Each night Molly would watch the cornfield that surrounded the old house she lived in and pray for rain. She loved the rain, the way it whispered to her under the billowing of the wind, the way it betrayed its peaceful nature with thunder and lightning. She would sit in her room, surrounded by the photos of dinosaurs and wild beasts she had torn from magazines and library books and taped to her bare, wooden walls, and she would wait for rain. Her room was in the attic. She would peer out of the little round window in the dark and imagine the secret things that lived and died there in the field. Insects hunted by rodents, rodents hunted by feral cats, cats hunted by greater predators still, all hidden from the world by a veil of not-quite-dead corn.
One night, some time ago, and during a rainstorm, she watched with her breath caught in her throat as a Coyote emerged from the field. It had something in its mouth, what, she could not tell. Its eyes flashed white in the reflection of the driveway floodlight, and its proud, narrow face was fixed on her, calling to her. When it slithered back into the tangled darkness behind it, there was a flash of light, and then the rumble of thunder, shaking her bones. she let forth a shivering breath that fogged her little round window. From that day on, Molly left the books and magazines about ancient animals to collect dust on her floor, dog-eared and forgotten. She spent her nights at the window, waiting for the rain to coax out another secret life, and her days in the corn field, looking for the coyote with the flashing eyes.
Molly had lived in the old house her entire life. Her parents bought the place many years before she was born, but they weren’t farmers, and she couldn’t remember a time that they were. The corn was unusable, that’s all her parents ever said. After the night of the Coyote, the field existed in a kind of limbo, not dead enough to wither, not alive enough to harvest. As Molly grew older she started to notice the way her parents rarely talked to each other in front of her, the way her father’s shoulders hunched together around his chest, the way her mother stopped bothering to gather her hair behind her ear when it fell to her face… all the little things that looked to her like something missing and longed for. Molly took it upon herself to find out what was wrong with the field. She spent her days there-after wading through thick, browning vegetation, listening to the wind press down the stalks, watching ants ascend from kingdoms beneath the dry earth, wondering what other creatures had hidden lives in the vast monotony of unkempt farmland. She would study the cobs, growing with black tips and frail, white kernels that fell to the ground when she yanked them from their brown husks. She held them up to the sunlight, peering between the ridges of each kernel, concentrating on nothing in particular.
In the orange and purple hours, she would step carefully between the vegetation so as not to make a sound, her blue boots scraping the tops of her calves as she listened for movement just beyond her sight, where strange creatures nudged between shadows, stalking their prey, old knowledge, forbidden to her tucked under their tongues and between sharp teeth. If Molly was careful and observant, She would find footprints hidden among dead leaves. They were always cold to the touch, a sign that whoever had left them was long gone. Molly wanted to meet the Coyote. She knew that predators followed certain rules and hierarchies, and should she meet him she would open the flaps of her coat as wide as she could to make herself seem larger, and assert her lordship over it, making a new friend and subject. The animal would remember her from the day their eyes met, and she would make it tell her its secrets. It would tell her why places could die and yet linger, why the dinosaur, the Tasmanian tiger or the mammoth went extinct, why the rain didn’t fix the soil of the field, and why his eyes flashed white like a ghost’s when he looked at her.
Molly would follow the footprints to droppings. She would use her fingers to pick apart the dung, looking for the little bones within. She didn’t keep them, but to know that an animal had eaten another creature so ravenously that it had consumed, digested and passed the bones fascinated her as all the unfathomable machinations of nature did. Here all the little parts seemed to fit together. Here there was no word to be unsaid, no loneliness to endure, no anger to swallow. Her kingdom had only the rules of prey and hunter, growth and death. Each storm led to lightning led to thunder. each footprint led to droppings led to bones. The only mysteries were the ones Molly chose to conquer.
