by Robert Pope

George sat on the backyard deck, working on his most recent manuscript, Mysteries of Birding, which he had very nearly finished—all but a final sentence or two. He looked up to think what he would write as a parting thought, tapping his lower lip with his pen. His gaze fell on the feeders and the bird baths he had installed at the back of the yard in a green and natural setting.

He stared in some amazement. He had seen large birds in the neighborhood, hawks chasing squirrels or being chased off by the ravens, the occasional heron looking for fish in a coy pond, but nothing like this. ‘Lily, come out here,’ he called, ‘and bring the big book, with the red cover.’

He pushed away from the table, set the pen beside his notebook, and stood gazing at the creature when he heard Lily sliding the screen door to come out, ice cubes rattling in her drink. He glanced back before going down the steps to the patio. ‘What is it, George? I don’t see anything.’

Without responding, he waved his arms, running under the maple, toward the bird sanctuary. ‘Hey,’ he shouted, ‘get out of there!’

‘Oh, my Lord,’ Lily exclaimed, ‘stay away from that thing!’

With a loud shriek and an unfolding of tremendous wings, the unusual bird clamped talons on George’s shoulders, lifting him off the ground, his feet kicking. ‘Call someone,’ he shouted.

Lily stepped onto the deck, shading her eyes with her free hand. ‘Who, George?’ She felt the wind of its wings on her face as George rose to eye level for a moment, face red and gasping, hands clutching at the leathery legs above the talons. ‘For God’s sake, Lily, anyone, it’s an emergency.’

‘Yes, I see that,’ she said. He tried to say something else she couldn’t make out as he rose, twisting in an effort to free himself. Their son, a blonde boy, came out behind her, pushing his glasses higher up on his nose. His mother looked down at him and said, ‘John James, where on earth are your shoes?’

The child had an extreme allergy to bees. ‘I won’t go in the grass,’ he said.

‘See that you don’t,’ she said.

George seemed to have come to some acceptance, as he had ceased resisting so energetically. ‘I love you,’ he shouted.

‘We love you too,’ she called back. She watched sweeping wings against a pale blue sky until she could no longer recognize the features of her husband’s face.

The boy squinted at the pulsing blot that drifted ever higher and further away, until it was no more than a speck. He remembered a balloon he lost, and which he had not thought of for a very long time—even though his mother tied it to his wrist. ‘Is he coming back?’

‘I don’t know, honey,’ Lily said. ‘I’m not sure.’

Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, as well as a collection of stories, Private Acts. He has also published many stories and personal essays in journals, including The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Fiction International, and anthologies, including Pushcart Prize and Dark Lane Anthology.