I swing gently back and forth on the porch swing, breathing in every sight, sound, and scent.
The sharp tang of the resin from the porch roof releasing its oils as it bakes in the sun.
The soft shine of the painted floor reflecting the light.
The dappled shade on the lawn from the ancient spreading oak tree.
The whisper of air that caresses my face as I swing back and forth.
The songs the birds sing from the branches of the trees.
The sound of children laughing as they chase a ball across the lawn.
The green scent of grass being mown next door.
The drone of the lawnmower.
The clink of ice and refreshing, cool taste of lemonade with its perfect balance of tart and sweet.
The heady perfume of the rose that blooms in front of the porch.
The knowledge that the love of my life will be home soon, greeting me with a smile, eyes twinkling, moving in for a kiss hello. He’ll taste of sweat, salt, and sawdust from his shop. The children – our children – will see his truck and come running, abandoning their game of chase. “Daddy, you’re home!” Embracing him with sticky arms and hands. “Look, I skinned my knee!”
I’ll have to get up and made dinner soon. We’ll eat outside on the big plank table set up in the back. As afternoon turns to dusk, we’ll watch the lightening bugs emerge to dance, and listen to the frogs sing their nightly chorus from the creek behind our property. The night blooming flowers will unfold their petals in the soft night air.
A perfect end to a perfect day. A snapshot to memorialize in my heart, savoring every minute.
Kestrel shivered in the pre-dawn mist. She stretched the stiffness from her legs and smiled. Her wait was nearly over. It was time to lure Maggie out of the house.
Maggie woke up in her childhood bed, stretched her arms above her head and snuggled deeper under the down comforter. She was drifting back to sleep when she smelled coffee. “Dad,” she thought. “He’s always up early and always makes coffee. Maggie climbed out of bed, grabbed her robe, and headed towards the kitchen. “Smells delicious, Dad. May I have a cup?”
“Of course,” her dad replied. “I was hoping the smell of coffee would wake you up. I want to talk with you – alone. Your mother is worried. She doesn’t need to hear what I have to say.”
Maggie definitely needed coffee before having this conversation. She sipped and sighed at the rich, dark taste and the first hit of caffeine. “Ok, I’m ready. What do you want to tell me?”
“I want you to go away until this is over.”
“Dad, I can’t, and you know that,” Maggie said. “I heard the owls last night. I know Kestrel is close. She’s calling me. I need to confront her and end this. But,” Maggie tried to reassure her dad, “it will be easier if you make your banana pancakes before I go.” Maggie hugged her father and turned to help him prepare his special breakfast.
After they had eaten and cleaned up the kitchen, Maggie pulled on her jacket and stepped outside. The sun was just rising over the hills. A hawk and a peregrine falcon were perched on the roof, watching. Maggie could have sworn they looked at her and nodded. She felt oddly protected. Shaking her head, she headed towards the barn.
Kestrel stepped out from the side of the barn. “I’ve been waiting for you, Maggie. Its time.”
“Hello Kestrel,” Maggie replied. “I am not surprised to see you. Were you comfortable in the clearing last night, or was it too cold and damp for you?”
“Shut up!” Kestrel screamed. “Do you know what today is? It is the day you die.”
“Today is the first full moon after the spring equinox. Isn’t that when we saw you and your mother in the clearing all those years ago?”
“Yes, and it is perfect day to complete the circle. Come to the clearing with me. Unless you’re afraid.”
“You don’t scare me,” Maggie lied. “And, I don’t plan to die today.”
The hawk and the peregrine falcon circled overhead. Two great horned owls watched from the trees.
Molly ran to her patrol car, jerked open the door and jumped into the driver’s seat, knocking her knee against the steering wheel. “Ow! That hurt!” she said through gritted teeth while she rubbed her knee. The detective assigned to be her partner that day grinned as he climbed into the passenger seat. Detective Joe Jacobsen had been Molly’s mentor and teacher for a long time. He trusted her instincts and was constantly amused by her clumsiness. “You ok?” he asked. “Should I drive?”
“Not on your life!” Molly snapped back. “Fasten your seatbelt and hold on.”
“I found a current address for Kestrel,” Molly explained as she navigated the patrol car through traffic. “We have to move fast. I am not going to let her murder Maggie, and I know she’s the next victim.”
