"Great Blue Heron" by Joyce Carol Oates
This story comes from the anthology "Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales" edited by Ellen Datlow.
This story was interesting. The prose was wonderful and sucked you right into the story from the get go. I was hooked from the first line of this story.
A woman, a cry from the pond in her backyard. She awakened to the sound. The sound was from a blue heron. There are quite a few waterfowl on her pond, but the cry of the blue heron was quite unmistakable. Yet she doesn't realize the sound is from a blue heron, yet. She slips next to her husband in bed and sleeps right next to him, in his protective arms. Safe. Always safe in his arms.
After she awakened she reached for her husband, James, but he isn't there. He died just a short time ago. Three weeks ago. Now she has to deal with her brother-in-law. A man who has always fancied her, but never quite came right out and said it. He would make awkward advances towards her and always get uncomfortably close to her while talking to her. She hated the man.
Claudia has to deal with her brother-in-law visiting over and over again. He thought that since her husband died and left her as the executrix that she might need some help. She doesn't need help though. She was too in shock to truly tell him no though. So she put up with his presence and conversation although she never really talked to him at all.
The brother-in-law attempted to get her to sell he house and property. There is too much house and land for one person he would tell her. Too much work for one person to handle on their own. Finally she told the brother-in-law that she would not sell the house and would not need his help. This doesn't sway the brother-in-law though and he keeps at her trying as he may to talk her into selling.
Throughout the story she entered dreamland. She would visit her husband during these dream cycles. They would hold hands and walk around the pond watching the waterfowl and birds. During one of these dreams she watched a blue heron swoop down and attack a family of ducks. The blue heron ate eggs and baby ducks while the parents just watched, helpless. Claudia was aghast at the brutality of the blue heron. There was nothing she could do except watch nature take it's course.
It was also during these dream cycles that she would visit her husband in that she discovered the cry of the blue heron. She was so excited to find out what had been making the sound she had heard for so long. She cried out to her husband upon the discovery.
From that point on after watching the destruction of the blue heron, she would turn into a blue heron to deal with her stressful situations. The blue heron gave her strength and courage. When life became to much for her to live, it never seemed like too much for the blue heron.
When she saw a group of boys throwing rocks at the ducks, she turned into a blue heron and chased them away. She pecked that tore at them. Pecking out eyes and tearing flesh. She put forth the full destruction of the blue heron upon the vagrant boys.
When her brother in law wouldn't leave her alone after repeatedly telling him no and to go away, she turned into a blue heron. She pecked and bit and tore his flesh from his, piece by piece and eye by eye. She found great strength in becoming the heron.
Then the police found a dead man, Claudia's brother-in-law. With his eyes pecked out and flash torn and ripped. It was similar to another recent crime involving a group of boys by the pond.
Was this all just a dream? Or was it real? Did she have a breakdown and in a fit of rage the lives of those who betrayed her? Did she wake up from another visit to dreamland to have vivid memories of her dreams? Or did she wake to remember what she did before she slept?
This was a wonderfully done story. I like the way the author used character names in this story. She referred to character by their relation to each other. The husband, the brother-in-law, etc. This lended a great deal more to the use of actual names when they were used. It made the names of the have a great force behind them because any other time only their relation would be used.
The use of names instead of relations also gave a more immediacy to the scene, and the paragraph, because it made you more acutely aware of what was being said. I found that an interesting use of language on the part of the author.
Also the structuring of the story was sort of a mind trip. When was she was she awake? The constant wondering of which state of mind Claudia was in made the story that much better for me. This style of writing added multiple layers upon each other and never really knowing what was what. This helped with the ending of the story.