The Crows of Smuggler’s Notch

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Three hundred and fifty years ago the Abenaki medicine woman Ponki-mkasas took Puritan immigrant Theophilus Peacock to her wigwam. Old Theo saw Manitou that night, and many nights after.  According to Aunt Theodora, it was their blood together which created the strange brew of the long and crookedy line of Peacocks…and their extraordinary arts.

***

Whether Doc Peacock’s fifteen-year-old daughter Cady liked it or not, she could see faeries and their rings, evil eyes, werewolves, vampires, and all nature of otherness that 18th century enlightenment had explained out of existence. Maybe the crows up at Smuggler’s Notch chose her to keep an eye on their secret treasure until they had need of it. Or maybe not. They never bothered to explain themselves, so she could only guess at their motivations.

***

“It was a dream, of course,” Cady said to cousin Morgantina as they sat on the back porch of Doc Peacock’s sedate old Victorian, the unseasonably warm March sun filtering down through the tall pines on the knoll behind the house. “I mean, there’s no way it could be real, right?” She asked the question perfunctorily, knowing the answer  that Morgantina, a near-twin of Aunt Theodora, would give.

Morgantina rocked idly in the porch swing, gazing out at the trees. Cady had strung their lower branches with mirror shards and bits of flat shiny metal glued to fishing line; flashing, rackety contrivances that jangled loudly with the slightest whisper of a breeze. Bird frighteners.

“I’ve never heard of it happening to anyone else,” Morgantina said. “Maybe you’ve been watching too much sci-fi.” Still, she gave Cady a look that acknowledged whose great granddaughters many times removed they were.

Cady returned the look. “Uncle Aleister came to see Dad the day the Old Man’s face fell off the mountain,” she said. “Dad shut his office door, so I didn’t hear everything Aleister said, but he definitely yelled something about ‘cock-eyed crows.'”

The swing had nearly stopped. Morgantina kicked a pointed-toed leather boot against the porch rail to start it up again. “The Old Man’s face fell off?” she asked with mild surprise. “When did that happen?”

It was just the biggest news to hit the village of Northam since the Peacocks had been suspected of harboring escaped Nazi spies from the prison up in Berlin.

“Last week,” Cady said.

Her older cousin appeared to digest the information. “You always were incredibly open to suggestion,” she said at last. “I remember when you were about ten and Zoro was nine. He had a spell where he went around telling anyone who would listen that he had discovered his art, that he had talked to a werewolf. No–that he had talked to the original werewolf. What was its name? Anyway, the next day you swore you had talked to it, too.”

“But I did!” Cady said, remembering the night the first werewolf came to visit. Lying was like breathing to Morgantina’s younger brother Zoroaster, but that particular story Cady knew to be true. “His name was Lycaon. He fed human flesh to the gods and was turned into a werewolf as punishment.”

Morgantina turned her dark, brooding eyes on Cady. “Not even Aunt Megara believed that story.”

Cady scowled. “And she’s an old drunk, too,” she said. “Look, Uncle Aleister did not plant the idea in my head. I know what I did…what I was.” She touched a finger to her lips, the sensation of a hard beak still lingering.

The mirror-and-metal contraptions out in the yard suddenly clattered. There was no wind.

Morgantina scanned the trees with narrowed eyes. She pointed to several large, black shapes that were assembling on a denuded branch of a dying oak, just beyond the line of frighteners. Crows. “Your inventions seem to be having the opposite effect,” she said. “What do you suppose they want?”

Cady’s arms felt like dead weights, and she needed a nap. The dream of flying, of being a crow, had completely worn her out. “I don’t know, but I think I should talk to our uncle about what went on here last week,”  she said, eying the perched birds with apprehension. “Because it’s still going on.”

She stood and half-heartedly dusted the seat of her jeans. One of the crows cawed, and from somewhere farther into the forest another answered, fingernails on a chalkboard. Morgantina, who refused to carry a timepiece of any sort, got off the swing to cup a hand over the back screen door.  “It’s nearly four o’clock,” she said. “Unless he’s disappeared again, he’ll be down at Mooney’s. C’mon, I’ll take you.”

They cut through the kitchen, where the smell of frying bacon lingered like a ne’er-do-well on a street corner, and down the mahogany-paneled hallway that divided the house neatly in two.

The front door had not been fixed since Zoro had karate-kicked its pane of etched glass to get into the house, convinced that Cady had been in some sort of mortal danger when she failed to answer his calls. Northam’s only glazier had gone out west to Chicago to discover for himself the latest developments in thermal glass technology, and he (as his wife apologetically explained to Doc Peacock) would not be back until next week. In the interim, Zoro had duck-taped a double thickness of cardboard to seal the breach.

“Your brother’s a complete idiot,” Cady said.

They went out the door and down the front steps to Morgantina’s motorcycle parked on the lawn. “No argument there,” she said. She started the big machine, which roared to life. “But if you’d been in real trouble, you’d’ve been glad he was there.”

Cady climbed on the back of the motorcycle. “You break down someone’s door because they didn’t returned your calls for what – two hours?” And, she thought, it was better to be in trouble – any kind of trouble – than to owe a favor to Zoroaster Zeus Peacock.

Cheryl Lassiter © 2012-2014