Waxwing (Part 1)
It’s been a while since we’ve done a round robin story here at the PLC. We’ve all been so busy writing our own stuff, we kind of stopped writing things together. But now that we’re kicking the blog back into gear, we thought it would be fun to give it a go. How it works is like this: one person writes the beginning, the second person writes the middle part, and the third ties it all up. But now since Ryan’s joined us, there will be four parts to our round robin. Yay! If you’re interested in reading some of our earlier round robin stories, click here. So now, without further ado, here’s part one.
Mali was struck with fever when she was but three. Sent her into a fit of chills before blanketing her in sleep. That was the time of the Gundarian flu and doctors didn’t know which way she would fall. Blackened limbs? Blood from the pores? They shook their shrouded heads in pity. So young. So young.
Winter had crawled in early that year, her mother said, and cast the world in endless shadow. At night, she’d lay damp cloths on Mali’s forehead and chest, hoping to put the fire out. Nothing helped, though. Certainly not the swamp water the doctors tinctured into stoppered bottles. When Mali’s skin flushed red and purple, her mother threw open the window and shouted for the snow to come settle on her child.
What she got, though, was a waxwing.
“A waxwing,” her mother whispered, her eyes long blind. Mali sat at her beside and caressed her mother’s withered hands. The skin held little warmth and the pulse kept unsteady time.
“Tell me about the bird,” Mali said, leaning close, feeling the end closing in. Footsteps thundered down the hall, outside the chamber door. Under the cot, her foot kept contact with the gun’s metal casing.
“It sat on the edge of your crib.” Her mother’s eyes moved as if seeing. “Looked at me. Hopped to you. Touched your forehead with its beak. That’s how I knew.”
“How you knew what?”
But the answer didn’t come. What came instead was a final breath and stilled pulse. Mali’s face set like stone, the last whisper of warmth gone. She smoothed her mother’s eyes closed, then touched the blue-inked bird inside the woman’s wrist. Though the lines had grown faint in the paper-thin skin, she pressed her own wrist against the sign. She inhaled and waited for the answer, knowing when she opened her eyes again, the waxwing would be sitting in her own skin.
When she exhaled the answer came, in three loud knocks at the chamber door.