“LET MY BROTHER GO!”
Waking from her reverie, Prue found she was standing on top of the bench, shaking her fist at the crows like an ineffectual comic-book bystander, cursing some supervillain for the theft of a purse. The crows were quickly gaining altitude; they now topped the highest branches of the poplars. Mac could barely be seen amid the black, winged swarm. Prue jumped down from the bench and grabbed a rock from the pavement. Taking quick aim, she threw the rock as hard as she could but groaned to see it fall well short of its target. The crows were completely unfazed. They were now well above the tallest trees in the neighborhood and climbing, the highest flyers growing hazy in the low-hanging clouds. The dark mass moved in an almost lazy pattern, stalling in motion before suddenly breaking in one direction and the next. Suddenly, the curtain of their bodies parted and Prue could see the distant beige shape of Mac, his cord jumper pulled into a grotesque rag-doll shape by the crows’ talons. She could see one crow had a claw tangled in the fine down of his hair. Now the swarm seemed to split in two groups: One stayed surrounding the few crows who were carrying Mac while the other dove away and skirted the treetops. Suddenly, two of the crows let go of Mac’s jumper, and the remaining birds scrambled to keep hold. Prue shrieked as she saw her brother slip from their claws and plummet. But before Mac even neared the ground, the second group of crows deftly flew in and he was caught, lost again into the cloud of squawking birds. The two groups reunited, wheeled in the air once more, and suddenly, violently, shot westward, away from the playground.
Determined to do something, Prue dashed to her bike, jumped on, and gave pursuit. Unencumbered by Mac’s red wagon, the bike quickly gained speed and Prue darted out into the street. Two cars skidded to a stop in front of her as she crossed the intersection in front of the library; somebody yelled, “Watch it!” from the sidewalk. Prue did not dare take her eyes off the swimming, spinning crows in the distance.
Her legs a blue blur over the pedals, Prue blew the stop sign at Richmond and Ivanhoe, inciting an angered holler from a bystander. She then skidded through the turn southward on Willamette. The crows, unhampered by the neighborhood’s grid of houses, lawns, streets, and stoplights, made quick time over the landscape, and Prue commanded her legs to pedal faster to keep pace. In the chase, she could swear that the crows were toying with her, cutting back toward her, diving low and skirting the roofs of the houses, only to carve a great arc and, with a push of speed, dart back to the west. In these moments Prue could catch glimpse of her captive brother, swinging in the clutches of his captors, and then he would disappear again, lost in the whirlwind of feathers.
“I’m coming for you, Mac!” she yelled. Tears streamed down Prue’s cheeks, but she couldn’t tell if she’d cried them or if they were a product of the cold fall air that whipped at her face as she rode. Her heart was beating madly in her chest, but her emotions were staid; she still couldn’t quite believe this was all happening. Her only thought was to retrieve her brother. She swore that she would never let him out of her sight again.
The air was alive with car horns as Prue zigzagged through the steady traffic of St. Johns. A garbage truck, executing a slow, traffic-stalling Y-turn in the middle of Willamette Street, blocked the road, and Prue was forced to hop the curb and barrel down the sidewalk. A group of pedestrians screamed and dove out of her way. “Sorry!” Prue shouted. In an angular motion, the crows doubled back, causing Prue to lay on the brakes, and then dove low in an almost single file and flew straight toward her. She screamed and ducked as the crows flew over her head, their feathers nicking her scalp. She heard a distinct gurgle and a call, “Pooooo!” from Mac as they passed, and he was gone again, the crows back on their journey westward. Prue pedaled the bike to speed and bunny-hopped the wheels of the bike back onto the black pavement of the street, grimacing as she absorbed the bump with her arms. Seeing an opportunity, she took a hard right onto a side street that wound through a new development of identically whitewashed duplexes. The ground began to gently slope and she was gathering speed, the bike clattering and shaking beneath her. And then, suddenly, the street came to an abrupt end.
She had arrived at the bluff.
Here at the eastern side of the Willamette River was a natural border between the tight-knit community of St. Johns and the riverbank, a three-mile length of cliff simply called the bluff. Prue let out a cry and jammed on the brakes, nearly sending herself vaulting the handlebars and over the edge. The crows had cleared the precipice and were funneling skyward like a shivering black twister cloud, framed by the rising smoke from the many smelters and smokestacks of the Industrial Wastes, a veritable no-man’s-land on the other side of the river, long ago claimed by the local industrial barons and transformed into a forbidding landscape of smoke and steel. Just beyond the Wastes, through the haze, lay a rolling expanse of deeply forested hills, stretching out as far as the eye could see. The color drained from Prue’s face.
“No,” she whispered.
In the flash of an instant and without a sound, the funnel of crows crested the far side of the river and disappeared in a long, thin column into the darkness of these woods. Her brother had been taken into the Impassable Wilderness.
MORE: Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis read from Wildwood at the Bagdad Theater, 3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 467-7521. 7 pm Tuesday, Aug. 30. $17.99, includes a copy of Wildwood. Tickets available at the Bagdad, Crystal Ballroom and cascadetickets.com, or by phone at 855-227-8499. All ages.