We found Scarlet motionless on the living room floor. She was supposed to be watching us. Her head was on a pillow she had removed from the couch, red hair scattered around her shoulders. Blankets encircled her as though she were in a nest, where at any moment she might wake up and fly away.
“It changed direction,” she said, sitting up. “The eye’s headed straight towards us now.”
She had been watching the Weather Channel. She pointed the remote at the television, turned it off.
The eye. I imagined a brilliant-blue pupil in the sky surrounded by an iris of swirling white clouds. Blake, my identical twin, grabbed my hand. The outer bands were already sweeping over us.
Scarlet rose to her feet. “I have to leave before it’s too late.”
“Nobody leaves this town,” Blake said. “The harder you try, the longer you stay.” Mother had said this to neighbors, members of the church, strangers in the store. It was her mantra.
“Not true,” Scarlet said. “Promise you’ll wait inside until your parents return. They should arrive any minute.” Our parents were rushing around trying to purchase sandbags, flashlights and batteries, jugs of water, cans of beans.
“I promise,” I said.
“Let me hear it from both of you,” she said, walking away.
As she eased her feet into sandals, her back to us, Blake and I silently traded spots. We had the same haircuts and outfits, the same voices and faces.
She opened the front door and looked at us, expectantly.
“I promise,” I said again, pretending to be Blake.
“Good,” she said. “And don’t believe that nonsense about being stuck.”
She shut the door and locked it. Our parents had trusted her with a key.
Blake and I hurried to the kitchen and climbed onto a countertop. We finagled open a window, then slipped down onto the grass in the backyard.
We shadowed around like coyotes until we slithered into a cluster of plants near the mailbox. This was one of our favorite hiding places. Leaves enveloped us, rattling in the increasingly agitated breeze.
Through an opening, we saw Scarlet walking down the middle of the road, towards the house at the end of the col-du-sac. We had sometimes seen her at night by the window, reading. She had graduated from high school and was waiting to start college. “Literature can transform you,” she had said, “especially in moments of danger.”
A burst of wind ruptured the silence. Blake and I parted the leaves overhead. A darkness swept across us as hundreds of birds eclipsed the sun.
They swooped down in a tornadic mass. Some clustered in the oak trees that branched out every which way along the street. Others settled onto the electrical lines. The rest perched on the roofs of the old, ranch-style houses that had somehow survived decades of the Florida climate.
Scarlet twirled around with her arms outstretched and head tilted back. The birds, en masse, seemed to be watching her.
They at once took flight, their collective burst upwards almost deafening. Tree branches swayed and feathers rained. The ground itself trembled. This is what we remember most about that moment, the last time we ever saw Scarlet: her sandals spiraling down towards the ground, her red hair blowing back in a trail of flames, and those wings, they must have spanned twelve feet.
Wow, the tension here. Great job! There were several different ways this could have gone and I found myself reading faster, calculating what might happen next, but you completely surprised me. I love the turn at the end, absolutely love it. Great visuals here too with the birds and Scarlet’s red hair.
Mason, “Lines of Flight,” is absolutely delicious, and between Scarlet, the twins, and the murder of crows (or whatever frightening bird they might be), you have more than your share of big characters! This is one of those stories that gives me an uncanny feeling it was written just for me. I absolutely love creepy children—bonus points for twins who sneakily switch places—and babysitters with college aspirations who say inspiring things like ‘“Literature can transform you…especially in moments of danger.”’ AHHH! I’m just so excited about the direction this takes. I didn’t want something horrible to happen to Scarlet, yet the first paragraph seems to foreshadow her doom—“motionless on the living room floor”—but then there’s the brilliant image I failed to fully appreciate on my first read: “Blankets encircled her as though she were in a nest, where at any moment she might wake up and fly away.”
I wondered if you might consider adding a line to let the reader know that Scarlet was too far from the house to make it home before the birds descended. I think it would be particularly helpful to know where she is (how far) at this point: “Scarlet twirled around with her arms outstretched and head tilted back.” I love that the narrator’s memory of her starts off in a way that has me worried “sandals spiraling down” (the sandals are such a good detail you’ve carried through the story—I like that they remind me of the twins’ traitorous moment) before, at the very last possible second, the reader realizes SHE has wings; she has transformed! She has left the town!
Maybe I’m also somehow wanting that ending to slow down slightly—to get the narrator’s sense of the mass of birds. He doesn’t seem as surprised by the birds as I would be, certainly, and given how taken he was by the idea of a storm’s eye, “The eye. I imagined a brilliant-blue pupil in the sky surrounded by an iris of swirling white clouds,’” I want a taste of what he’s making of this wild phenomenon.
What an exciting story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us!