The Crow: Part One

A story set in the world of Michael and his demons.

By AD Bane
5741 words

Amanda knew her father was being haunted because he spoke to himself in a voice she didn’t recognize, a voice that was neither his nor that of anyone else she knew. She’d first heard it one night in the fall, when the wolf-moon was hanging high in the sky, turning the golden canola to a sea of silver waves. She’d awoken to the sound of low voices coming from the kitchen, and while she knew it couldn’t be, she’d hoped it meant Mother had come home at last.

“Daddy?” she called, looking through the kitchen doorway.

He was sitting at the table, gazing out through the open window at the moonlit field. The late canola harvest wasn’t brought in yet, and she could smell it on the night breeze. She could see his face glowing pale in the silver light, and his lips were moving slowly, methodically, though no words came out.

“Daddy? What are you doing?” she called again.

He didn’t turn his head or reveal he’d heard her at all. But his voice came soft and slow, meek at first; then louder: “Why are you here?”

Amanda was bewildered, confused. “I live here, Daddy. You and me. Ever since Mamma—”

But her father was still speaking to himself. In his own voice she heard him say, “Leave her out of this!” Then in the stranger’s: “She’s not innocent of your sins, Ed. She’ll reap the harvest you’ve sown.”

The following Sunday they went to the church on the hill for Sunday service, even though they hadn’t gone since Mother left. After the final prayer, Father let go of Amanda’s hand. “Meet me outside, Sugar-button; I’m going to have a word with the minister.”

She watched him walking awkwardly to the altar. Father was a heavy-drinking farmer, a man of many curses, and a gambler. His friends from his former days, the ones who didn’t come around anymore, liked to say he was “tough as the devil and hard as nails.” He wasn’t the kind of man who you’d expect to see in church. He’d only ever gone before because Mother asked him to, and the sight of him stumping up the aisle in his grease-stained denim jeans and faded cotton shirt that didn’t hide his military tattoos was comical to her. She just hoped the preacher wouldn’t have him thrown out.

When Father and the minister finally came out to find her sitting on the steps of the country church pulling blades of grass apart, there wasn’t anyone else left in the little parking lot. Amanda was growing restless; but it did her good to see a renewed calm in her father’s face.

“I’ll put in the call first thing tomorrow,” said the minister.

“Thank-you, Sir,” answered her father.

Amanda hadn’t ever known him to use the word “sir before – or to know what it meant.

As they drove back down the lane toward the river, Amanda wondered what words had passed between them. She searched her father’s face for some clue, but found only stolid resolve. It would be some time before she would understand just how much courage it took for him to hide the truth from her.

The days that followed she watched him pace the house aimlessly. He’d sit up at night casting and pressing bullets for his rifle; and he never said a word to her about the minister or what was spoken between them. Then, a week later, the phone rang. The line at the farmhouse was rung so seldom those days that Amanda and her father both looked at each other. She knew it was the call he’d been waiting for; he knew that she knew. The last week of silence on the matter stood out between them like the picket fence around the garden – not a practical retainer, but a fence, none the less.

He answered the call, and while she couldn’t make out who was on the other end, she could hear the desperation in his voice. “Please, you don’t understand, I don’t know what else to do. If you don’t help us I don’t know who will! And my daughter, I’m terrified of what will become of her. I know what will happen – yes, it’s been made very clear. I don’t know how much longer it will last. No, we are running out of time.”

When he finally hung up the phone she wasn’t ready to face the tears in his eyes. She’d never before seen him cry, and she wasn’t sure anyone else had, either. She’d never doubted her father’s indestructibility, and knew it was an opinion others shared: she’d heard other men – the ones who had his tattoos – refer to him as “Undead Eddie”, and she knew what it meant: her father was a respected man. Now the tears shining in the corners of his eyes put a quake under her carefully crafted image of her sun-worn father and threatened to ruin everything she’d built her life on.

For a long time he said nothing – and while it probably wasn’t actually that long, it seemed an eternity. She couldn’t begin to read the emotions behind his leathery face; but when at last he spoke, it was to say, “Come here, Sugar-button.” She ran to him then and wrapped her arms around his neck. She felt his body tremble, and what with the tears, she assumed it was sadness. Might well be because of Mother. Had she known then the fear he’d come to live with, she’d have respected him all the more for it.

