Alone Among the Many

By John S. Aissis

The smell of cows always makes me nauseous. Not as much as when I first found out my mother had fallen in love with a woman, nor as bad as when our nosy neighbors thought they were living next to the bastard son of a Korean whore. No, that odor reminds me of the creatures and what happened to our heifer, and that alone is enough to make me sick.

We bought the calf from a farm ninety miles from our home, where we lived in an abandoned town in Huginn, Maine. We moved here after the incident in Portland. Abby said we would be safe in the old farmhouse, even though no one had lived there since Abby and her family were the last to leave in the 1940s, twenty years before. She would have been right if we could have just stayed there, but every now and again we had to walk the ten miles, past the trees with the odd carvings, to our truck and drive to Ashland to buy supplies. Buying a cow was my mother’s idea; a way to have a year round supply of milk without leaving the safety of Huginn.

We found an ad in the Yankee Trader and used a payphone in Ashland to call about the heifer. The calf was still available, but that call turned out to be our first mistake. By the time we arrived, the farmer was waiting, watching the rusting remains of Abby’s white truck drive towards his barn. His eyes followed from one end of the frame to the other, as if he was trying to decide whether he would trust his calf in such a beat-up old hulk. He pointed to the homemade wood cab resting on top of the cargo bed.

“You going to put her in there?” he asked me, ignoring Abby. If she was insulted by the slight, she didn’t let it show.

“That’s right,” said Abby. “Roger will hold him steady while I drive.”

“I hope your son is strong enough to keep her still. She may seem small, but she can kick hard enough to knock that wooden frame right off the back of your truck.”

“I’m not her son,” I said, blaming Abby for the farmer’s confusion. It wasn’t her fault, but it was always easier to hate her when people thought she was my mother.

“We drove a long way for that heifer and I don’t intend to leave without her,” said Abby.

“All right now, young lady,” said the farmer. “I didn’t mean any offense. I’m used to selling my stock to men with trailers meant for this kind of hauling.”

“I would have sent my husband, but he died in Korea.”

The farmer’s grin turned downward and I could tell he finally realized who we were. I thought he would refuse to sell the heifer to us, but I guess business comes before religion. “Well, I suppose if a woman wants to farm nowadays, then she should farm,” he said. “Tell you what, I can let you haul with my GMC. ‘66, steel construction with an I-6 engine. Suspension so smooth the boy and the heifer will sleep the whole way back.” He pointed to the blue truck.

His truck was nicer than ours. It was brand new and looked jumped right out of last month’s Digest.

“And how much are you charging for that?” Abby asked.

The farmer’s grin returned. “Oh, just an extra thirty-five.”

Abby scoffed. “My truck will do just fine.”
The farmer rubbed at his neck, but he gave us no more problems.

Before long, the calf was lying on a bed of hay next to me in the back of our old truck. Abby accelerated slowly onto the two lane road toward home—or at least the place Abby and my mother considered home. The first part of the journey would be the easiest; fifty miles of paved blacktop to Ashland. From there, it would get harder; twenty miles of uneven dirt roads and then we had to walk the calf the final ten miles to Huginn.

“Will we be able to get home before dark?” I called from the back of the truck bed, stroking the heifer to keep her calm. “You know how mom gets nervous.”

“Yes, Adeunim,” said Abby. The word was enough to raise the ire I had hoped for earlier. My mother taught me enough Korean to know it was a term of endearment for a stepchild. I was sure that despite their relationship, I was not Abby’s stepson.

Abby met my mother at a bereavement group outside of Boston a decade earlier. Abby had been attending for years, showing up a few days after her husband Arthur’s body was returned from Korea, sealed in a box and left that way at the military’s strong recommendation. The women in the group were either young Korean War widows or older World War II widows that never remarried. Their reaction when a Korean woman opened the door of the Dorchester Congregational church social room was a palpable hostility. It didn’t matter that her husband was an American or that he had died fighting the enemies of the United States. Instead, they saw only Mi-La’s features, pink-smooth skin, silky black hair and rounded eyes that looked like the heathens that killed their husbands. She ran from the room with Abby following her. Abby never went back to that group for consolation again. She found solace with my mother and whatever peace we had in this country evaporated as their love grew.

