and Kasia translated.

“Anka does not like to have her picture taken.”

 “Oh, really? I thought all pretty little girls like to have their picture taken.”

Gabriela had looked around, as if she had been worried that somebody might overhear what she was whispering. “My grandmother gave her to me, before she died. My grandmother said that I must keep her close to me, day and night, and especially at night. And I must never let anybody else hold her, and I must never let anybody take her picture.”

Grace had stood up, and laid her hand gently on top of Gabriela’s head. “Okay, have it your way. I just thought Anka might enjoy being famous.”

Kasia had said, “Come and take a look at the other children. They will give you plenty of photo opportunities, I promise you.”

Grace had waved goodbye to Gabriela and Anka, and Gabriela had waved Anka’s hand in reply.

“What an odd little girl,” Grace had remarked, as they followed Weronika and Grzegorz down a long, poorly-lit corridor.

“She has delusions,” Kasia had told her. “The last doctor who came here, he diagnosed her as schizophrenic.”

“What kind of delusions?”

“She doesn’t believe that she belongs here at all. She believes that she lives on a farm someplace in the country, with her father and mother and her two younger sisters. She says that her father grows turnips, and keeps pigs. She sits in her room most of the day, talking to her sisters, even though she doesn’t have any, and never did, so far as anybody can make out.”

“And Anka?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she did get her from her grandmother. Who knows? But what a strange doll, isn’t she? I never saw another doll like that. Beautiful, but strange.”

Kasia had taken her upstairs and led her from room to room. Every room was crowded with cribs, and in each crib there was a thin, hopeless child. Some of them sat staring at nothing at all. Others slept, clinging to their blankets. Many of them rocked endlessly from side to side, or banged their heads against the bars of their cribs. One little boy kept his face covered with his hands, and endlessly grizzled.

Every room was cold, with rough brown blankets pinned up at the windows instead of curtains, so it was always dark.

Grace had tried to stay as detached as she could. She had taken scores of photographs, at least ten of every child. When she had finished, she had followed Kasia back down to the hallway, where Grzegorz and Weronika had been waiting for them.

“Well?” Grzegorz had asked her.

“I don’t know what to say,” Grace had told him. She had been very close to tears.

“You will show these to your magazine, yes?”

“I’ll do more than that, Grzegorz, I promise you. I’ll get these children out of here.”


As she had been about to leave, Gabriela had approached her and tugged repeatedly at her sleeve.

“What is it, Gabriela?”

“She wants you to take her with you,” Kasia had translated.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Not this time. But I promise you that I’ll come back for you.”

“She says that the witch is coming to get her.”

“The witch?”

“Baba Jaga. She is a witch from Polish legend who is supposed to eat children.”

Grace had taken hold of both of Gabriela’s hands, and said, “There’s no witch, Gabriela. Nobody’s going to hurt you.”

But Gabriela had held up her doll, and said, “Anka keeps me safe from Baba Jaga. Every time I have a nightmare about Baba Jaga, I kiss Anka and Anka swallows it up. But now she is full up with so many nightmares and she cannot swallow any more. Next time Baba Jaga comes, Anka will not be able to save me. Baba Jaga will eat me, and spit out my bones, and stick my head on a pole.”

Grace had shaken her head, and smiled. “Gabriela – nothing like that is going to happen to you. I have to talk to some people in Warsaw about you, and make some arrangements. Do you understand? But when I’ve done that, I’ll come back and take you away from this place.”

Gabriela had looked up at her with pleading eyes. “Please, you must take me now. I do not want to be eaten.”

Grace had turned to Kasia. “Can’t we take her? She’s so upset.”

“It is absolutely not possible, I am afraid,” Kasia had told her. “Not tonight, anyhow. We have to ask for the proper permissions from the Public Adoption Commission. They are always helpful with healthy children, but with sick children like these --  well, there can be very difficult bureaucratic problems. Hundreds of forms to fill out.”

“Okay,” Grace had said, with reluctance. But then she had wagged her finger at Gabriela’s doll, and said, in a stern voice, “Anka! You listen to me, Anka, and you listen to me good! You keep Gabriela safe for just a little while longer, okay? Make sure you find the room in your tummy to swallow a few more of her nightmares. We can’t have Baba Jaga eating her up, can we?”

Gabriela had said nothing more, but had held Anka close to her, and stared at Grace with such desperation that Grace had said, “Come on, Kasia. Let’s go. This is all too painful.”

