In Crow Feather Tree

In Crow Feather Tree

By D.L. Brown

Copyright © by D. L. Brown, all rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the author.

Presented by D. L. Brown and Phantom Canyon Entertainment.

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are of the author’s imagination or are used factiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

            My name is Robbie Mills, and this is a brief written account concerning an overprotective cat, an odd tree, and a lonely old man. This will be the first and only time I record this story. From start to finish, everything happened over a three-month period. It ended with several police cars in front of our house and a coroner van in my driveway.

I suppose the logical starting point is the day my wife and I moved into our first home. At the time, Gloria was pregnant with our first child, and the due date was just around the corner. During the move, my friend Rick said the baby would arrive just as soon as the last box was emptied. He was close. My wife went into labor two days after I emptied that last box.

The delivery ended up being a thirty plus hour ordeal, but the result was a beautiful baby girl we named Clarissa. A little over a month after we moved in, found the three of us were struggling to find a functional routine. Eventually, we settled into a schedule that worked without leaving Gloria and I sleep deprived. Then the dreaded colic arrived, and the nightly turmoil left us all feeling quite distressed.

Around this time, several peculiar things occurred around the house. I will not detail each as many were repetitive. Instead, I will highlight unique examples to present a general picture of the situation. The first was an incident in the upstairs hallway that left me with a limp for a week. On that occasion, I had dozed off in my home office while watching television. It had been a long day at work, and I arrived home later than I expected. As self-punishment, I decided to make dinner and clean up afterwards.

Later than evening Gloria went to bed once the baby fell asleep. I decided to watch an episode of my favorite show but nodded off after twenty minutes. I found myself in a strange dream with a flying cat and frightened birds. The angry mewing of the cat suddenly morphed into a baby crying. I woke to the sound of Clarissa’s wails echoing down the hallway. I jumped up and barreled down the darkened corridor. At the same time Gloria exited our bedroom, my left foot collided with something sending me tumbling against the wall. She gave me a sleepy glance then continued into our daughter’s room. A moment later returned to the hall holding our Clarissa and flicked on the hall light.

            “What happened to you?” she asked staring at me as I lay sprawled on the floor.

            “I tripped on something.” I replied and rolled onto my side and rubbed my elbow and knees.

            “Looks like you tripped over yourself.” She entered our room and closed the door behind her.

I looked back down the hallway and saw nothing that could have caused me to fall. I stood and hobbled downstairs to the kitchen for an ice pack then sat at the kitchen table alternately icing each knee. I rehashed what happened in the hall. When no reasonable explanation presented itself, I chalked it up to being tired and trying to run on a hardwood floor in socks. But a nagging thought followed me to bed. My foot did hit something…something solid but pliable.

The next occurrence happened a few days later. It was a rare night when Gloria and I went to bed around the same time. She fell asleep quickly while lay half dozing and half reading. I set the book on the nightstand, removed my glasses and switched off the small lamp. Listening to the soothing sounds of the baby’s breathing flowing from the monitor was surprisingly relaxing and I soon drifting off to sleep. Something intruded upon my slumber. I listened for any especially troublesome noises then heard a new sound coming from the monitor, something rhythmic. I sat up leaning on one elbow concentrating on the sound. There was something vaguely familiar about it.

My brain rattled through long-stored memories until the right one percolated to the top. Purring. It was the sound of a cat purring in the baby’s room. I quickly ran through different explanations. Another nearby monitor, or a new toy like one of those heartbeat thingies. No, that made no sense, I thought. This sounded like a cat…purring. It still could be a new toy maybe. I rose out of bed and padded to my daughter’s room.

The door was slightly ajar, as normal. I opened it wide enough to slip inside. The soft glow of the night light provided enough illumination to see my beautiful daughter sleeping peacefully on her side. Just like me. I listened for about a minute, but the only sound I could here only her soft breathing. No purring. I stood there for a bit longer before returning to bed. When I finally fell asleep, my dreams were again filled with a flying cat and frightened birds.

The time between the next oddity was filled with intermitted and inexplicable thumps and scratching noises. I didn’t mention anything to Gloria mainly because she wouldn’t believe me. I wanted to tell her and tried several times but remained silent for fear of how she would react. That issue solved itself a week later. It was a Friday and I had just returned home from work. I set my backpack in my office and found her sitting on our bed with the baby monitor close to her ear. She was biting her cheek. It was an odd habit that only appeared when Gloria was worried.

