People around here say my grandma is Odd. People say I'm Odd, too, but usually when they think I can't hear them.
"Your gran," some say, shaking their heads. "Always getting into weird business."
"She's not quite right," say others.
"A bit nutty," say a few.
"Sweet as can be," most add on, as though it fixed it. "Nice lady, just a bit off, you know?"
I have no idea what they mean.
Gran isn't odd at all. She's an old lady who lives in the woods, and it's the woods that are Odd. Poor old Gran just deals with it.
One day, when I was delivering the laundry Mom had done, I saw Gran come out of the woods with a bad limp and blood on her dress. She hobbled onto the cobbled street and almost collapsed.
We all rushed over to her-- me, Reg the baker, his wife Mary, the seamstress sisters, Johnny-- all of us who'd been outside and saw it.
"It was a bird!" she told us. "I was in my garden, and a giant bird chased came down and chased me!"
"It's alright, Ellie," said Reg, helping walk Gran over to a bench outside the bakery. "We'll get Doc over. Doc'll get that leg fixed up."
"But the bird!" said Gran
"Right right," said Sarry, the older seamstress sister. She sat next to Gran and pat her hand. "I'm sure the birds are gone."
"It was one bird--"
"Probably magpies," said May, the younger seamstress sister, standing near them. "They get mean around this season."
"We'll get Tom to take you home," said Johnny. "He's got his cart fixed so he'll be able to give you a ride--"
"I can't go back!" said Gran. "The bird was still there!"
Mary looked at me helplessly. "Anna," she said. "Go find your mom."
I nodded and ran home, where Mom was finishing the last load of laundry for the Weaver family. I told her what happened and she hurried off to the bakery to help Gran.
Once she was out of sight, I went inside and got my boots and then headed out for the woods. Nobody had said anything about me going back, and I wanted to see if Gran was right about the bird.
* * * * *
The road to grandma's house is strange. Sometimes it's narrow like a deer path and it winds and weaves and it's full of tree roots sticking out of the ground that trip up horses and force people to walk. Other times, it's short and smooth and the path is wide enough for a whole group of people to come through. I used to try and measure the road, when I was little. I'd tie ribbons around branches and trees and try to count the steps between each marker, but every time I tried, the ribbons would be moved onto different trees and branches until I wasn't sure at all where I had actually put them.
The day with the bird, the path was neither. It was narrow that day, but it didn't take long to go through, and there weren't any roots tripping me, but the tree branches hung lower than usual, like they were trying to get me to hit my head. The path spat me out in the glade where grandma's cottage was. Her cottage is small and made of white stones that are starting to crumble on the side, and a thatched roof that smelled in the winter but kept the place warm and dry.
Sitting on top of Gran's house, casting a great big shadow over it, was a huge black bird. Bigger than a horse, bigger than a cart, almost as big as the house itself. It had its wings closed to its side, like it was sitting in a nest and not a roof.
I walked up the path that led to the front door and stopped in front of the house.
"Hey!" I said.
The bird twisted its head to look at me. It blinked at me slowly, with its eyelids coming up from the bottom instead of from the top like people's did.
“Bird," I said. "Why are you scaring my grandmother?”
The bird looked at me with shining black eyes and said, “Hungry! Hungry hungry hungry!"
"You wanted to eat her?!"
The bird shook its head. "No no no no. Hungry! Food! She had food!" It stretched out its long neck and turned its head downward, so it was looking at a window. It tapped on the glass with its huge beak. "Food in there!" it said.
“Stop!" I said, running towards it. "You'll break the glass!"
The bird stopped. "Food?" it said.
"If I give you food, will you leave us alone?”
The bird bobbed its head up and down. "Yes yes food yes!"
I went inside, trying not to look at the part of bird that was sticking out over the doorway. I went straight to the kitchen and found what the bird must've been looking for; a loaf of fresh bread. It was mostly cool, but I could feel a small bit of warmth still at the bottom. grandma must've made it that morning.
Tap tap tap.
I turned around and saw the bird looking at me through the window.
"Food?" it said.
I turned and went out the front.
"Food!" it said.
"Over here!" I hurled the bread as far as I could. It landed on the ground a ways away. The giant bird stretched his neck and pecked at the bread without leaving the roof. He got it all in one peck, but kept poking at the ground where it had been, like he was hoping he'd missed some crumbs. Then he stood. The house creaked under his movement, and with a great flap of his wings, he was in the air, leaving.
I watched him go, getting smaller and smaller in the air until there was nothing but a tiny black speck in the sky. I was still looking at the sky, so I didn't see when a freckle-faced boy a few years older than me rode out of the woods on an old gray nag.
"Anna?" he said.
"Hi, Tom," I said, turning towards him. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing." He stopped the horse in front of me. "You gran's refusing to come back until we've checked for birds or something. Dad sent me out here to scare them away."
"I beat you to it," I said. "The place is bird-free."
"Figures," he said. "Was there even any birds?"
He offered a hand. I took it, and he pulled me up onto the saddle behind him.
"Did you have any trouble getting here?" I said.
"Nah," said Tom. "The road's playing nice today."
And we headed back into the woods, back to town to tell Grandma the place was safe.