As they had left the Cienisty Orphanage, Grace had seen lightning flickering on the horizon, over the factory chimneys of Katowice, and heard the rumbling of distant thunder, like a wartime barrage. She had looked back, and seen Gabriela standing in the open doorway, still staring at her.


Kasia had been right. If the children at the Cienisty Orphanage had been healthy, there would have been no problem at all in finding homes for them. An American couple could adopt a healthy Polish child for less than $7,500. But who was going to take on a ten-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome;  or a seven-year-old boy with violent epilepsy;  or any child with multiple sclerosis?

After more than three months of pleading and cajoling, however, Kasia had found places for all twenty-seven children – with private families, or children’s homes, or hospices. It was her tragic photographs that touched most people’s hearts – they had been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Newsweek and shown on CBS and NBC nightly news.

She had been able to call Kasia at the end of February to tell her that she was flying over to Poland again, and this time she was going to take the children back to Philadelphia, all twenty-seven of them.

Kasia’s voice had sounded very distant. “I am so sorry, Grace. Now we have only twenty-six.”

“What’s happened? Don’t tell me that little Andrzej’s heart gave out?”

“No…it was Gabriela. She disappeared from Cienisty three days ago. We thought that she had run away. She was always talking about going back to find her father and her mother and her two sisters. But early this morning some people were picking mushrooms in the woods nearby, and they found her body.”

“Oh, no! Not Gabriela.”

“The police don’t yet know how she died. They say that her body was savaged by animals -- dogs maybe, but it is difficult for them to be sure.”

Grace had slowly sat down. Through her kitchen windows, she had seen Daisy building a snowman, with two lumps of barbecue charcoal for eyes and a carrot for a nose and one of Jack’s old khaki fishing-hats on top of his head. Daisy was only a little older than Gabriela, but she was rosy-cheeked and well-fed, with shiny blonde hair. Watching her running around their snowy back yard, in her red woolly hat and her fur-collared coat, Grace had thought of the last time she had seen Gabriela, standing in the front porch of the orphanage in her shabby black tracksuit, with Anka clutched tight in her arms.

Please, you must take me now. I do not want to be eaten.”


Kasia carried little Andrzej out to the waiting bus. It was sunny outside, but very cold, and exhaust fumes floated past the window like departing ghosts. Grace was about to follow her when she thought she heard a noise in one of the bedrooms upstairs – a mewling sound, like a cat, or a very young child in distress.

She went to the bottom of the stairs, and called, “Hallo? Is anybody there?”

She waited, but there was no reply. The children couldn’t understand her. Many of them wouldn’t have been able to understand her even if she had spoken to them in fluent Polish. But they always spoke to her, and smiled, and touched her, and called her “Gracja.”

She had nearly reached the front door, however, when she heard the mewling noise again.

“Hallo?” she repeated. There was still no reply, so she climbed the stairs to the second-floor landing. She had torn down all of the blankets from the bedroom windows, so that sunlight fell across the corridor in a series of shining triangles. She walked slowly past all of the open doors, looking into every one. All she saw was empty cribs and filthy mattresses, and white plastic potties.

She was just about to go back downstairs when the mewling was repeated. It sounded as if it was coming from the bathroom, right at the very end of the corridor. She opened the bathroom door and said, “Hallo? Is anybody still here?”

The bathroom was cold and silent, with a huge bath-tub that was stained with rust, and old-fashioned faucets with strings of black slime hanging from them. In the far corner, next to the grimy washbasin, there was a dilapidated laundry basket, with a broken lid.

Wrinkling up her nose, Grace picked up the lid and looked inside. There, lying on a tangled heap of soiled pajamas, was Anka, Gabriela’s doll, with her wild white hair.

“Anka!” said Grace, lifting her out and straightening her arms and legs. “Who left you in there, you poor little creature!”

Anka stared back at her, as serene and knowing as ever. The sight of her brought back such a vivid picture of Gabriela that Grace felt her eyes fill up with tears. If only she had listened, when Gabriela had begged her to take her away. Who cared about bureaucracy, and form-filling, when the life of a seven-year-old girl was at risk?

“Come on, Anka,” she said. “At least I can save you.”

She carried Anka downstairs. Then she walked out of the front door and closed it behind her. It refused to shut completely, so she opened it again and slammed it hard.

