He stood on the cliffs over the river and waited. The wind whispered through his thin wings, and the rocky ground was hot beneath his bare feet. The human tribe always took this path–always crossed his river here. It had always been safe before. But spring storms had weakened the trail that wound down the cliff. The weakened stones would crumble under human feet.
He had seen it. But he could stop it.
The line of figures approached over the horizon. He waited till he was sure they had seen him. It didn’t take long. Their eyes were keen, and they were constantly scanning for threats.
He spread his wings and took to the sky.
The tribe found another way down the cliff.
They left him offerings as thanks for his warning. A shiny rock, a handful of shells, and a cornhusk doll. A veritable fortune. He treasured them.
He stood on the shore of his river. The deep waters here looked calm, but hidden eddies waited to pull travelers down to the rocks below.
He watched the new tribe approach, then took flight when he was sure they’d seen him.
They continued toward the river.
Surely, they’d change course. They must understand his warning.
The first of them reached the river, took a step into the water. If they continued, they would all die.
He had to stop them. He swooped down waving his arms. They fled.
They found a different spot to cross the river.
They left no gifts.
He perched in a tree, above a couple that would die crossing a bridge. Unless he stopped them.
Warning the humans had grown more and more difficult. He had failed many times, and each memory was a weight on his heart. He wished he could make noise as they did. Maybe then they’d understand. But his throat was not like theirs.
He relied completely on fear now. Slowly, the humans had learned to look at him and not see. Their eyes cut straight through him. They crossed his river and died.
He wanted the two below to be different.
When they didn’t see him, he pounded on the roof of their vehicle. He threw dirt, then stones.
Finally, for an instant, they saw him. Their eyes widened in terror. He tried to warn them–tried gestures he’d seen humans use.
They didn’t understand. They fled. He tried with others. Again and again.
They all died on the bridge.
He withdrew from them. He watched their tragedies without trying to stop them. He told himself that it wasn’t his fault. He didn’t believe it.
He curled in a bush and listened to the water rage over rocks. It was dangerous today.
And there were humans coming.
They were young. Just past adolescence, holding hands and laughing. The boy carried a picnic basket. The girl a bag on her shoulders and a worn blanket draped over her arm. Both wore swimming suits.
He stood to better see their faces, to remember. The girl stopped and stared at him.
He waved her away from the river, even though he knew it was useless.
The boy tugged on her hand, but she shook her head. They spoke for a few minutes, then turned and walked back up the path. Away from the river. Away from their deaths.
He remembered how victory felt.
A few moments later, the girl ran back down the path, and his heart froze.
But she stopped. She pulled a tiny ragdoll out of her bag, kissed its forehead, and sat it against a tree.
He would treasure it.
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. Her short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Penumbra. Her fiction has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists, and she’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her Kickstarter-funded short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.