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Bailey and a Crow Named Leo: A Short Story by cam
Bailey’s favorite way to pass the time around her home was to sing, and the eight year old girl had a voice that made adults pause to listen and choir directors to turn green with envy. On one particular summer day, Bailey was sitting in the back yard on a lawn chair, dangling her feet and singing a song from her favorite movie.
I think I'm gonna like it here!
I think I'm gonna like it’
She was singing the song from Annie, because she and her family had just moved to the little town of Rosemont, Indiana, and Bailey loved her new home. The old, three story farmhouse with wood siding painted white and a red roof was a maze of rooms, closets and a third floor attic for Bailey to explore. The property sat on the edge of the quiet hoosier town and had once been a real farm with a barn, corn fields and a pasture dotted with black and white milk cows grazing in the sun. Along the front of their house ran the main street into town, but behind were woods and fields that seemed, to the little girl, to run on forever.
Bailey's Feathered Friends
Bailey wasn’t singing to herself on this sunny, Sunday afternoon. She was serenading the birds on the bird feeder and birdbath as some pecked at in-the-shell peanuts and others splashed themselves with the cool, fresh water. Bailey was a unique girl in some ways and her choice of feathered friends was no exception.
Crows, black as a moonless night, were her constant companions when she was outside. Bailey stopped singing for a moment and giggled as a crow, one she knew from the others simply by its behavior, dropped something on the ground in front of her.
“What’s this, Leo?” Bailey had chosen the name Leopold because boldness was the bird’s distinguishing character trait. At first her parents had been concerned that the crow was being too aggressive but soon accepted that Leo meant no harm. Bailey hopped to the ground and retrieved her latest gift. It was a small piece of broken, brown glass, probably from a beer bottle that had been tossed out of someone’s car window. She unbuttoned her shirt pocket and dropped the shiny glass inside. She noticed the button was nearly ready to fall off and made a mental note to mention it to her mom at dinner. Bailey’s mother, who was a seamstress, had made the very shirt the little girl was wearing. The dangling, white pearl, plastic button had been a gift from the crows.
Bailey's Friend, Leopold the Bold
The avian extravaganza had begun as soon as the family had arrived at their new home. On the final drive from their former place in Indianapolis, Bailey and her parents had stopped at a McDonald’s for a quick lunch. Bailey had been in the backseat munching chicken nuggets and fries, while her parents, “Pete” and Meg Peterson, reminisced about how they had finally saved enough money to make a downpayment on the house.
Everything had looked normal and welcoming when they pulled into the driveway; open farmland to the left, small-town, Indiana to the right, and the perfect setting for a fairytale family in front of them. Bailey’s parents had gotten out of the car and begun pulling the last of their belongings from the trunk. Bailey had opened her door and brushed golden chicken nugget crumbs from her pink t-shirt. When she had put her feet on the ground and straightened up, a stray chicken nugget had tumbled from a fold in her shirt onto the gravel.
A blur of black had swept past. Bailey had screamed and fallen back through the open door of the car. When she had recovered, both the black blur and the golden chicken nugget were gone. After coming to her aid, Bailey’s parents had scanned the immediate area, heads slowly turning back and forth. Bailey had pointed up at the power line that ran from the road to their house. A lone crow had been perched there, silhouetted against the clear sky, with the scavenged chicken nugget in its beak. Leopold the Bold had been there from day one.
A Murder of Crows
On her fist day of school, Bailey had walked down the street to the bus stop. The crow had shown up, standing in the grass between the street and sidewalk.
“Hello Mr. Crow. Would you like something to eat?” She had reached into her lunch bag and pulled out a cheese puff which she had tossed toward the crow, surprised to see it catch the offering before it hit the ground. When the same crow had walked her home from the bus stop, Bailey knew she had made a new friend, and the relationship continued to develop. The rest of the murder of crows, as Bailey had learned was the appropriate name for a flock of crows, had begun to join her and Leopold on their daily walks to the bus stop.
The back yard feeding station had been the next step, which was a three foot square, raised platform with a clay plant saucer in the center. Bailey filled the saucer with dog food or corn every day. Occasionally she left a treat of hard boiled eggs. A birdbath stood nearby which she kept filled with fresh water.
