The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. A raven, roosting for the night in a fir tree just outside the window, watched the flame as it waited to get inside to feast on the rotting flesh somewhere inside. The raven watched the child go to the corner of the cabin and pick up a broom. The child walked across the floor, turned the broom to hold the bristles, and poked at something beyond the raven’s view.
“Crimson-red from blood they are; I behold them bathed in red!” came a chant as she jabbed the broomstick forward.
Outside, the raven called.
The young girl stopped and looked in the direction of the window. The girl returned the broom to its cabin corner, walked to the window, and blew out the candle.
The sun is high and the sky cloudless. The little girl marches along the sidewalk, head up, determined to reach her destination. Her rainboots clomp her rhythmic gait. No socks. And her dress looks hand-me-down and from her grandmother’s childhood. Of course, there is no way of knowing this, as it was the style of the dress, forgotten fashion as if the girl is dressed to be a doll with a missing petticoat.
The girl stops when she reaches a white picket gate that leads to a modest house with a lavish garden full of roses in all colors and a perfectly manicured lawn. A woman is cutting flowers and arranging them color-wise into a bouquet. The woman freezes for a moment, then looks around because of that feeling you have when you feel like you are being stared at.
“Oh, hello,” the woman says when she sees the little girl looking back at her, “you startled me.”
The girl says nothing and shows no emotion.
“Can I help you,” the woman asks?
The girl’s facial expression becomes pinched, brow furrowed, as she raises her hand in the shape of the letter “c” to the top of her throat, then swiftly drops it to her stomach.
The woman looks puzzled, so the girl repeats the sign language, I’m hungry, with increased dire emotion.
“You can’t speak,” the lady asks as she walks to the gate and opens it.
The girl walks through the gate and towards the house. Before reaching the porch steps, she stops and turns around to the woman, repeats the sign, I’m hungry, turns back, walks up the porch stairs and to the front door, opens the screen door, turns the front door handle, and walks into the stranger’s house.
By the time the woman walks up to her porch stairs, through the front door, and into her kitchen, the little girl is already seated at the table eating an apple.
The girl ignores the woman and stares blankly as she takes another bite of the apple.
“I see that you can see, so I suppose that’s something,” the woman says and, with a sweep of her arm, sends an empty glass off the kitchen counter to crash into the sink.
The little girl looks toward the sound at the sink.
“Also, you can hear,” the woman says, “why can’t you speak?”
The little girl swallows, stomps a boot once to the floor, and opens her mouth.
The woman looks at the girl.
The little girl stomps once again and points inside her mouth.
The woman steps closer and peers inside to see teeth, gums, and far back in the cavern of that child’s mouth, a too-small red tongue, long and wagging for more food to propel back into the throat.
The woman collapses in a heap to the floor.
Two ravens peck at the glass at the cabin’s window.
“Crimson-red from blood they are; I behold them bathed in red!”
One of the pair takes flight.
The remaining raven continues to peck at the glass for the promise of the meal inside. The raven senses the carrion along the windowless wall opposite the window. The raven sees a shiny black steel object on the floor near the carrion and a paperback book nearby.
The little girl appears inside the cabin at the window before the raven.
The raven remains at the glass pane as the child removes the wooden trowel across the frame and opens the window. The raven flutters itself inside. The raven lands on the plank floor next to the book and, with its beak, flips the book once. The book lands open with a chapter titled: The Foretelling.
The sun is low on the horizon casting shadows of the trees across the street onto the picket fence and flower beds. The girl waits at the gate for the woman to come out of the house. She has seen the woman three times now, standing at the big window, looking right at her while she signs, “I’m thirsty.”
When the woman walks out the front door, she has a phone to her ear. “Yes, that’s right,” she says, “3401 Carver Street. Please hurry.”
The little girl waits with a serene look as the woman quickly walks to her and opens the gate.
“I’ve been so worried,” the woman says. “I thought I had frightened you, and you ran away. You don’t live close by, do you?”
The girl walks past the woman waiting for her to answer. She walks up the porch steps, opens the front door, and walks in.
This time the woman follows quickly behind her. “You are in luck today,” the woman says, “I just made some chocolate chip cookies!”
Once in the kitchen, the little girl sits at the table with the plate of cookies waiting in the middle.
“Oh good,” the woman says, picking up the cookies, “I was hoping we could visit for a bit,” and offers the little girl to take one.
The girl hesitates, taking the smell of the plate in, then takes two and slides them carefully into her dress pocket. She looks at the woman, takes her index finger to under her chin, and pulls the finger down the length of her throat, her face pleading, I’m so thirsty. Then points to the sink’s faucet.
“Oh, heavens! Right,” the woman says, going to the cupboard and pulling out a glass, “how about a nice cold glass of milk?” The woman quickly goes to the refrigerator, takes out a carton of milk, and pours a full glass. “You know I like to dunk my chocolate chip cookies in the milk first before taking a bite.” Which she demonstrates once she sets down the glass for the girl. The woman’s facial expression exaggerates how delicious this is once she takes a bite.
