The Black Bird

March 24, 2010
By Caitlin McCloskey-Meyer BRONZE, Brattleboro, Vermont
Caitlin McCloskey-Meyer BRONZE, Brattleboro, Vermont
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It was November, the same as every other day she had ever seen. She leaned against the cold brick chimney, smoke billowing above her head. The wind picked up the dust and crumbling leaves as they were swept across the ground below her. Slowly her eyes rose to the dead trees surrounding her, their ghostly limbs reaching for the leaves they had lost many years ago. There was never enough rain for the green buds to grow back. The land was colorless, except for the orange flames burning in the distance. The wind subsided to a small breeze and then everything was still, and silent. The smoke sunk down over her, spreading across the roof at her feet, fogging her vision into a cloudy blur.

She sat there watching the world through the thick smoke Maybe it is better this way, with it harder to see the way things really are… Her thoughts trailed off. A cacophonous shriek broke through the silence. She peered through the smoke to see a black bird perched in the top of one of the many scraggly trees. She stared at it, and it stared back. It suddenly took flight and swooped down over the roof top, landing on the chimney. The bird’s eyes were as dark as its feathers and they watched her, as if wanting something. And then the dark bird took off again heading into the trees due east. She slid off the chimney, the bricks scraping the palm of her hands. Her ankles cringed as she hit the ground, and she took off running, followed it into the dry lifeless forest.

As she followed the black bird’s shadowy figure curving through the trees she began to wonder, “Why I am here in the woods, chasing after a strange black bird?” She could come up with no good explanation, but the thought of turning around and returning to where she had nothing seemed worse, so she kept running. It was growing colder. The trees were tall and pale, reaching up far into the sky. She had no idea how long she had been running. It seemed like hours, but that wasn’t possible. She realized how tired she was and slowed to a walk. It was silent again, with no breeze to rustle the dead leaves at her feet. A root spread across her wandering path tripped her and she fell, a cloud of dust bursting up around her blinding her vision. She lay there with her face in the dirt on the cold ground. “I should turn back, I have no reason to be here…”
She pulled herself up off the ground. She gazed into the deep curving forest. Despite the lack of trees and foliage, it seemed endless; the other side was nowhere to be seen. “But I have no way back.” The trees blurred and the forest started to slowly turn around and around. She stumbled back against a tree. Her spine cringed and she crumbled to the ground. She sat there with her head on her knees waiting for spinning trees to stop.
The cry of a bird broke through once again. She sat up to see dark feathers before her in the dirt. She looked up into the trees and saw it far up in the sky peering down on her with its piercing eyes, now a rusting red. The bird waited there for a long time. She finally reached for the closest tree branch and swung herself up. She climbed to the top of the tree. The bird was gone. She looked around but could not see the bird.
“Where are you?” she called out to the bird, wherever it had gone. There was no reply. She sat there in the tree tops waiting for the bird to return. The sky was still growing darker and it was harder to see. A rustle of feathers from behind startled her. The bird had returned with the same look it had on its face before.
“What do you want from me?” she asked the bird. She was suddenly alarmed that the bird could find her anywhere and kept coming back. She gripped the bark with her fingernails and started to inch out farther onto the branch. A strong wind whistled through the trees towards her. The force of the wind knocked her off the limb and she was caught hanging by her hands. Her hands were too cold to hang there for long. She didn’t look at the ground, she knew how far it was. A claw scratched at her hand. She looked up at the bird with its eyes burning red. Her skin burned from the cold. But then she saw the blood rolling over her fingers and down the top of her hand. She gasped and lost grip of the tree’s rough bark. She dropped to the ground; her ankles stung from the shock. She looked up to see the bird heading off into the trees again. And once again she followed it.
She trudged along the dried stream. She looked up to see if the bird was still there; she saw it flying against the smoking sky. There must be houses here, ones that weren’t burned to the ground. The thought surprised and excited her that she was not the only person left here.
The bird stopped and watched what was before him. She saw this and stopped as well. Then she heard a loud shriek, this time it was not the bird. As she ran closer to the clearing she saw the familiar flames rising beyond the dead trees. She burst through the last row of scraggly trees and saw a house, burned to the ground. I was too late, She thought. Then again it wouldn’t have mattered had I gotten here sooner. It’s too dry. It hasn’t rained in too lon;, there is no water. Thoughts ran through her head as she watched the glowing embers. She remembered the scream. There must be someone here. She wandered around the smoking ground looking for the person who had cried out, but found no one. She sat down before the coals and stared into the smoke.
The bird landed next to her silently. She turned to him. The dry grass quivered in the cold wind. People don’t just disappear, she thought.
“Where did they go?” she asked the bird. Somehow she thought it would be able to answer her; it had brought her here. The bird stared into the remains of the burned house for a minute, then slowly turned its head to the girl. Its eyes were glowing like the embers, then burst into flames. It threw its head back and let out a terrible laughing shriek. She watched the fire burst into flames again and then realized what the bird had done.
“You killed them?” the girl shrieked. The bird kept laughing and squawking. This bird must have set all of these houses on fire. She lunged for the bird but it escaped too quickly, leaving only black feathers between her fingers. The bird flew up into the sky through the thick fog. A strong wind blew her to the ground; her head hit the hard-packed dirt. The bird was beside her, also thrown down from the sky. She picked herself up and flung herself at the bird. It took off over the field towards the woods. She stumbled after the bird. Flames shot up from the ground just in front of the bird. It was too late for the bird as it flew directly into its own flames. The girl stopped at the flames, where the bird had flown.
“I killed it,” she said. Just the thought made her head spin. She fell to her knees and stared at her hands, covered in dirt and ashes. A drop of water fell to her palm. Her smoke filled eyes turned to the darkening sky. Thunder rolled in the distance, and the rain came down. The fire sizzled out. She crawled across the ashes of the desceased black bird, and between her fingers grew a single blade of grass.

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