The Scheming of Kirby Bain by Marla Cordle
(A short story derived from the author's third novel, The Fifth Number)
It was in the way the sparrows dipped and darted, synchronizing their flight pattern. They created a quivering net low in the sky, and an itch inside Kirby Báin.
The damned bird would be waiting for him. He knew it like he knew Berlynn MacChesney had a crush on his dad. Her fragile eyes, like bluebells, had a light in them on such occasion she was near the man, a light like the one in the eyes of the goose that was constantly after him. He reasoned that passion was passion after all, whether inspired from spite or affection.
It was just his luck that his feathered enemy enjoyed waiting for him in the undergrowth by the pond. At that moment she probably nestled as quietly as the ferns in the still of the woods. She had done this twice already that week and he'd tired of it, brought Pete’s gun this time.
The cluster of tiny fowl now far in the distance, appeared as nothing more than a cloud of dust in the twilight of the autumn evening and he looked down, his thoughts turning unexpectedly back to Berlynn - Berlynn with her tousled, blonde curls and dopey moon eyes.
His father was a widower of two years, hardly interested in the attention of a girl barely a teenager. He, on the other hand, the same age as the girl, lived for a glance or a smile from her.
It was a moot point, however, considering Berlynn was so besotted with his dad she could scarcely make it a handful of minutes before saying something ridiculous like, ‘I can make him happy, Kirby. When I find the spell token that my great grandmother hid, I’ll make my wish and he’ll fall in love with me. You’ll see.’
Why exactly was she so smitten? His old man was ancient in comparison to her, and he was miserable, still haunted by the fate that had befallen them the year before.
The guy didn’t have a sliver of space in his boarded up heart for a dumb kid like Berlynn and yet the more aloof Larkin Báin was with her, the deeper and more profound her love for him. She’d make a wish? Hell, if it were that easy, he’d done wished a long time ago for her to be crazy about him.
And the kicker was that, though his dad didn’t seem to notice her abiding crush, he himself couldn’t get away from his awareness of it. It angered him to no end.
He took hold of the rifle, gave it a cursory once over. Never mind that the situation called for less than what it was capable of doing. He’d blow the chest right out of that squawking goose. She’d nailed him once, almost brought the blood even through the coarse fabric of his camouflage pants. Yeah, her business with him was finished.
Shivering, he glanced about himself. As darkness nibbled into the copse of Locust trees, he felt the cold getting into his muscles, making his body, for the moment, stiff like thickening sap. He’d wasted too much time watching the restless monotony of the sparrows. The pernicious bird would find him easy prey, might come from behind, from the deeper of shadows and spear him with her beak before he could get off a shot.
It didn’t matter really because before it was over with, she would be reduced to feathers and grisly mush. He would dispose of the carcass, and be done with the old gray menace. Berlynn would see the droplets of blood tomorrow on her way over to bring some pathetic love offering. Perhaps she would see the goose down as it floated on the water like dandelion fluff, but he wouldn’t say a thing, he’d let her wonder. The fate of the ill-tempered matriarch of geese would be Berlynn’s little mystery to ponder and it would do her some good to realize that not all stories ended happily.
As he coaxed himself up from the not yet winter-hard ground, he realized how much it grated on him that she could cross the property without being flogged by the bird. It was enough that he should have to watch her coming and going all the time, her heart beating to the syllables of his old man’s name. Larkin Báin Larkin Báin Larkin Báin.
It was more than what he should have to put up with and though he couldn’t control what she felt and for whom, he could certainly do something to upset her predictable little world. He would not do away with the dead goose, but leave it in her path instead, leave it where she would be sure to see it. He would show Berlynn that the world was full of ugly things like mothers dying unexpectedly and fathers forgetting they had sons that needed them.
Hastily, he made his way through the sparse trees toward the pond. He was one of the sparrows, flitting and darting and contemplating migration. What if when he blew to bits old goosey’s bird heart, someone heard?
It was simple. If questioned, he would concede that he’d killed her, would say that she had charged him and he was tired of it. What would they do to him? Nothing that really frightened him, that was for sure.
He moved stealthily now, this side of the pond favored by the goose. He listened. It was quiet like a dreamscape, like his parents’ broken, old farmhouse. His eyes caught movement in the thicket by the water. The goose’s brown feathers, a glimpse of white down tantalizing him. She was roosting perhaps?
A hush. A sigh.
The old girl wasn’t on her game and it was too late for her now. Would be no sneaking up on him this time. In came his breath, silent and tense like a hand pulling back on a bow. His gun raised, beads of sweat popped out on his forehead, and he experienced a very pure moment of regret. It would be so much the better if he could see the bird plainly when putting her down. What a sense of purpose would fill him then.
Well, maybe he’d get lucky and blow her head clean off. That would make up for his guesswork, and be a sight to behold at that.
He squeezed the trigger, but slightly, then the rifle bucked against his shoulder. The ensuing silence was as a great calm, the space between canyons perhaps. His body relaxed in measures. The old gray goose was dead – he felt the reality of it constricting his pores - and he giggled with glee, moving toward the bushes. Tomorrow, Berlynn would come this way and he would make sure that she didn’t overlook his offering.
Berlynn MacChesney’s world was just as stark and barren as his was, and he’d like to see her conjure up a spell to alter what he’d just done. It was time Berlynn grew up. It was time for her to mature if only a little bit, just enough to recognize Larkin Báin was old enough to be her grandfather.
He stepped into the clearing and then moved into the brambles, his head moving left then right but his eyes finding no purchase on the goose.
Brown feathers. No. They had been gray, hadn’t they? He was a straight shot, and he'd been close to the thick but skeletal undergrowth. He wove his way through the array of bush, came upon the water’s edge.
Glancing down, his eyes froze at the sight of not a goose at all but a ceramic platter of tiny tarts, a cheery red glaze over the top of each. It was a dumb thing the way they looked there on the ground. His eyes, feeling frozen in their sockets, moved anyway and he saw her then, saw Berlynn MacChesney lying crumpled like so much delicate rose-tinted paper run through with burgundy ink.
His gun slipped from his fingers and made a dull sound as it struck the marshy ground. Falling upon Berlynn, he wrested her onto her back, saw the damage profuse and fatal. He almost fainted.
Scurrying backward through the bushes, he clapped a hand over his mouth. Why had she been in the brambles like an animal hiding? What the fuck had she been doing in there!
Whatever the reason, she had, at one point, been on her way to see his sullen father, and he had shot her, blew a chunk of her brains right out the side of her head. She was gone and there was no excuse except he’d intended to kill a goose.
A stupid, freaking goose.
He raised swamped eyes to the sky, and cried out to a heaven he’d stopped believing in months ago; saw a clot of sparrows, as if one, moving this way and that.