Chapter One and Chapter Two

or ravens?




by Phil Austin



Chapter One


“Bunky Beaver’s always grinnin’

That great big toothy smile

Slappin’ down his flat ol’ tail

To make you stay awhile”

From the town of Beaverteeth
“Visitor’s Guide”




When he was feeling down (which had been much of this winter past) Chester Honeyacre would say – particularly in one ill-considered instance to his then-current girlfriend Lorene Supplemeir – that Beaverteeth was a little shit nothing of a town made even smaller and more inconsequential by a huge and threatening mountain. It was less than zero, he said, a minor village forever overshown by the larger and thoroughly more picturesque and coastal cities of the mighty Puget Sound. It was a little place weighed down with the peculiar burden of a funny name and it was overhung by a volcano, whatever else you wanted to call it.

“The world is still laughing,” Chester had said with a wry smile, hoping she wouldn’t figure out exactly how bad heíd been feeling lately. Lorene Supplemeir got nervous when Chester grinned and talked like this, for all that she thought he was a really super guy. She thought the name Beaverteeth was cute anyway, super cute.

“I don’t see what’s so wrong with it, Chester. I mean the teeth part is bad, I suppose, but the beaver part is really kind of neat, I think. Super neat,” she’d said, firmly.

Chester truly, deeply disliked the name Beaverteeth. He was not alone in this regard, although the incessant elections and referendums over the years had not persuaded a majority of the town’s voters to change The Name. Many of these benighted citizens – more than he cared to admit – thought The Name cute and good for business. Certainly the staggering amount of both clever beaver and cunning dental paraphernalia in the drug and gift and T-shirt stores of the town attested to the maniacal attraction of what Chester felt was a monumentally stupid and shortsighted view of the matter. He would never be so swayed. The beaver must go, he thought.

“The town should have some pride and some respectability,” he told her. “Leave the beaver to the State of Oregon, a large state that can never be important simply because it is the Beaver State.”
“Don’t be so stupid, Chester, she said. “Now you’re just being stupid.”

In truth, Chester thought that a strong man, a hero, (which is how he liked to think of himself) could not logically spring from a place named after a comical or sexual animal. The town of Beaverteeth had become characterized, in fact, by caricature. He did not wish this fate upon himself.  It was not his fault. He was a hero in a funny town, he was not a funny hero, that was the way he looked at it.

Nothing so neatly lends itself to a certain kind of regional humor as a creature with big buck teeth, whether a bare-foot yokel in a torn straw hat chasing a buxom young gal or a boyish beaver with a big head, bigger front teeth and a grin as wide and mischievous as Washington State itself, he thought, and the depths into which the town had sunk when it approved the creation of a caricatured mascot were deep waters indeed. In every little potpourri and curio shop on Crocus Street, the caricature lurked. In all the taverns or the cappuccino bars, on the outside of the high school gym, on every other float in the annual Beaverteeth-to-Midden Pioneer Parade, on every piece of paper that Chester sent out in his job as Official Publicist of Beaverteeth, Washington, on every trick ashtray or dishtowel or oven mitt in town, there was the imprint of the grinning, squat, buck-toothed, cute-as-a-pie mascot known as Bunky, the Beaverteeth Beaver.

“Bunky is just about the cutest little guy anyone ever saw,” Lorene Supplemeir had said, her voice rising a little.

“Bunky,” Chester replied with what he hoped was a neutral smile, “is a God-damned rodent.”
“He has a great smile and funny teeth. And he has a big old flat old tail and when he slaps it like in those TV commercials for the Fair, it makes me laugh. I have a sense of humor, Chester!” She didn’t, he thought. She thought she did, but she didn’t. It was but one of the reasons their romance was not panning out exactly.

“I know what you’re going to say,” he said glumly. ” You’re going to say what all the people in the Cute Beaver Faction say. That’s what’s so cute about Bunky, the Beaverteeth Beaver, they say. He’s just as dumb and mischievous and – above all – cute, as your own kid was when his head – large as it certainly is – was too small for his two front teeth. Plus, beavers built this valley with their clever engineering and logging abilities, just the way your kid will when he grows up, right?”
“Gee, Chester, I don’t see what’s so wrong with that.”
“Did I say something was wrong with it?”
“Don’t yell at me, Chester. It’s your tone of voice lately.”








