Bound

 
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Stephanie Frazee

Art by Peter Ferguson

 

Rachel and Christopher carried the dead bird into the house. It took up the entire dining room table, which could sit eight but had only ever sat five at most, and now this dead bird was on it.

“It’s the size of a bear,” Christopher said. He poked the bird with a pair of tongs.

“We have to burn those now,” Rachel said.

“We carried it in with our arms, and you’re worried about the tongs.”

“It doesn’t look old, for a bird.” Rachel tilted her head at a severe angle. “No sign of injury.”

“What the hell is that?” This was their son, Lucas.

“Did you see anything? Hear a giant bird fly into a window or—?”

“It smells like a summer dumpster.”

“We found it on the porch.”

“Nasty.” Lucas shook his head.

“If Lucas got home around 3:50ish, and we got home at 5:30, the bird arrived somewhere in there.”

“That narrows it down.”

“Narrows it down to what?” Lucas took a bite from an apple and picked up the poking tongs.

“I don’t know.” Christopher took the tongs back. “How did it die?”

“Don’t ask me. I’m not a birdologist.” Rachel took the tongs, looked them over, and set them on the table next to a massive, limp wing. “It died, it’s dead. It’s humongous. It’s on the table. I don’t know.”

Lucas took another bite of his apple. “You should have left it out there. It’s not like you can resuscitate it.”

Christopher and Rachel exchanged a look.

Rachel ran to the kitchen. She came back with oven mitts and a turkey baster.

Christopher used the tongs to open the hooked beak. Rachel put the turkey baster down the throat and pumped air. Christopher put on the oven mitts and placed his hands on the eagle’s breast.

“Do either of you know CPR?” Lucas asked.

“No.”

“But we’ve seen it on TV enough,” Christopher said. Rachel squeezed the baster and Christopher pressed rapidly on the bird’s ribs.

The table vibrated violently. “That doesn’t seem right,” Rachel said. “It’s like you’re having tremors.”

“No, this is right.” Christopher pumped his hands faster until something inside the bird popped, and he jerked his oven-mitted hands to his chest.

“Wonderful. Now you’ve broken it.”

The bird’s eyes were as clouded and lifeless as before.

“Lucas, why are you on your goddamn phone right now?”

“Maybe he’s looking up how to resuscitate a bird.”

“It’s what I suspected.” He scrolled. “It’s the fucking Caucasian Eagle.”

“What is the fucking Caucasian Eagle?”

“I did a report, remember? On endangered species kept alive only as a collateral consequence of a punishment imposed by the gods.”

“Uh-huh.”

“It’s THE Caucasian Eagle, the last one on earth.” He showed them his phone. “Look at the coloring. It’s exactly the same.”

 

On his phone was a photo of a rocky terrain, light snow, and the eagle straddling a man, the bird’s melon-sized head bent down over his torso, the beak obscured by blood. The same wine-red feathers above golden eyes met the same blueish-black feathers of its neck, the same white feathers tipped its tail, and the same long talons digging into the chained man’s flesh curved at the end of the gnarled feet on their table. And there was the undeniable size.

“But how did it get on our porch? This is Akron. We don’t have endangered species in Akron.”

“It went missing a couple weeks ago. In the meantime, no one’s been eating Prometheus’s liver, but he’s still growing a new one every day.” Lucas scrolled further. “It’s getting nasty. Doctors are trying to help but no one can free him, and it’s too treacherous to perform surgery on the side of a mountain.” He held up his phone again, but Rachel and Christopher turned away.

“So what do we do about having the last Caucasian Eagle dead on our dinner table?”

“There’s a quote from Heracles: ‘The damned eagle, who has stolen from Prometheus every day for thousands of years, has tried to steal my fate from me. But I will not be deterred! I will not rest. I will hunt the beast to the ends of the earth and bring fate to him!’ He is SO PISSED. Amazing.”

“We have to get rid of it. I don’t want anything to do with any of this.”

“I’ll get the shovel.”

