excerpt – Birds and Invented Cages ch.1

Blood from the gunshot spread across the garage floor like a slow moving flow of lava, black against the concrete. The smell of smoke burned Lena’s nostrils. The acrid stench filled the tiny garage. An unfinished model airplane sat in pieces on the workbench, under rows of tools. Lena Grey opened her mouth to scream her husband’s name. His one eye stared at her unseeing. It was the only one he had left. The blast from the gun he had put to his head moments before had torn flesh and bone completely away. Lena fell back against the door jam in horror. She slumped frozen, not knowing what to do or how to help him. She looked around and saw the envelop propped up beside the plane that Stan had been building. Seeing it was like being snapped by an elastic. Her name was scratched off center in black ink. She recognized her husband’s handwriting. Fear dropped like a stone in Lena’s stomach. She stumbled to the workbench and clutched the letter in one hand. She didn’t want to read it. The paper was cold.

Mark Johnston heard the gunshot at 9:03 am. He was late for work and standing in his driveway clearing the snow off of his car. He dropped the shovel and ran to his neighbour’s house. Mark called 911 on his cell phone. He spoke to the operator, gave the address and tried the front door. It was locked. Mark ran around the side of the house and tried another door. The call to 911 dropped as he ran between his house and the Grey’s. He looked in the kitchen window and saw nothing. He tried the door and it swung open easily.
“Stan?” Mark shouted “Lena?” The house was silent. Mark searched the rooms. The Greys were getting on in years, and Lena was looking especially frail these days. Mark’s stomach churned with dread. Although he had only been their neighbour for less than a year, Mark had known the Greys all of his life. His father had grown up with Lena. They went to school together. Stan was older than both of them, went to the same school but in the grade ahead of them. He was a quiet man, kept to himself. Mark knew their son but not well. They had been classmates but ran different circles at school. They had some classes together, but Bruce was a football player, Mark played trombone. After high school, Mark lost track of Bruce completely, and wasn’t until he moved next door to Lena and Stan that he heard anything about Bruce.

Mark looked in the pristine living room – everything was in its place, dusted and perfect. The photos on the piano were all in gold frames, portraits of the three of Greys. A kettle started whistling and made Mark jump. He ran back to the kitchen and turned off the stove. Mark noticed the door into the garage was opened slightly. He opened it gingerly, half expecting someone to jump out at him. He kept his hand on the door handle to steady himself. Mark’s stomach heaved when he saw Stanley’s legs sprawled out on the floor. Then he saw the blood. Mark gulped for air. He looked in further to see if Lena was there too. His heart sank when he saw her curled up on the floor in front of the workbench. Florescent light from the overhead lamp flooded the bench with an eerie harshness. Lena moaned. Mark leaped down off the steps and ran to her. She tried to move but it made her scream. It was a strangled, guttural cry instead. Mark heard sirens. The police would arrive soon, he thought.  Mark knelt beside her, looking for the wound so he could stop the bleeding with his hand while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. He couldn’t find one. Mark realized that Lena had not been shot.

“Lena? Are you ok?” he asked her. Mark tried to lift her head and heard something crunch under him. Mark froze and looked down. He was relieved to see a broken coffee mug. Lena moaned again.

“Lena, just stay still honey, please. The ambulance is coming. It’s going to be ok. Just wait for the paramedics to come and make sure you’re ok.” Mark said. His voice was shaking. He didn’t know what else to say. Lena opened her eyes. Mark could see they were unfocused and confused. She searched his face and looked around.

“He’s gone.” Lena whispered. Her voice was strangled and hoarse. She looked earnestly at Mark. She gripped his arms. Her fingers were like bird claws digging into his skin through his shirt.

“Yes, he’s gone Lena.” Mark nodded sadly. He resisted looking over at Stan’s body. Although he hadn’t checked Stan’s body, he was sure that he was dead. There was so much blood. Mark was kneeling in it. Stan was most likely very dead. He heard the sirens and the police calling out. Mark shouted that they were in the garage. When he looked back at Lena, she had tears in her eyes.

“I’m sorry Lena. The paramedics will be here any minute. Just try to stay calm.” Mark said, trying to stay calm himself. Lena said nothing more. She closed her eyes.

“Lena, stay with me. They are almost here. They will help you.” Mark said frantically. Suddenly her face contorted in pain, and Lena’s body convulsed and she lurched, half rolling onto Mark. He watched her face contort in pain, and she went still. Mark felt the life leave her just as the paramedics burst in the door. The men moved around Mark, trying to get to Lena. Mark stood up as they lay Lena flat on the floor and tried to give her CPR but it was too late. Mark stepped back. His head was spinning. Everything moved around him like he was in a dream. A detective asked him questions. Mark told him what he knew. Another officer found the switch for the automatic garage door. Sunlight filled the garage. Mark shielded his eyes. The commotion drew a crowd on the lawn. The police eventually let Mark go home. He stepped over the snow bank to where his wife was standing, huddled in a winter coat. He hugged her, and went inside to change his bloody clothes. An hour later, Mark found Stan’s letter on the floor where it had dropped. The edge of the envelope was red with Stan’s blood. It made the black ink run. Mark hesitated and then opened it to read.


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