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Athene Hibou walked through her childhood home slowly. Her hand trailed gently along the mahogany banister as she climbed the stairs. Subconsciously, she jumped over the squeaky third step from the top. The carpet upstairs was no longer the deep blue she remembered. It was faded to more of a light periwinkle and was worn through to the floor in spots. She opened each door as she passed, looking in to rooms full of furniture covered in white sheets. In the light of the fading sun, it was somewhat eerie, as if a parliament of ghosts had taken residence in the house.
She stepped into the room that used to be hers and slowly turned around. It looked like after she had left home her mom had turned it into a sewing and knitting room. There was a cubbyhole in the wall, each one with a different skein of yarn in it. Some were thick and fluffy. Others were coarse and spindly. She lightly touched one that was tagged as midnight blue. It reminded her of what the carpet outside used to look like. Athene sighed. There were so many things she had to sort through, it overwhelmed her a little.
Walking down the stairs, she flipped open her cell phone and called her husband, Shay. He answered on the third ring. “And what does the goddess of wisdom want with her lowly acolyte?” he asked. She could see the curve of his lips and his mocking bow in her mind’s eye and she laughed.
“I just wanted to let you know I made it to my old place safely,” she said, walking towards the kitchen. The window over the sink faced west towards the sun that was quickly slipping away. It lent a red tint to the woods behind the house. Wheeling above the trees she could see dozens of black shapes. She smiled remembering many an autumn day spent wandering amongst those trees, listening to the caws of the crows who called that woods home.
“You’re sure you don’t want me to help you sort through all the things down there?” he asked. She could hear the concern in his voice and her heart warmed at it. She didn’t know what she would do without Shay. “No,” she said. “I want some time alone to adjust to the–idea of mom being gone.” She closed her eyes and grabbed a firm hold on the counter. Her mom’s last couple of years had been lonely when dad passed. Athene had visited often, but her mom and dad had been friends and lovers for over fifty years. And as much as Athene had loved her mom, she just couldn’t fill that kind of void in her mom’s life. Her mom had died in her sleep with a smile on her face. Athene couldn’t have wished for a more peaceful outcome. Yet, still, she gripped the counter hard enough to feel wooden splinters digging into her palm. “It’ll probably take me about a couple days to get through everything,” she said in a remarkably steady voice. “The auction company will take the majority of the contents and sell them. I just have to pick out what I want to keep.”
“Well, I’m only a couple of hours away if you change your mind,” Shay said. “Good to know,” Athene said opening her eyes again. The trees in the forest behind her house cast long shadows now, the tips of which nearly reached the house. “Sleep well, love,” she said. “Only if I dream of you,” he said. She laughed lightly. “Good night.” She hung up the phone and stared outside again. She could see the black crows still wheeling above the trees.
Moving to the back door, she opened it and stepped outside. She could hear the caws of the birds clearly now as she walked across the grass towards the forest. She had no intention of exploring the woods. It was too close to nightfall for that and Athene had no desire to spend the night lost amongst the trees. But there was a tree, not a hundred yards into the forest that she used to practically live in every summer of her childhood. Athene had grown up in a time when parents feared less that a stranger would snatch their child away and she had spent the long summer days wandering the forest behind her house to her heart’s content.
But it was the large knotted and gnarled tree that Athene now stood under that she had spent the most time at. The many knots and gnarls had made it easy for her to clamber up, even when she was small. The branches curled and reached up and up forever, or so it had seemed. She had spent hot summer afternoons under the shade of the tree, exploring every inch of its gigantic form. The crows had seemed to like this tree in particular for their nests and Athene had observed many.
“Don’t disturb them,” her mother had said, watching Athene from the base of the tree once. “You wouldn’t like it if someone climbed into your room and moved your things around.” Her mother had looked off into the sky then, a distant look coming into her eyes. “And they will remember. Every hurt and every sting.” She had smiled to herself. “Takes the bastards forever to forget an insult.” And then her mother had suddenly remembered she was talking to her ten year old daughter and had blushed red. “Don’t ever let me catch you using that language though!” she had said shaking her finger at Athene. “Yes, mom,” Athene had said, mentally noting to herself not to let her mom find out just what she had called Jon “Butthead” Cawford at lunch the other day.
