Kansas City, Disputed Territories, 2026 CE
I clutched the second story windowsill with my fingertips and sucked cold air while dangling outside. My arms quivered like guitar strings. The rubber soles of my sneakers squeaked against the aluminum siding, slick with rain. I couldn’t get a grip with my rubbery toes and lacked the raw strength to haul up my weight.
While clawing and slipping, trying to get back in the window, the drowsy murmur of car tires on wet asphalt approached along the street. I abruptly hung slack, motionless, praying to the gods of dark night and rain for cover. The side of the house glowed in the headlights as the car whisked past. Thunder rolled, rattling the window glass.
From where the raven perched on guard, black and brooding on a nearby rooftop, Carroc’s thought entered my mind. Drop. Easy enough for him to say when he could fly. I hung still, heart thumping, gauging the distance of the fall.
I’ll break a leg or bust my liver.
Pansy. Carroc mocked me with my name.
How far is it?
What difference does it make? You’ll drop until you stop.
Damn bird. I glanced quickly over my shoulder to see what lay below, but it was too dark. My fingers slipped on the sill. I lunged to get a better grip. Lightning flared, exposing me on the wall. A second later, thunder boomed again.
A woman raised her voice inside the house. “Jason, did you leave this open? The carpet’s getting soaked.”
Drop, the raven thought, urging me to hurry.
The pockets of my black jacket were lumpy with the woman’s jewelry. If caught, I’d go to jail. Hoping the patter of pouring rain against the window pane would disguise the crash, I dropped. I hit the ground on my back and lay stunned in the mud unable to breathe. My mouth gaped, and rain touched my tongue, cold and sweet. I blinked against raindrops. Above, the window slammed shut.
What are you waiting for, Pansy?
Do that later. Another car is coming.
My wind knocked out, I couldn’t get up until the spasm passed.
Pansy, it’s a cop!
The raven cawed in the dark and the rain, an eerie croak when birds of his kind should be roosting at night. I rolled to my belly in the mud.
Dump the goods! Carroc’s wingbeats were sloppy in the rain. His feathered draft brushed my wet cheeks. Dump the goods!
Scrabbling at my wet jacket, I clawed at the pockets inside, plucking out the jewelry I’d stolen, bracelets dangling with charms, a thick gold necklace, a diamond ring. I pitched the trinkets in the mud and staggered to my feet.
The double-coned lights of a vehicle glowed at the end of the street. The car turned, pointing high beams my direction. I ran. I glanced over my shoulder. In black silhouette, Carroc pecked at the ground. Reflected in the headlights, a spark blazed like lightning from the raven’s beak.
Carroc, you thief!
The car turned into a driveway before I got very far, and the headlights went dark. Only a neighbor. The damn bird had tricked me again.