The Scarlet Tanager

By: Emigh Cannaday

Book 3 of the Annika Brisby Series

Chapter 1

your evil twin

When Annika opened her eyes, she could barely make out Talvi’s profile in the driver’s seat of her car. Her vision was about as blurry as a watercolor painting left in the rain, leaving her unable to see much of anything except flashes of headlights passing by. Careful not to move a muscle, she remained slumped against the door until she was sure that the sedative he’d slipped her was indeed wearing off. While they sped down the highway, she considered her escape options. Even in her stupor, she knew her choices were beyond limited. The only one she could think of was insane, and it might get her killed in the process, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Her right hand crept along the side panel of the door until it felt the handle. She gripped and pulled it as hard as she could, launching herself towards her freedom. She remembered being briefly airborne in the dark summer night before everything went black.

“You weren’t supposed to wake up, you stupid bitch,” snarled a familiar voice, but the accent was all wrong. Annika opened her eyes and screamed at the man groping at her. She tried to crawl backwards and away from Talvi, but he held her wrists down beside her ears, laughing with a disgusting air of malice.

“If you wanted to lay on your back so bad, you could’ve just told me to pull over…but I guess you like playing hard to get,” he said, unzipping his jeans. Annika growled in defiance and spit in his face, and he responded by hitting the side of her face so hard that she wondered if he’d knocked out some of her teeth.

“That’s no way to treat your husband,” he laughed, pushing up her poofy, sparkly rainbow skirt. She struggled against him, trying to kick him, but her legs felt heavy and weak. “You sure don’t behave like a good girl. Lucky for you that I’m not a good guy.”

She screamed again, and when he shoved his hand against her mouth she bit down hard, prepared for his fist when it struck her again. Her head throbbed but she somehow found the courage to taunt him to hit her again. The second his hand left her wrist, she punched him in the throat with her renewed strength. He reeled backwards, gasping as he clutched his neck. Then he lunged towards her, and Annika sank her knee into his crotch so forcefully that he fell onto his side, doubled over in pain. She began to crawl up the embankment, grasping in desperation onto the tall, wet ferns and stumbled over the thick, moss-covered logs until she saw her car a few yards ahead. She made a wobbly run for the driver’s side, oblivious to the traffic flying past her as her rubbery legs carried her to safety. She got in and locked the door, but when she reached over to close the passenger’s side, she screamed in terror. Talvi was already standing there, glaring at her with the nastiest expression she’d ever seen on his face. He grabbed her by the underarms and dragged her through the car and then shoved her down to the gravel shoulder, hitting her again before pulling out a flask from his pocket. He forced her jaws apart and poured the bitter alcoholic contents into her mouth. She tried to spit it out, but amidst the coughing and choking, her numb and sore jaws were no match for his painfully sober grip.

Red and blue lights began to flicker all around her, and when the Portland Police squad car pulled up and shined a spotlight through the rear window, she breathed a sigh of relief. Talvi hid the flask under the floor mat and rolled up his shirtsleeves, unconcerned as he waited for the officer to step out of his car. For Annika, the seconds seemed to drag by. Her arms felt like lead weights hanging off her sides, and her eyelids were betraying her, thanks to whatever had been mixed in that flask. Time began to slow down like it had earlier that night, making everything appear as blurry as another ruined watercolor.

“Everything alright here?” the officer asked, stepping closer to take a look at Annika. Her mouth opened to speak, but her frantic pleas for help sounded like incoherent drunken babble.

“I think I’ve gotten the situation under control as much as I can,” said Talvi, laughing softly. “My wife drank too much on an empty stomach, and when I pulled over to let her throw up, she fell down the ditch. She got a few scratches, but she’ll be okay.”