Present day Athene smiled, a hand on the tree. She sighed and leaned against the trunk. “I miss you, mom,” she whispered tears in her eyes. “I hope you’re with dad now. I hope you’re happy.” She stood there for a few moments as the forest darkened around her. Then, with a sigh, she pushed off the tree. She needed to get back to the house. Pushing off the tree with a sigh, Athene moved forward. As she moved away from the tree, she heard a loud crunching sound and something gooey under her foot. “Oh, come on,” she muttered to herself. She lifted up her right foot to see what she had stepped on. What looked like black downy feathers and bits of bone stuck to her foot. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed sitting down. She looked from her foot to the ground. What was left of a baby bird was smooshed across the bottom of her shoe and on the ground. “That’s just awful,” Athene said, slipping off her right shoe. “I hope you were dead already…”
A loud caw caught Athene’s attention. Looking up she saw a large black crow sitting on the lowest branch of the tree. It had a grey streak down its back. It was puffing itself up while its black beady eyes stared into hers. It cawed again, leaning forward looking ready to leap at her. Athene scuttled backwards from the tree, dropping her shoe as she did. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” she said, holding up her hands. She turned and scrambled to her feet as she heard a rush of wings. “Ah, shit,” she said, starting to run through the undergrowth. She ducked as she did and felt the whoosh of the crow’s body just missing the back of her head. She brought her hands up over head as she ran. She staggered slightly as she exited the forest, her foot without a shoe throwing off her balance slightly. As she made for the back door, she felt something sharp rake down her right arm and wings beating against her. “Stop it! I’m sorry!” she yelled waving her arms in an attempt to get the crow off. It flew up and above, giving Athene just enough of an opening to dart into the house through the back door.
She slammed it behind her. As she did, she heard a loud thump on the door. She peeked out the kitchen window and saw the crow land in front of the door in a heap. It rolled itself up, wings flapping awkwardly as it turned, and stood in front of the back door. It cocked its head back and forth. Finally, with another caw, it took off and headed back for the forest. Athene let out a great whooshing breath.
Only then she became aware of the pulsing pain in her right arm. Looking down she saw a three inch gasp starting just below her wrist. It looked like the bird had driven its beak into her and pulled down. Red blood welled from it and ran down her arm and was already making a mess on the counter. Athene turned the sink on, her now slick right hand slipping slightly on the handle. She stuck her arm under the running water and hissed. It stung like a dozen tiny needles jabbed into her flesh. She stood and watched as the water washed the red away and more red welled up to join it. She crossed her left arm over her body and pulled open one of the kitchen drawers. Inside were several white dish towels. “I hate to do this…” she muttered pulling out one of the towels. She wrapped it around her right arm. Immediately, the white became scarlet as she held the towel firm.
“She had to have a first aid kit around here somewhere,” Athene said, opening up every cabinet and drawer she could find. She really didn’t want to leave the towel on her arm as she did not relish the idea of the fibers in it getting stuck in her open wound. Ten minutes later she found some disinfectant and bandage dressing in the upstairs bathroom. Carefully she washed the wound again and gave short little cries as she applied the disinfectant. “Oh, hurts, hurts, hurts!” she said as she bandaged her arm up. With a sigh, she looked at it. She should probably get a doctor to look at it. It might even need stitches. But it was getting late and she didn’t really feel like a trip to the emergency room (or an emergency room bill for that matter). “I’ll call someone in the morning,” she said, waving her right arm and then immediately regretting it as it stung again. “Stupid bird,” she muttered.
Athene trundled back downstairs and took a look at the time. Eight o’clock. “Well, I guess I could sort through a few things before I go to bed,” she said. She started in the living room. It was fairly easy. Her and Shay’s place was well stocked so they didn’t need any of the furniture. She sorted through the few books on the mantle and put them in a box for the auctioneers. She pulled down the pictures of her father, her mother, and herself and put them aside to keep. From there she moved to the kitchen. She kept a few odd utensils and bowls here and there, but for the most part she left things as they were. “This might be easier than I thought,” Athene said as she moved to the garage. She flicked on the light. “Nevermind,” she said when she saw all the boxes stacked inside. “You guys can wait until tomorrow.” She flicked the light back off.
As she did she thought she heard a tap on the garage door. Athene paused. “Hello?” she asked. She listened in the darkness, straining to hear. Nothing came back to her ears except the soft sighing of the wind. Athene shrugged and closed the door.
From there she quickly sorted through the downstairs and upstairs bathrooms. She kept nothing from either. After that Athene’s arm began to throb. She rubbed it was she walked down the hallway upstairs. “I’ll just take a quick inventory,” she said, poking her head in the rooms. There was no attic, thank God, just a spare bedroom, a hall closet, her mom’s bedroom, and the sewing room. The hall closet and sewing room didn’t look like they held anything of interest, although Athene would go through them more carefully the next day.