            “What’s wrong,” I asked. She didn’t reply immediately, so I repeated the question.

            “Oh…uhm…nothing. I think there’s something wrong with the baby monitor,” was all she would say.

            “Maybe it needs new batteries or something. I will look at it after dinner,” I replied. It honestly didn’t occur to me she had had a similar experience as I.

            “I did that already.”

            “What wrong with it? Static or picking up errant signals?”

            “I kept hearing this weird noise like a rattling. I was concerned Clarissa might be developing congestion, but each time I checked on her there was no rattling, just her soft breathing.”

            “I heard that a few nights ago with the same result,” I said, “To me it sounded like the purring of a cat.”

            “A cat? How could it be a cat?”

            “I didn’t say it was a cat, it just sounded like purring.”

            “What are we going to do?” She asked.

            “I can go buy a new one after dinner,” I offered, “Maybe this one is faulty.”

            “Ok.”

I bought a better model that night and we still heard the intermittent purring sound. I suggested it might be signal static and since we could still hear the baby, we ignored the issue. The three of us developed a good routine over the next month. Clarissa was sleeping longer intervals allowing my wife and I some precious extra sleep. I still heard the occasional soft footsteps and errant thumps most evenings. I even found a few things knocked over, but never a reason. The next significant incident was unambiguously more definitive and came with a full measure of unease.

It had been another long day at work. After dinner, I washed the dishes while Gloria and our daughter went to bed to maintain their overnight routine. I plopped on the couch downstairs to binge watch a few episodes, but soon fell asleep. While the flying cat did not invade my dreams, I woke to the sensation I was being stabbed by tiny needles coupled with an unseen weight on my chest. I thought it might be a heart attack despite my age. I sat up quickly and heard a cat’s growl followed by the soft thumping of something running up the stairs. I followed the sound to the upstairs and looked down the darkened hall.

I caught a brief glimpse of my office light reflecting off a pair of eyes low to the ground before they disappeared into our daughter’s room. I feared a small animal had somehow found a way into the house. After flicking on the hall light, I quickly walked to Clarissa’s room. The soft glow of the night light illuminated the crib and little else. I hesitated a moment then switched on the nearest lamp. The dim light left more shadows than not. Fortunately, Clarissa did not wake. Tip-toing around the room I checked the corners and under the furniture but found nothing. I shrugged and headed back to the door.

As I passed the crib, a harsh spit and angry hiss startled me. I spun around banged my toe on the crib’s wheel and yelled out in pain. My daughter woke and began crying. I tried to sooth her back to sleep to no avail. Gloria walked in looking bleary eyed and asked what happened. I lied and told her I thought I heard her coughing and stubbed my toe. She did not reply, instead she picked up our daughter, sat in the rocking chair to feed her.

I returned to the living room and shut off the TV before heading to the restroom. While I brushed my teeth, I notice some small stains on my shirt. I pulled the collar down and saw several pin-sized spots of blood on my upper chest. With a dampened a washcloth I wiped the area. With the dried blood removed, the spots began to bleed again. I pressed washcloth in place until the bleeding stopped then lightly rubbed on some neomycin. I watched the wounds for a few seconds trying to figure out what happened. Again, no reasonable explanation presented itself, so I went to bed. For over an hour, sleep evaded me while I ponder this latest event.

The weekend arrived and with it a fair amount of yard work. I finished the back yard and moved to the front. Before starting, I exchanged a few pleasantries with my neighbor next door, Paul. He must have started earlier since he sat sipping a beer on his front porch. The benefits of being retired and a morning person he told me. I set about the yard work, and while mowing the lawn I saw the solitary tree had lost all its leaves. It was then I notice something peculiar about the tree. The upper branches and trunk were laced with large black feathers. There appeared to be ten or so embedded in the rough bark. I thought about asking my neighbor, but he had left the porch.

As I finished up, Paul ambled down his driveway pushing his trashcan to the curb. He waved and said something to the effect that the best thing about yardwork is when you’re done. I took the opportunity and asked about the tree, specifically the feathers. He initially retold why the tree had a pronounced 45-degree lean towards the porch. Something to do with a city tree blocking the sun and a lopsided hole. He said something about there being more than he remembered then explained.