“Raven flies over the land

Ravens fly over the water

They are hilarious people

He got a good deal

They got a good deal

He bought that car at

Towhead Beech Honda

Over in Puyallup, they say.”

Traditional song of the Squilimuk Nation

(by permission of the Squilimuk Tribal
Advertising Office, Gorgeville WA)


“So,” the young girls would say and like a fool he would think that their young breasts seemed to ask for him as well, like two gentle bookish girls asking for daring literature at the little library down in Beaverteeth in an age long past.

“So. Wow,” they would say. “What kinda car is that?”
Chester Honeyacre would pause. He would have mixed feelings, breasts or no. He believed in the big engines of Detroit and the innate wisdom of their designers. He had driven big American cars his entire life (a life not close to over nor much closer to its beginnings.) So, he was ashamed. This damned car was not an American car. It was a frankly foreign product; a foolish, smallish sports car. It was not a muscle car. It was not made by Chevrolet or by Ford. It had no place in the myths and lore of Western men of his generation, of his age. It was frankly a riceburner. (It had a stupid and embarrassing name probably invented by designers in Japan wearing matching suspenders and horn-rims in their chillingly modern offices. They would have probably researched the Romance of the American West, he thought, and found there the legend of The Drifter, riding proud and free, free especially of the sort of schoolmarm – or any sort of marm – who might feel that instead of a Drifta X50-CZ1 he should have purchased an SUV or sensible mini-van in which he’d carry her and their prospective children and all the many possessions he’d somehow be able to come up with. To hell with them, he had thought, at the time. To hell with all the marms, breasts or no. Still, he had come to hate the Drifta, especially its name.)

He would pause as well, feelings mixed, because he did not want to convey at all to the Young-Woman-Who-Hopefully-Asked that the automobile in question was precisely the kind of foolish purchase too often made by an older man but recently and wrenchingly divorced.

The intelligent young women of the present, he had learned, were neither sexually nor in any other way aroused by this sort of knowledge. And the fact that he had actually, unbelievably, purchased the car from his ex-wife’s new husband might certainly make him the butt of jokes by young and attractive and intelligent young women who might then pity him as a fool and so not want to actually get into the Drifta and zip over to his vaguely depressing divorced-guy apartment above the bakery on Honeyacre street to try and have some fun.

Maybe the damned little insect-like thing had been a mistake but, he told himself, he had needed to strike back at life somehow. He’d needed to drag something of his former self up out of the void of his present life, something of the younger, athletic and daring self he used to be. He needed to stand his shaken, bleeding self up on its twitching hind legs and have it show some courage, some balls. And while he had not needed to edge any deeper into the appalling abyss of debt over which he hung suspended, Chester Honeyacre had still convinced himself that he needed this car like a man who knows he must paste a slap-happy smile across his foolish face and edge back out into a world sniggering at the pathetic idiot he has become. He told himself he needed to attract not only business with this fancy and expensive little car, but also newer and younger women. And he might throw these things right in the face of Towhead Beech – his ex-goddam-wife’s new husband – by buying the car from the little bastard himself. As well, the sporty car would help him appear desirous of imaginary intelligent young women with friendly breasts, so that he would not be considered by the whole town ofBeaverteeth to be someone who was thinking only of his ex-wife, Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre, which was the actual fact of the matter.

In this fast and brazen little car he was not angry at Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre, not trying to get her back, not obsessed with her, not hurt and angry and insane; neither was he just some charming, nicely beat-up older dude in a classic car. He was a carefree person on the loose, younger than his increasing baldness made him seem, looking for girls, free at last. He was as modern as the future itself, or so he hoped.

On the beginning of the Spring day of his great vision, early on this day of days, he had inexpertly braked the little foreign Drifta to a skidding, swirling spectacular stop in order to angrily confront men digging a great hole by the side of a road on the outskirts of Beaverteeth in the State of Washington. The day was a raining-not-raining kind of day, the kind of day in which intermittent windshield wipers are usually a stunning success, the two wands supposed to lurch up every few seconds in order to clear the vision, but Chester could not seem to work them correctly. They slashed across the windshield like shrieking Cossacks.

(Driving the stupid car, from the beginning, had been something of a crapshoot. He’d never learned its precise rules of operation, no matter how clearly presented in the clever little diagrams decorating every knob and lighted button. Each diagram seemed to change meaning randomly, to invariably have some different meaning than he’d previously imagined. The worst was, once in the car, all he ever seemed to actually do was think of Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre.)

