A man's encounter with a winged beast drives him into a place of certain madness as he struggles to comprehend his inevitable demise.
When I pulled into my parking lot this evening, I saw a strange, black shape on my roof. It was small and from a distance looked like nothing but a piece of trash. I noticed my cat calmly sitting beside this strange mass and assumed she had just been rummaging around garbage cans again and didn't think twice about it.
Upon exiting my vehicle and getting a bit closer, I was finally able to make out what it actually was.
It was a dead crow. A bird almost twice the size of my cat, and it was lying, dead and motionless, on my roof. I was a little shocked, to say the least. I thought about going onto my roof and getting it down, but the apartment building I lived in didn't allow me to access my roof without potentially hurting myself so I left it there. I figured a strong wind would blow it off or some other animal might knock it down, successfully removing it from my vicinity.
Several days passed and that dead bird's carcass lay there in the same position it was when I first saw it. Its neck was bent down and inward with its wings retracted and held in close. Its talons were curved and jagged yet utterly still. And every day I saw my cat sitting beside it, calmly squinting her tiny eyes in the hot summer sun.
On the week's anniversary of the sighting of the dead crow, a friend of mine, Barry, told me his pet beagle of 13 years was going to be put down. "A rare cancer," the doctors said. It had spread so much the poor creature wasn't going to survive much longer. The news hit Barry pretty hard so I offered to take him to a bar later that night. He reluctantly agreed and after some drinks and sentimental conversations about old pets, we went our separate ways. Upon arriving home, I looked up at my roof where the crow was and noticed that something had changed.
The crow had been rotated about 90 degrees and lay horizontally now, its head pointing east and its feet west. And even stranger yet, now alongside my cat was a second cat from around my neighborhood just sitting quietly, watching me.
I was flabbergasted. The accuracy of the displacement of the carcass clearly indicated someone or something had carefully changed the crow's position just enough for me to see. I started towards my apartment and stared long and hard at the bird. It was like it was mocking me.
About two weeks passed and that bird remained on my roof, but it didn't move anymore. It stayed the way it did from when I last saw it and I was almost ready to forget about it completely. But one night, while I was cooking dinner, I heard a loud thud from my back patio. I hurried over and saw nothing aside from both my cats sleeping quietly. Confused and somewhat shaken up, I turned and headed back to the kitchen when I heard another sound. It sounded like a steel nail being dragged against a piece of tin roof. I hadn't turned around completely for fear of what I might see, but curiosity consumed me and as I whipped around to catch what was taunting me, I was thrown back in fright as a crow flew at high speed directly at me into my screen door, tearing through with its beak. I heard a faint cracking noise and the bird fell to the floor, lifeless. I staggered back and as I struggled to catch my breath, stared at the dead bird. At this point, my cats had awoken from the noise and slowly approached the bird and begin to sniff and paw at it. I watched in horror as they began biting into the bird's body and tearing off its wings, black feathers scattering across my patio floor.
It took almost five whole minutes for my heart to stop racing. After I finally regrouped my thoughts I stood back up and went to the kitchen to grab a garbage bag and some gloves to get rid of that damn crow. But when I got back to the screen door, the crow was gone. The feathers had also vanished and my cats sat quietly staring up at me like nothing had happened.
Exhausted, uncertain, and without an appetite, I gave up on dinner and grabbed my car keys. I decided I should stay in a hotel tonight. Something about my house didn't feel safe.
I checked into a dingy Motel 8 about a half hour from my house. I was dead tired by the time I arrived and as soon as I checked in I lay on the bed and slowly faded out. When I woke up, it was about 5 AM. I heard a subtle rustling noise coming from outside. I got up off the bed and went over to the window looking out on the front of the hotel and pushed the curtains aside just so I could get a peek. On the railing in front of the door to my hotel were three crows, perched and cocking their heads this way and that. My heart froze and I felt my stomach drop. None of this made any sense but I knew that I was in danger. I just didn't know how or why.
I gathered my things and hurried out of the hotel scaring the crows away as I rushed past. I got into my car and sped back home to my apartment. On the drive home, my mind raced and I couldn't help but think such awful thoughts. What could this all mean? Am I going to die soon? Is this death's little intermission before the real show? I couldn't control my mind anymore and the surge of thoughts and ideas caused me to not see a raccoon running across the road. At the last second, I snapped back to reality and hit the brakes but it was too late. The car jolted a bit and bounced as my wheels crushed the poor thing's skull and bones. I stopped my car in the middle of the road and tried to catch my breath. A few minutes later I was hurled over the side of the road puking. I'd never felt so sick in my entire life.
