This story is by Brodny Iveans and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
It was Adhama’s first day of 4th grade, her first day at Middlebrook Elementary and her first time driving through her new home of Oakvale. She thought of her previous neighborhood; crowded, loud and unkempt as she marveled at the pristine world rolling lazily by. The car window framed manicured gardens, tire swings and playful puppies. Each home replaced by another equally extravagant, a living ViewFinder of an idyllic world she could not believe was to be hers.
“Ada…we’re almost to the school, make sure you have all your things together.” Her mother said, twisting towards the backseat to find a glassy eyed Adhama staring out the window. “Adhama! Are you listening?”
“Yes mama” she replied, zipping her oversized purple backpack shut. She took a moment to admire the cartoon unicorn emblazoned on the back, it was brand new. As were her blue jeans, black Monster High T-Shirt and pink and black light up shoes. Adhama leaned and stretched her neck to catch a glimpse of herself in the rear-view mirror. She smiled wide at her freshly braided hair. Neatly parted sections gave way to thick twists falling just above her shoulders. Adhama had picked out the pastel clips and bows herself and shook her head in approval as the car slowed to a stop.
Adhama hopped from her seat to the curb and stood tall surveying the school grounds. Crisp autumn air filled her lungs, the breeze explaining the uniform maroon blazers worn by the students. A nearby group stopped what they were doing and stood leering at Adhama and her family. She smiled and raised her hand to wave when they turned and resumed what appeared to be a rather lively game of dodgeball. Undeterred she started walking towards the playground only to be snatched back to the car when her mother grabbed the top of her backpack. “Where are you going? No goodbye? You too big for our ‘first day pics’ now?”. Adhama sighed and bounced from one foot to the other, waiting to catch her father’s attention before giving an exaggerated eye roll meant to convey her displeasure at missing even a second of recess. Her parents got in position, squatting to either side of her. Adhama shut her eyes tight and scrunched up her nose “get it over with” she mumbled. Her parents chuckled and kissed both her cheeks, her father holding up his phone to snap a pic. The shutter clicked and Adhama opened her eyes.
Her parents were gone, as was the car she had just exited. All the world was covered in white. Small, delicate snowflakes fell like ash obscuring the landscape in a blinding light. Adhama turned slowly in place, taking it all in. The snow was deep and she needed to find a landmark to point her in the right direction. In the distance she saw a cluster of trees and what looked like smoke rising beyond them. The pit in her stomach was subdued by the wonder of her first time seeing snow, she began her long trek in good spirits. Kicking up clouds of snow and giggling as she caught stray flakes on her tongue. She soon regretted it as her shoes filled with snow and her feet went numb. The rest of the trip was spent stamping and shaking her feet to keep them awake. Every few steps she checked her surroundings; left, right, over her shoulder almost hoping some intruder would break the monotony. By the time she reached what she assumed to be a grove of some sort, she was hungry and shivering. The smoke was coming from a nearby cabin “Maybe I can warm up in there” she said aloud, hoping the sound of her own voice would provide some measure of comfort.
What came instead were short bursts of high pitched trilling from every direction. Back and forth conversations, of what she didn’t know and didn’t intend to find out. Adhama ran. Before she took her first step something from above struck her square in the back of the head. She toppled over immediately and landed face first in the snow. There wasn’t even time to think of getting up before she heard ten to fifteen brusque landings all around her. This time the squawks more closely resembled laughter. She lay still, muscles tense, feeling their eyes on her. She was more embarrassed than afraid. The cackling died down and she could feel something approaching her head slowly. There was a sudden uneasiness in the air, as if there was genuine concern for her well-being. “It’s all fun and games til you fall and bust your head open and I don’t take you to the hospital ’cause I told you about playing on my furniture” her mother always used to say. Adhama was pretty sure that’s not how the saying went but she had no hard evidence to the contrary.
The thing was nearly on top of her now. Its breath a low but conspicuous rumble in the otherwise silent scene. It lowered itself and took hold of one of her braids, tugging gently. Adhama leapt to her feet, flailing her arms and slapping it away with the back of her hand. The creature, which she now saw was just an oversized owl with a curved beak, retreated in a panic. She brushed the snow off her face and clothes and examined her situation. There were about a dozen of the birds all staring at her with their heads cocked at odd angles. Now that she was up and moving again the onlookers felt free to babble on once again. The one who couldn’t keep his hands (or beak rather) to himself approached again, addressing her directly. It whistled and yelled, apparently angry at Adhama that he was not as brave as he thought. She listened patiently until it quieted down, watching and waiting for her apology. Adhama imagined a pair of fake eyebrows stuck to its face, they were angry. “Well NEXT TIME leave my hair alone” she grinned, punctuated by a playful toss of a snowball in the curious thing’s general direction.
The entire circle erupted, shrieking and taking flight. Adhama’s eyes darted back and forth trying to locate the warbling nuisances but they had disappeared into the trees. A couple deep breaths and Adhama was on the move again, unwilling to wait around to find out their intentions. Silver lining though, the adrenaline made her forget the cold. She was making great time toward the cabin when a hateful cry followed by a thudding blow between her shoulder blades knocked Adhama to a knee. She turned quickly but the culprit had vanished, warily she returned to her feet and pressed on. The cabin was close now, unconsciously her legs worked faster craving the warmth and relative safety of those four walls. To the right there was a beige blur moving towards her. She slowed and tried to duck out of the way but it was too late. Glare fixed on Adhama, barreling through the frigid air like a missile it spread its wings wide lifting itself upright. The owl extended its foot and one long jagged claw tore into Adhama’s cheek. She fell to her knees, blood glistening on the snow’s surface. Reaching up to inspect her wound she felt a chunk of flesh hanging by a thread. Her entire cheek was wet and warm but there was nothing she could do about it here.
She fought back to her feet and broke into a sprint as six owls swarmed. Eyes shut and arms out front guarding her face Adhama charged forward through a storm of wings. Her swinging elbows cleared a path as her fear turned to ferocity, sending three of her attackers spiraling out of control. two hit the ground unable to right themselves to rejoin the attack. The other flew head first into a nearby tree, connecting with a sickening crunch and hitting the ground motionless. Adhama opened her eyes and saw the cabin door a mere twenty feet away. She abandoned her “swing at anything that moves” strategy and ran as hard as she could. Bounding up the front steps, not slowing at all, she threw her shoulder into the front door and fell headlong into the cabin’s dimly lit foyer. She scrambled to her feet and slammed the door behind her before collapsing. Tears streamed down her face, her arms and legs burned. She hugged her knees to her chest and began sobbing when she heard a familiar voice.
“Adhama! Dinner’s ready!” her mother called up the stairs “I wanna hear all about your first day.”
Adhama wiped the tears from her eyes. “Coming Mama” she replied. Her hand shook as she scribbled ‘To be continued’ before dropping the pen and shutting her notebook. Adhama clasped the tiny plastic lock and hid the notebook under her mattress before heading downstairs. “It was great, what’s for dinner?” she said determined to leave today’s nightmare behind.