I tasted bile, groaned, and fought it down. The heifer was well-behaved and I didn’t want to barf on her. She couldn’t help her awful smell.

“Roger?” Abby noticed my discomfort. “Hang in there.”

I swallowed, said I was okay and changed the subject. “Do you think we’ll actually be able to stay here this time?”

“I’m hoping there are enough legends about Huginn to prevent anyone from bothering us.”

What legends? I thought as the urge to puke overwhelmed me.

“Damn,” said Abby. She braked quickly and we came to a stop at a metal barrier blocking a path running perpendicular to the logging road.

The calf remained still and I leapt over the side of the truck as if I were the confined animal, leaning over to grab my knees and sucking in the cool fall air, trying to force the nausea to pass. I knew we’d reached the end of the dirt road and would have to walk it, but it wasn’t until I felt less sick that I saw why Abby had slammed on the brakes.

The overgrown trail led to Huginn, with its thirty empty, rotting buildings and one repaired farmhouse. Next to the barrier sat an unfamiliar green pickup truck. A tall, muscular woman with short cropped hair was standing next to the truck smoking.

Abby came around to the back to meet me. “It’s okay, Adeunim.” She rubbed my back the same way I stroked the calf. I wondered if there was sincerity there or she was just trying to calm me, to keep peace in the family and hold my mother’s approval.

“Isn’t that sweet?” said the woman, dropping her half-smoked cigarette on the ground. “Aren’t you even going to say hello, Abby?”

Abby ignored the woman behind the cloud of smoke, lowered the rear door, and pulled on the rope until the calf jumped out of the pickup.

“Who’s that?” I whispered.

“Our mayor.” She handed the rope to me. “You walk her. My job is to protect us from danger.” Abby glanced at the woman, who had by now approached us.

“From bears?” I asked , and wondered what the mayor of Ashland wanted with us.

“Not just bears,” replied the woman. “There’s worse things in those woods. Haven’t you seen the trees?” she said, pointing to a maple just off the road. I didn’t need to look to know what she was referring to: the oval shape with two offset dots were carved all over the trees along the path and surrounding our house. They reminded me of an eye, but with two pupils instead of one. I had asked Abby about them once and she said they were probably an old Indian carving to mark territory.

Abby couldn’t ignore the mayor’s last remark. “Oh, shut up, Martha. We just want to be left alone. We don’t need you harassing us.”

“I was your friend once,” said the mayor, pointing a finger in the direction of the path. “That old farm house you’re living in used to be my home, before–”

“Don’t say it, Martha. My family isn’t like the others that lived there–”

“You’re family isn’t like any family who’s ever lived in Maine,” said Martha. Abby looked like she was about to scream at the mayor, but before she could, the mayor raised her hands in surrender. “Look, Abby. I’m not here to threaten you. I don’t believe in this thing you have with the gook.”

“Don’t call my mother that name!” I yelled.

“I’m trying to help both of you. Some of my constituents are coming to convince you to leave our county. There’s a preacher that used to live in Huginn with us. He’s got these boys thinking your presence in our community will damn them all to hell.” The mayor looked scared and that was enough to frighten me. “Maybe that thing staring at them will scare them enough to stay away,” said the mayor, pointing to the carved tree again.

Abby didn’t thank Martha, but her nod was more appreciation than she ever showed to the world outside our little family. We left the mayor alone, another cigarette in her mouth, waiting for her constituents to arrive to exact God’s retribution on our family.


The ten mile walk was tiring in the best of circumstances. We were usually loaded up with supplies and it would take three and a half hours to trek the former wagon path to Huginn. With the heifer, we could be walking for double that time. It was already three in the afternoon and it being early September, we would lose the sun by six.