The leader of the men Chester skidded to a stop to confront was an oddball, a person whose name he had never been able to remember quite. The man’s most distinguishing and remarkable feature was the way he would write – with blue ball-point pen – on the skin of his own hands and wrists. Chester could not even remember where he knew the man from and was only guessing that he worked for the City of Midden, Department of Something-Or-Other (Holes-in-the-Ground?) which, you would think, could afford notebooks and clipboards – not to speak of little computers – with which to take notes and do figuring. Chester was normally excellent with names, but not with this odd man’s. He thought of him only as The Guy Who Writes on Himself. Indeed, when he first spotted the workers digging, his attention was focused immediately on the man’s eerie hands, each adorned with inky blue tracks and the phone numbers and admonitions and notations, like ritual tattoos, which were the mystical symbols of his trade, whatever it was.

The Guy Who Writes on Himself was a great stout person with a white beard and a white ponytail and a generally commmanding nature, who on this morning was firmly in charge of a troop of safety-hatted City of Midden workers, directing them in the excavation of a huge hole in a place along the Old Midden Road that was certainly under the jurisdiction of Clay Baby County, certainly part of The Original Honeyacre Farms and certainly on the outskirts of the town of Beaverteeth. By no stretch of the imagination was it in the City of Midden, which was a good god damn twelve miles away.

They have no right to dig there, thought Chester, as he was driving. And then his head began to expand as if to fill up the entire inside of the little car. Anger flooded him like boiling water. His head seemed to itself to be filled with helium. He briefly wondered what it was inside him that could notice and reason and still not be connected with his actual head. Whatever it was noticed as well that it was filled with rage. What was wrong? Was he ill? Was it ill? He never got sick, nothing ever happened to him, he was invulnerable, he was a horse, he was in excellent shape. He didn’t know what kind of shape it was in, however. Gasping and expanding and choking with rage, he tried quickly to find the Drifta’s lower gears, which – like the windshield wipers – seemed to have changed location and meaning overnight. He jammed at the gearshift and his feet searched for the brake pedal and the clutch as if they were reversed. His head seemed the correct size again but his mind raced at light-speed. Old angry bile surged up his craw, its appearance provoked – he was certain – by the encroachments of the City of Midden, the hated civic enemy, on the innocent village of Beaverteeth. The car jerked and the transmission shrieked like hell itself, but miraculously he slowed. With Time itself stretching out, for once he seemed to have all of it he needed; time enough to see that the Guy Who Writes on Himself was being attacked by a local woman he knew, a woman whose name was Annie Bob, a woman who was one of those unfortunate Squilimuk Indian tribal members whose homes and Smoke Shoppe had been wiped out in the terrible hot mud avalanche that had come roaring down the Imaginary River from a steam vent up on Stick Mountain the day before, closing down the Old Midden road not a hundred yards ahead.

The chattering little car made one swift complete circle and when he was again facing what he thought of as forward, he could see that Annie Bob had the big white-bearded man by one ear and was whacking away at his head with what looked to be a carton of cigarettes. Five or six City of Midden workers in bright orange hard-hats clambered down from their backhoes and skiploaders and tried to pry her off. The car spun again. The tires shrieked. The double white line flashed under him. Far down the road, through a tunnel cut in the dark forest, he could briefly see the flashing lights that marked the limits of the hot mudflow. He desperately spun the wheel the other way. A roostertail of sharp stones lifted up into the morning air and rained down upon the combatants, effectively bringing a quick peace. He was stopped. He was breathing very hard. He was exhilarated and very upset.

“Hey!” he shouted vainly. The windows of the Drifta were sealed shut because he couldn’t figure out how to get them open. “Hey. Is everything ok here?”
“Well, hi. Hey, Chet,” called out this man whose name he could not remember. Chester hated being called Chet. He wrenched his big body out of the little car. He was sweating and shaking and his head was buzzing like an enlarged hive of bees.

“Hey, it’s sure great to see you. Good thing you happened along,” said the smiling man. “Jesus Christ. I thought this old babe was gonna kill me. New car?”
“You goddamn son of a bitch!” snarled Annie Bob, struggling not so much with her opponents as to get a cigarette into her mouth. Her aged arms were pinned to her sides by an apologetic looking man who – according to the stitching above his pocket – was named Broccoli.

”     You can let her go, she’s all right,”Chester said and Broccoli relievedly did.