Gifts From the Crows
The gifts had started showing up when Bailey had been using the feeding station only a few days. After school one day, she had gone out to feed the birds and noticed a small, reddish stone on the platform. She had wondered how it had come to be there, but finally tossed it onto the ground. The next day, the stone was back on the platform along with a
small piece of broken, green glass. These kinds of items continued showing up on a daily basis. Pete put a video recorder and tripod at a window inside the house. The next evening, they had their proof. Several of the birds had been recorded dropping small pieces of glass, metal, plastic and stones onto the platform. Bailey began immediately to keep each gift, sorting them into plastic bags according to kind.
Bailey sat back down in the lawn chair and resumed swinging her legs and singing her song. After a few minutes, the birds all flew to a nearby tree, making a loud racket with their cawing. Bailey looked around to see what might have frightened them.
A calico cat ran across the yard, beneath the feeding platform and into the weedy undergrowth of the woods beyond. Bailey loved cats, especially colorful calicos. The fact is, she had been dropping hints to her parents that she would like to get a pet cat. They had not actually said no, and here was just the cat for her. Bailey stepped from the mowed lawn into the tall, wild grass and weeds. The cat bolted, and Bailey ran off in pursuit.
Bailey Pursues a Calico Cat
The trees, leaves unmoving in the still air, reached toward the cloudless sky as Bailey labored to make headway through the waist high undergrowth. From atop a large rock, the calico spied her, then threw itself once more into the sea of green grass. Bailey ran to the cat’s former perch and stood on it herself. She looked back to see the house, but there were only the trees, weeds and grass. The landscape looked the same in every direction, a monotonous, unchanging scene..
She gave up on the calico and turned her attention to finding her way home, but the cat had led her on a winding route that left Bailey disoriented.
“I’m lost,” she said to the trees, the undergrowth, the sky and possibly to the calico cat hiding in the tall grass.
Bailey is Lost
The rock on which the girl stood was no mere stone that had been forced up through the earth by geological forces to emerge at this precise location. Rather, county records would show that it was a foundation stone for a small house that had stood here generations before. Along with the house, there had been a windmill, a shed and a well that had been dug twenty feet deep and lined with stones. The well had supplied the old man who lived here with water for a few years before it had dried up. Now it was an empty shaft with grass growing thickly around the top, keeping its presence a secret as it had for many years. Tree roots penetrated the stone walls, reaching downward into the darkness, seeking water, but finding none, a woody cascade ending a few inches above the floor. The calico wound its way downward through the contorted mass to where six kittens waited impatiently to nurse at their mother’s teats.
Bailey stepped down from the stone, meandering through the grass, not knowing which way to set out for her house. Her stomach was announcing that it was dinner time, and her mother would be tapping on the kitchen window, the signal to come in and wash her hands.
Bailey’s next step found nothing beneath the grass except empty space. She lurched forward, her torso landing with a jolt on the far edge of the hole, her legs dangling uselessly in the dark void. She grasped handfuls of the tall grass which ripped away, allowing her to slide further downward. A thorny, greenbrier stem snagged on her shirt and ripped it as she slipped again, this time falling, her scream muted by the close walls and the grassy ceiling. Her left foot came down hard on a chunk of limestone, then bent sideways. Bailey heard the crunching of tearing tendons and ligaments. Her body responded to the explosion of pain, doing what it was designed to do. Her blood pressure dropped, decreasing the blood flow to her brain, causing Bailey to pass out, as the kittens nursed, and the calico hissed from beneath the tangled roots.
Six kittens nursed while their calico mother lay back, watching the human that had just fallen into the dried up well that served as home for the feline family. Normally, the kittens would play all over the floor of the well after they had finished their evening meal.
The calico was not feral, at least not completely. She had lived with humans for part of her life. But they had left her outside the house when they got into their car and never returned. So the calico had found a new home and a new life.
The kittens were finished nursing. They would rest for a while and then would want to play. She could see that the human was one of the small ones, a child. When the kittens woke, she would let them run and play at will.
At first the kittens were afraid of the body that lay unmoving in the center of the floor. They played, but remained under the overhanging snarl of tree roots that had forced its way between the rocks of the wall and grew from the top to the bottom of the old, hand dug well.
