“Helen, it’s freezing.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m cold too. Just stay down.”
Croder’s place was our first stop. Somehow, it occurred to me she might use her aunt as an excuse.
Dad’s black trench coat smelled like cigars and a bit of red wine, and I had grabbed it because it was far warmer than my coats. Not that that stopped me from layering a coat under it on top of my other clothes. The coat is actually too small for my Dad, he just never got rid of it because he was like that sometimes. Still it was really big on me, the hem brushing my heels, only an inch above the ground. The sleeves completely hid my hands, and I was thankful, because the snow was starting to fall again, and it was beginning to look like dusk, though further inspection of my watch confirmed that it was almost noon.
I have a stocking cap, one of the really long ones, in a dark red color. I had it pulled down to cover the tips of my ears, while buttoning the coat to my chin. Boston had enough room in the stretched collar to poke his head out once in awhile to give me directions.
It was almost ten minutes after setting out to find Pepper and her pal, in which I was slowly losing my temper. I had to brush snow from several signs, which did nothing to improve my temper when I made several false turns.
“If I don’t kill her, I’ll—“A cold blast of air forced me to shut my mouth, leaving my threat a little empty.
“We’re halfway there.” Boston said reassuringly from the inside of the second jacket. I was glad he was there, he was keeping me pretty warm, even though my nose kept getting bitten by icy wind.
“Great.” I said with fake enthusiasm. “Hope mom doesn’t get home before us, she’s going to freak.”
“She will anyway.” He grumbled.
“She mean well.” I defended.
“I know. Take a left after the next block.”
My tennis shoes, which were gravely unsuited for running around in the snow, crunched the white snow while nimbly staying out of pools of slush. When I’m awake, I can be fairly graceful, I’ve noticed.
“I’ve decided,” I announced, “That I hate February. No good can come of a month so early after the beginning of the year.”
“Because they do things like this, and they breed psychos like Pepper. I bet you anything that she would have never went loopy if snow hadn’t blanketed us in February.”
“You put a lot of stock in the mind bending properties of a date.”
“Lots of dates are like this. Like the ones with flowers. You can never know what happens with dates.”
“Are we still talking about the same kind of dates?” He asked, a little amused. It was good that he could stay amused even though he was so worried. I was worried too. I knew there was probably something he wasn’t saying about this, and I wasn’t sure I wanted him to say anything.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We almost there?”
I climbed up a small snow mound to brush snow off a sign. Slowly, as I scraped the icy stuff off, the ‘C’, then ‘scent’ became visible.
“And the last words are revealed for the prize of absolutely nothing-‘res’. And the crowd goes wild. Alright, we’re here, where now?”
“He lives at the end of Crescent street. Follow the road.”
“Is it yellow brick, Mr. Oz?”
“Never mind.” I jumped off the mound and immediately started down the road. I didn’t get very far.
“Ack!” Boston yowled when the ice wind blew straight through my jacket. He dug his claws into my skin.
“Ouch! Boston, that area is very sensitive, and if you don’t want to go through life as an invalid, you’ll remove those claws, and your paws, immediately.” I growled.
Immediately the claws stopped digging in, and I folded my arms n front of me to try and keep off the cold. It wasn’t working all that great. Pretty soon I was surrounded by massive drafts carrying large amounts of snow.
“This is getting bad.” Boston was muffled as he tried to scrunch down.
“Okay, I’ll run.” Let me say, that that was a bit of a bad idea. I managed to get about halfway down that road when I slipped on a patch of ice and wiped out big time. “I hate the world, and shall exact my revenge accordingly.” I grimaced as I felt my behind for broken bones. Just as I suspected: Nothing but sorely hurt pride and a diminishing patience.
“When I find you Pepper…I don’t know what I’ll do, but you are going to regret it. Make me come out of my house, in this stupid snowstorm, to track you down because you did something like that.” I kept on grousing as I held a hand up to shield me from the snow beating down.
