my résumé

hi. my name is

miles grover

Im a

I’m a designer.

My focus as a designer is in crafting experiences for users that not only allow them to achieve their goals, but also that do so in a way that feels effortless, authentic, and sprinkled with moments of delight.

In the realm of user interface design, that means low-friction interactions, intuitive controls, and a human touch to create a certain emotional resonance. When I work on branding and marketing, that means avoiding blandness and generality, and instead infusing my designs with a distinctive personality — one that reflects what the brand stands for — in order to connect with people on a human, emotional level.

creative direction

HiveBio Community Lab

HiveBio Community Lab is a not-for-profit citizen science organization that seeks to build community amongst citizen scientists, provide science education at very low cost, and furnish the community with access to scientific equipment that would be otherwise out of reach.

I took over as Creative Director in January of 2014. At HiveBio, I'm in charge of all creative for the company, including revamping the company's branding, as well as designing signage, marketing materials, packaging, powerpoint templates, company stationery, etc. All design goes through me.

Here's a sample of some of the work I've done in my time at HiveBio

brand update

The first thing I did for HiveBio was create a new, more flexible logo and a style guide for colors, typography, and the use of photography and other brand elements.

This process involved sketching, working closely with HiveBio's CEO, and getting buy-off from the executive team before implementing across the wide range of HiveBio's materials.

early logo sketches
early logo sketches
original logo vs. my redesign
original logo vs. my redesign
additional brand elements
additional brand elements
vertical lockup
logo vertical lockup
monochrome logo on image background
logo on image background
updated business card design
updated business card design
microscope kit instructions
microscope kit packaging sticker
microscope kit instructions & packaging sticker

flyers

HiveBio runs a number of classes every month and I design an eye-catching flyer for each one. But though I want each flyer to look unique and attractive, I also want them all to feel like part of the same brand. To that end, each new flyer is designed based on a template for consistency.

The flyers get posted on a number of social media sites online as well as real-life gathering places, so I create web and print versions for each one.

Here are a few of the flyers I've created so far.

dinosaur flyer
candy flyer
brain flyer
DNA extraction flyer
lotion flyer
neuromuscular flyer
phylogenetics flyer
squid flyer
scientific illustration flyer

presentations

I designed a a PowerPoint template for HiveBio, which has been used for a number of presentations, including for the annual board of directors meeting.

example slide
an example slide using the template

I also get the opportunity on occasion to design custom presentations for special applications. Recently I designed a slideshow for a video promoting HiveBio's “How To Build a Dinosaur” class.

I did not do the narration for this video.

signage

HiveBio has a number of signs posted around the lab, as well as promotional signs used at conventions.

what is HiveBio
sign up for a class
this way to science

swarm conference

The Swarm Conference is an annual gathering of maker spaces, founded by HiveBio. I created a separate brand for Swarm, unrelated to HiveBio's branding.

swarm logo
swarm logo
swarm schedule
swarm schedule
swarm nametag
swarm nametag

ux design

windows 10 controls

Although my role in the Windows design studio most of the time doesn't involve directly designing apps or controls, I did have the opportunity to work on the design project to converge controls between previous versions of Windows and Windows Phone.

One of the big challenges of Windows 10 was building an operating system UI that would work on giant 4K monitors all the way down to phones, smart watches, and even devices with no screens. That work started with the system controls and figuring out how to reconcile the interaction differences between not just drastically different screensizes, but also very different input methods.

date & time picker

On this project, I helped with several different controls, participating in discussions and critiques, but my main task was to work on the date & time picker control.

As the name implies, this control allows the user to pick a date or time. Before Windows 10, there were a number of different controls with wildly different interaction models and visual treatments.

win32 date & time picker
win32 date & time picker
windows 8 date & time picker
windows 8 date & time picker
windows phone date & time picker
windows phone date & time picker

I did a lot of explorations of different possible interactions, got feedback from my peers, and prototyped some of the more promising options.

date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
date & time picker exploration
a few of the explorations I did for the date & time picker

The prototype proved very useful to get a sense of how my on-paper ideas translated into actual interaction, and revealed a number of nuances I hadn't considered at first. As I arrived at my solution, I made sure to think through touch vs. mouse interaction, alternate time formats, situations where the timeframe would be constrained, what increments of time a developer might want to specify for the control, and more.