Athene paused in her mom’s room. She closed her eyes and took in a breath before turning on the lights. The scent of apple cinnamon potpourri lingered in the room. For as long as she could remember, Athene had associated the spicy smell with her mother. Her dad used to complain about how frou frou it was, but he would always be the one to show up with a refill just before mom’s current stash of potpourri ran out. “Mom,” she said, eyes watering slightly as she flicked on the lights. The lights seemed to bounce off the white walls and the white bedspread. Athene shielded her eyes slightly. “Ay, mom, how did you get any sleep in here! It practically glows!”
She walked into the room and sat on the bed. She lay back and stared at the ceiling, remembering all the times she did this as a small girl. Whenever she had a problem, or worry, or just wanted to talk, she would come in here and flop herself on the bed and her mom would flop down next to her. Sighing Athene sat up. She pulled open the nightstand next to the bed to see if there was anything in it. She found a rosary, a small prayer book, and a thick unmarked book. Curious, she picked it up and page through it. “A diary!” Athene exclaimed. She flicked back to the beginning. “Oh wow, she kept this for decades!”
She flicked to the end and saw the last entry dated just a couple days before her mom’s death. I think it’s almost time now, it read. It’s okay though. I’ve had a long life. A good life. And I’ll get to see Stephen again. Sometimes I swear I can feel him besides me. I feel like I can hear him calling me in my sleep. Perhaps, I will answer him next time. “I hope you are with dad,” Athene said, lightly tracing the page with her hand. She shut the book and took it with her as she left the room. She was definitely keeping this.
Shortly afterwards, Athene settled into the bed in the spare bedroom. She supposed she could have slept in her mom’s room, but it wouldn’t have felt right. She turned on the small reading light that was clipped onto the bed and twisted the poseable neck so she could read for a little while before going to sleep. “I wonder what kind of things mom wrote about,” Athene thought. Her hands stopped for a moment as she began to open the book. This was her mom’s private diary. Maybe she should just throw it away. Curiosity overwhelmed moral quandaries, however and Athene opened the book.
She chose a passage at random. I met a young man named Stephen Dansler at the town hall meeting today. it began. And he surely had the finest behind I have ever seen on a man. Athene laughed. He asked for my phone number. I gave it to him but I tried to seem bored. Hard to do when I felt a blush coming every time I looked at him but… Athene chuckled. She read through the next few pages and roughly was able to follow her dad’s courtship of her mom. She started in on the passage describing the honeymoon and the stopped. Her face turned scarlet. “Oh my God, mom!” Athene exclaimed. She hurriedly turned a few pages and tried to think of ways to burn the words she had just read out of her mind.
When her eyes focused again, she found herself reading a passage from not long before she had been born. Athene/Anthony, darling, I love you but I cannot wait for you to pop. “Guess I was going to be an Anthony if I was a guy,” Athene said. Especially since you make it hard to maneuver. Running from birds with a tummy that sticks out to the next county is not fun. Athene raised an eyebrow. Running from birds? Huh, weird. I just thought it would a nice day to eat outside. I go inside for a moment to refill my tea and come back out to find a crow pecking at my sandwich. It wouldn’t shoo when I swatted at it, and when I moved in closer I accidentally dumped my tea on it (my special green tea brew, stupid bird). Well, it got mad and I ended up making a strategic retreat into the house. Guess the thing got my sandwich after all. And my tea. Athene yawned and stretched. It felt comforting to know her mom had had a similar incident with a crow. In an odd way it made her feel closer to her mother. Reaching up she turned out the light.
A few hours later, something pulled Athene out of her sleep. She lay still in the darkness and listened. A tap-tap came to her hears. Sitting up, she looked around. Where was the sound coming from? She closed her eyes and listened. Tap-tap-scratch. She opened her eyes and looked toward the window. A dark shape huddled close to it. With a gasp, Athene turned on the reading light next to her bed and turned the neck towards the window. A glimpse of a beady black eye and a rush of wings and the crow that had been sitting outside the window flew away. With a hand on her chest, Athene took a steadying breath. She turned the lamp back around and switched it off again. “What’s next, Athene, gonna have a heart attack when a squirrel prances across the road?” she asked herself as settled back under the covers.