The phone call had ended so indecisively that Amanda wasn’t sure what to make of it. She didn’t dare ask, and so decided she could do nothing but wait. She’d know soon one way or another.

Edward Corrine was known by everyone. Amanda couldn’t think of a single person who didn’t know her father by name. She thought most were afraid of him though, and she wondered why. He’d been a service man, she knew; but so had grandfather and most of the men who owned the farms along the river road. Amanda suspected any of their neighbours would’ve been as disturbed as she to see her father shaking in his chair, his hand still touching the receiver like it was his last hope.

Father went about his duties in silence. A morning alone with the canola didn’t seem to change his demeanour; and when he came into the farmhouse for lunch, Amanda found him bent over the kitchen sink, his elbows on the rim and a string of spittle on his lips: he’d been vomiting.

“I’m okay, Sweets,” he said through ragged gasps. “Just coming down with something. I’ll rest when the canola’s in.”

When they were sat at the table he looked at her, and she knew by the way the corner of his mouth moved that he wanted to say something he was still unsure about. When the words came he spoke them slow, methodically: “A man is coming.”

“What man?” she asked.

“A priest.”

The only holy man Amanda had ever known was the minister at the country church.

“What’s a priest, Daddy?” she asked.

“Something like Reverend Connelly but more important, I think,” answered her father.

“What will he do?” she wanted to know, realizing he was giving her this opportunity to set her mind at ease, knowing she’d sensed his own anxiety; and she was content to make what she could of it until his voice returned to the subtle cold that meant she mustn’t ask anymore.

“He’ll bless the house with holy crosses and water, Sugar-button,” he answered. “Then no evil spirits will be able to bother us.”

Amanda nodded, as if she knew, but the truth was she knew far more about farming than she knew about crosses and priests. At last she looked around the room, at the corners, at the bare boards, at the faded wallpaper, and asked, “Are there evil spirits here, Daddy?”

Her father took a deep breath. It was a question he didn’t want to answer, she realized; and it was only after a long and weary gaze that he said, “There are demons in this world I don’t understand. I’m not even certain I believe in them.”

The priest came the following day. Amanda was sitting on the porch in the morning, her father, having not yet returned to the field, sitting across from her smoking his pipe, when she noticed the dust cloud moving through the dry-browning canola. “Daddy,” she called, pointing. Her father sat forward, the smoke escaping from the corners of his lips. He studied the cloud: he was wondering if the dust had been turned up by a truck or a whirlwind. After a moment he said, “Go inside. I’ll call you.” The ice in his tone told her she must not ask questions.

She watched from her bedroom window as Mister Danier’s rusted car pulled up in front of the house. The Danier’s lived down the river, and when Mother had still been around, Amanda had sometimes played with their daughter, Annabelle: these days her father needed her at the house too much for her to go out. But when Mister Danier slid out from behind the wheel, she hardly noticed for the tall stranger that was pulling himself up from the other side of the car. His coarse hair was dark, his face thin. His black suit was out of place in the country, but the weary age in his eyes made him look no more a city man than Father was. He shook Father’s hand, and Amanda could only just hear him saying, “Sir, I’m Father Duvall, and it’s very nice to meet you.”

Amanda could hear nothing after that because Father’s voice was low, and the priest brought his to match. She watched until they were beneath the eaves of the porch and she couldn’t see them anymore. She lay back on her bed and listened to the silence in the old farmhouse. There were voices in the silence, voices she couldn’t hear, voices only Father could hear. He’d called them demons, and though she didn’t know what demons were, invisible voices were something to be afraid of.

She waited till she heard the front door close downstairs. Father and the priest were in the kitchen, and she could hear them again when she put her ear to the floorboards.

“It’s the voices, mostly,” said her father; he sounded restrained, a man on the verge of breaking. “I heard them only a little at first, after her mother left, voices in my head, so subtle I thought them my own morbid thoughts; then they came more, in the field, in the well, in the barn. They answered me. They made my life a living hell. I hoped they’d never come here, not in the house. I know my sins, and I can stomach the insults. This flesh, it means nothing; I am Corrine. But they should never trouble my daughter with their ugly words. The day I heard them in the wall of her room I couldn’t put it off anymore.” A pause; a hollow, empty, ringing, lonely moment as palpable as the stifle of summer heat. “Do you understand that, Father? To fear for your daughter, the one person in the world you’d die for in a moment; but you are so helpless!”

