Jun 10

Raya’s Pride

Padding across the cool morning earth, Raya’s muscles were loose and heated after her morning run. She carried herself to the low stream at the back of her property and lapped up the icy water. The surrounding woods came alive with the wild things. The sound of her pack an echo in the distance that she kept between them. They knew where she was but they left her alone. She didn’t deal lightly with anyone invading her territory.

The snap of a twig at her flank caused her to whip 180 degrees, a threatening growl parting her lips. She flashed her sharp teeth, warning off the intruder. Her body became a taught weapon ready to pounce. Shifting, waiting, Raya gazed across the dark copse of lush pine. The thick eerie silence grew like a taut band. She crept forward inching toward the darkness, when the bluest eyes illuminated by the rising sun stilled her.

Raya whined. Automatically she backed up, fear she was losing her mind gathering. Her paws hit the stream. She didn’t feel the cold water. Mind frozen, her breaths quickened.

“No,” she said, but it came out as a mangled moan. Raya blinked and shook her head. He couldn’t be here. She tried to lock out her past, it was like an unstoppable bullet train racing toward its destination; memories flooded her mind of a time when her heart had been full to bursting.

She whimpered as her heart skipped a beat with hope. It couldn’t be him. Raya licked her muzzle. The wolf in front of her followed the movement with a slight tilt of his head and a huff of breath that misted in front of him. The last time she had seen him he had promised they would be together forever. It was a childish dream to believe that she would be with the boy she loved until the end of eternity, but she believed it nonetheless. She’d not seen him since. Until now.

Caleb Finnegan.

She inched forward on her paws but didn’t take her eyes off the wolf as he peeled away from the pines, his head up sniffing the air as he neared, and his strong legs and thick shiny black coat telling of his heritage.

The black wolf lifted his muzzle up, back down, and then quieted, his stillness unnatural.

Tremors needled out from her heart, her memories of the love they’d shared burning through her veins. Her legs began to shake. She knew what was coming and wanted to close her eyes, deny that it was Caleb in front of her. Her muzzle swayed back and forth, her disbelief in motion, not willing to give an inch to the reality that was upon her.

The air wavered in front of the great wolf. Heat roiled and began to swell suffusing his coat, flaring with invisible fingers as if a wind used them as whips and would scald anything within reach. Color and brilliant light washed through his fur undulating like a tide, energy forming waves that reflected too brightly in her eyes. She blinked to clear them as they stung, going down to her belly, hiding from the light, that last burst of energy singing her skin only meant one thing.

“Raya?”

“Oh, God!” she said, the words a small howl. Raya’s body quaked at the sound of her name. It made her belly toss with emotion, awakening old feelings she thought she had buried for good. She jumped to her feet ready to bolt, but couldn’t quite get herself to move. She didn’t dare look up. Raya was scared he would disappear on the wind. But she had to see, she had to know it was Caleb.

She slowly lifted her eyes to his. Raya barked sharp and loud, voicing her disbelief. The beat of her heart thumped rapidly against her chest. Caleb stood in front of her as a man, flesh, blood, not a teenage boy any longer. The ache in her chest fluttered to life. Why was he here, after all this time?  If he was back in these woods, it was for a good reason.

Raya took the man in, enjoying his human form. His once, long and awkward sinew was now solid muscle, roughly hitting around 6’-5”, in one of the most exquisite bodies she had ever seen. Caleb was tanned and scruffy, his five o’clock shadow adding to his allure. Beautiful. She began to move around him, tightening the circuit as she circled him, padding closer and closer, until she brushed her head along the back of his leg, marking him with her scent.

Caleb remained patient until he wasn’t.

“Raya?” She turned and came back dancing nearer until she brushed along his firm, and oh so bare, backside. Caleb jumped a step forward with the contact. A laughing noise filled her throat in a rapid chuffing noise.

“Raya!” he snapped with impatience, “please transform.”

