One November night, back when I was still eager to grow up, I awoke to a tapping on my window. It was a breezy night so I assumed that it was just tree branches rattling against the glass. That is, until the tapping turned into pounding.
Trembling, I got up and walked over to the window. Looking back at me was a young woman with messy black hair, wearing old, worn-out clothes. She mimed opening the window, giving an encouraging smile.
"Hello," I said, opening the window an inch.
"Hi, would you let me in? I'm freezing out here," She said.
"I don't know you. Maybe I should wake up my parents..."
"P-please just let me in. I'll tell you a story if you do."
I regarded her chattering teeth. "What kind of story is it? My papa said I'm too old for fairy tales."
"Well...it isn't a fairy tale. How old are you?"
"I turn seven next week."
"C-congratulations. C-could we d-discuss this inside?"
A moment later, she was kneeling by the radiator with a look of manic delight. I cleared my throat.
"What kind of story will it be?"
She stood up, her expression suddenly serious. Absently, she turned to my dresser and picked up my music box. "It's a true story."
"Where is the fun in that?"
She gave me a confused look as she began winding the box. "Do you want to hear it or not?"
"Does it end well?"
"No, not especially now that I think about it."
I settled back into my bed and stared at the ceiling for a moment. Finally deciding that I was too awake, I nodded. "Go ahead."
She sat at the foot of my bed. "Once upon a time."
"Wait, the storyteller sits over there," I said, pointing to the flowery armchair in across the room. "And that is how the fairy tales start."
"Lots of stories start like that." She replied defensively. "And the effect would be ruined if I was all the way over there."
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. She stared back, a slight smile twitching at the side of her mouth.
"Once upon a time, there was a vagabond who ran away from a bad life, hopping trains in hope of finding a better place to live.
"Night after night, this traveler sought a new home but was turned away. Night after night, people threw the vagabond of their trains like garbage. Night after night, traveler went to sleep on an empty stomach.
"Despite these hardships, the traveler never gave up on the idea that somewhere out there was a place for a wanderer to find food and rest. So, when morning came, the vagabond would find a new town, looking for a home.
"But when winter came, the traveler could no longer rest outside. The train tracks had been buried in ice, leaving the vagabond with no escape from the bitter cold. Freezing, hungry, and desperate for shelter, the traveler, at last, found a big farmhouse. There was smoke rising from the chimney, light in the windows, people laughing from within, and the smell of roasting chickens.
"Now, it was a snowy night, and upon seeing that happy-looking house, the vagabond jumped for joy. But when the freezing traveler knocked on the door, the house went silent. An angry man answered the door by chasing the traveler with a knife.
"The poor vagabond ran and ran until it was too dark to see. With nowhere to go, the traveler flailed through that dark blizzard, stumbling across what felt like a body.
"With some difficulty, the vagabond realized that it was a scarecrow. Desperate for any comfort, the vagabond took its clothes. Despite this, when morning came, the traveler had been claimed by the cold and darkness."
"No, it gets worse. Caaww caaww caaw! A flock of passing crows found the traveler that morning."
Startled by the decent crow impersonation, I fell silent.
"These crows had often flown past that field hungry and scared. But finally, seeing the what they thought was the scarecrow lying defeated in the snow. The vengeful flock pecked and tore at the back of the traveler's body, clear to the bone. Sated, they abandoned the traveler to the elements.
"A few nights later, something peculiar happened. That farmer heard a knocking on his door. To his bewilderment, none other than the poor vagabond stood there looking more frozen than before. Before the farmer could close the door, the traveler got him. Gobbled him up. Then the others, down to the last chicken in the coop.
"Some say, that too this day, the vagabond can be seen traveling through the snow, looking for the next meal."
"And a home." I added.
"Well, of course. And a home. The end."
She smiled anxiously while I made up my mind. I decided that I was still awake. "It was alright. I think I want a snack, would you like something?"
The lady seemed startled but nodded.
And so, a few minutes later, we were sitting in the kitchen, eating sandwiches and drinking milk.
"Do people usually open the window when you visit?"
"No," She smiled sadly. "You're the very first."
"What happens when they don't?"
"Oh, I break in and gobble them up." She said with a wink.
I smiled. Then, reaching into her jacket sleeve, she produced a black feather and placed it in front of me.
I stared, speechless.
She got up, moved her plate to the sink. "Well, I'd best get going now. It was nice to meet you."
I continued to look at the feather as she walked away. Then a crazy idea took hold of me. I ran to the hall closet, fetched my scarf and handed it to her as she opened the door.
"It's cold outside." I explained.
She gave me a hug, then continued walking down the driveway. She paused at the end, and as I watched two massive, ragged wings covered in raven feathers sprouted from the holes on the back of her jacket. And a heartbeat later, she flew into the night like some tattered angel, leaving me with a feather and a story.