She climbed onto the bus. Kasia and Grzegorz were sitting at the front, next to the driver. Halfway down the aisle sat two young nurses from the children’s hospital at Chorzow. Grace had arranged for them to accompany the children all the way to Warsaw, and then for two student nurses from UHP to take care of them while they were being flown back to Philly.

The children themselves were not excited. Some of them rocked in their seats, as they always rocked, while others stared listlessly out of the windows. None of them had any experience of a day away from the orphanage, so they had no idea of where they might be going or what was going to happen to them.

However, the nurses gave them each a carton of Sokpol cranberry juice, and a Princessa chocolate wafer, and they were so pleased that they chattered and laughed with pleasure and one or two of them even screamed.

Kasia took hold of Grace’s hand. “It is a wonderful thing that you are doing today, Grace.”

Grace looked down at Anka, sitting in her lap. “I just wish that Gabriela could have been here, too.”

“The police think she ran away,” said Grzegorz. “They believe she was try to get home to her father and mother.”

“So she died of what? Exposure?”

“They think so,” said Kasia. “Her body was so badly torn to pieces that it was almost impossible for them to say. They could not find one of her arms.”

“Oh, God. I hope she didn’t suffer. She was so frightened that she was going to be eaten by a witch, and look what happened to her. I feel so guilty.”

“It was not your fault, Grace,” Grzegorz told her. “These childs, they have great luck to be alive at all. Even ordinary childs in Katowice has terrible troubles with the health, because of the pollutement in the air. The steelworks, the factories. The doctors find the heavy metals even inside the unborn babies. Lead, arsenic. We try our best, but we cannot save every one of them.”

Grace lifted up Anka. “Gabriela said that Anka always kept her safe, didn’t she? Anka breathed in all of her nightmares, so that they wouldn’t hurt her.”

Kasia tugged Anka’s hair, trying to straighten it. “Many Polish children have nightmares about Baba Jaga. She is very scary!”

“I never heard about her before.”

“Well, Baba Jaga lives in the forest, in a wooden hut that runs around on chicken legs. The keyhole to her front door is a human mouth with sharp teeth inside it, and the fence around her hut is made of human bones with a skull on top of every pole, except for one, which is supposed to be for you, if you are having a nightmare about her.”

“In that case,” said Grace, “I think I’ll try not to.”

Kasia smiled. “Baba Jaga is always hungry, and so she is always out searching for food. She flies in and out through the chimney, in a mortar, with a pestle to steer with, and she carries a net for catching children.

“The story goes that the only child who ever managed to escape from Baba Jaga was the daughter of a turnip farmer.”

Grace said, “The daughter of a turnip farmer? That’s what Gabriela believed she was, didn’t she?”

Kasia nodded. “Every time Baba Jaga was about to eat her, the girl said that she would taste much better with turnips, so Baba Jaga took her back to her father’s farm to collect a sack full of them. The girl cooked them into a turnip stew, and Baba Jaga ate so much that she fell asleep.

“It was a bitter night in winter, and Baba Jaga slept so long that she was frozen stiff. The girl was able to steal the special key from Baba Jaga’s belt and escape.”

“Poor Gabriela,” said Grace. “If only she could have escaped.”

The doll Anka continued to stare at her, unblinking, and for a split-second Grace could have sworn that she was smiling. But she was only being jiggled by the bus, as they turned off the side-road that took them away from the Cienisty Orphanage, and onto the broad S1 highway to Warsaw.

The sun shone, the cumulus clouds blossomed in the sky, and the two young nurses started the children in a clapping song.

Kosi kosi lapci, pojedziem do babci! Babcia da nam mleczka, a dziadzius pierniczka! Clap, clap little hands, we will go to grandma’s! Granny will give us milk, and grandpa a gingerbread cookie!”


Jack and Daisy were sitting in the second-floor lounge of the Holiday Inn in Warsaw, waiting for her. Jack was looking unshaven and tired, and his dark hair was ruffled, but Grace knew that he had only been back from Tokyo for a day-and-a-half before he had brought Daisy over to Poland.

When she had told him about her determination to rescue the children from the orphanage, Jack had told her that she was mad. “You’re a crazy woman. You’re worse than my mother. All she did was rescue cats.” But he had supported her right from the very beginning, and never once told her that she was wasting her time. More than that, he had called in favors from senior executives at five different hospitals to whom he sold scanning equipment. He had emailed dozens of his friends and golf partners and he had even taken the junior senator for Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, Jr, for lunch at Vetri’s, and canvassed his support, too.

