Never Cage a Magpie

📅 Published on March 18, 2022

“Never Cage a Magpie”

Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 26 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Part 1

A single white rose quietly fell from her slim young fingers. I looked down and saw it had landed on the dark walnut top of the casket. The beautiful wooden box somehow seemed out of place in the cold contoured hole in the soil. No one who stood encircled around this opening in the ground had expected his sudden death. And that’s what it was—death. One couldn’t ease the outcome or pretty-up the bluntness of today by calling it passed, departed, or perished. When a loved one like David leaves this world in the manner he left—the only appropriate word is—death. Cold, harsh, and final.

Maggie Mae Duvane, or Magpie as she was called by many, clenched her smooth young hand which had clutched the flower throughout the entire service. The back of her hand still moist from the teardrops she’d constantly wiped away, her eyes quickly replenished the flow. A constant stream of the salty liquid slid down her already saturated cheeks. There wasn’t a dry eye amongst those gathered so tightly, all dressed in their Sunday best black. David would have hated that part, the black suits and dresses. I don’t believe I ever saw David in a black suit. He despised the attire. The sound of Magpie’s subdued whimpers rose above and then mixed with the myriad of echoes of the other’s grief and despair. A sad, melancholy tune of human emotion. It drew my thoughts back to why I was here.

I remembered how David hadn’t wanted to be buried. The whole idea of it freaked him out. The thought of being trapped under the ground in a box with worms and ants crawling around and feeding on his remains abhorred him. He’d insisted he would be cremated, and his wife would take those ashes on a trip to remember and either cast them into the Pacific Ocean on Oahu’s north shore or nestle the small jar tightly into a rocky nook on Kaena Point, a beautiful favorite spot on the farthest western point of the island. Lava had created the cliffs that overlooked a constant symphony of crashing waves, creating a kind of hymn they both loved. They’d in fact met and fallen in love on that island so many years back. While now the two of them weren’t the couple always holding hands every second of the day, they loved deeply and were devoted to one another. Those two spots out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean had been David and his wife’s favorite places that they’d visited together. David had said, “It might take one of us dying to get us back there, but one day we’ll return!” A memory that now stung my heart, wondering if his words had somehow foreshadowed the reason we were now gathered.

I wasn’t certain why that wish of being taken back there was not kept, but it didn’t feel like the proper time or place to question such a thing. Not now on this day. After all, I had recently moved away, chasing my dreams of writing novels up in the ruggedness of Alaska. Much more than a stone’s throw from Missouri. David and I, of course, kept up on each other’s projects, critiquing and criticizing each other’s work with baited tongues. No distance of miles could squelch that. Some friendships outlast about anything. Well, anything but death. There would be no recalibrating that fact and working around it. And that thought brought sudden anguish to me. David was not a replaceable friend by any means. Those weekly Saturday night phone conversations or Zoom meetings would now be no more.

I was again drawn back to my purpose today by the sight of little Magpie holding her grandmother’s hand. She grasped it tightly in one, the now missing white rose from the other, ripped my heart to shreds once more. Like a scab being pulled away abruptly from a wound too fresh to be healed. It coldly reminded me that David was now lying in that lonely box laid in the ground, a final resting place he so adamantly feared.

I glanced around the circle and surmised I wasn’t the only one touched deeply by Magpie’s brokenness in the moment. It was nearly more difficult than losing my good friend David itself. And just as his writing was becoming more recognized. What a shame he wouldn’t be here now to see it or feel the kudos and acknowledgement of all the hard work he’d done. Sometimes, I believed he enjoyed living more in his world of dark fiction than he had in his real life. And I’ll be the first to admit, the thought had worried me at times. Deeply. No one likes to admit it, in fact most just avoid the thoughts—but there is a hungry power hidden within the darkness. Be it in the physical world, the internal world, or the written world within one’s imagination. More than once in one of our many conversations after hanging up, I would question if David was slipping away in little slivers. Maybe struggling a bit without calling out for help as he treaded the dark waters of his mind. There I go, thinking in the flowery internal language of a writer. I remember he used to goad me about the lack of ability to turn the writer’s spigot off. I smiled briefly before his absence was announced to me again in the quiet sniffles from mourners in pain.

