In a Gathering of Crows
I follow the rain drop... It falls down… as a tear from God…down… until, until it touches my cheek.
'…The dream is a dark lagniappe. The crows are in flight. There are hundreds of them…hundreds of them…flying in a circle. It’s early…early in the morning…or evening… I can’t be sure of which… the cloud is touched with gold and steel. I see their three lobed eyes blink with slick greasy ease… their dark wings stretch out…causing the wind between the feathers to sound susurrus…'
‘The crows touch the cloud….Misty…grey…cold…the cloud is swirled into evanescent spirals that ripple at the wing tips…. the cloud becomes darker…heavy…then heavier… weighed by elemental pressure… A minute raindrop -lighter than air- takes shape….It begins to swell…It silently falls with other drops…through clouds to hurtle towards the ground…I follow it down. Down. Down. Faster and faster…. I see the village – Bridgeton- from a very high point. All the slate rooves… the hills… The gnarled oak trees… The stone walls…. all there in minute detail…I, I follow the rain drop…. It falls down… as a tear from God…down… until, until it touches my cheek.’
‘-And, you awake, screaming?’
-‘It’s been the same dream now for months. I fall and I…I-’
‘… Listen…you’ve been under a lot of anxiety of late. The death of your brother-‘
‘-What’s that go to do with it? That, that was two years ago. I’m dealing with that-‘
‘-Be honest, you’ve not let him go.’
‘- He is, was, my, my brother, I love… loved him. ‘
They sat in the musty oak veneered and book filled vestry. A room that naturally doubled up as Father Douglas’s study. Light came in through the arched lead- lined window that was behind where Dawn sat, leaning forward. Her hands pressed together, her creased face, wrought with lines of anxiety. Dust particles floated as the grey cloud gave way to yellow morning sunlight. They swam lighter than air before they dissolved into the dark once more. The pale ochre turned to dark earth, with the turning of a spade. Father Douglas solemnly stared at Dawn from his red leather wingback chair. His large oval, opal eyes glistened.
Dawn watched Father Douglas carefully. She noted that his partially bald head had a trace of sweat; and that for the third time in half an hour, he looked as if he was on the verge of saying something. His lips were parted, almost trembling. Words were being fought against with a shake of his head, that reminded Dawn of an attempt to defend oneself against an angry wasp in late summer.
She chose to release the situation from him.
‘I, I have to admit father…’ the word "father" clawed at Dawn’s throat. ‘I… I That I think you’re right… I, I haven’t let Davey go…He was, is my little brother an, and I…’
‘- It’s understandable….’ Dawn received comfort in the gentle sounds of Father Douglas’s voice. ‘…The loss of a loved one takes time…Sometimes it never really leaves.’
‘-I know father…’ She faltered again as she stared into his eyes. ‘…You’ve been a huge help since, his, his...’ a tear formed.
Father Douglas got up from the chair, he reached for her and hugged her gently. ‘There, there, there… there.’ His old voice sounded cracked, tired yet kind.
They released slowly.
In penumbra from the lead-lined window, Father Douglas McIntyre brooded at Dawn’s back as she left the tiny church of St Andrews and walked down the path towards Church Street. His eyes narrowed as the grandfather clock, in the left hand corner of the room, ticked the seconds off in dark regularity.
Dawn left the small church. She covered her fetching thick chestnut, tousled hair, with the hood of her black fur-lined winter coat. Her sharp clicking shoes, becoming a resonating echo down the narrow concrete path.
How long had it been? Two years, yes two years since Davey’s sudden death. His body found in his attic bedroom. No trace of a weapon… nothing found…. Not a fingerprint nor a footprint…despite the blood…the blood.
She remembered the day too well. The phone call…the police… going to the Mortuary, in Exeter, to view the corpse. His face…. his handsome, youthful, face. Broken. Savaged. Dented with vile, viscous the filled blows. What caused that hate? Why? Davey was an innocent.
She blocked that image. She didn’t want to see that dead face. She wanted to see Davey, as she remembered him. The bright cornflower eyes, the brown scraggly mop of hair on top. The pointed chin and the narrow nose beneath. The wry smile or that cheeky grin. White teeth. Smiles and laughter…Yes…Smiles and laughter. Then there was a return of loss and the sudden stab of heartache that came with it.
