A Better Day Tomorrow
by Michael H. Payne
The scent gusted over Harmon's beak with the wind, and he turned into it, adjusted his wings, the autumn-bare branches making it easy to sweep the forest floor for--
A red flag among the roots. With a shiver, he realized it was the Timmler's oak; he stooped, landed beside the flagpole, his talons digging into the dirt to see Gloria, her eyes closed, her front paws clasped, the black armband making her gray fur look even grayer.
He wanted to give his usual cackle, ask G.G. if she was ready for a flight into Ottersgate, but the leaf-wrapped bundle beside her changed everything. With a swallow, he bowed and spoke the ritual phrase: "A better day tomorrow, Ms. Timmler."
"We live in hope, Mr. Crow." She bowed in return, her eyes, red and puffy, finally fluttering open. "I was half-hoping it'd be you, Harm. And half-hoping it wouldn't."
The sudden lump in his throat made it hard to ask. "Grampa?"
"Last night. Ev'ryone expected it, but still..." Gloria blew out a shaky breath, and the only other sound for a while was the wind rattling the treetops.
Harmon shook himself. "I know you're s'posed to watch, G.G., but you don't--"
"I do." Her voice wavered. "I'm eldest in the family now." She blinked and stood up straighter. "I thank you for your service, Mr. Crow."
"We do what we must, Ms. Timmler." He couldn't look at her; hopping forward, he bowed to the bundle and opened his beak.