As a kid, he always wanted to get to the action. No wasting time for Caleb, but she wouldn’t let his impatience hinder her fun.

Just to irritate him more she came around to his front. She gave a look of satisfaction when he stumbled backward after she stroked her muzzle across his thigh, and then quickly snapped near his growing cock. She could see that the years had endowed him with plenty to pleasure a she-wolf.

Caleb fisted his fingers and stood very still. She moved away from him and made to come back at him for another round of fun, when Caleb started to speak his consternation, but she put a stop to that. Raya willed herself to change from wolf to woman. It was time to face the man that broke her heart.

The air stirred, a little colder and slower making it more painful than usual, but she was nervous. Raya’s transformations never were graceful because her father was human. Half-breeds always had trouble, but wolf was always dominant. Her breathing grew rough and sweat began to trickle down her spine and soak her coat. The light surrounded her form, the change making her skin itch and her body ache. Her limbs stretched and grew to stand just inches short of Caleb’s huge frame. Her breath billowed out painfully as she tried to recover. All wolves were tall in human form, but Caleb’s body was grander than most. He surely would have become the alpha if he had not fled.

Raya couldn’t help but stare through her human eyes at the older, new and improved Caleb in front of her.

“Ray,” Caleb whispered.

She cleared her throat, words forming a knot before she could speak them. Caleb was the one to move first. His hands reached out, grabbed and pulled her in tight to his naked body, and his arms wrapped around her, their bodies recognizing each other still, after all this time. She couldn’t help it, and groaned as her skin molded to his. He felt so good.

*****

Caleb had missed her so much, but he did not dare speak the words for fear that she would push him away. His hands began to wander making himself familiar with the woman she’d grown into. She was soft and curves moved from breasts to hips to thighs. Caleb wanted to devour her, right here on the blanket of grass under his feet. He buried his nose in the crook of her neck and breathed in her familiar earthy flowery scent. He lifted his head only a little and skimmed his lips just under her ear. She shivered and Caleb smiled to himself. She was always so responsive, even when she had just become a woman of eighteen.

“Mmm, Caleb. Don’t stop.”

He nipped her neck and moved down to explore the more forbidden. Her plump breasts now more voluptuous at twenty-five filled his hands as he pressed and molded his fingers over her. She moaned when he took her sweet pink nipples that had grown taut as soon as she had taken on human form, and pinched them, adding just enough pain to make her squirm. He laved at them taking away the sting, making her writhe with want. He tightened his hold and she sucked in a breath when he took the nipple into his mouth once again and sucked hard adding his tongue in rough then soft swipes, over and over until she couldn’t take it anymore. He moved onto her other, breath and tongue laving with the same attention.

Caleb knelt in front of her, taking her hips in both hands, his grip hard and unforgiving in his rush to taste her, his control right on the edge, ready to come undone. He’d wished every day that he could return to her, be with her like this, but he hadn’t been strong enough until now to return. His name was a chant on her lips as he buried his nose at the juncture of her sex rubbing right over her clit, the scent of her pussy finally sending him over the edge, letting the animal inside him out to play. With long strokes, his tongue tasted her, feeding on her arousal, the sounds she made and the scent of her core. Over and over Caleb lapped at her juices until she was shaking uncontrollably, then and only then did he slide one finger into her bringing a scream to her lips. The sound of her pleasure made his cock harder than it had ever been before. He continued to torment her until he knew she was getting close, the walls of her sex dancing with little spasms over his finger. He pulled back. She’d barely opened her mouth to protest when Caleb quickly added another finger. Raya matched the pumping of his fingers with every stroke, her pussy grinding into his palm as she tried to rub her clit just so. Raya’s body was so close but this time, Caleb wasn’t letting her come without him inside her.

Caleb pulled his fingers out and she tried to grab his hand back, but he was too fast and took her down, flipping her around to her hands and knees pressing her head close to the ground. Raya looked over her shoulder, and Caleb watched as she focused on the engorged head of his cock as he stroked himself a few times before moving in behind her. Her eyes glazed and dilated with pleasure as they met his and the tip of his hard length touched the heat at her weeping opening. Finally, he was home and he plunged into her. His head fell back and he growled to the sky.

He rocked forward, his breath leaving him faster and faster as his wolf took its mate. Caleb set the pace and Raya rocked back into him until his body was snug up against hers.

“More beautiful than ever.” He kissed under her ear as his body curled over hers, his hips rocking languidly into her plump ass. He trailed a smattering of kisses down her spine following each with a wet swipe of his tongue marking her as his. Caleb tipped her forehead to the ground, his cock going even deeper and he swelled inside her, the tingle in his balls warning him that he was close to coming, but he didn’t want to go until she was right there with him.

“Raya?” His movements became faster and she moved with him, slamming into her the sound of flesh slapping flesh indication of the urgency of the reconnection. Before he could stop himself, he was pounding into her. His hold on her hips becoming desperate. He’d leave bruises, but at this point all his wolf cared about was making Raya his once again.

Her inner walls started to ripple and pulled him deeper.

“Raya!” Her name was like a groan as it slipped over his lips and she groaned with her release and he joined her, his come filling her, marking her as his. Always his.

When he didn’t think he would fall on top of her, he lifted her limp and sated body off the grass. Caleb wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, one hand going over her breasts and the other going down to her sex. He found the still swollen and slick button and circled a finger there making her moan.

“Caleb, enough,” she whispered. She pressed up off the ground, stood to her full height, and walked away from him.

“Raya? He went after her grabbing her arm. “Where are you going?”

“Home.”

His grip hardened. He didn’t understand. “But I’ve claimed you.”

“You’re too late.”

“What?” He turned her to face him but she wouldn’t look at him. “I just claimed you.”

“No! You just fucked me.”

His hand dropped and he stepped away. “That was not fucking.” He paused and sorted through his thoughts. He had to make her understand. “I’ve never wanted anyone else, Raya. After all this time, I’ve never taken anyone else. You’ve always been the one. I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you.”

“Then why didn’t you come back for me?”

“I’m back now.”

She shook her head and turned away from him. “I would have gone to the ends of the Earth for you. I would have gone with you.” She walked away, but he thought he heard her say, “I love you too, but it’s still too late.”

“Stop Ray. What do you mean, too late?”

Raya turned back and the look in her eyes were so sad he wanted to grab her up and never let her go, protecting her from every hurt she’d ever experienced.

“I’m to be mated to the Alpha’s son the night before the full moon.” He looked up into the sky, the sun almost halfway to its apex. The moon just a memory until the sun dipped low in the sky again.

“No.” In two night’s she would be mated to someone else, over his dead body. And he was being literal. The only way to change the outcome of this shitty fate was to challenge the Alpha.

“Yes.” Raya’s chin tipped down and her arms fell heavy at her sides. “As I said, it’s too late.”

“It’s not too late.” He took her in his arms when she would have pushed him away. “I won’t let you take anyone else but me, Raya.” His lips met hers and she whimpered and grabbed onto his shoulders, her kiss turning desperate. Caleb pulled away but didn’t let her go.

She leaned her head against his chest and tucked it under his chin wrapping herself around him, causing his dick to harden, but he ignored it. Her warmth felt too good and he held her just as he’d wanted to for the last seven years. Whatever he had to do, he would do it. The one thing he wouldn’t do was cower and run. Caleb was the true Alpha of their pack and he was going to reclaim it and Raya.

*****

“Come on,” Raya said, pulling him toward her small cabin she treasured more than anything else in the world.

“Just a second.” He ran to the line of trees that he had come from and picked up a backpack.

Her hands went to her hips. “How long have you been here?”

Caleb shrugged. “I was here when you went on your run. You always would take a morning run and end at the stream here. Finding you here in the morning was always the best part of my day…before my mother took me away.” His head dipped down and he shook as if something danced across his skin.

“Where is your mother?” Caleb’s face looked tortured, the anguish making her come to him. She lifted her hands to his face and swiped at the tear that she couldn’t believe stained his face. But she quickly pulled back. She shouldn’t be touching him. She shouldn’t have had sex with him.

She watched him adjust the backpack over his shoulder. “Let’s go in and I’ll tell you what happened. Okay?”

“Okay.” Caleb took her hand and they walked up the steps. She opened the door. She didn’t lock them. No one would dare enter her home. She had too much magic and no one dared get near her. Or so she thought.

*****

Slinking undetected because of his position the gray wolf watched from the edge of the woods as the bastard, son of the previous Alpha, Caleb, took hold of Raya and fucked her. The gray wolf held back the howl of rage that was a spike in his throat, lips pealing back from yellow teeth. He would eviscerate the bastard black wolf taking back what was his by law, the coveted she-wolf witch of the pack. She was his. Only his. His fury shook through his legs, causing tremors throughout his body. He moved away from the protected cabin and began to plan.

Jun 08

 You, Me, Tolstoy and the Rest of the World

Summer is the season for love and affairs. I plan to have as many affairs as I can. Of course, I mean “art affairs” because good art demonstrates Tolstoy’s Theory of Art. In films, paintings and writing, art relationships convey emotion and bridge the distance between the artist and the art recipient.

Film is an easy art form to love. The final production represents the vision of screenplay writer, director, cinematographer, actors, soundtrack composer and hundreds of other technical experts. In Writing Screenplays That Sell, Michael Hauge writes that a winning screenplay “enables a sympathetic character to overcome a series of increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a compelling desire.” Empathy engages the audience to experience a characters’ emotions. Each of these movies—Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and La La Land—conveys emotions and establishes relationship.

Relationship

According to Tolstoy, all art forms offer this relationship experience, an opportunity to share a connection. My favorite art affairs are with paintings and sculptures I have seen many times and for many years. Travel to San Antonio, Texas requires visiting my childhood friends including Chagall’s “Dream Village” and Diego Rivera’s “Delfina Flores” at the McNay Art Museum. The Art Institute of Chicago houses other long lost friends and family, mostly in the 20th and 21st century rooms. Each visit discovers new subtleties missed before and possible new meanings in the twinkle of an eye or the last glint of a setting sun.

The same changing relationship occurs with literary classics. I will reread a piece, such as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and find aspects of the theme and plot more meaningful as an adult than as a high school student. A teenager might sympathize with the Happy, Biff or Bernard. The adult reader is more likely to fear and dread the consequences of Willy Loman’s mistakes. Good writing forms a quick connection with different types of readers that spans hundreds of pages. When the last page of the novel is turned, there is an immediate sense of loss, an aimlessness, a disconnect that sends the reader to the bookshelf for the next story in the series or more of the same magic from the same writer.

Emotion

My son’s Humanities class ventured to the art museum to select a painting to form a relationship. He chose Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” The somber grayed blues of the contorted musician with head bowed and legs crossed are representative of Picasso’s Blue Period. The emotional painting illustrates Tolstoy’s Theory of Art passing along the painter’s sadness to the viewer.

My college English class did a similar assignment, and I became a fan of Marsden Hartley. Decades later, I found the same painting now housed at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. It was like two old acquaintances meeting by chance. I almost said, “We know each other from somewhere. Don’t we?” I shared an emotional connection with the artist because he reminded me of my childhood in the Southwest.

Bridge

Tolstoy also believes art is a bridge across time and culture. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a bridge to a different time, culture and country. Tolstoy, like other great writers, eliminates the distance that separates reader from author.

What does it take to write like Tolstoy and how long? If an Olympic sport takes at least 10,000 hours for mastery, can an ordinary person transform into Tolstoy in five years. To speed my progress, I consulted How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen. A Tolstoy example dominates the preface, but the book by this English professor is mostly about other great writers with a little Tolstoy sprinkled on top.