I saw something swirling in the air, and for a minute I thought my eyes were tricking me. Then I saw it more clearly.
It was a white bird. A white bird in the middle of a snowstorm. It looked like a male peacock.
I’m not all that sure I like peacocks.
This one strutted across the ground, head held high and tail seeming to move the currents of the wind.
“Holy…Boston, you need to look at this.” I said, gaping as the bird began to move towards me.
Boston poked his head out of the collar of my coat, ears flat and whiskers weighted by the snow that fell on them. He stared at the bird. It stared back. Then it opened it’s mouth and cried out, like it was crying for someone else.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“A broken dream and a sad belief.” He whispered back, not once taking his eyes off of it. It stopped within a foot of me, watching me with eyes that were the most brilliant silver I have ever seen.
“It’s sad.” I whispered. The bird raised it’s head to look me in the eye, which was frightening, I had never even come to contact with a bird this size. It was bigger than a peacock, almost as large, I think, as the emus I’ve seen on T.V, though I may be exaggerating. Everything my size seems big, and huge a few inches more.
“It was formed that way.” He squinted through his glasses. “What? She, sorry. Pardon.”
“Are you talking with her?”
She didn’t appear dangerous, well, behavior wise, so I took a step forward. Then I took a step around her and kept walking.
“What? Of course she can see you.” Boston argued one-sidedly. “She can see me, can’t she?”
I kept walking, fully aware the large bird was almost right on top of me. I could feel her scrutinizing the back of my head, and was relieved to remember that I did wash my hair last night. Of course, it was covered with the hat, but that was besides the point.
Pretty soon I came up on a large house, leaning with age. I walked up the steps, and gently knocked on the door, well aware the large bird had followed me. The snow beyond the porch was beginning to hurtle down with a vengeance, and I wondered if that wasn’t partly to do with the bird’s state of mind, whatever it was.
“Open up, please!” I yelled, knocking again. Soon I heard clunking inside the house. The door swung open, revealing a man I remember not seeing too long ago.
“It’s you.” I said, blinking. Then I glared down the collar of my jacket, not thinking I was in front of the old man. “Did you screw up the directions again?”
“Did not.” He poked his head out to look the old man over. “according to the map, this is old man Croder’s place.”
The old man was staring at the cat with mingled awe, curiosity, and fear. I didn’t quite understand the fear part.
“Melony…Melony, did you bring them here?” He whispered softly. The bird cooed at him. “I said I didn’t want any visitors. I just want to die in peace!” He huffed and prepared to slam the door. I grabbed it, getting splinters in my palms.
“Wait! You know what that is? You’re it’s partner? I don’t understand!”
“Go away, Missy! I don’t want you here!”
“I just want to ask a few questions!” I protested. The older man was giving me a glare that spoke volumes.
“I don’t care!”
“You do, you just don’t know it yet.” Boston hissed. The old man blanched and stepped back.
“What is that?!” He snapped as I let myself in. There was a flurry of feathers as Melony, I think is what he called the bird, came in after me.
“He’s my friend. His name is Boston. What’s your name?” I said cheerfully. It was good to be inside, but I quickly realized that every time the bird flicked it’s tail, the temperature dropped. And above that, the entire house was freezing.
“You shouldn’t be here.” He growled. I noticed that he was just wearing a pair of slacks and an old denim shirt. Something clicked.
“Are you trying to freeze yourself to death?” I demanded, noticing for the first time the sad health he was in. His face was a deathly pale, and his hands were shaking badly.
“That’s none of your business!” He snapped. “I don’t have to answer for my actions to you.” He unsteadily tried to stomp off. I followed helplessly.
“You have to put on some blankets, heat up some water…”
“You shut up! It has to be this way.” He staggered into what looked like his living room. He was still the barking man from before the library, but he was dangerously unstable. Melony followed him, watching him like some sort of guardian.
“Hey, hey! Don’t tell me to shut up! You can’t just commit suicide.”
“What do you know?” He said. “I’m seventy-four. I have a right to do what I wish.”
