This was originally a prompt I responded to. The prompt is simply a song called A Tune For Frankie by Altan, if you'd like to listen to what inspired this story copy and paste the web address.
Annah capped her pen and tossed it onto her bed after scribbling a note that simply read "John, fish for dinner." She gathered up her shoes and over clothes that were laid out the night before and slipped silently down the hall to her brothers room. Avoiding the spot on the wood floor that creeks, she gently placed the note by the door leaving it sit where the morning sun peeked under and through the gap. She stopped in the kitchen only long enough to grab a few biscuits off the baking pan and shoved them into a pocket. Just out the kitchen door she sat down and hastily slipped her clothes on over her night shirt and shoved her bare feet into her mother's plain black rain boots. Loose, but they'll do. Lastly she clipped her hair up in a mess of knotted curls. Prepared now, she unstopped the latch on the tool closet to grab the fishing pole and gear. She was nearly down the long foot path that led to the lake when she heard him.
"Ann! Annah wait. I want to come with." It was her little brother John. She closed her eyes but didn't turn to him. Instead she let him run all the way up to her and as predicted he climbed into the boat before she could shove off without him. He had one shoe on and the other still in his hand. His sandy hair flat on one side and fanned out on the other. This scene was the same nearly every time she left, or tried to leave. Somehow he always managed to wake just in time to race after her. He would not be left behind, ever. It was her own private game to see if she could escape him but he never failed to catch her.
"Dad's going to skin you if he catches you with his best pole again." John added after catching up. Annah tried not to smirk at that.
"He has to catch me first." She was sure her dad knew full well that she always took his fishing pole, but his bark was far worse than his bite.
Today was a good day. She could feel the fish wanting to bite before the boat was on the water and the sun already tore through the morning fog. Each tiny wave had a sparkle that danced and wiggled, it was enough to almost make her giggle like a child. She handed John her bag and the pole and shoved off with a mighty heave, jumping in at the last second. The boat rocked and settled as she did. A quiet hum escaped her as the boat filled with hollow wooden sounds as her bother wrestled the oars in their locks. Annah wrapped her hands caressingly around each one and dug hard into the silent lake.
John watched her as she worked. He never understood how a scrawny girl could have the strength to get the boat moving as she did. She was different on the water and they moved like skippers across the surface. They kept at it until he could hear his sister panting and that was his queue.
"I'm hungry, did you bring any food?" He knew she had, but this question would cause her to pause and set the oars out of the water, like clockwork. He wondered if she knew he had this power. It was fascinating and he'd been working on finding the words that worked during other moments. The times when she was lost in a book or dancing were easier than stopping the fights she and their dad would often get into, but he was working on it.
They ate with smiles on their lips; each for different reasons, and when they were done Annah shifted out of the way and nudged her brother toward the oars. His eyes lit up. She never offered to let him row before and he never thought to ask. He took her place but sat for a bit before he asked what he knew might darken her mood.
Can we go to the island?"
Annah's expression did falter a bit, but she hid it well. She knew exactly why he wanted to go there. She once told him a fantastic tale about a creature named Torrig that stole a beautiful woman and trapped her on the island to dance for its pleasure. There was one man who would know how to set her free but he didn't truly believe in the creature. Annah's mother had told her the story a long time ago while they played make believe. A few months after Annah told it to John their mother went missing and she regretted ever mentioning it.
"Mom is dead John." Her words weren't harsh just flat truth.
"No, she's not." John was young but he had a confidence about him that was as sure as water was liquid. It showed in his smile as if he knew something that she did not.
"I've seen her."
Alarm trickled over Annah's shoulders and down her back. John had never said that before. She let him have his daydreams if it made him happy but this...she wasn't sure what to think or do about it. After a long silent breath she relented. Maybe if she let him take her to the island she could show him there was nothing there and he'd finally let it be.
"Alright captain, you've got the oars." Then she settled herself and looked out toward the island which always looked much closer than it was.
"Annah, if you row for a bit can I still be captain?" John had a rosy mist of sweat across his freckled face and arms. Annah grinned at his expression and only gave a curt nod to show she agreed. They weren't far now and she was impressed at how long he lasted. He had grown so much in the last year and didn't notice until now. He didn't have his round child cheeks anymore; his innocent eyes had turned more to mischief and his hands were hard working hands.
