The darkness wasn’t as complete as I first thought. My eyes seemed to be adjusting. A murky, ghostly light emanated from the strange black gemstone walls. The floor that I’d been so unceremoniously dumped onto appeared to be made of gold. My fingernails dug into the soft metal, a sensation that triggered an odd sense of comfort and hominess.
I yawned, letting my head fall back on the soft blanket of rich gold.
There was something I should be panicking about, but, the moment my head hit the gold, it drifted far, far away. Safe inside a cavern made of gems, snuggled deep in my precious gold, I thought, instead, sleep would be nice.
Yes, I should rest these tired, ancient bones, and close my eyes.
I’d been dreaming of flying when the scrabble wire and metal woke me. I cracked one eye open to see what dared to disturb my slumber. Birds argued just outside my heavy prison door with bossy, irritated crows. Then the scrabbling started afresh.
Curiosity won over my bone-tiredness, and I managed to pull myself up out of the deep, warmth of the soft gold.
The door shifted. A series of runes flashed down its length, like a magical neon advertisement—one symbol, then the next, on and off, colored a deep blood red that was only barely brighter than the darkness that surrounded me.
A click signaled the last tumbler turning. My prison door swung open. A bright stab of light nearly blinded me. I expected to see someone standing there, but instead a gang of magpies swooped in and mobbed me. They fluttered and hopped. Beaks and talons reached for my clothes, snagging the cloth. With effort, they pulled, pushed, and cajoled me upright, flapping mightily, and shouting at me. I could almost understand them, they seemed to be saying: “Come! Come!”
With their help, I stumbled over the threshold of my prison and out the door. It was harder than I thought it ought to be to leave behind my hoard of gold and gems, but their incessant shouting and tugging kept me from turning around and going back to sleep.
Once out in the hallway, the magpies continued to herd me toward an exit sign. My eyes watered from the brightness, but I let them blindly push me. They seemed to be trying to be quieter now, though with limited success. One would shout excitedly and the others would shush the offending bird, growing louder and louder in their own protests for everyone to be sneakier.
Something about their antics made me pause. “Wait,” I said, resisting them momentarily. “Is this a jail break?”
There must have been a dozen birds. In my daze I could barely distinguish one from the other in the jumble of black and white feathers and beady, insistent eyes, but, at my question, they all nodded: Yes, yes, they were breaking me out of jail.
“Come! Come!” they shouted again anxiously.
“Right, right,” I said. Now that my prison was further behind, the cobwebs began to fall from my mind. I followed the lead magpie that hop-fluttered a few steps in front of me. “But,” I asked them, “Aren’t you mad at me? I mean, I hurt Sarah Jane--”
“No! No!” they all yelled, even as the image of her graceful crash swam into my mind and threatened to cause me to stumble. “Come! Come!”
I picked up my pace as they led me down a flight of stairs that ended in a door marked ‘maintenance only.’ The lead bird stopped in front of the door and turned its black, fathomless eye to me. I didn’t get what it wanted until it stretched out one of its wings and made a half-turning motion.
Right, I was the one with opposable thumbs. Turn the knob, monkey.
But, when I tried, it didn’t move. “Locked,” I explained.
The lead bird seemed to be looking my shoulder for something. Were we being pursued? I glanced behind me just in time to see a magpie flutter over my head. It held something shiny in its mouth. As it flapped in front of the lock, it poked something into the keyhole. Around the flurry of feathers I thought I saw a paperclip that had been bent into some kind of tool.
I laughed, when I heard a familiar tumbling click. “You’re lock pickers, too?” Of course, they had to have been. How else could they have sprung me from jail? I beamed at the whole flock, “You’re awesome!”
They seemed to puff out their breasts at my compliment, but the lead bird was making the motion with its wing again, and this time I knew my part. Turning the knob, I pushed the door open and we all slipped through into what looked like a loading dock.
There was a small flight of concrete stairs that led down to a large open bay, big enough to back a semi into, that smelled of oil and diesel fumes. Piles of cardboard boxes lined the wall. A metal cage surrounded a crude wooden desk and a rickety office chair. I passed an old-fashioned time card punch machine and a rack of cards on my way toward the garage doors. The magpies flew around in the larger space, taking up perches where they could find them.
Beside the garage doors was a regular, human-sized door. The birds seemed to be waiting for me to exit. But, I still didn’t know why they’d rescued me. I glanced around at their avian faces. “Just… I thought you’d be angry with me. Why are you helping me?” Then, it finally occurred to me to wonder, “Are you helping me?”
A number of them nodded ‘yes.’
I supposed it could be some convoluted kind of revenge to break me out of jail, since, now I was on the lam.
“Fly! Fly!” they seemed to all say in unison. I didn’t know if that was the reason or a command to get out before anyone caught us. Either way, I took it as my cue to exit.
As I opened the door to freedom, I waved goodbye, “Thanks!”
I didn’t think I could go home. Once Tengu and Furfur figured out I was missing, they’d have someone watching my place right away. So that meant the morgue and my favorite coffee shop were out, as were any of my usual hangouts. Just as I was starting to head in the direction of the public library, I saw a familiar form hunched over the garbage pails in the alleyway. As if sensing my eyes on her, Nana Spider’s frizzy white hair popped up. Slowly, she turned her watery eyes to me. “Oh dearie me, it seems the dragon broke free…”
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...