“Really, we’re going to bury it?”

“What else?” Christopher ticked off a list on his fingers. “It won’t fit in a car. We can’t carry it anywhere without being noticed. We can’t just toss it into the backyard. Think about the coyotes.”

“We can’t bury it now, in broad daylight.”

“Alright. Let’s have dinner, and we’ll do it tonight, after it gets dark.”

“What do you want?”

“Is it weird that Greek sounds good?”

“I’ll order from the gyro place.”

 

“If she were being honest, she had aged better than him.”

 

Around midnight, Rachel and Christopher started digging.

“How did we end up with this thing?”

“Why us, of all people?”

“Are we being punished?”

“Is it a curse?”

“Why would anyone bother to curse us?”

Christopher pushed the shovel into the dirt with his boot. Rachel sat in the shallow hole and scooped with the garden trowel.

“We’re too boring to curse.”

“We can’t be the right people.”

“I’m sure it came to the wrong house.”

“We don’t deserve this.”

Christopher leaned on the shovel, half-illuminated by the light on the side of the shed. Rachel couldn’t decide if she thought he looked rugged in his yard-work boots and handsome with dirt streaked on his cheek or if he looked ridiculous—a graying, pudgy man playing in the dirt. If she were being honest, she had aged better than him, if she didn’t count her crows’ feet or nasolabial folds or the skin gathering along her jawline—she only had a few gray hairs, and she’d managed to keep her waist. They were only months apart in age, but she looked at least three years younger than him, she was sure of it.

“But it’s given us something to do,” he said. “A project. A goal to work toward, together.” He thrust the shovel into the dirt.

Rachel’s trowel sliced through a worm. “True. It’s certainly something we’ll never forget.”

“I mean, what would we be doing otherwise? Sleeping?”

“Exactly. Instead, we’re having this experience. We’re working together toward a common goal. Trying to do what’s right.”

“All the same, I really don’t feel like we’re the people to handle this.”

“Of course not.”

“But we’re doing our best with what we’ve been given.”

“Like we always do.”

He groaned and dumped one more shovelful of dirt onto the pile, which was up to his knees. “This is as good as it’s going to get. We go any deeper, and we might hit a pipe.”

“A pipe, in the backyard?” The hole was not very deep, but it was wide enough to hold the bird with its wings folded.

“I don’t know. I’m tired and sore and I have a blister.”

 
 

They tracked dirt from the back door to the dining room. Christopher took the bird by its feet, which were curled into an arthritic-looking rigor and wider than dinner plates, and Rachel slid her hands under the wings. They hefted it like they were carrying a friend who had passed out.

“Oh shit.”

“What?”

“It’s got something on. Some kind of harness.” They dropped the eagle, and Rachel twisted it around to where a small rectangular device was attached by straps. “It’s a tracking device. You know, like they put on endangered species?”

“Ugh.” Christopher slunk into a chair. “How did you not notice this before?”

“You didn’t notice it either.”

“But you carried it on that end.”

“I held it more by the head.” Rachel put her hands around the bird’s neck to demonstrate. “It’s probably broken anyway.”

“We should still get rid of it, just in case.”

“Fine. Get the wire cutters. We’ll cut it off, bury this guy or gal, and throw this thing in the river.”

“On it.” Christopher trudged out to the shed and returned with a cobweb in his beard and a streak of dirt across his other cheek.

He brought the wire cutters to the harness strap, squeezed, and nothing. He put his weight into it, until the table creaked under him, and nothing. He twisted the wire cutters around the strap, and nothing. “My blister hurts.”

“I have an idea.” Rachel hurried to the kitchen. She climbed onto the counter and rummaged in the high cabinet above the fridge.

She came back with the electric knife they used at Thanksgiving. She wedged it under the strap, blades up, and turned it on. It whirred uselessly against the strap.

They both flopped into chairs.

“We’re going to have to force it off.”

“Gross.”

“I know. But it’s the only way.”