Taking up the oars again she slowly brought them around the large outcrop of rocks and then through the tall reeds that always grew along the shore. Ducks complained as they slid by and damsel flies escorted them in the rest of the way. A long stretch of clear water and dark sand made for an easy place to pull the boat in and there was a worn walking path almost stretched to the water. Together they followed it never wondering how many feet it must have taken to make this path or who could have done it. It was known that many people went to the island throughout the year for one reason or another, but this didn't cross their minds either. Their goal was simply to walk it and get to the clearing by the stream where their mother used to take them.
Their father used to come as well but only after her mother game him the look that said everything and nothing. Hannah thought of those moments while walking and smirked at how easy it was for her mother to communicate like that and how her father was helpless in her gaze. Nothing was the same without her.
John stopped abruptly in the path causing Annah to jab him with the fishing pole. He just turned and glared for a second before turning back to what had caught his interest. Annah looked and saw bugs, the stream, fallen tree branches, and all the usual things. She was squinting at the bushes before she thought to ask what he was looking at. Instead she shoved him, harder than she meant to but John just hop stepped and ignored her.
"Get a move on!" She was losing patience. John always had keener senses than she did which often caused her temper to spike.
"Do you hear that?" John closed his eyes and turned his right ear toward the trees opposite the stream.
"No, I don't." She pushed past him and set her load down next to a low bent tree. "John, I do need to get fish for dinner sometime today, so can we just go do whatever it is you want to do? Please."
As soon as she had started talking John had begun waving his hand in an attempt to lower her volume with no effect. Annah did not like being cut off and finished her sentence despite all his enthusiasm. However, when she did stop talking she realized she did hear something. The two looked at each other, each right eyebrow raised, each ear now lifted in the same direction. Without any more thought Annah made for the trees toward the sound. John needed no convincing and followed on her heels.
Each time Annah heard the noise she felt it in her chest though it was hardly loud enough to hear at all. It was a sort of pufft, thump, pufft, thump, a soft quiet sound that didn't belong in a wooded area. When she couldn't hear it she'd slow, stop, then move quickly again through the brush, always following the trail. Jon never spoke or tried to lead, he let her go where her feet and ears took them. His knowing face was set, his pace slowed as they reached the top of a low rise. He heard Annah gasp and knew what she saw. It was her. It was their mother. She danced behind a wall of shimmery air that distorted the view of her, but it was her.
"John!" It was an accusing tone that came out clenched, as if he could have made more of an effort to make her believe what he told her was true. Annah's hand pressed against a tree for support. She had trouble trusting her eyes and wasn't sure her legs could be trusted either. Annah was afraid. She didn't want to look away, but found her brothers face. No words came to her, but her eyes asked him what to do. Somehow she knew John had the answers. Whatever it was she was supposed to do, he knew.
"Just go." John seated himself on a warm flat rock to wait. He had no intention of going with her.
Slowly Annah turned back to the mirage of her mother, partially thinking it would be gone, but it wasn't and it was no mirage. The path under her feet seemed to melt away as each foot worked closer. Half way there the woman, her mother, turned to her. The dance slowed, pufffft, thump…pufffft, thump. Her mother's arms opening up to her, calling her closer. Her eyes were warm and she wore the blue silk dress her father wrapped, hid, and then couldn't find until two weeks past her mother's birthday.
Tears welled and spilt with a hot passion down beside Annah's nose. They tickled and it made her mad for the distraction. She used her pinky finger to flick the tears away and this cause the mother figure to laugh. Annah froze. It was her mother's laugh. The one she used when she thought her children were being both odd and adorable at the same time. The one she used when her children were being so much like their father.
"Mom?" Annah flinched at the soreness in her throat.
She felt herself waver in and out of conscious thought. All she wanted was to crash into her mother's arms and live there forever. She didn't care about how this was possible, she didn't think at all. Her heart beat the blood in her veins hard enough to rock her body with the rhythm of her mother's dance. She took a step closer and then her mother shouted.
"Stop! Do not touch me. Do not reach for me. Wake up Annah!"
Annah shook herself, raised her hands to her dizzy head. What was going on? She felt drugged.
"How are you here mom? It was just a story!" Annah choked.
"Go find your father Annah. Take John and go find your father. Bring him here. Make him come. Find a way."
"He won't listen to me!" Panic rose and heated the back of her neck. Her father never listened to her, it always ended in a fight. How could she convince him when he would do nothing to remind him of his lost wife?
"He will, He'll see. He always sees. Make him look Annah. He'll see me in your eyes. He'll see the truth. You can do it."
Annah shook her head no, but she didn't argue. You don't argue with mom. She rose to her feet, shook the weight out of her head one more time, and resolutely walked back to her brother. By the time she reached his place on the rock she knew her mother was gone. John's smile could not have been bigger.
There might be more to come...