My baby is following a trail of breadcrumbs, and I am following my baby. She doesn’t look back at me, only crawl and crawls. She gnaws on roots with her gums. She presses the heel of her hand into crumbs and tastes them and tastes her hand too, the soft pinkish skin.
The city is miles behind us now. The traffic noises have faded and all I can hear are birds. Not the whimsical fairy tale kind. Crows. Vultures. From above us, the wild trumpeting of cranes. My baby keeps crawling and I follow, wishing she would stop. She is the only one who can see the breadcrumbs. To me they look like weeds, fossils, Petoskey stones. They look like bits of trash people have dropped. I wonder if they are sweet, like currant buns, or savory, like focaccia. There are crows stealing breadcrumbs. There is a wolf behind us, its paws soft on the trail.
My baby isn’t easy to follow. She burrows through a tunnel and comes out changed. My baby blinks at me, her eyes like owl eyes. She lets out a soft coo and I’m terrified, watching her gray feathers ruffle. If she has a curved beak, what will happen to my milk? Why do I still have it, when my baby is made of talons and feathers and Luna moths? When she only eats sweet-or-savory crumbs, eats them straight from the path, without even asking? I was supposed to protect her. I was supposed to feed her the right stories, the ones with happy endings, the ones where the children come out alive, unharmed, unchanged.
The wolf is still chasing us. It has been for miles. But my baby is made of moths, and this allows her to scatter and hide and flit between blades of grass without breaking them. I blink and she’s gone. I call her name. She is still gone and I begin to panic. I thought the wolf was in another story—weren’t we supposed to be scared of the witch?—but I can hear its paws moving, and I still haven’t found my moth-owl baby, who could be a fawn by now, or a black-legged tick on my scalp, or a wisp of dandelion fleece, or a wolf howling at a winter moon.
Where are you? I call.
It comes out in a wild peal of trumpeting. The sandhill cranes trumpet back at me. All the other mothers, probing the tall grass. Their heads bob through the woods, sparks of crimson.
I stop to rest under a white pine. The tree is as soft as fox fur. The tree is made of fresh snow and gingerbread and ferny eyelashes. I’m still under the tree when my baby finds me, unharmed, unchanged. She feeds me breadcrumbs, dropping them from her beak into mine.
Lindy Biller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her fiction has appeared at Longleaf Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Chestnut Review, Trampset, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @lindymbiller.