Rachel held the wing at the joint, and Christopher stabilized the body. She pushed the wing backward, and he rolled the body forward until the wing broke from the socket, and they both shuddered. The bird smelled like overcooked cabbage and old diapers, and the broken wing released another, more concentrated wave of rotten egg and cow manure. Rachel dry-heaved. Christopher ran into the kitchen and came back with a bowl and placed it on the chair next to her. Rachel took a moment to compose herself, then pushed the wing back further, causing another crack of bones, and slipped the strap back. She kept working the strap down the wing until it was free. She pulled the other strap from the other wing and held the harness up like a prize bass. Christopher clapped.

“Let’s get this guy in the ground.”

“Or this gal.”

“Or this gal.”

 

They carried the eagle, its broken wing flopping, to the backyard, positioned it over the hole, and let go. It landed with a wet-sounding thud and barely fit. Rachel pushed its wings into the hole with her shoe. The beak was still open from their resuscitation efforts, and its black tongue lolled pathetically. Rachel’s heart caught at the dull shine of the eagle’s upturned eye in the shed’s light and the mussed feathers of its breast. She began pushing dirt from the pile onto the bird with the trowel.

“Maybe it’s fate. The god who punished Prometheus, maybe we’re part of his plan.”

“Could be. Maybe he sent the bird to us because he knew we’d give it a good burial.”

Christopher dropped the final bit of dirt over the mound of the bird’s grave and gave it a cursory pat with the back of his shovel.

“Should we say a few words?”

“Seems proper.”

“Ok.” Rachel took a breath. “Dear bird. You were in our lives for a short time, and you were not alive during that time—” she looked at Christopher “—we double-checked. But you brought something special to us: a sense of purpose.”

“A sense of duty.”

“A sense of duty. You lived a long life of majesty and service. We hope that in death, you find peace, and all the livers you care to eat.”

“Amen.”

“Amen.”

“Let’s go to the bridge.”

“It’d be a nice night for a walk.”

Rachel looked up for the first time. “The sky’s clear enough to see the stars.”

“It must be a sign.”

“Must be.”

“But we’re definitely driving.”

“Of course.”

Christopher went inside to get the tracking device and Rachel went to the garage. She climbed into the passenger seat and checked her face for dirt in the mirror. She was trying to wipe off her cheek with her sleeve when Christopher returned and tossed the harness into the back seat.

The bridge was not busy at this time of night, but the shoulder was not quite wide enough, and their car stuck into the lane. Rachel and Christopher stood looking up at the fence on the side of the bridge.

“It’s much higher than it seems when you’re driving by.”

“Maybe there’s an easier way. We could park somewhere and walk to the river. Or find a dumpster.”

“We’re not hobos, Christopher. I’m not walking to the river or dumpster diving in the middle of the night. We’re already here. Let’s figure it out.”

 

Christopher took a step back, reared his arm, and threw the harness. It caught on the spiked top of the fence and hung there, vibrating in the wind. Rachel heaved a great sigh.

A speeding car approached. Its headlights illuminated the rust stains that streamed from the metal fence onto the concrete parapet. The car honked rapidly when it had to move into the other lane to avoid Rachel and Christopher. Its slipstream pressed against them, and bits of trash swirled into the air.

“You could have turned the hazards on at least.”

“I was trying to be incognito.”

“Well, we can’t leave it there.” Rachel indicated the dangling harness.

“I’ll get it.” Christopher tried to climb the fence, but it was a suicide barrier and had no place for footholds.

“No, I’ll get it.” Rachel opened the car, pulled out the ice scraper, and climbed onto the trunk and up to the roof.

“I’ll spot you!” Christopher called. Rachel leaned against the fence, stretched onto her tiptoes, and reached the ice scraper toward the harness. Another car drove by honking. She flipped the harness off the fence, and it sailed away.

She stayed angled in place for a moment and listened.

“I didn’t hear it land.”

“I heard something.”

“Are we even over the river? All I can see is treetops.”