“But…” I was totally lost for words.
“Besides, nothing’s gonna help it now. I’m ready to sleep.” He sounded so sure of himself.
I stared at him. “Oh, hell no. Don’t be dying while I’m in the same room.”
“Your fault for barging in.” He said spitefully before he collapsed onto the ground.
“Damnit!” I hurdled over a small coffee table and pushed the old man over on his back. “You are a pain in the ass, old man!”
Melony dipped her head over my shoulder as I tried to cover the old man with a blanket that I dragged off an old rocking chair.
“What in heck are you thinking?” I was scared to death. I did not want him to die. I have never seen a dead man before. I don’t care to.
“Going to be with…Melony.” His skin was way too cold, his breathing too shallow.
He’s not going to make it.
“Melony’s right here!” I pointed to the bird. “If you die, you can’t exactly be with her!”
“It’ll…all be better…in a while.” His breathing was getting shallower and I was beginning to shake myself. That was the last thing he said before he fell unconscious.
“Oh crap, oh crap, Boston!”
Boston snaked out of my coat.
“Find some blankets or something.” I looked around for anything else I could cover him with.
“It won’t do any good, Helen, he doesn’t have the will to live.”
“I know that, but we can’t just not try!” I got up and ran out of the room, and realized soon enough that he had absolutely no blankets in his house. Not one. Obviously, he had wanted to die for a very long time.
After I searched and found nothing in the drawers of his room, (very odd, not even one scrap of clothing, not even in the closet.) I accidentally knocked something off the top of the dresser. My curiosity perked, I picked it up. It was a framed picture of a woman, neither beautiful or ugly, smiling with her arm around a much younger version of the old man. He was smiling, and I almost didn’t recognize him.
“Helen!” I looked up. I walked quickly back into the living room.
I was not prepared for the scene I saw.
The bird seemed to be falling to pieces. Boston was absolutely terrified, his hackles raised. When he saw me, he rushed over and hid behind my ankles.
The beautiful white bird looked sadly at us as her feathers fell from her, exploding into little drops of water. This went on for several minutes, and then she herself disappeared leaving a crystal, cracked straight through, floating in the air, until it began to blink, until it blinked itself right out of existence.
“Helen…he’s dead.” Boston gulped.
“Is she?” I asked, still clutching the picture.
“I don’t know…” He whispered. He was gripping my coat with his claws, looking grim.
I think I’m beginning to get a picture in my mind about Boston and his friends. And I’m beginning to feel very sad for them.
“Is that what will happen to you if something happens to that choker?” I asked him. He looked up at me with a look that clearly said he feared the worst. “I’ll get it back. Don’t worry.”
His eyes traveled to the picture I had in my hands. He squinted at it. “What does it say?”
“It’s a picture.” I said, trying to avoid the sight of the old man on the floor.
“Yeah, but there’s writing on the bottom.”
I turned the picture over. Sure enough, on the cardboard backing of the frame, was writing.
‘Jerald and Emily Croder, two mos. Pregnant with daughter Melony or son Jerald. 1973’
I walked over to Jerald Croder and placed the picture beside his face, which looked peaceful.
“I don’t think what you did was right. But…I hope you’re happy, I guess.” I said, watching the water dry up with unnatural speed from the floor where Melony, the bird, had left. “I just hope you haven’t caused more cases like yours.”
“Let’s go.” Boston was tugging my coat. “The storm has cleared. The snow is melting.”
“We should make a phone call.”
“Just stay close to me, and then we’ll go looking for Pepper. She probably doesn’t know what to make of the marble anyway, or her little psychic nimrod.” A slow, bubbling fury was beginning to fester underneath my calm exterior.
I dialed a number for the services, and reported the death. They wanted me to stay, but I hung up before they finished. I had bigger things to deal with. Boston was more important than they were.
I walked out of the house, adjusting my gloves, and making sure Boston was well hidden. With more people came a greater risk of being spotted.
The faster I got the marble, the better.