More tears slid down Magpie’s cheeks. Her little face was so contorted in sadness. Oh, sweetie, I know you will miss him, but I know he misses you already, were the words I wanted to whisper to her if I were standing beside herIt was all I could do to turn away and walk back to my car, knowing not only had the world lost one of the good guys who could provoke deep thought, but that sweet little girl had lost her hero, her savior, the grandfather who along with his loving wife had rescued her from the darkness of her mommy’s poor choices. Now only memories were left that would eventually fade in time until nothing but the jog of a framed photograph sitting on the mantle, or a table would bring. It of course would by then be a watered-down recollection of what he once had been to her. Damn, I should just shut my mind off, I’m depressing the hell out of myself even more than the reason I’m back in this little town who thought it was big…Springfield.

* * * * * *

“Grandma…why did grandpa die? Is he with my mommy now?” Maggie asked as she dragged her free hand across her eyes again to clear the stinging tears away.

“Oh, honey, I know this is so hard to understand. Life is hardly ever fair. I’m not sure how to answer that question, Magpie. Just know that your grandpa loves you more than all the stars in the sky, and now that he lives up amongst them…” She wiped her tears back slowly with her finger. “…just know that he is always in our hearts and also looking down on us with loving eyes—wishing he could hold you in one of your squeezy hugs.” Coraline answered, as she pulled her little granddaughter tightly into her side and squeezed.

“And I love him more than all the grains of sand on every beach in the world, grandma. And I always will. Please promise me I won’t forget about him.” Magpie tried to be brave, but when you lose your favorite grandpa in the world at the early age of eight—it just doesn’t seem to make sense and there is rarely a way to make it do just that ever again.

“Would some ice cream help Magpie?” Grandma asked.

Her little face looked up as if she were trying to contemplate her answer. She then suddenly shook her head no, and spoke softly, “It just wouldn’t taste sweet today, Grandma. I think I’d rather go home and be sad in Grandpa’s chair. I think I’m just supposed to think about him today, that’s all.”

Coraline held her sweet little granddaughter’s hand tightly as they made their way back to the car. Coraline watched from the corner of her eye and noticed Magpie steal a last glimpse of her grandpa’s spot under the tent in the cemetery. She couldn’t hold back the tears and they overpowered her battle to squelch them like a big girl might. In between erratic sobs she asked, “Can we come back again—to visit Grandpa? Please? I don’t want him to be here alone…with all the other dead people in the ground. I think he will need to know… we’ll come see him…a lot.”

“Of course, Magpie. We’ll make it a regular trip. I think we both will need to visit. We’ll bring a white rose when we come back.”

Magpie nodded in agreement as she pulled a single white petal from her pocket and clutched it tightly in her hand.

The car door closed and Coraline started the engine. As she began pulling away, she too felt the need to steal one more glance back where David was put to rest, knowing the secret that no one else knew.

Part 2

I sat in the overstuffed reading chair which sat closely to the large gas log fireplace in the hotel lobby. The heat knocked the edge off the cold evening, especially after the dreary day at the funeral service. I felt like trying to connect with my good friend, David, not yet willing or ready to say goodbye. I began reading his last book. The one he’d just gotten the author’s proof of. It had arrived in a large manilla envelope just two weeks earlier and I now felt guilty I hadn’t gotten around to opening it. He’d told me it was his best. He’d said on the phone that night, “It is so real to me that it almost scares the bejesus out of me! Is that bizarre or what?” He snickered afterwards, so I’d not taken him seriously. I now wish I had. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, I thought to myself. I continued reading but then after a chapter, I pushed the book forward in my lap and folded it closed. I held my finger between the pages where I’d stopped reading. I suddenly needed to see the front cover again. Shaking my head after studying it, I was amazed of how well it portrayed the feeling I was getting from its words written within. The story was powerful from the very start. It was foreboding and chilling. David had seemed to always own a knack to suck the reader into his story’s surroundings. Usually, the front covers he created, painted that visual picture very clearly, a picture paints a thousand words, well, David used both equally well. It was usually almost uncanny, as this one certainly was. It was as if each book he’d published was truly a macabre twist of his own personal story he was telling. He was so in tune with the entire process, but no one could survive if they were surrounded by all the dark thoughts that his books provoked. The title for this novel was telling enough if you knew David at all. Titled NEVER CAGE A MAGPIE by D. D. Duvane. Yes, David Duncan Duvane was a born weaver of tales. The story was about a young woman growing up in Kimmswick, Missouri, a little town along the banks of the Mississippi River. A wholesome little town that also held its share of dark secrets, as many small towns do. The young woman had gotten tangled up in the drug world and just dropped her daughter off one day at her parents. Never to return or see them or her daughter again.

