He was halfway there when the crows attacked.
Excerpted from Possession by Chris Humphreys Copyright © 2008 by Chris Humphreys. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Eaaaach!” The terrible screech came out of nowhere. Shocked, he twisted toward it . . . just in time to see the razor beak snap shut and strike at his belly.
Wrong! Folding his wings, Sky snatched his stomach away, using his weight to speed his dive . . . into his second mistake. For another crow waited, its talons spread, plunging in to rip a feather from its root.
“Ahh!” he screamed in agony. In the open air, his old hawk enemies would never have caught him like this. A flip and he’d have been gone . . . or turned to kill! But he’d been distracted by his desperation, and now the black devils were straddling him, blocking any escape, their yellowed beaks wide and shrieking hatred.
He snatched a wing tip from grasping claws. But they were working as a team; avoiding one, he was driven into the other, its feet wide apart to snatch at him.
He got his own up only just in time. Claw met claw, like wrestlers joining fingers. Yet his opponent was bigger and its talons drove into flesh. Agonized, Sky tried to pull free . . . couldn’t. Locked, they fell, twirling round and round, over and down, like some crazed gyroscope. One moment Sky was on top, the city streets rushing up; the next, below—clouds above—the yellow beak opening again in a scream of triumph.
He’d seen crows do this with each other above the fields of Shropshire. A game, he’d thought, because he’d thought as a human. But now that he was a bird himself he knew it was no game. They’d been training for this.
They were going to kill him.
Down they spiraled . . . but not so fast now, his partner in the death dance slowing them, spreading its black wings against the air, holding him like one bully would hold a boy’s arms for another bully’s punch. It came, in the form of a beak’s jab; Sky-Hawk, twisting his head, just avoiding a pierced eye.
Despite the slowing, they were still falling fast enough onto one of Cambridge’s main drags. It was the morning rush hour, the street car-choked. As they spun and tumbled, Sky thought of yet another bird: chicken! This was a game of it; the one to let go first would lose . . . everything. Yet he knew the crow was not going to smash them both into a car roof. It was getting ready for something else.
So Sky had to be ready too. He may have been exhausted—after all, he’d just spent the whole night as another Fetch, the wolf. Yet he was still a raptor. His attackers may have been bigger . . . but he was nippier. And though they wanted his death, crows usually fed on the kills of others.
But he was a hawk. . . . And a hawk did its own killing!
Down, down, rushing to the car roof that seemed to rush up . . . and it came, the moment he’d waited for, the slightest loosening in his enemy’s grip. Sky darted a look at the other bird. Its talons were uncurling to receive . . .
Wait . . . , thought Sky. The grip slackened. Now!
The crow tried to release him, fling him at its partner . . . and Sky-Hawk refused to go. For it was he who shot his claws forward now, he who spread his wings to make himself lighter, so his own weight could not be used against him in the spin. It was his sharpness that sank into flesh, his assailant’s turn to cry in agony. It jerked hard away, too strong and heavy to resist. But Sky had won his moment and now let himself be flung, flipping over as he went. The second crow had dropped to seize him. Sky went high and seized him instead.
His claws found throat-feather, neck beyond, gripped, held. Wings spread, he channeled the wind, flipped again, so he was above, thrusting down toward a parked car. At ten feet, Sky loosened his hold. At five, he hurled out his legs.
The crow smashed onto the steel roof. The car’s alarm blared, matching the screech of the other crow, who dived for him again. But Sky spun away, flicking the car’s mirror, eluding the talons that reached. Leveling, he shot down the street, wing tip missing a pedestrian’s nose by a feather’s breadth.
Behind him, within the rhythmic wail of the car alarm, Sky heard a clatter and a squawk, the other crow striking something. Perhaps the body of his dead companion, splayed on the car’s roof.
He’ll probably start eating it, Sky thought, as he rose up to the roofline. Crows are like that.
The thought of food made him instantly ravenous, and he nearly turned back. He’d killed the creature, after all! But then he remembered, with the memory of a hawk, that crows were carrion eaters and lived on rotting flesh. So they tasted . . . absolutely disgusting!
As he flew higher to scan the streets and find out where he was, Sky realized something else. It wasn’t the hawk, his animal Fetch, who needed food. It was Sky himself. Sky, whose body was probably being rushed into the ER right now.
Sky paused to hover, look down. There were any number of big buildings that could have been the hospital. He didn’t know Cambridge well enough. But wherever it was, as his Fetch fought the crows, his body would undoubtedly have been convulsing, panicking the paramedics. Their training wouldn’t have prepared them for the marks that would have suddenly appeared—a shadow wound on the shoulder where the hawk had lost a feather, a mark on the sole of the foot where a talon had sunk in.
From the Hardcover edition.