The Unkindness by PG Patey Editing by Catherine Dunn Photo by Takeshi Arai on Pexels.com The characters and events portrayed within are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author. Copyright © 2021 PG Patey All rights reserved
I met my first unkindness at a baseball game in 1988. I was nine years old, and it was my turn at bat. Dad’s side of the family had come to live with us that summer, and everyone decided to go see my first game. They were all there, my aunts and uncles, cousins, and second cousins… all thirteen of them watching from the bleachers at the local rec centre like I was Babe Ruth reincarnated. The truth was, I’d never played a game in my life, but I was Dad’s only son, and he wanted his superstar, so there I was, decked out in a red-and-white pin-striped outfit that didn’t fit, trying my best not to let the bat go flying with each swing.
We were still in the first inning when my fleeting attention span wandered into leftfield. I could see a group of black birds milling about in the grass, just outside the fence line. It looked like they were eating something, but I couldn’t see what it was from my spot on the bench.
“Coach,” I said to the whiskey sponge, who insisted we call him that.
“I’m busy here, kid. What is it?” he asked and took a swig from his flask.
“Can I play leftfield next inning?”
“Look alive, Freddy!” he shouted to his son before turning to face me. “But you’re my shortstop,” he complained, breathing his whiskey stink at me.
“You should let Freddy try,” I said and tried not to gag from the smell. “He might be good at it.”
He looked at me like I was a birdbrain and shook his head. “Fine, kid,” he said. “But you better get your glove on now. Freddy hasn’t hit a ball all year.”
“Strike three!” the umpire shouted as Freddy’s bat fell to the ground.
“What’d I tell ya,” Coach grumbled.
Freddy bowed his head for the walk of shame to the bench. I felt so bad for the kid. He clearly wasn’t cut out for sports, but I doubt he’d ever said no to his dad. “Don’t worry about it, pal,” I told him as he reached under the bench for his glove. “You’re playing shortstop this inning.”
“Dad?” he asked before acknowledging me.
“How many times I gotta tell ya?” The whiskey man cocked his hand back as Freddy recoiled. “It’s Coach when the game’s on.”
“Yes, sir. Coach, sir,” Freddy said, frozen like a deer caught in the headlights.
“Don’t be such a wimp,” Coach said as Freddy exhaled and grabbed his glove. “Get out there and keep your head up.”
I could hear the birds as I approached the far end of the field. They were gathered around what looked like a deflated football in a puddle. Someone in the distance shouted, “Heads up!” but I’d lost all interest in the game. I felt drawn to the birds in a way I’d never felt before, and I dropped my glove to hop over the fence as their chatter changed to sweeping clicks. The first click made my ears ring, and each one after it added to the pressure building in my head. My vision started to blink out, but not before I saw Freddy’s face in the mud, surrounded by a ring of deafening ravens.
My mother once taught me that a group of ravens is called an unkindness. She had stories about why they deserved the name and was convinced she could speak to them but warned me that it came at a terrible cost. I never used to believe her, but I do now. The unkindness spoke to me in my sleep, showed me things I didn’t want to see. Floating in a weightless river of confusion, I couldn’t escape.
“Pal,” I heard a voice like Freddy’s call from the shore.
“Patience, Vidrik,” a resounding voice answered as I floated closer. It was hushed, almost whispered, but it filled the air with its reverberating presence.
“You awake?” I heard Freddy ask. There was no mistaking his gentle voice now, but I couldn’t move. I tried to say something, anything, but nothing worked.
“The time has come,” the rumbling voice said from everywhere.
“Okay,” I heard Freddy answer it. “Can you tell him I was here when he wakes up?”
I heard the curtains being drawn around my bed, but when I tried to open my eyes, they felt like they weighed a ton, and everything was a blur. Someone might have been standing in the corner, but I couldn’t be sure. I only managed to force my eyelids open enough to see a shadowy figure turn and face me. I was locked in breathless terror as the feathered demon showed itself to me and spread its wings across the room. The air rolling off its wingtips brought an arctic chill that froze my bones. My mattress teetered as the fiend climbed onto the foot of my bed, never taking its fiery-red eyes off me. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. The stench of the birdman was palpable, his long black tongue quivering as he crept closer. I wanted to shake myself awake, to pinch myself… anything! But nothing worked.
“You’re awake?” I heard my mother ask as she turned on the lights. It felt like an eternity since I’d heard her voice. I was soaked in a cold sweat, and my head was throbbing, but I could move enough to look around the room. My paralysis may have been banished with the light, but the pain in my head was all too real. “My baby…” Mother said as she tried not to disrupt any of the wires taped all over me. “Are you okay?” she asked.
I tried to speak, but my voice hadn’t returned. I felt like I’d been screaming for hours, though no sign of the nightmare remained. When I nodded to let my mother know I was okay, the look in her eyes left me second-guessing my own judgement.
“I’ll be right back, sweetie,” she said and got up from my bed. “I’m going to call your father. He’s been worried sick about you.” She left without trying to navigate through my medical scaffolding for another hug.
I turned my head in the only direction I could and stared out the window. The hospital was one of the only multi-level buildings in our small town. I could see far enough to search for my neighbourhood in the distance, but a raven landed on the windowsill and obstructed my view. He looked straight at me with his onyx eyes and cocked his head as if he wanted something. One by one, his fiendish friends landed beside him until there were six of them in the window. Their slick black feathers and the barely audible chatter were enough to pull me back to the dark. I tried to cover my ears, but I couldn’t move again. I knew the subdued chatter would soon turn into those horrible deafening clicks and braced myself for them as best I could, but they never came—the feathered fiends just stared at me from the windowsill like the devil had sent his personal unkindness to pay me a visit. I was sure I saw a hint of red in their eyes, but they all dove from the ledge and fell into the morning sky as my mother opened the door and stepped into the room.