His loss brought the end to her family. She was all alone. Alone with nothing but the dry crusty church; and the crumbling faces of the parishioners for company. Most of whom, it had to be said, or, at least considered, were unable to try to resolve, either her anger or her frustration. No, she corrected herself, there were two. Father Douglas, who had listened, given support and occasionally prayed with her and, of course, Dorothea…Doretha…Why hadn’t she mentioned Dorothea to Father Douglas? After all, it was her funeral today.
Dorothea’s cracked face and tired eyes shone. Another pang came. As she walked towards the village shops, her forest green eyes with their own crow’s feet, became misty. Perhaps …perhaps I’m afraid to…. Though that’s silly…She looked at her watch. 10:35… time enough for a tea in the cake house before the funeral-
There was a sudden very loud “Caw”. A crow flew past her head. Its wings clipped her hood. The sudden sound brought her out of herself. She looked up, absorbing the scene. She shuddered violently. The sky was becoming dark with storm and something else… Crows had slowly begun to gather.
“The Cake House” can only be described as artisan. Away went the 60’s style greasy joe, after the old “Bridgeton Café” owners moved to Exeter -or so she had heard via the village gossip. Now the old place had a late Victorian feel. The newly added arched windows had a selection of pastries and breads next to a large heavy oak counter. The old greasy cream walls had been painted with a mixture of Chartreuse and olive green; also the tired, chipped plastic counter at the back had been removed to make way for more tables. Instead, rough wooden steps at the back of the café ascended into the secret recesses where, behind a newly painted white door, the new owners could be heard clattering cups and plates to fill their orders. In short, Dawn approved. Besides the tea was very nice and so was the carrot cake. She forked off a corner of the crumbling cake onto her stainless-steel fork, and tasted the morsel. A slight twinge of pleasure filled her mouth and then her stomach.
‘-Are year going to Doretha’s funeral? I ‘ear the’ ‘ole village will be there.’
The voice caught her off guard. It was Elizabeth Ackerson, though Dawn recalled she liked to be called “Dizzy” due to her liking for wine at Three Arms. She had the ruddy face to prove it.
Dawn smiled and looked down into her cup of steaming earl grey. ‘yes…yes, I intend to.’
‘-Thud’s going to be a huge wake at the Arms if your coming?’
‘-I might…it, it depends.’
Dizzy stared at her. The word “depends” was perceived as a look of bewilderment upon her round face, who’d not like to go to the Arms? To defend herself from the onslaught that would inevitably infer, if she refused, Dawn quickly added: ‘I, I have a distant cousin coming for tea. He has some information about Davey… so …he… said.’ It was a lie. But convincing enough to sound true.
Dizzy looked sadly down. There was a clatter of plates and a murmur of voices. ‘Losing Davey was tough for us all. Many o’ us looked to him, fir, year know…Even though I’m new, Davey helped me with his ways…. Worse than losing a doctor that.’ With a sad smile Dizzy stood to leave. ‘Well, I best be going, got a mountain to do a ’fore funeral.’
As she rose, there was a sudden sharp clatter, crash and a hideous screech at the window. The clientele stared towards the front of the shop; just as the middle pane exploded inwards.
Glass scattered. The cake house became silent. People stared.
A crow stood in the broken window frame. The narrow beak bobbed, the wings flapped aggressively. It Cawed, raising its head as it did so. Another crow came, Then another, and another.
They stood there. Looking in at the people sitting at their tables aggressively claiming their demesne; their heads motionless. Their three lobed eyes black blinking, greasy grey black. All three stared directly at Dawn.
Then suddenly they rose. One at a time, they circled inside the shop. Flying low, scratching at the heads of the clientele as they did so. Cutting the soft skin with their talons. With a squeal, Dizzy ducked, as one attacked her hair. While another went for an old gentleman sitting by the entrance; as the third, once it had completed its circuit, stood on the counter staring at Dawn. Blinking its black eyes. Then they flew out, one at a time and were gone.
The following silence was numbing.
‘-Me god’s’ said one.
‘-That be bead'. Said another.
A third silently wept in shock.
‘I’m sorry I have to go.’ Dawn said to nervously to nobody. She stumbled as she made her way out of the buzzing room and onto the high street. She looked up at the slow gathering dark clouds, and the truculent rustling of feathers that was gathering in the wind. Slowly she crossed the high street and followed the old red wall as it descended and then rose a sharply into middle distance; where the medieval block tower of St Andrews church, and the fingers of the old yew trees could be glimpsed.
