“Let me tell you a tale from long ago…” Those are the words Grandfather used to say when he sat down with me by the fire. He would lean back into his chair, and his eyes would shine. They always did when he told a story. “Now,” he would say, “Let me tell you that this story is true. I mean it. It may sound like a fairy tale, but it isn’t. Don’t you ever forget it.”
It has been so long since he has said those words to me. Now whenever I visit him, he simply lies in bed and doesn’t speak. He just looks at me.
But today is different. He looks worse. His skin is chalky, and he seems so small under his blankets. I gently hug him, then go to sit in my usual chair, right next to his bed. I sit for hours, watching him. When I finally get up to leave, he grabs my wrist. His grip is fragile, yet firm. I look down at him, and he speaks in a raspy voice. “May..” he says. “I won’t see you again. My time is coming.” Tears spill out of my eyes. He can’t die, he just can’t. “There is one thing you must not forget. Never forget the story of Bird Girl.” I want to sob, but Grandfather would tell me that I am being ridiculous, crying like that because of him. My eyes blurred with tears, I tell him “I won’t forget.”
When I reach my house, my parents aren’t home. They work all day, and are only home about once a month during the day. I dash up to my room and collapse on my bed with a sob. I stare at the ceiling and think of Grandfather’s last request. Bird Girl was by far his favorite story to tell. I can remember every word of it by heart…
“When I was young,” Grandfather would say, “I met a young girl. She was beautiful, with hair as black as a raven. I met her when I was exploring a forest. I climbed to the top of the tallest tree, and there she was, sitting next to me. She had surely not been there a moment before. I could tell there was something different about her. Her eyes were sharp and piercing. she reminded me of a bird. I tried to talk to her, but she never said a thing. I visited her for years. Every time, she listened to me talk on and on, but when I turned to leave she disappeared in a flash of feathers.
Too soon, the day came when I had to leave her. My family was moving far away, and I knew I would never see her again. The last time I saw her, I said nothing. She turned to me and spoke in a melodic voice: ‘I will miss you. You know we will never meet again. But remember this: continue my story. Be sure to keep telling it. Pass it on forever to every generation.’ Then, in a flash of feathers, she transformed into the most beautiful raven I have ever seen. When she flew away, I knew I would never forget her.”
I press my face into my bed, shaking with sobs. I stayed there for hours, then eventually fell asleep. That night I dream that I am next to Grandfather’s bed. As I watch him, he slowly transforms into a bird. A raven, black as night. He flies away, out the window, as I call “Grandfather! Grandfather! Don’t go!” I wake in the middle of the night with my face wet with tears.
When I wake up in the morning, it is to the sound of a ringing phone. Because I know my parents are no longer at home, I get out of bed and answer it. What I hear are heaving sobs. My mother. “May, darling…” she says between sobs. “I have horrible news.” “Don’t worry.” I tell her. “I already know.”
In a few hours, my mother sends me an email. It contains a funeral date. Tears run down my cheeks as I read it. My eyes blur. I dash to my bedroom and press my face into a pillow to scream.
The funeral is the next day. I sit between my mother and father. My mother’s eyes are red from crying, but I can’t cry anymore. Aunt Martha hands a small box to me. It is wrapped in old-fashioned parchment and tied with a string. “He wanted you to have this. He said not to open it until you are alone.” I was wrong about not crying. My eyes tear up. He remembered me. He left me something. I am not alone.
That night, I am alone in the house. I pull the package out of my pocket where it has been resting all day. I open it, and an intricate gold locket falls into my hand. It is warm, as though someone has been wearing it. On the front of it is what seems like a compass. It has a dial on the edges that turns and has a small gold N on it. Whichever way I turn it, the little N points north. The thing that confuses me is the little golden hand inside. It doesn’t point north, but no matter how I turn the locket, it points in the same direction. Strange.
That’s when I see the note. It’s written in Grandfather’s swirling cursive. I must not have noticed it in my haste to see the locket. It says: Dear May, if you are reading this, I have gone. But there is something you must know. Many years after I last saw Bird Girl, I found this locket on my desk with a note. It said that when I have gone, I must be sure that you, my only grandchild, received the locket with this message: NEVER OPEN THE LOCKET WITHOUT A REASON. YOU WILL KNOW WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. I love you, May. Signed, Grandfather.
