☰ Blood Bird ★ Benjamin Shelor (Part One)

It was a Sunday.
The day the kids down the lane went missing.
It was sunny, but cold; sunlight flitting through the trees like racing pixies. The fall air full of wood smoke and whimsy, changing leaves and magic.
The smell of it all would wrap around you whenever you stepped outside.
They were all kin, you see. The kids.
Two brothers and a sister.
There was Judy, Jack and Gene.
I supposed their parents thought themselves poetic, but couldn’t quite grasp what they were going for with the names was witty alliteration.
I think the beast gets a taste for a bloodline, and after that--- well, any future you might've had becomes a whisper of smoke, because your days are numbered.

All our days are numbered, but if the creature near Oak House gets a smell for you, then you're in worse shape than the rest of us.
“Jess, what is it?” my wife mumbled from behind me through her pillow. I’d been watching the kids, all three of them, take off on an early morning hike towards the woods. It was early, but the sun had come up.
Maybe quarter after six.
Time to make coffee.
“The Lanshire kids.” I responded, sticking my nose through the blinds to see if I could get a better view.
The three of them were in a row, walking sticks in hand.
The lanky oldest in front, hair in a bobbing ponytail. Then the boys trailing behind. The middle boy had a big backpack. The littlest was struggling to keep up. He had a toy rifle strapped to his back with string, making it hard for him to walk.
There was something strange about this procession.
So purposeful.
None of the usual childhood chatter and bickering.
“The Lanshire kids? What are they doing running about this early. I’d wager their mother doesn’t know where they are.” Vanessa flipped herself out of bed. I could hear it behind me, her morning stretch and the popping of the joints. “I’d better call Janice.”
I turned to look at her as she slipped her slippers on and got out of bed.
“You’re really going to call their mother at just after six in the morning?”
She gaped at me, unamused. “Of course, what if something happened to them?”
I shrugged. “They're just kids playing prob’ly. You’re going to get them in trouble.”
“Better in trouble than kidnapped and murdered.”
I couldn’t argue with her there.
She hobbled out of the room, sleep still making her limbs stiff. “You make the coffee, I’ll call the neighbor.”
I grunted my agreement and donned my bathrobe.
I made it downstairs after a few minutes of searching for my own slippers in vain and headed straight for the coffee pot.
Vanessa gave me an odd look from the corner where we kept the phone.
“It’s ringing.” she whispered.
I nodded and scooped a few spoonfuls of coffee into the filter.
“Janice,” Vanessa said, but it came out more as a question than a greeting. “Yes, it’s Vanessa. Yes. It is. Listen, I was calling because Jess saw the kids leave, heading off into the woods. I- I ah, was worried about them. Just thought I’d let you know.”
Vanessa cleared her throat and listened to Janice Lanshire. I minded my own business as best I could and waited on the coffee.
When I heard the phone click back into its cradle, I turned to my wife and said: “So, what’d she say?”
“She had no idea they were gone. Janice said she just woke up herself. She and Ernie are getting dressed now to go look for them.”
Vanessa shrugged and sat down. She looked tired.
“Everything will be fine.” I waved off Vanessa’s worry.
If I’d only known how wrong I was.

The sunny Sunday morning grew into evening and I’d volunteered to help Ernie find his kids, along with their mother and Vanessa. We’d searched all day and still saw no trace of Judy, Jack or Gene.
By the time it got dark, Janice and Ernie were beside themselves.
At dusk, we called the local police, even though it hadn’t been 24 hours yet. The fact that they were kids might change how quickly the local sheriff’s station handled the matter.
They sent out two cars and combed over the forest that surrounded Oak House.
I’m sure they did their best.
It wasn’t their fault they didn’t find anything.
It was me.
I was a finder.
I just naturally found things.
When I was fresh out of college, I moved to Atlanta. Got my car stolen within the first week.
Cops never found it.
Not sure they really tried, of course. Then, one day I was hitching a ride with a friend and found the car. It was sitting on the side of the highway, just waiting for me.   
Just like those kids were waiting.
It’s second nature for my wife to call out, “Jess? Can’t find my glasses” or “Find my chapstick, would ya?” Because I always do. And through all my years of finding stuff, I always had an inkling it was going to turn into a curse one day.
And finding the Lanshire kids was just the beginning.
Finding ‘em … how they were … how they'd been left… was nothing compared to the other things I would find.
The other thing.
The monster.