In the gathering storm, the assemblage of mourners, wrapped black against the rain, seemed to her, disembodied the darkening light. Everything began to unravel into unreality. Suddenly, a westerly tore down the street, making the trees rustle and the gathering crows call out in rasping CAW’s; and as they called out. Suddenly, for no reason that she could fathom, Dorothea appeared in her mind. '-I have some news, some news about Davey… listen, listen, Dawn Listen!’ Dawn fought against the image; thrusting it from her mind. ‘Come on Dawn! Hold it together!’ The words failed to work. She had reached the church now and with that a deeper anxiety began to fester inside her.
During the summer, these haphazard heaps of fragmented stone, ravaged and twisted by age, had almost been lost amongst the tall pointed brown stalks of the wild grasses. They had become home to blue winged butterflies and the plump bumble bees whom floated about them with spectral abandon; around the shadows of the ancient gnarled and twisted oak trees, who with their lush green leaves, looked down upon the stones with kind friendly faces. Their branches, open arms, giving the appearance protection to this now long departed congregation.
However, in the dark, brought about by the season’s change, and the strangeness of the day, came the twisted things. The old stones were now riddled with Verdigris. They were homes to plump shiny hairless spiders; whose over-long spindling legs took a careful strokes, over the aged copper bold fronted letters ; or covered the stone creases, with gossamer, to hide the names of interred. Leaving, in their stead, pale pearls of moisture gathering in tiny cold blue droplets.
While the naked trees, broken backed and saw toothed, heaved as they leaned over; ready for revenge…It was as if… Dawn thought… as if… the long interred dead had come to welcome her dear, dear, dead friend, with both savage triumph and hideous laughter.
She looked down as she made her way towards the heavy faced pall-bearers, around the finely polished rose-wood casket. Looking towards her right, she saw Father Douglas who –after greeting a couple of the mourners- slowly began to limp towards her, across the brown damp grass. There was a sharp screeching sound followed by a ‘click, click’ and a rasping reaching ‘Caw…caw.’ It made her jump and look around. Upon one of the aged grave-stones rested another crow. Only this was the biggest that she had ever seen. Its sinewy, scaled three toed talons, made a nerve-shredding gravelly scraping sound, as it extended its long pointed claws upon the crumbling stone for support. It let out another rasping ‘Caw’; as it aggressively bobbed its head, then stretched and throbbed its large shiny black wings in a sudden sharp move. It made her jump back a little. The crow called out once more; and from above, came a reply.
She looked up to see another crow, just as huge as the first, slowly curl down from the grey spectral sky, to settle upon another of the broken grey-brown stones directly in front of her. Then another and another and another. They stared at the growing congregation blackly. Their eyes, a black pale glistening slick, flicked up once… twice… then slowly one final time, to stare with alien malign intensity.
Dawn felt nervous. They’re looking at me… I know it…I can feel their cold eyes burning into me. It's as if they’re absorbing me…I don’t want to be absorbed… taken by these creatures.
'I’m not one of you!’ The desperate words fell from her mouth as a bitter, half meant, prayer. She shuddered, as the creatures stared. Then, came an answer from their cold, dark world. A world that she could almost touch; for the crows called out in unison and they were calling out to her. ‘Dawn Shaw… Dawn Shaw… CAW’ click, click, ‘CAW, CAW… CAW!’
She could feel the world begin to sink in upon her, as she heard her name again and again and again. So, she buried herself into the darkly dressed congregation around her. A steady drumming rain, fell upon the casket with the staccato of a rat, tat tat, that was then hidden by rumbling thunder, that she felt flow right through her. The drumming, the murmurs’ cawing of the crows. The tapping of the coffin lid. She searched herself for an answer. One eventually came. But not from her.
‘Murder…’ the word was whispered by Dorothea week ago. ‘Murder… they say, though the police cannot prove it. They think it’s-’
She suddenly spans violently back towards the on-coming crowd, to again see the face of Father Douglas who was standing before her.
‘Are you okay Dawn?’
‘-Yes… yes…’ Dawn smiled and looked down. ‘It’s, it’s the bird’s.’
‘–I… I didn’t know that you suffered from Ornithophobia…’ came the mild reply; and as an aside he con ‘It’s called a murder you know.’ At that he chuckled to himself.
‘-Why a gathering of Crows. It’s a murder… not an apt setting for a churchyard really.’
