This Week’s Prompt: 41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.
The Relevant Research:Frightful Night Terrors
Elise had been stolen from me. Elise, Elise had been stolen in the middle of the night. Again. I was out in the old forest with my flashlight, searching as best I could. Again.
The first time she was small. Only six. Only six, and out of the house. Well, that doesn’t give the full story. Her door was locked, a nice iron pad lock as well as the normal lock. The windows had been barred, in case some of the more adventurous squirrels or raccons lept in at Elise. It was a secure as secure could be. I even moved her bed, in case someone through something through the window. It was safe and close.
Foggy forest nights where the clouds seem to have come down from the sky and subusmed the moon are not exactly comforting when you’ve lost something. Your feet catch on the roots, and after the first few you times you fall over, you start thinking they are trying to drag you down into the ground. The flashlight can catch the branches, giving me time to duck and weave through the woods. It wasn’t a quite night this time.
Last time, there was almost no noise in the woods but my footsteps and heavy breathing. I knew Elise was in the woods. There hadn’t been any signs in her room, the lock and bars still intact. But I saw her steps going off towards the woods. I grabbed a hand gun, my flashlight, and went running. I didn’t think to call the police. Not yet.
Tonight there was the occasional clinking when my footsteps hit a broken beer bottle. The wind drove the branches against each other, scratching at the sky. There was an occasional howl in the depths, towards the old hills. I ran faster, my flashlight bumping up and down. I called out for her again. Last time, last time it had taken two days to find her out in these woods.
I spent a night running around screaming, last time. I wasn’t even the one who called the cops. Neighbors around the woods called complaining about the noise.
“Now sir, calm down. How long has your daughter been missing.”
“I don’t know, three hours? I noticed she was gone when I went to bring her water for the night, she always gets water at around nine, and then she wasn’t there, so I went out–” I said, my voice beginning to pick up speed as I talked.
“And there was no one else in the house? No one at all? No visitors, babysitters?” the man in blue asked, tilting his head to look inside.
“None, no.” I said flatly.
“Door was locked and everything.” He said, thinking for a moment. “Well, we’ll get a search party together. You mind coming down to the station, so we can a statement on the record?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, just let me get some things.”
“It’d be better for it to be right now.” the man said, stepping out of the doorway.
The station conversation was much the same. They asked again about the room, why was it so secure, if I heard anything, if I saw anything. I had heard tapping on the top floor I said, but I thought it was a door in the wind or something. They held me there, away from the search party, for about six hours.
It wasn’t hard to piece together what they thought had happened. It was suspicious, it was frustrating. You do everything you can to keep your daughter safe, after her mother vanishes into thin air, and people start to wonder what your hiding her from. What’s out there that warrants bars on the windows, iron locks, and a fence? Then the start asking if it’s something inside instead. And it goes down hill.
Not like I don’t know what did it. I do, I do know. Out here in the woods, there’s only one thing that steals away with children. Mother told me about night like these, and I told Elise. These are old woods, and her mother didn’t understand that either. They’re fairie woods, woods were you better carry a cross even during the day.
They found her in the woods last time, sleeping in the roots of a tree, with a few scratch marks and a sprained ankle. She said she didn’t know how she got there. And maybe she didn’t. I hadn’t put all the stuff up yet. Just the one lock. It’s possible, I guess, she just snuck out. But how did she get so far away, from the second story to the woods with barely any sound? No, it took her there.
I tried telling Elise once, but she was so young. So very young, she had trouble grasping what I meant by faeries.
“But wouldn’t they be scared of you, papa?” she asked. “I mean, Tinkerbell would be frightened off by you. All you have to do is say you don’t believe in faeries.”
And I smiled and said sure with a laugh. Still secretly sewed some iron into her clothes, as a ‘game’. Yeah, it might have looked a little odd if you saw it, and it gave her a bit of a rash as she grew up. But it was the only way to be sure. If she knew what was out here, she’d know that it wasn’t scared of me. Contrary to what Disney says, faeries are rarely kind or small. And the one in the woods…he’s neither.
“He walks on long legs, so that even boys and girls on upstairs rooms aren’t safe from him.” Mother told me, holding her arms over my head like an oak’s branches. “And if you’ve been bad, it comes up from the forest for you with it’s long branch like arms.”
I had scratched my face pretty bad by now, the thorns of bushes and low hanging branchs having left their mark. Especially as I was more focused on moving forward then anything else, and so instead of ducking and weaving in the thickets I walked straight through them.
“And he takes you away, to his house, for as long as it takes for you to learn your lesson. He took my brother once, and he was gone for a whole year.” she said. Uncle Tommy was clear that he’d gone to millitary school, but to be honest when I was little that might as well as been hell.
I didn’t believe in him for a long time, until I was out in the woods myself. I saw him, two long arms out stretched among the branches, and a bright toothy grin. Long pale legs and a glowing face like a barn owls. I saw him, I did , that night Elise went missing. And he’s come again, he’s come again for my daughter.
Why now though? I can’t help but wonder as I begin to lose the speed in my legs. Why now? It’d been three years, three years since they found her. She’d been well behaved, she’d been doing good in school, I’d been doing the best I could, making recitals, making it to bake sales, buying girl scout cookies, selling girl scout cookies, telling her good night.
What had gone wrong?
I didn’t shout her name this time. I didn’t bother calling the police this time. The bars on her window sealed my fate I think. No one likes them. Home owner’s associations been knocking on my door about them every month.
“It’s ugly” they say.
“New homebuyers think it’s a prison cell.” they say.
“It can’t be good for little Elise.” they say.
What do they know about what’s good for a kid, huh? What do they know, they’ve never had one. Never had one go missing in the middle of the night, and never gone to bed wondering if she’s snuck out again. For a year after, I put a baby monitor in her room, just in case. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, maybe I let my guard down. But hell, the bars. The bars were a must.
I know that’s what got her last time. And hell if I let that thing steal her again.
Not that they did any good it seems. But the iron should have! The iron should have burned him. My grandma, she had iron tied above her when she slept. It’s what kept her safe. My mother, she just put a cross of iron on my neck.
I find my answer, pretty quickly. Its hanging from a tree branch, a small piece of bright blue cloth with the tiny iron thread gleaming in the flash light. My heart stops for a second and I feel my breath become lead in my throat. In a daze, I look around, I look closely and carefully for any sign of her. It had to have come through here.
Someone’s sobbing or…laughing, its that sound that’s between the two. I round the trunk, watching my steps. When I come around, I see a girl Elise’s age. But her mousey brown hair has been cut in weird places, and she’s got bruises on her arms. There are wrinkles beneath her eyes and callouses on her hands that I’ve never seen before.
It can’t be her.
“L-Lizzy?” I say slowly, getting down on one knee. “Lizzy, is that you?”
“Papa!” she shouted, looking up at my light and running into hugging me. “Papa, he said I could go home, papa!”
I patted her on the back as her tears rand down my shoulder. I should have been delighted. I should have. My little girl was back. But something felt wrong.
“Go home? Honey, you’ve only been out here a few hours.” I said cautiously.
“No, no, papa, its a been longer that. Months at least.” she said through tears. Months? No, something in my mind clicked. Not months. Years.
What had been living in my house?
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