The bird casually ruffled its gasoline-slick feathers, hopped over to the side of the fireplace, and tilted its head, fixing Griff with an “I’ve-got-you” stare from its shining black eyes. Then it set the match heads against the bricks and flicked its head downwards as Griff leaped forward and shouted, “Nooo!!”
Flames engulfed the fireplace instantaneously, ravenously igniting the matches, newspaper, and gas-drenched birds in a flaring blaze.
Naomi screamed; her mom shrieked.
“Get the extinguisher!” yelled Naomi, pointing to the corner behind the couch, to the left of the fireplace.
But even as Griff lunged towards the fire extinguisher, he was set upon by the rest of the birds, who flung themselves upon him with beak, claw, and burning wing. Even as the gas-soaked crows roasted, they dove at him like demons out of hell, battering him back, tearing at his clothes, pecking at his face and neck, singeing his skin. He wrapped his arms protectively around his face and stumbled back.
Everywhere the birds landed, fire followed. In mere moments the couches were ablaze, and the carpet, and then the walls caught fire, tongues of flame licking up the boiling, peeling wallpaper.
A burning crow had gotten its claws stuck in Griff’s old t-shirt as it tore at him, and the shirt itself was now burning. Griff tore it off and threw it to the floor, kicking the crow away. “Everybody out!” he roared, heading for the front door. The heat and smoke from the growing fire were forcing them all out into the hallway; it was becoming more difficult to breathe.
“Wait!” said Naomi. “Where are my Dad and Candace?!”
Griff focussed for a moment. “Upstairs, that way!” He pointed upwards at angle.
Naomi’s mom was already halfway up the staircase, screaming her husband’s name in a blind panic.
Griff and Naomi bounded after her. In her haste, Naomi’s mom stumbled on a stair and began to reel backwards, but Griff caught her under the arms and lifted her back onto her feet.
“I’ll get them!” said Naomi. “Get her out of here!”
Griff obeyed, pulling the unwilling woman after him down the stairs and through the hallway. She flailed at him, screaming for her husband, but Emily saw what was happening and came to help, first by grabbing the woman’s arms and then by staring deep into her eyes and forcing her into a deep calm—too deep, in fact, because her eyes rolled upwards and she slumped into a grinning, lethargic swoon.
“Get her legs,” ordered Griff, and together they carried her out of the house. As they stepped off the porch, Griff took an unconscious step to his left, as if navigating around an unseen obstacle, and something vague twitched in his mind, like a memory he couldn’t quite recall, but then it was gone. He shook his head clear of the thought and laid Naomi’s mom down on the sidewalk.
A window blew out, and then another, spraying glass across the lawn. Tongues of flame were licking out of the windows and crawling up the siding.
Emily turned and was about to rush back into the house to find Naomi, but Griff grabbed her shoulder and held her back. “They aren’t coming out that way! Come on; they’re going around the back.” He led the way through the side gate into the back yard, where he could sense the three people backed into a corner of the house’s upper storey.
Again, the vague impression that he’d forgotten something momentarily sprang up at the back of Griff’s mind, but he shoved it aside.
They rounded the back corner of the house just in time to see Candace flop through a narrow bathroom window and tumble onto the roof. She scrabbled for a hold but slipped down towards the edge, shrieking. With a surge of energy, Griff dove forward to get beneath her and caught her as she fell. Her weight knocked him to the ground.
Emily helped them both back to their feet. Griff looked up and saw Naomi squeezing through the window herself, but she was a bit bigger than Candace and was having a harder time of it.
“You can do it!” Emily encouraged.
“Lift me higher, Dad!” Naomi yelled behind her. Then she popped through the opening and caught herself with her hands, bracing her feet sideways against the steep shingles.
The moment she was out, a crow burst through the window behind her, screaming, and dive-bombed her. It got its feet caught up in her hair and battered her ears with its wings. Naomi reached up, grabbed the bird by its neck, and flung it down onto the rooftop. It bounced once and fell limply over the edge onto the lawn. Griff ran over and gave it a hard kick for good measure.
Naomi had returned her attention to the window. “Come on, Dad!”
Her father’s eyes were peeking through the narrow opening, and he led through with one arm and shoulder, but then withdrew. Griff heard him say, “I can’t fit!”
“Back away,” ordered Naomi. She steadied herself, then lashed out at the window’s internal framing with a kick. Nothing budged; Naomi had to windmill her arms crazily to keep her balance. “I’m not strong enough!”
“Yes you are!” yelled Emily. “Naomi, look at me!”
Emily knit her eyebrows together and gritted her teeth, and Griff even thought he heard her growl a little.
Suddenly Naomi howled in rage, consumed by an anger that burned even brighter than the raging inferno that was now licking at the edges of the roof and creeping onto the shingles. She set her feet again and drove her foot right through the plastic frame, cracking it in half and shattering the glass. She reached through and gripped her dad’s wrist, practically hauling him bodily through the now-larger opening.
Together, the two of them edged across the roof, away from the flames, and dropped down to the ground, collapsing on the grass and rubbing their shins to work out the sting of the landing.
“Are we all out?” asked Emily, giving Naomi a quick calming stare to dispel the summoned fury.
“Thanks for the help guys,” said Naomi. “I think that’s everyone.” She stared up at her house, which was now almost entirely engulfed by flame.
The stray thought that had been pressing at Griff welled up again, and this time he focussed on it, tried to grab hold of it. What was…?
Suddenly he took off running, back to the front of the house. He’d been blind; he’d been stupid; she’d been right there in front of him! Francis!