Nattraven

fiction by Alex Creece

Nattraven illustration

Illustration: Inkshark

It was a crisp spring morning as Sylvei sat by the windowpane, chewing the inside of her lip and watching Niko and Runa skip hand-in-hand down the gravel driveway. She wrung the day’s issue of the Bladet Tromsø in her hands, feathering the edges of its pages in anguish. Across its front page, yet another child’s school portrait; another accompanying bloodbath. The fourth in a mere two months. The latest victim had been walking home from a friend’s house at twilight when the invisible assailant swooped in and snatched her. She was found the next morning crumpled beneath a pine tree on the very street she lived. The young girl’s eyes had been gouged from their sockets, her skin shredded with lacerations, and somehow, a single, bulletless hole drilled through her skull. Sylvei looked out the window again, parting the curtain. She caught the flash of Niko’s brightly sneakered heel as her twins turned the corner out of her view. Dread settled in her stomach like sediment.

The children, of course, arrived home as scheduled—well before dark. Everything was fine. They were safe. Sylvei had once more spent the day in a needlessly fretful state, too skittish to run any of her errands in town, but slowly driving herself stir-crazy and paranoid scrolling through endless internet articles about serial killers and pedophile ring conspiracies. The large cottage was growing dusty, children’s toys cluttered the corridor, and a basket full of damp laundry was beginning to smell. Sylvei was finding herself, more often than not, in a state of constant dishevelment. She felt as if she were becoming a woman far battier than she thought herself to be, one who chased away shadows and shooed at the ravens roosting upon her fence. The monster terrorising Tromsø seemed to be unleashing a monstrous version of herself too.

Sylvei was staring numbly into a simmering pot of potato klubb when the children came noisily barging through the front door. She exhaled a sigh of relief with the clambering of their feet and the chirpy trill of their voices. They kicked off their shoes and threw their backpacks down in the kitchen next to their mother as she served up the dumplings with roast vegetables and sei fish. She ushered them both to sit down. Niko happily obliged, eagerly tucking in to his meal, while Runa remained bouncing on her feet, breathless and lispy with excitement.

“Mama! Mama! Alfryk’s older sister is walking him down to the seaside late tonight to watch the lights! He says they can stop by so we can come too! Can we? Can we, please?”

“Oh, Runa, elskede… I don’t think so. Not tonight.”

“What! Why not?” The splatter of her freckles seeped into a scowl. “It’s not fair!”

“Runa—”

“Please, mama?” Niko piped up through a mouthful of food, “I’m big enough to stay up this year, I promise! And it’s not even a school night!”

Flecks of fish sprinkled the wooden table. His usually ruddy face reddened even further.

“Enough! Eat your dinner, both of you, and then it’s straight to bed.”

The disgruntled children let out cries of protest, but Sylvei had already turned towards the living room. She ran a hand through her thinning hair as she curled up on the sofa. Another morbid news report hummed through the television set, clawing at her tattered nerves but eventually sedating her into the elusive clutches of sleep.

Runa and Niko tiptoed out the front door, their shadows elongated across the wall in the dull light of late-night talk shows in front of their sleeping mother. Alfryk stood in the doorway, bouncing on his feet, while his teenage sister Emilija lingered behind him. The children exhaled giddily as they clicked the door softly behind them and headed away with their friends.

Alfryk and Runa skipped ahead, kicking a rock along the ground. Niko, the smaller twin, slipped his hand into Emilija’s. It was a clear dark night, and he was more scared than he wanted to admit.

“Mama seems sad lately. Usually she would love to come and see the northern lights herself.” He lamented, a shiver in his voice.

Emilija squeezed the boy’s hand. “Our mother is a bit stressed lately too. She is just worried, I think.”

“Why?”

The older child hesitated, looking to Niko’s inquisitive eyes.

“Well, it’s a parent’s job to worry. That’s all.” Then she smiled, a skip in her step, “But it’s a kid’s job to have fun! Kom igjen!”

The children picked up their pace, eager to get to the beach and to put their parents’ paranoia out of mind. Runa and Alfryk’s kicking stone was cast to the side of the street among a nest of others just like it.

As they neared the sandy clearing of the coast, Runa sped forward. She had captured sight of the sky—a greenish tinge, a purple streak, a glittery canvas—and was too excited to hold back for the group. Transfixed on the lights, she slipped on a dip in the sand and tumbled forward. As Runa let out a small cry, Emilija dropped Niko’s hand and rushed to her aid.

Alone, fear quickly enveloped Niko once again. He gulped nervously, the cool air catching in the back of his throat. Alfryk seemed further ahead than he was before, and Niko could barely hear the hushed tones of Emilija checking on Runa. Niko decided he ought to catch up with Alfryk, but stopped in his tracks a moment later when he too caught a glimpse of the lights.

Niko’s breath slowed with calmness as he stood mesmerized by the arctic kaleidoscope of the night sky. The colors mingled and twisted into each other, their shadows slowdancing across the ocean. Niko felt justified in disobeying their mother. He felt less frightened of the night than ever.

An arrow of darkness shot through Niko’s view of the northern lights. He gasped as the figure pierced his line of vision with an echoing caw.

And then, he saw nothing.

The shrill screech of sirens. The crunch of footsteps on gravel.

The murmur of solemn adult voices and the whimpers of children. Three children. Just three.

The pervasive flutter of blue and red lights on her cornea.

Sylvei’s pre-dawn morning was a nightmare sequence. A rotation of blank faces—police officers, ambulance, Alfryk and Emilija’s parents—cups of coffee and utter shock. All she could focus on was petrified Runa, wrapped up in a thin blanket, and the excruciating absence beside her.

Police interviews dragged through the early hours in a blur. Sylvei remained numb, sitting upright on the couch with her fingernails embedded into the armrest like talons. An officer finally brought Runa back to her mother, who clutched her child tightly and let out a choked sob. After a few moments, Sylvei turned to the policewoman with wide eyes.

“Please. I need to know what happened.”

“I’m afraid we’ll have to come back later to speak to Runa again, once she’s gotten some rest,” the officer spoke carefully, “Runa is understandably stressed, and can only seem to comprehend the events as some type of monster attack. Sometimes children respond this way to trauma or confusion.”

Sylvei’s breath hitched in her throat. In her arms, Runa squirmed.

“It wasn’t a make-believe monster!” she began to babble, “It was a big black bird! A huge one! Even bigger than me! I ran ahead and Niko got left on his own and it came and snatched him up and it’s all my fault!”

The officer sighed. “We will see you both in the late morning. Try to get some sleep.”

Runa eventually feel asleep on the couch next to Sylvei, who stayed wide awake, the television still flickering a light show across her face. Sylvei’s mind felt both empty and yet racing with fear and grief.

At sunrise, Runa jolted out of a troubled sleep as a caw pierced the silence of their home. Sylvei turned her head frantically to peer out the window.

On the dewy grass of their front garden, a raven pecked idly at the ground. It cawed once more.

Out of nowhere, another raven swooped down to perch upon the fence. It sat proudly, its chest puffed out.

Sylvei didn’t take her eyes off the birds, chilled by her daughter’s tale from the early hours.

She could’ve sworn they stared back.

Alex Creece is a Norwegian Australian who lives in a hoarder’s nest with her dog, Danzig. She enjoys queer arts-n-crafts projects and playing video or board games. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, Rose Water Magazine, Antipodean Sci Fi, and more. You can find further information at creecedpaper.com.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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