Slowly they ventured out, sniffing around the child who was lying on her side, head resting on the dirt and gravel floor. One kitten climbed up and sat on the human’s hip. It crept to the shoulder where it looked down at curly blonde hair hanging across closed eyes and a slightly turned up nose. The kitten hopped to the floor and continued stalking the long curls. It sat back on its hind legs and lifted a front paw toward the dangling hair and batted at it, yet the human remained still.
The small amount of light that entered the well shaft was fading when the kittens and the calico heard an unfamiliar sound from up above. It was a long wailing that was unfamiliar to the felines.
“Bailey.” The sound was stretched out, held, then slowly faded into silence. It came again, and again drawing nearer to the opening of their home. She gathered her kittens close, and they hid under the tree roots until the danger had passed.
The two things Bailey was aware of when she woke were a stabbing pain in her left ankle and the complete darkness that surrounded her. She moaned as she stirred. Her cheek and ear had been rubbed raw by the gravel and dirt against which they had been pressed. She raised her body to a sitting position and touched her swollen ankle.
“Where am I?” she managed to say. Her voice sounded close, as if the words had nowhere else to go than into the ears of the one who had spoken them.
The calico hissed. Bailey scooted away, pressing her back into the stones that lined the well. She imagined a snake in the darkness that was positioning itself to strike. Bailey sat motionless, not knowing what was across from her in the darkness, until the kittens mewed. Bailey sighed her relief.
“So this is where you live.” she said. The calico hissed in response.
Bailey thought back to the previous afternoon, of Leopold’s latest gift, and to the calico cat frightening the crows as it darted across the yard. She remembered chasing the cat until she was lost. Then she had fallen. She remembered grasping and ripping the grass that grew around and hid the mouth of the well, remembered the ripping of her shirt, slipping little by little, falling, screaming, pain, then nothing.
The night crawled by. Bailey spoke aloud to herself, to the calico, to the kittens, to God if He was listening.
“It’s so dark up there, it must be night. I wonder what Mommy and Daddy are doing? They must be really mad at me for not coming home. No, not mad. They’re sad and scared, just like me. I hope the calico cat doesn’t bite me. I’m hungry and thirsty. I’m scared and my ankle hurts and I’m afraid of the dark.” Bailey’s eyes welled with tears. I want to go home.” She could feel the tears making their way through the dust on her face. “Mommy?” she called out. “Daddy? I’m here. Please come and get me Daddy. Please? Please, Daddy?” She cried for a while, then fell asleep with her knees pulled to her chest and her back against the wall.
She woke to faint light filtering into the well. The kittens were sleeping. The calico, its orange, black and white patches becoming more plain in the growing light, was watching her. The blue of its eyes were barely visible as the black pupils expanded in the dim light.
She stood up, sniffing at each of her kittens, then walked to the bottom of the hanging tree roots. She stayed there for a few moments watching the kittens, then looking at Bailey. Finally, as if she had just settled some inner dispute, she crawled into the root system and began to climb.
“I wish I could climb out like that. I could if my ankle wasn’t hurt so bad.” She continued watching. “I guess you had to decide whether it would be safe to leave your kittens here with me while you went to find food. It’s okay. I’ll take good care of them.”
The kittens wandered out from their hiding place and ventured toward the girl. They sniffed at her shoes and played with the shoestrings. Bailey began to sing quiet, peaceful songs that calmed the kittens and her as well. Song after song brought the kittens ever closer. She reached her hand toward an all orange kitten. It licked her finger and let her rub its head. The others ran over, jealous of the attention their litter mate was receiving. Soon, all six were in her lap, getting all the sweet attention they could want.
Bailey kept her eyes on the well’s opening. She didn’t want anyone to walk by and not know she was there. Her neck started cramping and she got a headache form staring into the bright sunlight. She yelled several times, but no one came for her.
She tried climbing, but found that she had to do most of the work with her arms, and she just wasn’t strong enough to get more than a couple of feet. Finally she gave up and returned to petting the kittens.
The calico returned and gathered her litter so they could eat. Bailey wished she could eat something, but even more than that, she craved a drink of water. She licked her parched lips. “I’m in a well, and I’m dying of thirst.” She laughed at her surreal joke. The tiny nursing noises added emphasis to the fact that she was the only occupant of this space that was hungry and thirsty.