“Now, look. This is Beaverteeth. It always has been. It’s the County anyway,” stuttered Chester.

“Not any more, Chet. Wasn’t this your family’s place right here?” asked the Guy Who Writes on Himself.

“It used to be Honeyacre Farms, if that’s what you mean.”

“Well,” said the Guy Who Writes on Himself, “Honeyacre Enterprises sold it to the City of Midden. Done and over. It’s developable, so they say. It’s achievable, their objective. That’s what I hear.” He chuckled a little too jovially as he pulled out a ball-point pen and carefully wrote something on a vacant patch on the back of his hand.

Annie Bob lit a cigarette with a heavy little brass lighter.

“Don’t be ignorant,” she said. “Get out, go out in the world, go to California, go to Nevada. Learn things. Broaden your horizons.”
The man with blue hands looked at her uneasily. “Is she talking to me, Chet?”
“He hates being called Chet,” said the old woman sociably.

They had all calmed down. The man accepted a cigarette without comment from the old woman. She was listening intently now with an amiable look on her clever face. She handed out cigarettes to all the orange-hatted men and they took them whether they smoked or not, each just happy to have peace on the site. The wind was gusty and the sky alternately clear and then filled with huge white sailing ships of blowing clouds plowing majestically through the spring day. In the woods there were still dogwoods and wild cherries heaped with violet and white flowers. The wind bent the many fir trees far overhead and made them whistle. Underfoot were ferns and the various fleshy mushrooms of the season. From down the road came the odd wet smell of steam and boiled mud.

“Goddamn sons of bitches,” muttered Annie Bob. Chester hoped she wasn’t referring to the Honeyacres of Honeyacre Farm even though he, like most people in the Squilimuk Valley, thought they were sons of bitches, too.

“Not my side of the family. I’m a Poor Honeyacre,” he said.

Annie Bob snorted like a horse.

“What about my horse?” she muttered mysteriously.

Now his head began to feel strange again, his eyes seemed too wide for his face.

Everything went away except for Annie Bob. Several big black birds shrieked and tried to land in the hole, looking for crow treasures. Chester’s head mentioned to him that he had best keep up the conversation or people would suspect that something was seriously wrong with him.

“What horse?” Chester said as if he didn’t know, which he didn’t exactly, although he had known Annie Bob all his life and was used to the fact that she remembered pretty much everything. She was staring up at him curiously. He tried desperately to make sense of what she was saying, but his head seemed only to want to watch the black birds dive and flutter and yell at one another.

“That was a good horse, a horse you could depend on,” Annie Bob muttered. “That horse could weed the garden and could dry dishes with his tail. I had a dish once and I know.” She stopped and stared straight ahead.

“Get off my land,” she said evenly, to all of them or perhaps none of them.

“But I told you, ma’am,” said the Guy Who Writes on Himself. “This mud is Midden land. Seriously, it’s technically City of Midden mud now because the creek is part of the City of Midden Water Resources Area, like everything up above here and all this mud is our mud, if you see what I mean. It’s not Reservation mud, for instance. It’s not Beaverteeth mud either. And it goes into the hole on the deeded property the City of Midden acquired legal and aboveboard, a hole we enlarge in order to make bigger and fill in order to make smaller. In fact, it’s no damn hole at all. And you’ve got to know that the Honeyacres sold us the no-damn-hole legal and fair and aboveboard. It’s Midden mud going in a Midden hole, if you see what I mean. It’s that kind of a deal.” He stared at the old woman, but his attention was on Chester.

“Chet, is this lady, you know, on medication or welfare or something?” His voice became conspiratorial, man to man.

“She’s an Indian, if that’s what you mean,” said Chester, feeling suddenly better. He breathed deeply. Let the goddamn Cat Honeyacres sell off the family holdings. Fuck them and the cat, he thought, it was none of his business.

“Whatever,” said the Guy Who Writes on Himself pleasantly enough. Annie Bob blew smoke rings in a sloppy and annoying fashion now, as if she’d lost interest. She had on a sweatshirt that read “Kiss me, I’m Danish!” across her old breasts. The big man named Broccoli dispersed the other men and they gratefully went back to the dark-green-with-yellow-stripes Midden Public Works trucks and backhoes, some of them holding unsmoked cigarettes, others crushing butts into the sodden gravel. It was starting to rain again, harder now.