He stared down at Dawn gently. His moist oval eyes glistening ‘…Rather…’ but he didn’t finish what he was saying. Instead he simply looked down, his aged face, pensive, before he changed the topic.
‘-You and Dorothea were friends?’
‘- Yes…’ she faltered and looked down, as a tear began to form. ‘… We were very close. I was the last one to-'
‘Oh, you were? I, I didn’t know that. Yes. we never-' But he was suddenly cut short. As suddenly out of the gloom came a wail like that of a small child. The congregation stared up. Suddenly a huge black object plummeted from the broiling sky. The congregation stepped back aghast as a huge crow slammed into the coffin lid with a violent thud. The crowd moved away from the coffin as the black beast lay prone. Its eyes gouged out. Its wings outstretched. Its head twisted over its wing in a dark parody of the Christ himself. It lay motionless upon the green wreath and the coffin lid. Its blood, dark, steaming out as it streamed from the dead bird, which slid down like slow treacle towards the open grave. For a moment there was silence. Even the crows had stopped cawing. Then with the strength of some unseen and terrible force; the crow began to move, and, as a harbinger, it blindly lifted itself and flew directly at Dawn’s face. Dawn gasped and held back a scream, as the blind bloody crow caught her hood. Father Douglas slammed the bird away with a strike of his hand, just as Dawn started to fall. Father Douglas reached for her and held her in his arms.
The world twisted away from underneath her feet. She wasn’t at the churchyard any more. She was at Davey’s two room flat, just above the old Butcher's place. Everything was in stark detail. The flowery yellow mottled wallpaper was peeling at the roof join; where black mottled damp patches had started to spread. The red linen curtains were pulled away from the window, to bring sunlight in There was a smell of patchouli oil, to cover the heavier smell of cannabis resin. On a little table by the door, ash from an incense stick holder, blended with the overflowing ash in the tray. Along the wall in front of here rested the bed its dirty linen, yet to be washed. Then there were the bookshelves. The little room was filled with books. Books on healing, on magic and the occult. Books scattered on the floor. Books piled up on the window shelf, books on nature and on herbs. Books. Books. Books. The other smell here, the most strongest of all, was that of an old library.
It was then that she saw, that she was not herself. She had different hands…older hands… a man’s hands. And in one of those hands rested a small rubber handled hammer. She was hot. Burning up. She could feel the clammy sense of exertion. She, he, was holding the hammer, tightly. She could feel him. Smell him. But she couldn’t see him. She was looking through his eyes into this room. Moreover; she was powerless. Unable to move. Unable to think. It was like being at the cinema. Only more immersive. The monster was in charge. Then the images became kaleidoscopic. Slamming buffeting into one another. Davey moving away. Davey screaming. Davey being pushed to the floor. Davey shouting NO! NO! PLEASE GODS NO! Davey’s head suddenly cracking open like an old walnut. Each blow was heard as a hard cracking crunch as the hammer slammed down into his skull. Once. Twice. Three times. She screamed but was mute. She could Just to stare at the broken corpse of her brother that rested at her feet.
Suddenly the tiny attic window exploded inward and the huge crow from the coffin returned. It stood on the window shelf. Looking deep into Dawn’s eyes. She was frozen solidly staring. From the centre of the crow’s head, the feathers slowly peeled away to reveal a final terrifying third eye. The eye became larger and larger and larger. Somehow, she didn’t know how, she turned away to see her reflection in the mirror on the dresser behind her.
But she didn’t see herself.
It was Father Douglas who glared back at her. Douglas her friend. His face a mask of murderous rage. His hands soaked in warm blood. His eyes, wide and as black as midnight. Suddenly and with a savage yell he reached out for her. NO!
There was darkness and in the darkness, she could sense swirl of black wings. Then a burst of iridescent colour, dazzling to her eyes. The world twisted away once more, then returned. Only this time, she was back in St Andrews Churchyard… only it wasn’t winter…. The sky had a strange golden hue. She felt a gentle summer breeze on the nape of her neck. Butterflies darted about the stems of grass as plump bumble bees, rich with pollen bobbed about. The air was clear. Light was everywhere. It even emanated from the old grave stones. More importantly, there was Davey. Davey smiling, Davey reaching out and in her arms, once more…The Davey she knew and loved.
‘-Oh Davey… my little one. Davey… Davey come here.’
And he did come. He reached her and gave her a hug and held her tight. Then he took a step back.