“Pretty sure we are.”

“We should have just parked and walked to the river.”

“Walk down to the river? In the middle of the night? We’d get murdered.”

Another car drove by and laid on the horn as it curved out of sight.

“Let’s go home.”

Rachel climbed down. Christopher reached out, but she didn’t take his hand. Her foot slipped on the bumper, and the ice scraper clattered onto the road. Christopher picked it up. They got into the car and did a U-turn.

“I’m surprised we didn’t wake up Lucas earlier.”

“I’m surprised at how well he took the whole thing.”

“I remember when he read Charlotte’s Web. He cried every night for a week.”

“I haven’t killed a spider in his presence since.”

“And here we are, a dead Caucasian eagle in our home, and he’s fine.”

“He’s really grown up.”

“Time goes so fast, you don’t notice it. Then something like this happens, and it’s clear as day. Our little boy is grown.”

After a moment, Rachel spoke again. “Speaking of time flying, do you remember the time we got in that fight in college?”

Christopher’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “How could I forget, when you bring it up so often.”

“You were so mad at me.”

“It was a long time ago.”

“What was it again? Ah, yes. I went to a party without you, and you heard I messed around with another guy.”

Messed around is generous, considering what I heard.”

“You pushed me down, climbed on top of me and spit on me. And then you called me a whore. Wow. Feels like a lifetime ago.”

“We both made mistakes. It was a long time ago. Forgiven and forgotten, right? I haven’t done anything like that in a long time.”

“I haven’t done anything to upset you in a long time.”

“But you could have, at any time, you could have done something like that again.”

“Same for you! Every time we fight, I wonder. But you’re right. We moved on. We got married, we had a child. I just remember it, sometimes.” She turned to him and leaned over the center console. “Remembering isn’t the same as being stuck in the past.” She put her hand on the inside of his thigh. “Right?”

“That’s right,” he said, and he moved her hand onto his erection.

 

When they got home, Rachel examined her shirt for the tear she was certain she’d felt when she’d reached toward the top of the fence. Her seams were intact, but her hands were dark with rust and dirt. She and Christopher stood together at the bathroom sink and washed their hands with the antibacterial soap. He put Neosporin on his blister.

“I’m calling in sick tomorrow.”

“Me too.”

They fell asleep in each other’s arms.

 
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Lucas was at the table with a bowl of cereal when Rachel and Christopher came downstairs wearing the sheen and sheepishness of parents who have just had an early morning fuck while their child was already awake.

“I heard you in the backyard last night. The whole neighborhood probably heard you.”

“No! We were very discreet.”

“You left the shovels out. The shed door is wide open, and I think the light is still on.”

“We were in a hurry.”

“It was late.”

“I’ll take care of it later.” Christopher went into the kitchen and kicked a clod of dirt aside.

“News on the eagle,” Lucas said. “Its GPS tracker came back online yesterday. The authorities started getting a signal around 5:50 Eastern. Right around your CPR session.” He tapped his screen, jumping between various articles.

“Well, we took care of the tracking device last night, too. Didn’t we?”

“What?” Christopher called from the kitchen.

“The tracking device!”

“Yeah, we threw it in the river. Who wants breakfast? Like, a real breakfast? I could eat a horse.”

Lucas considered his mother, in pajamas, dirt under her nails, hair unwashed. “If you two aren’t going to work, I’m not going to school.” He pocketed his phone and headed to his room. “Let me know when the bacon is ready.”

 
 

On one end of the table was a spread of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, and juice. On the other end, a pair of wire cutters, an electric knife, and a pile of black feathers that Rachel had gathered from the floor. They’d just sat down to eat when the doorbell played the chorus of “Jingle Bells.”

“We’ve really got to reset it,” Rachel said, as she snapped a piece of bacon in half. She stopped, the bacon halfway to her mouth. “How are my nails still full of dirt?”

“Jingle Bells” played again. Christopher put more butter on his toast. “I forgot my password for the doorbell app.”