It started with the former owner. I bought my house from a James Lattimer, more correctly his estate. I knew little else at the time. Paul told me Lattimer lived there with his wife for twenty or so years as empty nesters. About ten years ago his wife passed away and Lattimer became very reclusive. At some point his daughter gave him a cat to keep him company, but it wasn’t until his daughter had her first child that Lattimer became more personable again. This lasted until the she and her husband moved out of state. He quickly drifted back to being a recluse. He wasn’t rude, but generally refrained from idle conversation.

Paul’s tale changed to Lattimer’s cat. Apparently, it was a cul-de-sac legend. He couldn’t remember its name, but he was pretty sure it started with an ‘R.’ He asked me if I was familiar with cats and how territorial they can be. I told him I did. The cat defended the general area around the house but took special care to guard that tree. I asked from what. Birds, he said, but not all birds. That was the weird thing. Its sphere of protection was extended to a nest of hummingbirds.

I asked him what he meant. Normally, it’s in a cat nature to kill a bird just as soon as look at it, he told me. But for some reason, the cat left this nest alone. But it didn’t keep cats out of the tree. Apparently, Lattimer’s cat hated the local crow population. Being scavengers, a crow will take any opportunity for an easy meal. He pointed out the numerous black feathers in the branches. The more seasoned birds eventually learned to stay away, but occasionally a younger one made the mistake of trying to perch in his tree.

Paul laughed a moment and told me the Lattimer’s cat had a unique way to climb down. Well, not so much climb as jump. It would move to one of the lower branches then jump with its legs splayed apart like some feline flying squirrel. At those words, my face must have betrayed the shock I felt. He asked if something was wrong, but before I could explain, a frantic cawing sound erupted behind us from the tree.

We looked towards the trees and watched as a thin crow rose from an upper branch with a violent fluttering of its dark wings. While we stared, a single dark feather detached from the bird which flew off to join a group of crows crowded in the neighbor’s tree further up the street. The feather wafted about for several seconds before settling into a furrow of the tree’s rough bark, standing out against the light gray branch. I asked Paul if that was normal, and he replied, no.

I then asked if anyone else in the cul-de-sac have anymore more information about the former owner and his cat? He told me probably not but suggested I could get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Paul said that James Lattimer is a resident of the assisted living place around the corner just off the boulevard. He said he must be well into his nineties by now and probably won’t talk to you. At least it’s a short drive he added before saying goodbye and entering his house. I stood there for several minutes staring at the tree wondering how to pursue more information. Gloria and the baby were visiting the in-laws the next day, and I decided to strike while the iron was hot.

So, the next day, I found myself pulling into the rest home’s parking lot. I sat in my car for several minutes thinking through scenarios of impending interacting with the facility staff. My concern was they would not let me speak with Lattimer since I was not family. In the end, the best idea I could think of was to explain I bought his house and have some personal items he might want. Remarkably, it worked despite my feeling nervous.

Apparently, he’d had few visitors since he arrived, and they hoped my visit would help him in some way. The resident director explained he rarely spoke to anyone, staff or fellow residents. I immediately felt a measure of regret for conning my way in to speak with him and was certain this encounter would probably not end well. I was partially wrong, but horribly correct.

I followed a nurse down a surprisingly cheerful hallway where the doors were decorated to the likes of each resident. Many had pictures from their youth and relatives, mostly grandkids and such. A soft orchestral tune could be heard through the buildings speaker system. An odd thought popped into my head. How long will it be before you can enter a senior living facility and hear the rock music or a rap song. I chose not to hazard a guess.

When we arrived at Lattimer’s door it was a telling sign see it completely unadorned. No pictures or decorations of any kind, just a room number. The nurse gave a polite couple of knocks then called out his first name. In contrast to the door, his room was nicely decorated. Two large bookcases positioned on either side of a small desk accompanied by an old wooden chair took up most of one wall. The desk held a lamp, laptop and a large writing journal. A twin bed was ensconced in a dark corner of the modestly sized room. Other than a small dresser near the closet, the only other furniture was a comfortable armchair sat near the window.

In that chair sat an old man with thinning white hair and white stubble of someone who hasn’t shaved in a few days. He was hunched forward possibly due to some bone disorder, but I got the sense it was caused by the general distillation of trauma from living a life longer than those you loved or those who loved you. He stared at the nurse a moment then turned his bright green eyes upon me. It was the most penetrative stare I’d ever received. I tried to smile, but something stopped me, so I just nodded.