One cloudy day, Molly began walking west, far out into the field so that she could no longer see her house above the corn. She waded through thick brush, biting her lip each time she heard the corn rustle just ahead of her, and then off in some incomprehensible direction. She walked for some time before, all at once, she reached her hand forward to move the corn away and grasped at nothing. Startled, she stumbled forward and into a clearing in the field she had never seen before. Here, the bare earth was an ashen gray and crumbled under her boots, and she noticed immediately that this clearing was a perfect circle, and in the center of the circle was a spot where the earth had turned black, as if burnt. Immediately, Molly knew what this was. She whirled around to make her way back, kicking down stalks in a wide berth so as to create a trail back to this place. The clearing was lightningstruck. She knew it as soon as she saw the blackened, burnt earth. It looked exactly to her like the tips of each cob in this place, dry and cracked as if the life had been sucked right up out of it. The field had been struck by lightning, right at its heart, and there was only one way to bring it back to life.
Molly tossed the entire tool shed until she found a tall steel shovel glimmering with unuse. She tucked its handle, which was as tall as her and a half under her arm and made her way back.
Molly dug a hole with her hands in the center of the clearing, narrow and deep, and she pressed the end of the shovel’s handle down into it and piled the displaced black dirt around it to hold it upright, its clean spade glimmering in the bright gray day. She had read that thunder never struck the same place twice, but, she thought if she could only coax it back, if she could wait for a storm and somehow… trick the lightning into touching the earth here again in this spot, that life would return to the field, that the corn would grow yellow and sweet, that her parents would pick it, and that each secret held from her grasp would melt away in awe of her mastery of nature itself.
Each night Molly would watch the cornfield that surrounded the old house she lived in and pray for rain.
Molly had been sleeping by the window. Her eyes were bothered first by the bright gray of daylight, and then by a flash that made her eyelids glow red for just an instant. When she opened her eyes, she heard the din of thunder break through the wind’s shivering song on the windowpane. She almost fell out of bed scrambling to get her coat and boots on. She ran downstairs past her parents’ bedroom, not noticing whether or not they were home, and shouldered the front door open, scurrying off her front porch and into the field.
The rain beat her face as she trudged through the field, muck splattering her pajamas, soaking her through. When she got to the clearing she was shivering. Though day had come the sky was darkening. The storm seemed to grow more intense each passing moment. Molly felt in her heart that this would be the day she captured lightning, but when she looked at the center of the clearing she frowned. Her shovel was gone. The water had seeped into the dead earth and turned to a thin mud, washing the shovel away into the corn. She muttered words she was not allowed to say as she approached the center, and fell onto her face. She got up and let out a shriek against the howling wind and stood up. Her foot touched the cold mud and she realized her boot had come off. When she turned to pick it up out of the muck, she froze. There on the ground filling with gray, opaque water, was a footprint. It was deep-set, with three clawed toes, each one about as long as Molly’s entire foot. She hastily forced her foot into her boot and looked around for another, which she found a few feet from the first. There were many of these footprints slashed across the clearing from one end to the next. Her chin quivered as she considered what thing could have made these, but knew before she took her first steps that she would soon find out.
She wondered if there would be droppings at the end of this trail, and what kind of bones would lie within.
Molly stepped deliberately between trodden stalks, trying to be quiet and listen through the storm. The prints were easy to spot, and each one was more defined and fresh than the last. She saw lightning shriek over the canopy across the sky and froze, waiting to hear the thunder. When it came it was low and angry like the warning of an animal, and her shoulders stiffened when she heard something else, a deep, warbling utterance that came from the brush just ahead of her. Her quarry was there, hunched under the foliage. When she narrowed her eyes she could make out a long black oval, slick with rainwater, crouched down low. She steeled herself and opened her coat, screaming as loud as she could. The creature stirred and turned around. Molly dropped the ends of her coat and stepped backward, realizing the animal hadn’t known she was there until just when she announced herself to it like a meal. She stumbled backward and her heel fell into one of the footprints, and she fell on her back as the creature sloped out from the brush. It had a neck like a snake, thick and muscular looking, with a small, bird-like head at the tip. It had big, black eyes and a beak that sloped down at the tip. She could feel the loose earth shift around the weight of its feet as it loomed over her. It looked down at Molly, a few inches from her petrified face, and let out another strange noise, this time a kind of whistle, and then a grunt. They both stayed still like this for some time as the rain pooled around them. Molly’s expression softened and when she was confident the animal was not going to eat her, she slowly shuffled out from under it and stood up. It had an oval-shaped body and was covered in great black feathers. Its feet had great talons that were round at the tips. It had no wings to speak of, and its big inquisitive eyes looked frightened under a furrowed brow. She took a step backward and the animal gingerly inched forward, its neck not daring to rise above the level of its back. She considered this for a moment and reached out to touch its beak. Her hands shivered with cold and anticipation as the tip of her forefinger slid over the smooth, warm surface of its face. The creature didn’t fear her. She thought at first that it might be a dinosaur, but when she stepped forward to touch its neck, it jilted backward and honked at her nervously. She noticed it didn’t have any teeth, and all dinosaurs had teeth.