As she came up the stairs, Daisy ran over and flung her arms around her.

“Where did you get that baseball cap?” asked Grace. It had a rubber rooster’s head on top of it, with wildly staring eyes.

“Daddy brought it back from Japan. He says it’s to stop me from running around like a headless chicken.”

Jack took Grace in his arms and kissed her and held her close. “I’ve missed you,” he told her. “How’s Project Totally Bananas?”

“The kids are staying overnight at the University Children’s Hospital, so that we can give them a last check-up before they leave. They don’t have the least idea what’s happening to them, but they all seem happy enough.”

Jack said, “I had a call from NBC before we left home. They want to interview you as soon as you get back – you and the kids. You know what they Inquirer is calling you? ‘Amazing Grace.’  And I agree with them. You are amazing.”

“Oh, come on, Jack. Those kids were living in such terrible conditions. They were cold, they were hungry, they weren’t being given any medical attention.  Anybody would have done the same as me.”

“Whose doll is that?” asked Daisy, pointing at Anka.

Grace held her up. “Her name’s Anka. She used to belong to a little girl called Gabriela.”

“What happened to her?”

“Gabriela? I’m afraid she died. She was only about the same age as you.”

Daisy carefully took Anka out of Grace’s hand. She pulled Anka’s dress straight and brushed back her hair.

“She’s weird. But she’s very pretty, isn’t she?”

“Gabriela said that Anka stopped her from having nightmares.”

“Can I look after her? Oh, please! I can take her to school for show-and-tell!”

“I think she needs disinfecting first.”

“But then can I have her? She’s so cool. She makes Barbie look totally dumb.”

Jack raised his eyebrows, as if he didn’t always let Daisy get whatever she wanted. Grace said, “Okay, then. But I want you to remember that this will always be Gabriela’s doll, and you’re just keeping it for her, in her memory.”

“I will. I promise. Anka and me, we’ll say a prayer for Gabriela every night.”


It took over three weeks to place all the children in their various homes and hospitals, but at last Project Totally Bananas was all over, and Grace found that she was free again. Unexpectedly, she felt bereaved, as if the children had been her own, and she had given them up for adoption.

But one evening in the second week of April she received a call from Frank Wells, the picture editor of Oyster magazine, who wanted her to go to North Viet Nam to shoot travel pictures.

“Just don’t bring back a planeload of Viet Namese orphans, you got me? If you do, there’s no way that Oyster will pay for their air-fares.”

“Don’t worry, Frank. I think I’ve done my Mother Teresa bit for one lifetime.”

She poured herself a glass of chardonnay and switched on David Letterman. She never watched much TV, but Jack was away for three days in San Diego, and the house always seemed so silent without him, especially after Daisy had gone to bed.

She was sitting on the couch, leafing through Good Housekeeping and half-listening to the TV, when she heard Daisy cry out. It was a strange cry, more like a moan than a shout. It sounded to Grace as if Daisy was so frightened that she couldn’t even articulate.

Daisy! Daisy, what’s wrong?”

She threw aside her magazine and ran up to Daisy’s bedroom, which was the first on the left at the top of the stairs. Daisy cried out again, but this time her cry was shrill and piercing.

Grace flung open the bedroom door. It was dark inside, but she was instantly aware that there was something in there – something huge and black that smelled of smoke.

Something that shifted and crackled, like breaking branches.

Mommy! Mommy! What is it? What is it? Mommy, what is it?”

“Come here, Daisy! Come here, quick!” Grace held out her arms for her and Daisy scrambled off her bed and almost threw herself at her. Grace backed out of the bedroom door and set Daisy down on the landing. Then she reached inside and switched on the light. Daisy was sobbing and she herself was gasping with fright.

She could hardly believe what she saw. In the far corner of the room, as high as the ceiling, stood the figure of a woman dressed in dusty black sacking. Her hair was stuck up on top of her head with some kind of mud, or wax, which made it look like a bundle of twigs, and it was her hair that was making the crackling sound as it brushed against the ceiling.

Her face was long and emaciated, as if it had been stretched, and her skin was jaundiced. Her eyes were huge and red-rimmed, with yellowish pupils. Her mouth was curved downward to reveal a jagged crowd of sharp-pointed teeth.

Her arms were insanely long, and almost reached from one side of the room to the other. Both of them were lifted up high, and her fingers were stretched wide like claws.