final date picker solution
my final date picker solution
final time picker solution
my final time picker solution
date picker with constrained time
date picker with constrained timeframe
24hr time picker
24hr time picker

I passed my interaction design off to the visual design team to create visuals consistent with the rest of the operating system. They did their work and passed the final designs off to the controls engineering team, and the control became part of Windows 10.

final date picker visuals
the final date picker visuals
final time picker visuals
the final time picker visuals

windows phone battery saver

When I worked on the Windows Phone team, I had an opportunity to work on the UX of the Battery Saver settings page.

Battery Saver allows the user to see which apps are using the most battery, and choose which apps are allowed to run in the background.

The design problem I was solving was that due to a technical limitation, we couldn't show the battery usage as a percentage. I had to find another way to show the user which apps might be using too much battery, and do it in a way that was intuitive, technically simple, and would allow the user to take action with confidence.

battery saver option
the most basic option, simply listing each app with high, moderate, or low
battery saver option
this uses stoplight coloring to make the different statuses more obvious
battery saver option
here, I use more colorful language to add a touch of friendliness for the user
battery saver option

in every option, I have the apps sorted from high to low battery consumption, but in this one, I make the groupings more explicit and obvious for the user

battery saver option

This was my first choice. To me, this option gave the user the most similar experience to the ideal of showing the actual percentages. It is clear, and very glanceable.

There were a few downsides to this design, however. One was that because it looked similar to a bar showing percentages, the user might be confused and think that was what it was actually showing. Another drawback was that this was the most costly of any of the options to implement, and it didnt match any system controls or patterns that already existed.

In the end, after peer crit and consulting with the PMs and engineers, we decided that this approach, though the better design for this scenario, was more costly than the resources available for the feature. We landed on the previous option (apps grouped with headers), because it was an acceptable experience that was very cheap to implement.

‘autography’

Autography is an idea I had for an app that would allow users to collect and share celebrity autographs, similar to an old autograph book, but with social aspects.

Thus far, I've done some of the initial interaction design work, but haven't had the opportunity to take the project further.

autography
app launch » idle » navigate to autograph book
autography
autograph book » drill in on a celebrity » filter celebrity by autographs you've taken » friends who've gotten their autograph » all users who've gotten that autograph
autography
begin signing » navigation controls disabled » signature begins to run off the screen » the app scrolls to keep up
autography
autograph signed » save dialog » search & autosuggest » disambiguation

web design

websites

portfolio site redesign

Not to get too meta on you, but the first thing I'd like to talk about is this very portfolio site you're looking at right now. My portfolio has gone through several iterations over the years.

One issue I've always had with my portfolio sites is that I always end up throwing something together quickly without a ton of thought or planning, because some opportunity has come up and I need to show some work as soon as humanly possible. Naturally, that doesn't always lead to my best work.

For this latest version, I decided to change that. I put a lot of thought into the visuals, user experience, and information architecture across all screen sizes.

The biggest change I made was to my design process. Though I did some initial explorations in Photoshop and Illustrator, this site was primarily designed in code.

That means there was no gap between what I might design and what would be possible to implement. It also meant that I ran into any problems immediately — how does this element work in responsive? does the experience work as expected? — whereas if I were working with a static image in Photoshop, these issues wouldn't have been revealed until much later. Working this way saved time and resulted in a better overall design.

figure 1: evolution of a portfolio site
portfolio
1
portfolio
2
portfolio
3
portfolio
4
  1. This was not my first portfolio site, but it's the earliest one I can bear to have visible to the public. I created it after I was laid off in early 2009, when I was in a hurry to get a job. The design was rather "web 2.0" looking, but it was sufficient enough at the time.
  2. I was feeling like my previous portfolio was looking pretty dated. For this redesign, my goal was to create a design that was an extension of the design of my personal site (www.milesgrover.com), which I was pretty happy with. That meant glitchy graphics, harsh colors, and skulls.
  3. Eventually I decided that though I liked the design of my personal site, that aesthetic was probably off-putting for people without context, and likely was distracting from the work I was trying to show. I took the same basic design and toned it down: smoother graphics, more pleasant colors, and typography that looked more professional.
  4. None of the earlier versions of my portfolio were responsive, though I did make sure they at least looked reasonable on mobile (hence the single column design). With this redesign, my goal was to create a site that actually looked and worked great across all viewport sizes.