“Jingle Bells” played again. “It’s almost May,” Lucas said. “You guys are an embarrassment.” Christopher took a large gulp coffee and burned the roof of his mouth.

A trio of forceful knocks on the door. “If that’s a package, the delivery guy sounds pissed.” Rachel got up and opened the door to a brick-chimney-shaped woman wearing a tan windbreaker.

“Good morning. I’m Special Agent Richardson from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.”

“Good morning.” Rachel stood in front of Christopher, who was in front of Lucas. Rachel waited for the woman to flip open a badge, but instead, she showed them a picture on her phone.

“Have you seen this bird?”

“What? No.”

“Uh-uh.”

“I did see a bird yesterday.”

“Yes, we saw a little brown one.”

“But not that bird.”

“Oh no, I’d remember if I’d seen that bird.”

Lucas snorted.

“This particular bird is fitted with a GPS tracking device. When the signal came back online yesterday evening, it showed the bird at this address for quite a while.”

“Really?” Rachel brought her hand to her chest for effect. “Well, a bird certainly never came into the house.”

Christopher laughed. “Certainly not. It didn’t just—” he began to pantomime the gait of a gorilla— “walk up and ring the doorbell. It didn’t join us for dinner. Ha ha!”

“Ha ha! No, it didn’t do that.”

“Alright. Did you all go for a drive last night?”

“Us? No. We slept last night.”

“Like every night.”

“We’re not night people.”

“Definitely not night people. We’re day people.”

Rachel brought a finger to her chin. “You know what must have happened? The bird must have stopped in our yard, sat in a tree for a while, and then flown off.”

“It could have even been on the porch.” Christopher said, as an ink-black feather, longer than his forearm, caught the air and drifted behind Agent Richardson.

 

The agent swiped and showed them her phone again. “Do you know why the bird would have stuck to the streets? Why, in the middle of the night, it would have flown down to the intersection, turned a sharp right, and then a left, and gone to the bridge?”

“Wow, those tracking devices must be incredibly accurate.” Rachel’s eyes traced the red line on the phone.

“They’re nearly perfectly accurate. Did you know there’s a fine for throwing things off bridges in this city?”

“We didn’t know. We’ve had no reason to know.”

“I’ve seen the signs on the bridge. I know. So obviously I’d never!”

“Can I come in and look around?”

Rachel and Christopher looked at each other. Lucas had taken a step back and was on his phone again.

Rachel turned back to Agent Richardson, whose wide stance took up most of the doorway. “Don’t you need a warrant to come inside?”

“I have one. I was trying to be nice.” Agent Richardson pulled the warrant up on her phone and began to step forward.

Before she could cross the threshold, an ultramarine compact Nissan squealed onto the street and swung into the driveway. A huge man got out of the passenger seat, causing the car to raise several inches in relief. He wore shiny gym shorts and a muscle tank that was doing the bare minimum to be called a shirt. His arms were bulbous, his eyebrows arched from an unsettled facelift, and his chin and cheeks pillowed with fillers. A leather quiver and lip-shaped bow were strapped to his back.

“Oh shit!” Lucas said.

“Oh shit,” Agent Richardson said.

Rachel’s eyes went wide. Christopher stayed behind her.

Heracles bellowed in Greek. A small man with a swirl of blond hair scrambled out of the driver’s seat and hustled to the door. “He wants to know, ‘Where is the damned bird?’ ”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Agent Richardson said.

Heracles pointed at Lucas and asked the small man a question. The man answered and reached to shake Lucas’s hand. “You must be _TheLucasssss_. I’m Lance, Mr. Heracles’s emissary. We’ve been following your social media.” Heracles towered over Agent Richardson, but Lance had been able to wedge himself in front of her. “Is the eagle still here?”

Rachel and Christopher swung around to Lucas, and he clicked off his phone and slowly put it in his pocket. “I didn’t post any pictures. I swear. I just said some stuff about the bird.”

“No, we saw pictures. And videos.” Lance had inserted himself into the house. Agent Richardson was calling for backup. Heracles picked her up and dropped her into the hedge so he could get into the house. He bellowed again. “Is it—?” Lance glanced at the table and gestured to the backyard.

Heracles was across the house in a few steps, and he ripped the back door off the hinges.

“You’ll be compensated,” Lance called over his shoulder as he followed Heracles into the yard. The shed was open, and the shovel and trowel were lying across a large mound of dirt.

 

Agent Richardson came through the back door, a twig stuck in her shirt collar. Heracles took up the shovel. His hair spread like a mane onto his shoulders. As he dug, his arms bulged as if each muscle had grown its own muscles. Rachel wondered how it would feel to be picked up by this stunning beast, to be dropped like a doll onto a bed, to hear the bed groan under the weight of his body, to hold onto his muscles’ muscles as he destroyed her from the inside out.

Heracles unearthed the bird and shouted something at Lance, who had picked up the trowel and given it a look of disdain. His blue suit was spotless and his walnut-brown shoes gleamed. “Mr. Heracles would like to know where _TheLucasssss_ has gone.”

Rachel’s head whipped around, relieved to see no sign of their son. “I’m sure he left for school.”

“Where is his school?”

“He didn’t do this. None of us did. The eagle was on our porch. It was already dead when we found it. We—” she pointed to herself and Christopher, “buried it. That’s all. Lucas didn’t have anything to do with any of this.”

Agent Richardson was taking pictures of the bird, the feathers matted with dirt, the broken wing tucked at an unnatural angle, but she had her eyes on Heracles. Lance interpreted Rachel’s words. As Lance spoke, the shovel’s handle splintered in Heracles’s overgrown hand.

Lance turned back to Rachel. “You’ll be compensated.”

“What about her?” Christopher pointed to Agent Richardson. “She shows up, happens to know exactly where the dead bird is. How did it get here, dead on our porch? Do we look like the types to kill a giant eagle? No. I mean, I got a blister from using a shovel. I’m not about to try to kill an eagle that eats livers for a living. But look at her. She’s a professional. She’s packing heat.”

As Lance interpreted, Heracles turned to Agent Richardson, who was slowly sliding her phone into her pocket with her left hand, her right hand hovering over her service weapon. Heracles’s eyes had shifted into a frightening blankness; Richardson’s eyes narrowed to dart points. Rachel tried to remember, had Christopher been the one who had said, We can’t leave it on the porch? Which one of them had reached to pick up the bird first, who had unlocked the door and propped it open, who had agreed taking a dead eagle inside was a good idea? Why, in this moment, did it matter? She took Christopher’s hand. What mattered was their son was not here, which meant they had done at least one thing right. They had raised a child who was smart enough to run away, not toward.

Richardson said something in halting Greek. Sirens wailed feebly in the distance. Lance held out his hands and shook his head. He tried to speak to Heracles. But Heracles had already drawn an arrow from his quiver, and Richardson had him in her sights. Christopher and Rachel held one another, pressing together as if their togetherness itself could protect them. An arrow and a bullet were released and sped toward each other. If Lucas, who was in his room and holding his phone between his curtains and livestreaming the scene, later stopped and zoomed in at exactly the right moment, when a drop of poison flew from the arrow as it moved past the bullet, he would see the look shared by his parents—a slight shift of light creating the illusion of constellations mirrored in their eyes, the grim set of their mouths shaped by the timeless knowledge that, whatever this was, they were in it together. And in the next frame, when the bullet and the arrow pierced the flesh of their targets, Rachel and Christopher, for the moment, would appear to not notice.

 
 

Spring / Summer 2024



Stephanie Frazee

Stephanie Frazee’s work is forthcoming or has appeared in Bayou Magazine, ONE ART, Third Wednesday, Juked, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is a reader for Juked, American Short Fiction, and No Contact, and she lives in Seattle.



Peter Ferguson

Peter Ferguson is a painter and former illustrator from Montreal.



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