The girl snatches the cookie from the woman and dunks the cookie herself into the glass of milk. She pulls the cookie up, smells it, and then quickly snaps off a bite. Her nose crinkles up, and she sets the cookie on the table.
“What is the matter,” the woman asks, “is the cookie bad?”
The girl picks up the remains of the cookie and sticks it in her pocket with the other two cookies. She pulls a business card from that pocket and hands it to the woman. The card reads Stephen Dunn, Professor Emeritus, Oral literature, Celtic Studies, University of CA, Berkley. In the bottom right corner are a phone number and email address.
“Who’s this,” the woman asks?
The girl takes the card and flips it to the other side. In red ink, the handwriting reads, “I am the Raven who has no home.”
The doorbell rings and the woman looks nervously to the front door.
The little girl gets up from her chair.
“Oh,” the woman says, “that must be the person I think should meet you.”
The girl shakes her head no.
The woman puts her hand on the little girl’s shoulder. “Don’t worry; we’ll all sit down for some more cookies and milk. Wait here,” the woman says and rushes to look out the living room window. A police patrol car is parked outside.
“Thank you for coming,” the woman says once she opens the door and steps outside, “but I thought they were going to send a social worker.’
The lady police officer says, “That would be me. May I come in?”
“Certainly,” the woman answers, opens the door, and the officer walks in.
“I’m so glad you could come by for cookies and milk,” the woman speaks loudly as she walks the officer to the kitchen. “I really want you to meet my new friend,” she says as she gestures to an empty kitchen table.
The woman looks at an open window. “That’s not possible,” she says, “she’s much too small to have been able to reach the latch.”
A shiny black feather floats through the open window and flutters to the floor.
The barrel of the gun on the cabin floor points to the dark dried stain that surrounds the dead body of the older man. The raven waits on the padded shoulder of the man’s suit jacket for its mate to return to roost for the night. As darkness falls, the raven moves to the open cabin window and flies to the fir tree outside.
The little girl waits on the porch at the living room window and stares inside the house. The woman finally descends the staircase and turns on the living room light. The girl calmly knocks on the window glass.
The woman jumps and turns toward the sound.
The little girl holds her palms facing up and, in an inverted claw shape, pulls her hands toward her belly. With her right hand, she then makes an “o,” puts her hand to her mouth, and glides it up to the top of her cheek.
The woman stares at the child.
The girl repeats the sign; I want to go home, over and over with increased intensity until the woman opens the front door and turns on the porch light.
“Please,” the woman says with outstretched arms to the child, “let me help you.”
The little girl points to the street and signs; I want to go home.
“I called that number on the card,” the woman says, “but it was no longer in service, so I googled the name on the card. Do you know Stephen Dunn?”
The little girl calmly nods yes.
“Well,” the woman says, “seems like a lot of people are worried about him and want to know where he is. Quite a few stories on quite of few sites. Do you know where he is?”
The little girl calmly nods and points in the street’s direction.
The woman kneels close to the child, “honey,” she says, “some of those stories are about a long time ago, when he had a little girl, well he was the girl’s stepfather, and the little girl has been missing for a really long time, he’s not at your house is he?”
The little girl nods yes, and points to the street.
“Honey,” the woman says, “I think we should call my friend.”
The little girl firmly shakes her head no and takes the woman’s hand, and together they walk down the porch steps, out the gate, and the little girl leads her in the moonlight toward the woods.
Once the cabin is in sight, the woman stops and asks, “are you taking me there?”
The little girl nods.
“But that cabin has been abandoned for many years,” the woman says.
The little girl shakes her head no and continues on with the woman to the cabin. When they reach the porch. The little girl stops and signs, wait. The woman remains on the porch, and the girl goes into the cabin and returns with a candle and matches. She hands both to the woman, who takes the candle, sets it on the porch railing, and lights it. When she turns back around to the child, the girl is gone.
“Wait for light,” the woman says as she walks through the cabin door.
The woman holds the candle up to see what’s in front of her.
A mouse scurries across the floor.
She sees a thin paperback open and face down on the floor, puts the light closer, and reads the title: Tain Bo Cuailnge. She picks the book up by its front cover. A folded piece of paper falls from the book.
Another mouse runs close by her. She drops the book to stop the mouse. The mouse changes direction. The woman picks the folded page up and, with her free hand, unfolds the page to read the handwritten note:
You have found the body of Stephen Dunn. I have taken my own life, and I lie here to be discovered so that the remains of Racheal Conrad, my stepdaughter, may be found too. She lies beneath me, five feet down, waiting to be returned for a proper burial. May God forgive me.
The woman raises the candle up. Scrawled across the back wall of the cabin, in thick dark cursive writing reads:
Crimson-red from blood he is; behold him bathed in red!
Under the script lies a body across the cabin’s back wall. Where the head should be, a mass of maggots writhe in the bone bowl of brains.
The woman screams.
A rat leaps from within the body’s clothing.
The woman drops the candle and runs.
The flame is slow to catch the pages of the book, but every so steadily, the fire catches to dance across the planked floor.
The ravens wait until there is an audible roar inside the cabin to take flight from the fir tree. In the moonlight, the mated pair head for home.