    Another goal was to get serious about the visual design. I wanted to celebrate typography (and I surprised myself with what I could do with Arial); be thoughtful and rigorous about proportion, spacing, and color; and create a design that both reflected my personality and was accessible to a general audience.

    From the standpoint of the user experience and information architecture, I also wanted to design something flexible, that allowed as much room as I'd need for all the content (the earlier versions were sparse on content because the design didn't accommodate it very well), and also allow the user to stay oriented in space with a navigation system that felt like moving through different sections of the site rather than simply scrolling and scrolling... and scrolling.

comic sites

These are websites I designed for the various internet comics I've created. The basic goals of any site like this are to showcase the comic, and to provide easy navigation through the archives.

My most recent comic site design was for Karate Homework. When I designed this site, I put a lot of thought into the user experience.

One big change I made to the layout for Karate Homework in comparison to most comic sites was to move the header down below the comic. The idea was to really put the comic itself front and center.

Another problem I sought to solve was helping the reader to know where they are at any given time while navigating the archives. For most comics, you have to look at the address bar of your browser, which usually gives either the title of the strip or its sequential number. Neither of these gives you what you need to orient yourself. My lightweight solution was to simply provide the current number of the strip you're on out of however many have been created so far. That way, you know if you have 20 more comics to get through or 200.

Finally, I took a page out of Tumblr's book and added a tag feature. The key here is that I make sure to tag every character appearing in a given strip so the reader can easily find every instance where, say, George Washington shows up.

Visually, for Karate Homework the bright colors and glitchy aesthetic are intended to help the site stick in a reader's mind, and reflect my own personal aesthetic sensibilities, since the site is somewhat of a catch-all for my creative output.

karate homework

For Creep House, I went for a hand-drawn, creepy Halloween style.

creep house

Thinkin’ Lincoln's visual design is meant to evoke US currency, since most of the characters in the comic are featured on money in some country.

thinkin' lincoln

older designs

These are a few of the sites I designed earlier in my career. To be honest, I'm not super proud of them from a visual standpoint, but I'm including them to give a sense of how long I've been doing web design.

emerald bridal
clearly lasik
guyville

landing pages

When I worked in web marketing, I would often design landing pages — single page websites focused on one very specific goal. Part of landing page design included A/B testing and tweaking the designs based on that data.

I'm proud to say I got quite good at designing landing pages. The first design below, for example, achieved a 25% conversion rate, meaning one in four people who looked at the page signed up for a class. A rate like that is pretty unheard-of in web marketing circles.

kindermusik landing page design
kindermusik landing page
asian food grocer landing page design
asian food grocer landing page
momagenda landing page design
momagenda landing page
acne treatment landing page design
acne treatment landing page

other

I also have experience designing banner ads, email newsletters, and other similar web marketing materials. However, it's been several years since this was part of my daily work.

print design

While my design focus has largely been in digital media, I have done a number of small-scale print projects. So I'm somewhat familiar with things like bleeds, working in CMYK, paper weight and size, etc.

posters for microsoft

Microsoft hosts internal events all the time, and for a number of these, I've been asked to create the posters to promote them.

march madness poster
poster for a company basketball tournament
windows phone's got talent poster
windows phone's got talent poster
windows phone's got talent poster
poster for a talent contest in the Windows Phone group
the brief called for imitating the "America's Got Talent" logo
poker tournament poster
poker tournament poster
two poker tournament posters for the operating systems group

hivebio materials

I've created many print materials for HiveBio as part of my work as creative director.

See creative direction for more information.

dinosaur flyer
hivebio business card
this way to science
microscope kit instructions
microscope kit packaging sticker
what is HiveBio
print materials created for HiveBio

I’m a maker.