As I read the story, it was obvious to me that it was at least loosely based on the dark secrets of his daughter’s exploits. I couldn’t tell for sure which parts were true and which were enhanced to make the story’s fiction even more provocative. It was heart wrenching though. I knew he himself held deep pain he rarely shared aloud. As I looked at the artwork on the cover, a shadowy silhouette of a young woman with a caged bird in the foreground, I could feel his personal grief. The cover was in dark blacks and grays with a stark blinding white. The title stood out in subdued crimson red; the font slashed in as if tearing from the page like fingernails through skin. It was very grabbing and immediately drew an emotion of fear within. The cover alone would draw a reader of dark fiction to immediately pick it up.

David always liked to twist a dark undertone into everyday humanity and emotions. Instead of always focusing on the silver lining as some writers do, he would draw out the bleak pain and then carefully mix it with fading hope but enough warmth to keep you hoping for an outcome that you could live with. His stories toyed with the reader in ways that would make one nervous of what might happen on the next page. Would it be something lovely and touching, or would you be instantly reeled in to be shred to pieces with shock and rebuke? You wanted to turn the page to investigate on the one hand, but on the other, the thought brought great apprehension and toil. A roller coaster ride you were unable to climb out of the strapped in seat until it came to a screeching and sudden halt called—the end.

As I re-opened this book and began reading every word more carefully, I again became sucked back into the quagmire I now feared was his real world being displayed on paper—my heart suddenly went out to David. There isn’t any way he couldn’t have been tormented within. Was he writing books like this to aid his escape from the pain? Or was this the poison that enabled his darkness to overtake him, even feed him? Would anyone ever know that answer now? Did I truly ever know David like I’d always assumed I did all these years?

I immediately thought about Magpie. I wondered if she was okay tonight. My heart suddenly broke. She’d lost her mother already only a short time back. That most certainly was devastating, especially in the way she was dropped off at David and Coraline’s, Brandy, her mother, telling her she’d see her soon but then disappearing into a life of choosing to stay away. And now, out of nowhere it seemed…David crashing his car off the bridge into that cold deep lake. Of course, Magpie certainly wasn’t given the details, but nonetheless, David is gone and never to return. I felt sorry for Coraline. I couldn’t imagine what it was like in her home tonight. The whole thing seemed crazy and so abrupt. The oddity of it was that as I read on in his new yet unpublished book, I felt I was reading the script of what was to come in his real life. It was as if he already knew ahead of time and created this novel to tell the story once he was gone.

Part of me couldn’t read the words quick enough to find out what happened, as if I were a private investigator that had stumbled onto a hidden treasure trove of evidence. Of course, the other part wanted to throw the book down and never pick it up again, instead choosing to remember my friend as he once was before this tragedy robbed him from our world. Goddamn you David for not reaching out before leaving me with this quandary of what to do now that you’re gone!

I of course, succumbed and turned the page to continue. Immediately drawn back in, I knew deep inside there never was any other choice to make. I’d been fooling myself to think there ever was.

Part 3

“But I saw him, Grandma! Grandpa was with me, and I read him a book!” Magpie cried out; her body shook as the tears flowed.

“Oh, honey, it was a dream, sweetie. I’m not surprised you would dream about him.” Coraline rubbed Maggie’s back to try and calm her.

“I love you, Grandma, but I want my mommy and… and… my grandpa too.”

“I know you do, Magpie. I do too, sweetie. Do you want me to crawl into your bed and snuggle?”

“You’re not gonna leave me too, are you?” She asked her grandma, her eyes staring intently into her Coraline’s.

Coraline crawled under the covers and spooned with her granddaughter, “No, sweet Magpie, I’m not ever going to leave you. You’re stuck with me! Like glue!” She forced a giggle from the hollowness she really felt to help comfort Maggie. She knew the nights were going to be rough for quite a while. Tonight, was horribly difficult for her, she couldn’t imagine what it was like for Magpie. She rubbed Maggie’s back softly and quietly assured her everything was going to be alright. Am I really telling her this to make her feel better…or am I trying to convince myself? I hadn’t been alone since meeting David in Hawaii…what…twenty-five years ago? Oh David. These dark angels inside of you. Why didn’t you let me know of your struggles?