I sigh and climb into bed with the locket around my neck. I’m exhausted, and I have a feeling that I will need my strength tomorrow. I fall asleep quickly. That night my sleep is filled with dreams of Grandfather, the same dream I had had the previous night. But just when I call out to Grandfather, the dream changes. Suddenly I am in a huge, dark forested clearing. It would be just a regular forest if not for the gigantic castle in the middle of it. The castle is made of dark stone and seems kind of like the sort of place a witch would live in in one of the books I used to read. But the thing that catches my eye is the girl standing in front of it. Though I have never even seen her before, I know that she is Bird Girl.
Bird Girl walks up to me slowly, like she is in a trance. Then she speaks. “You are May.” She doesn’t phrase it as a question. “Yes…” I say. “I have been waiting for you.” Her voice is almost musical. “ I am imprisoned inside of this castle. I need your help.” “Wait a sec.” I say. “How can you be out here if you are imprisoned in there?” “This is all inside your head,” she says. “In real life, I am sitting in my cell in the castle tower, projecting this dream into your head. I would explain more, but my spell will not last. You must come find me. Use your locket. The little golden hand in the middle always points to me.” She turns her head, and a panicked look appears on her face. “Oh, no. He is coming. I must go.” She turns back to me and says “FIND ME.” Then the dream fades, and I return to my previous dream. I spend the rest of the night calling out to Grandfather, but he never seems to hear me.
When I wake up the next morning, I know what I have to do. I look at the clock. It’s only four in the morning, but I’m wide awake. I grab my father’s old backpack. It is big and brown and smells like home. I dig through our pantry downstairs and grab a box of energy bars, a thermos of soup, and a bottle of water. Then I pack my sleeping bag, with a blanket wrapped up inside. I hesitate before grabbing Dad’s survival kit. I don’t know what’s in it, but I think I will need it.
I pack everything in Dad’s bag. Then I walk towards the door. As I do, I wonder if I will ever come back here. I hope so. I open the door and take a breath of fresh air. It’s warm enough that I might not need the giant coat I’m wearing. It’s dark, but I know where I’m going.
I walk to the city. It’s risky, being there so early, but I need to find a cab. Once one stops for me, I climb in. “Where to, Miss?” says the driver, a young man with dark skin and a kind smile. I look down at my locket. It points straight ahead, so I say “As far this way as you can go.”
I must have fallen asleep, because the driver wakes me up. “Miss,” he says “I can’t drive you any farther.” I look out the window. The road has ended at a large rock. It’s kind of gold in the sun. Very pretty. “That’s okay,” I tell him. “This is fine.” “You sure, Miss?” “Absolutely.”
The dial on my locket still points straight ahead. I made sure to tip the driver; he got me miles and miles from the city. So, on the plus side, I’m getting closer. Unfortunately, I’m headed for a huge forest. I take a deep breath and walk into it.
I walk for what must have been three or four hours before collapsing in a patch of soft grass. I’m starving, and my feet hurt so much. I open up my backpack and pull out my water bottle and an energy bar. I eat and drink quickly, being sure to save plenty of water for later. Suddenly, I hear a clicking sound. I freeze. I have a bad feeling about this. The sound comes closer, and now it’s followed by shuffling. In fact, it seems to be coming from the bush right next to me! I brace myself so I’m ready to run. The leaves of the bush rustle, and something falls out and collapses on the ground.
I leap back before I realize what it is: a little girl. She looks about eight years old. Her hair is knotted and tangled, and she is covered in cuts and scratches. Her clothes are too small for her, and she's breathing hard. I gasp and rush forward, pulling my dad’s survival kit out of my bag. Once I get to the girl, I sit next to her and cradle her head in my hands. Her eyes are closed. I quickly open Dad’s survival kit. Inside, I find an army knife, inflatable pillow, collapsible blanket in a pouch, and, most importantly, a first aid kit. I open it and pull out some bandages. I don’t know that much about first aid, but I took a class on babysitting last year and learned the basics. I pour water on her cuts, and put bandaids over the small ones. There’s a big one on her arm, though. At first I thought it was just a scratch, but it’s about four inches long and looks deep. It’s also bleeding much more than I originally thought. I wrap her arm in gauze, then wrap a bandage around it. Her skin is pale, and she’s shivering, so I wrap a few blankets around her. I blow up Dad’s inflatable pillow and place it under her head. Then I sit and wait.
In a few hours, the girl wakes up. She looks at me with big blue eyes and asks “Where am I?” “Well, you fell out of that bush over there, and you were really hurt, so I brought you over here.” She tries to move her arm and cries out in pain. “You have to stay still,” I tell her. “Otherwise you might open that cut on your arm again, and you can’t lose any more blood.” She accepts that answer, then asks “Who are you?” “I’m May,” I say. “But who are you, and why are you in this forest?” “I’m Robin, and I live here. But why are YOU here?” “Well…… I’m kind of looking for someone. I don’t suppose you know where I could find a really big castle made of black stone, do you?” Robin gasps and draws back. “The Castle of Nevermore?! You do not want to go there. It’s not safe. Not at all.”
“The Castle of Nevermore? That’s what it’s called?” “Why would you ever want to go there?” “Well, I made a promise to my grandfather that I’d find her.” “Her?” “A girl he knew when he was young. She’s trapped there.” Robin gasps. “You’re looking for Raven!”
Robin explains. “A long time ago, Raven was alone. She was an orphan, and had never known her parents. But she wasn’t just a regular girl. She had the unique power to transform into a real bird. She traveled around for many years. One day, she meet a strange man. He wore a dark-colored cloak and carried a staff with a shimmering orb on top of it. He instantly saw her for what she was, and offered to take her with him to a castle to train, to master her powers. and he did. However, it was too good to be true. Raven realized that he was imprisoning her there when she tried to leave after she had mastered her powers. She escaped, but the man has been following her ever since. She’s been finding others with powers like hers and training us, but she vanished about a month ago. I tried to save her, but I failed. That’s how I got so beat up.” “Can you show me the way?” I ask.
In a few hours, we arrive. I wasn’t planning to leave until Robin healed, but she insisted that we keep moving. When I said that she wasn’t well enough healed, she transformed into a tiny robin. She didn’t seem as injured in that form. She remained that way until we could see the castle. “We’re here.” she says. “I’m sorry, but I can’t take you any farther.” “That’s okay,” I tell her. “I have to do this on my own.”
I walk around the castle from a distance, trying to find an opening. The castle is surrounded by a clearing, then a ring of trees so dense I can barely fit between them. As I circle around, I notice a small window right next to the ground. There’s only about a yard of space between where the trees end and the window begins. I dash toward the window. On closer inspection, it’s just large enough for me to crawl through. I push on it, and it opens. I look in. It seems to be some kind of cellar. I slip through and drop to the ground a few feet below. The cellar is large, but I dash through it quickly. There’s a small staircase at the other end. I dash for it, but suddenly my locket starts to glow. I look down at it, and see a new dial on it, glowing silver, and it points to the other side of the room. When I continue to walk towards the stairs, it actually starts to tug on my neck, and I hear Raven’s voice in my head: This way, May, this way. I sigh, but follow the dial to a small door hidden in the wall. I would never have noticed it without the locket. I pull it open. Inside is a set of stairs that spiral up as far as I can see. I begin climbing.
An entire hour later, I reach the top. I collapse on the ground before looking around me. When I do look, I wish I hadn't. The room is so dark I can barely see. But that isn’t the bad part. The bad part is the other person in the room. And that person is Grandfather.
Well, he might be Grandfather. His skin is torn, and his face is sadder than I’ve ever seen. “You failed me, May.” he says. “I believed in you, and you let me down. I should’ve known I couldn’t trust you with this important job.” Then he collapses into nothing. I sink to my knees. He’s right. All I am is a failure. “No.” I vaguely recognise the voice, but it’s far away. “No!” it says again. Raven.
Suddenly, the locket begins to glow. It gets brighter and brighter until… The room is full of light. It’s a small room, and there’s a cage in the corner. The cage contains Raven. She’s lying on the ground, skin so pale it’s almost white. She looks bad. I rush over, and see a giant cut down her leg. I dash over, and I’m just about to open the cage when a bolt of black lightning soars from the top of the cage and strikes Raven. She screams, and goes still. I don’t know what to do. But the locket does.
In shower of gold and silver, the locket explodes. Inside are three golden feathers. They soar towards Raven, and ingulf her in a shimmering tornado. The tornado grows larger and larger. When it hits me, I black out.
When I open my eyes, I see a black bird in the sky. Raven’s voice is in my head. “You have done your part.”