I've been making things professionally for over 12 years. I've worked on mobile apps, desktop apps, and boatloads of websites. I'm a wizard at CSS and HTML, and I can hack together serviceable JavaScript. I've also worked with XAML and other XML-based markup languages used in Windows apps.

For the last 6 years, I've worked at Microsoft on Windows Phone, Windows, and related websites. In addition to working on apps and sites myself, I've made it easier for the people around me to make things by building reusable templates for designers and shared libraries for developers.

microsoft websites

My current work at Microsoft is working on the design team as a Design Developer helping to implement several large-scale websites. I run a team that works on sites like Windows Developer Center, Microsoft Partner Center, Microsoft Support, and Microsoft Account.

microsoft developer center
microsoft developer center
microsoft support
microsoft support
microsoft partner center
microsoft partner center
microsoft account
microsoft account

I own the shared styles, controls, and components used on these sites. My team takes requirements from the design team, builds them out and tests them, and then works with the engineering teams to implement the styles to match design's specifications.

windows

design templates

When I worked on the Windows team at Microsoft, I led a project to create system controls and patterns in Adobe Illustrator and in PowerPoint. The goal was to help designers save time and effort by providing them with pre-made building blocks. Another big benefit was that this approach helped to maintain design consistency across the organization.

The files are available for download on the Windows Dev Center.

microsoft design language templates
the design templates I created are available on the windows dev center

windows first-party apps

I was also responsible for two first-party apps for Windows 10, Microsoft Edge, and the Maps app. I worked closely with the design team to make sure what they handed off to the engineering team was vetted for things like accessibility compliance, localization readiness, and a responsive design that was feasible within the Windows app framework.

In terms of building these apps, I oversaw the design developers who worked on the UI.

microsoft edge
screenshot of microsoft edge
microsoft maps app
screenshot of microsoft maps app

windows phone

I started working on the Windows Phone team just as the transition from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7 was happening. It was exciting to be part of the move to the Metro design language, which was a breath of fresh air at a time when smartphone interface design was trending heavily skeuomorphic.

In my time on Windows Phone, I worked on almost every part of the UI. The major areas I owned over the years were the SIP (keyboard), the Messaging app, and Cortana.

soft input panel

SIP is the term for the on-screen keyboard and related input methods used on smartphones. I worked on the SIP for Windows Phone, polishing the UI across dozens of languages to pixel perfection.

As the Windows Phone OS added support for more and more languages, the code for the SIP became more and more complicated and fragile. To solve this, I worked with the SIP engineering team to re-architect it so that it was more flexible and allowed precise control over keys and keyboards for 50+ languages.

english keyboard
english keyboard
russian keyboard
russian keyboard
japanese keyboard
japanese keyboard
chinese bopomofo keyboard
chinese bopomofo keyboard

cortana

Cortana is Microsoft's digital personal assitant. I worked on the Cortana app when it was first being created for Windows Phone. Now, Cortana has spread to Windows 10 and Xbox as well.

cortana home
cortana home
cortana search results
cortana search results

messaging

For a long time I worked on the Windows Phone Messaging app. Messaging is a surprisingly complex app with a lot of different possible states and configurations. Messages with images, links, audio files, group messages, messages with or without a title, messages in different languages, etc, etc. At the time, the app even had an entirely different layout for certain East Asian locales.

As the design developer, it was my job not only to polish and test the app in all these different configurations, but also to help the designers to understand them and the limitations of the implementation on what was achievable in the design.

windows phone messaging
windows phone messaging

other stuff I've worked on

My history making websites goes back more than 12 years. I started building simple HTML sites all the way back in middle school, but I've been doing it professionally since shortly after I got out of college.

I've learned the quirks of different web browsers stretching back to IE6 (and IE 5.5 for Mac), contended mightily against the constraints of HTML rendering in email clients, worked with all sorts of content management systems (Movable Type, Wordpress, Drupal, etc.), used many different types of source control (CVS, Source Depot, TFS, Git), implemented style libraries like Bootstrap and Foundation, built out sites using templating systems like Handlebars, and learned the joy of CSS preprocessors like Sass.

During my career, I've built things for myself, built things for freelance clients, worked in an agency setting, and for Microsoft I've made things both to be shipped to a billion customers and for use only by internal teams.

For me, it's hard to beat the satisfaction of getting my hands dirty, fighting through the challenges and obstacles that always come up, and finally seeing something I made myself standing on its own, looking beautiful and working exactly as I set out to make it.

I’m an artist.

I'm passionate about creating art. If I go too long without creative expression, I'll often find myself lying awake at night with ideas racing around in my brain, unable to sleep until I at least jot them down.

As a cartoonist, I love to draw and to write jokes. As a novelist and writer, I'm interested in both long-form novels and short stories.

cartooning & illustration

comics

thinkin’ lincoln

Thinkin’ Lincoln was a comic I made from 2005 to 2009. I wrote and drew a new Thinkin’ Lincoln comic every weekday, more than 900 strips in all.

It's a little difficult to describe the premise of the comic, but it was basically a comic where Abraham Lincoln's floating head talked to the floating heads of other historical figures and animals and... other stuff. It's supposed to be funny.

thinkin lincoln
a more recent Thinkin’ Lincoln comic

creep house

Creep House was a nine-panel weekly comic that I started towards the end of Thinkin’ Lincoln's run and ended when I put them both on indefinite hiatus in 2009.

The inspiration for Creep House was a creepy house I used to live near that I was pretty sure Dracula and Skeletor lived in as roommates.

creep house
excerpt from Creep House # 1

karate homework

Karate Homework is my current comic project. It features new Thinkin’ Lincoln & Creep House strips, as well as a hodgepodge of one-off, unrelated comics.

karate homework
Karate Homework # 29

monster portraits

This project started with a few doodles on Post-It notes in a conference room at work. I drew some monsters with funny quotes on them, and people seemed to like them, so I kept drawing more.

As of this writing, I've now drawn nearly 500 monsters. I hope to make a book out of them in the future. Here's a small sample of what they look like.

forum avatar project

As a fun project, I once offered to draw avatars for members of an online forum I used to frequent. I ended up drawing over 70 absurd little illustrations for people on the internet.

I drew each of them digitally in Adobe Flash, using my Wacom Cintiq.

t-shirt designs

I have designed many shirts for my comics, as well as for teams at Microsoft. Traditional screen printing gets more expensive and complicated the more colors there are in the design, so the medium encourages the artist to make more with less.

Here are a few of my favorites.

in space, no one can hear you abolish slavery
partydactyl
convergence
laser
ponies are hardcore
the majestic windiffalo
convergence
convergence

writing

In addition to years of writing comics, website copy, and many many emails at work, I also like to write novels and short stories. Sometimes poetry too, but I wouldn't claim any special talent in that regard.

I love unreliable narrators, magical realism, and experiments with the narrative form.

I am currently shopping my first novel to literary agents. It's called Yaganishna, and it's about Baba Yaga, the witch from Russian fairy tales, and a failed novelist named Ivan Broom. The novel follows the rise of the wicked Baba Yaga, the fall of the downtrodden Ivan Broom, and it's interspersed with fairy tale stories from Baba Yaga and excerpts from Ivan's many books.

YAGANISHNA, Chapter 1

Vasilisa the Beautiful

Of course, I only was pretend to sleep.

The girl she cried in corner, cooing to her little doll and offering it of breadcrumbs and kvass.

There is much technique to faking the sleep, and art. For monster like me, they do not believe it until I am shaking the walls with my snoring. In my private sleep, I do not snore. I am like angel of silence, in my private sleep. But in phony sleep, you must give show to audience. So I snore for them like great bear who swallowed bullfrog.

Powerful snores they do not just traipse in and out of the mouth like pretty children. No. They must grow, be nurtured. Like ball of snow you must let the snore tumble and gather in soft flesh of the gullet, let it wallow in spittle and phlegm until it becomes like ragged growling pearl. And only then, only when it is ready do you cough up that snore, flinging out through the nose, so it may rattle and saw and snarl its way into the world.

But there must be more than only the snore. These children who call me Baba and simper to my face, they are idiots, and they are terrified, but they are wary of tricks. I cannot lie in some downy bed, snuggled to pillow and blankets. This is not how monster sleeps and they will not trust it.

