The Provincial

I flinched as I heard a thud, followed by mad fluttering. I cautiously approached the kitchen window, and peered through the murkiness outdoors. A massive black bird lay on the ground, flapping his wings, but unable to right himself. The poor thing must have lost his bearings in this weather and flew into the the large picture window. His fluttering became erratic, then slowed, and finally stopped.

The weather outside was dank and the ground covered in thick fog; not a day to spend outdoors by any means. It was, however, perfect for an evening inside with a good book and a cup of rich, hot cocoa next to a roaring fire. I had been waiting weeks for the local bookstore to re-stock their shelves with the new Fall releases. The phone call had come this morning, they had finally arrived. I threw on my coat excitedly, and headed for the truck to run to town. As I stepped outside, I heard the uncanny caw of a bird, somewhere, far off.

I was not disappointed when I arrived. A reader’s paradise stood before me. I strolled through the aisles and quickly spotted something that drew my attention. Flipping open the jacket, I read as the words sprang to life. This was it. The clerk rang my order and placed my new treasure in a plastic bag to protect it from the weather along with a black and white, cardboard bookmark. A picture of a lone black raven on a single dead branch showed on the front; the bookstore name, The Provincial Keep, stamped on the back. I looked down into my bag at the raven again. It’s black, beady eyes gazed straight into my soul, trying to convey a sense of foreboding, a warning, an omen. A shiver ran through me. I shook my head and laughed out loud at my own ridiculousness; how very cliché.

As I stepped out from the store front, the cold, sodden air assaulted my cheeks. Climbing into the early model pick-up as quickly as my 5 foot 2 inch body allowed, I started the engine, cranked up the heat, and turned out the lot onto RR2 to head home. The road was slick and the visibility blind with the dense fog. I put on my fog lights and proceeded slowly, with caution.

The cab quickly warmed, but I couldn’t help but feel the shiver that lone raven had left deep inside me. I gave the knob on the radio a half turn and listened to the local station, hoping to drown out the chilling creep that was inching up my spine and into my brain. I drove until I spotted the drive of my Grandparents home; flooded with warm relief. This had been my home since I had been six; the day my parents had dropped me off, never to return.

I stepped into the mud room and removed the layers of my damp, outdoor clothes; trading lined galoshes for warm, fuzzy slippers. I grabbed my new book and headed straight for the the overstuffed sofa. Grandfather had already built a roaring fire to keep out the chill and I found a steaming cup of hot cocoa waiting for me on the side table. He knew me well and I loved him for it. I wrapped my hands around the steamy mug and sipped; it’s warmth spread through my body like a hug. I opened the cover to my new book and pulled a quilt from the back of the couch over my lap. My furry lifelong companion, Pocus, seized the opportunity and jumped onto my lap, kneading the quilt until he had made the perfect nesting spot. He settled and began to purr, his eyes slowly blinking in pure bliss. I was quickly transported to another time, another place, as the story absorbed me.

I felt a sudden shiver roll through my body. The blood in my veins instantly turned to ice as goosebumps riddled my flesh. I had felt this when I looked at the raven earlier. It was the feeling of being watched that had been so unsettling. Pocus had felt it as well. His purring ceased. The fur on his back raised as he lowered his body in a defensive stance. His ears perked in attention; his tail beat wild against my leg. We were not alone.

Pocus bolted from the sofa and sent my cocoa crashing to the floor. I felt my heart pound in my chest and the blood drain from my extremities as I shuffled to the window in the kitchen. My pupils dilated as a silent scream tried to built in my throat. I saw him. In the fog, stood a lone man, watching. My voice, shaking with weakness and barely audible, came in a raspy whisper; “my father.”

My Grandfather came to my aid, wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me close. As my world started to lose color and turn dark, I heard him, his voice hushed and calm, “No child, he is the Provincial.”

By Tracey Koehler

From: United States

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