• Robert DeMers

The Warning

Updated: May 5

Mary Beth was not taking anything with her; she was leaving the same way she had entered this unforgiving world. She stood naked on the precipice, with her toes curled over the edge. She had fought the desire in the past; now, she could not think of a good reason to continue living. She closed her eyes and leaned forward ― slightly. Her heart was pounding in her ears. The wind buffeted her slender form; her body stiffened. Her body rocked, to and fro. Wind and gravity would help her escape the emptiness that ravaged her soul.

A dark flash jolted her forcing her to regain her balance. It was as though some evil form tried to snatch her from where she stood. Fear flooded her mind. Again it came, this time almost enveloping her head. Its scream forced her mouth and eyes to shoot open in terror. The piercing shriek came at her once more, as the raptor struck her on the head with its beak, knocking her to the ground. Momentarily paralyzed by fear and pain, she lay there, unable to gather her senses, unable to respond. The raptor ripped at the flesh, just below her left eye, as she batted at it with her hands. She ran towards her clothes, screaming, arms flailing to ward off the next assault.

The peregrine falcon screamed from above, and dove at her, striking her on the head and swooping away. The bird looped and dove striking her again, and again. She fell to the ground, covering her head with her garments, then lay there until the falcon’s shrill screams had subsided. She continued to lie there, hiding her face. She cried, huge sobs exploded from her petite frame, her body shuddering convulsively. She cried in frustration; once more she was not in control of her destiny. She cried because that was the summation of her life.

When she could cry no more, she lay there hoping her heart would stop and her torment would end. Hours passed, the sun began to set below the edge of the abyss. Finally, her fear and frustration worn into hopeless anger, she sat up, holding her clothes against her chest. Her lips began to curl and her eyes began squinting tears. Her hand shot toward the abyss, pointing at the vanished foe, and yelled, “The most important day in my life!” She wiped her face with her hand. Blood ― on her face, her clothes, and matted in her hair. “How many times did that damn thing attack me?” she cried. She tried to recall the details of the punishment she had endured. “Seven ― seven times, at least! What was wrong with that demonic creature?” She looked toward the abyss. Why did it attack me over and over again, Why? She wondered.

Seven, she thought. The seven deadly sins. I didn’t know they included a bird. She smiled, remembering eighth-grade parochial school, and Sister Gerard. The seven deadly sins and the seven contrary virtues. She counted them on her fingers: humility against pride, kindness against envy, abstinence against gluttony, chastity against lust, patience against anger, liberality against greed, and diligence against sloth. “Well, I’ve certainly lived them all, haven’t I,” she said aloud. “At least the sins.” Then overcome with feelings of fear, reverence, wonder, and deliverance, she again looked toward the cliff’s edge. Maybe . . . she thought. Why would a bird do that? No, it was more than a bird striking out, because of, whatever. Was it . . . my guardian angel, maybe? Why seven? It was a message from . . . God . . . Sister Gerard? No, she hated me. If you don’t change your attitude, Mary Beth, you will burn for eternity in hell. If you would, just once, practice one of the seven corporal works of mercy, you may have a chance at seeing the face of God. Otherwise, you will be tormented for eternity by winged demons that will perpetually tear out your organs until the end of time. She was a sweetheart. Corporal works of mercy? “Let’s see,” she said aloud, “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter to strangers, clothe the naked, visit the sick . . .?” She looked at the two remaining fingers and shrugged. She started getting dressed. I need a place to stay. Maybe I’ll stop by the 7th street shelter. Maybe I can help them out for a few days. What the hell, she thought.

The peregrine took a headcount of her chicks, several feet below the edge of the cliff, then gathered them under her wings and tucked her head into her chest, for the night.

Robert DeMers

*Faculty/Staff Award

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