Instead, I drape myself like sack of potatoes upon the oven. I am flung there, it is looking like, in haphazard fashion. My head is back and my nose droops against the ceiling. My legs are spread, one bony leg on table, the other leg in basket. My body slumps in the middle, and my breasts settle onto the stovetop. My right arm is in the sink and left hand rests upon my iron mortar.

This is another subtle trick. These children know my mortar is dear to me. They see my hand upon it and they guess in their little brains I do this to protect it. They think I must guard it even in sleep. As if ever they could take it from me.

And lying there sprawled across the interior of my little hut, I am like the ogre blocking exit from his cave. I give them the monster they expect, and they do not look deeper.

So I snored and I sprawled. The girl, little Vasilisa, she believed of my sleep. I made some false grumbling as if to wake, and she jerked her wooden doll close to chest. I mumbled something and smiled as if at dreams.

And though my eyes they were shut all the while, still I could watch her. I have many tricks. Upon my shelves I keep jars of many potent and pungent items I have collected. Things I use in recipes and for other reasons.

One jar it is full of maiden’s eyes, and through these I watched.

Girl was frozen, staring at me for some time, afraid I might yet wake. Her breaths were shallow and she clenched herself to stay still. But for the child time moves quickly, and soon she brought out doll again to whisper in its ear her sorrows.

The doll it was smaller than the girl’s hand, wooden and worn. It had crude face drawn on, and body bulbous and ugly. When she gave to it some kvass to drink and breadcrumbs to eat, its eyes lit up to glow as the firefly.

She kept her voice low as she spoke to it that I might not hear, but I have another jar on the shelf. In this I am keeping my prize collection of ears. I like to collect. From each creature ever to crawl, buzz, or squawk I have ear. Some creatures do not have ears, so from them I take only the earholes. I keep earholes in different jar, but never mind. Through these ears I could hear her tiniest murmuring.

All she said was only childish whining. Oh, the Baba Yaga she is so cruel and vile and Oh, she is so terrible to see. Her little doll spoke comforting words in reply.

This doll it was known to me. I have heard it called as the Helpingman. Little Vasilisa’s mama died the filthy peasant, but on her deathbed bequeathed Helpingman to protect the poor idiot daughter. Though it seems as mute wood and paint, it requires only to be fed some little crumbs and it will come to life.

So girl cried and told Helpingman of all her problems. She was frightened and desperate for only the reason that I had promised to eat her up if she could not perform many impossible tasks the next morning.

This girl, she arrived some gray cold evening, shivering at edge of forest. Her stepmother, wicked in the way of stepmothers, sent little Vasilisa to me, to be begging light for fire back home.

Grandmother, our hearth requires light for fire. My father is away, and my stepsisters have doused the fire from their spite. Please, Baba, will you help?

I will help the girl, I told her, On condition. If she would have light, she must stay and do chores. If not, I will eat her up.

She stood outside my fence of bones, stared at by skulls atop bony fenceposts. Gate was open. She shivered, and clenched of her fists. Come if you are coming, I said. With rigid limbs, she marched through. The gate it swung to close behind her, bony joints creaking. Its lock was jaw of sharp teeth. The jaw clacked shut.

Evening fell into night and darkness slid down over forest like blindfold. Skulls of fence posts, their eyes lit up with green fire to illuminate the night. Inside my hut, girl roasted me grand feast of meat, as much as twelve men would eat, and I crunched and gnawed until none remained but gristle and scraps. It is much more than I would eat on another day. I am a very dainty eater at my own private meal, but I must eat like the ogre she expects.

I slouched backward at table. My leavings were for her supper. I pretended to hand plate to her, snatched it away, and farted all over the food. I laughed and tossed the plate to land face down in the straw of her sleeping corner.

As she picked at what pieces she could find, I said to her, Tomorrow you will pull all weeds from my yard, sweep and clean everything in my hut, and remove every speck of dust from every poppy seed in this this bag. You will be finished before I return, or I will gobble you up. Then I plopped on the stove for my mock slumber.

Grey morning rolled in. I spoke to my skulls of the fence post, who watch in the night. They reported Helpingman has already done all chores I tasked to the girl, who was not yet awake. I left for all the day of errands, pretending not to notice. Girl and doll they believed they outwitted the witch Baba Yaga. It did not bother me to let them think it.

