As Ella looked at the raven, the key slowly slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor. She shivered in the breeze.
“Is that a bird?” said Hurricane.
“It looks like one of Doctor Temporal’s sinister creations,” said Hurricane. “Possibly mechanical in origin, or constructed with the use of dark robotics.”
“What are you talking about?” said Ella.
“Well, Doctor Temporal is one of my archenemies. He’s technically brilliant, of course, but—”
“Hurricane,” said Ella, “we’re in trouble. We don’t have time for this.”
Hurricane looked all around and back at the raven. “Are you talking about the bird-napper?”
“We have to get out of here,” said Ella.
“Stay calm,” said Hurricane. “Everything is under control. I’ll be right back.”
“But—” said Ella.
Hurricane ran off toward the collections. Ella watched him go.
Behind her, she heard the slow, steady, click-clack sounds of Wednesday’s claws as the raven approached.
“It’s terribly difficult keeping my collections in order,” said Wednesday. “You have no idea how much maintenance is involved with the new exhibits.”
“You can’t keep me here,” said Ella.
“Don’t be silly,” said Wednesday. “Of course I can. I’ve never understood this problem. You enjoyed the tour of the collections, didn’t you?”
“It’s not right,” said Ella.
“And now you’re a part of them.” continued Wednesday. “What could be better?”
She hopped over Ella and landed behind her. Ella spun to meet the raven.
“I know it’s difficult,” said Wednesday. “But we all have to make sacrifices.”
She raised one of her big black wings.
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” she said. Then she swung and struck Ella down with a heavy blow.
Ella skittered across the floor. She tasted blood and dust, and her eyes filled with stars. As they twinkled away, she found she had landed closer to the exit. The opening glowed with hot white light.
Ella tried to push herself to her feet. A long pain shot up one side of her body. The other side had gone numb.
On the opposite end of the room, a small rodent with very curly blond hair and dark whiskers tottered out. In his arms he carried a large pile of objects that nearly hid his face.
“Our hero stepped boldly out from the shadows, completely unrecognizable in his disguise,” said Hurricane. “The element of surprise was on his side.”
He dumped the objects on the floor, grabbed a shiny tube of lipstick, leaned back and sent the tube hurtling over Wednesday’s head. The tube bounced lightly off the raven’s back and fell harmlessly to the floor.
“And so it begins!” shouted the mouse.
The lipstick rolled past Ella and continued until it vanished over the edge of the Tower.
Wednesday turned and stared at the mouse with a puzzled expression.
Next, a wristwatch armband spun past the raven, followed by a blue bottle cap. Wednesday stepped aside to avoid a pencil stub, and watched a star-shaped earring miss her entirely. Everything bounced and ricocheted and rolled harmlessly away. Ella lay on the floor and watched the stream of objects from the collections twirl past her.
His arsenal exhausted, Hurricane picked up a long metal nail and ran forward to the raven.
“Hah!” he cried, and struck her several times on her hard, scaly claws.
Wednesday looked down at him.
“What exactly are you doing?” she said.
“As our hero struck out valiantly at the dark marauder,” said Hurricane, “the villain fell to her black-feathered knees and begged for mercy.”
“Are you wearing a wig?” said Wednesday.
“I’m attacking you, foul villain,” said Hurricane. “Surrender now, or prepare for a life-threatening dose of rodent justice.”
Ella shook the lingering stars from her eyes.
Maybe, she thought. If I can stand, I can make it to the exit. This is not impossible. It is a maybe. And a maybe can fly.
“You are truly a unique creature,” said Wednesday to Hurricane. “Have you always been like this?”
Hurricane paused, drew himself up and puffed out his little chest. He straightened his wig.
“Yes, actually,” he said. “My mother always said they broke the mold after they made me.”
“Fascinating,” said Wednesday.
“I’ll have you know I’m not an ordinary mouse,” continued Hurricane. “I’m a fearless adventurer, a crusader for justice, and, in general, an all-around hero.”
“I had no idea rodents were so interesting,” said Wednesday. “Maybe I will begin collecting them. If I do, I think I should make you my first specimen.”
“Oh,” said Hurricane. “I’m honored.”
Although Hurricane was not one hundred percent certain he had received a compliment, courtesy dictated that he show respect. Courtesy, he knew, was one of the many important qualities of a hero.
Ella struggled up. She looked at the exit, and hesitated.
Wednesday glanced at Ella and back at the little mouse. She swung her big claw, and with a tremendous kick launched Hurricane into the air. He flew off into the gloom and disappeared. There was a loud crash, a little cloud of dust, and silence.
Wednesday turned and walked calmly toward the sparrow. Ella began to move as quickly as she could toward the Tower opening. One of her wings dragged a little on the floor.
“Little blue-eyed sparrow,” said Wednesday in her low, hypnotic voice. “If only you could fly.”
“You could teach me,” said Ella.
“Maybe tomorrow,” said Wednesday.
Ella kept moving. Wednesday followed behind her, step by step.
“You do realize there’s nowhere to go,” said Wednesday.
Together they moved out onto the Tower ledge, and a few steps later Ella looked down and saw she had reached the edge.
“That’s far enough,” said Wednesday. She motioned toward the cages. “Come back,” she said. “You know it’s safer inside.”
“I know how to fly,” said Ella. “Somewhere inside me I know. It’s a lifelong instinct, like gnawing.”
“Gnawing?” said Wednesday. She stared. “How unpleasant. You don’t gnaw, do you?”
“No,” said Ella. “I’m trying to say that no matter what you do, part of me will always remember. I’ll always know how to fly, and my mother will always know who I am. These are things you can never take away from me.”
“Oh, Ella,” said Wednesday. “You know that’s not true.”
The raven leaned forward.
“I can take everything away from you,” she whispered.
Ella looked up at Wednesday, and at the two tiny sparrows reflected in her big black eyes. The sparrows blinked and looked from side to side. They shook their heads.
We’re lost, they said.
“And even if you could remember,” said Wednesday, “you don’t remember now, do you?”
The whispering breeze rolled past and ruffled Ella’s feathers. Little sounds from the Park came from far below.
The raven leaned back and prepared her attack.
“I suppose you’re right,” said Ella.
Wednesday relaxed. “Of course I am,” she said. “You know what you have to do.”
Ella looked into the raven’s deep black eyes. The two little sparrow reflections looked at her and nodded.
“It’s a difficult decision,” said Ella. “As you said, I don’t remember how to fly.”
“What?” said Wednesday.
Ella glanced over the edge.
“I’ll have to remember on the way down,” she said.
She leapt backward into the air.
Wednesday’s face flashed first with surprise, and then anger. She lunged and opened her heavy bill and snapped at the sparrow, and Ella threw open her wings and stretched back as far as she could and thought: I think she’s going to miss.
The raven did miss.
But before Ella had time to twist and face forward and meet the air and try to remember how to fly, the raven recoiled and struck again, and this time, although she did not succeed in capturing Ella, she did not miss. Her beak plunged into Ella’s chest, and Ella’s eyes grew wide and still. Her wings went limp, and she let out a very small gasp, and the bright blue sky grew dim and gray as she fell helplessly from the Tower.
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects