Birds Flying Across the Sun
Arthur lifted his gaze to the sky and watched as silhouetted birds flew across the sun, dread rising and chilling him to the bone, despite the warm rays. He had these sensations often and acknowledged them though he never understood their meaning until much later.
Arthur’s grandmother always said he had The Gift, like her. He should appreciate it and strengthen it, lest it fade and the consequences be detrimental. Arthur feared his Gift and as a child had suppressed it. Today he wished he’d listened to Grandmother. The Gift was now a tiny spark that wouldn’t flame, and when the anxiety tingled his spine and his hair stood on end, Arthur was helpless. Why should a flock of birds flying across the sun cause him so much fear?
“What type of birds are they?” Grandmother whispered in his mind; she was gone, yet still in there.
“Ravens,” he said aloud, and a tiny ember of comprehension flickered.
“What do ravens symbolize?”
“Bad luck. Messengers.”
The doors of his mind burst open, and images fluttered in his brain like a thousand ravens, culminating in the blazing red of an erupting volcano. Arthur held his head and gasped for air. His ears rang and his chest hurt and he took a few moments to pull himself together. Arthur tried to remember the images and put them in order, but they had flashed too fast, and his handle on them slipped through buttery neurons. Comprehension disappeared as fast as it came and left Arthur with heightened foreboding and anguish.
Arthur tried to shake the apprehension off as he rode his bicycle home, the sun setting in fiery beams behind him. If only Grandmother were here. If only he’d listened to her, if only he’d been braver and had honed his Gift like she’d said. He put the bicycle away. The image of a rifle against a wall flashed through his mind. He knew it was his rifle; his army rifle.
“War,” he mumbled, “there will be war.”
Against whom? Arthur thought of the news reports of the past few days; there was nothing suggesting war or trouble ahead, at least not in his neck of the woods. He opened the door and entered. He bent down to untie his shoes and muddy combat boots on his feet flared in his mind. Now he had the ‘who’ and the ‘what’. He hoped to figure out the ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ soon.
Arthur was in a daze as he packed his books for school the next morning; a cry from his mother brought him out of his preoccupation. Arthur rushed downstairs; Mother and Father were at the breakfast table. Father was reading the daily news and Mother’s hand covered her mouth aghast. Arthur inched closer, dreading the headline, but it reported tragedy, not war. He stifled a sigh of relief. The sinkage of the unsinkable RMS Titanic was no cause for alleviation though he felt it. Father put the paper down and mentioned something about the disaster while Mother set out the breakfast. Arthur turned the paper towards him and tried to read the headline, but the letters jumbled in his mind and formed new words:
“HEIR TO AUSTRIAN THRONE MURDERED: Archduke and His Wife Shot Dead in the Street.”
Father whisked the paper away before Arthur could glimpse the date.
“The ‘why’,” he said and his parents turned to him.
“Why?” Father asked, “Because it hit an iceberg.”
Arthur nodded. Father had never believed in The Gift and it was no use explaining, so he mumbled something about horrible misfortunes. Father harrumphed and buttered his toast. Mother sipped her coffee.
At school, the teacher assumed Arthur was as distraught as she about the astounding headlines. Arthur spent the morning shutting his eyes, trying to remember the news article so to find the ‘when’ but in vain.
The teacher ordered the students to take out their mathematics books and among its pages four numbers jumped out in bright blood red: 1914.
“Two years from now,” he muttered and Florence, the girl sitting beside him glanced at him.
“Two years from now, what?” She whispered, her eyes wide with concern, “Do you think it’ll be two years before they find all the dead?”
Arthur deliberated whether to tell her; he’d known Florence all his life, and she surmised there was more to him than met the eye.
Florence suspected Arthur knew things before they happened. She would never forget that day long ago, in the town center. He’d pushed her against a wall; a piece of the parapet a stone mason was fixing broke off and crashed to the ground, right where she had been. Florence kept her big inquisitive eyes on him searching for an answer.
“What will happen in two years, Arthur? Please tell me,” she whispered.
He took a deep breath,
“There will be war, and I will fight.”
Florence gasped, then turned to her book. After a few awkward moments Florence slipped him a note bearing the words, ‘who, what, where, when, why?’
Arthur placed a check next to the answers he knew and wrote a question mark next to ‘where’.
Florence read the note and nodded, then wrote: ‘against whom?’
“Germany,” Arthur answered with such confidence he surprised himself. His voice was hollow as if coming through a distant telephone line.
“Will you die?” She whispered.
The question shot through him and he saw the volcano he’d glimpsed before and understood it was his chest erupting blood and bone.
“Yes,” he said with a quavering voice and distant eyes, “I will die at war.”