After about an hour of trying to get myself together, I finally got back into my car and drove to my apartment.
Sure enough, the dead carcass was there and this time it had been turned another 90 degrees again, its head now pointing at me and its talons pointing up into the sky. I let out a strained gasp and held my head in my hands while I tried to figure out what to do next.
I eventually came to the conclusion that whoever was doing this to me was probably just pulling some elaborate prank. I decided to take matters into my own hands and after taking a broom from inside the house, I climbed up onto my shaky tin roof and whacked that dead bird off into a bush. A wave of relief fell over me and I headed back into the house.
I made myself a drink and turned the TV on as loud as I could. I think I drank myself to sleep but when I awoke, I felt a wave of calmness rush over me. When I went outside to check if the bird had returned, I was pleased to see it hadn't.
I smiled to myself and laughed about how absurd my behavior had been these past few days and went back inside.
For several weeks, there was no sign of any birds or anything else out of the ordinary. I finally felt like I could put these troubles behind me. But this alluring comfort was only temporary.
I'm recounting this story to you today, a Sunday. Three days prior, on Thursday, I was returning from a hike with a couple friends at a nearby peak when that ugly, haunting, black mass caught my eye again.
Not surprisingly, the bird had been turned 90 degrees again, in that systematic and calculated fashion. From the angle which I was looking at it, the sun just barely caused a glimmer in the crow's eyes.
I didn't even go into my house. I was too frightened now. Whatever this bird was or whatever it meant to represent, it was going to hurt me — or even kill me. The moment that corpse made a full turn, the moment its ghastly presence would reset, something horrible was going to happen. I just knew it.
Immediately, I got into my car and drove off as fast and as far as I could. Ignoring all the speed limits and stop signs I drove until I couldn't drive any more. I ended up on a dirt road leading into a large barren field, almost like a desert. I gently came to a stop and let the car idle.
My eyes felt heavy and my head was pounding. I sat quietly, weeping.
I sat quietly and stared into the emptiness my headlights illuminated. With both hands on the steering wheel, I felt myself dozing off but refused to sleep, afraid that it might leave me vulnerable to threats. I let the engine run and continued to formulate some kind of plan. I figured I had no choice but to tell someone as absurd as this all seemed. I picked up my cell phone and called Barry. He picked up after three rings and asked me what was going on because I was talking too fast and anxiously for him to understand me. I took a deep breath and began explaining everything to him. He listened intently and told me to drive back to my house where he would meet me and we would burn the dead crow so as to ensure it wouldn't return. I had no faith in this plan whatsoever but I turned the car around and headed back anyway.
I had driven about five miles down that dirt path and still had about two and a half more miles to go before I reached the main road but something in the middle of the road made me slowly ease down on the brakes.
A desert fox lay still on the path, its stomach cut open and its intestines leaking out. The animal looked dead initially, but after looking a bit closer, I could see it still was breathing. Surrounding the fox were three birds — crows to be exact. They sat quietly and locked their eyes on me. I felt my stomach drop and my face felt like it was slowly turning to stone. My hands slid of the wheel and I sat back in my chair, bawling like a child.
The crows' looked at me with cold eyes, their beaks like daggers waiting to pierce me open like they had done to that fox. It didn't occur to me to hit the gas and speed through that mess. Instead I just sat and waited for my inevitable conclusion. By some strange catharsis, these birds of prey would take my soul because one of their own was taken. It was bound to happen, I just knew it.
As I sat, the crows slowly turned their attention elsewhere which caught me off guard but I figured that was my chance to escape. Strangely, they flew away, but one at a time, like their exit had been rehearsed. After the third bird departed, I took a moment to regroup my thoughts and drove off, never looking back.
I was approximately 15 minutes from my house when Barry called me again asking where I was. He was worried since it had been almost 30 minutes since I called him prior. I told him I was approaching the house soon and he should just wait. He said okay and began telling me what he thought these events could mean and how we could go about understanding it better.