She decided that it must be something else. Too big to be one of the emus they farmed on the other side of the county, in fact, it was even bigger than the ostrich she had seen at the zoo when she was small. No, it was a moa. She knew it from one of the torn pictures on her bedroom wall. She had memorized the description on its bottom margin: A great flightless bird of ancient New Zealand hunted to extinction by mighty Maori warriors.
Why was it here? What compelled it to this place? She wondered these things as she continued to test its comfort with her, stroking the beak, then the neck, and finally placing a flat hand on its shoulder, staring down at those great feet. She stood with it in the rain as the storm raged above. Being the tallest thing in the cornfield, perhaps it feared the lightning Molly prayed for. Maybe, she thought, it was waiting for the tempest above to pass. Molly patiently stroked the moa’s huge back and listened to the bellowing sound it made at the base of its neck. After a little while, she noticed it was pecking at the ground in front of it, clapping its beak loudly as it forced something down its long throat, arching its head ever-so-slightly upward. She leaned over to see what it was doing, and her eyes widened when she saw the corn cob it was picking at, gingerly plucking the dry kernels from it and swallowing them. This gave her an idea.
Molly wiggled a corn cob in front of the moa’s face, inching backward through the corn. The animal inched forward, hunched down as it nipped at the corn and followed along. Molly would bring it to the shed until the rain passed, and when the time came she would reveal it to her parents as a great trophy, a scientific discovery unrivaled. They would ferry it across the country showing it to men of science and state and collect vast sums of money as custodians of the world’s only living dinosaur bird.
The process was tedious. The bird wouldn’t move much more than a few inches at a time, and Molly’s arm was getting tired from holding out the corn for it. She realized that if the moa wanted the corn, perhaps it would want it bad enough to run for it. She dropped the cob in the mud and the moa set upon it immediately. She stuffed her raincoat full of sour, dead corn and approached the beast as it nosed at the empty cob it had finished. She set her hands on either side of its great neck, palms pressed against its shoulders, and in two nervous hops, threw her leg over its back and scooted on top of it. To her delight, the animal didn’t seem to mind – or notice – either was fine with her. She pulled a corn cob from her jacket pocket and flung it forward. The moa watched it sail through the air and slowly urged itself forward, Molly holding on tightly. This, she thought, was genius. She had not only discovered the thing but in one mere morning tamed it as well. She imagined what learned men would say of her as she clung to the moa’s short black feathers.
As the pair shuffled along under the cornstalks, Molly soon realized she had no idea where she was. She looked up and saw only the same gray sky and the white tips of the stalks. She had no clue which way the house was, and could only assume she was going the right way.
She bit her lip as she flung the last corn cob from her pocket forward, and thought. The moa was still crawling on its belly, afraid of the storm above. She wondered if she could coax it up to its feet. Surely the animal could run with feet like those. Eventually, an idea occurred to her. She let go of the bird’s shoulder with one hand and reached out for a thin, brown corn stalk, grabbing it with all her might as they passed, tearing it from its root. She plucked a few corn cobs from the stalk and then held it up, dangling a single corn cob attached at the end over the moa’s head. It made an inquisitive sound and arched its neck to grab the cob but molly flicked it just out of reach. Slowly the animal began to raise off its belly and molly tightened her legs around its huge back so as to not lose her balance. She smiled at the moa’s simple nature and her own cleverness as the bird lifted itself higher and higher, the corn field sinking below her eyes so she could survey her domain and find her way home.
What happened next happened very quickly.
