A Childhood Memory
by John D. Connelley
Part 1 appears in this issue.
“I’ll give you something if you go away,” I offered, thinking of no other way to make it leave.
“Oh, joy, and what exactly is that: one of your little play toys?” It chuckled.
“I don’t know, whatever you want,” I said, looking around the room for an offering.
“What I want is for you to open this window.”
“I won’t,” I murmured.
“You must!” it hissed. “I can make things painful, you know, or I can make things easy. It’s going to happen, so just go ahead and get it over with. I can draw your miserable little death out or snuff you like a candle flame, so don’t toy with me, little boy.”
It was then that my father entered the room to check on me, to make sure I was okay. I could hear the slight scraping of claws upon the window sill as my father neared my bed. I wondered why he couldn’t hear it, why he didn’t go to the window to see what was out there making the noise.
For some reason, even though this time I could easily prove it to him, I didn’t say anything about the horror perched just outside my window. As it stood, it was my problem alone, just as before it had been my interest alone. My father tucked me in, told me to go to sleep and have pleasant dreams, and left.
For a while, I heard nothing at the window. I must have calmed down quite a bit, because I even went to the window to take a look. I saw nothing. I went back to bed and lay there, just breathing.
A few minutes later, I heard something at my bedroom door. Something slowly pushing open the door my father had not closed all the way. It sounded like something solid, a beak perhaps, sliding a bit along the door as it slowly pushed. Then I heard a familiar raspy voice.
“Found a key underneath the door mat,” it whispered. “You shouldn’t leave such things about.”
I ran to the window and unlatched it. I threw it open and looked back at the door. Its great beak was poking inside my room, and it was sniffing deeply.
“I smell a naughty little boy,” it whispered louder.
I crawled out onto the ledge and quickly slid the window closed behind me. I inched along the ledge that was just beneath my window. When I reached the belfry, I heard the window slowly slide open. I turned to look. It was there. It was just staring at me.
It glowered. “We seem to have traded places. Do you think Daddy will come tell me everything’s fine and tuck me in as well?”
I backed into the belfry. There were shiny trinkets strewn about everywhere. I quickly realized they were children’s toys. The creature was telling the truth; it had been doing this for some time. I had always imagined a bell being there, even though I had never heard one, but no bell hung from the vaulted ceiling. I looked around, trying to find another way out, when I again heard the thing’s voice.
“Hey, little boy, come look at me,” it said, now out on the ledge, leering at me. With one graceful flap of its wings, it was at the entrance of the belfry. “No place to go from here, little boy. Now, how about we take care of some business. I’ve worked up quite an appetite now, and I think it’s time for a nice meal.” It began walking slowly towards me.
I stepped back and almost stumbled on something which turned out to be a rather large bone that hadn’t yet been chewed up. The thick, gravelly dust I had been stepping through must have been ground up bones from previous feedings. I grabbed the bone and held it tightly.
“Maybe you knew him, do you think?” it asked, grinning at me.
I hurled the bone at the creature, not trying to hit it, but trying to get the bone past it.
“Looks like you can’t even throw,” it said, watching the bone fly past its head.
“I didn’t want to hit you. I wanted the bone to fall to the street so someone would come see where it came from. They’ll come here and find you!” I yelled.
“Fool!” it screeched, and dove off the ledge to fetch the bone.
I quickly left the belfry and crawled along the ledge back to my room. Once there, I closed and latched the window. It still had the key to the front door, but at least the thing couldn’t get into my room once that door was closed and locked.
After I realized I had merely trapped myself again, I attempted to get to my parents’ room but, as I reached for my bedroom doorknob, I heard the thing quickly coming down the hall. I could hear its talons clicking on the wooden floor as it was nearing my room.
“Locked up tight, eh?” It breathed heavily just outside my door.
“Now you can’t get me,” I said, backing away.
“Maybe not you, but what about Mommy and Daddy? I’ll bet they won’t last long against the likes of me. You can, if you want, press your little ear against the door so you can better hear their screams, but only if you want, of course.”
“You leave them alone!” I screamed, shaking with fear. I began to feel as if I had a terrible fever.
“Who’s going to save them?” it spat. “You, locked behind your bedroom door? I think not.”
I again heard its talons pricking the wooden floor as it slowly walked down the hall towards my parent’s room. I lunged for the door, unlocked it, and flung it open. I ran into the hallway, and then the loudest noise I had ever in my life heard sounded throughout the house. When my father stepped into the hallway, I realized it had been a shotgun blast. He lowered the antique fowling piece and held out his hand for me to come to him.
In the light of the hallway, the creature looked a lot smaller than what I had thought it to be. It looked very old. We stared at the creature, wondering now what to do with it. My father bent down to pick it up and, when he touched it, the thing stirred. It was only stunned. We stepped back and my father pointed the weapon at the thing.
“I only had one shell,” my father said, looking at my mother and me with wide eyes and changing his grip on the weapon to use it as a club. The monster shuddered and sprang up. It began screeching and violently flapping its leathery wings; speaking in a strange, guttural language as it lurched for my mother.
My father struck the creature on its great beak, knocking it back, giving us enough time to run to my parents’ room and slam the door shut. My father hurriedly turned the key in the lock and shoved a chair underneath the knob. There was silence for a while, and the thing crashed through the bedroom window.
It went for my father. My mother was trying to pull it off of him, but succeeded only in wrenching handfuls of black feathers away from the creature’s body. I was frozen with fear, unable to do anything.
Then I saw a letter-opening knife on my father’s desk and grabbed it. I pulled my mother away and plunged the blade deeply into the back of the creature. It stopped and fell to the floor. I can remember how easily the blade had sunk into its body. As it writhed in pain, the creature looked at me with rage, and tried to speak. It uttered some unintelligible words and exhaled frothy blood. The creature was still. It stayed still.
We stood looking at the thing on the floor for quite some time. I watched as my parents cleaned up the gore. Then my mother put the creature’s body into a box, wadding up and stuffing sheets of an old newspaper around it. After that, my father and I went out to the small yard behind our house and buried it beside a rosebush. Neither of us spoke through the whole thing. My father, in his flowing, tattered bathrobe, ran his fingers through my hair and drew me close to him as we walked back inside.
As we walked, I looked up into the night sky and saw three tiny black dots, illuminated by the moonlight, circling way above where we had buried the creature. They circled a few times and flew away.
That night, I don’t remember falling asleep. There were many nights when the memory of that horrid event has left me not remembering when I fell asleep. Now it almost seems like a bad dream I had as a child, especially since it was never mentioned again. But I know that it happened, and now that I have told of the experience, I believe that I can finally put it out of my mind for good.
Copyright © 2020 by John D. Connelley