Who writes like Tolstoy today? Who makes a reader care about make-believe characters enough to forget the time, neglect friendships and tasks waiting for attention? Some of my favorite writers are Elizabeth Stroud, John Updike, Junot Diaz, Yann Martel, Jim Harrison, Elmore Leonard, Lauren Groff and Cormac Mccarthy. A Tolstoy writer brings characters to life. Some I wish I knew, but most, I’m glad I only experienced through a story.

Jun 07

Freedom! What Freedom?

“Barbara, your assignment is to write a 250-word essay entitled What Freedom Means to Me, my English teacher said. “I’m submitting your work to a local writing contest.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, not questioning why she selected that subject or why none of my classmates were given the same assignment.

She told me nothing about the rules or the real purpose of the contest, or her reason for choosing me. My writing in class garnered decent grades and some of my writing appeared in the school newspaper. However, I had never entered a contest. An essay on freedom didn’t interest me in the least.

Freedom, what freedom? I never felt the freedom to do what I wanted to do. In my last year in a junior high school, I was told I’d be going to a business high school. Not my choice. I wanted to go to the college prep high school even though I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. I had high aspirations. Without college, I knew my career options were limited. My mother thought the business high school would be good preparation for a decent office job rather than one of the many factory positions available at that time. I envisioned an unhappy, unsatisfying, boring future.

Freedom, what freedom? I attended school when you couldn’t choose your subject matter or teachers. Most of my teachers were okay, but my social studies teacher was an uninspiring, older woman who never discussed the subject. Every day, she simply told us to copy the twenty questions written on the chalkboard, find the answers in the textbook, and write those answers on the lined paper she gave us.

When that school year was over, I hoped that my next social studies teacher would be better. When I was assigned to her again, I sat in class with tears in my eyes. More of the same, I thought.

Freedom. What freedom? We ate what my mother prepared for dinner or cooked what she told us to cook the way she wanted it done. She even selected all my clothes with little or no input from me.

Freedom. What freedom? I told my mother about a relative’s excessive use of alcohol and I was chastised harshly for talking negatively about the family. When I chose not to socialize with a friend because she had been mean to me, I was again chastised. I shut down emotionally and learned to keep my observations and feelings to myself to avoid her displeasure.

Freedom. What freedom? Without a second thought, I quickly wrote what I thought she wanted in the essay. When the students in the English classes were assembled in the library that next week, my English teacher pulled me to the side.

“Barbara, you didn’t put much effort into your essay,” she said. “Here,” she said handing a second-place certificate to me. She then walked to the front of the library to join the other English teachers and some visitors.

One person, a contest judge I assumed, called a girl to the front and congratulated her on winning first place. I looked at my disappointed teacher and thought, this contest wasn’t about what freedom means to me. It’s about a teacher’s bragging rights of having the winner in her class.

Freedom. What freedom? To write what interests me, to study any subject that interests me, to cook what and how I want to, and to wear whatever I wish are freedoms I don’t take for granted.

Jun 05

First Experience with Mass Effect: Andromeda

Note:  There are spoilers in this article.

 

Being an avid fan of the Mass Effect series, I had been looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda for what seems like forever.  Enough so that I couldn’t resist purchasing the Super Deluxe Edition to get twenty weeks of bonus content for the multiplayer side game.  As with Resident Evil 7 and Dead Rising 4, I was certain that Mass Effect:  Andromeda would not run on the computer I have.  Even more so in this case, since my PC is an i3 with only 6 GB of RAM and Andromeda required an i7 with 16 GB.

I still had to try, if only to cash in on the multiplayer content, but my PC became the Little Engine That Could.  I watched in awe as the game not only booted up, but actually ran without crashing.  I launched the multiplayer to collect whatever booster packs were available – I got an ultra-rare combatant and some nice weaponry in the process – before delving into the main game.  The picture is very grainy and there are a few minor bugs here and there, but nothing that really ruins the overall experience for me.

