By Richard M. Ankers
The moon eased the sky aside like an iceberg in a midnight sea. Without shores or substance to hinder its passing, it might have drifted forever. How Corrine wished she drifted, too.
The old church bell rang in the hour in two identical chimes. An owl hooted the same, as if in love. Three mice ran in procession between the gravestones, determined not to lose each other, or rather, lessen the chances of the owl picking them off. A cloud of bats skimmed past, uncaring.
Beyond the wrought iron gates and ancient stone wall, where society slept and only alley cats stood guard, a fox sneaked among the dustbins like the food thief he was. With little to eat and just the cats for company, the fox moved deeper into the city, knocking over a precarious bin lid to a brief, if cacophonous, onslaught.
A disturbed Corrine turned from the sky to regard the city. From the hillside, it looked both bigger and smaller than she remembered, an optical illusion sent to confuse. She sighed as the fox’s mishap echoed away into nothing, wrapped her midnight cloak close, and blended into the darkness like a shadow in the shade.
The city was never still, this she knew, but not a curtain twitched, nor a sleeping car rumbled. Even the streetlights dipped at her passing, like amber-clad courtiers to an obsidian queen. Corrine showed them none of the same courtesies.
It was much later, or perhaps earlier, when the hidden walker stepped into a garden via a rusty gate rendered silent and climbed the tree that straddled the yard as easily as running upstairs. She took a tenuous-looking branch across to the rooftop and jumped the last two yards like a panther. There atop this indistinct house in a city the same, she sat cross-legged and sighed again.
The stars shone a glittering chandelier now the moon had dipped below the horizon. Brighter than silver but softer than gold, a trillion suns did the job of one.
The waking blackbirds began their songs, trilling to the dawn and anyone who’d hear them. Corrine covered her ears and kept her eyes on the sky, silent as always. A robin joined the fray in shrill percussion, then countless others. The morning had broken, and with it, its guest.
Corrine unfolded the cape she’d gripped and stood like a great, black raven. The little birds reverently dipped their heads.
See you later, her silent lips mouthed. I’ll return as promised.
The girl in the garden watched her mother go, as she did every time the birds woke her early. She’d have known their queen anywhere, despite being only a silhouette. She smiled. “See you tomorrow, mummy. I hope the days are as kind to you as the nights are to me.”
The girl went inside for breakfast but didn’t tell her grieving daddy of whom she’d seen. Adults were good at explaining people leaving, but less so at accepting their return.