I half-wake in the night, deliciously warm, and I think, There was something to burn after all, and feel a drowsy sense of satisfaction. Later -- and it might be moments later or hours later, the way it is when you're half-asleep -- I try to remember what I found to burn and how I got it back into the cabin, but it doesn't matter. I drift off again, warm and safe.
I sit bolt upright in bed. The daylight streams in from outside. A blonde-haired boy, about five years old, a blue backpack hanging off one arm, is staring at me in shock. It looks as though the owners of the cabin have arrived. For some reason the safeguards I'd put in place didn't warn me ahead of time. Despite the jolt of adrenalin from the unexpected noise I'm still struggling to think at full speed. Kids aren't as easy to fool as adults. He takes another breath, and I know he's going to shriek again unless I do something quick.
And I transform. I've never transformed before, but somehow I know what to do. My body shrinks and twists and changes in uncomfortable ways, and ebony feathers sprout from my skin, and I spread my new dark wings and fly straight up and out of the open cabin skylight.
I flap strongly until I'm well above the cabin, then I settle down to glide on the piping cold air currents, grateful for warm feathers. I look around in all directions, trying to get my bearings. The snow is starting to melt in the sunlight; a large swath has already half-slid off the pitched roof of the cabin. I hear the faint sound of the boy still shrieking for his mother, and his mother responding with a hysterical "What is it?" But she'll never believe him, and in time he'll come to believe he made up the whole thing. Over the next ridge, fifteen to twenty miles straight to the north -- dare I think "as the crow flies?" -- is a small town, apparently the closest, and I decide to make for it. It would certainly be a safer bet than staying in this remote icy wilderness.
But rising up inside me, stronger than my own thoughts, are other sensations crowding into my brain -- oddly shaped, not composed as human thoughts are -- compulsions to strut and preen, to find shiny objects, to pick out the choicest bits of roadkill. And I realize, as these animal sensations become louder and more insistent, drowning out my own thoughts, that there's a very real danger of losing my human self completely and becoming the form I merely inhabit.
I flap swiftly, trying to make it as close to the town as I can, trying to concentrate on human thoughts and not on shiny distractions. I recite songs and nursery rhymes in my head, skipping over the one about "four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie." Finally, as the crowlike thoughts threaten to drown out even my sense of urgency, I land in the snow on a ridge overlooking the town, ready to change back. But I don't know how I changed in the first place, and now, in a panic, I discover I don't know how to reverse it. I flounder in the snow, cawing in distress, flapping to keep my balance and trying to hold onto my inner humanity, but I can feel myself slipping away, being held down and rapidly strangled by mindless instinct. And just as I complete the transformation and become wholly a crow in mind and body, just like every other crow that ever existed --
-- I wake up. I'm human. I'm still in the cabin. The dawn is just starting to break over the mountains. The fire in the stove has gone out, but the residual heat still warms the space.
It's time to move. I could probably stay here safely for several more days, but I'd rather take my chances in the snow. There's something about this cabin that brings on horrible dreams. And perhaps at least part of the dream is true, and I should try going north from here.