Author: Kat Lee
Character/Pairing: La Befana
Challenge/Prompt: faerie_wish13 Monsters of Christmas Bingo: La Befana
Word Count: 1,548
Date Written: 27 December 2017
Disclaimer: This one's all mine.
She creeps into the children’s bedroom, stealing into them with the shadows that come within the midnight hour. This has always been her strongest hour, and her strongest night, but she’s not as young as she once was. Floorboards creak underneath her feet no matter how stealthy she tries to be. Children turn and stir, but their eyes stay shut as she freezes in every room.
Until at last, one boy doesn’t. His small eyes crack open, and he peers sleepily out at her. She freezes as she’s done every time a child has ever looked upon her. She freezes, does not dare to make a sound, to twitch a muscle, to move an inch. She freezes, but this child does not simply lay his head back down and return to sleep, thinking he’s dreaming.
He stares at her, and for a terrifying moment, La Befana thinks he’s going to scream. She doesn’t have the beauty of the other La Befanas who have come before her. Her sister inherited all the beauty from both their parents, and although she used to help her make her annual rounds, she has since, being even older than Baboushka, started staying home at the North Pole and caring for the Jolly One, their Elves, and their reindeer. She is the one with the skin as light and soft as freshly fallen snow, and the one whose beauty isn’t only found in her conscience.
Baboushka, on the other hand, looks every bit the Witch she’s rumored to be. Her skin has turned, over the centuries, to an awful shade of green, and her hands and feet are gnarled. Her back is hunched over from carrying the treats for the children upon whom she always dotes at least once a year, and her nose is the biggest thing on her ugly face, adept at using its size to sniff out the nice children from the naughty.
She’s never harmed a child. She never will. Instead she’s been known to leave a gift or two even for the naughty children in the hope that knowing someone who cares for them might help them to do better in their young and miserable lives. She’s never turned away a child who has needed help, regardless of rather that poor girl or boy has been aware of how much they actually needed assistance. She has never turned away anyone who has needed her, and as much as she would now like to turn away this one, young boy, she knows she can not.
“Baboushka!” he breathes uncertainly, pulling the covers up to his nose. “You are real!”
“What makes you so sure you’re not dreaming, child?” she queries, and her voice cracks from lack of use.
“Because I would never see you like this!” he answers without hesitation, lowering the blankets a little. “I never believed you were green!”
“They say I am a Witch.”
“You must be,” he says, gazing at her through wide, round eyes. “It makes sense. For you to have the magic to travel as far as you do every Epiphany and gift every child with such precious gifts!”
“The faster you fall back asleep,” she tells him, feeling her broom shaking on the other side of the children’s bedroom even more than she is trembling beneath her thick, dark dress and cloak, “the faster you may receive your gifts!”
“I don’t want any gifts for me,” he says, surprising her.
“But -- “ she starts in disbelief.
“Only for my brother.” He points to the tiny child in the bed next to his. “He’s always so weak and so sick. Can’t you give him something to help, Miss Witch? Can’t your magic heal him?”
Slowly, she drops her bag. She knows a million enchantments, and the gifts in her bag are truly endless. Yet she has nothing to help a sick child, nothing but love and care and perhaps a prayer will help. It certainly can not hurt. “I can not,” she tells him truthfully, “but there is One who can.”
Crossing the room on boards that now, at last, seem soundless underneath her pointed shoes, Baboushka sinks onto the bed next to the sick child. He stirs in his troubled sleep. She places an old, gnarled hand upon his feverish forehead.
“Please help him,” the older brother pleads, slipping out of his bed and tiptoeing to stand beside her. “Please, Miss Witch, do whatever you can to help him!”
She stares down at the lad. “You are truly unafraid of me, aren’t you?”
He looks at her, at her green skin and her gnarled hands ending in sharp claws. “I know you’re good,” he says earnestly. “It doesn’t matter what you look like. You’re one of Santa’s helpers and you always bring us children every year. You’ve never missed a year, and I’m seven now. My brother, he’s only five, but the doctors said he wouldn’t make it to see his fifth birthday.”
Carefully, slowly, giving him time to pull away if he chooses, La Befana wraps an arm around the boy and pulls him close into a hug. “There is One,” she tells him, “who can help, if He chooses. If your brother is meant to be made well, He will. He’s the same One who gave Mister and Missus Claus and myself and others like us our powers to help, but healing is not a power He has given to any of us.”
“What’s his name?” the little boy asks curiously.
“I think you already know His name,” she tells him, “but will you help me to pray to Him for your brother?”
The boy bobs his head quickly in agreement. Then, still wrapped in Baboushka’s one-armed hug, he lowers his dark head and prays. “Jesus, You’re so kind, so giving to us all, especially us little ones. You send people like the Good Witch here and Santa Claus and all to give us children presents no matter how hard our lives are, but, Jesus, I don’t want any presents. Tell Your Father -- “
“He’s your Father, too,” Baboushka whispers, hugging him.
“Tell Our Father,” the boy corrects himself, “the only thing I want is for my brother to get well. Even if I have to give a little of my good health to him, I just want him to be well again. The doctors said he wouldn’t make it to be five, but You let him. But that’s not enough! I want him to be five and six and fifty six and on! I want him to live at least as long as I do please, please, please!”
“Please heal him, Oh Heavenly Father,” Baboushka agrees and, sensing the child’s tiredness, sweeps the boy up into her arms and carries him back to his bed.
“But -- “ he starts to protest.
“Sh now. You want to fall asleep so that the magic can work, don’t You? Magic never works when mortals are watching. You have to fall asleep for it to work.”
“Of course! Why do you think Santa and I always deliver our presents when you children are asleep? Don’t you want to fall asleep fast so that you can wake up to your brother being healthy and happy in the morning?”
“Do you think it will work?”
“I . . . I think if your brother is meant to be well, he’ll be a lot better in the morning. You prayed for it.”
“We prayed for it.”
She smiles kindly down upon the lad. “If it’s meant to happen, the good Lord will make it happen, but it will only work if you’re fast asleep.”
The tyke’s eyes are beginning to slide closed. “You’re more than a friend,” he murmurs sleepily, “and more than a Witch. You’re an Angel.”
“No,” Baboushka corrects him in a hushed whisper only after he’s fallen deep asleep, “I’m a Witch, but even I know the greatest magic belongs to the Almighty Father.” Leaving presents at both boys’ beds and in their hung stockings, she holds out her hand, and her broom zips readily into her old, wrinkled palm.
Looking back to the boy, she whispers once more, “Thank You, Father, and please heal his brother.” When she had started this trip tonight, she had been so tired of flying and delivering all the presents by herself. She was envious of her sister’s beauty and freedom at the North Pole, of the family and friends by whom she was surrounded daily, but right now, looking at these children, Baboushka knows she’s right where the good Lord intends her to be. And she’s not alone after all. She has Broom, and she has the Father, and she has these sweet, sweet children. She has everything she needs to continue being a happy, and good, Witch.
“Come on, Broom,” she whispers, lifting him triumphantly into the air and then jumping astride his handle. “We have lots more presents to deliver!” One thought has them back outside the cabin and into the cold, night air, but Baboushka no longer regrets her lot in life. Instead she looks forward to the next child she might be able to help and wonders and hopes that next year, when she returns to these boys, they’ll both be healthy, happy, and believing in her still.