We started slowly. We would go a few steps and then the calf would lose interest and lower her head towards the remains of the old wagon trail to find something to eat. I would yell a bit and pull on the rope and finally, the heifer would give in. Then it would start all over again.

The noises from the woods came almost immediately, high up near the tree tops. I was trying to put on a brave face, but when Abby rested her hand on her holster, the fear that the posse from Ashland was stalking us set in. To calm down, I tried to distract Abby, and myself.

“You were married before…to a man,” I said. I meant it to be a question, but it sounded more like an accusation.

Abby answered right away, not even ashamed. “Yes, once. Both your mother and I were married. My husband Arthur died in Korea in 1953. Your father, Roger, died in 1954.”

“That’s not what I meant,” I replied, pulling the calf a little too aggressively.

“I know what you meant, Roger. I was wondering when you would ask me about my past.”

“You dragged me out into the middle of nowhere. I have no one else to talk to.”

Abby seemed satisfied with my response. “I grew up on a farm and was expected to marry. I knew I was different, but there was really no choice. I knew Arty since first grade and he was always the nicest person in class; everybody said he was a catch so I went along with it and married him. He was a very good man and deserved better than me.

“When he was killed, I mourned him, but it was the loss of my best friend, not the love of my life. We had no children and so I was alone.”

“What about my mother?”

Abby raised her hand for me to be quiet. There was a noise in the woods, to the left of the road. Abby unholstered the gun. I pulled the heifer towards me, suddenly feeling too far away from Abby for comfort. A branch cracked a little further up the path, but it sounded as if it was high in a tree, not on the ground.

“Must have been a bird,” I said. Abby looked surprised and then chuckled, but it was not a relaxed, easy laugh. It grated on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. The woods, silent for the moment, released us and Abby answered my question. “I don’t know much about how your father and mother met in Korea. The important part is that your mother was pregnant with you and your father married her. She said he was a nice man, but really, they were both just victims of circumstance. Mi-La said that as he lay dying, he made his buddies promise to get her to the United States. They made good on that promise but unfortunately, your father’s family weren’t as kind and the two of you were left to fend for yourselves.”

There were more noises from the woods but Abby refused to let us slow down. Before long, shadows stretched along the forest floor as the sun dropped behind the trees.

“So you fell in love with my mother but you got stuck with me, too?”

Abby stopped and stared at me. “Is that what you’ve been thinking? The truth, which you probably don’t want to hear, is that I fell in love with both of you, Adeunim.”

Another branch snapped, this time even closer to us but it was on the ground. Abby swung the gun downward. “Whatever is out there is big enough to break a limb pretty high above the ground. It can’t be a bear. Maybe a mountain lion.”

“We’re not carrying a lot of food.”

Abby stared at the heifer. I suddenly realized we were traveling with one hundred pounds of walking veal. In the faltering light of dusk, a tree not far from the road creaked loudly, bending as if a gust of autumn wind had struck it. “There’s something out there, Abby.”

“I know. I actually wish it was those nutcases from Ashland. I know how to deal with that kind of evil.” She turned away from the forest. “We need to protect ourselves and our investment.”

I suddenly didn’t give a damn about the calf. I wanted to leave it to its fate and make a beeline to the homestead. But when Abby dropped her pack from her shoulders, I knew we were staying the night.

“Tie the heifer with a short lead. I don’t want her anywhere near the forest. Then gather up some wood so I can make a fire.”

At the edge of the road, I gathered dead branches under the watchful sign of another carving of the two-pupiled eye; whatever its purpose, the ancient sign scared me. I piled the wood in the center of the trail and started a fire while Abby patrolled the perimeter like a sentry. Finally, when she seemed satisfied we were alone, we sat down and ate our packets of dried fruit. I began thinking of questions I’ve wanted answered for the past two years but to my surprise, Abby had some questions of her own.

“Why do you hate me so much?”

I pretended to be in the middle of a bite to give myself some time to think.

“Don’t sugar-coat it, Roger. You’ve made me cry like a baby and no one, not even my tough old man, could do that to me.”

She wants the truth,I’ll give it to her, I thought. “I figured you’d have rather left me in Portland and taken mom to Huginn alone.”

“Is that what you think? That we came here to save ourselves? I told Mi-La you didn’t understand.”

“Understand what?”

“The world is a terrible place,” said Abby, shaking her head. “Your mother and I could have hid anywhere and pretended to be friends and no one would have been the wiser. But you, Adeunim, you can’t hide your face. I chose this place to save you, not us.”

I felt what little strength I had drain from me in a long hiss of air. I had enough of questions, especially when the answers were so different from the story I had created in my mind to justify my hatred of Abby. She must have sensed my confusion, leaving me alone with my thoughts for the next hour as darkness crept over the trail.

I heard something moving in the woods just outside the firelight. It wasn’t the cracking of branches, as we’d heard earlier. This sounded more like a squirrel, creeping slowly over fallen leaves, except the crunch went on too long as if it were heavy. I strained to see into the dark forest, but there was nothing except shadows of trees from the firelight. Abby leaned forward and grabbed a branch that was perched halfway in the fire. She lifted it over her head and tossed it, tumbling end over end into the woods. It flew between two giant maple trees and dropped onto the leaf-covered ground. Moving shadows leapt into the air, orbiting the ground as the light settled for a moment, long enough to see trees, grass, moths…and something else: two squat legs and feathers.

“Oh, God,” said Abby jumping to her feet, the gun immediately in her hands.

There was a sound of moving air and then the creature was gone. It appeared a moment later against the open sky above the trail. I could only see its outline in the dim light of the crescent moon, but its wingspan must have been at least ten feet. It was close enough for us to feel the vortex of air created by its wings as it passed by. A second later, it disappeared on the other side of the trail.

“Was that an eagle?” I asked, realizing it was far too big to be any bird native to Maine.

There was more noise to the right hand side of the road. Abby still had the gun aimed in that direction but her hand was shaking too much to aim. “Stay behind me, Adeunim.”

“You’re not going in the woods, are you?”

“You’re worried now? Maybe it will kill me and you can be rid of me once and for all.”

I had never heard Abby bitter and I didn’t like it. The calf was on its feet, pulling hard on the rope. I made sure the pole was secure and joined Abby. “Maybe it’s not really as big as it seems.”

Abby issued that chuckle again and I felt sick to my stomach. It was probably better that I didn’t know what she was thinking. I just wanted to get home, even if home meant an abandoned town with my mom and her lover. “Should we leave? You know, keep moving?”

“I don’t think we should leave the safety of the fire on the chance we can walk another five miles in the dark, dragging the heifer all the way.” She paused a moment staring out at the dark forest. “Lay down. I’ll take the first watch.”

“I can’t sleep. Not with that thing watching us. And besides the bird, those people from Ashland might be out there.”

“Relax, I’m watching the woods.”

“What if it comes from above?”

Abby looked up and realized she had not taken the third dimension into account. I laid down next to the fire, staring straight up. “I’ll watch the sky,” I said.

“Thank you, Adeunim.”

I lay quietly and with time to think, I remembered Abby’s conversation with the mayor. “Your friend Martha said something about there being things in the woods worse than bears. And you mentioned myths that would scare people away.”

Abby purposefully looked towards the woods, but didn’t say anything.

“You knew about that thing, didn’t you?” I said, trying my best not to sound accusatory.

“They were just stories our parents told us.”

“What stories?”

“Before we moved here when I was a little girl, we stayed in Ashland for a few weeks. The locals told us the families who settled Huginn in the late 1800s built it to be closer to good logging grounds. They lasted twenty years and then moved away.”

“Why did they leave?”

“I guess they ran out of trees.”

I could tell Abby was lying, or at least not telling the entire truth. Finally, after several minutes of silence, Abby whispered the answer. “They left after the settlers saw giant birds in the woods surrounding Huginn. And…some of the adults in our community thought they saw them too.”

The story would have been funny if I had not just seen the embodiment of the monster flying over our campfire.

“Is that why your family left?”

“No. We were forced to vacate the land by the federal government.”

The noises in the woods stopped and the heifer finally laid down, allowing Abby to relax and lower the gun.

“So that’s why you thought I’d be safe here. The local hicks from Ashland would be too afraid of a giant bird…”

“The myth of a bird,” said Abby.

“That didn’t look like myth!”

Abby’s lower lip quivered and fear was in her eyes as she looked about the treetops. I pulled myself upright, scared that I was about to lose my protector, but Abby quickly pulled herself together. “Let’s use your plan. You watch the sky and I’ll watch the woods.”

As I laid next to the fire, staring at the stars, I struggled to stay awake. In the hinterland of exhaustion and stress, the sky above and the forest around me coalesced in my mind. As I began to drift, I remembered a lesson from my school days in Portland and understood that the two were related in a way that was important to me and Abby. But before I could tell her, sleep took me and I lost the revelation.

In the end, my memories didn’t matter, the fact that we had a plan didn’t matter; we weren’t warriors or even hunters. It, on the other hand, was both.


I sat up to find the sun shining through tree trunks and Abby, sitting cross-legged, with her eyes closed.

“Abby!”

Her eyelids flipped open, her pupils shrinking to hold the light at bay. She blinked a couple of times to shake off the ghosts of sleep and jumped to her feet. The heifer was standing near us, calmly munching the dying grass at the side of the trail.

“It didn’t come after us,” I said.

“Then we’re just plain lucky,” said Abby. She reached for her holster but came away with nothing. “Give me the gun.”

“I didn’t take it.”

Abby felt her jacket for the heavy metal object. When she didn’t find it, she began searching the ground. I joined her, crawling on the grass and weeds.

“It has to be here,” said Abby, checking her jacket again. I began exploring further away from the fire, hoping Abby had dropped the gun while pacing.

“Abby.” I pointed to a spot on the ground. Embedded in the soft dirt were two shallow footprints. Each one had four digits and were pointed at the tips. Even more frightening was that each foot was more than eighteen inches from back to front.

Abby kneeled in front of the imprint and again, let loose her grating laugh.

“You still think it’s folklore?”

“We need that gun,” said Abby.

“It took it, Abby,” I said.

“Ridiculous.”

“Let’s just get home. We’ve only got five more miles and your rifle is there.”

Abby agreed although she didn’t seem any less nervous. We picked ourselves off of the ground and started down the path towards home, pulling the heifer behind us. Another ten minutes of slow walking gave me the opportunity to think on our predicament.

“Why would it take the gun?” I asked.

“There is no ‘it.’ I dropped the gun when I fell asleep.”

“We would have found the gun if you just dropped it.”

“What are you suggesting, Adeunim?”

“Maybe it’s…” I started, but I couldn’t say it aloud.

Abby picked up a large birch branch that had fallen in the middle of the path. She hefted it in each hand, but instead of throwing it aside, she held onto it. “My father had a saying on the farm that he drove into his children: ‘The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.’ We saw a large bird, probably an eagle or vulture hawk. The footprint was probably from a bird that walked there when the ground was wet and made a big impression in the mud. The stories are just myths; we let our minds do the rest.”

I could have argued more, but the truth was, I wanted to believe her so I kept quiet.

Abby laughed as we walked.

“What’s so funny?”

“You’re worried about a giant bird when there are great big black bears and a group of religious nuts after us, and we have no gun.”

I hadn’t thought of that. “What if a bear attacks?”

“Make a lot of noise and hope it goes away.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

Abby was quiet a moment, thinking. “We’ll have to let the calf go.”

“Why?”

“It’ll run and…”

She couldn’t say the rest so I did. “And the bear will follow and tear our heifer to pieces.

Abby nodded. “I’ll stay between you and the bear and you high-tail it back home.”