The story for Mass Effect: Andromeda is fairly simple.  You are playing as Sara or Scott Ryder, the default names given to a set of twins at the core of the story.  No matter which twin you choose as your character, the other still has a role to play.  You are part of an expedition to build a new home for humanity in a galaxy far removed from the Milky Way.  Such a task proves to be a challenge when it’s discovered that an unforeseen calamity has rendered all potential “golden worlds” uninhabitable.  It has also left the space station hub meant to be a waystation for colonists in dire straits.

To make matters worse for Scott or Sara, their twin is rendered comatose and their father, the expedition’s leader\Pathfinder, is killed at the end of the game’s first mission.  The task of finding planets to colonize and thus save thousands of people aboard the space station falls on the shoulders of Scott or Sara.


One of the things I love about Mass Effect: Andromeda is the character customization.  For my first outing, I picked the female Ryder twin, who I renamed as Claire.  The look I chose for her also determined the appearance of her brother and father.  The notion of having a non-playable character’s look be established by what is chosen for the main character is a feature I’d previously seen used in Fallout 4; I really dig the concept and hope to see it utilized in many more video games to come.

My character, Claire, and her father.

Though I had some idea of what to expect from having watched Youtube videos of the opening, I still felt like a out of my element at times.  The first thing that took some getting used to was jumping, particularly over long distances.  The game didn’t offer very clear instructions on how to leap over the more dangerous chasms on the first planet you explore.  I had to resort to trial and error and a lot of failed attempts before I made it across.

The next hurdle was in navigating the terrain.  I got turned around a number of times and was going in circles since there isn’t much deviation in the landscape.  The occasional fights I got into added to my confusion on which way I should be heading.  It’s a wonder that I even made it to a spot on the map where the story would advance.

It took me some time to get through the first mission, but all my roaming still yielded some discoveries about the planet I hadn’t seen in the Youtube videos.  Some landmarks I stumbled across got me inclined to think that this world will be revisited at a later point in the story.

Despite my eagerness to start exploring the next world to potentially colonize, I spent a good deal of time wandering around the space station hub – the Nexus – to talk to people and complete side quests.  After roughly two and a half hours spent “goofing off”, I finally ventured to the area of the Nexus where my character’s personal starship, the Tempest, could be found.  I might not have the best quality picture for the game, but I thought the ship looked beautiful when I first saw it.  In some ways, it looks nicer than the Normandy from the original Mass Effect trilogy.

The game crashed when I initiated a conversation with the Tempest’s pilot, but so far that’s been the only instance where it did.  There was no recurrence of this when I tried it again, so I gleefully surged ahead into the next part of the story.

Exploring the desert planet, Eos, came with its own set of challenges.  Soon after making my way to the planet’s surface, I uncovered a ground vehicle that could make it easier to get from one location to another – unless you’re like me.  As I’ve learned from many other video games that came before, I suck terribly at driving.  This largely led to me spending a half hour doing donuts around the derelict outpost where I found the vehicle or attempting to get up a very small hill with little success.  Part of the trouble associated with the latter was I couldn’t figure out how to shift from four-wheel to six-wheel drive.

After gaining access to and exploring an entire underground vault, I decided to shut down the game for the time being.  Mass Effect: Andromeda was set up so the game could be downloaded at the same time it was running.  I was disappointed when I saw the download, though near finished, had inexplicably halted.  I couldn’t figure out how to get it going again, so chose to cancel and restart it.  This turned out to be a mistake when the download started over from the very beginning.  I was unable to continue my saved game or access the multiplayer side game until it reached a certain point.  My internet connection isn’t the best, so it took two days to pick up where I left off.

