It wasn’t life that flashed before my eyes as Betty Fae thwacked me between the shoulder blades. It was death and disaster—replays of all the faces of shock and sadness worn by acquaintances of my past. Death of one sort or the other followed that stupid Raven.
I remembered them all. Vividly. The writer, the homeschool mom, the surfer, the politician. They were among the near-strangers I’d encountered and endangered.
Following their faces came the really painful pictures. The friendly child advocate, the sweet boy next door, and losing my aunt and uncle. After them, but always above them, followed the loss of my sister and father.
All because of the same intolerable bird. Gracious enough to give me a glimpse of their perils before nudging them to the brink. Impending doom sat, staring at me, from the cup of the only friend I had in town- Janice Rockland. It lingered there amid the froth bubbles, telling me Janice Rockland had twenty-four hours, at most, left to live.
My eyes watered. My throat closed all the tighter. Even after it dislodged my Belgian waffle. Air battled past my suffocating emotions. I gulped it down, despising myself and fearing for my boss.
Janice and Betty Fae offered me a glass of water and napkins, thinking they’d saved the day. Little did they know. Trouble had just landed in their small town.
Janice watched me through the rest of the meal. If I told her she was about to die, would she be able to eat? I sipped my coffee and avoided conversation.
Long ago, I’d explained my weird glimpses to one of the Raven’s victims. Instead of believing me, my friend grew increasingly sarcastic about my confession. He mocked me. I didn’t blame him. I’m not sure I would’ve believed me, either. In the end, his sarcasm killed him.
Laughing and gesturing like a mad bird to make fun of my premonitions, he’d lost control of his bicycle and collided with a garbage truck just as it was lowering its load.
No, I wasn’t about to tell Janice about her Raven. I’d keep watch. Stay sharp. Once the bird made an appearance, he wouldn’t leave until his prey was dead. Accidentally or with malice aforethought.
The next song, movie quote, television commercial, or anything ominous could clue me in on how to save her. At least I could give it a shot. If I didn’t keep a constant eye on Janice, her death would be on my head.
“Add it to your list.”
It startled me. The Raven hadn’t spoken to me before. I was really losing it.
Janice leaned across the table and tapped my wrist. “Earth to Penny,” she said.
She smiled. “Still dazed from your near-death experience? I would be.” She wiped her face and placed her napkin on her dish. “I was just asking if, along with cleaning and packing, could you add reordering to your list?”
Relief flooded over me. Was it strange that I was happy I was only slightly crazy and not hearing voices?
“Sure,” I answered.
Janice flagged down Betty Fae and handled the check. I slipped the only cash I had on me under my coffee cup as a tip for dealing with my momentary freakout.
As Janice bundled up, Betty Fae hit the jukebox remote. I held my breath as it hummed to life.
“Please play something nice,” I whispered to myself.
No dice. Last Kiss started playing.
“Great song! But not breakfast music,” Janice said, tossing a tip in the jar next to the register.
Betty Fae frowned and pushed another button. The jukebox shuffled. Leader of the Pack blasted right at its climax.
My stomach dropped. Unless I could keep her away from all traffic and roads, Janice was doomed.