She sang some more, until it was dark, then lay on her back looking up at the patch of night sky through a curtain of grass. Once again the tears flowed.
“Nobody is coming for me.” And she closed her eyes to escape that grim reality.
Bailey woke in the same position as when she had fallen asleep. The only difference was the warm spot against her left side. She lifted her head to see the calico and her kittens curled up next to her.
She sat up and contemplated the beginning of her third day in the well.
“I was right last night when I said nobody was coming for me. It’s simple. They don’t know where to look. If I could start a fire, I could burn these roots and send up smoke signals like the Indians used to do. But I don’t have any matches. Maybe there is another kind of signal I could send.”
She waited until the sun had risen, then she got on her knees and looked up at the opening.
“It’s kind of like the megaphone cheerleaders use at football games.” And Bailey began to sing again. Her throat was dry from lack of water, and it hurt, but she kept on. She chose the loudest songs that she knew and she sang whether it sounded good or not.
She had been at it for several songs and she decided she would sing one more. She sang as loud as her faltering voice and parched throat would allow. Then all was silent. Even the Calico and her kittens seemed to be waiting expectantly.
Bailey kept looking up. The grass around the well opening swayed in the breeze. Clouds drifted by, but no one appeared in response to her efforts. She dropped her gaze to the floor of the well, but there were no more tears left to be shed.
She busied herself by examining her ankle. It was twice the size of her other one. Black and blue patches covered her foot and lower leg.
“It doesn’t matter really though. I’ll never use it again anyway, ‘cause there’s nowhere to walk in the bottom of a dried up old well.”
A fluttering noise came down the shaft from above. Bailey looked and saw something black standing beyond the grass covering. Then came the short, sharp caw of a crow.
“Leo!” Bailey shouted, ignoring how much her throat hurt now. “Leo,” you heard me!” Her excitement waned. “But what can you do, Leo? You can’t go tell my parents where I am, can you?”
The bird hopped around the opening, sending out its raucous announcement that the girl had been found. It leaned down and pecked at the grass as if to pull it back like a curtain, then flew away.
“I don’t know if I feel better or worse. Leo knows where I am. That’s something, I guess.” Bailey sat down. Calico and the kittens came to her, but all she could do was stare at the stone wall of the well.
Meg Peterson sat in the back yard, looking at the birdbath, the bird feeding station, all the things that Bailey loved here at their new house. Meg had cried all her tears. Now she could only sit and stare.
The crow landed a few feet away, but Meg wasn’t interested in crows anymore. The bird approached her slowly. It lowered its head to the ground and dropped the gift in the grass.
“Leo, please, no more gifts. Bailey’s gone.”
Leopold picked up the gift and dropped it again, as if insisting the woman pay attention.
Meg sighed and picked it up, holding it in her palm. The white pearl, plastic button from Bailey’s shirt shined in the sunlight that filtered through the trees. This button had been a gift from the crows to Bailey, and Meg had sewn it onto Bailey’s shirt to hold the pocket closed.
The crow flew to the edge of the yard and waited. Meg turned to the house and shouted to her husband,
“Pete, Pete, come quick!”
Bailey’s mother and father ran after the crow as it led them through the trees. Finally the bird landed on a rock protruding above the tall grass. As the humans approached, it flew a little further and settled onto the ground.
Bailey was still staring at the stone wall of the well when she heard the familiar flutter of wings and looked up to see that Leo had returned. The grass was suddenly swept away like the parting of storm clouds, letting the sun shine through, except it wasn’t the sun that was beaming. It was the faces of her Mom and Dad.
Bailey and her parents sat in their back yard watching the crows eat at the bird feeder. The calico cat slept in Bailey’s lap while the kittens played nearby. Her ankle was neatly wrapped, and crutches lay on the ground next to her chair.
Pete broke the silence.
“You’ve had a few days to think about your ordeal, Bailey. Do you have any pearls of wisdom to share with your Mom and me?”
Bailey stroked the calico as Leo dropped a shiny penny into her hand. She examined it carefully and said,
“Good friends and family…. that’s all that really matters.”