Maggie noticed every detail in sharp relief. The way the sun slanted through the trees. The leaves glowing, drinking in the sunlight. The sharp scent of the resin from the Eucalyptus trees. The damp smell of the earth still wet with morning dew. It was eerily quiet.
“Kestrel,” Maggie said. “You know you’ll fail. You won’t kill me. Today or any day.”
“Shut up!” Kestrel shouted.
“You use that phrase a lot,” Maggie replied. “And I’m not shutting up. You’re misguided now, just like when we were girls. You aren’t a witch. There isn’t black magic or power in blood or sacrifice. You’re just trying to be important.”
“You don’t know anything! Today, I will complete the cycle by killing you. The last of the five stupid girls who saw something they shouldn’t have. Today, with your blood, my power will come.”
“You aren’t just misguided. You’re nuts.” Maggie wanted to keep Kestrel talking to distract her.
“I am not nuts. And you’re dead.” Kestrel turned and lunged. Maggie danced back a step.
Maggie heard the whisper of wings as the owls flew close. The noisy flapping wings of the hawk. She heard the air rush by and saw the blur of the diving peregrine falcon. Kestrel screamed again, “NO!” wildly waving her arms over her head, desperately trying to beat off talons and beaks. She turned to run. Her foot caught on a tree root and she fell, pinning her arms beneath her. She gasped. “No. I have to finish this. I have to kill Maggie.”
Maggie noticed blood pooling around Kestrel’s prone body. “She landed on her knife,” she whispered to herself.
The peregrine landed first, stabbing the back of Kestrel’s neck with its tomial tooth. The hawk landed next, digging into Kestrel’s back with its talons. The owls were last to land. Their attack was fierce. Kestrel’s back, neck, and arms bled from dozens of beak and claw wounds. The pool of blood around her grew. She stopped trying to fight off the birds and was still.
Overhead, crows were gathering. They sang their rusty chorus as they landed on tree branches. Further up, three turkey vultures circled, waiting for their turn.
Maggie’s stomach lurched and she swallowed bile. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves and her stomach. “I don’t want to vomit,” she said to herself. She stepped back into the trees and watched the birds tear into Kestrel’s body. She clapped her hands over her hears so she wouldn’t hear to wet rending of flesh being torn off Kestrel’s back.
Maggie widened her eyes in disbelief when a kestrel rose from Kestrel’s body. One of the owls grabbed the kestrel and flew off. The other raptors followed, grabbing at the lifeless form. Feathers floated to the ground.
“It’s over.” Maggie turned and walked slowly out of the trees.
Maggie sat at her parents’ kitchen table; her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea. She was still shaking. Her mother wrapped a soft blanket around her shoulders. “Here, darling, this will help you get warm.”
Maggie’s father sat across from her, pouring a liberal amount of whiskey in his tea. He looked at Maggie and gestured with the bottle. Maggie nodded.
Molly sat next to Maggie. She had asked Joe to wait outside.
Maggie’s mother bustled around the table, putting a plate of coffee cake in the middle. “Here, sugar will help. Eat.”
Everyone just sat and stared into space. No one spoke.
No one would believe what they had seen in the clearing. But, it was over.