The nurse slowly introduced me and explained why I was there. The corners of the mouth involuntarily turned downwards when she mentioned my manufactured excuse. Lattimer continued to fix me with his gaze. It was unnerving. The nurse must have noticed and told him to be nice. She left but not before telling me his lunch was in an hour, and he likes to eat alone. I distinctly remember the sound of the door being closed seemed unusually loud. My hands fidgeted in my pockets for a moment while I sorted out what I wanted to say and ask. I began by reintroducing myself then paused before explaining the real reason behind my visit.

“Hello Mr. Lattimer, as the nurse said, my name is Robbie Mills. My wife and I bought your former house.” There was no reply or even the slightest acknowledgement other than the cold stare as if he were looking at a pebble on the sidewalk. I decided there was nothing to do but continue.

“I know the nurse told you that I found some of your property, but I have to confess that it not why I am here,” I said, “What I mean is I haven’t found anything you had left.” I paused again out of courtesy than any expectation he would reply.

“You see, when we bought the house, my wife was expecting, and not long after we moved in our daughter was born.” Was that a slight quiver at the corners of his mouth or was it my hopeful imagination?

“After they came home from the hospital…” I paused, “This might sound weird, but I noticed some odd things occurring around the house.” Nothing. This was worse than interviewing for a job. Well, maybe not, I thought recalling a couple of horrendous interviews.

“By odd I mean intermittent sounds of something running down the hallway, or items knocked off tables. To be honest, it reminded me of the cat we had when I was a kid,” I suggested and was surprisingly rewarded with a slight raising of his eyebrows.

“I spoke with Paul, and he said you had a cat when you lived there. He couldn’t remember its name but told me several tales suggesting it was a legend in the cul-de-sac. When I asked what happened to the cat after you moved here, he told me it had passed away.” Back to the stony stare, but something changed in his posture, like an additional weight had been dropped upon his shoulders.

“I don’t want to bother you with these questions,” I said, “I just concerned for my family, in particular my daughter.” I then explained about the purring sounds coming from the baby monitor. Lattimer finally looked away, but not before I saw a noticeable dampening of his eyes.

“I am sorry to have upset you. I just thought you might be able to confirm some things for me,” I said. I apologized and turned to leave.

Before I reached the door, he said something in a clear but soft voice. I turned around and he was still looking away from me.

“Pardon?”

He cleared his throat, “He loved my granddaughter.”

“Who?” I asked.

“My cat…Rocky.”

“Your cat’s name is…uhm…was Rocky?”

“Yes,” he replied.

He stood up slowly and retrieved a glass of water. After taking a long drink he returned to the chair. He looked me over, the began talking. His voice was very low, as though he wasn’t used to talking much, or at all. It slowly strengthened as he began a lengthy explanation mostly confirming much of what Paul told me while filling in the gaps of a gut-wrenching story.

He and his wife lived in the house for thirty plus years. Not long after their daughter was married and moved out, his wife became ill and passed. He told me he became a recluse, straying out only when necessary. His daughter made several attempts to break him of his routines to no avail. Her final solution was to give him a cat. She knew despite his desire for isolation, he could never mistreat an animal, so he took it in but refused to give it a name.

Years past and the cat and he developed a functional relationship. During that time, he took notice of several odd, non-cat like things it would do. Lattimer told him of the tree, the hummingbirds and its absolute belligerence for most other animals, particularly crows. He confirmed the numerous crow feathers embedded in the branches and trunk. His eyes brighten while explaining how the cat exited the tree by extending its legs out and seemingly gliding to the ground. Lattimer didn’t say it, but I got the impression he genuinely liked Rocky.

His daughter’s visits while routine, were intermitted, but this improved after the birth of his granddaughter. For the cat’s part, he extended his protection to the baby after her first visit, like a mother cat looks out for its kittens. Their visits became more frequent and occasionally included an overnight stay when his son-in-law was out of town on business. It was during one of these overnight visits his granddaughter suggested a name for the cat after watching it jump down from the tree. Rocky, a reference to some cartoon his daughter explained.

Rocky rarely left his granddaughter’s side even while she slept, and Lattimer seemed to benefit as well to the point his reclusive habits slackened considerably. He told me he was convinced the cat’s actions and demeanor were somehow connected to his late wife. Unfortunately, this happy time for him was not to continue.

He recalled the dark day his daughter dropped by to tell him they would be moving out of the state. Her husband had secured a new job, and they would be moving before the year was up. Lattimer confessed he was concerned more for Rocky than for himself. His fear was proven true. After the move, the cat seemed to sense something had changed and it stopped eating. The vet said it might get over it and suggested a feeding tube. I fed it day and night, but it quickly deteriorated and died a couple of months later.

That night I buried it next to his tree. As irrational as it sounds, I hoped it might come back some day in some form, but that did not happen. I shut out the world once more. So much so, that it landed me in here. He then asked me a question I was not expecting.

“Do you think Rocky has returned?”

“Returned, as in returned from the dead? I will admit I thought maybe it had been left behind when you moved in here, supported by the eyes I saw down my hallway and the crow being attacked, but no sir. I don’t think Rocky has returned.” I told him.

“A crow was attacked?” he asked, “Where?”

“In the tree just yesterday, but it was more like it was startled by something.” I explained the conversation with Paul and how we heard raucous cawing noises, “We turned in time to see a thin crow take flight followed by a solitary black feather which floated down to a tree branch.”

“You didn’t mention that,” he said, his voice breaking a little.

His eyes welled up and tears began a slow decent down his face. I felt horrible and apologized, but he looked at me and asked if he could please visit his former house. Before I could answer, the door banged open, and cart was wheeled in. The young women pushing the cart declared it lunch time and said I would have to leave. I hastily left his room and quickly walked down the hall followed by Lattimer’s pleadings. It was a gutless move, I know, but I tried to convince myself it was for the better.

I drove home with the information I wanted, but not the feeling of accomplishment I had hoped for. I recapped the visit with Gloria when she returned from her parents. She was not happy and told me I should have left it alone. On one level I agreed. The pain, unintended though it may have been, settled none of the issues occurring in our house. The tarnished silver-lining of the visit was whatever was happening with the cat and our daughter probably wasn’t dangerous. I went to bed early that night, hoping the morning would provide a momentary improvement to my mood.

I woke to the sound of a loud knocking on my door. I fumbled with my glasses before a quick glance at the clock which indicated it was a few minutes past 6:00 AM. I groaned and rose out of bed. Gloria mumbled something about the time but fell back to sleep. Fortunately, Clarissa remained asleep. I donned slippers and a sweatshirt before heading downstairs to the front door. The knocking erupted once more before I stumbled into the entryway and swung the door open, ready to deliver and scolding rebuke to whomever it was. My intended harsh words abruptly faded when I saw it was my neighbor Paul. He looked ill, pale and eyes wide in fear, shock or maybe both.

“Robbie!” he exclaimed, then gulped down a breath, “Robbie, you need to come outside!”

“Paul? You look…”

“Robbie please come outside…your tree!”

I stared past him. The tree looked normal, and despite the disturbing tilt towards my house, was still standing. Paul grabbed my arm and pulled me onto the porch. I barely had the presence to pull the door closed behind me to keep Gloria or the baby from waking.

“What are you doing? My tree looks fine…and the sun’s not even up,” I babbled, drifting away from calm and towards is abject panic.

“It’s not your tree…just come out here!”

He continued to pull me off the porch and out onto the lawn. My protest died in my throat when I saw the slipper covered foot. I continued forward, now leading the around tree while Paul followed still holding my arm with a frightened grip. The foot was attached to a leg, the leg to a body. I looked at the pale smiling face. Yes…it was smiling. The arms were fixed in an odd position as if holding something to its chest, partially over the right shoulder. I looked at the face again and my brain finally processed the visual input from this horrific scene. It was James Lattimer.

“What the hell?” James?! Are you alright?” I rattled off then took a step towards him only to be held back by Paul’s vise-like grip on my arm. I tried to shrug away from him.

“Don’t,” he said, “He’s dead, I checked.”

We both walked back to the porch saying nothing at first. Then I quickly recapped my visit to James’ retirement home yesterday sticking to generalities instead of the dubious sounding actual conversation. He listened in silence then said he was going to call the police. Paul retrieved his cell phone from a back pocket and dialed. I sat on the top step and half listening to his side of the conversation while sifting through my thoughts and feelings. A distant siren began during the call and was soon joined by others.

I heard my front door open and turned to see my wife with a questioning look. I rose and ushered her back into the house. I quickly explained what was going on. Despite her protests, I went back outside when I heard a siren cut out and a car skid to a stop. As I stepped out onto the front porch, one of the local cops was asking Paul if he was the owner. I said I was. That was the start of a twelve-hour ordeal that saw several police cars, a firetruck, paramedics, a coroner’s van, and worst of all, the local media.

I must have run through my story about seven times in an effort by the police, I suspect, to see if my story changed. I was able to learn something from the accusatory and occasionally polite grilling from the cops. My final recitation was to a detective whose demeanor was low key and a matter of fact. He explained that Mr. Lattimer left his facility through a window, and not being a flight risk did not have a bed alarm which he explained as a pressure pad to let the staff know when a resident might be wondering about without supervision. I nodded that I understood.

He asked one final time why I thought he might choose last night to return to his former house. I suggested it may have been my questions about his cat. Apparently, he was very close to the cat and perhaps it initiated some desire to visit. He asked if Mr. Lattimer knocked on the door or made any attempt to contact me. I told him I heard no one knock or ring the doorbell. At the word ‘ring’ a thought popped into my head. My doorbell camera might have recorded something.

I retrieved my phone and opened the camera’s application then sifted through the recording. I shivered as one thumbnail image was of Mr. Lattimer. The detective stood next to me. I hit play and we watched the short video. Mr. Lattimer walked into view from the left. He appeared to look at the house a moment then turned to stare at the tree. A couple of seconds passed. He suddenly stooped down and seemed to pick up something. Something I could not see. He cradled the unseen thing against his chest with his right arm and began a repetitive motion with his left hand, as if he were stroking something. He then walked around the tree, mostly out of view except for a portion of the left leg as he sat down next to the tree. I shivered again.

The detective grunted then asked if he could take the phone. I declined since I used it for work I but offered to send him any of the video’s he wanted. He indicated which ones after viewing several and handed me a card with his email address. After sending them I returned inside while they finished up. The detective left first, followed closely by the fire department, and several of the police vehicles. The last one left following the coroner van. I stared out the window watching several of my neighbors stand gossiping from their front lawns. After a time, I saw Paul walking towards the porch and I opened the front door before he could knock.

I think he was still a bit shaken and wanted to talk about it, so I obliged. We sat on a couple of porch chairs while I recapped some of what the detective told me, but I think what concerned him the most was Mr. Lattimer’s position against the tree. That and why he died. It wasn’t particularly cold and as far as he knew he suffered no life-threatening issues. I suggested something may have developed during his stay and sometimes loneliness can have a physical effect on your health. Paul nodded. We talked a bit more before he ambled back home.

Gloria and I discussed what had happened that evening, and a few times later when the subject came up. Eventually, moments like this fade from the active concern of daily life, even the bad ones. Life wound on and we understandingly focused on our daughter’s growth and development through her first Christmas and to her approaching first birthday. We spoke rarely of the passing of the former owner, and soon not at all. Memories may fade but are never truly forgotten.

If you recall, I said this story occurred over three weeks. While that was basically true the actual conclusion occurred a several months later, so I added this short epilogue. That horrible day in early November with Mr. Lattimer was not the end of my tale. Rather, it culminated with a party. I think writers prefer denouement for some weird reason.  

Clarissa’s first birthday arrived, and the gathering was limited to family and a few friends. She entertained everyone with her first babblings of conversation; strong on cadence but little articulation. I jokingly suggested that came from listening to Gloria and my mother-in-law’s conversations which earned me a punch in the arm from my wife and an elbow to my ribs from her mom. After the cake was served and pictures taken, the mess was cleared away.

We moved onto the presents. The gifts were typical for a first birthday, at least from my past experiences with friends and relatives, mostly clothing and the occasional toy for physical and mental development. There were several silver coins, and one or two savings bonds. My mother-in-law unwrapped one that happened to be a stuffed animal, a cat. I honestly thought nothing of until it was placed in front of our daughter. She immediately clutched the toy to her body and uttered her first distinct word of her young life.

“Rocky!” she squealed in a high-pitched voice.

The color drained from my face. Gloria and I shared a look. She shook her head indicating she had not purchased it. I did the same. When we queried, no one claimed the gift. So, we stood there among the chattering and laughing group alone in our shared thoughts. I walked to the front window and looked at the tree laced with crow feathers. Gloria joined me and asked the thought I had been thinking. Will Rocky still be here now joined by Mr. Lattimer? I shrugged. At that moment, a crow glided across the yard and landed upon a branch. It tucked its wings, cawed twice then began to rub its beak upon the tree’s rough bark.

            “No…I think they both found what they were looking for,” I said.

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