Tessie ran and ran and ran in big, wide circles. Her flaxen hair blew like laughing wheat, her Brandeis-blue dress covered with snowy polka dots that shifted this way and that in the crisp Atlantic breeze of the early year. Tessie was like a butterfly—you couldn’t catch her, but she was beautiful to look at.
Tessie’s twin sister Jessie liked to sit and daydream. Sometimes she liked to run around in big circles, but mostly she liked to sit and imagine, so she never ate as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as Tessie because she was never anywhere near as hungry. Few people could tell the difference between the five-year-olds, they were so much alike. Annalisa could tell the difference, but she was their baby sister by two years. Miller couldn’t tell the difference, though, because he was just born. Miller was the girls’ baby brother. Tessie and Jessie told Annalisa that Miller flew down from Heaven on wings that God made from the pages of golden faerytale books, but Annalisa had already decided that her brother sprouted out of the red oak tree that grew in their back yard, and his bright red hair was proof of it. And Miller smelled like their oak tree, which was even more proof.
The day after Tessie fell and twisted her ankle and decided that running in circles while blindfolded might not be such a good idea after all, Annalisa stole Miller out of his crib. Then she climbed her daddy’s old wooden ladder that was leaned against the red oak. Then she hid her baby brother in the spacious crotch of the tree.
“Tessie? Jessie? Where’s Miller?”
“Annalisa had him. Mommy my ankle hurts. Really bad.”
“Annalisa? Annalisa! Come to the kitchen please!” Mommy felt panic rise in her like the waters of a flash flood.
“Yes, Mommy Rabbit?” Annalisa hopped down the stairs with her hands cupped on the top of her head like bunny ears. “Mommy, does rabbits only squint their nose and hop?”
“Annalisa! Rabbits later! Where is Miller! Where is he!”
“Oh. Outside in his tree.” Annalisa yawned. “I is tired of him crying and waking me up, so I take him back to his tree. He be alright.”
Mommy didn’t remember climbing the ladder. Neither did she remember falling. When she awoke in a swirly daze, unhurt, she was surrounded by willowy figures with bright ginger hair. One of them held Miller.
A Red Oak Lady held him. “This one is yours?”
“Yes! Miller! He’s my baby boy! Please give him to me!”
“He is a handful, this one. He bawls all the time. You may certainly have him back, and please tell the flaxen haired child who brought him to us to only bring quiet ones from now on. We simply have no time for the ones who bawl. Our own small ones never bawl. Our people weep sometimes, yes, but we never bawl. Such an awful sound.”
“Please–give me my baby!” Mommy stood and took Miller from the Red Oak Lady. Other Red Oak People stood around. They look at her as if they saw something they had never seen before. Then they all began to diminish like a morning fog in the sun, and were soon gone.
“Why you bring Miller back, Mommy? Now he cry all the time again. I don’t like him cry all the time.”
“Don’t take him away again, Annalisa.” Mommy’s eyes flashed as she held Miller close. “If you ever take him away again, Annalisa, I will give you to the Raven People who have claws and beaks as sharp as Daddy’s kitchen knife. The Raven People like to eat children’s eyes out and then chew their lips off. If you don’t want that to happen to you, Annalisa, then never ever take Miller away again. Ever.”
“Okay Mommy.” But Annalisa wasn’t scared of the Raven People. They came in her dreams sometimes and told her astonishing stories about their world. Annalisa liked the idea of going to see where they lived, and if stealing Miller again could help make that happen, then that was what she was going to do. He wasn’t hurt with the Red Oak People. They didn’t hurt him. Maybe Mommy was angry with them and told them she would take them to the Raven People, and they were scared of the Raven People. But Annalisa wasn’t scared. She wanted to go and visit the Raven People. Maybe even live with them forever. She wasn’t sure yet. She’d have to wait and see if they had chocolate pie. If they didn’t, she was staying with her human family. After all, she would miss Tessie and Jessie a lot. And Daddy. And sometimes Mommy. But never Miller.
After Annalisa got the big boy next door to put the wooden ladder back up against the red oak for her, she waited at the crotch of the tree until somebody came. One came soon enough.
“White Hair Child, you promise he will not bawl?”
“What bawl mean?”
“Make a loud noise with the lips as water pours from the eyes.”
“Oh you mean when he cry. No, he not cry no more.”
“You promise? We hate babes who cry.”
“I promise he not cry. I give him medicine. He not cry no more.”
“Annalisa d-darling?” Mommy’s voice shook like grass in a high wind.
“Yes Mommy Rabbit?”
“Where… where is Miller, sweetheart?”
“I take him to his tree.”
“Annalisa! Please! Oh God!”
“Where you think I take him, Mommy Rabbit?”
But when Mommy climbed the ladder this time, she didn’t fall… until she tried to caress Miller’s eyes open, tried to kiss him awake and couldn’t. Then she fell.
Tessie saw her fall. Jessie saw her fall. Annalisa saw her fall.
To this day, though, all three girls say that they never saw their mother land. It was as if she fell into the grassy back yard at the base of their red oak tree.
The mortician did masterful work on Miller’s missing eyes and chewed-away lips. People said he looked as if he died peaceably in his sleep, though everyone knew the truth.
‘Annalisa!’ first appeared in the author’s collection Children and Other Wicked Things.
Scáth Beorh is the author of the novels COOL AS FVCK (Ghostley Books, 2017) and THE VAMPIRES OF DREACH FOLA (Ghostley Books, 2016), the story collection CHILDREN & OTHER WICKED THINGS (Ghostley Books, 2013), the poetic study DARK SAYINGS OF OLD (Crucifixion Books, 2013, 2017), and the novels THE WITCH OF BALLINASCARTY (Crucifixion Books, 2017), PINPRICK (Ghostley Books, 2017), and JESUS IS A WOMAN (Ghostley Books, 2018). He has also edited CLASSIC GHOST STORIES (Crucifixion Books, 2017) and THE ANNOTATED NEPHILIM FIELD GUIDE (Ghostley Books, 2017). Forthcoming works include the novel OCTOBER HOUSE, the story collections STORIES FOR BOYS and 10345: TALES of the GRIM & GROTESQUE, the novel GHOSTS of the FIRST COAST and HAUNTED BY BENEVOLENCE, the fiction/nonfiction work GOAT of AZAZEL, and the poetic study FOR STRANGERS & EXILES.