My mother did not take the news well.
When she came home from work that day, and saw what had happened to my hand, she demanded to know how sweet old Ms. Cleary could have let something like this happen to me. This was only after, of course, she undid Clara’s bandage and doused my wound in alcohol and antiseptic from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, and covered it with sterile white gauze.
She waited until we sat down for a dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread, the kind with the cheese on it, before she brought it up.
“How could she let you out of her sight like that?” she said, referring to Ms. Cleary, after I had retold the story.
“It wasn’t her fault,” I said. I held my fork in my left hand and tried to twirl a heap of noodles together. The utensil was awkward, and stiff in my hand. It slipped out of my grasp as I tried to turn it. “I shouldn’t have wandered off, and followed that stupid bird.”
I could tell she wasn’t listening to me. Her gaze was lowered, eyes intent on her stringy, limp plate of pasta as she muttered to herself.
“Let you go out over the fence and play in the woods while she sits inside. Honestly. She’s so old she must have forgotten that you can’t just let children run around by themselves.” My mother was cutting her noodles with a knife and fork, she always did that. Her arm made broad strokes every time she brought down the blade, which squeaked when it scraped the plate.
“She’s not so bad,” I said, but my words went unheard.
Getting back over the fence when coming back had been tricky, but Clara helped me get over the top, and I took my time, putting as little strain as I could on my right hand. After we had made it back on to our street and delivered the flowers to Ms. Cleary, she took my hand in her own leathery, wrinkled ones, opened the makeshift bandage Clara had made, and clucked her tongue.
“Nasty, wretched thing,” she said. “A shame too. Ravens have a dreadful reputation, but they aren’t all bad, and some can be quite friendly. You didn’t toss rocks at it, or call it names, did you?”
I shook my head, and told her exactly what happened.
A shadow fell over Ms. Cleary’s face when I mentioned the stone circle. “That is an old place,” she said. “One that never moved on with the rest of the world. No good can come from this.” Then she turned to Clara. “You did an excellent job with the bandage, dear. Boneset leaves and bloodroot, you were clever to find them.” She set the thick leaf back around my hand. “You keep that on for a few days now, make sure it heals up good.”
Ms. Cleary stood up then. We were sitting in her large, dimly lit kitchen, and she walked over to the countertop, and started rummaging through a drawer.
“As for that raven, he’ll be back, mark my words. I know pests, and he’s one of ‘em. And now’s he got a taste of you, he won’t let up so easy. Ah, here.”
She came back to the table, carrying with her a small pendant on a leather necklace. She handed it to me. It was a plain, silver coin, completely blank and smooth and cold to the touch. The leather cord was threaded through the middle, where a hole had been cut. It looked not unlike a small, normal washer.
“Put it on,” she said, and I did. The cold metal felt like a cube of ice pressed to my chest.
“What is it?” I said.
“Simple charm,” Ms. Cleary said. Nothing major, but he strikes me as one of the lesser sprites. It should work just fine. He shouldn’t be able to so much as lift a feather to you.” She smiled warmly. “Now, who wants to help make the apple crisp?”
I could still feel the cold weight of the silver coin against my chest hours later. The charm had refused to warm to my body, and instead made an unpleasant cold patch below my sternum that lingered with me.
I set down my fork and took a bite of the garlic bread. The crust was hard, and I crunched it down, savoring the combined flavors of warm, buttery bread and mixed cheeses. My mother was saying something to me, but I wasn’t listening, and had to ask her to repeat herself.
“I said, you’re not going back there tomorrow. I don’t care if you spend hours cooped up in here, playing video games or reading by yourself. That house is off-limits.”
“But I want to go back,” I said. “I like them.” Ms. Cleary and Clara had been nothing but nice and sweet to me, and had fed me warm apple crisp in their bigger-on-the-inside-house, with its many halls and rooms that I was so aching to explore.
“You’re not going back, and that’s that,” said my mother, and she stood up and began clearing the table, setting the dirty dishes down in the sink. “If you’re so anxious about being left alone I can call your Uncle Martin, and he can stop over for lunch and check up on you.”
I did not want my Uncle Martin to come over. He had said he would build me a treehouse and that had been a lie, and he talked to me like we were friends and he knew me well, but he did not. He may have been my father’s brother, but he was nothing like my dad.
“Uncle Martin is stupid,” I said. “He’s a liar and he’s fat, and he’s not very nice at all.”
My mother slammed her hand down on the counter with a thud.
“That does it young man. I have had enough of this attitude. Your Uncle Martin has done more for you and me than you can know.”
“No. He hasn’t.”
My mother took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “You are to go to your room,” she said. “You are to put on your pajamas, and brush your teeth and go straight to bed.”
I did not say a word back to her, but sulked to my room and did what I was told. I put on my Spider-Man pajamas and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and when I went back into my room I slammed my door, ran to my bed and turned out my light. My heart pounded, and I waited for my mom to come storming in and yell at me, but she didn’t.
I couldn’t sleep. It was too early, not even eight o’clock yet, and already my day was over. Laying in bed, I could hear the water from the sink going as my mother washed dishes. This wasn’t fair at all. I thought about going back to see Ms. Cleary tomorrow anyway. There was no way my mother could find out. Maybe I would go after my uncle came and went.
Still wide awake, I reached for the small penlight I keep on my nightstand, and grabbed a comic book from of the floor. It was the first issue of Spider-Man, the one where a radioactive spider bites Peter Parker on his hand. I didn’t think that any animal could survive being radioactive, really. Not spider, or a bird. I thought about radioactive ravens, and what kind of superhero it would make if it bit someone, but all I could picture was The Vulture in all black.
I read until my eyes drooped, and my penlight slipped from my hand, startling me awake again. I set both my comic book and the light down and lay down on my back. The coin on my chest was cold but comforting. My eyes closed, and darkness swept over me.