Chapter 1: The Poison Dress: Waste Not, Want Not
Marta washes the corpse of her cousin, plaiting her locks against her scalp. Death’s folk gathers around like thick fog, attracted by the smell of still firm meat.
Your Guardian must be powerful to bear their touch, they say; men make the best wizards, they say; and yet it’s old women who wash the corpses.
Marta wraps the dead woman in a fresh clean shirt. Her clothes, heavy with magic, are folded on the bench. She picks up the underskirt and bundles it into her bag of tools. Women can be wizards too.
Hungry eyes follow her out the door.
Chapter 2: The Roommate’s Death: Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t
The women of the farm know each others’ every scar, every mole, from scrubbing each others’ skin to bright healthy pink twice a week. They all smell of the same tar and smoke and bitter birch leaves. Every woman but Augusta.
She hides her black and blue skin, her ugliness, in the dark.
They say the Keeper comes at midnight to claim his turn at the sauna.
Let him, thinks Augusta, scratching at the stains of her husband’s hands. Let him strip me off this skin. Let him hang it on a peg like discarded clothes. Let them all see.
Chapter 3: The Good Samaritan and the Celebrity: Bearer
The thing was hairy like a rabbit but round as a ball, with no eyes or ears that Eeva could see. It whined and hissed with a man's voice as it fought to pull one of its three legs out of the trap.
“Aren’t you an ugly thing!” Eeva murmured as she cut it loose. She had two rabbits from her other snares, and she’d not want to eat such a strange, stinky thing. It bolted, leaving behind a trail of pale slime.
The demon returned to old man Eld with empty paws and a mouth full of black blood.
Chapter 4: Notes
* The Poison Dress is an urban legend about a young woman who died of the leftover formaldehyde on a dress recycled from a corpse. Formaldehyde is not actually deadly. In Finnish folk magic, death has great magical power. The Finnish word for mana is väki, which in current use means folk and strength. It's my understanding that the magical power of death which was believed to follow corpses and everything they touch has a dual meaning, both as mana and as a gathering of the spirits of the dead. Finnish wizards would frequently use the mana of death for both good and evil.
* The Roommate's Death tells of a student who comes home late and goes to bed in the dark, because she doesn't want to wake up her roommate. In the morning she wakes up to find her roommate murdered, and the legend "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" written on the wall in her blood. There are several versions of the story of the skinning of the young woman who bathed after midnight, the turn set aside for the farm's haltija. I always wondered why she didn't bathe with the others. (A haltija is a spirit of place. The etymology is contested, but in current use the word also means keeper, owner. Since it fits the meaning, I chose to translate directly.)
* The para is a constructed, demonic creature, which steals treasures from one house and carries them to another. The name comes from the Swedish bära, to carry. The maker of a para was bound to it by their blood, and if the para died, so did its maker.