She turned her head and saw, far off in the distance, her house, a single elevation in an eternity of brown-ish corn. At the same moment, she saw something black in the sky, like a rain cloud. It seemed to cast a black shadow on everything below it, and she realized very quickly that this shadow was skimming the canopy of the field and racing toward her. She squinted to peer through the rain and for just an instant saw that it was a living thing, bigger than anything she had ever seen alive. most of its body was shimmering black wings, but when lightning struck behind her she could see glimmering in the light, the razors on its feet and the hungry, gaping beak on its mouth. She fell forward onto the moa as it reared and let out a high pitched squawk. She dropped the corn stalk but the moa didn’t care anymore. It hurled itself forward, molly clinging for dear life, and slammed through the vegetation with a rolling tremor of foot-falls, bobbing its head wildly like a machine. The creature in the sky let out a shriek as it descended, its wings seemed to go on forever, as if they were thunderclouds themselves. The wind and rain swirled beneath its might and it lashed out a single claw as it passed overhead. The moa threw its great feet in front of itself and dove into the earth to avoid the swipe, which whizzed by molly’s ear as she hugged herself to the moa’s back.
They laid there in the dirt for a moment, listening to the wind groan and the rain whisper. Molly straightened out and gingerly slid off the moa’s back. She took five steps ahead, her head hunched down in her shoulders, then turned around to look at the moa. It was frozen in fear. The feathers on its neck jutted out like the tail of a cat when it’s frightened. Its eyes were peaked and hyper-focused. Molly looked around and picked up a stalk of corn, wagging it infront of the moa. It lurched forward on its belly, and she coaxed it onward toward what she guessed was the direction of the house. She was careful to guide the animal between the stalks so as to disturb as few of them as possible. She listened intently through the wind for the sound of wing beats, but how could she be sure it was the wind? How could she get the moa all the way to the shed like this? In her idle thoughts she fell once more into a footprint. When she got up she felt her tears heat her cheeks and bit her bottom lip so as not to scream in frustration. She turned and her boot was off again, but this time she couldn’t find it anywhere. It was lost forever, like her shovel and her house.
In a huff, Molly crawled onto the moa’s back and threw corn in the direction she wished to go.
As they lurched along, Molly could hear the rustling of animals among the corn. She looked around and saw a bushy grey tail tuck into the brush. She could hear the animal slinking between loose leaves, hear it shouldering past each stalk like a ghost between walls.
There was a flash of light, and almost immediately after, a thunderclap so rapturous that the moa jerked upward to its feet and yawped. Spooked, it scurried through a cluster of corn, crashing it underfoot. Molly pleaded with it to slow down but it was no use. She sat up and saw the house cast in dark shadow beneath the eagle, circling above. She could see its red eyes like coals glowing in the bleakness. Lightning split the sky behind it and it let out a shriek like thunder. The moa picked up speed, curving its trajectory away from the house. Molly looked over her shoulder and saw the eagle swoop up into the sky and then turn its body in her direction. She screamed as it beat its wings and flung itself toward her. The moa picked up speed, gliding across the field in great strides, bobbing its head. They moved with such great speed that the rain seemed unable to catch them. Her bare foot clenched in the cold air that they shot through in wild locomotion. The darkness crept up around them, encircling them as they pressed forward. Molly dared not look back again, for with each flap of the eagle’s wings she could feel air rush up her back under her coat. Suddenly the moa seemed to pitch forward, as if the blowing air the eagle generated had flung it from the earth. Molly and the moa hurtled through the air and molly shut her eyes tight and curled into a ball as she met the stalks that broke her fall.
When she opened her eyes the sky was dark, and she scrambled to her feet in a start, but quickly realized the eagle wasn’t looming over her. She looked around and rubbed her shoulders. The cold had gotten into her bones. She shivered and pulled the hood of her coat over her soaked hair. She crouched down and stared at her one bare foot, caked in mud. She saw the corn stalks to her left begin to move and scurried under the canopy of broken stalks she had fallen on. The moa emerged from the corn. She watched it pace in a circle, dipping its head and raising it back up, as if trying to pick up her scent. She thought of staying hidden for long enough to feel ashamed of herself when the animal began clucking and whooping. She told herself that her concern was that the eagle would hear this racket and attack again as she shuffled off the broken stalks and approached the bird. It made a low, hollow sound and brushed its small round head against her shoulder.