There was another silence; then the priest said, his voice soft, “Why didn’t you look for help sooner?”

Her father laughed, a sound now only a memory to her ears. “Do I look like the kind of man who puts on a suit every Sunday?”

The priest, too, joined him, a low chuckle that seemed to belong to someone with only a mild sense of humour. “Then why did you ask the reverend to call me?” he asked.

Amanda could hear her father’s hesitant resolve in his rough voice. “I’d burn this farm to the ground for my daughter. Fire, famine, flood, storms – I can weather all these things: my father taught me to persevere; and I’ve taught Amanda to be strong. But demons? Voices that talk to me from behind my great-grandmother’s old wallpaper? Father, I don’t know what to do about that. That’s not the sort of problem a man can fix with tools.”

“Few men know how to fix this problem,” answered the priest. “The realm of things unseen has always been an enigma to us, and even the church no longer admits demons exist.”

Pause; then Father: “Then what are we to do?”

The priest took a deep breath, the sound of a man who chooses his words carefully. “First we need to establish what has come into your home, Mister Corrine, and why it has come.”

Amanda heard the coffee pot clank, then the kitchen chairs were moved.

“What do the voices say?” the priest asked at last.

“At first, in the field, they told me Marie left because I’d driven her away. They said I fuh- pardon me, Father, we’re not well-spoken out here in the canola. They wanted me to feel guilty about all of it. In the well I saw her body floating under the water, and I knew it wasn’t true, but it’s still hard to get her voice out of my head. It wasn’t until they were in the house they started saying I must pay for my sins. They said the crow would come. They told lies about me, and they said my daughter isn’t safe with me. My own daughter, Father! The cowards, to bring her into this!”

“This spirit knows you intimately,” said the priest. “It knows how to hurt you. It will hit you with anything to break you.”

“But why would it want to?” pleaded her father. “I’ve never been a saint, but I’ve done no heinous crimes – not since the war, and we’ve all atoned for that.”

Amanda heard the priest. He was playing a game, she realized. The line between the church he served and the truth her father needed wasn’t as clear as one might think. Then he answered: “It’s because you’re a dangerous man; and you’re daughter is more dangerous than you or I can begin to understand.”

Amanda felt a dread creeping over her, and she wondered what the priest meant by that. She’d never known her father to be wicked – violent, yes, but always for a reason beyond reproach. He’d hit Old Man Penny when he’d roughed up his boy; and he’d pushed Gary Sykes over the bank at Grand-father’s funeral because Mister Syke’s had said horrible things about Great-grandpa. She certainly had never thought Father a bad man, and the thought that she might be bad was preposterous: she hadn’t ever done anything worse than to take Father’s pipe and smoke it behind the woodshed without him knowing, for which she knew he’d be terribly angry if he found out; she’d been careful to bury the ash and put the pipe back the moment she’d finished.

“I don’t think I understand,” said her father’s voice through the floorboards.

“And I’ve no way of explaining to you but to show you,” said the priest. He gave a long sigh that sounded much older than he looked, and Amanda heard him rise from the table. A moment later the other chair was pushed out, and their slow footsteps creaked throughout the old farmhouse.

“Show me where you hear them,” said the priest then. “And are they only voices? Do they ever make other sounds?”

“Sounds and pictures in my head,” answered her father; then: “Here—” The rap-rap of his knuckles against the wall panels. A moment later she heard him rap again, but the second time was followed by a prolonged silence from below, then the muted voice of the priest whispered faintly:

“What do you hear?”

“Make him leave. Throw out the sinner. Child of Satan.”

It was her father’s voice but not his words, and Amanda knew the difference: she’d heard them before.

“Who are you?” asked the voice of the priest, now loud and confident with authority.

“You’re going to send him to me, aren’t you, Father? I’ve been waiting!” The voice was reproachful, arrogant, even spiteful. “Father Duvall, the wayward sheep who fell in with the devil’s wraith.”

These words were horrible, violent. But the priest’s voice was calm and steady:

“We’ll see how stubborn you are, how long you’ll stay.”

The only answer was a long, icy laugh that sent a chill through Amanda’s skin and echoed through the bones of the old house. She felt her heart go cold, and when she looked at the faded wallpaper over her bed the lines in the pattern seemed to intertwine and writhe together, like a creature in agony; then the rattling laughter from below was in the ceiling over her head, then under her bed; and Amanda was terrified. She clutched at her bedrail and shut her eyes, begging the laughter to stop.