As soon as I was able, I accessed the multiplayer game to participate in a few skirmishes.  I had no trouble joining a four-person team, but the load time to start the actual fight was unbelievably long.  After waiting several minutes to join in on the skirmish, I got a message saying my internet connection had been lost.  I subsequently tried a solo run.  While that one did launch after an excessive load time, I quickly got swarmed by the enemy units I was up against.  If that experience taught me anything, it’s to not stay in one spot for the entirety of the fight.

When I was able to resume the main game, I went about establishing a military outpost on Eos to serve as the first successful human colony in the Andromeda galaxy.  I then journeyed to another planet called Aya, where I met with the peaceful alien race, the Angara.  Sadly, this is where my fun came to a screeching halt.  After I recruited an Angaran team member, the game went into an infinite loading screen.  I thought if I gave it enough time, I would be able to carry on with whatever adventure came next.  After waiting nearly four and a half hours, I decided I would have to call it quits.  It appears I will need a new computer if I want to play out the rest of Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Until such time, I am determined to stay spoiler-free on what comes next in the story.  But the game has done such a good job setting up several mysteries with the antagonistic Kett alien race and the underground vaults built by an ancient species known as the Remnants that I will anxiously await the day where I get to see how the narrative plays out.   I can promise a continuation of my impressions of the game when that day comes.

©3/28/17

May 23

Jeremy

Part Two

It has been a few weeks since that fat crow swooped in and cut off the squirrels’ retreat from my dogs. After Gracie killed one of the squirrels, ‘Fatso’ crow proceeded to dismember it and dish it out to a murder of other crows. That’s right, a murder. Since that day, I’ve found out a lot about crows and that’s what a bunch of them are called; a murder. How fitting. I can’t think of anything more premeditated than what I witnessed last month.

I also learned that crows, in fact, do have a language. Three caws are thought to mean either all clear when they are short and crisp, or varying degrees of danger depending on the pitch, volume and the duration. Crows are thought to be monogamous, and generations live together in colonies in groves, like the patch behind my neighbor’s house.

All this I learned and mostly forgot since that episode, but for some reason it comes back to me today. I’m working on my computer but my mind keeps drifting. The windows are open and the morning sun warms my face when suddenly the sky goes dark for an instant and I catch a huge shadow cross my lawn. I look up but too late to see the bird who created it.

A minute later it happens again. I get up and go to the window just in time to see a fat, black bird land on the peak of my neighbor’s roof. It’s Fatso, he’s back, and my heart starts to race. I say to myself, I was just thinking of you.

It sits there and stares at me staring at it, bobbing its head all the while. It’s holding something in its beak.

I never did explore that area behind my neighbor’s house like I promised myself. For one thing, its private property and for another its largely swamp and underbrush. I look off in that direction now to see if there are more crows mulling about. I wonder if Fatso is planning another attack. I don’t see any other crows, but this one, remarkably, swoops down and lands on the birdfeeder fifteen feet from my window.

I can’t quite make out what’s in its beak. It keeps bobbing its head up and down as it looks at me first with one big brown eye and then the other. Its eyes look almost human.

It drops what its holding and the object pings against the planks. The bird flies off.

Staring at the object, I try to make out what it is and don’t notice the crow circle my house. Fatso breaks the sunlight again, and as it does the object seems to wink at me. The crow’s shadow is twenty-feet wide as it glides across the lawn. I hear three short, quick caws as it flies behind my neighbor’s house. Happy calls, if I remember right from my studies.

I rub my palms against my pants. From the window, I can only tell the object was once round and shiny.

Crows have been known to bring gifts to humans that feed them or leave out food for them. I wonder if that’s what this is. I’m thinking that Fatso, who a month ago got me to leave the dead squirrel so it could feed it to its colony, is now rewarding my good behavior. Good human, here’s your treat!

I go out to retrieve it.

It’s a charm. A bracelet’s charm with a broken loop attached to the cleft of a heart.

Dirty, bent and battered, it is hard to tell much else as I pick it up. There is writing on it, on both sides, but I can’t tell what it says. It stinks like a swamp and I take it to the sink to wash it off.

