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September 26, 2022

Mystery 3

By Mel Trent

With Star hanging onto his shoulder and pretending to be a Girl Scout badge, Raven knocked on every door in the village. Most of the time, the villagers weren't interested in buying cookies and were scared enough of the dark that they didn't want to talk for long. Raven was used to getting doors slammed in his face, but he was getting frustrated. He wasn't able to see much inside the huts before the doors were shut. It was a long shot that he would recognize what he was looking for anyway.

The last door slammed. Raven hung his head with a sigh and turned away from the door. "Well, Star, that didn't work," he said.

"I didn't see the human who took Moon," said Star, slipping a little from its spot as Raven let his shoulders droop. "There must be another way to do this."

"If you figure it out, let me know. I give up."

"You can't give up now!"

"Why not? They can't torture me if I don't go home. I'll just wander around for the rest of my life."

"If you don't go back, they'll think you did it."

"I don't care."

"You could disguise yourself as a cop and go looking for a missing Girl Scout. With a search warrant! That way, you could get inside and look everywhere."

"Do you have any idea how long that would take?"

"Hmm. I see your point."

"Are you sure this is the right village?"

"Um ... no, not exactly."

"Fuck it. I don't care who took them. They aren't worth the trouble anyway."

Raven went down to the river bank and flopped onto his back. He stared up at the black sky. It was so black he thought he might be going blind so he put Star on his forehead. All that did was shine Star's light in his eyes and made the blindness white instead of black.

After a long time -- at least it felt like a long time to Raven -- Star said, "Hey, look. There's a hut near the river. I don't think we went there. Let's go knock on that door."

"I don't wanna," Raven said. "You go knock on it."

"I don't have hands."

"Me either. Oh. Wait. I guess I do. I should really pay more attention when I change shape."

"Come on, Raven. Moon and Sun have to be in there. It's the only place we haven't looked."

"Unless this is the wrong village."

"It's the right one. I promise."

"Fine." Raven put Star back on his shoulder and stood up. Not too far down the river, he could see light from inside a hut much larger and nicer than the other huts in the village.

"I think that's the chief's hut," Star said.

"What's a chief need the sun and the moon for?"

Star shrugged, and Raven walked up to the front door of the hut. He knocked.

The man who opened the door was indeed the chief of the village, and he wasn't too happy about being disturbed at such a late hour -- or early hour as the case may have been. He glared at Raven. "What do you want?" he growled.

Raven would have preferred to run at that point, but he stood his ground. "I'm selling cookies to support my local Girl Scout troop," he said. "Would you like to order a box or two or more? They're really good cookies."

The chief peered at Raven with one eyebrow cocked in suspicion. He rubbed his chin. "Ah, yes," he said. "You must be the one my people have been complaining about."

"They have?"

"They said a girl with knobby knees was pushing cookies and trying to get inside their huts. Who are you, and what do you want?"

"Um ... I'm a Girl Scout selling cookies to support --"

"You're no Girl Scout. In fact, I don't believe you're even a girl."

"Uh ..."

"Where are you from?"

"A village up the river."

"I see. And what are you doing down here when it's so dark out? If you really are a little girl, shouldn't you be home in bed?"

"No."

"I knew it. You're Raven! What do you want with my village?"

"Shit. My cover's been blown. Time to run."

Raven turned around to run, but the chief grabbed one of his braids and pulled him back inside. The chief tossed Raven to the floor, much to the surprise of a young woman and the small child crawling around on the floor beside her. Raven couldn't help but notice the very bright ball the boy was playing with.

"Hey! That's the sun!" Raven said. He scrambled to his feet.

"Raven, look out!" Star shouted.

Raven turned around just in time to see the chief swinging a big stick at him. He backed out of the way, and the end of the stick whooshed past the tip of his nose. "Watch where you point that thing," he said. He would have said more had he not found himself up against the wall.

The stick thudded against the center of Raven's chest, knocking all the air out of his lungs. For a few seconds, he thought he was going to die. His eyesight grew dim and hazy, and then he saw a very bright light.

"Raven!" Star said. "The smoke hole! Quick! Get out of here!"

Raven shook his head to clear it. Star had fallen off his shoulder and was shining as brightly as it could to distract the chief. Raven turned back into a bird and flew out of the hut through the smoke hole.

Still dazed and breathless, he crashed down into the river. He struggled and splashed until he remembered how to float. He drifted downstream on his back wondering how he would rescue Star and Sun and Moon.

* * *

A while later, after he had caught his breath again and his chest wasn't so sore, Raven went back to the chief's hut. Of course, he didn't dare knock on the door or try to sneak inside. He perched in a tree and watched, hoping to come up with a plan.

The young woman, as it happened, was the chief's daughter, and the chief doted on her son. The chief gave the boy anything he wanted. The child's favorite toys were the sun and the moon. Star, being smaller, wasn't as interesting and sat neglected in a small box along with mounds of other toys.

"If I could switch places with the little brat, this would be a snap," Raven said.

"But then," said Leaf, clinging to the tree in which Raven was perched, "what would you do with the child while you were pretending to be him?"

"Good point."

"Glad to be of help."

"I know! I'll just have to be another grandkid for the chief to spoil."

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"

"Screw you, Leaf."

Raven waited by the river for the chief's daughter. When she came to fill her father's water jug, she usually paused for a moment to take a drink for herself. As soon as she lifted her cupped hands to her lips, Raven changed himself into a tiny seed and dropped down into the water in her palms. She swallowed him down and became pregnant.

Inside her belly, Raven grew quickly. Two days later, he was born, a perfectly adorable little boy with a head full of thick black hair and large dark eyes.

"Another wonderful boy child," the chief declared as he lifted Raven up to look at him. "Except his knees are a bit knobby."

Unfortunately, Raven couldn't say anything in defense of his knees. He could, however, retaliate in other ways. He pissed all over the chief, giggling and grinning innocently while he did. The chief handed Raven back to his daughter and never made another comment about Raven's knobby knees.

* * *

Raven did everything he could think of to get the chief to give him the sun and the moon to play with, but nothing worked. The chief wouldn't take the sun and the moon away from his real grandson. Raven fussed and cried, kicked and screamed until he was red in the face. The chief handed him every toy in the box. Raven tossed them all to the floor until the only toy left was Star.

"Raven!" Star said when it found itself in Raven's hands. "Is that really you? You're crazy."

"I'm gonna get you out of here, Star," Raven said. Except to Star, it sounded like a bunch of nonsense.

"What did you say?"

"Never mind."

Raven tossed Star up into air and caught it on the way back down. Each time he did this, he threw Star a little higher and a little harder until he was able to hurl Star through the smoke hole and back into the sky.

"Well, look at that," the chief said. "He's certainly quite strong."

"But now he has nothing to play with," said the chief's daughter. "He'll be crying again any moment."

Not wanting to waste any time, Raven began to wail at the top of his lungs. The chief looked around frantically for a toy to appease Raven. The only toys left were the sun and the moon. The chief's real grandson was playing with the moon, so the chief gave Raven the sun.

This is too easy, Raven thought.

He tossed the sun up, little by little, until it, too, went up through the smoke hole and into the sky. As soon as the sun left his hands for good, Raven began to fuss again.

The chief frowned. "Daughter, this child seems somewhat strange to me," the chief said. "Who fathered him?"

"Well ... he is indeed odd. He's so strong for his age," the chief's daughter said. "And I don't remember the first baby coming so quickly."

"What about the father?"

"Let me think ... well, I suppose I don't know. Perhaps he was meant to be twin to my first son and was just being lazy."

The chief rubbed his chin and thought about it. Raven kept up his crying. He didn't have much time. The chief would figure it out. Raven supposed that if he cried enough, he just might get his hands on the moon before the chief realized who his newest grandson was.

It didn't work out that way, though.

The chief snapped his fingers. "I have it! It's Raven! He's stealing my grandson's favorite toys. Kill him!"

The chief lunged for his bow and arrows. Raven leaped out of the crib. He turned into a bird, snatched the moon from the chief's grandson and bolted towards the smoke hole. Arrows zinged towards him, but they all lodged in the roof. He got through the smoke hole and headed for the spot where the moon should have been. He thought he was safe, but then he felt the tip of an arrow graze his tail feathers.

Raven looked down. The chief was glaring at him and loading another arrow. Raven flapped his wings and tried to go faster. He wasn't fast enough. An arrow plowed across his chest. He clamped his beak down on the moon, and it broke, sending a fine spray of sparkling dust across the sky. Raven let go of the moon, and then he fell.

* * *

Very suddenly, it was day time, and everyone at the Jubilee spilled out onto the road to see what had happened.

"The sun's come back," Badger said.

On the other side of the sky, they could see, faintly, the moon.

"And the moon, too!" said Moose.

"Where's Raven?" Sparrow asked.

Crow shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "He couldn't find the sun and the moon. Or at least that's what he said."

"He probably just pretended like he didn't know where they were so he wouldn't get in trouble," said Frog.

Bull cracked his knuckles. "I should still teach the fucker a lesson," he said.

"He didn't do anything," Sparrow said.

From behind them, they heard a loud groan. They turned around to see Raven staggering towards them with his hands over a wound in his chest. Sparrow flew to his side and caught him before he fell to the ground.

"Raven, are you okay?" she asked. "Can you hear me? What happened?"

"I think I'm dying. My heart's not beating," Raven mumbled. "I gave my life to save the sun and the moon from the evil sorcerer. Tell Sparrow I ... I ..."

"What? Tell me what? Raven!"

"... lurf ..." Raven went limp in Sparrow's arms, and his hands fell away from his chest, revealing a deep, bloody gouge where his heart should have been but wasn't.

"Oh you horrible awful bird! Don't play tricks like that. It's not funny!"

Raven didn't answer.

Sparrow dropped Raven and stalked away, muttering every nasty name she could think of.

Everyone else went back to doing what they would have been doing if the sun and the moon had never gone anywhere.

* * *

Raven woke up the next morning with a terrible ache in his chest. "Grandmother Mouse, I just had the worst dream ever," Raven said.

Grandmother Mouse was putting another log on her fire to boil a pot of stew. "Did you? Well, you take it easy now. I'll have some stew ready in a little while," she said.

"I dreamed that the sun and the moon were kidnapped, and everyone thought I did it. Except I didn't, and I went to rescue them and the evil sorcerer killed me when I tried to run away with the moon. He shot my heart out with an arrow. Hey, what's with these bandages? Hey. I don't have a pulse. That means ... Grandmother Mouse! Am I dead?"

"No, dear. You're not dead. And it wasn't a dream."

"Oh. Right. Okay. Yeah, the disguise, the baby. I got it now. But ... but where's my heart?"

"It's probably wherever you dropped it. Don't worry too much about it. You seem to be just fine without your heart."

"Yeah, I guess so."

Grandmother Mouse stirred her stew. Raven curled up and pulled the blankets over his head.

Later on at the Jubilee, Raven told the story of how he rescued the sun and the moon. Of course, no one believed him.

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-05-12
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