Dark-haired, dark-eyed Marc had been playing a violin since he could hold one. He found it to be a beautiful instrument and now that he was an adult, he found he had no tolerance for anyone who played it badly. Often, he played when no one was around, but one afternoon, when his bow skated across the mahogany body of his instrument, a stooped and elderly woman appeared at his door. Her face was wrinkled like a mistaken love letter. She told him, “If you want to live forever, you must send Lucille into the black woods to retrieve a feather from an obsidian bird.”
The old woman further explained that a crow appeared twice a year to the black forest and he was due to be near soon, based on word from the forest men. Lucille had never told her husband Xander about her ornithophobia because it did not seem altogether relevant to their lives together in the village. She surmised if she could convince Xander to cage the bird, the task would be much simpler.
Xander listened to his wife’s plan attentively, yet he withheld a gasp when she told him she needed him to hold the bird captive in a homemade cage of brambles and thorns.
He suggested with a wily smile, “Perhaps we can deceive the violinist.” Xander knew Marc’s memory had deteriorated as the hairs on his head had fallen silver. He told Lucille they could play God. “We could alter his memory,”
“But the violinist lives in a cottage tucked away near the black woods,” Lucille replied, “he will become leery of us if we were to trick him.”
Nonetheless, Xander insisted he could trick the violinist.
He set up a trap of brambles and berries and thorns. The air was fragrant with the scent of berries and petrichor and wet wood.
Xander left the trap, satisfied with his work for the early evening. That night, when he went to bed, he turned to Lucille, “Soon, we will have tricked the violinist and I will no longer be known as a blundering fool. I will be celebrated, and you will be known as the woman who wedded that clever man from across the briny sea.”
Deep in the woods, Xander left the trap. He imagined he had tucked it deep enough in the forest that all the animals among the trees could just ignore.
And perhaps, they could.
But one animal could not. A wild bear with berry stains at his snout had been captured by Xander and Lucille’s bramble cage for the black bird.
Lucille wandered deep into the forest, calling to the animals like a princess from old stories and lullabies. Xander had gnawed at a carrot. Carefully and deliberately, he had set the stage to trick Marc into believing a crow could be caught soon.
After chewing parts of the carrot, Xander felt disoriented. The forest spun as one would expect from a carousel. He could not find his footing and stumbled around. The carrot he had chewed on in order to deceive Marc into believing the crow was nigh had an awful taste – like lye or perhaps, soap. He gagged on its taste, stumbling over animal bones and dried bits of berries. His vision grew milky and Xander thought, Surely, this is the end.
Xander looked down and saw the carrot he had used as a bait to trick the violinist was filthy with poison. He gasped, gripping a tree trunk to hold himself steady, the flavor ripping apart his taste buds and shearing his insides. He gasped, the taste of blood, rich and with a coppery flavor, settled into his stomach.
He felt as though his organs were being lacerated. Moaning, he clung to the tree trunk.
Xander watched as his beautiful wife melted forms like a wax candle misshapen in the sunlight. He gasped as she became a stooped and elderly woman, her bones frail in his embrace, as he struggled to maintain his footing.
Lucille, with a staggering amount of strength, managed to pry her husband off her. His eyes widened – as the hag, Lucille had conquered her fear and the old woman had a thin, hungry-eyed and slim bird on her shoulder. Perhaps she had known if she told Xander about her crippling ornithophobia, he would do the dirty work.
Again, she transformed. He watched in amazement, his breath tangling in his throat, and as his eyes went glassy, he mumbled as though his voice was heavy with sleep, “Now, you must bring the bird to the violinist.”
The woman who once was his wife and now was not laughed a shrill laugh. In a cloud of burgundy and black smoke, she vanished and from where she stood, a crow had materialized.
Xander hacked and coughed on the vapors, and during his coughing spell, the bird opened her wings and flew into the gray mist.
The violinist was no longer reliant upon Xander to explain the situation nor was Lucille welcome back in the village. When the witch hunts rolled around neither Xander nor Marc came to the woman’s defense.
“No matter,” she squawked, her beady black eyes triumphant and her midnight black feathers glistening like a darkened sky. “I shall live forever. The taste of pebbles in my mouth for you poison carrots, and I do not wish to discover what you do to the forest berries.”
Now, you must ask yourself – who is the true animal?