The moment she heard tiny snores of Magpie, Coraline broke down and fought back the heaves her body beckoned. Heavy, salted tears flowed and burned her eyes. Damnit, David. I need you. I can’t do this alone. Why did you have to dive so deep into your darkness?

* * * * * *

Life can be funny in a frightful sort of way. Like when you truly feel like you are drowning under the total weight of the ocean. You’re fighting to squeeze that one last breath into your lungs giving you just one more minute of life—but then suddenly something snaps. And you find yourself treading that same water, except now you feel almost comfortable. Your head once again above the rough water’s surface, you feel safe. That memory of the harsh and scary moments just seconds ago… quickly fade into a distant past. You instantly forget the paralyzing pain that had just held you captive in fear. Yet you always remain cognizant of the struggle hovering overhead. This is everyday life suffering with depression and anxiety.

Coraline woke up and sensed she’d been with David. She knew it was impossible but when there was movement in the bed beside her, she quickly turned, almost expecting to see him lying next to her. She instead found Maggie. The warm feeling of imagining it was David lying next to her, did not however dissipate. She tried to hang on to the sensation if she could. Her granddaughter’s overheated young body was the source of comfort which helped feed her ability to maintain this moment of thought. Coraline instantly felt as if she would be able to continue and even grow her life back to a sense of normalcy. She felt David somehow gave her that miraculous feeling of instant confidence, even though he wasn’t here. He was still inside her heart and helping her steer the bow of their ship into the direction needed. She’d have to keep convincing their little Magpie, but she felt a sense of conviction that was not there yesterday.

Maggie woke up and surprisingly her mood wasn’t full of the sadness or distress it had been at bedtime last night. Her first words surprised Coraline. “Grandma…why do you and Grandpa and others like Connor, call me Magpie? I’ve always wondered, but today I just feel like I’m supposed to ask. Weird, huh?” She asked.

“Well, Maggie…what is your favorite thing to do?”

“Oh, come on, Grandma…don’t you even know that? Singing of course! I love to sing, silly.” Maggie answered.

“That’s right! And guess what Magpie birds enjoy doing?” Coraline asked.

“Sing?” Maggie asked.

“Yes, indeed! And that is why your grandpa started calling you Magpie as a little girl. You’ve always loved to sing…and your voice is as beautiful as any songbird’s. Magpies are also the only known birds that can recognize themselves in a mirror. Don’t ask me how they know that…but…Lord knows you spend enough time in front of the mirror to recognize yourself too. Magpies are also one of the smartest and cleverest of birds…sound familiar?” Coraline chuckled.

“Plus…” Maggie smiled with the grin of knowing, “… Magpie starts with the same three letters as my name, Maggie! M. A. G.”

“Indeed, it does!” Coraline retorted.

Magpies’ bright green eyes suddenly dimmed. A tear began to poke out from under each eyelid. Before they had the time to slide down her cheeks, she ran and was in her grandmother’s arms. “I want my grandpa back…I don’t want him to have to be in that hole in the ground! I don’t want him to be dead anymore and I just know he’s so scared and lonely without us….”

“We’ll go today to check, Magpie…” Coraline knew she shouldn’t cave and start something that may impede her healing, but she was weak. “…we can’t do this every day, but I think today is appropriate.”

Part 4

The phone rang and Coraline got up to answer it, “Hello…oh, hello Connor…it’s good to hear your voice….”

“Do you have a moment?” He asked.

“I suppose, what’s on your mind?”

“Have you read David’s last book, Cora?”

There was a brief silence on the line. “Well, I didn’t know he even had copies of it yet? And I’m sure you know that his later books are not really something I enjoy reading. Too much of the dark side of life….”

“I know, Coraline, but he’d sent me an author’s proof a couple of days before the…I’m sorry. I hate to bring anything up, but this book…this is very strange….”

“What do you mean, Connor? Strange like how?”

“I can’t explain it over the phone. Can we get together sometime soon—before I have to head back to Seward? And Magpie…how is she?”

“Moody and teary-eyed one moment and then almost normal the next….”

“So, you’ve not seen the cover either…or the title of this book?” Connor inquired.