It was awhile before she heard her father’s voice from below. The laughter was silent, the house sleeping once more. He was calling her name, softly at first, then clear and loud: “Amanda, come downstairs!”

The three men were on the porch, her father and Mister Danier smoking cigars, the priest a cigarette. The holy man smiled when he saw her, and he stubbed out the smoke on his shoe. “You are Amanda?” he asked. “If you don’t mind me saying, Sir—” He glanced at her father. “—she’s an image of her mother in all her grace and beauty.”

Her father smiled in return, and Amanda thought it was the first time she’d seen him pleased at the memory of Mother since she’d gone away. “Thank-you,” he answered.

“I’ll check back in a week,” said the priest then. “If nothing has changed, we’ll begin the extrication – but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Father nodded. Amanda couldn’t read him, and that frightened her.

The priest turned to Amanda, his old face shifting to a gradual smile that brightened when the sun hit it. “Take care of your father, dear,” he said; and the kindness in the eyes of the old holy man gave her the hope that was missing in Father’s own.

They watched the priest and Mister Danier driving away, and when they were gone Father stooped and hugged her. As the scent of sweat and tobacco surrounded her, Amanda wondered what things he was keeping to himself, and when she’d find them out.

The next few days were quiet by comparison: a knock or two in the house, perhaps, but Amanda did her best to ignore them, and said nothing to Father. During the harvest season there was no shortage of work to be done, and it kept her as busy as it kept him. Cooking, cleaning – and when the pump in the deep well stopped working she used Father’s truck to haul it to the surface by herself, and Andrew Borneill brought a replacement from town and helped her lower it back to the water. Father had been so proud, she could tell, even through the endless weariness that confined him to his chair every evening.

He had reason to be tired. He’d already helped Mister Danier and Mister Cloud cut their fields, and now that the canola was in seed it was ready to be brought in, and the neighbours were eager to see it cut. Father arose early and left for the field every morning, only returning at lunch and dusk. Amanda sat on the porch and watched the dust clouds that followed the tractors as they made their way through the canola. She tried to guess which was Father’s, but it was so dusty it was difficult to tell.

It was nearly a week since the priest had come, then, and Amanda had nearly forgotten about him. Father had been in the field all morning, and the day had grown hot. Amanda was sitting on the porch waiting for him – lunch was on the table, ice water by his chair: he’d be terribly thirsty. She’d been watching the road for the dark shape he made against the canola. When she saw it she leapt to her feet and ran to the fence with his pipe in hand. She was still waiting expectantly when the approaching figure paused at the gate and surveyed the yard, the house, the barn. It was then she realized it wasn’t her father coming down the road. It was a man, though, she was sure. He was shorter than Father, his shoulders broad, but his back was bent, and he ambled along the dusty track like old Mister Cloud did with his cane. When he was nearly to the yard she could see he was wearing a great coat covered in black bird feathers that lifted gently in the breeze around his shoulders, and a heavy hood covered his back – much too hot for the heat of autumn. His face was rather like a crows, too, especially his long, hooked nose and beady black eyes.

“Who are you?” Amanda called. She wasn’t scared exactly, but Father had taught her to shun strangers. The world was full of liars and thieves, he said, and you never really knew who they were until they spoke.

The man didn’t answer her; and he was at the fence now. She found herself backing slowly toward the porch. Her father’s shotgun was by the door, and she knew how to use it.

He did look rather like a big black crow, she thought. She half expected he might spread wings and fly to the top of the willow tree, or let out an ugly caw like the birds that watched the garden grow from the safety of the fence.

When her shoe hit the step she called again: “If you come into my yard, Sir, my father will shoot you. He doesn’t like strangers coming here. Please, stop before I get the gun!”

The crow-man stopped at the fence and, hooking his elbows over the top rail, he fixed his black eyes on her. “You’re Amanda Corrine, aren’t you?” he asked in a cackly voice. “This is Eddie Corrine’s farm, yes?”

Hearing their names on his lips didn’t sound right, and Amanda shuddered at the way the stranger cocked his head, the way he clucked his C’s. Something about it just wasn’t normal.

“If you have reason to be here at our yard then say it quickly,” she called back. “Or go back the way you came.”

“I see you’re father has given you his ignorance,” said the bird-man, smiling through rotted and crooked teeth.