The thinking of superiority is for children. The being of superiority is for me.

On second evening, girl again prepared me great feast. I gobbled it down and sent her to bed with even more impossible set of chores than before. This is how it goes with these orphan girls and silly princes. Next morning was the same, girl asleep and labors performed already by the doll. I went away and returned, pretending I was upset that girl did not fail, but pretending I was pretending to being happy. Girl pretended to be brave.

But it was not her I wanted. I ate my latest feast she cooked, and I sat back upon oven, and I closed my eyes.

I said to her, Child.

Yes, Baba?

All I have asked for has been fulfilled.

Yes, Baba.

I promised you fire for your family if you did my chores while I was away. Otherwise I would eat of your flesh.

Yes, Baba.

I waited. I watched though my eyes were closed. I could see hope and fear clawing at each other on her face.

I said, But you did not do the chores as I commanded.

And now I was clutching her scrawny throat. Lifting her at arm’s length. She gasped and sobbed. Her feet dangled in air. I opened the eyes of my face to see hers wide and wet.

I should eat you, little girl, and let your doll go home to your step-sisters.

Please, Baba, let me go. Her nose wet, her eyes, her whole face was shine. Please, Grandmother, the doll was gift from my Mama who is gone.

I smiled, letting go from her throat. She dropped to floor on her buttocks. I grasped her shoulder and lifted to feet again. Little Vasilisa, do not be cry, I said. I will give you your fire. I will not eat you. Your life will be very happy soon. My grin was as the serpent’s.

She snuffled from her nose and looked at me dumb.

I said, But you must leave this doll.

She burst into tears. Please, Baba. Tears dripped fat and heavy onto floor. The doll was from my Mama.

I stood now, towering above like shadow of the mountain over her. You would make demands of me? Of the Baba Yaga?

She only sobbed, her eyes shut so tight.

I belched into her face and laughed. You will live, girl! I slapped her bottom playfully. Be grateful. Your Mama has saved your life.

I was dragging her to hut’s door and out to the gate of bones. I commanded it unlocked and let go from her.

Go, I said. Go back to home.

Forest was black night, and I pulled one skull from fencepost. Its eyes burned green with heat of the dead.

This is Alyosha, I told the girl. He will be your light and your fire to the fireplace. I handed her the skull.

She wiped her nose and looked to the skull’s burning eyes. She looked again back at hut where was her Helpingman. She looked to me, to my teeth that grinned. Turning away, she picked up some stick and placed Alyosha upon it for handle. She turned toward me again, looking as if to speak, but said nothing. I licked my lips. She ran off into forest with Alyosha to light her way.

I returned into my hut and snatched up Helpingman from floor where he lay. Hut reeked of the human smell. I picked booger and gave it to the doll to eat. Its eyes glowed faint like dying ember.

Do not be pulling this bony leg, I said to it. I know your magic, little Helpingman. One food to eat is as good as another.

Its eyes glowed as normally.

That is better. Now, do as I bid. Rid my home of the girl’s stench. Rub the walls in goat turds, or sprinkle the curdled milk in her sleeping corner, or do what you must. I only suggest. I waved hand.

The little wooden man jumped down to begin its work.

When you are finished, return to me, little beastie.

Sleep, Grandmother. Wisdom is wiser in the morning. The wooden man spoke like chirping bird.

So I slept. The Helpingman can do no harm, especially to me.

When morning came, I cut and tortured the tiny wooden man until his secrets were mine.

Alyosha returned to me with afternoon to be make report. He told me how girl marched into her home, surprising the stepmother and stepsisters. He told me how he pointed his burning eyes at fireplace to start fire. He told me how he could not make himself stop the burning, could not let go of the feeling of heat, turning his eyes on each stepsister and then the stepmother, scorching and blackening until each was only dirty ashes of the floor.

But as he turned his gaze to Vasilisa, he let go his fire. He told me how he watched her laugh and twirl with joy, kicking her feet in the step-cinders. She swept the ashes into fireplace and then skipped away from the house like happy little cuckoo bird.

So who is really monster?

No, I suppose it only is me.