Novel Excerpt | A Narrow Escape

They parted ways and, with the dogs running ahead, Caleb made his way north, his curiosity propelling him towards the misfit building they had spoken about. At first it was easy going, their route pretty much on the well-kept pathways of the estate. As they progressed, however, the pathway became smaller and more and more unkept and overgrown until Caleb was battling to push himself over all the weeds and mounting debris. Pausing for a moment to catch his breath, Caleb took the opportunity to examine the object of his curiosity. It’s not so far now, he thought, probably another twenty meters or so. He noticed the small building was in pretty bad shape. There was no roof at all, only a few of the old trusses remained, the rest having given way to years of rot and neglect.   The outside of the house was half buried in bushes, vines, and trees. The rock walls that could be seen, seemed to barely hold up the broken windows and a faded front door. Caleb shivered at the heavy feeling of abandonment and desolation that seemed to emanate from the old house. Even Tucker and Mia were keeping their distance and limiting their sniffing to the foliage nearest him. Maybe he should get going, Caleb thought as he caught sight of the sun much lower in the tree line than he expected. Checking his watch confirmed that it was already five thirty and he still had to get back for dinner with his uncle.

He was about to turn the wheelchair around when a large raven swooped down directly in front of him landing on a large rock a few meters ahead, its beady eyes watching him intently.  Tucker and Mia burst into a frenzy of barking and began mock attacking the uninvited visitor. As they ran forward and then retreated the bird, surprisingly, did not move but continued to watch them carefully. Caleb studied the curious creature for a few moments until, remembering how late it was, started to turn his wheelchair around once again. With a sudden flurry of flapping wings, the raven flew directly up in the air and then nose-dived directly for Caleb. As he instinctively lifted his arm to protect his face, he could feel the wind from the birds’ wings as it swooped inches from his nose before once again landing on the same rock, sending the two boxers into another barking frenzy. Feeling oddly unalarmed, Caleb studied the bird closely. It’s like it’s trying to get my attention, thought Caleb, but that’s ridiculous surely?  To test the large birds’ resolve, and his own sanity, Caleb again started to turn his wheelchair around. Instantly the raven took off to the sky with a loud piercing cry and, as Caleb watched, it made a few circles and then barreled back downward to land on the exact same rock, its oily black feathers catching the light of the late afternoon sun. Clearly unimpressed, the two boxers promptly formed a canine barrier between Caleb and the intrusive feathered acrobat, who was now hunched over and pointing its black beak at the boy, its scruffy neck feathers bristling in the wind. A second raven appeared from the trees and joined its comrade on the rock. Now two pairs of beady eyes examined them whilst lifting their beaks and letting out small cries as if beckoning Caleb toward them. The dogs barked and whined in warning as Caleb hesitatingly wheeled himself towards the two birds. As he got closer, he expected them to fly off, but again they remained perched on the rock, keenly observing his movements. A third raven landed on a bush to his left, causing him to turn his head towards it. As he watched, the bird hopped off the bush and sat on what look like a stone circle embedded in the wild grass. An old well maybe? he thought. On impulse, he changed direction and made his way carefully to the well. It was no easy feat in the wheelchair, and he soon found sweating with the exertion. All three ravens, now sitting on the wells edge, encouraged him with playful jostling and excited cries.

Caleb reached the edge of the well and looked down. As Mia continued to bark vigorously, Tucker, mimicking Caleb, had his paws on the edge and he too looked down into the well, interested to see what his new human was up to. Caleb could not see the bottom; the rocky sides of the well were soon swallowed by darkness. One side held an old rusty ladder embedded into the rock. Not sure why anyone would want to go down there, Caleb thought with a grimace. An old wooden board with tattered metal edges hung off the exterior wall. Leaning towards it, Caleb read the barely legible words:

Tantum cum mente collective potest navitas constringi vel muniri. IXeris’.

Removing his mobile phone from his pocket he enabled the camera function and took a picture. Will translate that later, but right now I really must go, he thought, feeling uneasy. The cries of the ravens caught his attention and, looking up, he saw that the trees above him were now full of them. Hundreds of them covered every branch, the sky had darkened, and the air was filled with the sound of their flapping wings and piercing calls. Distressed, Mia cowered against the side of the wheelchair and Tucker began howling at the flock that had gathered.

“Tucker! called Caleb in alarm, as he turned the wheelchair back to the main path. The boxer needed no more instruction and immediately came to Caleb’s side.

“Let’s get the hell out of here guys” he yelled as he pushed forward as hard as he could. Despite their obvious anxiety the two dogs remained with Caleb and kept turning back to check on the flock of ravens behind them.  It was hard going and Caleb was panting hard by the time they reached the even surfaces of the estate pathways. Twisting his head to look backward, he was surprised to see that the entire flock of ravens had vanished, just as quickly as they had arrived. Relief flooded through him, and he hugged the two dogs in celebration of what felt like a narrow escape. An escape from what though? he thought, as they made their way slowly back to the safety of the main house…

Janine (J9) Nijs

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