It must have been wherever the crow found it for a long time, judging by all the grime I work out with a nylon scrub brush. One side is engraved bolder than the other and I make out the name Jeremy. The other side is a date, but only the top portions of the middle numeric date are still there. Under stronger light and using a bit of numeral deduction I work it out to be either 5/23/1990 or 5/28/1990.

I take it to the kitchen table and sit. Jeremy? The name taps something in the back of my mind, but it is the date that has me excited; it could be exactly twenty-seven years ago… ‘Today! This is more than a coincidence,’ I say out loud.

I remember that feeling I had this morning; thinking about Fatso crow and then there he is. ‘This bird is playing with my mind.’ I go back outside to see if it is on my neighbor’s roof. I don’t see or hear it. Or any other crows.

Crows have the intelligence of a small primate but this goes way beyond that. I say, ‘How could a bird know a calendar? It has to be pure coincidence… and stop talking to yourself!’ Then add under my breath, ‘bird’s making me crazy.’ My heart for some odd reason is racing.

Jeremy? The name does mean something, but I can’t place what.

I put the charm on top of my wife’s mail. That way I’ll be sure to remember to tell her about what happened today, and four weeks ago. I still haven’t told her about the first episode. I don’t want to admit to her that I tried to talk to a crow, and anyway, she would not have been impressed with Gracie’s and Joker’s behavior that day… Once, after Gracie brought the head of a rabbit into the kitchen, she went after the dog with a broom! My wife is a nurse. She has no appreciation for battle trophies, or delusional husbands.

‘What’s this?’ she asks as soon as she gets home, picking up the charm. She reads the name. ‘Jeremy?’

‘That came special delivery,’ I say. ‘Read the date.’

‘Special delivery?’ She turns it over. ‘What’s the date? I can’t read it. Who sent it?’

‘It’s today’s date. May 23rd, only 1990. Or maybe it’s the 28th; it’s hard to tell. A crow dropped it off.’

She looks at me.

‘Seriously,’ I say. ‘A crow literally dropped it off.’ She rolls her eyes.

I tell her about the shadow, the crow staring at me from the birdfeeder, and how it dropped the charm on the deck. But I decide not to tell her about last month’s episode as her expression changes from her cute dear to curious to something else entirely.

She clutches her fist around the charm until her knuckles turn white and she says, ‘Jeremy,’ with a look in her eyes that I’ve only seen two or three times. The last time was the day her sister passed after a long illness. It is the look of closure, the look of final resolve; there is nothing more she, or any nurse, can do.

She starts to break down and cry and I go to her and hug her but not understanding. I can only think she must have a patient with that name. She calms down in my arms, then says after a moment, ‘You don’t remember?’ She backs away and looks at me with steel-grey eyes torn red at the seams. ‘Jeremy? Julia?’

Suddenly, I do remember!

The second name triggers it; Jeremy was going to be the name of our first-born, or Julia, if it was a girl. We made that decision on our Honeymoon in the summer of ’89, right after my wife told me she was pregnant.

She turns over the charm and says, ‘those middle two aren’t numbers, they’re question marks.’

I flash back to a store we stopped at outside of Las Vegas, where we bought a pair of fluffy baby booties. Seamed together, one shoe was pink and the other was blue with ‘Las Vegas’ stitched in red across the toes. It was specifically designed for expecting couples like us. We had the names ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Julia’ stitched on the sides, and we hung them from the car’s rearview mirror for the rest of our Honeymoon.

But our first-born was not born. My wife had a miscarriage a day or two after we got home.

Coming at the end of a fantastic three-month, 5,000-mile long honeymoon, and eager to start a family, it felt like someone turned off the perfect picture show in mid-frame.

We vowed to try again, and not to use either name after that.

We couldn’t know the sex of the child that soon, but we did work out an approximate due date. My wife had them stitch the heels of the booties with 05/??/1990.

 

 

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