“No… why are you being so…so…surreptitious about this book?”

“Coraline—it’s like… it’s a story foretelling events… real events. Things in life that led up to…” Connor cleared his throat, twice. “His…accident…or…act…even the title is, well, it’s just odd.”

“Okay, Connor. You are kind of freaking me out. I’m not sure I’m ready for this….”

“I know. I got it out last night to look at. I felt bad that I hadn’t gotten around to read even a line, before…you know…I was wanting to feel some closeness to him, or maybe get some closure…” He cleared his throat again and coughed slightly. “I started reading it and as I did… I… I wanted to stop and put it down, but I couldn’t make myself….”

“Okay, Connor. What’s the title that is so odd?”

“Never Cage a Magpie.”

“What?” Coraline asked in an almost agitated tone. “Why would he title it after Maggie?” She followed with a growing defensive manner.

“I know. Not like his usual thriller titles. It’s why I asked. So, you haven’t seen the cover artwork either?”

“No…and I’m afraid to ask now.” She answered. There was a hush over the line. The seconds drew by. “Connor?”

“Magpie can’t hear about any of this….”

Almost cutting Connor off, Coraline answered very defensively, “I know Connor… this may be my first time alone for a long while, but it’s not my first rodeo with my granddaughter. I know what to keep her away from….”

“I’m sorry, Coraline. I’m just a little wigged out. I’ve been up reading almost all night trying to finish the book. It’s definitely no book for a child. It’s like…drawing me in as if I’m a cop trying to solve a crime. We need to talk. I’m leaving this Friday….”

“Okay….”

Part 5

NEVER CAGE A MAGPIE-Chapter 38:

The dark angels are surrounding me again. They pull and tear at me as if I were a piece of dead animal lying flattened alongside the road—the turkey vultures quibbling over which gets the tasty brain meat and who gets stuck with the skimpy veiny bones. Of course, the pains already dulled by the truck which ran me over, but the pulling and tugging of the stringed muscle and tendons does indeed cause intense distress. It’s like the not-knowing of where my daughter, Whitney is. She’s gone and I realize it. That pain was devastating until the time passed ushering in the numbness. But there is the occasional snippet of information on where she was seen…friends telling me of her looks of despair…her dropping off a birthday gift for Magpie…the blurred image of her placing the small gift on the front porch at one a.m. lessening her chance of seeing us. Instead, only being caught by the Ring camera. Expecting us to deliver those gifts so we can watch her daughter become broken again. Another crushing lie explaining why her mommy is mentally damaged but still loves her…knowing it’s not enough of an answer to heal the wound re-opened. These kinds of things are like the tearing of the dead flesh, the skin that died from the initial loss but still clings to the nerve endings for endless pangs of reminding hurt, doled out at their sick daughter’s drug-induced whims.

It’s not fair…it’s not fair to hold these things, these happenings, these pitfalls of life…it’s as if Whitney were trying to cage her daughter, our sweet little Magpie, and she’s forced me to be the wire bars of the cell holding her. Who released these dark angels upon me, Lord? The gnashing of my teeth and the weeping of my soul and eyes. How long will I be able to keep up the good fight against the dark thoughts?

The haunting seems never-ending, my world void of any light in front or behind me. I reach out to touch something, hoping to feel the warmth of another soul, one untainted by these evil winged monsters of mental anguish. But all I ever find is the harsh cold bleakness of stone—unending and without hope. It feels as if I too am caged. My bars twisted and formed by my own fears and hurt. The cage I made that I’m housed in faces the cage our daughter created that holds our Magpie. And as I squint to try to make out her image through the dimness of the prison’s yard, I notice Magpie’s cage door hangs open and free to exit. But she is too frightened to attempt flight from her captivity. No mother to nudge her from the nest. Likely not understanding she could escape if only…but where would she fly off to in such a dark and dank world void of love. I’m near her and want to hold her close to give comfort, but she can’t see from the blanket of black tossed over her by her mother. Hiding her daughter from her own sight aiding as cover from her Goddamned guilt of caring more about the drug fix than the dependant life she brought into this quagmire.

