My hand drops away from the fish bowl. Colleen swims around the castle in an energetic circle, as she always does after my story. The past terrifies me, but it also gives me hope.
Below my window, the front door to the cottage slams shut, and a large tawny owl swoops out over the farmland, into the orange sky and towards the girl dancing in the field.
Biting down on my lip, I push myself up to my knees and press my face closer to the window. Excitement pulses through me. It starts now! My fingers curl into my palms, and the sharp prick of my nails brings me back to reality.
This has happened before, and nothing came from it. But this time feels different. The air feels different. It’s electric.
I press a hand against the cool glass, ignoring the dry, patchy skin, and strain my eyes into the distance.
The owl lands on the exposed, bare branch of a tree at the edge of the field. Its song pierces the sky.
The girl stops spinning and drops her arms at the sound. Her hair is dark. That’s all I can see from here. She watches the owl for a moment before approaching it, bringing her more clearly into view. Her head dips a bit to the side, and she studies it further.
She’s about my age, thirteen, maybe fourteen. Very pretty, like a doll. Everything on her face is perfect. Smooth, bronze skin. Big, almond-shaped eyes. Sloped and sculpted nose. Perfect bow lips. All flawlessly packaged in a glowing heart-shaped face. I can tell she’s smiling now.
Behind her, something deformed rises out of the grass.
My breath fogs up the window in front of my face, and I quickly clear it again with my sleeve.
The sun is setting behind the cottage. It casts shadows across the front yard. The girl looks over the horizon behind her, but not down, and then turns back to the owl. She says something to him and points behind her.
The deformity rises higher and reaches for her with black limbs curled like talons. The owl hoots into the air and ruffles its feathers. This seems to delight the girl. She clasps her hands together and laughs.
The talons spread out wide on either side of her now, waiting, restless.
The owl drops down to the grass in a large, dark lump, far larger than it should be—man-shaped.
The girl’s hands tangle up in her long waves, and her lips part in a perfect O.
The shape stands to full height, and the ends of his cloak flap ever so slightly in the breeze. My breath fogs up the window again.
Her eyes widen. They’re light-colored, maybe grey. She gazes up into my father’s eyes. Her chest rises and falls with panicked breaths. She takes one step back, only one, and the talons wrap around her body like vines.
A scream rips from her lungs as she struggles to free herself—a pointless endeavor. She has impressive pipes. But the scream doesn’t last long. My father throws his cloak over the girl, and the piercing sound is plucked from the air like a worm from the ground.