Chudo was a small, black, furry imp who lived in the chimney of a cottage, in a village, under a mountain among the green rolling hills of a distant country. Chudo was so old that he couldn’t remember how he had gotten there or how he came to be so alone.
Chudo amused himself all day long by playing tricks on the village girls. He’d tie knots in their hair, and poke holes in their stockings, and hide their pins and ribbons and combs. Sometimes when Chudo was feeling especially spiteful, he’d curdle milk and spoil soup. When their bread wouldn’t rise, the women of the village would say, ‘It’s the fault of the Chudo.’ And so life went on for hundreds of years.
In the village where Chudo had settled there lived a beautiful young girl named Yana. Yana had blond hair and green eyes and rosy cheeks. She could ride a horse, mesmerize a chicken, get milk from an angry cow and wool from a scared sheep. The dogs and pigs followed her around, and the cats slept curled on her lap whenever she would knit. She lived with her grandma and grandpa who told her wondrous tales every night after dinner when they had time to sit down.
Of all the girls in the village Chudo loved to tease Yana best. Yana would set out to bake bread and Chudo would hide her rolling pin under the table, and she would have to scramble to get it. She’d light the fire, and he’d blow it out. She make the bed and he’d pull out the corners. But Yana never got angry or upset and would scold him merrily, laughing and saying, ‘Chudo, I know you are making mischief again.’ And so life went on like that for many years, and Yana grew up, and her grandparents went to heaven
One winter, a terrible frost came to their parts, and the snow fell so high it almost reached the roofs of the houses. The wind blew and the trees creaked. But inside Yana was warm in her little house, and she baked bread, and made soup, and tended to her animals who slept in the barn that was next to her kitchen.
At night, Yana combed her golden hair and slipped between her cold starched sheets. She fell asleep and dreamt dreams of a warm land where she picked ruby cherries and pears of silver and gold. And so the winter months began in earnest, but Yana was not worried. She had cut enough firewood, and the animals had hay and oats and beet pulp to eat.
One morning Yana was plaiting her golden hair and heard a sneeze coming from the chimney. She wondered if a squirrel hadn’t gotten trapped in there, so she called out to it with a promise that it could live out the winter by her warm stove.
No sooner had she said that when a black, mangy creature fell into the ashes, its fur standing up on its back. It tumbled out into the middle of the room, and shaking itself, sneezed again.
Yana was dumbfounded, for this was not a squirrel in front of her, nor a cat, nor fox, but a strange creature like she had never seen before. She plucked up her courage, and striding up to it, she picked it up by the scruff of the neck.
‘Ow,’ the creature cried, ‘put me down.’ Yana was so shocked that an animal could speak she dropped the creature, which scrambled off into the fireplace and up the chimney again.
‘What could that have been?’ Yana wondered. But as soon as she began to knead the bread, she cried, ‘Chudo, that was you!’ But the Chudo said nothing. Then Yana realized that Chudo was cold and hungry, so she called it to come down but was answered by a sneeze. And so Yana put out bread and cheese and warmed some milk and turned her back and went to feed her animals. When she came back, she saw Chudo had eaten the food. And so the next day she did the same, but when she came back from the barn, she caught the Chudo still lapping up a saucer of milk.
‘Chudo stay here where it’s warm with me, and the dog, and the cat. You are far too sick to be on your own.’
Chudo remebered he had always liked Yana best and knew he was safe with her. He slept by the stove and waited for her to serve him warm milk and scrambled eggs. He got better and better, and then one day Yana said, ‘Chudo, your cold is over. It’s time you had a bath.’ She scooped pails full of snow and melted them in a tub by the hot stove. Chudo tried to run up the chimney to escape, but Yana stood in front of him with a broom and blocked his way. He ran this way and that, until she grabbed him and gave him a good scrubbing with a smelly rose soap she had bought at a fair. She wrapped him in sheets and set him by the fire, and Chudo grumbled and hissed whenever she got near, though later he climbed on the edge of the bed and snuggled with the cat who licked his ears.
‘Isn’t it nice to be clean? You can sleep with us now in our fresh bed.’ Yana said.
‘Bah,’ Chudo said, but he was secretly pleased since the bed was soft, and he slept on a down quilt.
In the morning, Yana combed Chudo, so he would not revert to his former miserable state. He waited for breakfast and wanted to slurp his milk, but Yana said, ‘Sit at the table and use a spoon.’
Chudo wanted to hide Yana’s twine and thread, but Yana made him unfurl balls of wool instead, and hold them before her while she knitted and purled. He tried to poke her bread as it was rising, but Yana slapped his hand and said that was unwise. When he wanted to spill buckets of water, she made him scrub the floors until there was order. He curdled her milk for revenge, she made him drink buttermilk until he would cringe.
And so winter passed, and so did spring. While Yana plowed, Chudo ran behind her and sowed. She groomed the horse, and he braided its mane. She hulled the corn, and he scattered chicken feed. Summer came, Yana worked in the garden with Chudo beside her. She went to market, and he carried her basket.
‘Ha ha!’ the villagers laughed, ‘Look at Chudo! Why, he’s been domesticated!’ and they laughed and laughed until they were falling over with glee.
Then Chudo flew into a rage and dropping he basket, spun round three times like a tiny whirlwind and disappeared. Yana looked for him all over. She called him to come out from the chimney and eat bread and butter. She promised to never show him off in the village again. But Chudo was silent and no where to be found.
Yana was sad. She worried if Chudo had enough to eat and if he was keeping himself clean. She was lonely and wondered if Chudo felt the same. She prayed for a sign that he was safe, but Chudo was silent.
One day as she was getting dressed for the fair, she lost her ribbon, though a moment before it had been there. ‘Chudo?’ she asked, but no one answered. That day her milk curdled, her bread refused to rise, and there were knots in her hair, and Yana was as happy as she dared be. She thought, perhaps those things were my fault, but day after day, Chudo returned to tease her and that pleased her. He played in the village and often stayed away, though during cold winters he would sometimes come to stay. And Yana never tried to reform him again but always treated him as a honored guest and friend. And there he is living still, with Yana’s great-great granddaughter, Anna, and sometimes he causes her computer to crash, and hides her cell phone in the trash and plays her hi-fi until she does her teeth gnash.