A month ago, I heard fellow storyteller Aarene Storms tell Richard Kennedy's "Come Again in the Spring" on her Global Griot Sunday morning radio program. As I listened, I knew I had read or heard the story sometime ago in my childhood, but I couldn't remember when or what context. It's a story about a man named Old Hark who has fed the birds ever since he was a little boy. One day in winter, a stranger comes to visit. The stranger is Death, and it's Old Hark's time to go, only Old Hark will have none of it. Old Hark tells Death,
Come again in the spring. I won't hinder you none then. But you see all these birds? Come winter time, they depend on me to feed them. They naturally ought to fly south in the fall but don't, reason I been feeding 'em all winter since I was no bigger 'an a skip bug. They'd die if I was gone-- they ain't real wintering birds. But you come back in the spring, and they'll know I won't be here next winter and have enough sense to go south.
Death offers a wager of three questions that involve memory, and Old Hark takes it. The birds are instrumental in the winning of the wager. I won't give away the ending, but I'll tell you that every time I read it, I have to take a deep breath and hold myself still. It's the literary equivalent of the "tenor rush."
You can find "Come Again in the Spring" and other stories in the book Richard Kennedy: Collected Stories, illustrated by Marcia Sewell. It's out-of-print, but I hope you can find it through your library system, through Interlibrary Loan, or inexpensively through a used bookstore.
Contest update: There's still no final word from our judges. They're slogging it out! I am glad other people are judging the entries. There are a lot of good submissions, and I wish we had more prizes. Really.