Once upon a time, an old man and woman had a pretty little granddaughter named Masha. The grandparents were usually careful never to let their beloved granddaughter get into trouble, but one day Masha's friends invited her to go into the forest to see the frost that was lacing tree branches.
"Father Frost has filled the forest," her friends said. "It's so beautiful."
Masha begged her grandparents to let her go.
Though they were nervous, they gave their granddaughter permission, and as she departed, they called after her, "Keep close to your friends."
Masha and her friends wandered through the forest staring at the frost coating the trees. Masha was so dazzled by the beauty that she did not keep her eye on her friends, and before long she discovered she was all alone.
She called out to her friends, "Hello, where are you?"
Her friends did not hear her, so they did not answer.
After a while, Masha began to grow cold. She kept wandering, hoping she would come upon her friends, but when her fingers began to feel numb, she worried she would never be saved. Suddenly, she saw a little hut ahead of her. She knocked on the door.
When no one answered, Masha lightly pushed on the door, and to her delight, it opened. She walked inside, wondering who lived in this place.
It happened that an enormous bear lived in the hut, but he was out hunting. Masha made herself comfortable, sitting by a chair to watch out the window for her friends.
As evening fell, it grew too dark for her to see. Masha was feeling very anxious.
To her surprise, the door suddenly opened and the bear walked in.
When he saw Masha, he was pleased.
"I've always wanted my own human," he said. "You will live here with me forever, and you will cook my breakfast and supper. If you don't agree to be my faithful servant, I will eat you."
Masha could not stop weeping for a long time, but she obeyed the bear's wishes. She cooked and kept house and looked after the hut as best she could. Whenever the bear set off to go hunting, he looked at her and said, "Don't you dare go away. Wait for me, or I will hunt you down and eat you. And if I cannot find you, I will eat up your grandma and grandpa!"
For months, Masha dreamed of ways she could escape, but the forest surrounded her. She had no one to ask for directions home, and so she could only sit and think, plotting and planning and imagining the day she returned to her grandparents' house.
One day when the bear returned from the forest, Masha said, "Please let me go to the village today. I want to buy a gift for my grandma and grandpa. I know they miss me very much, and you are so kind that I know you will take it to them and let them know I am safe."
The bear laughed. "I can't let you go. You'll get lost in the forest," he said. "But tell me what you want for your grandparents, and I will get it and take it to them."
This was exactly what Masha had hoped he would say. That afternoon, while the bear was hunting, she baked an apple pie and a pumpkin pie and wrapped them up and placed them in a big basket.
When the bear came home, Masha showed him the basket with the pies. "You will take this basket to my grandparents, but be careful not to open it along the way," she explained. "It's full of pies, and I don't want you to be tempted to eat them on your way. I am going to climb to the top of the biggest oak tree outside our door to watch and make sure you don't open it."
The bear promised he would not open the basket. "Now go outside and check the weather," Masha said. "I don't want you to have to walk such a long way in the bitter cold."
The bear walked outside to check the weather, and as he did, Masha crawled into the basket and covered herself with the pies. When the bear walked back inside, he picked up the basket, strapped it to his back and started off for her grandparents' house.
On he trudged, up and down hills, along a winding trail. The basket was so heavy that he was soon breathing heavily. He sat down to rest.
Soon his mouth began to water at the thought of those delicious pies. "I think I'll just eat one," he said. When Masha heard this, she called from the basket, "I see you there, bear. I see everything. Stand up now and take the pies to my grandma and grandpa just as you promised!"
"My, she has sharp eyes," the bear said. He quickly stood up and walked on, faster than before.
When the bear arrived in Masha's grandparents' village, he found their house and banged on the gate.
"I have a gift to you from your granddaughter!" he cried.
By then, the village dogs had sniffed the bear and rushed from every yard, barking and yelping and howling.
The bear became so frightened that he put down the basket and raced away.
When the old man and woman saw the basket, they lifted the top, and there was their pretty granddaughter, alive and well.
All three wept with joy as they lifted her out and hugged her and kissed her.
"I am fine," Masha told her grandparents, "and I learned to be clever because I had to."
They agreed and lived happily ever after, proud of their granddaughter's courage, wit and wisdom.
"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.