Damn you. Damn you for laying what you see as this troublesome boulder upon my shoulders. I’m not the Samson you saw me as, I’m weak and tired and sometimes I feel the draw to the edge of the bridge that crosses the cold waters of eternal escape. Goliath calls my name in a mocking voice of a beautiful nymph or siren, tempting me to trust that those lustful cries will forever settle my constant torment this Hellish world dealt me. I would beg to be allowed to surrender, but by doing so, the internal shame would be exposed for all to take notice and judge my weakness. That’s right Goddamn it…pride is the strong root of the evil that drags me downward into the depths.

* * * * * *

Coraline’s eyes were wet pools of overflowing tears. Her sobs weighted with the heaviness of granite. Her body heaved in waves of broken pain. I attempted comfort but how helpful is a freshly broken cup to carry the warm consolatory elixir to another’s suffering?

All I could do was say, “I’m sorry, Coraline…but…but…you…see why I had to meet with you…don’t you?”

“This cover…these words…” Coraline looked deep into my eyes with almost a child’s questioning eyes, begging for answers I had no possession of. “…Why did he write this, Connor? Why? It’s…it’s just…it’s pain and evil and devastation.. did he really feel like this? Why couldn’t he tell me? Or you? You were his best friend, for God’s sake. You didn’t see this coming? Or talk about any of this when you met every week? Did he intentionally drive off that fucking bridge? Is that what this is saying? How could I not see he was dying inside?”

“I’m sorry, Coraline… I had no idea either. I didn’t know he was so riven and splintered. As I read his book, I found myself constantly beating myself up for not seeing any of these signs. I’m a blind fool and a failed friend.” My head dropped and I covered my tear-filled eyes, keeping Coraline from seeing them. “…I’ve canceled my flight home for now. I want to be here for you for as long as…as long as you and Magpie need me.”

Part 6

I laid the book down on the table. Face down as I couldn’t look again at the image it held. I was empty. The Goddamned book had been like a magnet drawn to me as if I were steel. I felt like each word from that book cut deep and tugged one more tidbit of mental flesh from my brain. As painful as it read and as telling of the hidden turmoil as it was. David was right, it was powerful and his best writing. I couldn’t imagine another author having written something with more potency within to tug at the reader’s heart. His book had left me totally worn, ragged and scarred. Figuratively gasping in a pile on the floor after being run through with his written-word sword, writhing in its aftermath. I didn’t believe I could read another book of David’s after reading this one. Even if he were still alive and writing. I wouldn’t be able to understand the need. Once the last word of this book ran across my sensory mechanism and I’d closed it between my hands…I felt I’d been drawn and quartered…finis.

Coraline and I both now understood the world David had found himself helplessly trapped within. We’d found it together, helping each other through the process. I think we both somehow even accepted the reasons he’d kept such a world hidden from us. I think it was his way of protecting us from it, his final book being his way of warning us about the dark world’s existence within the normal one most of us live.

We both discussed what good would really come from publishing this final work of his. Did she really want this to be David’s legacy left behind? We both agreed that this story, no matter how brilliant the superlatives were, was far too personal a story to be told to just anyone who could purchase it. It was dangerous in a way, hurtful. It had already been told to the two it was meant for—and should never be released to be exploited and misunderstood.

Coraline then informed me of her little secret that she’d kept from the world. She hadn’t had David’s body cremated for a reason. She told me it was because David’s body, may have not been recovered. There was a body found within the car no doubt, but she believed it wasn’t David’s. She hadn’t told the authorities because they already assumed it was. They never tested the DNA or dental work. But there was jewelry on his body that wasn’t his. A necklace. One she’d never seen before. She needed the option of future testing in case another body was ever found. She knew it sounded crazy but once she’d kept quiet at first, she felt unable to say anything different. And so, this part of his death had become a dark secret she would have to live with. It also gave her the mental gift of highest hope that one day David would show back up and rescue her and Magpie again as he’d helped rescue her once before. It was her one and only hope at this point and she couldn’t give that tinge of hope up yet.