The next morning, Athene pulled out a spare pair of shoes and then shuffled through a phone book looking for a local doctor. She found one and set up an appointment to have her arm looked at. Then deciding that breakfast sounded good, she headed towards the front door. She opened it and was about to step out when a slight rustling caught her ears. Looking down, she saw a large black crow standing on the path that led to the front door. A grey streak ran down its back. It gave a screeching caw and launched itself toward the door.
“No way!” Athene said slamming the door. She heard scratching on the other side. “Really, bird, really?” Athene asked, moving to look out the window next to the door. The bird had settled itself back on the walk. As Athene watched another crow joined it. They cawed at each other for a moment. Then the second one flew off, leaving the grey streaked one behind. “Maybe I’ll just look in the fridge…” Athene said, backing away from the door.
After fixing a small breakfast of scrambled eggs and some toast, Athene grabbed a couple boxes. She made short work of the sewing room and hall closet. After that she moved to the spare bedroom. She moved the diary to her keep box and unclipped the reading light from the bed and put it with the diary. The rest she marked for the auctioneers.
She moved more slowly through her mom’s room. She found a neatly organized box with her mom’s bills filed in it. She put it to the side to go through more carefully when she was done with everything else. She kept a few pieces of her mom’s jewelry, such as an emerald broach with a lock of her mom’s hair inside, but decided to give most of them away. The family Bible, with her birth and her mom’s marriage and anniversaries recorded inside, went inside the keep box. The rest of the books she let. She sorted through the closet, taking a few sweaters and blouses. The shoes she didn’t bother with as her mom’s feet were smaller than her own. Closing the closet door she looked at the time. It was close to when she had set up her appointment.
Walking downstairs, she stopped by the front door. She pulled opened the blind on the window next to it and looked outside. Dumbfounded, she realized the crow from earlier was still there. Cautiously she opened the front door a crack. Instantly, the bird’s head snapped to the sound and Athene closed it again. She scratched her head. Her car was parked out front and she didn’t feel like battling a bird to get to it. Feeling slightly embarrassed, Athene retreated and headed for the backdoor. But, as she opened it, she found another large black bird standing outside in front the door.
Athene stared at it dumbfounded again for a moment until it screeched at her. She shut the door as it began to spread its wings. Athene moved to the window over the sink and looked outside. The bird had settled down again but was still staring at the door. “What am I supposed to do?” Athene said, throwing her hands up in the air. “Call the doctor and tell him birds have me trapped in the house?” She tapped her foot staring at the crow and thought. “Well, mom’s car is still in the garage…” she said.
Feeling even more foolish than she already did, Athene went upstairs and snatched her mom’s car keys from her room. Heading downstairs more quickly now that she was edging on late, she trotted into the garage. She fired up her mom’s red Volkswagen and opened the garage door. As she backed out a small black streak flew by the car. At first Athene thought the crow was attacking the car. Then she saw it subtle inside the garage and stare balefully at her. “Oh, come on!” Athene shouted at the bird. She pulled forward trying to get the bird to move. It stared at her and hopped out of the way of the car but stayed in the garage. “Fine!” Athene said, backing out. She closed the garage door. “You just wait there until I get back.”
An hour and a half later found Athene walking out of a corner drugstore with prescription antibiotics for her arm. The doctor had decided stitches weren’t necessary. “Been a while since I’ve seen a bird attack,” he had chuckled as he rebound her arm. “I’ll run a few blood tests, but I think you’ll be alright. Just take the antibiotics and call me back if there’s any redness or swelling.”
Her phone began to ring and Athene fished it out of her purse. “Hello,” she said, answering it.
“Hey, goddess, where are you?”
“Oh, Shay!” Athene said, opening her car door. “At the drug store. I had to pick up some antibiotics.”
“What did you walk? Your car is out front?”
Athene paused. “Where are you?”
“Standing outside your childhood home, waiting patiently at the door, and wondering what on earth is trapped in the garage.”
Athene laughed. “That’s the reason I had to pick up some antibiotics. What are you doing down here?”
“It’s Saturday, I was lonely and I brought some dinner,” he said. “And what’s this about antibiotics?”
“I’ll tell you when I get back. I’m only ten minutes out.”
Athene pulled her mom’s Volkswagen up behind her own car and got out. Shay was walking down from the front door with a picnic basket on his arm. He took a look at her right arm and his eyebrows came down. “What happened?” There was a clang on the garage door and a caw.
“That,” Athene said pointing at the door. “A crow attacked me yesterday. It was waiting outside for me this morning so that’s why I took mom’s car. It flew into the garage when I left and refused to leave.”
