The Terrible Black Night
On the Terrible Black Night, the rain blew sideways into a little round nest made of twigs and grass. The wind shook the trees and rocked the branches, and the clouds hung low and blanketed the moon and swaddled the stars.
Ella huddled close to her mother in the dark.
“Are you awake?” said her mother. She rubbed her eyes and wrapped a sleepy wing around Ella.
Ella pressed closer. “I’m not scared of anything,” she said.
Her mother yawned.
“It’s raining sideways,” said Ella.
“Maybe we can move,” said her mother. “Not now, but someday. Someday we’ll find a good hollow tree and live there instead.”
They listened to the storm.
“I wasn’t sure if I could fly today,” said Ella.
“You could,” said her mother. “And you will always be able to fly from now on. Just never forget what I told you.”
Ella’s mother closed her eyes. The wind whistled and huffed, and the rain beat down in long slanted sheets. Everything was noisy, wet, blustery, and unsettled.
Ella watched the trees around them sway back and forth out of time.
In the distance, a silent, dark thing flickered between the branches.
“Did you see that?” whispered Ella.
“Shh,” said her mother. “Go to sleep.”
The storm battered and lashed, and the branches creaked and groaned. Ella fiddled with her scarf and untied and re-tied it and double-checked the knot. She raised her head one more time.
The silent, dark thing was nowhere to be seen.
Maybe it was nothing, thought Ella.
Maybe, and maybe.
Somewhere nearby came the faint, deliberate, click-clack sound of approaching steps.
The clicks and clacks grew louder. They grew closer. The clicks and clacks sounded very much like two heavy claws stepping carefully along a slippery branch in the dark.
“Where are you?” muttered a low voice.
Ella huddled closer to her mother.
“Who’s there?” called Ella.
“Hmm?” said Ella’s mother. “Are you awake again?”
The footsteps stopped.
“Which one are you?” said the voice.
“Which one?” said Ella. “What do you mean?”
The large dim outline of a black-feathered bird stepped slowly around the tree trunk. The bird leaned down and felt around the shadows that surrounded the nest.
“Good evening,” said the bird. “I’m looking for a sparrow. A very particular sparrow. Which one are you?”
Ella’s mother sat up. “What do you want?” she said.
“Who is it?” whispered Ella.
“A raven,” whispered her mother. “Don’t say anything.”
“I apologize if I startled you,” said the raven. “I’m looking for a sparrow with blue eyes.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Ella’s mother. Ella felt her mother begin to tremble.
The large dark bird made a funny noise that almost sounded like laughter.
Ella peered up at the raven. The bird towered above the nest, enormous and dark—much darker than the storm. A little streak of light glinted on her bill when she smiled.
“It’s perfectly simple,” said the raven. “I’ve come a long way, and I was told I would find a blue-eyed sparrow in this tree. Now—which of you has the blue eyes? It’s getting late. Time is running out.”
The raven flexed her wings and arched her back. The rain poured down. The wind whistled, and the nest wobbled. Ella’s mother breathed noisily.
“Which one?” said the raven.
Ella looked at her mother, and back at the raven. She opened her mouth to speak.
“Me,” said Ella’s mother quickly.
“But—” said Ella.
She couldn’t finish. The raven knocked Ella aside and snatched her mother from the nest.
“No!” shouted Ella. “Wait!”
The raven did not wait. The storm lifted her up, and she shot away into the dark with Ella’s mother clenched tightly in her claw.
Ella opened her little wings to pursue them, but as soon as she leapt into the air the wind carried her off in the wrong direction. She tumbled through the night, headlong through the torrents and out of control. The wind wove in-between the lightning bolts and carried her deeper into the storm and away from her mother and far from her home. It took her this way and that, hither and thither and spun her upside-down and backward. Ella kept tumbling until the wind cast her down in a dense thicket and lodged her deep inside the maze of the thorny bush. She fought for breath. Ella twisted herself upright and pushed past the spiky branches one by one as she struggled to find an exit.
When she finally reached the open air, Ella stopped and looked around in confusion. She had no idea where she had landed. There were no stars above to guide her, and no trace of her mother or the direction the raven had taken.
If I head straight into the wind, thought Ella, then maybe I can find them. Maybe.
Ella leapt from the bush, and the wind howled and pushed her back. She righted herself and leapt once more. The wind pushed back harder, and Ella leapt a third time, and then again, and again.
It was no use. The hard wind blew harder, and the dark grew even darker. The rain beat down in sheets and blurred her eyes and washed her chances away. At last, after the wind had pushed her back countless times, Ella did not get up again. She lay in the thicket and gasped, overwhelmed and overcome. A heavy lump swelled in her throat.
The raven had vanished, along with her mother, and all the world Ella used to know now lay forever behind her and beyond reach, in that strange, ever-expanding and unattainable place called the past.
This is a work in progress, and to keep track of things you can subscribe to the update notifications. Readers are also encouraged to submit suggestions & edits through the Github repository (or old school email). Questions? Check the project announcement page for more information.
© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects