I honestly couldn’t say whether the bird was injured or not when she found it.
V often stumbled across animals that were hurt. Like the time she’d found a cat with not one but two broken legs. She never did explain where she got it from and I was too afraid to ask. But anyway, it died, within hours of being ‘found’. Now, only three weeks later, she’d scooped an injured bird into an old boot box and brought it to me.
Seeing it lying there made me uneasy. It flopped over on one side, trapped by its own weakness. It made me wonder what actually happened to all the injured birds in the world; did they simply fall out the sky mid-flight and if so, where did they land? I didn’t often see dead birds lying around, at least not as many as you’d expect, considering the entire bird population. But I didn’t have long to dwell on it because V was on a mission.
“Here,” she said, dropping the box on my lap.
I shuddered and looked down at the creature she had dumped on me. I didn’t really like birds and this one was especially creepy. It was a raven, large and black, with a beak shaped like a scythe. It flapped its good wing furiously, as if it trying to slap me away and I slid the box back gently to the ground, hoping V would lose interest.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked, hoping to distract her.
“Broken wing. Anyone can see that,” she said. She tossed a worm at me. “Feed it.”
I looked at the worm, all covered with slime. I didn’t want to touch that either. But I had learned over the years never to show weakness in front of V – or I’d end up eating the worm myself. V was the sort of girl that every other girl wanted to be. Her face was the mask of an angel, wide blue eyes spaced evenly apart, a rosy complexion, framed by Medusa coils of long blonde hair.
Most adults were unable to see past her wholesome appearance and V knew it. She used her face the same way she used those around her, manipulating it into exactly the right position, so she could take what she wanted in life.
She stood up and poked at the ground with her stick, lifting stones and rocks, looking for beasties. I pretended to offer up the worm to the raven. “It won’t eat,” I said, slyly, flicking the worm to one side. “It’s not hungry. Let’s hide it in the garage for later. It’s only a bird.”
As I spoke, I could feel the raven staring at me. Its eye was black and shiny and even though the sun shone overhead, it caught no glimmer of light. I shuddered.
“You’re so pathetic,” V snapped. “You never want to do anything. I don’t even know why I hang around with you – I come up with all our good ideas. You just sit there.”
I chewed down on my lip. I looked over at the abandoned worm, now struggling to make its way across the gravel. Its head reached skywards, blindly, as if trying to sniff out a new direction. I know just how you feel, I thought.
“Sorry”, I said, “I just …”
V stopped scouring the ground and threw a stone across the path. “Stuff this,” she said. “I’m bored of feeding it anyway.”
We sat for over an hour deciding what to do. I tried to think up exciting things, plans that V would approve of, but they just sounded silly when I said them out loud – pathetic.
One of V’s ideas was to sneak into the upstairs bathroom, with the bird still tucked in the box, then launch it out the window, to see if it would attempt to fly with just one wing. But she was certain it would just crash to the ground and that, she said, would be so boring.
Then she turned and grabbed on to my shoulders with both hands, her angel-eyes sparkling. “I know.” she said, and I screwed up my fists, waiting. “We’ll set it on fire.” She let go of me and clapped her hands together as if already striking the match. Her face glowed in delight.
A thousand tiny creatures gnawed at my skin. “Nah,” I said, quickly, doing my best to sound casual. “Too smelly. We’d have to steal matches and everything. Remember the cat? Let’s just …. leave the bird in the garage.”
“Leave it the garage?” she mocked. “Where’s the fun in that? I want to see if it tries to fly– it would be like a … like a…”
“Yeah, a phoenix.” Her face lit up once more and she put her arms out to one side, lunging back and forwards, flapping, as if she was the bird on fire.
I chewed on a piece of loose skin at the side of my fingernail. “I don’t know V. What if people see and phone the police? We’ll get in trouble.”