On the day before I was to leave for my return trip to Seward, Alaska, Coraline and I set out to complete our final act in saying goodbye to David. It was a quiet and sad trip down Highway 13 to the bridge across Table Rock Lake. It reached out across the deepest waters immediately south of Kimberling City. We parked and walked midway, finding the welded repaired spot where David’s car had broken through the side railing before crashing into the cold lake some forty feet below to the waterline. The moon was full, and traffic was non-existent. In fact, it was downright eerie and unearthly. We both shed tears while holding hands as we said our goodbyes to a man who’d played very important roles in each of our lives. He’d made his mark on many people, both friends and fans. I believe both of us felt somewhat guilty that we’d decided not to make his final work available to them. But while it is against every fibre in my being to censor or burn any form of writing, I couldn’t allow his final legacy be a dark dirty smear of comparisons to his memory and how he likely chose to leave this world. As the clouds drifted between us and the moon darkened the moment even more…I looked over to Coraline for the nod and then dropped the only known copy of NEVER CAGE A MAGPIE over the edge of the railing. We both stood quietly as we waited to hear the faint splash of its bound pages connect with the watery surface, knowing it would sink almost 200 feet below to the silted bottom of the frigid dark tomb that more than likely also encased the man that penned it.

It was done, the act over, the goodbyes given, and the prayers of forgiveness completed. Finis. Coraline and I walked hand in hand back to the parked car where we climbed in now sheltered from the cold night air and drove home in silence.

Coraline and Magpie would drive me to the airport in the morning. Coraline was gracious enough to let me stay in their home on my final night before departing back to Alaska. We played games and worked on a puzzle together. Magpie looked as if she were accepting the new world she was now living without her Grandpa David or mommy Brandy. She loved her Grandma Coraline and the two of them would be fine. I could see it in their eyes. Strong survivors had been born from this tragedy.

“Uncle Connor, when are you going to come visit me and Grandma again? You aren’t gonna wait until somebody dies, are you?”

“No, Magpie, I won’t wait until that happens, I promise. In fact, I’ve invited your grandma and you to come visit me in Seward, Alaska this July. Does that sound like fun?”

“Brrr, it sounds cold, but I’ll bring my heaviest coat! Will I get to see bears and mooses?”

“I’ll see what I can do, sweet Magpie.”

At the airport terminal, Magpie pushed my rolling suitcase until it was to the point they could go no further with me to the gate. I reached over to Coraline and drew her into my arms and whispered, “Let’s talk at least every other night. I want to make sure you two are good. And I’ll be looking forward to showing you around Alaska this summer. I hope you stay as long as you like.” I gave her a peck on her cheek and pulled back to see a warm gleam in her eyes. My heart felt strangely warm in that instant. I brushed the feeling to the side as I then turned and bent down on one knee to face Magpie. “Can I have one of those big squeeze hugs you used to give away all the time? I really miss those!”

She wrapped both arms around me as far as she could and made her huggy noise as she squeezed me tightly. “Ooooh, I love you Uncle Connor! I better give you two… so they will last ‘til your plane lands.”

“You take good care of your grandma, Magpie. I’m counting on you.” I pulled back and winked at her.

Magpie leaned back in close and whispered in my ear, “I will. I’ll take the bestest care of her. Do you think you might ever marry my grandma… so you can be my grandpa? It would make it easier not to cry so much…and I know my grandpa David wouldn’t be mad….”

An instant pain struck, much like I imagined a needle piercing my heart would feel. “Would that really help make you happy, sweetie?”

“Yes sir, it sure would! I know she likes you.”

“Well Magpie, we’ll see how she feels in July…how about that?” I smiled at her and then looked up and smiled at Coraline. “See you two in July and talk to you when I land.”

* * * * * *

When I opened the door to my home in Seward, I almost tripped over the pile of mail that had been poked through the mail slot in the front door. The first thing that caught my eye was a manilla envelope laying on top. My heart raced and prickles rushed throughout my body in broad shivers. I bent down to pick it up, holding it close to my face to read whatever was written on the outside. It was like dêjà vu as I began to tear the edge open after not finding a return address on it anywhere. My fingers still chilled from the frigid air outside, I pulled the opening of the envelope wide enough to see a book. I walked over to my kitchen bar and spilled the contents onto the marble top. My eyes surely stood out as huge white orbs as a look of shock had certainly washed over me. There was a picture of David on the back cover. It was blurred, with part of the image crystal clear. Hanging from his neck was a small silver necklace. Dangling from its chain were two charms. One was what looked like a bird in opened wing flight, the other a birdcage with the door swung open. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was an intended meaning with the predominant necklace in the clear part of the photo while the upper part, his eyes, appeared blurred. The memory of Coraline speaking of a necklace found on the body…a necklace she didn’t recognize, suddenly overwhelmed my brain. Quickly scanning the written book blurb, I took a deep breath before flipping the author’s copy over to display the front cover and title.