“If I was any good with a gun I’d shoot the little bastard,” Shay growled.
Athene patted his arm. “I think I stepped on its baby, though, so I just want to let it loose and hopefully it’ll fly off with its crow buddies.”
Shay grunted. “Here, you give me the garage door opener and go inside. I’ll clear it out.” He handed her the picnic basket and she gave him the opener.
She slipped inside and watched as Shay opened the garage door. The crow burst out, flying into the late afternoon sky. It circled back for a moment and seemed to stare and Shay. Then, it turned away and flew into the distance. Shay turned towards her and shrugged. She did the same and opened the front door for him. “Guess it knew it was no match for me,” Shay said, striking a pose and flexing his arms.
“My hero,” Athene said, rolling her eyes. “What’s in here?” she asked peeking in the basket.
“Well, let’s go in the dining room and see,” Shay said, wiggling his eyebrows at her. Athene giggled and followed him in.
Over a dinner of wine, casserole, and honey wheat rolls, Athene recounted her last couple days, including the crows. “I swear, it was like having the gestapo waiting outside,” Athene said, pausing to down her wine glass. A slight buzz filled her skull. “Oh, that feels good.” She shook her head. “It was weird enough having the one crow outside, but having its buddy out back too?”
Shay tiptoed up to the kitchen window and looked outside. Athene followed him. “Looks like the coast is clear,” he whispered looking out the window. He looked left and right and flattened himself against the wall. “If we hurry we might be able to rescue your shoe!” he said. Moving with exaggerated stealth, Shay and Athene snuck outside.
“Birds in the air at twelve o’ clock,” Shay said, pointing up. “Keep an eye out on them Codename Goddess.”
“Roger,” Athene said, sneaking behind Shay. They slipped into the woods as the dusk darkened around them. Athene led him to the tree. As they drew closer Athene tensed slightly, but neither caw nor crow met them as they walked up to the tree.
“Ooo, it is gooey,” Shay said, picking up her shoe. He picked up a stick and tried to scrape it off. “We might have to right this off as a lost cause.”
“Mission failure then? Never!” Athene said. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the chin.
Shay put the shoe down and pulled her close. “A kiss on the chin? Is that all the ravager of crows gets?”
“Oh, I think I can give more than that,” Athene said leaning back. Shay followed her down, his lips meeting hers. The twilight deepened as they lay on the ground beneath the tree arms wrapped around each other.
Night had fallen when Athene rolled away from Shay. “Oh my God, what are we, teenagers?” she asked buttoning up her blouse. Pine needles from the ground scratched against her skin and she knew she and Shay were both going to need baths.
He leaned on an elbow and looked at her with a goofy grin on his face. “Just an acolyte in the throes of ecstasy,” he said. Athene whapped him slightly and he chuckled.
A flapping of wings made Athene look up. A large black bird sat looking at her from a few branches up. Athene couldn’t see if it had a grey streak down its back or not. “I think we should go inside now.”
“Sounds good, I think I need a shower,” Shay said, picking up Athene’s abandoned shoe. All the way back to the house Athene felt eyes at her back. But when she turned to look back at the door she saw nothing.
As she slept that night Athene heard a voice whispering to her in her dreams. “Mom?” she had muttered in her sleep. Athene woke and snuggled closer to her snoring husband. She had heard her mom’s voice, but it hadn’t sounded like it was calling her name. Athene frowned as she fell back asleep trying to remember what it had said. Something like Darren maybe? But Athene didn’t know any Darrens. Yawning, Athene let the dream slip from her fell back into a dreamless sleep.
Shay helped her sort through the garage the next day and by two pm they were ready to go. “That did go quicker with you helping,” Athene said, loading the things they were keeping into her car.
“Crow ravager and box sorter. I should put it on my business cards,” Shay said as he shut her trunk. “Alrighty, I say we got eat at Antonio’s when we get home in celebration.”
“Sounds good to me,” Athene said She gave Shay a high five and them climbed in her car. She waited while Shay got into his car and pulled out ahead of her. She turned to look at her childhood home one last time. As she stared up at it, a small black form on the edge of the roof caught her eye. If she squinted, she could’ve sworn she saw grey on its back. Athene shook her head and sighed. “Adios o vengeful one,” she said with a wave of her hand. She turned on the car and pulled away from the house.
It amazed Athene how quickly life fell back into a normal rhythm when she got back home. The rest of the world didn’t stop because Athene’s mom was gone, and Athene didn’t either. She caught herself dialing her mom’s number sometime, or nearly buying a book she thought she’d like, but even this began to stop as time passed. Athene didn’t know whether it made her happy or sad.
