Birds Don't Have Ghosts

February 6, 2010
Emerson didn’t know what to do. Smile? He tried to send his sight out of his body so he could see himself doing that, not that he really had powers. Scottie was the one with them, and he was grinning.

So, Emerson twitched his lips a little as he looked down so nobody but the thing lying at his feet saw it. But birds didn’t have ghosts. The dead body of a baby mourning dove lay at his feet, covered with dust and fluff. Carcass. That was it. That was the word.

“It’s a mourning dove.” Was.

Scottie said nothing in reply, but grinned and poked the bird with his staff-stick. The stick had no name. He could feel the texture of the bird through his stick, and it felt funny—hard. Never had been alive at all. Scottie jabbed it with the end of his stick, again. Why wouldn’t it feel like Jell-O? Like a trampoline? He wanted it to bend, rebound, collapse.

What would happen if—

With a two-handed grip, Scottie pounded his stick straight down onto the bird’s head. Grayish fluid gushed from its beak-holes. Scottie laughed. Its skull was practically flat.

Mortar and pestle, Emerson thought. A part of him could see himself standing there, wide-eyed. Freaking innocent. Emerson didn’t know what to do.

He watched as his friend ground his stick into the baby dove’s skull, leaning his whole weight onto the stick, twisting the wood with two hands. Mortar and pestle. The grayish fluid spilled, then was sucked back in through the nostrils when Scottie stopped leaning on his stick. Dirt particles swirled in grey foam.

Emerson opened his mouth:

“You know, you’re like the Egyptians.”

“How?” Scottie’s voice was bright.

“They used to take out people’s brains through their noses. When they were making mummies.”

“You’re a walking dictionary.”

Emerson didn’t know what to do. He smiled shyly, and cast his eyes down at the ground like a girl.

“Really?” Hope. Dread.

“Yeah. Let’s go.” Scottie was busy dancing the end of his staff epileptically through the grass, cleaning it like people must clean swords in books. An honorable man always cleans his sword after battle.

“Shouldn’t we bury it?”

“Okay, fine. If it makes you happy.”

Emerson was indebted to his best friend. He always was—so stupid. Had to have everything his own way. Bad doggy.

“We don’t have to.”

“No. But we will.”

“Where?” Emerson was already envisioning a nice, modest ceremony in the friendly neighborhood animal graveyard. He would get a rock for the tombstone, or a tree stump, all nicely weathered to withstand the ages. But then he looked down at the mutilated body. Its beak looked gigantic attached to the flattened head.

“Under that bush.” Scottie pointed with his stick. He swung it around skillfully and flipped the dead bird over. Its beak flopped strangely, interestingly, and dangled like some twisted fruit when he lifted up the body so that it lay draped over the end of his trusty stick. Gray flesh. Never-opened alien eyes bulging under naked skin.
Emerson followed, feeling ignorant. A bumbling clown was he. He scrambled ahead, his feet slapping clumsily against the grass, and when he got to the bush, he began to dig ferociously with the end of his stick. It had a name: Ravenclaw. He was proud of it—a true wizard’s prop and friend!

Ravenclaw dug deftly, and Scottie waited patiently as his friend took his good ol’ time digging the grave hole. Finally, Emerson stood back, smiling, and Scottie flipped the body into the hole. It hit the side, flopping, and slid to the bottom in a landslide of dirt.

They shoved the earth in with their feet, and that was that.

Twilight was falling. Emerson felt the word solemn, and he bounced his stick up and down to hide this. From Scottie? From himself?

Emerson didn’t know what to do.

He stood and bounced Ravenclaw up and down, up and down, watching Scottie go after fireflies with something like pride, like loyalty. He was simple, not like Scottie. He was gullible, too.

Scottie swerved up in front of him with cupped hands, which he opened gently as he spoke. “I have to go, or my mom will kill me.” A firefly whirred out into the air, glowing, and vanishing in a shadowy blur.

Emerson opened his mouth:

“Do fireflies—if you kill a firefly, and you squish out the glowing part, does it still glow?”


“Oh, sorry.”

“Can you come out tomorrow?”


“Okay. Bye, then.”

“Goodbye. Hurry before your mom gets you!”

Scottie turned his back and ran across the road. Emerson stood, watching, feeling half-retarded for what he’d just said, until the small figure of his best friend vanished into a rectangle of yellow light. The door shut. Darkness.

Darkness. For some reason, Emerson strode back to the bush, furtively, as if he were doing something wrong. He was almost afraid to breathe there at the grave, but then he sucked in deep breaths, searching for a smell of decay. All he sucked in was wild mint and damp earth and summer.

Maybe a year or two ago, he would have prayed, but birds didn’t go to heaven, did they? It would be stupid, immature. And he really needed more of that.

Emerson didn’t know what to do. So he bowed his head dramatically and slunk on home. His mother killed him for being out so late. Kidnappers could have got him. Yeah, right. And no, he could not carry a knife.

He had just been playing. A new watch would really help, even though he’d lost the last two. Nobody said you had to be smart and logical at the same time. Nobody cared.

Luckily, birds didn’t have ghosts. The next time, though, it was a groundhog. Scottie said he hadn’t done anything, so Emerson pretended to believe him. But suspicion kept stealing into his disloyal mind. He said nothing. Really, what would you have him say? He had no powers.

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