‘-You’re going wake up soon Dawn… but it’s okay… you hear me… it's okay.’ Dawn smiled and stroked his face. He smiled once, the glint in his eyes shining and then he was gone; turned into a glitter of mist, lost upon the warm summer breeze. That sped up into the golden apple of the sun.
Then there was darkness and then pain. When she came around she found herself in the warm surroundings of the church hall. Father Douglas was standing just a few feet from her.
‘So…you're back…’ He began gently. ‘… You know you gave everybody quite a scare…’
Dawn tried not to look nervous. she lay there as he continued ‘…If it wasn’t for the fact that I know of your condition-'
‘-Epilepsy…’ He smiled gently. Reassuringly, like an old father. An old friend.
‘- But…I, I don’t have epilepsy.’
‘Oh, my dear, but you do. You had a very nasty seizure just now. I expect it's because of the loss and the stress of it all. Seizures can happen at any time you know…’ he smiled distantly, ‘…I’ve seen it before…’ he looked down; and away from her. ‘…in another parish.’ The voice slipped. It became dark. Apprehensive. Then he smiled; before kneeling beside her a tick flicked his right eye.
‘You spoke… just now…’
‘Yes…’ he said gently as slowly knelt closer; his face slowly turning menacing. ‘…you kept calling out Davey’s name…' as he knelt next to her, ‘…I didn’t know you shared his faith…’ he stroked her hair. ‘It was the crows that gave it away you see… the gathering of crows.’ He smiled. His lips wet. Spittle curled down the left side of his mouth, in a line of drool. ‘I had to get you inside, away from the crowds, people will talk you know, and I can’t have that…’ he smiled. ‘…people talking… it’s not proper. It’s not proper at all. ’
She stared at him, knowing with a sense of fatality, the reality of her vision. Her face became a blank mask before she replied.
‘Why did you do it?’
‘Kill him… kill Davey… why...?' Betrayal crumbled out of her face.
‘-I, I didn’t kill Davey…’ he began his eyes gentle, serene, his jowls giving him the appearance of an aged baby. ‘…My dear… I saved him… I saved him from himself. It was an act of kindness… the best thing in actual fact’
‘-What, what about Dorothea?’ Was that an act of kindness too?
‘Poor Dorothea…’ Douglas shook his head sadly. ‘She had a stroke, brought about by years and years of sustained alcohol abuse. She fell and that was that…. Old people die you know. It’s a sad reality.’ As he spoke Douglas came closer and closer to Dawn as she lay prone on the floor. He knelt by her side.
Slowly she tried to get to her feet, but Douglas pinned her down in almost a vice-like grip.
‘It’s sad…you see… I thought you, you were different… From him…from Davey…. I thought that you… held to the true faith…’ His eyes became mirthless and malign. ‘…But now…’ his hands became heavy upon her, as his voice began to growl ‘… I have to save you, from the same fate as him.’ With trembling fingers, he stretched out with his hands. They surrounded Dawns’ throat. He began to tighten. To squeeze. As he squeezed, he bellowed with spittle spouting from his lips: - ‘THOU SHALT NOT SUFFER A WITCH TO LIVE!’
Two things happened after that. First, and to the shock of the mourners, the police and then an ambulance arrived. Neither of them expected to see Father Douglas kneeling over the prone form of Dawn. Father Douglas, was arrested and put in the back of the police car, while the cadaver of Dawn was put in the back of the ambulance, that slowly drove away, while the shocked crowd of mourner’s slowly departed. However, that was not the most significant event that late afternoon.
It was the mourners departed, that the crows began to gather for one final time. They rose into a huge spiral within the stormy sky. Their wings, as black fingers outstretched out upon the rising wind, that hissed and sighed in slow soft whispered measures.
The crow’s gathered as one. Together they circled above the old village, then up into the wild mists of the rolling clouds above they flew. Hidden, within the mists of the clouds, In sweeps they flew in a circle and as they flew within the circle, raindrops began to form and then to fall. And as their made rain fell, the crows knew that it was time to depart; So, from this a silent sacred unknown pilgrimage, they left. Some flew to the north, some to the south, some to the east. Leaving a chosen few to fly to the west; carrying with them the souls of both Davey and Dawn, to the ancient land of the elder Gods, and where, so it is said, that the sun and the moon embrace.
© ADH 2015 Copywrite, all rights reserved.