About two months after going through her mom’s things, Athene realized she had missed her period, almost twice now and was feeling queasy and awful lot. A quick trip to the drugstore and a pregnancy test later confirmed her suspicions.
“So,” Athene said that night as Shay came home from work, “How do you feel about the name Samantha?” Shay took off his coat and raised his eyebrows.
“It’s okay, I guess,” he said, tossing his coat on the back of the couch. “Why?”
“Oh, because there might be one joining us soon. Or maybe a Samuel. It’s too early to say.”
Shay stared at her for a moment as if she had gone crazy. And then a light dawned in his eyes and he laughed. He rushed over and caught her in a tight embrace. Then he loosened his grip suddenly biting his lip. “Oh, sorry did I hurt you. Either of you?” He patted her stomach.
Athene laughed in turn and hugged him again. “I’m not a china doll, it’s okay.” “How far along are you?” Shay asked, bouncing his heels.
Athene shrugged. “I’m not sure. I have missed about two periods though.”
Shay counted on his fingers and a delighted grin crossed his face. “Ooo, you don’t think when we–”
Athene laughed. “Could be. Wouldn’t that be a story to tell?”
Shay rubbed his hands. “I cannot wait. I gotta call my mom!” He winced then and looked at Athene, concern crossing his face.
She waved a hand, even though her heart sunk a little. “It’s okay. I’m okay. I’m sure my mom is watching delighted too.” She smiled. “Go ahead, call your folks.”
Shay practically bounced out of the room as he pulled out his cell phone. “I’m okay with Samantha if it’s a girl, but Samuel?” he made a face. “How about Darren?” he asked, as he dialed his mom’s number.
For a moment, Athene’s heart ran cold, and she didn’t know why. “Sure,” she said, slowly, as Shay turned his attention to the phone. Shay spent the next two hours calling everyone he could think of to relay the good news too. Athene watched in amusement and sometimes took the phone to talk with friends and family who wanted to relay good wishes.
Athene slipped into bed next to Shay that night, a warm happiness suffusing her entire being. She had made an appointment with a doctor for tomorrow to confirm what she was already pretty sure of and to find out how far along she was. As she closed her eyes, she thought she saw a shadow against the blinds across her window. But, when she opened her eyes, she didn’t see anything there.
The next day Athene’s car chugged up the steep hill to the hospital her doctor practiced at. He confirmed Athene was about seven weeks along with a blood test. “We’ll want to get you scheduled for regular visits,” Doctor Carlington said, handing her a huge sheathe of papers. Athene glanced through it and saw it was information about the various stages of pregnancy, birth, Lamaze classes, and the like. “And you’ll have to decide if you want a natural birth or not. But that can come later.” He smiled at her. “Enjoy the moment for now.”
Athene walked back to her car with an appointment schedule on top of her huge pile of papers. And then she stopped. Three black crows sat on the roof of her little white car. And the one in the middle had a grey streak. Athene stood and stared at them. She blinked a couple times and rubbed her eyes. No, she wasn’t hallucinating. She took a tentative step forward. She saw the birds bodies begin to puff out and she stopped. “Oh, this is just ridiculous,” Athene said, stomping her foot. “There is no way you followed me all the way here!” she said, pointing at the grey streaked crow. “What are you, a mafia don or something?” The grey streaked one cawed at her and Athene sighed.
She walked back into the hospital and walked up to information. “Excuse me,” she said, blushing slightly. “This is going to sound kind of silly…” She explained about the birds on her car and asked if they had a broom she could borrow to swat them off. The elderly man and woman manning the reception booth laughed and flagged down one of the janitorial staff. A hefty middle-aged woman followed Athene outside with a good-sized broom.
The crows stared at them as they approached. “Nasty looking buggers,” the woman, who introduced herself as Sally, said. She lifted her broom up, but before she could get any closer the crows took off. “Guess I showed them,” she said, grinning at Athene. “Thanks, Sally,” Athene said gratefully. “Anytime! Beats mopping up vomit,” Sally said, using the broom to salute Athene.
Athene settled in at home and began researching an article she was writing for National Geographic. She heard a car door slam a couple hours later and stretched. She went to open the front door to greet Shay. As she did, her gaze went to the small oak tree in their yard. As she looked into it, she saw a small black and grey streaked monstrosity sitting in it. “Shay, look!” Athene shrieked pointing at the tree. But even as she did, the bird took off.
