by K.C. Mead-Brewer
Mina knows she’s not allowed inside Momma’s room. She knows. And she obeys the rules. She’s a good girl. Honey, to a fault. But there’s that noise again behind the door. A skittering-scratching followed by a high, popping squeak.
There’s no TV in there. No radio or computer. A prophet needs to keep things simple. No interruptions. No distractions. Not that there’s any signal out here, anyway. Out in blistering No Place where the world’s always yellow as a stain.
Momma? Mina calls from outside the door. Nothing. She crouches down till her skinny knees pop. She picks at crusty strands of old carpet. Momma, you okay in there?
Afternoon sunlight fans out from the bottom crack of the door, and Mina’s struck with the odd thought that this is what it must’ve looked like standing by Jesus’s tomb when the angel came to resurrect him. All that bright light, a whole sun’s worth, shooting out from behind a rock. Except this isn’t the sound of an angel. Though there is, Mina realizes, something like the sound of feathers in there. The sound of wings.
She’s on her feet again so fast she splits her head on the doorknob. Momma! But it isn’t Momma she’s worried about. It’s Cherry. The only lovely thing that’s ever happened to them. Momma’s pet bird.
A thousand wretched thoughts crumble down the back of Mina’s shirt, thoughts of Cherry dead, dying, injured, sick, all those sweet, red feathers— The door rushes open. A picked scab. Let it bleed, she thinks. Because she knows (oh, yes, she knows) she’s gonna pay for this. She won’t sit for a week. She won’t have any fingernails left to scratch the ant bites.
A cry startles out of her at the sight, the smell. Momma’s body lolling out of her favorite chair, all that reeking sweat, and Cherry, there, struggling in her frozen grip. She must’ve been stroking the poor animal’s feathers when one of her visions seized her, her muscles constricting like a snake’s. Her hands are clawed and pecked down to the bone, the desperate thrashings of a desperate prisoner. Momma’s pale eyes are stuck open, gaping at the ceiling, her lips parted almost lasciviously, showing teeth and a wet lump of tongue.
She isn’t dead, though. She isn’t. She always wakes back up eventually.
Maybe it’s me, Mina thinks, head pounding, stepping inside without thought or will. Maybe I’m supposed to be Momma’s angel this time. The one who wakes her back up.
Cherry’s rasped croaks grow even wilder at her approach. Mina’s never seen anything like this bird’s twisting and jerking inside the cage of Momma’s fingers, its red feathers jutting out between them at unnatural angles.
She steps around the body carefully; she doesn’t know what might set off the angel-magic to bring her back. Even the slightest wrong touch might ruin everything. She grabs a brush from Momma’s vanity and uses it to pry open the bent fingers. The bird doesn’t spring upward, though, as she’d expected. It doesn’t dart for the ceiling or the window. It only collapses there on the spread platform of Momma’s palms, its movements suddenly gentle, its panicked breathing slowing, slowing, its dark eyes gazing up at her with animal awe. Mina does her best to smile for the little creature. She knows what her blonde hair must look like in all that sunlight.