“How do you know my father?” she asked, glaring a little despite herself – and not because of the sun. It made her frustrated when others didn’t listen, especially adults.

“Oh, your father and I shot Jords together, we did!” cried the bird-man with another laugh. “You may not believe it, but he’ll remember. My name is Corvid. Tell him that name. He’ll know it, I’m certain.”

His crooked hand reached into his heavy coat, and she watched him pinning something to the fence. Then he waved, his hand very claw-like.

“Tell him I called!” he shouted as he turned and ambled back up the road.

Amanda watched until he was over the hill, not daring to look away. When the speck of his form was finally lost to her, her breath came out in a ragged gasp she hadn’t known she’d been holding. She looked back out to the field and was relieved to see the dust clouds had blown away, which meant the tractors were stopped and Father would be home soon.

She was still watching the field for first sight of Father when a moving dot above the horizon caught her eye, high above the earth. It was a bird. Maybe a hawk. She watched it coming down over the dry-brown waves of canola, closer to the house all the time. She couldn’t help but wonder if it might be a big, black crow up there. It was keeping an eye on them, though why she couldn’t guess.

Her father saw something was wrong from the moment he set his eyes on her where she was sitting on the steps of the porch. “Something got your candies?” he asked, shaking the dust from his hat and transferring the rolled cigarette behind his ear to clutch in his teeth.

“A man came here while you were out, Daddy,” she answered. “A stranger.”

Her father stopped, one foot on the step while he cupped his hands to light his smoke. He shook out the match and looked at her. “Who did he say he was? Did he come in the yard?”

“No, I told him to stay at the fence.” She screwed her face at the thought of the queer bird-man standing at the gate, his elbows on the rail, his beady eyes following her. Her father was looking at her intently, so she hurriedly said, “He called himself Corvid. He said you’d know who he was. Do you know him, Daddy?”

Her father’s face didn’t betray any secret. He could keep one when he wanted to, and it had advanced him more than once at the table; but Amanda could usually tell when he was lying. So when he said, “No, Sugar-button, I don’t know who he is,” she didn’t doubt he was telling the truth.

“He made me worry,” she said.

“Then we can’t have him coming around, can we?” asked Father with a twinkle in his eye. We’ve got too much to worry about without strangers coming by during harvest.”

Father always had ways of chasing the fear away, and as they went in for lunch Amanda found the worry and the memory of the bird-man was miles gone. If only for the moment.

That night Father awoke her from a deep sleep. “Get up, Amanda,” he whispered. “Get up quickly. We gotta protect the crop.”

Amanda rubbed her eyes. There was no light at the window: dawn hadn’t yet come. She crawled from bed and dressed in the dark. “What’s wrong, Daddy?” she asked as she stumbled into the kitchen.

Her father was at the table. His gun was before him and his cartridge box open: he’d been loading magazines and setting them in piles, as if the farmer had gone away and the soldier returned.

“Someone’s in the silos,” he answered without looking up.

Amanda didn’t know who’d want to steal their crop. Their closest neighbours were miles away, and they all had their own farms and their own harvests to worry about. The effort it took to steal from any of the farms along the river road was too much to think of.

“Take the gun,” said her father, handing it to her. “I’m going out to make them leave. You must be ready; they may fight back.”

Amanda had shot the rifle before and knew she could manage it. She was a fair shot, even at two hundred yards; but shooting cans off the fence post was different than shooting a living thing, even the crows in the garden; and she couldn’t help but tremble at the thought of pulling the trigger on a person, even a criminal – even a murderer. But she could see her father’s unease, too, and nothing ever made him anxious unless it was worth being anxious about.

The barn light was on. She couldn’t see anyone in the puddle it made in the yard, but the thought of an intruder out there in the dark made her afraid – and supposing it was that wretched bird-man with his claw-like fingers and black-feather coat bunched up around his shoulders: she shivered.

Her father got up from the table. He was weary: she could see it in his face. And his eyes were glazed, too, like he’d just woken from deep sleep. “If you shoot don’t spare the shots,” he said. “Breathe out like I’ve told you, and keep your grip steady.”

“How will I know when to shoot?” she asked. More than anything she hoped she wouldn’t have to.

