Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, October 1, 2007

A little ghost story

She sat shivering in the Congaree Swamp for days, waiting and watching until she grew too cold to even shiver, her fingertips ready on her ice-cold camera, moving only when the battery light went out and she put in fresh batteries. When her lungs felt too cold to function anymore and her vision grew blurred, she took out her only book of matches. One by one she burned them, holding them close to her face, mesmerized by the glow as she breathed in the warmth, trying to remember why she was here, who she was waiting for. But her mind was growing as numb as her body.

Just as the last match’s flame shrunk and died out, along with all hope, the earth itself grew bright. And emerging not so much from the glowing forest as from the sky itself, in flew the specter she had been longing to see, on ethereal wingbeats, black and white and red, substantial yet somehow... She pulled her stiff and heavy arms up and followed the bird with her camera, clicking over and over and over. Photo after photo, until as the bird winged past her with a soft breath of feathers against her face, everything disappeared in a strange burst of brilliant white and red.

The Forest Service helicopter pilot was jolted to see white and red sparks flying above the trees over the wilderness. Fire! But the red sparks looked more crimson than orange, and he’d never seen a forest fire spurt white sparks. And there was no smoke. The response team was shocked—despite the fading but still unearthly glow, the forest was quiet and empty. All they found was a pile of burnt-out matches and a digital camera which was never claimed at the Forest Service office. Months later, in Minnesota, the search for Amanda Campephilus, a little-known ornithologist, was ended. Her husband was arrested for her murder, but no body was ever found and no motive ever noted, and eventually he was released.

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