Jestem głodny,” she croaked.

 “Who are you?” Grace demanded, although her words came out like broken pieces of china. “How did you get here? Get out!”

Jestem głodny,” the women repeated, more urgently this time, and she beckoned lasciviously toward Daisy, and stuck out the tip of her tongue, which was pointed and slippery-gray, like a snake. Her long chin was covered in black bristles.

It was then that Grace glanced downward, and saw how the woman had materialized. Gabriela’s doll Anka was lying on the floor, half-hidden by the comforter that hung down from the side of Daisy’s bed. Anka’s eyes were closed, as they always were when she was laid down on her back. But her mouth was wide open, and thick black smoke was gushing out of it.

The smoke had risen up into the room and twisted itself into the shape of the woman in black sacking. Like a genie rising out of a lamp, thought Grace.

She looked up again. She was so frightened that she felt as if her skin was shrinking. The woman was swaying toward them, her claws still lifted, her eyes gleaming. But now Grace understood who she was, and what she was – or at least she thought she did. All of the nightmares that Anka had swallowed to protect Gabriela had come pouring out of her, as black and as noxious as burning oil.

It was Baba Jaga, the Polish witch of the woods, the ever-hungry devourer of innocent children.

Jestem głodny,” she rasped, for the third time. “I am starving, you understand me? I have need to eat.”

Daisy said, “Mommy,” but Grace pushed her toward the stairs and said, “Run, sweetheart! Run! Get out of the house just as fast as you can!”

“No!” screamed Baba Jaga, swaying toward them. “I must have her! I must suck her bones!”

But Daisy scampered down the stairs, whimpering, and Grace stood her ground. Although her voice was shaking, she managed to say, “I have plenty of food for you, Baba Jaga. I have so much food you won’t feel hungry for another year.”

Baba Jaga’s tongue darted out again, and licked her sharpened teeth. “I do not believe you. You do not want me to eat your girl, that is all. But I will eat your girl, I promise you, and I will eat you, too, and I will chew your intestines like noodles.”

She lashed out at Grace, and caught the sleeve of her sweater in her claw. Grace tried to pull herself away, but Baba Jaga drew her closer. Grace turned her face aside, but she could feel the prickle of Baba Jaga’s chin-hairs against her cheek, and she could smell Baba Jaga’s breath. It smelled like the Cienisty Orphanage, of boiled turnips and dirty disinfectant-water and rotten chicken. It smelled like children’s despair.

“Come with me,” she said. “Come on. Come with me. I will give you food.”

Baba Jaga’s eyes closed. Unlike human beings, her eyelids closed upward. Then they rolled down again, with several fine strings of sticky residue clinging to her lashes.

“Very well,” she agreed. “But do not try to trick me. The people who have tried to trick me, their skulls surround my hut.”

Slowly, Grace edged her way out onto the landing. Baba Jaga followed her, with her claws still snared in the sleeve of her sweater. Although she was mostly made of black smoke, and appeared to have no legs, she walked with a lurching, complicated limp.

Grace led the way slowly down the stairs to the hallway, and through to the kitchen. For some reason, she had imagined that Baba Jaga would not be reflected in mirrors or windows, like a vampire. But as she crossed the kitchen she could see the witch clearly in the shiny black glass of her oven, and in the windows that looked out over the yard.

She could see herself, too, pale-faced, but looking surprisingly calm. Is that really me? she thought. Me, with a real-live witch?

There was no sign of Daisy anyplace, and Grace prayed that she had left the house and run next door, or even further.

“So where is this feast that you have promised me?” asked Baba Jaga. “I see no food anywhere, only you!”

“Please, be patient,” said Grace. She led Baba Jaga through to the utility room beside the kitchen, where she kept her washing-machine and her tumble-dryer, and also her freezer chest.

She switched on the fluorescent light, and then she went over to the freezer chest, unlocked it and lifted the lid. Inside it was heaped with frozen turkeys, frozen chickens, pies and fish and packets of vegetables. Icy vapor poured out of it and sank to the floor.

“This is all for you,” she told Baba Jaga. “You can eat all of it.”

Baba Jaga stared at the frozen food, wide-eyed.

“This is for me?”

“Everything. Fish, chicken, pastries. Ducks. Blueberries, too.”