She pulled up to the curb in front of a run-down cottage at the edge of town. Paint was peeling on the siding and the roof was green with moss, but the lawn was a newly mown and flowers bloomed from neat beds. No weeds. The curtains were drawn tightly shut, but the windows were spotless. Today was garbage day, and the recycling and garbage cans stood in a near row near the curb. There was no car in the drive.
Molly looked around as she got out of the car. “Looks like she takes care of the place, but she likes her privacy. She strode briskly to the front door and knocked. And waited. And listened. “Doesn’t seem like she’s home,” she said to Joe. “Go around back and see what you can find.”
Molly knocked again. “Police!” she yelled. “Open the door.”
“Molly!” Joe called from the back of the house. “Come here and look at this.”
Molly ran back and saw Joe standing next to a fire pit holding a stick with a small piece of fabric on the end. “Looks like she burned some clothes. Hers?” Molly pulled on nitrile gloves, knelt and carefully put the fabric into an evidence bag.
“I think we have enough for a search warrant. Let’s go call the judge.”
Kestrel stood in the shadows at the edge of the trees. She watched Maggie run to greet her mother, and she saw Maggie’s father close the barn doors and lock in the chickens. He turned slowly, scanning the pasture, looking at the trees. Kestrel laughed to herself and stepped quietly back into deeper shadows. “He thinks he can stop me, but he can’t. No one can.”
The house glowed. Warm lights shone through the windows, and smoke wisped up through the chimney, its tendrils slowly dispersing in the night breeze. “You think you’re safe in there, with your warm fire and cozy kitchen,” Kestrel thought. “You’re wrong.”
“I’m going to kill you right where you and those stupid friends of yours saw my mother and me. I’ll slip my knife between your ribs, complete the circle and be reborn.”
Maggie felt a shiver along her spine. “Kestrel’s near,” she told her father. “I can feel her. She’s watching us. And waiting.”
“She can’t get you here, “Maggie’s father tried to reassure her. “She won’t get past me.”
Maggie wished that was true, but she just smiled and hugged her father. “I know, Dad. Thank you for protecting me.”
Outside, Kestrel turned and strode further into the trees. She found the spot where she and her mother had cast their dark circle. Opening the bag she carried on her shoulder, Kestrel took out the tools she needed. Her knife flashed in a sliver of moonlight. Satisfied she was ready; Kestrel pulled her cloak closer around her and sat on the ground to wait.
Kestrel felt the air above her move with the beating of wings. Looking up, she could barely make out darker shadows among the trees. Big shadows. She heard the “Who-who-who” of a great horned owl. “Who-who” answered another. Then Kestrel ducked as two owls swooped down and scraped her head with their sharp talons. “Again?”, she thought. “Birds are attacking me again?
Maggie felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand straight. She shivered and turned to check the locks on her car door yet again. The doors were locked. Maggie couldn’t shake the thought that she was being watched.
“I am going crazy,” she said to herself. “Kestrel is not watching me. How could she possibly know where I am?”
Her headlights painted the fence around her parents’ house grey as she approached. The fence looked eerie in the fog- diffused light. Maggie pulled into the driveway and looked around. “Kestrel is not lurking in the shadows,” she told herself.
Maggie turned at a noise and saw her mom standing in the open front door, washed by the porch light. “Come in, come in. You’re safe here with us,” she called.
Maggie’s heart warmed. She opened the car door, walked quickly to the trunk to retrieve her bag, slammed the door shut, and ran to the porch. “Mom! You shouldn’t be outside. The police said we have to be very careful.”
“Maggie dear heart,” her mother said. “If I can’t meet my daughter at my door, life isn’t worth living.”
‘Mom! Don’t even think that!”
“Come inside. Your father is out back putting the animals to bed. He’ll be right in. Dinner is almost ready.”
Maggie sighed as she walked into the embrace of her childhood home. There was a fire dancing brightly in the fireplace. Her mom’s favorite candles flickered on the mantle. The dark wooden floors showed their age beneath the shine. Maggie smiled, remembering running from her brother and knocking over a table to cause that long scratch in the hallway. She breathed in the savory scent of a chicken roasting in the oven. “Chicken with roasted potatoes and asparagus?” she asked.
“Of course,” her mom answered. “Your favorites.”
Maggie felt her shoulders relax and the back of her neck release its knots. She was home. She was safe. Tonight, she would sleep in her childhood bed beneath the quilt her grandmother had made. Safe and warm. And full, because there was sure to be apple pie for dessert.