'Please,' the man whispered. 'Please.'
He broke the arrow.
* * *
A massive sound rent the air, not from the breaking arrow but as of an enormous flag slapping in a gale. The crane surged to its feet, flinging wide both its wings, and the man fell back in surprise onto the concrete slabs at the edge of his lawn. He threw up an arm to protect himself as the pointed end of the arrow flew free, bouncing harmlessly off his arm and leaving a smear of the crane's blood across it, the other half disappearing into darkness. He would never find either, always firmly believing that the blood had been too tempting for a starving winter fox not to carry them off.
The bird stood above him now, reaching its head up into the night and calling silently again at the moon. Its wings, fully unfurled, were wider than the man was tall. The crane flapped them in long, slow, powerful movements. It shook the damaged wing once, then once more. The man could still see blood staining the feathers from the wound, but the crane seemed satisfied with its performance.
It stilled itself, its wings reaching out as far as they could go.
It turned its head to regard him with that unblinking eye, a shock of gold under its dark, red crown. The man wondered for a fanciful moment if it was going to reach down and scoop him up in those wings, as if this was some kind of test that he'd passed, one that, had he failed, he would never have remembered taking.
Then he found himself saying something stupid, something that made no sense at all.
'My name,' he said, 'is George.' He said it to the crane.
As if in answer, the crane bowed its long, long neck low towards the ground, keeping its shoulders up and wings out. It began flapping them in a different way, one that caused it to almost fall forward onto the man. He scooted back some more, and when the crane left the ground its burning white breast soared an inch from the man's upturned nose. He looked back to watch it veer sharply upwards to avoid running into his house, carrying on up to the peak of his roof and alighting there for a moment. The moon was bright behind it, cutting it into a frozen silhouette.
It ducked its head once more, unfurled its wings, and swooped down over the back garden, its thin black legs trailing behind it, then up and up and up and up and up, until it was nothing more than one star among many in the night sky and soon not even that.
The man, George, rose slowly from the icy ground, a worrying ache starting to curl through his bare torso. He was shivering so badly now it was all he could do to stand, and he wondered if he was falling into shock. He would need a warm bath, and he'd need it soon, though he was already wondering if he'd have the strength to make it back inside
A jolt ran through his body as he heard it, one more time. The keening, the mournful call that had brought him out here in the first place. It echoed through the frosty, clear air, as if it was the night itself calling out to him. The crane was saying its goodbye, its thank you, its
And then he realised that the call hadn't come from an impossible bird vanishing from his garden and life and out of the whole world for all he knew. The keen had been set free from his own body, cried out from icy blue lips, torn from a chest that suddenly seemed to hold his irreparably broken yet still beating heart.
Copyright © 2013 by Patrick Ness
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