She stopped and stared at me, eyes blazing. “Rubbish. Nobody cares about a silly old bird. It will be dark soon– no one will even know. Unless…”
“You’re too scared…”
I glanced back down at the bird. Its breathing was slower now, head tilted to one side. It was as if…. it was somehow listening. I grimaced. “Ravens are like evil spirits,” I whispered. “Everyone knows that. Maybe it’s better not to hurt him.” She raised an eyebrow. “I mean, we could keep him – train him as a guard bird – we could teach him to peck anyone we didn’t like or…”
“You can’t train a bird. It’s not possible. Go and fetch the gear and I’ll meet you back here.”
I gave up – there was no point arguing. I looked back down at the raven. I wanted to feel sorry for it, I really did but there was something about it, something abhorrent and every time I looked at it I was filled with disgust. I began to think it needed to be set alight, just to set me free.
I dumped it on the ground and ran into the kitchen where I swiped the matches from the cupboard. When I went back outside, the light was already fading.
V stood over the bird, poking it with a stick. It squawked loudly, and tried to get up, its good wing thrashing furiously but she pushed it back down again. She lifted the box off the ground and handed it to me and I carried it, following her lead as we made our way to our hiding place amongst some bushes at the park.
It was mid-October. The park was quiet, not a soul in sight – it was just after tea time and most of the kids we usually hung with were getting ready for bed. Dark clouds stalked across the sky like undertakers, their coat tails billowing out behind them. I shivered and the movement caused the bird to stir. I glanced down and saw that it was still watching me, its eye fixed on my face every step of the way. Stupid thing. What the hell are you looking at? I whispered.
When we got to our hiding place at the top of the hill, V ordered me to stay with the bird, while she ran down the bank looking for sticks and dry leaves to build the fire. I didn’t want to stay on my own; the bush was dark and scratchy and the raven was creeping me out. It looked like it could see something inside me I didn’t want to know was there, so I set it to one side and crept to the entrance where I got a view of the entire park below. I could still feel the damned thing watching me, even with my back turned but I tried to ignore it.
I didn’t notice the man at first. He was loitering among some trees near the thicket below, the hood of his jacket obscuring half his face. He’d been camouflaged in the dull autumn light but as V, got closer, he loomed into the open like a giant shadow, his posture long and angulated.
I strained for a better look, and saw that he held a sharp and shiny object in his right hand, which he pointed straight at her. Watching him, made a dark and furious thing flutter around in my chest. I breathed in, long and slow, to steady myself. V shook her head and stumbled, moving slowly backwards and even though my legs ached from squatting, I remained low, still aware of the raven’s gaze searing into my back.
Suddenly the man made his move. V glanced back to our hiding place, her face all twisty and wild and in that moment, the little trap door that led to my heart, burst wide open allowing the dark fluttery thing to zip straight through me.
I heard her shout, but she was still a distance away so I lay flat on my belly, wriggling backwards to our den alongside the worms and the beasties.
She was screaming now. Her voice carried on the wind like the squawk of an angry gull. “Help! Amy! Help!” she yelled. She struggled against him, her face panicked as she ran towards me, but the man was quicker. He grabbed the back of her ponytail lifting her off the ground with one single scoop, then tucked her under one arm as he made his way back towards the thicket. Her arms and legs kicked and flapped, as if, somehow, she could fly her way free of his grip.
When, after a while she didn’t come out, I turned back to the raven, wondering fleetingly if it was worth attempting to train him. His stare was so intense I was certain he had somehow crept inside me.
His poorly wing twitched.
I struck the match, listened to the hiss and spit of feathers as I set him ablaze.
V would be disappointed, I thought. He didn’t even attempt to fly.
Andrea Hardaker is what her granny would call, a bletherin skite (someone who talks a lot). Born and raised in Scotland, Andrea loves stories, both real and imagined. She won first prize in the Federation of Writers Scotland Flash Fiction competition, 2014, and has had work published in Firewords Magazine (issue 1) and has been included in two short story anthologies; Journeys – a Space for Words, and Portmanteau, (Indigo Dreams Publishing).
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
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