My routine had been for a while to watch Abigail perform the bettering ceremony while I ate my lunch. The old, chewed-up picnic table by the park hadn't seen me for a while. Instead, I had purchased and set up a little poker table and chair in the shade of a drooping tree in the cemetery and watched everything from there. I hadn't been coming by so much in the evenings because Robin demanded so much of my attention, but I knew what was happening by then. I just wanted to keep tabs on the process, to make sure strange things were still happening.
I don't know why I felt compelled to do this. I shouldn't have wanted to see what was happening. I could still imagine birds splitting open to engulf the sacrifice. That image would never leave my mind. I couldn't watch it again, but I could never forget. At the same time, I couldn't find the nerve to question it. It was hard to question something that happened so regularly. Who would question the setting of the sun? Sick in its own right, the shattering of the light, the guts of the bright beast strewn across the sky in a bloody show, and then nothing. But it's something you could never stop, and understanding it only serves to explain away the outrage. It would still be a terrible thing, to lose the sun every day, whatever the reason.
Despite packing up my lunch with plenty of time, I still ended up late some days. It was always on the days that I stopped to stare at Abigail's prize on the altar, and I guess I would lose track of time. Once I was an hour late. I felt dazed when I found out. Chalked it up to Robin's side effects.
It was a normal day at first. Normal for me, anyways. Abigail stopped by shortly before I finished my sandwich. She clapped her hands and said her silent prayer. I couldn't see her praying—she disappeared below the rows of headstones every day when she crouched down—but I remembered what her ceremony looked like as clearly as I remembered the artificial, tendrilled maw of that better bird.
So when I saw her come by and disappear, I returned my attention to my book. After a few pages, I finished my lunch, packed up, and made my way past the grave.
I was shocked to see Abigail was still there, crouching, hands still pressed together in prayer. Except her eyes were wide open, staring at the bird.
She had brought a raven today. It was the largest bird I ever saw her with. She had always looked so comical carrying the birds around when they got this big. Abigail couldn't have been over three feet tall, short for her age, but no matter how large the feathery subject of her affection, she smiled as she struggled and waddled around, dutifully carrying the creature to its designated place. She was like a child walking a puppy that had overgrown into a massive dog she knew would be taken away if she shirked the job that had recently gotten over her head.
Who knows what she was thinking about, silently staring at the bird as it lay there. I watched her a moment, lost in thought myself, wondering why she wanted a better bird in the first place. If I had a raven in my hands, I'd call it a day and go home. Doesn't get much better than that. I'm not sure she'd be content even if an ostrich showed up in the morning, dead and waiting for her to drag it to the playground and back. Whatever she was thinking about, I couldn't get her attention. I tried to say hello, but ended up saying a defeated ‘good bye and take care’ as I waved myself away.
Something was unsettling about Abigail's stare. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It seemed... familiar. That night, I cancelled on Robin.
When I got to the grave, Abigail was gone. Of course. She would have gone home by then. The raven, too, was gone. Not unusual; the big birds always disappeared for some reason. A colourful bracelet was an unexpected find, just lying on the gravestone. Abigail had probably dropped it, and so I kept it in my pocket to return it when I saw her the next day.
But I didn't see her the next day. Nor did I see any birds being left on the grave. Something twisted my stomach inside out. Some vital natural order was being turned over and I was watching it happen, helpless.
The rest of the week, I alternated between waited by the grave and searching around the park for Abigail, all the while counting the plastic beads on the bracelet in my pocket. Where was she?
Was the game over?
Lily came by one day. With a police officer.
"Have you seen this woman's daughter?" He asked. She said nothing. Here eyes were tired with tears.
I said I hadn't recently. I figured it'd be for the best to simply be honest and say the last I saw of her, she was praying in front of that grave stone, and that she had dropped the bracelet in my pocket.
It was not for the best. I was questioned for a long time. Seems I was the last one to see her. I didn't know what to tell them. They'd have thought me mad if I told them the truth. Monstrous bird-eating-birds? I hardly believed it.
They searched my apartment and asked my coworkers questions. I had no alibi, but they couldn't find any evidence against me. I thought I was awfully lucky. If I'd gone to court, my defence would have been pitifully weak. My life would have been ruined.
After three weeks of hellish treatment from detectives, I was freed of suspicion and the mystery went on: what happened to Abigail?
I couldn't be alone with my thoughts. Robin agreed to let me stay with her for a night or two, but she seemed distant after the investigation. I understood. It was a sick accusation they were investigating. The disappearance or murder of a little girl. What happened to her? I couldn't sleep, Robin's kiss or no.
I looked out the window and realized for the first time that Robin's apartment was quite close to the cemetery.
Then I heard it again, that disturbed shriek that Robin had once assured me was nothing. All I could think was that it sounded like it came from some awfully large creature I had never heard before.
Large enough to eat a poisoned raven and walk away.