Chapter Seven



I woke with a start. A dream refuses to fully fade, sitting just outside of memory but in the corner of my eye. Something said at the end of it shocked me out of it, but now I can’t remember what it was. My cheeks are wet with tears and my mouth tastes like metal. She’s out of town for work so maybe it was just that? Sleeping in the bed alone with her half a country away? I wave at my phone on the nightstand and it tells me I’m waking up later than usual. I lay there debating whether I have time to laze for a minute. I decide I probably do but get up anyway and put the phone in the pocket of my shorts. It occurs to me that I might just want some distance from the bed and that dream.

I peek around the door and they’re all still asleep. The noise machine stopped working in the night but they all seem to be pretty out. We’ve got time yet, so I move away softly. They’re all growing so fast I wonder sometimes if one day I’ll wake up and they’ll be brand new people.

On my way to the living room I double check my oldest’s backpack for his project. They’re studying the ecosystem and food chains. He made a poster illustrating the life cycle of frogs. He was so excited about presenting it he had a hard time falling asleep and wanted to make sure I set an alarm (which I didn’t do) so we wouldn’t be late to school. We’re not late yet, so no harm on that one.

I’m opening the curtains in the living/dining/play room when he staggers to the couch. He has his usual post-sleep dazed expression, though with much deeper circles under his eyes than usual. After a few moments he whispers that he doesn’t feel good - “I feel over the weather” - and can he stay home from school. I remind him he has his presentation today and doesn’t he want to teach all his classmates about frogs? He says again that he doesn’t feel good and wants to stay home. He looks paler than usual and everyone else has been sick recently so I ask him what hurts and he tells me his throat hurts and that he has a headache - “my brain hurts” - and he doesn’t want to go outside. That he had a dream that wasn’t a dream and he’s scared of what’s happening. Before I can ask him what he means he tells me that they’re all gone and that without them everything is going to change: insects will multiply even faster and they’re going to swallow up the trees; the squirrels and rabbits and stoats (how does he know what a stoat is?) are going to grow bigger and eat all the nuts and grass and the trees that survive the bugs won’t be able to reproduce - “they’ll stop having babies”; that people won’t realize anything is happening until it’s already well-past time to do something - “people never do anything ever” - and even then the adults will argue whether anything is really changing; that it all started here and his friends will start to hate him and his teachers ignore him and he saw all of their birthday parties but never got invited to one again; that the skies get darker and the ground gets dustier and no one goes to the beaches anymore. He tells me that he doesn’t want to go outside or go to sleep ever again.

After he finishes he sits there for a moment, his big brown eyes wet with tears. I stand there, not knowing what to say or what parent thing I’m supposed to do. It’s then that I see his brother and sister standing in the doorway, both dazed and pale. They all look and act so much alike, but this pallor seems to emphasize their differences: the oldest with his dark eyes, the middle with his oval face, the girl with her strong jaw. The younger boy says his head hurts and that he’s scared of the bugs. My little girl says in her husky-not-quite-a-real-person-yet voice she doesn’t ever want to go to the beach again. My phone lights up with a text from my wife and instead of saying “Good morning. Talk before kids to school” it states that she feels ill and had a terrible dream about birds.

And I remember the beating of wings and the dread rushing over me and holding her and them and feeling them fade away and before I hear the words that woke me up I close my eyes to fight the memory and keep the tears walled in.

I open them and look at my oldest. He looks at me with bright blue eyes. And he says the words that keep us inside all day, that keep me awake for the next week, that change everything about how we move through the world, that woke me up from the dream: “Birds of a feather.”


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