With no more hesitation, Baba Jaga tore her claw away from Grace’s sleeve, reached into the freezer, and dragged out a whole frozen pike, which Jack had brought home last year from a fishing-trip on Marsh Creek Lake. With a sharp crunch, she bit into it, and tore away half of its body.

Grace said shakily, “Good? What did I promise you?”

Baba Jaga turned toward her, her mouth filled with chewed-up lumps of frozen fish. She said nothing, but when Grace tried to take a step away from her, she took hold of her sleeve, and pulled her back.

“After cold food, warm food,” she warned her.

Grace raised both of her hands to indicate that she wasn’t thinking of going anyplace. Baba Jaga released her again, and started to pull out ribeye steaks and hamburgers. Grace couldn’t believe that she was able to eat them when they were frozen solid, but her teeth bit into them voraciously, and she chewed and swallowed everything – frozen meat and frozen fat and frozen bones, and even the frozen plastic bags they were wrapped in.

At the bottom of the freezer there were four frozen ducks. Baba Jaga reached down and tried to wrench them free, but they were all frozen solidly together, and wedged beneath boxes of frozen pastry.

She tugged and tugged at the ducks, gasping in frustration. She leaned further and further over the side of the freezer-chest.

Grace thought, if this doesn’t work, I’m going to be killed, and eaten, and that will be a nightmare. She thought of the horror of Daisy returning home, to find her body ripped apart like Gabriela’s had been, in the woods.

But suddenly, Baba Jaga climbed right into the freezer-chest, and knelt on top of the pastry and the bags of frozen peas. She grasped the ducks with both hands and pulled at them, cursing and spitting.

She raised her head and said to Grace, “Find me a knife. And do not think of trying to kill me with it. I cannot be killed by stabbing --  or hanging for that matter, or poisoning, or drowning.”

Grace said, “Okay, I understand.”  She turned away, but immediately she turned around again, and took hold of the lid of the freezer-chest, and slammed it down, and locked it.

Baba Jaga screeched in fury. She began to beat on the lid with her fists, until dents appeared all over it. Then she kicked at the ends and the sides, and threw herself left and right, again and again, so that Grace was terrified that the whole freezer-chest would fall over, and Baba Jaga would be able to crawl out.

“I curse you!” screamed Baba Jaga. “I curse you a thousand thousand times over! I curse you so that worms will crawl out of your eyes instead of tears! I curse you so that you will be blind and deaf and your skin will burn like fire! I curse you!”

But Grace dragged over one of the kitchen chairs and sat on top of the freezer-chest and stayed there, even while Baba Jaga was thumping and banging and rocking it so wildly that it moved halfway across the utility room.

“Gabriela,” she prayed. “Wherever you are, please help me.”

She hung on and hung on, while Baba Jaga continued to scream and curse. After a few minutes, however, Daisy came into the utility room, carrying Anka. She looked very pale and serious.

“Mommy?” she said. “I ran next door but there was nobody there and then I got scared that the witch was going to hurt you so I came back.”

“She’s locked in here, sweetheart. The witch is locked in here. I just have to keep her here until she freezes.”

Baba Jaga screamed again, and the freezer-chest tilted dangerously to one side, but Grace managed to brace one leg against the wall and push it back upright.

After that, the witch was silent. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, then an hour. After an hour had passed, Grace thought she heard a soft crunching noise inside the freezer-chest, but that was all.


It was nearly 3:30 in the morning before she dared to turn the key and ease open the lid.

The witch was crouched inside, unmoving, and her black sacking dress was thickly coated with sparkling white rime.

“Is she dead?” asked Daisy, peering anxiously over the edge of the freezer-chest.

“I don’t know. I hope so.”

Very cautiously, Grace reached out and touched the witch’s twig-like hair. It was so brittle that three or four strands of it snapped off.

She hesitated, and then she took hold of the witch’s bony arm. She twisted it around, and as she did so it cracked, sharply, and broke. She dropped it onto the floor, and it shattered into even more fragments.

Feeling emboldened, she plunged both of her hands into the freezer-chest and seized the witch’s body. It collapsed, with a crunch, as if it were made of nothing but layers of burned, frozen newspaper. Her skull broke apart, too, and her pelvis, until Grace was left with nothing but a freezer strewn with black ashes.

“I think we’ve killed her, sweetheart,” she told Daisy, smacking the ash from her hands. “I think we’ve gotten rid of her for good and all.”

She closed the lid and locked it, and then she picked up Daisy and carried her back upstairs to her bedroom.