Molly crawled onto the animal’s back and it rose gingerly so that the top of its head peeked just over the field. Molly craned her neck up to get a look around, and saw the house even further away than before, a grey speck on the horizon. She bit her lip and looked around, being careful not to make any sudden movements that might give away her position to the eagle. In the night sky, the thought, it would be practically invisible. No sign of it anywhere.
Molly noticed something and gasped. The clearing. The place where the lightning killed the corn. She could see it out there, between her and the house. If she could get there, getting back to the house wouldn’t be so hard. She squeezed the bird’s back with her legs and it stomped forward with a low chirp. They careened through the field, the rhythmic stomping of the moa’s feet increasing in pace, the rain stinging molly’s face, making her cheeks pink. She gritted her teeth and squinted her eyes, hunching down into the moa’s back and clutching tightly with her elbows.
A dark wind slithered up her back and she knew the eagle was upon them. She dared not look behind her but as lightning flashed in the sky she saw the shadow of its black wings painting the field underneath. She yelled something as the thunder struck, something she couldn’t quite recognize herself. It was drowned out by terrible thunder that rattled in her head as her stomach turned. The moa jerked sideways and Molly was flung off its back. She saw the moa roll into the earth upside down as she sailed through the air right past the clearing and into the ground, where everything went black.
When molly opened her eyes it was because the rain had tickled her cheek, though she could no longer hear it. There was a dull ringing and she felt too dizzy to stand up. She struggled to keep her eyes open, and the taste of copper filled her mouth as if she had just had a baby tooth pulled out. She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again, lifting herself with her arms. Her eyes focused in the dark but the ringing wouldn’t stop. She could see ahead of her was something glimmering, like the eagle’s talons. It was wet and shiny, half-buried in the muck. When she concentrated she could just make it out – a her shovel. It sat there in the earth and when she reached for it she noticed that behind it were two clawed feet. A coyote sat there, perched under bent, broken stalks of corn, its eyes glimmering reflected light from the gleam of the shovel. she stared at it for a while, waiting for it to scurry back into its secret kingdom, its domain of footprints, and droppings, and bones.
A flash of lightning and a thunderclap seemed to molly simultaneous. She could feel the thunder rumble her bones, and the sound of the rain came back into her ears. Molly kept her eyes on the Coyote as she wrapped her fingers around the handle of the shovel, pulling it up from the muck. Her gaze broke to see the black wings of the eagle creep up from the edge of the field’s canopy. When she looked back, the Coyote was gone.
She ran as quickly as she could with only one boot, the shovel dragging behind her. She got to the clearing and there in the center was the moa, a heap of feathers and blood, its barely perceptible breath gurgling out of its gaping bloody beak. Its eyes were rolling as its huge foot twitched against the wet earth. Molly ran toward it, sobbing in shock and horror. She fell to her knees and soaked her pajamas in blood and muck. She let go of the shovel to touch the moa’s face and it made a low cooing sound as its head became obscured by shadow. Molly looked up and saw the black bird, descending upon its prey, eyes that glowed with every red hate, and talons slick with blood. She grabbed the shovel with both hands and screamed as she swung at it. Lightning and thunder screeched across the night sky and the wind moaned as if in mourning. The eagle’s wings seemed to shimmer with electricity as it swooped around and thrust its talons forward at her. She swung the shovel wildly and the eagle reared and then went in for another attack. This time it grasped the shovel by the spade and in one great thrust lifted itself, the shovel and molly into the air. They rose high above the field, illuminated only by the splitting of the sky like veins of fire. The eagle looked down at Molly and let out a high cry, and then it let go.
Molly held tight to the shovel as she fell, holding it above her head. Her head swam with the sensation of falling, but there was something else, a tingle that started in her hand and moved down her arm. It began as a numbness and then became a sharp and clenched sensation like ominous calamity. She watched as a light split the eagle in two and found the spade of her shovel, and all was white, but she couldn’t hear the thunder.
The white became a brilliant blue aura, which warmed her. She could see white clouds and hear a gentle breeze kiss her hair. Molly stood up. She felt light and easy. Around her she could see corn, golden yellow bursting from deep green shucks. When she straightened out, she was tall enough to see over the entire field, and there off in the distance was her house, and in front of it were her parents, smiling brightly with their hands clasped in one another’s. Molly smiled back, and thought of the Coyote.