The first time it hit, I thought I was dreaming. My head wasn’t quite right after the previous day, and my eye still hurt like hell from whatever happened last week (I can’t remember). But oddly enough, it was the eye that most dragged my consciousness forward. I don’t usually have black eyes in dreams.
There it was again, even louder this time. In an instant, panic poured into me, and I leapt frantically out of bed. I could be wrong, but I’d swear I felt the entire house shake slightly after that last one. My good eye looked helplessly to the bedroom ceiling, where one of the many signs of previous repair work still remained. That time we’d been lucky, if you’d want to call it that. Only because I’d gotten the kids out in time.
My legs, never long to begin with, felt so incredibly short now. The journey to the kids’ room was an interminable gauntlet of fear and time. Halfway down the hall, I stepped over a picture frame that had fallen off of the wall, which confirmed my fears and pushed the last strands of hope away. The house had indeed shaken. They were coming for us again.
Sometimes, when disaster strikes, the mind occasionally slows things down to a standstill. I don’t know how this happens, but it’s both amazing and terrifying. In this case, as I stepped over the broken picture frame, I happened to see it was a picture of my son and I, holding aloft a prize. We were happy in that picture, the two of us, but what jumped out to me in this particular moment was how arrogant we looked. How cocky. Maybe on some perverse level we had this coming.
At the end of the hallway, I burst through the door of my kids’ room, abruptly met by their haunted faces. And unprotected heads.
“Steven, take your sister and get out the back door,” I said, much calmer than I felt. “And what are you doing without your helmets on? Get them now. Now.” I felt another moment of sadness as I saw them yank each helmet from the closet—mostly because both helmets were utterly devoid of cracks and decoration. We had to replace them so often.
“Okay! Now just like we’ve practiced—”
This time the house most definitely shook, plaster raining down on all three of us. The windowed side of the room creaked and actually leaned slightly. Through the window I glimpsed two dead birds lying on the lawn. Jesus.
“GO!” I said, the calm now fleeing me as quickly as it had come. In unison the three of us dashed into the hallway as fast as our legs would carry us, then away from my bedroom and toward the back door.
The house creaked and groaned in protest, something crashing on the far side. Three of them this time. Sometimes we got lucky and they either ran out or simply turned back from all of the death. Sometimes we weren’t so fortunate. This time, we reached the back door and practically crashed through it, not out into the night air but down into a tunnel I’d built specifically for this purpose. Even amidst the devastation the mud felt comforting, as it always did. I felt the kids relax a little until we heard another loud crash behind us, and then several crashes so monstrous that they all blurred together into a single cascade of destruction. The house was lost.
Hours later, utter resignation etched into our faces, the three of us crawled out of our tunnel. The air had never been so silent. Boards and splinters lay everywhere, and amidst them, of course, the feathers. Nora, with a stillness that was hard to watch, pulled out a long red feather and stared at it.
“Why do they hate us, Daddy?” I shook my head, but I couldn’t stop thinking of that photo in the hallway. The one of Steven and I holding up the egg. So of course I knew.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. They’re just angry. They’re so damned angry.”