And there it was, bigger than life, a new novel with the letters D. D. Duvane boldly stamped across the bottom. My eyes traveled upward, looking for the title, my eyesight shooting past the graphics for now. “Oh my God,” I spoke aloud. “What the hell have you done, David?”

In bright iridescent blue, the color of a magpie’s prominent stripe on its wing, was bold lettering, the font was…less…intimidating…than the earlier books. The title didn’t stir the same tension within…in fact…it was almost comforting and calming.

THE HEALING OF MAGPIE was emboldened over a beautiful young girl’s soft-toned face. She looked a lot like Maggie Mae Duvane. In the background was the open door on a birdcage…the image of a bird soaring in free flight high above in the white clouds fading into a bright colored sunset over the water’s horizon.

This cover was as different from his last book as darkness is to daylight. I stood dumbfounded. I left my suitcase dumped alongside the rest of my piled mail and walked with David’s book in my warming hands over to my reading chair. I turned up the heat on the gas log and flipped my reading light to its brightest setting, then sat down. I was mesmerized as I read a handwritten comment on the inside title page.

To my best friend in this world:

Connor, I know you have more than likely suffered a gamut of emotions at my causing. Everything from wonder to frustration…love, anger to hate and most everything in between. You know I’ve always enjoyed toying with people’s emotions, and yours would be included. I can’t tell you where I am or what happened. You will assume, but I can neither confirm nor deny if I’m alive or stuck in a world running parallel to such a reality. I just know I am healed. I have no anxiety within or fears of what will happen next. My clouds have shaken the darkness and transformed into white. I know now in the end, all will be well, and that is a comfort I’ve not been afforded for quite some time. Please take care of Coraline and Magpie as if they are now…yours. You have my blessing. In fact, it is my request that if you can love them better than I, that you should do just that. You my friend, are like the brother I lost too early in life and have forever longed for.

I love you, brother.

David

 

PS

A fitting poem by an unknown author. It’s an old nursery rhyme about Magpies.

            One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl and four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.

 

You have my blessing to let Coraline in on our little secret. I imagine this is a much more fitting book for her to enjoy than my last several. Someday, when the timing is right, please let my little Magpie know this secret too and tell her I was always nearby, watching and loving her the entire time. I’m so sorry her mommy was so sick and pitiful. Please try to explain to her that that is indeed what she was, mentally sick and broken beyond repair. I shared my little Magpie’s pain from the loss of Brandy also. We can’t make people change or live like we want them to, no matter how much we love them and them to do so. I’ve finally accepted that I did my best to save her and there was nothing more that could be done. One must want to save themselves and not expect others to do so. She did love her little Magpie though; I will always believe that. Brandy just didn’t know how to walk the tightwire that was her path to a happy ending for all involved.

I hope you enjoy the read, my good friend. Know that I’ve turned over a new leaf…the darkness has subsided into light and the pain into a comforting happiness with contentment. My only regret is being separated from my dear family I love so much, and you my dear friend. Please help make them understand none of this was them. Even though I feel healed…that long path of brokenness never fully heals enough to know if you go back, you will survive any better. Understand the leaving is not so dark and foreboding as the living can be.

DAVID

I sank down into the chair cushion, prepared for a long evening of reading. I turned page after page, amazed as usual but in a much different flavor. Instead of dreading each page turn, fearing where the story may lead—I felt invigorated by each turn, almost racing to the next, feeling warmer within. My good friend was alive and back in a world filled with happiness and joy…even if he wasn’t truly “alive.” I supposed I’d never know for certain; this entire event was such a hard concept for me to get a grip on, but the hours passed as the chapters rolled on. I’d not read through too many books in such short time without a break. This one felt like I could start back at the beginning and never lose interest re-reading it back-to-back immediately.

Instead, though, I reached for my phone and dialed Coraline. She answered on the second ring, and I could hear Magpie’s happy voice calling out, “Uncle Connor! I miss you…I love you…and I’m already ready to come freeze with you!”

“Me too, Magpie…me too…” I smiled briefly to myself, warm goosebumps invading my skin from head to toe, “…Coraline… honey, you won’t believe what David has done…have I got a story for you….”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Eli Pope


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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