A Childhood Memory
by John D. Connelley
Every evening, just as the sun was setting, I saw the wonderous creature take flight from the belfry atop the building connected to the one my family lived in. Our house was on the outskirts of London, just at the end of Gloucester Street. At the time, I was a young child, and almost everything I encountered filled me with some sort of fascination, and this particular event held me fast.
The creature had talons like an owl, a great beak like an eagle, and leathery wings like a bat. I had many books on animals and nature and knew that this was indeed a special find. All the more reason to keep things secret. I knew how parents sometimes destroyed magical moments, even though they had the best intentions.
The creature’s face was most striking. It had a look of deep knowledge, as if it possessed an ancient wisdom. Its eyes seemed to glow slightly, as if they drew into them all surrounding light. I was very careful to not let it see me when I watched it; I didn’t want to scare it away. There seemed to be a slight beard about its face, and the ears were like those of a fox.
It always returned a few minutes before midnight with some sort of vermin, and then it circled the belfry a few times before descending. It would swoop down from the night sky and sharply arc upwards, softly touching down upon the stone ledge. It did not hop, but walked with a flowing movement into the recesses of the belfry. It never made any sort of chirp or screech. In fact, it never made any noise at all as far as I could tell, until that one night.
From my bedroom window to the opening of the belfry was just about twenty feet, and I had a wonderful view of the creature as it left and returned on its flights. I couldn’t see into the deeper recesses, and sometimes when my curiosity almost got the better of me, I entertained the idea of actually crawling out on the ledge and entering its lair.
For nearly a year I watched the nightly comings and goings of the creature. Then, one night, something different happened. Something horrible. It began as a night like any other, and I was poised at the window, ready to see the creature depart on its nightly hunt.
As usual, it strode out to the ledge and carefully looked around before leaping into the air, spanning its leathery wings and taking flight. Later that night, when it returned, it had something other than the usual vermin in its great beak...it had a small child.
I watched in horror as it tore away the flesh, and when it finished, it snapped the bones into tiny bits with its powerful beak. It was then that I caught its eye. Its cold glare cut through me as it effortlessly leapt from the belfry ledge to my window sill.
“Let me in, little boy,” it rasped, angling its head, the better to see through the narrow, almost imperceptible slit between the curtains.
“You’ll kill me,” I breathed as I slowly backed away from the window.
“Nonsense, I just want to talk to you. You see, that was a bad little boy you just saw me eat, and I only eat bad little boys. I’ve never noticed you before. Are you new here?” It put its great beak against the window glass, making a slight tap.
“No, I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve seen you. I’ve been watching you for a long time,” I said nervously.
“Ah, I see. Well, then we’re practically friends, so why don’t you open the window for me?”
“You’re only a bird, how can you talk?” I asked, trying to hide how scared I was.
“Haven’t you ever heard of talking birds?” It tugged lightly at the base of the window with one of its talons, testing to see whether or not the window would slide up.
“What are you doing?” I asked, just noticing what it was up to.
“Nothing, just an itch upon my foot, that’s all,” it said innocently. “You didn’t answer my question about talking birds.”
“Yes, I suppose I’ve heard of talking birds. My friend had a parakeet that could say, ‘Hello,’ but nothing like this.” I was trying to control the shaking in my voice. “I’ve got to go get my parents,” I stammered, suddenly making for the door.
“Wait!” it screeched. “No need for that, I only want to talk to you for a bit. If you go and get your parents, I’ll have no choice but to fly away forever, and you don’t want that. The window’s closed, I can’t get at you, and I don’t even want to. So, just relax and let’s talk for a while, that’s all,” it pleaded.
“This isn’t right. I’m getting my parents,” I was getting a better grip on myself.
“Little boy, if you stay, I’ll show you something you’d really like to see.”
“Is this how you tricked that other boy, by promising to show him something neat?” I was gaining a little more confidence.
“He was a wicked little boy, I told you already, now let me in!” it snapped, losing its patience.
“No! Never! You can’t order me around! I’m getting my parents!” I was now completely in control.
“They’ll never believe you,” he almost sang. “I’ll just fly away until they’re gone. They’ll probably even make you open the window and leave it open all night, just to teach you a lesson about lying. Then it will be very easy to get you,” it concluded with a slight smile.
“They won’t do that,” I said, not altogether certain.
“You don’t sound so sure,” it said smugly. “That’s how, and I just mention this in passing, I got that other wicked little boy. You see, he didn’t think so, either.”
“You said you weren’t going to get me.”
“If I had listened to you, I’d be dead by now.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” it replied nonchalantly.
“I’ll get my dad’s gun and shoot you if you don’t go away.”
“Ha! You’ll do no such thing. First, you’re going to go get your parents,” it said, rolling its eyes, “then, you’re going to shoot me, but one thing’s for sure; you haven’t done a thing yet. You’re afraid, and you’re mine,” it said confidently, peering at me with its slightly glowing eyes.
“You can’t just eat me,” I said, almost starting for the door again, but I suddenly stopped and stood there, feeling almost subdued by its malicious glare.
“Easy enough,” it said, clicking its beak. Then it sort of cracked the knuckles of its talons.
At that point, I snapped out of whatever hold it had gotten over me and bolted for my parent’s room. I jumped on their bed, startling them awake. I frantically told them everything, lacing it with warnings of impending doom.
My father quickly got up and went to check my room while my mother tried to calm me. My father returned a few minutes later and told me he found nothing. Amidst my continued ramblings about what had happened, I was ushered back to my room and the door closed. Even with what was outside my window, I couldn’t help but comply with my father’s stern command to stay where I was.
I sat in my bed, wide awake, staring at the window. Almost an hour went by, and then I heard what sounded like a faint chink of talons on brick. Just outside the window, I could hear a thin, raspy laughter.
“Well, well,” it said in a low tone, “looks like Daddy made the bump in the night go away. But not for long, as we can see,”
“You can’t hurt me,” I said, drawing the blanket around me.
“Is that what Daddums said? Seems to me, I’ve heard that somewhere before. Actually, it was just a few hours earlier, I believe,” the thing sneered.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked, my voice shaking again.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I almost whispered.
“It’ll do. Now, stop wasting my time and open this window at once,” it ordered calmly.
“Never,” I replied, trying to be as stern as I could.
“Stubborn, eh? You’ll have to leave your house sometime, and when you do, I’ll be there.”
“Why did you eat that boy?”
“Why not? I was hungry. I do it all the time.”
“I think we’ve already established that,” it said
“But you never did that before. I know, I’ve been watching you,” I said.
“I do it all the time. Maybe you should read the papers, there’s a child-murderer on the loose. Perhaps you’ve overheard your parents discussing such a thing?”
“So sheltered. Makes things easier, though, really.”
“You have to go away,” I said, trying not to sound like I was begging.
“Of course I do, of course I do. And since Daddy did such wonders for you, putting you right back where I can get you, I guess my leaving is pretty much up to me to decide,” it said, eyeing my room through the space between the curtains my father had apparently made a bit wider due to his inspection of the then void-of-monster window sill.
Copyright © 2020 by John D. Connelley