A Single Leaf - The Land of Monsters - Lady of Birds
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Part 2 - Lady of Birds
Timothy coughed as dust rose in the air around them. Lucy had landed on top of him, but she rose and helped him up, wiping her face with her sleeve. Bear waddled in behind them, sniffing at the floor.
The room looked like an attic. Wooden floorboards, furniture and boxes scattered about, white sheets over everything. Windows covered in boards sat in the opposite and side walls, only narrow cracks letting in any light.
Timothy glanced around, only slightly disappointed. Maybe there was still something interesting hidden in one of the boxes, but he had expected…more.
Lucy walked over to a sheet-covered sofa and pulled the cloth off, sending dust flying into the room. They covered their mouths and noses until it settled again. The sofa was big enough for two people and was covered in a floral pattern only a bit bolder than what covered the walls in the hallway. Timothy walked over to one of the windows and stood on tiptoe to look out.
The sea lay beyond, blue and dark and restless. Far away a tiny sailboat rolled across the water. The sun had risen, but the mass of clouds only allowed the faintest light. His grandmother would be up, maybe already wondering where he was.
“I need to go,” he said.
“But this can’t be it,” Lucy said. She opened one of the boxes and started digging through it. Bear pawed at Timothy’s leg, whimpering softly.
“I’ll come back later and we can look through this stuff together,” he said. “Maybe we’ll find something.”
She sighed. “All right. I’ll walk you out.”
They went to the door and crawled through the paper, but when they stood the hallway was gone. The entire house was gone. In its place was another house, a darker house. The walls were a gray so dark they were nearly black. Dried flowers hung on the walls and in vases around the room they’d emerged in. The furniture was also gray, and the people in the portraits that covered the walls all bore dark and sad expressions.
To their left was a fireplace, the flames dancing steadily. Across the room a wide opening in the wall led to an entrance hall. The floors in both rooms were wooden and glossy. In the distance someone began playing a piano, a female voice singing in an unknown language drifting to them a moment later.
Lucy grabbed and squeezed his hand. “Timothy…” she whispered.
“I know. Maybe we should go back–”
Bear squealed and Timothy quickly picked her up to soothe her. The music abruptly stopped. Lucy clutched his arm. They turned to leave, but the opening had completely disappeared, a plain gray wall taking its place.
Footsteps drew closer, thundering in the silent house. Both children stood frozen in place.
A woman appeared in the entrance hall. Her black dress dragged on the floor, her collar rising to just below her chin. Her dark hair sat in a bun atop her head. She was ghostly white, the skin around her eyes shrunken and dark. She pointed a bony finger at them.
“You!” She picked up her skirt and strode toward them quickly.
Timothy grabbed Lucy’s hand and pulled her around the other side of the table, struggling to keep a hold of Bear while avoiding the woman.
“Nasty, thieving children! I’ll sick the birds on you, I will!” She screamed then, a magical scream that echoed beyond the house to whatever land lay around them. In response a multitude of black birds appeared at the windows, darkening the house with their beating wings. They pecked at the glass, cracking it. The woman continued to scream, standing in place but following them with her eyes.
Timothy led Lucy into the entrance hall and pulled at the front door. Behind them the glass broke and birds streamed into the room. He got the door open and more birds rushed in, so thick that not a speck of sunlight could be seen.
He held tighter to Bear and Lucy and backed away from the door, finally finding a stairway and rushing up. The woman finally stopped screaming, but the birds continued to file into the house, the noise deafening.
They reached the top and found a bedroom, managing to shut the door before too many birds got inside. Lucy rushed to the window and opened it while Timothy grabbed pillows off the bed and ushered the birds outside.
Bear hissed until all of them were gone and Lucy slammed the window shut. They panted heavily, glancing at each other.
“Where are we?” she asked.
Outside the room the birds went silent. The children froze, listening. Softly the sound of footsteps echoed up to them, becoming louder as they ascended the stairs. The woman began singing a lullaby in a raspy voice.
Timothy ran to the door and locked it, then pushed a dresser in front of it while Lucy hurried to the window.
“Timothy!” she whispered.
He went to her, peering out with a feeling of dread. Outside all the birds hung in mid-air, frozen. A landscape even darker than their home stretched out before them, a vast, dark forest as far as the eye could see.
A gray sky covered all, a small orange glow in the distance serving as the only true light. Lucy began crying quietly beside him. “I want to go home,” she said.
Behind them the woman’s voice and footsteps grew louder, finally stopping just outside the door. For a long, agonizing moment all was silent. Lucy struggled to stop crying, wiping her eyes and muffling her voice with her hand.
A loud bang! broke the silence as the woman pounded at the door, her voice rising in her fury. “LET ME IN! LET ME IN!”
Bear hissed again, her fur bristling.
Just as abruptly the screams stopped. New footsteps approached and a male voice said, “Calm yourself, my dear. Allow me.”
Timothy struggled to open the window as behind him the door burst open.