by Dan Dillard 2013
I’d heard sparrows were messengers for death. Tiny little banshees that knock at your window when your time—or someone's close to you—was up. It wasn’t until a few days ago when the little bugger started tapping on the window that I felt the sting of loss. I’m not sure why such a cute, seemingly harmless creature should build dread in the pit of my stomach, yet there it grew like a knot in a shoelace desperately needing to be untied. Poe’s raven in disguise.
The dog took leaps at the window, occasionally ducking through his flap-in-the-wall dog door to run the creature off. Seconds later, the dog would proudly strut into the house again and lie down. A few seconds after that would come the knocking and scraping of the brown bird, anxious to pass through the glass. When I would come downstairs in the morning, he was there at the back window. Anywhere I stood or sat in the open concept home, I could hear him if not see him beating against the window.
I closed the blinds.
An internet search yielded little in the way of results. One page said male birds would have territorial bouts with their reflections, believing them to be other males. One said to hang something shiny in front of the window of choice, or to cover it with white paper for a few days until the bird found something else to occupy its fragile time. I began to worry for the little thing.
I opened the blinds again.
What if it injured its beak, or its foot, or even broke its neck? Yet, whenever I opened the door, it flew away. Not far, just off to a safe distance where it might continue to watch the window. It didn’t follow me to other windows. And when I settled back inside the house, he would return to his tapping and flapping.
Two days later, it was still there, still adamant. I’d taken to providing food and water so it wouldn’t starve, as it was so adamant in its task that the bird hadn’t left my back yard. I sat at my dining table, adjacent to that window, and began to watch it as intently as it watched me. It was then I noticed the air in my home was stale, damp even. It wasn’t humid outside, and I was running the air conditioning. I swapped out the filter and went back to watching the bird.
Yesterday, I called in sick to work. I didn’t feel sick, but my concern for the animal had exceeded my need for a bank of paid leave. I checked my pulse and took my temperature just in case. Everything seemed in order. I washed and brushed my teeth in the kitchen sink so as not to stray too far from my little friend.
If he was a friend.
He flapped and clawed at the glass again. I moved my vigil to the floor and sat in front of the window, eye-to-eye with the bird. I tried to stare him down, but he was too fast, too frantic. It gave me an uneasy feeling—a sick feeling like I might have to vomit. Then the bird simply hovered, beating its wings like mad, but not bumping the glass. It was just hovering, and looking—not at me, but beyond me.
When I turned, there was something behind me. It was between me and my front door, only ten feet away. It was like smoke, only not rising, but swirling. Sunlight from the front windows passed through it in dusty beams and in its center, a small mass of black hung. That mass almost glowed it was so dark and the smoke that surrounded it seemed to encapsulate the mass and emanate from it.
I knew then I was looking at death.
My sparrow friend squawked and redoubled his efforts to get into the house. The glass was too thick for a bird that weight only ounces. What could it do against the reaper anyway? What could I do for that matter?
The black mass swirled and tendrils of its smoke reached out, darkening my view. I felt their ice-cold hairs touching my arms and legs. My heart pounded and I began to think of all the things I had left to do. All my plans. Boxes going unchecked in my head. The only defense I knew was to pray, then it hit me.
As the smoke poured into my nose and wrapped around my neck, I reached up to the latch on the window and flipped it, then lifted it by its small brass handle. The bird flew in, a tiny warrior. I had no idea why the sparrow was on my side, or if he was on my side. His presence in the house, flapping and flying, circling the smoky visage of death, seemed to distract my unwanted visitor.
Then the sparrow dove, aimed itself arrow-straight and pierced through the cloud of evil. When it emerged on the other side, the black mass in the center was gone, and the nebulous thing around it dissipated. The bird landed on my couch, opposite the television and as I watched, it lifted its head and gobbled the slimy thing as if it was an earthworm pulled from the soil. Then, it ruffled its wings and left out the same window.
I don’t know why the sparrow chose me, or if it chose me, but I was given more time. For that I am thankful, and from now on, I will always feed the birds.
GIVING UP THE GHOST is here!