His answered was exactly what she expected: “Shoot when you must and not sooner or later.” He paused at the door. His hard eyes looked down at her, and she realized there was something about his face that wasn’t normal. It wasn’t just his eyes: his skin was tight, every muscle tensed: a hide stretched on the rack to dry. “Don’t shoot me,” he said, then turned and went out into the night.

Amanda crouched by the railing and set the rifle to her shoulder. The porch light was out, shadows at her back, and the only visible world was before the barn. That made it easy to focus, and she lined up the glass sight with the double doors that hid Grandpa’s old red tractor. She could see Father’s shadow crossing the yard toward the side door of the barn. It was standing just ajar, light spilling out through a thin crack between the door and the frame. It wasn’t much of a target, but she let her breath come in short gasps until Father stopped and called out; then she held it back, afraid to breathe lest she miss any sound across the yard.

“It’s Eddie out here,” Father called. “You best come out where I can see you, whoever you are. This ain’t your place!”

There was only the calm of night and the chirrp of the crickets to answer. Father stood in the yard light, his hands at his sides, his fists balled and shoulders tensed. She’d only seen him look like that when he thought he must fight, and that was seldom.

“If you come out I’ll let you go and ask no questions,” he called. “This is your only warning.”

There was no answer from the barn. No movement, no noise: the door stood just ajar as it had, no change or betrayal of life on the other side. Amanda looked at all the windows down the row of stables. Had the thief run out the back somewhere and into the canola?

She was still searching the doors and the corrals when her eye caught the flit of something in the dark. It was a bird, she realized, an owl, probably. It came down from the hay loft and into the yard, settling on a fence post twenty paces or so from where Father stood. It was watching him intently in the dark. Father hadn’t seen it yet, but he called out again, “Hello, you fool! I know you’ve broken into my barn and I want you out. Come with your hands high else you’ll be shot!”

The bird cawed then, and Amanda realized it was a big, black crow sitting on the fence post. It was cocking its head, its eyes two shining point of light glaring down at her father.

“Are you the vermin?” he asked, turning to the bird: even in the dark Amanda could see them both clearly. “Get out of my yard!”

The bird just sat on the post watching him. Unmoved. Unashamed. It hooked its clawed feet around the post and hunched its back.

Father shook his head like a man waking from a dream. He was muttering to himself, though she couldn’t make out his words. Then he shut the barn door and locked it.

When he was back at the porch he said, “Back to bed, Amanda. That’s enough for one night.” She obeyed without question, but something wasn’t right, something in his eyes and the crack of his voice. He was like a man in a trance, a man who sees more than the world wants to show him.

In the morning the crow was sitting on her window ledge watching her through the glass, and the sharp rapping under the floorboards sounded like it’s beak on the wood. Let me in, let me in, it seemed to croon at her.

Amanda went downstairs for breakfast to find father sitting on the kitchen floor, blood pooling around his legs from the open wounds on his arms. He’d dropped the knife, and his sightless eyes looked at it as if it were something he couldn’t understand. Not quite horror, not quite fear.

Daddy!?” she cried in dread.

Her father looked back at her through glassy eyes and a grimace of pain. He was mumbling to himself, and it was a little while before she could make out the words: “He’s still here.”

Amanda found the phone and called the reverend. When the reverend arrived he phoned the doctor and the police. Amanda was brave: she told herself she must be. Father wouldn’t want her to look away now. So she kept her eyes on his pale face as the doctor desperately soaked up the blood and the constable mopped his glistening brow. But when father closed his eyes, and the doctor’s steady hands began to shake, Amanda shut away her tears and told herself none of it was real.

They buried father in the churchyard. Although he’d never been a church man, Amanda thought he’d like to be there, and the reverend kindly offered. “He will sleep soundly ‘til the day you see him again,” he said; and he took her small hands in his. They weren’t rough and worn as father’s but clean and smooth. Amanda didn’t like them, but the kindness in the preacher’s eyes gave her some small hope. Something to hold onto.

The preacher’s wife offered her a bed, but Amanda thought she’d rather go home. She wasn’t afraid of the crows, and she wanted to cry alone. The constable begged her to take the offer, but in the end he drove her back down the river road in his car: she was nine, she could take care of herself. She skipped dinner, went through the back door, and crawled into her bed. She couldn’t abide the thought of passing through the kitchen where Father had died on the floor, and there seemed no solace in anything now but sleep. Even so, it took her most of the night to find it, and when she did she saw the shadow of the bird-man dancing against her bedroom wall.
















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