Shay, not having seen the crow, looked back from the tree to Athene. “What?” he asked.
Athene opened and closed her mouth. “I– I thought I saw a raccoon,” she said faintly. She was sure she would sound quite mad if she told Shay she thought a bird mafia don had put a hit out on her. Did that mean the grey streaked crow was male? Could females be dons? Shaking her head, Athene put a smile on. “Anyway, the doctor confirmed I am seven weeks along or so.”
“Awesome!” Shay said, kissing her lightly. “This calls for wine!”
“For you maybe,” Athene said, slapping him lightly.
“Oh, right,” Shay said, patting her stomach. “Well, some red Kool-Aid that looks like wine maybe?”
After Shay went to bed that night, Athene grabbed her mom’s diary and sat down on the couch in the living room. Keeping the light dim, she opened the diary to the bits where her mom was pregnant with her. She read through, looking for insight on what to expect and how her mom had handled her pregnancy. “I wish I could just ask you,” Athene sighed, as she read. As she read, she came to the part about the crow again and made a face. “Finding those birds wherever I look today,” she said as she turned to the page.
To her surprise, she found the crows mentioned again and again in the following pages. Apparently, they had started harassing her mom after the tea incident. Athene raised an eyebrow. She didn’t remember crows harassing her mom as a kid. She kept reading, and found a passage set about six months after her birth. Was out watering the lawn a couple days ago. Darn crows attacked me again. I turned the hose on them, but they kept circling until eventually I ended up drenched instead of them. One of them landed next to me after that and gave a self-satisfied little caw. And then they all flew off. I haven’t seen them since. I guess they just wanted to get me as wet as I had gotten one of them! Spiteful little bastards! Athene felt a chill run down her spine. Spiteful little bastards. Athene had done much more than get a crow wet.
Shaking her head Athene turned off the light and began to head to bed. She paused by the front door. Quietly she pulled it open. She poked her head outside. Slowly her vision adjusted to the darkness. She gazed into the oak tree out front. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw a bird shaped black mass sitting and staring at the house. Athene quickly shut the door and went to bed.
Athene took to carrying a broom in her car. Everywhere she went now, she could swear she saw the large black birds stalking her. They never approached her when there were other people around, which Athene made sure was all the time. She timed leaving and going to her car at the doctor’s office to make sure she did it when other people were near. She would sit and wait for up to ten minutes if she had too. Still, as the months wore on, she grew more and more nervous. She told Shay it was just nerves because of having her first baby. She was afraid to admit she thought crows were stalking her.
The date of her birth drew close and Athene went in for her last appointment. “Everything looks good,” Doctor Carlington said, smiling. “You’re due anytime now, but if it hasn’t happened by this time next week, we’ll have you induced.” He smiled and patted her back. “Have you decided on a name?” “Samantha if a girl, Darren if a boy,” Athene said, waddling off the exam table. “And for the last time, no we don’t want to know ahead of time,” Athene said, cutting off the question with a grin.
“Watch a lot of Bewitched, huh?” he asked, smiling.
“What?” Athene said.
“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head and holding the door open for her.
Athene maneuvered herself into her car and got the door closed. The inside of the car was stuffy so she rolled down the window as she backed out. As she turned onto the hill and headed down, a fast moving black object caught her attention. Before she could do anything, a large black crow burst into her car. She couldn’t see if it had the grey streak or not, but she could feels its wings, beaks and claws as it thrashed at her. Instinctively, she threw up her arms to defend her head. She tried to jam the break with her foot, but hit the accelerator instead, the car racing down the hill. Her left hand grabbed the wheel and tried to steer as she tried to beat of the bird with her right hand. A flurry of wings blocked her vision and then Athene heard a horn and screeching tires.
There was a jarring impact and then everything seemed to slow down as Athene felt the car roll over on its side. She watched as the crow came down at her and she tired to shield her face. But then she felt claws not on her arm, but on her stomach. Time snapped back in place as the car landed and the airbag blew out and hit her. She snapped back in her seat and all the air left her lungs. Athene then slumped over the horn. She could feel blood rolling down her forehead and down between her legs. Her eyes rolled in her head, and the last things she remembered consciously doing was awkwardly moving her arms over stomach to keep the bird away. She thought she heard her mom’s voice as she blacked out, calling for a Darren again. And then she knew no more.
