Lucinda Pfister rests her head on a knob on the apple tree in Eden, looks up at the purple and red-orange of falling leafs and spots an oriole. These birds are rare these days, at least around here. She freezes, only her eyes follow its drift. Her foot taps in delight to its flap and sway. It glides in a tilt-a-whirl around her head, and then perches on the branch above her. She cranes her neck, a slight shift for a better view of its orange beak. Soon she notices another oriole, and as she squints, it has a face like her mother’s. She almost reaches out and up to it, but doesn’t.
As the scattered dots and beams of sun appear and flash on her face and in her eyes, moving abrupt from cheek to chin, with her neck bent so far back, she slips into sleep. When she awakens dozens of orioles coast over her.
All the birds have faces like her mother and her father. She almost sings their high song, so stirred and full of cheer. No day in her dreams has brought such a host of delicate creatures. They seem to toy with her now, cloud around her shoulders, sweep her cheeks with the tips of their wings. Her eyes flutter in the haze of their play. She holds her arms out in a T, and some land there and some land on her head.
Pfister dips her head forward in thanks, enthralled as they knead her hair. But beyond the border of black and orange over her, there comes a smaller cluster of larger forms.
A mass of men in puffed and sparkled silver spacesuits scramble up the hill to her. They lug what looks like underwater breathing gear on their backs, and each helps to pull along part of a thick hose. The orioles’ flutters become frantic and the breeze off them wets Pfister’s eyes. She is suddenly stricken by fear.
The birds flock off her in formation. They split and circle the men. Pfister sees the men tramp toward her, all towing the hose. Her heart pushes and pulls. Suddenly, there is this almost deafening high-pitched whirring sound. An extreme pressure pulls at and almost lifts her from a sitting position and the tree’s leafs rush off and on to the birds and men. Pfister balls up and covers her head. After some moments of how long she is unsure, she realizes a stillness. She uncoils and looks up. The tree is barren. Some of the men encircle her, others roll up the hose.
One of the men says, “Soul-crushers.” He nods over at scattered feathers.
“Soul-crushers?” Pfister asks, and picks parts of slivers of tree from her eyelid. The man helps her up.
“You thought them to be orioles, no?” She coughs out a yes. “You were mistaken.” He licks his thumb and dabs at the blood left on her face from tiny claw marks and says, “Orioles only to the untrained eye. They are, in fact, soul-crushers and had taken to crushing your soul back there.”
She barely flinches at his second touch. He shows her the blood and switches to a white handkerchief. He continues, “It is most likely that we succeeded in vanquishing them before they completely crushed your soul.”
Pfister feels deflated, and she sways. The man offers one arm, steadies her with the other around her waist. She starts to ask him how he knew how to find her, but doesn't.
She starts off and out of his grasp. She starts to stumble, but he catches her at the elbow, a tiny pulse of static fires with the touch. She thinks that even if the richest parts of what he calls her soul were crushed by those orioles, it was worth it to be found by this man, this wild balloon in the wind filled with secrets.