“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Daisy asked her.

“I was going to ask you the same question. But I don’t think I want Anka in the room.”

“But she’ll be so lonely!”

“No, she won’t. She can spend the night in your closet, with all of your other dolls.”

“But --  ”

“No, Daisy. I think she still needs some more disinfecting. The place where I found her…well, it was very germy. They had an outbreak of pneumonia, not long ago, and I don’t want you to catch that.

She tucked Daisy into her bed and kissed her. “It’s okay. I’ll leave the landing light on. And I’ll go down and lock the door to the utility room, okay?”

“Tell Anka I’ll see her in the morning. Give her a kiss.”

“Okay, sweetheart.”

Grace went downstairs. She paused in the kitchen doorway, and then she went through to the utility room. The freezer-chest was still firmly locked, and when she rapped her knuckles on top of it, there was no response. She didn’t know how she was going to get rid of Baba Jaga’s ashes, but she would think about that in the morning.

Meantime, she went through the living-room and opened the front door. It was a quiet night, cold and clear, with a three-quarter moon shining through the oaks. She walked across the front lawn, and then across to the other side of the street, where there was nothing but trees and tangles of briars.

She held up Anka in front of her and now she could clearly see that the doll was giving her a narrow-eyed look of expectancy, as if she were saying what are you going to do with me now, Grace? Maybe that was why Gabriela’s grandmother had warned her never to allow anybody to take photographs of Anka. Anybody who saw them would have realized that the doll was capable of changing her expressions, and some superstitious nun might have taken it away from her.

Anka had been Gabriela’s only protection against Baba Jaga, but her protection hadn’t lasted indefinitely. Anka now had so many nightmares swarming inside her that she was more dangerous to children than a plague-carrying rat.

There were still so many unanswered questions. Why had Baba Jaga killed Gabriela – if it had been Baba Jaga who had dragged her into the woods and half-eaten her body? Had she done it simply because she was hungry? Or had she done it so that Grace would take her away from Cienisty, inside Anka, and give her the chance to feed on healthy children, instead of the sick and the schizophrenic and the chronically undernourished?

After all, what more innocent way could she have found of getting close to young children, than hiding inside a china doll?

Grace didn’t know if any of this could possibly be true. Logically, it was all madness. It was the stuff of fairy-stories. But the witch in her freezer was madness, and if there was any trace of Baba Jaga left inside Anka, Grace wasn’t going to give her the chance to re-emerge.

Dobranoc, Anka,” she said. Then she swung back her arm and threw the doll into the briars as far as she could.


Over a week later, Mike Ferris came back from his morning walk, let his boxer Ali off the leash, and came through into the kitchen.

“Boy!” he told Margaret, peeling off his windbreaker. “It’s cold enough to freeze a squirrel’s nuts off.”

“Mike,” Margaret protested. “Not in front of Abby.”

Abby, three, was sitting up in her high-chair, making a mess with a bowl of cream-of-wheat. “Nuts off!” she repeated, and kicked her feet. “Nuts off!”

“See?” said Margaret. “Children have an instinct for anything rude.”

“Rude!” Abby repeated. “Rude!”

“Oh, well, here,” said Mike. “This will take her mind off it.”

He held up a doll with wild white hair and a white china face. Her ragged gray dress was sodden, but she looked strangely knowing and serene.

“Found her in the woods,” said Mike. “Or at least Ali snuffled her out. She looks like she could be antique.”

“She’s filthy.”

“Sure. But you could make her a new dress, couldn’t you, and wash her hair for her? Maybe she’s worth a few bucks.”

Abby held out both hands for her. “Dolly!” she cried out. “I want the dolly!”

“There you are,” said Mike. “Love at first sight.”

Margaret came over and took the doll out of Mike’s hands. She turned her over, and looked under her dress, to see what she was made of. “Well…she’s all china. She could be antique. I wonder what she was doing in the woods?”

Jestem głodny,” whispered a voice.

“What did you say?” asked Margaret, turning around.

“I’m starving,” said Mike, picking up an English muffin.

Margaret frowned, and looked around the kitchen again.

“That’s strange. I’m sure you said something else.”

Mike came up and kissed her. “You’re imagining things, as usual.”

But while he was kissing her, the doll was staring over her shoulder at Abby, and suddenly her eyes gleamed, as if there were a light inside her. Abby stopped kicking her feet and stared back at her, unblinking, open-mouthed, bewildered.