Sound came back first. Athene heard soft beeping coming from next to her. Someone shifted in a seat nearby and sighed. It was a sad sigh. Athene wondered what was wrong. She tried to ask, but her mouth felt like she had been sleeping with it open for the past week. She croaked and tired to open her eyes. Encrusted sleep dust made them feel heavy. The lights were dim, wherever she was, but they hurt her eyes nonetheless. “Where?” she finally managed.
Someone stood up next to her and she saw Shay, looking sadder and happier then she could ever remember all at once. He looked at her about to burst. Then he darted to the door. “She’s awake,” he bellowed out the door. Then he was back at her side and holding her hand, telling her how much he loved her over and over. He burst into tears and collapsed into the chair next to the bed.
Athene stared at him, trying to figure out what was going on. Then she remembered. “The baby, oh God, the baby!” she said trying to sit up. Shay eased her back down.
“The baby is fine, Darren is fine,” he soothed. He ran a hand through his hair. “It was a little touch and go, but they got him out okay. You were the real problem.” He grabbed her hand and kissed it as a nurse came in. The nurse took her vitals and then called Doctor Carlington.
Doctor Carlington explained that she had been in a coma for the past three weeks. Athene gaped at him. “Did they get the bird?” she asked. He looked at her quizzically. “A bird flew in the car. It’s why I lost control.”
“Oh,” he said. He pondered. “That could explain the scratches on your stomach. They did look like something from an animal rather than like something from the crash.” He shook his head, amazed. “But, no, there was no bird there when they pulled you out.” He smiled then. “And Darren is just fine. As a matter of fact,” he said, looking back at the opening door.
Athene looked up and saw a small blue bundle in the nurse’s arms. She felt tears roll down her face. “Darren,” she said, trying to hold out her arms. Gently, the nurse placed the baby in her arms, and for the first time Athene looked into the face of her little boy. She rocked him gently, and with the help of the nurse undid her gown so she could feed him. When he was done the nurse took him away again, much to Athene’s displeasure. She was assured, however, that Darren would be brought to her for all feedings now, and more as Athene grew stronger.
A few more weeks passed as Athene recuperated from the crash. Shay was eventually allowed to take Darren home but he brought him up for feedings and visits so often that they might as well have lived at the hospital. The discharge day came and Athene felt ready to run from her bed straight home to her son and husband. A nurse wheeled her to the front door. She stood up from the wheel chair where Shay and Darren in a stroller were waiting. Darren slept contentedly in his stroller, the awning drawn up to protect him from the sun.
“If you want to wait with him, I can go get the car,” Shay said, worriedly. “The lot was full so I ended up parking at the top of the hill,” he said, pointing.
“No, it’s okay,” Athene said, taking in a deep breath of non-hospital air. “I want to walk.” Slowly, they walked to the car, Shay pushing the stroller. Athene looked down at Darren and smiled as he yawned in his sleep. “I’m sorry,” she said, kissing Shay on the cheek.
“For what?” he asked, surprised.
“For ruining your first few weeks of fatherhood.”
He hugged her. “I’m just glad you’re both okay,” he said, as they came to the hill. Shay began to turn towards the car.
As he did, Athene heard something fluttering overhead. She looked up and saw something black with a gray streak descend towards her. She shrieked and stepped back, waving her hands madly. “Leave me alone!” she screamed.
Shay turned and darted forward, trying to get the crow off of her. As Athene dodged she saw a crow land on the stroller handle. And then another one next to it. The stroller wobbled forward under their weight. “No!” she screamed forgetting the crow pecking at her head and lunging forward. Her legs gave out under her and she fell just short of the stroller as it began to roll down the hill in earnest. Athene forced herself to her feet as Shay ran past her with a cry.
She tried to follow him down the hill, but her legs, still tired from disuse, gave out from under her again and she fell. She began to roll down the hill, unable to stop herself. As she rolled, she saw the stroller approaching the street at the end of the hill with Shay in wild pursuit. She didn’t actually see it enter the street at the bottom. But she did hear a blood curdling metal shriek and the sound of tires screeching.
She finally came to a stop three quarters of the way down the hill. A large black pick-up blocked her view. Shay was scrambling around it, and the driver opened his door and fell out of his seat, his face an ashen gray. The crow with the grey streak landed next to Athene. They stared at each other for a moment. Then it puffed itself and gave a self-satisfied caw before flying away. Athene watched it go and then slowly looked back to the pick-up. She began to laugh as she lay on the ground. She laughed until her throat went hoarse and her laughter turned to what sounded like rough caws.
Credit To – Star Kindler