Would Abby really sacrifice herself for me? It was so much easier to hate her when I assumed the move to Huginn was for her and my mother.

Another hour passed of dragging the calf and we came to a stream that crossed the road. “Can we stop for a minute to rest? I want to wash my face.”

“Sure.”

I handed the rope to Abby and knelt over the cold mountain water, splashing it onto my face.

“Did you and your husband want kids?”

If Abby was surprised, she didn’t show it. “Yes. I thought that when he left the army, we would buy a farm and have a bunch of kids.”

“I guess your life didn’t turn out the way you expected?”

“Nobody’s does, Adeunim. I did expect a traditional life, but the moment I set eyes on your mother, I knew that was no longer an option for me. My mistake was thinking I could somehow incorporate the two of you into a typical American life. I was, at best, naïve.”

“Was it worth it?” I asked. “I mean you lost everything: family, friends, home, even the ability to live around people.”

“I have the two of you and that’s plenty for me.”

I bent down to wet my face again. A shadow blocked the sun as I leaned over the stream. “What…”

I turned to face Abby but she was looking past me, toward the side of the trail. Perched halfway up a tall maple tree on one of its thicker branches was the bird, if that’s what it was, staring down at us. This time, Abby couldn’t deny its existence. The creature was tall, at least seven feet, with white translucent feathers and wings that seemed to stretch twenty feet. It’s really more of a dinosaur than a bird, I thought.

The heifer had also seen the creature and was pulling hard to tear the rope out of my hands.

“Let the calf go,” said Abby.

I didn’t move. Abby slapped my wrist and I dropped the rope. The calf had spent the last twenty-four hours struggling to free itself. Finally loose, it gave one last pull and just stood there, shocked that it could move at will. It took two tentative steps back, then bolted into the woods. The creature launched itself in the direction of the running animal, just as Abby predicted.

“We worked so hard to get it this far,” I said as Abby pulled me along.

“Forget the calf. I don’t want to lose you”

We ran as fast as we could, each of us silent but finely attuned to any movement in the woods. We reached the bottom of a hill that I recognized and I knew Huginn was on the other side.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“For what?” asked Abby, refusing to break stride to talk.

“Treating you like…an enemy”

Abby smiled at me as we pushed ourselves up the steep slope. At the top, Huginn laid before us, just as I expected, but there was someone else there as well. Standing in our way was a man I had never seen before, dressed in hunting garb under a big mop of red hair. He didn’t seem very big, but the pistol in his hand did. From the edge of the path, two more men sprang from the trees and grabbed my arms.

“Big Red?” said Abby. “Guess you didn’t stay that big when you grew up.”

Big Red ignored Abby. “I’ll hold the gook boy. Get the dyke.” The two men lunged toward Abby. I tried to pull away but Big Red punched me in the face. I stumbled, falling onto the rocky ground, as a loud, high pitched mooing came from the other side of the path. I looked up to find Big Red staring past me. I turned to find his two friends rooted to the middle of the path. Abby was still on the far side, facing them, getting ready for a fight she would surely lose. Above her, hovering in the air, floated the creature with the heifer, her head dangling as it held her by its talons. Blood dripped from the poor animal where the creature’s talons dug into its back.

The calf is terrified, I thought, and so is everyone else watching the creature’s power. Big Red’s holstered gun pressed against my side, just below my hands.

“What in God’s name–?” said Big Red as he stared up at the sight. Before he could finish, the creature hurled the heifer at the two men. They had only a moment to scream before a hundred pounds of veal struck them square in the chest. The calf rolled a couple of times and I heard a snap (whether it was the cracking of the mens’ ribs or the calf’s I couldn’t tell). The heifer rose slowly to its feet and hobbled away, bleeding from the spot where the creature’s talons had dug in. I could smell the piss from the calf streaming down its leg as it moved away, a smell that would plague my mind for the rest of my life.

Big Red had seen enough. He finally let go of me and reached for his holster. I couldn’t help but smile when his hand returned empty. I pointed Big Red’s gun at him and he froze. From behind me, I heard the sound of a shotgun being cocked.

I turned to find my mother, the matriarch of my strange family, pointing Abby’s shotgun at the creature as it hovered above the fray, its wings flapping frantically to keep itself aloft. The shotgun looked so big in Mom’s arms. The creature loomed overhead, making her seem so small.

The creature descended, its talons clicking on the hard packed soil as it touched earth. I had never seen my mother so much as hold one of Abby’s guns, never mind fire it accurately. The creature remained motionless, its full attention not on Abby or me, or even Big Red; it was staring solely at my mother, as if there were no other threats to its solitary existence.

“Kill it!” yelled Big Red.

The creature finally broke eye contact with Mom, and turned its gaze downward to the ground. With slow, practiced strokes, it started to scratch something into the ground with its talon. Something familiar was taking shape as it made steady strokes in the dirt. Understanding struck me. What if the tree symbol was not made by the Native Americans? What if it wasn’t an eye?

“Abby!” I called out, too afraid to move.
Abby couldn’t look away from the creature.

“Abby!” I tried again.

“What, Roger?”

“Why are you whispering?”

“Because…” Abby gestured toward the giant. It had scratched out most of an oval by now, and I was sure what the finished symbol would look like. The same figure that was etched in the trees all along the trail leading to Huginn.

“Why did your family really leave Huginn?”

She gave me a dirty look.

“Please, it’s important. I need the truth.”

The creature had finished the symbol: an oval with two dots in the center.

Abby shrugged and hesitated. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought she was ashamed. “One of the kids, not any of my family, mind you, but someone was caught illegally poaching on government land and we were harassed by federal agents until we all left.”

“Are you sure?” I called out. “Did you see these agents?”

“No one did. It was just what everyone told you, and there was no time…” Abby paused a moment and looked at my mother, then back to me. “What are you trying to say, Adeunim? The poacher?”

I stared at up at the creature, a remnant of an uninhabited land. What if it had felt like us? Intelligent, lonely, scared. It could have been the alpha predator in its world until humans showed up with weapons.

“I don’t think agents chased you out of Huginn, Abby.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Abby. “I mean even if Martha’s family…that doesn’t make any sense. Animals don’t seek revenge.”

I turned to my mother. “Mom, those carvings on the trees aren’t eyes; they’re ellipses.” I remembered staring at the stars the night before, a tickle in the back of my mind reminding me that the planets orbit the sun following an elliptical path with the sun at one of the focal points. “We studied them in the books about geometry. An oval with two focal points.”

“It’s intelligent,” said Mom.

When she said it I felt I wasn’t so crazy to think so, too. Abby and Big Red looked like they were starting to believe. Mom continued to stare at the creature. She always seemed so meek to me, especially in her relationship with Abby, but for some reason, she was the one in control of all of us now. It wasn’t the gun–that certainly afforded her some power–but it was more than just the ability to kill. She looked over the scene, assessing the players, everything she saw and what we said. Finally, my mother smiled at Abby, held the shotgun in one hand, and squatted so she could reach the ground. With a single finger and without taking her eyes off of the creature, drew a small oval in the dust, just like the ones etched on the trees.

Then my mother turned and pointed the shotgun towards Big Red. There was no need, the creature launched itself at our common enemy. As it flew away with Big Red in its talons, screaming, we knew it would be the last we ever saw of him.


The creature returned a short time later just as we reached the door to our farmhouse: the one Abby’s old friend Mayor Martha and her family lived in before they attacked one of the creatures and were chased out of their home. Its broad chest and enormous wingspan drove its weight into the sky, but it didn’t fly into the woods. This time, it lifted itself high in the air and used the thermals rushing off of the ground to circle Huginn, like a hawk circling its prey. Eventually, it landed on top of the steeple of the old church and sat on its haunches, at peace in the middle of our abandoned town.

I smiled at my parents. “No one will ever hurt us again.”

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