Barry said he had an aunt, Amelia, who had something similar happen to her. She lived in a small quiet neighborhood in Greenwich, New York. She woke up one morning and went to brew a fresh pot of coffee when she noticed a bird sitting at her window sill. It sat disturbingly still, almost representing a statue or taxidermy. She walked over slowly, trying not to startle it. As she got closer to the bird, she realized it was similar to a crow but it had distinct features that told her it was some other type of bird. The first thing Amelia noticed was that this bird had teeth in its beak. She was taken aback by such an odd sight and was only more repulsed by the red talons the bird possessed, like they had been dipped in blood but Amelia swore it was their natural color. As she gazed at this strange anomaly, the bird cocked its head towards Amelia, causing her to let out a small yelp. The bird let out a horrid screech and took flight, startling Amelia, causing her to drop her cup of coffee. Barry said his aunt spent the better part of her morning at her kitchen table, trying to understand what she had just witnessed. Later that night, Barry told me his aunt was sitting in her living room in her rocking chair with the television on. Amelia could only hear the sound of the television but it was interrupted by a quiet yet piercing scratching noise, like a nail on a piece of glass. Amelia froze in her chair and didn't dare look out the window but her curiosity got the best of her. She looked up and across the room out of the living room window and once again, that hideous creature sat staring at Amelia. This time Amelia did not remain in her home. She got up and threw on a coat and left her house. She stayed with a friend for the night, feeling foolish for being so distraught over a bird but she kept insisting that that beast wanted to hurt her. "That damn thing wanted to rip out my eyes and pick at my brain once it had gotten my skull open," Amelia had told Barry, "I could feel it in the way it was watching me. Like it hadn't feasted on anything for years."
Barry told me that he and his aunt had eventually deduced that the bird Amelia had seen was a strix. I laughed and told him that was only in myths and folk tales but Barry showed not even the slightest bit of amusement at my laughter. He merely looked at me and told me it was best if I took more precautionary measures. Confused and somewhat unnerved, I nodded my head and told him I would. We left my house and walked towards my patio with a ladder, some lighter fluid and matches.
Barry set the ladder up and began climbing up with the lighter fluid in his hand. He was about to pour the fluid onto the bird's body when he stopped and suddenly became very quiet. I called out to him but he said nothing. I called his name again louder this time and with more urgency. He dropped the bottle of lighter fluid and climbed down the ladder quickly. His hand was pressed over his mouth firmly and he walked away, sobbing. Frustrated at the current state of affairs, I figured I had to be the one to burn that damn crow once and for all.
I climbed onto the ladder with the matches in my hand ready to end this entire ordeal but when I got into view of the bird, I felt my stomach drop. The crow had made an entire rotation now and beside it sat a woman's severed head. Her skin was almost completely white and her neck dripped with blood. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair frizzled. I felt myself on the verge of throwing up and tried to climb off the ladder but missed a step and fell to the ground. I got up and looked over at Barry. He sat on the curb with his head in his hands, silent as ever. I asked him whose head that was. He said nothing. I asked him again and still he said nothing. Finally, I asked, "Is that Amelia's head?" Barry said nothing. He just broke down, crying.
I stood there for a moment trying to process everything but nothing made sense. The world suddenly became extremely quiet and I could hear a faint sound in the distance. It sounded like the wind blowing through thousands of leaves. I slowly turned around to see what it was. In the sky, a large, black mass the size of a minivan floated through the air.
Crows. There were hundreds of them, flying this way and that, forming a gargantuan, monstrous blob in the sky. The longer I looked, the more talons and razor sharp beaks and wings I could see. The birds continued to float there and then, almost immediately, all sound whatsoever cut out and I was deaf.
The crows zipped down and flew towards me at full speed. I was petrified. I tried to scream but my voice was drowned out as the flock of birds engulfed me in a deep, endless shroud of blackness. That was the last thing I remember before I passed out.
When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV. The nurse in the room saw I had woken up and called the doctor in. He told me I had been found passed out on the sidewalk covered in black feathers. I asked him where Barry was and he told me no one knew. Turns out I had been passed out for almost three days. No one had heard from Barry since that time and most people had given up hope. The doctor told me to get my rest before I was to be discharged and so I closed my eyes again and slept.
I thought about searching for Barry after my stay in the hospital, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I wouldn't ever find him. Barry's remains now resided in the bellies of those birds — all of him, his eyes and ears and nose, his clothes and shoes, his flesh and bones, everything. As I lay in the hospital bed thinking about everything, I felt like I was the lucky one. Even after all that time and all those threats, I was still here and I felt like I could breathe a little easier. Those birds wouldn't come back for me again, I thought. They've played their role. I could move on with my life now.
I laid my head back and looked out the window. Something from above drifted down onto my window sill. I noticed it was a small, black shape. It was a feather — a black feather. Shortly after seeing this, a bird came and landed on the sill as well. I watched it closely and it watched me back. As it cocked its head here and there, it turned and faced me. It began pecking on the glass effectively causing it to crack. I wanted to call out to the nurse but I couldn't.
My vocal box seized.
The window broke.
And once again, everything went black.