None of her dolls had ever looked at her like that before, as they wanted to eat her.


Graham Masterton sponsors an annual contest for the inmates of all Poland's prisons to write short stories some of which are horror and fantasy but some of which are simply the painful stories of their own lives and their imprisonment. The Graham Masterton Written In Prison Award (Nagroda Grahama Mastertona W Wiezieniu Pisane) is now in its third year and has tremendous support from the Polish prison service because they believe (as I do) that it helps a great deal  with rehabilitation. This years winner is Aleksandra, pictured above.

Graham Masterton says of ANKA:

"I wrote it after my first visit to an orphanage in Strzelin in Lower Silesia, where I told the children a scary story (translated for me by a Polish friend) and also drew cartoons of all of them.

"Since then I have regularly sent donations to the orphanage (Dom Dziecka) so that the children can go on outings that otherwise they would not be able to afford. Every time I finish a book I auction off one printed and signed copy and the money goes to them. So far they have been to sweet factories, museums, bouncy activity centres and in July they all went rowing on the river."

About Graham Masterton

Graham Masterton's debut as a horror author began with The Manitou in 1976, a chilling tale of a Native American medicine man reborn in the present day to exact his revenge on the white man. It became an instant bestseller and was filmed with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith, Michael Ansara, Stella Stevens and Ann Sothern.

Since then Graham has published more than 35 horror novels, including Charnel House, which was awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America; Mirror, which was awarded a Silver Medal by West Coast Review of Books; and Family Portrait, an update of Oscar Wilde's tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was the only non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger in France.

Three of Graham's stories were filmed for TV in Tony Scott's horror series The Hunger, and 'The Secret Shih-Tan', starring Jason Scott Lee, was shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers Association. Another short story, 'Underbed', about a boy finding a mysterious world underneath his blankets, was voted best short story by Horror Critics Guild.

Graham's latest horror novels to be published in the United States are Spirit (Leisure, December, 2001); Trauma, (Signet, January, 2002) and The Chosen Child (Tor, January, 2002). Motion picture rights in Trauma have been optioned by Jonathan Mostow, who directed U-571The Chosen Child, set in the sewers of Warsaw, was named Best Horror Novel of the Year by Science Fiction Chronicleand highly praised in Publisher's Weekly.

Altogether Graham has written more than a hundred novels ranging from thrillers (The Sweetman CurveIkon) to disaster novels (PlagueFamine) to historical sagas (Rich and Maiden Voyage - both appeared in the New York Times bestseller list). He has published four collections of short stories, Fortnight of FearFlights of FearFaces of Fear and Feelings of Fear.

He has also written horror novels for children (House of BonesHair-Raiser) and has just finished the fifth volume in a very popular series for young adults, Rook, based on the adventures of an idiosyncratic remedial English teacher in a Los Angeles community college who has the facility to see ghosts.

A critical biography and bibliography, Manitou Man, was published in 1999 by the British Fantasy Society.

Graham Masterton was born in Edinburgh in 1946. His grandfather was Thomas Thorne Baker, the eminent scientist who invented DayGlo and was the first man to transmit news photographs by wireless. After training as a newspaper reporter, Graham went on to edit the new British men's magazine Mayfair, where he encouraged William Burroughs to develop a series of scientific and philosophical articles which eventually became Burroughs' novel The Wild Boys. At the age of 24, Graham was appointed executive editor of both Penthouse and Penthouse Forum magazines. At this time he started to write a bestselling series of sex 'how-to' books including How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed which has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. His latest, Wild Sex For New Lovers is published by Penguin Putnam in January, 2001. He is a regular contributor to CosmopolitanMen's HealthWomanWoman's Own and other mass-market self-improvement magazines.

He lives in Surrey, England (sadly his wife, Wiescka died in April 2011). He has just finished writing a black thriller featuring Ireland's only female detective superintendent, Katie Maguire, set in the Cork underworld; and a dark fantasy, Jessica's Angel, about a girl's search for five supposedly-dead children.

He has written several new short stories and is currently working on a new horror novel, as yet untitled.




And below:


Graham Masterton says: "CHEESEBOY is a limited-edition chapbook from Cemetery Dance...the story of an Irish Traveller boy who is bullied at school, and how he seeks his revenge. Only 550 copies were produced. It's illustrated by Chris Bankston and signed by both of us,"