What the Raven Told her (Part II)

From beneath the thin cotton dress, she heard a clearing of the throat and then a soft, “Please be so kind as to remove this cloth. It’s blocking my view of the window. If I have to be cooped up in here, I’d at least like to have something to look at.”

“I know what you mean,” Lo said and pulled the dress off the cage. “So you can talk.”

“Yes, but only to you. There’s no point wasting my time conversing with the man who stuck me in here,” the raven said and pointed its beak in the direction of the doorway her father had recently exited.

“Will you be my friend, raven?”

The raven seemed to yawn then, a characteristic Lo did not know ravens possessed. “I suppose so. I don’t suppose you plan on letting me go free, so I’ll have to find some way to pass the time.”

Weeks passed, and as Lo and the raven watched the winter snow melt into spring puddles from up in her bedroom, they both longed to take part in the sun-kissed world outside, the unending forest and yellow meadows. The raven passed the time by telling Lo all the stories of the animals and people he had encountered before her father had clutched him by the neck and threw him into his too small cage. He told her about stealing plums from the orchard a few miles west and of pecking the eyes of a rabid dog that had gone wild out on the old dirt road that stretched between Lo’s family’s farm and town. Lo always sat on the edge of her bed when the raven told his stories. She didn’t know if they were half-truths or stolen tales from braver birds, the kind that hadn’t been captured and thrown into cages. But she listened either way, always curious of what the world was like beyond the fence, the farm, and her bedroom window.

One afternoon, after another of Lo’s failed attempts to convince her father to let her help with the sheepherding, Lo stormed into her bedroom and threw herself onto her bed. With her face buried in her pillow, she cried the hot, frustrated tears of adolescence, of daughters without mothers.

The raven cawed until he drew her attention. “You want to be like them, don’t you?”

“Like who?” Lo asked. She sat up on her bed and palmed the tears from her cheeks.

“Like the wild animals. You want to be like the birds of the air or the beasts of the land.”

“Maybe,” she answered coyly, afraid to show too much hope.

“I know how you do it.”

She turned to the bird. “How?”

He stared out the window. “There’s only one way, really, to become like a wild animal.”

“What is it, raven? Please tell me what it is.” Lo was standing now, inching closer to the raven as if she might miss his secret.

“I doubt you’ll have it in you to do it,” the bird said and yawned, a trait of his that had become quite familiar and annoying to Lo.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to be like the animals of the forest and the hills,” she said, and this was exactly what the raven wanted to hear.

“I’ll tell you what you have to do if you agree to do something for me.”

“Anything.”

“After I tell you, you must release me.”

“I will,” she promised.

“You have to kill,” he said with a menacing smile, if birds could have menacing smiles.

She backed away. In a whisper she asked, “Kill who?”

The raven’s smile disappeared. “Your father,” he answered, and that was all.

 —

A week had passed without word from Lo’s father. Jack, eager for news of work and a chance to see Lo, the young girl with the yellow hair and sad eyes, set out for the farm.

The farm was silent as he approached it. He looked up into the second-story window of the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Lo as she stared out her bedroom window. He had seen her there so often, but today the window sat empty. He didn’t know if he should step inside. Lo’s father had never let Jack inside the house before. He often wondered what Lo kept in her bedroom since all he knew of it was what he could see in the small frame of the window. Right now all that he could see was an empty birdcage.

Jack walked slowly across the yard and to the barn. His sheep dog followed behind him, sniffing the air. It was inside the barn that Jack found Lo’s father—a lifeless mass on the hay-covered ground. A black carrion crow rested on the old man’s face, plucking at his eyeballs.

Jack ran forward and shooed the bird away. He moved quickly to the house to see if Lo was in danger. Up the stairs in a hurry and into the forbidden bedroom, but he found the room empty. Her yellow sundress laid strewn across the floor.

Gray WoldOutside, Jack surveyed the land to the edge of the farm and into the dark woods beyond. The crow flew past him, cawing its death cry. His sheep dog began barking and darted past him. He watched the dog as it stopped near the edge of the woods. Through the darkness of the trees he could make out a figure. Naked, a girl, Lo, running through the trees. He stopped beside his dog. The girl had vanished; a gray wolf stood in her place. Jack grabbed the collar of his dog and held it back. The wolf backed slowly into the woods, turned, and ran. Before it left, Jack caught a glimpse of its eyes; in them he saw, something unearthly, wild.

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