“It contains your greatest fear.” The kingfisher perched in the branches above me preened its green and gold feathers with a long beak and a self-righteous air. “I can see into it. Want to guess what’s inside?”
The bright bird offered the only splash of color on this snowy morning. Every branch, leaf, and stone bore a coat of glittering ice; pale dawn rays flashed through tendrils of fog rising from the surface of the nearby lake. At the end of the bough on which the bird perched, a perfect sphere of ice clung to a network of twigs, larger than a soap bubble but only just. Intricate patterns frosted its blue surface, delicate and unique.
“If I crack it,” the kingfisher continued, voice sly, “your fear will come out.”
On the lake shore below the tree, I stamped my feet in the cold slush and blew warmth onto my chilled hands, breath fogging white. “Is it heights?”
All I got for my guess was a contemptuous look.
“The inexorable passage of time?” I continued, tone blasé. “The bottom of the ocean? Meaninglessness? Needles?”
“None of those!” the kingfisher snapped, feathers ruffling.
I smiled. “Then it contains none of my fears.” Turning my face to the rising sun, I set off along the shore, boots crunching against thin ice. “Maybe the only fears it contains are your own.”
A stunned beat of silence. Then, behind me, several ringing taps, followed by a sharp crack and shattering glass. A high, frightened chirp. Feathers beat against air and when I turned, the kingfisher was winging away over open water. Where I had stood, a red fox trotted from the trees, watching the bird intently. Then it took off the other way around the lake, as if meaning to chase the kingfisher forever.
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