Sarah stood over the dead crow, black feathers scattered about her bare feet. One by one she picked the feathers from the grass, the soft breeze shifting her simple dress, and carefully examined their beauty. Only the prettiest will do, she thought as she sang under her breath, a song of unintelligible words uttered to a melody of her own devising. The lone tree by which she stood barely clung to its leaves in the cold, gray air, and in the distance, the old barn stood hallow and decaying, the only structure in this lonesome clearing.
“Did you kill it?” came a trembling voice from behind her.
Sarah turned to see a boy, not much younger than her eleven years. With a twitch of smile she shifted her attention back to the feather in her hands, red hair shrouding her face. “Does it matter?”
She knew by his silence that she had unnerved him, but that wasn’t new. She wondered for a moment why such a boy, with dark hair and eyes and a doll-like innocence, was the only one to always seek her out as he did. She thought perhaps this time he would turn to run, but he stood there still, pulling at the cuffs of his coat.
“The book didn’t say to kill a bird,” he said.
“I know what the book says,” Sarah responded with a hint of annoyance. “And besides, I didn’t kill it. I just need the feathers.”
“Are you sure we should be doing this?”
“We?” Sarah stopped her examination and turned her sharp eyes toward him. “Why have you come, Benjamin? I thought your mother told you to stay away from me.”
Benjamin tensed under her gaze, his brow angled upwards. “They’re angry you missed church again.”
“Who?” Sarah shot back. “The Elders? My brother? Since when is he not angry with me? No matter what I do, he’ll find a way to punish me.”
Benjamin looked over his shoulder at the edge of the clearing, scanning the shadows of the trees. “If he found out that we’re—”
“He won’t find out.” Sarah’s eyes flashed in anger as she approached the boy until he was forced a step back. “Don’t you dare say a word about this.”
Benjamin cowered. “I won’t, I promise!”
“Good,” said Sarah, backing away from him. “Then help me choose between these feathers.”
Letting go of the feather in her hand, she crouched down over the grass, hardly noticing the cold of the strengthening wind.
“Let’s just go back already,” Benjamin pleaded. “It’s getting dark.”
As Sarah stood up her mouth twisted into a smile, and she twirled the last chosen feather before her face. “Alright, I’ll go. But remember, this is our secret. Once I’ve gathered all the ingredients, will you be ready? Or are you too scared?”
She laughed at his timid expression before brushing past his arm on her way toward the tree line. “Are you coming, or are you waiting for the wolves to come out?”
With small gasp, Benjamin broke his gaze off the feathery carcass and darted after her.