Rain rattles against the high windows, and in the distance heavy thunder rolls. But I pay it no mind. Tonight I’m sworn to vengeance.
This night, I have paper. Graphs and diagrams are all laid out before me. I have their work schedules, pictures of their cars and smiling faces, and I wonder if they were ever this happy with me in their lives.
Lucy was always so worried what other people would think if they saw Ethan and me out doing things together – like they might think that two old school friends were still buddies? I asked her once. But she couldn’t get past the fact that back at the house, the three of us shared a bed. She agreed to our three-ways so she could have us, but every time I tried to explain that it was perfectly natural to love more than one person, she’d tilt her head like my old hound dog. I half expected her tongue to slide out of her mouth and drip all over the floor.
To my right, I see the altar Mama used all those years ago. Walking to it, I find myself making an offering of a couple of bracelets and some found-object wire pieces I’d made recently for Ethan, forgetting that he didn’t live with me any more. I sit there, rocking in place, remembering the chants my Mama used to sing as Fathers and I would carve things out of hard, old stone and soft, new wood. Some of the ancient words come back to my lips and tears drip down my face.
A tap-tapping brings me out of my reverie. I look over my shoulder and freeze.
Outside the high basement window crouches a bird, or a man…? I’m not sure which. There are feathers and leaves and a muddy grey beard, shouting at me. The tapping grows louder and more insistent. I shake my head, frozen in place, noticing his rugged, chiseled features, that strong nose, that black red-streaked hair, and the feathers, so many feathers surrounding his face.
He’s screaming at me, but I can barely hear the words. He’s motioning for me to open the window, but I’m lost in those midnight blue eyes.
The sound of glass breaking brings me to my feet. “What are you doing?” we shout at the same time. Then he’s reaching down to grab at me. I scramble away, shaking my head.
“You need to get out! A storm’s coming and this place won’t be safe for you! I vowed to protect you, and Mama Glenn will have my hide if you’re found floating in this basement! Now come out here, or let me in.”
I hear the words, but I can’t believe it. I haven’t heard her name in years.
I am still thinking Mama Glenn – or did I dream it? when water begins pouring through the broken window. “Come on,” he yells. “It’s going to flood!”
I shake away the thought, and shout back, “You broke my window! Of course the basement’s going to flood!” I glare up at him. “What are you, stupid?”
“Get that ladder over there and come up this way. Your house is already flooding, and you can’t come up the stairs.”
I glance at the door – water is seeping under it.
Suddenly, doing what he says seems like a really good idea. I look around wildly and see the old willow ladder Fathers had made the year he died. “Fathers had it in a book. He told me to make it this year. Why? It was told, son. Sometimes, you just do what is told. You’ll learn someday.”
I reach for the ladder, lean it into the waterfall pouring through the window, and start to climb. As I get closer, I see that the man has a mantle of black feathers around his neck. “Guard your eyes,” he orders, and without thinking, I turn away and raise my arm to shield my face. More glass breaks, and when I look up again he’s cleared the window frame. “OK, come on!”
Getting through is harder than it looks. He didn’t get all the glass, and I leave skin behind. As he drags me to my feet in shin-deep water, I get a better look at him.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? And…what’s with this getup?” I point at the feathers, glimmering with drops of rain like dew on a leaf.
He laughs and walks me away from the window. “They told you nothing? Oh, Sister… Well, this is going to be tough. I’ll let Mama Glenn tell you herself. Now come on.”
I look over my shoulder. Does he realize I’ll have to leave everything I’ve been planning? Then I realize, Well, what do I have to lose?
What do I have to lose? I can sit here in my misery, or go to jail for murdering my two ex-lovers, who had decided being with each other was far better than ever being with me. Or both.
Or, maybe, I can follow him.
Are they worth drowning for? Is he worth dying for?
Haven’t you already made your choice?
I stand stock-still in the rain and the water, the past and the future warring in my mind.
With them, I always felt so left out, so not wanted. But now I feel wanted. It makes no sense. One minute I’m planning their deaths, the next I’m climbing up a ladder, through a little broken window and into the arms of a bird-man. If I’d wanted to become a murderer, wouldn’t I just stay at the bottom rung?
I follow him.
He wasn’t lying – the storm is furious: rain blowing, wind raging, trees bowing over to the passing of the storm gods. Water clamors all about us, into the lake around our legs and into my face as I look up.
He is taller than I’d first imagined. He towers over me, seven feet or more. I feel small, and weak, and suddenly helpless, like the ten-year-old I had been when I moved into this house.
“I am Sunder, your… uncle, for want of a better word, nephew. Sister didn’t tell you much, so… I’m sorry I’m going to have to do this.”
“Do wha-” I start to say, and then a sharp pain flares and everything goes black.
Awareness returns slowly. It’s hot, so hot, and the back of my head hurts. I drag my eyes open. Except for one corner, the room is dark, smelling of dirt and moss and moisture. I roll over toward that corner, and a fire dancing in red embers in an iron pot-bellied stove reminds me of the one Mama used to sing about. My skin tingles, my head throbs, and I groan while thinking, Sunder? Did he hit me?
The deep chuckle is near my ear. “Yes… because you couldn’t get here otherwise.”