There’s an old rumor that surrounds Oak House and the town attached to it.
Built around Oak House would be more apt, like a body around a black heart, but I’m not keeping score.
Janice and Ernie Lanshire had been married and farming out here for the better part of twenty years. Before them were Ernie’s parents and before them, his grandparents, all in the same house.
Three generations of happy, farming Lanshires.
Or not so happy.
Ernie’s grandfather was the one who had the trouble with creatures and such. He was the one who got injured while messing around in Oak House.
Times had been tough that year, and he needed the copper that ran through the walls of the old mansion.
When all this happened, Bill (Ernie’s grandfather) was in his thirties. Bill went to Oak House in the dead of night and decided to grab himself a little wealth.
I don’t remember whether or not Bill came home with the copper or not. Instead, I remember the part about the giant red bird that took a chunk right out of his leg.
It nearly killed him, so I’ve heard.
And nobody saw that gargantuan bird he talked about afterwards but him. Bill died a while back, but on his deathbed, when he was the most lucid, he would tell anyone who'd listen about the Blood Bird.
I thought about that as I stood in the dark.
A bright light shone in my eyes , I winced and saw spots.
“Watch where you aim that flashlight, Ernie.” I grumbled.
“Alright then,  do your magic. Which way?”
“It doesn’t work like that. I’m not dousing. Just gimme a few seconds.” I told him.
“Well, how does it usually work?”
“I usually do whatever I’m normally doing and what I’m looking for just … pops up.”
“You do realize that makes no sense, right?”
I sighed. “I’m aware. But that’s how it works.”
Janice had been asked to stay at home, in case the kids called her by some miracle, and Vanessa, being a good friend, stayed by her side.
That left me and Ernie to look for the kids.
We were accompanied by a handful of Ernie’s friends, whom I knew vaguely from town, and an off duty police officer whose wife was a teacher at the kid's school.
Ernie’s kids were good kids.
“What magic?” one of them asked. I blinked, and my vision finally adjusted.
The edge of the forest came into view.
It was dark.
Outdoorsmen often talk about nighttime in the forest being peaceful, but I didn’t feel it tonight. I felt like a lost kid.
Alone and scared.
The blackness between the trees was ornery and angry, and it wanted us to leave.
“Not magic. I have a knack for finding things,” I explained, heading back to the trucks. “Let’s go for a drive. We’re in the wrong place.”
“Any closer and we’re gonna be right at the foot’a Oak House. My kids would never set foot on that property-- no matter what. Plus, we already looked there,” Ernie said matter-of-factly.
“I just have a feeling.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t feelings. It was just going around and things getting found.”
“Well, now it’s about a feeling. Sorry.”
Ernie sighed and rubbed his temples, unwilling to believe his kids would go to the one place he’d forbidden.
But, kids will be kids.
“We looked out there real good,” said the off-duty officer. “No tracks, no nothing. Nobody’s been out there in years.”
“No offense, Bob, but an Injun Tracker you ain’t,” I said. “When is the last time you did a push-up let alone stooped down to scrutinized footprints?”
There was a little stifled laughter.
“Yeah, and you know kids,” somebody mumbled.
Ernie nodded, finally greenlighting my suggestion solemnly.
“To Oak House then.” he said.

The first thing we noticed were the rocks.
When the flashlights shone on them, they reflected nothing.
Dull, matte black, like ash sat on all the pebbles underfoot.
“What the …?” Ernie gawked at the path.
Deputy Bob bent over and grabbed a few stones in a calloused hand.
“A fire?” Ernie asked.
“It’s cool to the touch,” Bob said, looking between faces.
I aimed my flashlight beyond the path to reveal a thick forest, overgrown with vines and limbs. Too thick for us to walk through, but not for small children.
“This way looks about right.” I didn’t wait for them to follow. I was in the find zone, you might say. So I wove my way on, fighting ornery branches.
My ears popped a few steps in.
The feeling reminded me of being underwater. Being underwater and next to a generator of some sort.
Womp, womp, womp.
The low hum of something unexplainable thudded against my eardrums and made me want to yawn, pop my ears again.
“What the hell is goin’ on up here? Some kinda generator?” Bob breathed. “There was nothing up here earlier, I swear.”
Ernie shot Bob a disapproving look. “Lead the way, Jess.”
I did, and our journey through the woods showed us several different types of monstrosities, lined up all neat and disturbing.
First, it’d been the rocks, shaded with a layer of cold black, like soot.
Next, it was the frogs. They lay dying on the ground, eking out labored breaths. They were trying to crawl somewhere they wouldn’t feel the agony that came from regurgitating their own entrails. But no such place existed.
Ernie poked at one of them with a stick. I stilled him with a hand to the shoulder.
“Maybe we should leave them alone.” I said it quietly, just to him.
“What the hell is going on?” Bob interrupted, repeating what seemed to be his new mantra.
“What do I look like, Google? Nobody knows,” Ernie snapped. “I sure as hell don’t.”
We started calling out the kid's names while we walked, but it was like calling into a void. Our voices dropped dead as soon as they left our mouths. There were no crickets, no chirping of birds, no owls. Only that incessant womp, womp, womp coming from somewhere deeper in the woods.
As I spoke each name, I thought about the first time I’d seen those three kids. We had just moved in and as with most houses you buy at a great price, ours had some hidden defects. Like plumbing held together with duct tape.
I had been crawling around the crawl space under the house, pretending I knew what I was doing when I saw three sets of little feet. They were all lined up, snug in their tattered sneakers. I poked my head out and looked up at their rosy faces.
“Hi,” I said.
They crossed their arms and stared, scrutinizing me. When the oldest, Judy, scratched her chin, the younger ones copied.
“I’m Jessie … er, Mr. Moyer.”
“What adventures have you been on?” Judy asked.
“Oh. Um. Let’s see. Went spelunking once. You know what that is?”
“You went in a cave. How deep? Any tight spots?”
“Hmm. No, not too bad. But we found a buzzard in there. It started throwing up to try to get us to leave its territory.”
That earned a snicker or two from the boys. But Judy had been ten. Practically all grown up.
“Not bad,” she said. “But you’ll have to do better than that if you want to live here. You have to be brave.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Uh-huh. That’s why I’m a shield maiden.”
“And we’re rangers,” said Jack.
“Like Awagown,” said Gene.
“Well then I have three brave warriors to protect me, don’t I,” I said. I didn’t smile. I could tell this was no laughing matter to them.
Little did I know just how serious a matter it was. Those three little kids.
How long had this need to be protectors been going on?
How brave had they tried to be? What trouble could it get them into?
The answers were about to get a lot clearer and a lot muddier at the same time.

--> Part Two

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My novel, Trigram, is in the works, but in the meantime, I'll probably be working on short stories such as the ones on Wicked Shorts. (Wink)

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