Hannah scrambled sideways, sliding downward but managing to keep her grip on the roof. Birds swooped down, their wings beating a hair’s breadth over her head, her should blades, her back. Fighting them off meant risking falling four stories to the ground. The birds tugged at her hoodie and cawed.
Panic raced through her. Her heart rushed. She hid her face in the crook of her shoulder and choked back the rest of her screams.
Something clattered on the roof once and then again. The birds shrieked. Their wings beat faster all around her. The roof’s shingles grated Hannah’s fingers. A bird pulled her hair.
Something thunked into the melee and then struck Hannah’s leg. Another thunk and the beating of wings changed. She peered over her arm. A rock rested nearby.
An object broke through the flock and feathers erupted.
The birds rose higher into the air.
Hannah, sensing the space between her and the birds, rolled over and looked up. She’d never seen anything like it, a blanket of birds stayed mere feet above her, staring back her while their wings flapped wildly. They terrified and entranced her. Perhaps then if they’d come at her, she’d have gone.
But another rock sailed into the fray, and they were off. The birds soared. They swooped over the Asylum grounds and gained speed. Soon they were a swift dark cloud over the stars. Hannah couldn’t take her eyes off them.
She startled and looked back to the window she’d climbed out of not that long ago. “Clem?”
Clem stood at the window, a rock in his hand and a mask over his face. “C’mon! Your dad’s here.”
“We’re here to take you home.”
Questions shoved up against each other, but she pushed them back for later. “I can’t go,” she said. “I…” but she wasn’t sure how to explain.
“Do I need to come out there?” he asked.
Hannah, scratched and sweaty, blinked. Clem was afraid of heights. But it was clear he’d come get her if he thought he had to. “Okay. Okay,” she replied and inched toward him without looking back at the sky.
* * *
Back in the storage room the old woman and Nurse Stillmark face each other.
“You hate this place as much as I do,” the nurse said. “More than I do. Help me.”
The old woman let silence hang in the air long enough to make the nurse’s smile twitch. “If you burn this place down, people will die. Those who don’t die will no longer have a home.”
“Home? This is an Asylum.”
“So, you have a home for them, do you?”
Nurse Stillmark scoffed. “Do you know the patient who thinks he’s a swan? Or the woman who says an imp stole her child? Or the one who talks to mirrors all day? No one cares what happens to them.”
The old woman took out her knife. “You,” she said smoothly, “have always been a stupid woman.”