I am a hummingbird.
I am a small, winged creature that feasts on nectar, insects, and sugar water. I am grace. I am tact. I am innocence.
I am innocent.
My destination is ahead of me: my family’s winter home. The safe haven I’ve gone to every winter since I was young. Free from the cold, the dark, the scrutiny of winter. It is warm here. I am loved here.
I am loved.
The dense forest is a wonderful place. My wings have never beaten so fast, so strong, so wonderfully powerful; I can feel myself rise with every flap and glide in every pause. My long beak finds a black orchid, stealing the nectar from within the flower’s depths.
The air is still here. No wind to blow me around, the trees free me from such a curse. I finish my nectar, wings creating the only semblance of a breeze there is as I fly through a small clearing. The sliver of dawn’s earliest sun makes the grass sparkle and shine. I let out a contented chirp.
Across the clearing is my family’s nest. I can picture them in my mind’s eye, flying around or lazing about, preparing for the day ahead. They excite when they see me, when I dash to them, grateful that I’ve made it to the place I’d never flown to alone. They laugh and cry and ask me how I’ve been as we fly around, eating nectar and bugs.
It’s as if I can smile as I fly across the clearing, my daydream about to materialize.
“I’m here!” I pipe, stretching my wings wide, preparing for the warm embrace of family. I fly higher and higher, darting to where I know our nest is.
It’s not there.
In its place my family stands facing me, eyes blank but focused. My chest seizes up. My wings flap a little slower, my heart beats a little faster. I stare back at them. My mother, father, sister, brother…
What’s going on?
“Hello?” I land on the branch that my family stands on. Their heads follow my movement, eyes perfectly still. “I-I’m here, I made it.” I inject some enthusiasm into my statement, trying to awaken my relatives from their tranced state.
But then, my brother’s beak slowly begins to open. Actually, all of their beaks slowly open, and I should feel relieved, they’re going to respond. But there’s an eeriness to this, and within their mouths
exists the remnants of our nest.
“Guys…?” Desperation claws at my throat.
Their eyes set, and their beaks move in one fluid movement, five words I’d wished to never hear again.
“We know what you did.”
I dive from the tree.
The air is cold against my skin, penetrating my feathers, penetrating my soul.
How can they know? They’re so isolated, all of them, from society, from the news, they can’t know, it’s impossible.
Yet here I am, falling to escape them.
The ground approaches quickly, too quickly; the dim sun through the tree canopy makes everything dark but I can still see that the ground is approaching far too quickly.
I need more time to plan, to fall, to escape, but none comes. I’m left to decide at terminal velocity whether to live or die.
I think, for a moment, that letting myself go might be best, but the hoot of an owl returns me to the moment.
I am a hummingbird, and I am an owl’s prey.
Instantly, my resolve hardens and I turn, wings engaging as I dash away from the hoot. I cast a glance behind me and sure enough, an owl is perched on a branch barely a foot from me.
I stare at it, waiting for it to prey on me.
Instead, it speaks.
With a voice I’ve never heard before, but one I’m sure I know, “Dr. Kayla E. Daniels, beloved birdwatcher of New Salem, North Dakota, was found dead in her home on Wednesday evening of last week.”
There’s a heavy flap of wings behind me, and the chase begins. We fly through the forest, dashing around trees and foliage, the sun slowly rising above the horizon.
“Leave me alone!” I cry out, head spinning as I try to fly in a straight line, as I try to escape this messenger.
The owl speaks again, this time with another voice. “Police are investigating the prime suspect, Ruby Rose Falki, Daniels’s best friend.”
My heart beats in my ears, tree branches clawing my feathers away. “I told you, I told everyone, it was an accident!”
“Daniels was found with a ribbon around her neck, which was dyed red with blood.” Another voice.
The speed at which I’m flying is nothing short of unprecedented, and even with the world blurring and my head spinning, I can tell that the trees are getting closer and closer together. Just a few
yards more, and they should be tight enough to trap this owl.
My wings beat faster, the trees get tighter.
“I can’t keep your secret anymore.” Another voice, this time one I can put a name and face to.
“Police have begun a nationwide manhunt for the killer.” A reporter; my sister.
“Why… why are you doing this to me, Ruby?” Kayla.
Talons wrap around my body, and I am crushed. Consumed. Defeated.
The owl has bested me.
I am a hummingbird, and I have died.
I wake up in handcuffs.
Three men stand in my room, one of them cuffing my hands behind my back, my groggy, tired body unable to protest.
“Ruby Rose Falki, you are under arrest on suspicion of the murder of Kayla Elise Daniels,” one man says as he pulls me out of my bed and away from my bedroom.
As I stumble behind them, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror across my bed.
There is a red ribbon around my neck.
Written by Izzy Caldwell