“This is crazy,” Chester said. “Does this mean the Old Road is Midden’s now, too?” The man made a note of something on the back of his left hand. He was evidently ambidextrous as all hell.

“Pretty much. I read about your troubles in the paper, Chet,” he said, kindly enough. “I’m just sorry to see a man get ate up so bad by a woman.” Chester wanted to get mad.

“You know,” he snarled. “All you guys are doing here is effectively expanding Midden’s city limits. It’s the same dodge that you tried before when you annexed the airstrip. It’s all part of the same master plan because you know that Boeing or Microlimp is going to want to build out here someday, right?” The man looked at Chester curiously.

“No way, Chet, do I know anything about that. Now, I don’t know squat about the parade, that’s more your department, but so far as I can see that’s the only deal that’s going to have to change, it’s going to have to find a new route. This road’s gotta be considered a volcanic damn hazard now. It could happen again. We’ve got to abandon this road and guard it so no one gets buried alive or whatever out here. Most people use the freeway now anyway. And, it’s just too expensive to clear that mudflow, see? Plus, we’re sorry about it. We don’t want you people inconvenienced out here. So, we just let some of it go into a hole and harden up, but the rest of it stays where it lays. That’s the deal now. Return to nature. It’s environmental or something. Some kind of mental.” He smiled to himself at the eternal idiocy of desk-bound theorists and dreamers, those poor saps who are not Out In The Field. “No,” he said. “I’ll see you at the parade this year, Chet. I expect I’ll be on the Public Works Float per usual. No, no. We all enjoy that parade. But it’s gonna need a new route, or something.”

“What are you talking about?” snarled Chester. “Too expensive? You expect me to believe that? It wouldn’t take more than a week to clear the road. I can’t reorganize the parade at this late date!”
“Well, of course, I’m not the right person to talk to, Chet. You’d best find someone at your own level. Civically speaking.”
Chester could tell the conversation was over. By this time, Annie Bob had padded across the road and while the men started up their bulldozers again, Chester walked across after her and asked if she was alright. She said that she was alright, thank you, and she asked if anyone had succeeded in killing his father yet and Chester assured her that in fact his father had died not so long ago. She laughed that old laugh. She had never liked Bud Honeyacre much and neither, for that matter, had he.

“Whole hell of a lot of mud,” she said. “Burning mud.”
“I was coming out here to see you,” Chester said. “I heard you were alright, but I wanted to see you.”
“You hear what happened to me?”
“Your whole place got wiped out, that’s what it said on the TV. Is Jimmy ok?”
“Not my TV. My TV is buried under more mud than there ever was. I’m an old woman. They shouldn’t do this to me.”
“I hate Midden,” he said.

“I don’t know where Jimmy is except it’s down way south somewhere in California, the land of wine and cheese explosions.” The old woman stared at the ground, tapping one foot. It was the foot with the bunny slipper with real bunny eyes and a nose that one of her many dogs must have chewed off. The other slipper was a big furry thing with a smiling face, perhaps a horse.

“I heard about all your troubles, Chester,” she said. “And I want you to know I’m real sorry about them.” He couldn’t tell, as usual, if she was just being sarcastic.

“I’m ok. I’m great. I’m fine,” he said unconvincingly. “I just hope she’ll be happy now.”
“Happy, hell!” the old woman snorted. “She’s rich and you’re poor, she took you for everything and it turned out you didn’t even know the value of your own name, that’s what I heard. You are an actual idiot, that’s what they say about you, kid.”
The old woman turned abruptly and moved away with little rolling steps into the rain, toward the flashing lights and the steaming mudflow. He had forgotten to ask her for a cigarette. He didn’t even smoke anymore, so what the hell. It was raining harder. Annie Bob had been giving him cigarettes since he was a kid because her family owned the Squilimuk Happy Camp Smoke Shoppe and that’s where the kids of his generation always went over on this end of town when one of them first got a bike or had access to a horse or a car or a tractor or something, to get cigarettes at Annie Bob’s. They hung out there with her kid Jimmy Bob – usually known as Witchy Jim – in those days when bicycles and tractors were everything. And cigarettes.

Chester Honeyacre stood in the rain for a minute and watched the hole get bigger so that it might then get smaller. He tried not to be enraged. It was just a big hole in the ground filled with shrieking birds, a volcanic false alarm, a battleground of municipal warfare, a re-routing of a parade which was about the only income-producing job he had left. This was all he should see, he thought, unless he wanted to be concerned about his expanding head and his sudden thoughts of mortality and insanity, which he didn’t. Maybe he was going insane. A chilling thought, but useful. Maybe it would serve her right, she’d see how hurt he was for sure if he was to Go Insane. He was fearful and angry and alone, feeling time passing by, feeling powerless in general, in the rain, going crazy, not wanting to be sick, trying not to brood about Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre, the bitch.

He went back to the car and grabbed his crumpled jacket from the little area that should have been a back seat and walked up to the mudflow. It was still steaming. The angry mudflow had come boiling and sloshing without warning down the creek called the Imaginary that was just a little stream really. Chester Honeyacre enjoyed an exactness with words and he realized that the historic mudflow would probably be called the Imaginary Mudflow for as long as men would care and that made him laugh to himself.

Annie Bob had disappeared. There were flashing lights on sawhorses, orange lights and yellow police tape lines and notifications and four hundred visible yards of seething hot mud, still steaming, still dangerous, still moving slowly downstream. Cops kept him back. They were State Patrol boys but he couldn’t bring himself to joke with them, although he was usually good at joking with cops.

He stood with his hands in his pockets and tried to figure out if any of the Smoke Shoppe was still to be seen. It was buried, it was gone. Intent young people, probably from the University of Washington over in Seattle, prodded at the mud, measuring it and taking its temperature. He didn’t know why, but he was worried about Annie Bob, although Old Man Petersunn always said that it was stupid to actually worry about anyone who’s over eighty years old. Across the mudflow, on land that was technically part of the Squilimuk Nation Tribal Reservation, he could see the old clapboard houses guarded by the thousand someday-to-be-useful old cars and other saved objects that often surround the homes of reservation dwellers all over the West. Old man Quilt and the Petersons’ houses, he could see, were standing. The Bob’s cousin’s place was intact. Mrs. Squaekum’s place was tilted, but upright. There was no Annie Bob house, no Happy Camp Smoke Shoppe. On this side of the creek were deep woods, deep maple woods actually, since most of the firs had been logged off some thirty or forty years ago. He had on his rubber boots – he wore them all the time what with a wet winter turning to a wetter spring – and he stepped off the road and shuffled down a steep embankment and kicked his way through the knee-high wet ferns and brushy horsetails thinking the old woman must have gone that way. Every tree was flushed with new growth, the cedars and firs expanded with two inches of fresh green at the end of each drooping limb. High above him, in the tops of the huge trees, something exploded, something blasted out into the wet air. Herons, he thought. They hooted and hollered and flapped and lifted off. No, it was the crows again. Or were they ravens? What was the difference? He pushed into the thick woods, stepping up over fallen logs covered with moss and big lichens and mossworts which climbed and covered the massive trunks of the maples. Orange mushrooms, striped dangerous brown mushrooms, tiny little red mushrooms, big sloppy shelf mushrooms were everywhere. It was very dark and very wet and he looked up and it was as if he had stepped into some big room, some inside space in someone’s house he did not know, as if he were a child under a great table hung with a cloth that reached to the ground. He did not see Annie Bob.

Annie Bob had skeleton power or so they said. That’s why she looked like a skeleton. Chester could attest that she had always been old and skeletal as long as he had known her, which was certainly his entire life. Witchy Jim always said she refused to use the skeleton power. She refused to sing, although the betting in the family had always been that on her deathbed she would sing a pretty good song. God knows she’d always smoked a lot of free cigarettes. Chester had always figured that’s why she looked so skeletal. No, Jimmy always said, she had skeleton power.

Chester panted as he climbed and pulled his way up a little ridge under the towering trees.

“Annie Bob?” he called. His cracking voice was swallowed by the forest. He felt hot. He felt filled with heat. Overhead were the fluttering shadows of huge things. He looked up and saw the quick blur of more than one black bird. He heard screamings and cawings and chortlings and pops and clicks. Crows, he thought. Or were they ravens? What was the difference? His head felt as big as if it had been puffed up with air. His skin was thin and stretchy. He wondered if his eyes might eventually meet in the back of his head. The black birds screamed. He tripped suddenly over a wet root or branch either by accident or because something lying hidden in the ferns had grabbed his foot. He fell more quickly than he could think, face down into black mud.

Then his head stepped away from his body, just like that, and continued on down some path of its own choosing.