“Look, birdie!” Alice pointed a chubby finger at the dead maple. The tree was an ancient giant towering above its neighbours, its barren limbs a grey silhouette against the sky.
Marlene wiped her gardening gloves on her jeans and shielded her eyes from the sun. A trio of crows perched on empty branches, their hoarse cries echoing through the backyard. Marlene shuddered. She hated birds, they were strange creatures with beady eyes and reptilian claws. Pointy beaks.
Fifty feet in the air, the black blobs hopped from branch to branch, cawing loudly. Reminded her of priest’s robes. Marlene turned her back on them, “Let’s go water the flowers in the front yard, honey.” She took Alice’s hand.
Water slopping down her legs, Alice struggled to carry both her watering can and shovel.
“Careful honey,” Marlene reached for the watering can. “Here, let Mommy help you.”
“No, me.” Alice trudged to the front yard. Marlene glanced behind. The crows were still in the tree, now on the lower branches, and oddly silent. Must of flown down. Two of them cocked their heads, as though trying to figure out a puzzle. Watching her.
That’s ridiculous, Marlene told herself. Crows don’t watch people. They fly, and they caw, and, well, do whatever crows do.
One stared at Marlene, its black eyes meeting hers. Then it cawed – the voice of nightmares – grating bray, like it was laughing or something. She shuddered.
“C’mon honey, let’s hurry up. The flowers are thirsty.” Marlene quickly shut the gate behind her, not wanting to look back.
“Daddy!” Alice raced to the door, wrapping her arms around Rob’s legs.
“How’s my princess today?” he hoisted her onto his shoulders. “Ready for an airplane ride?”
“You saw a birdie?”
“Was it big?”
“Did it go tweet-tweet?”
“Yeah, we spent some time in the backyard,” Marlene called from the kitchen, “Tried to get some yard work done.” She paused, “Think we gotta do something about that tree.”
Laughter came from the living room, mingled with preschool cartoons.
“Alright, you two, dinner’s ready. Come and get it.” Marlene carried a casserole to the table. Serving cheesy pasta, she added, almost as an afterthought, “Oh honey, it’s time to get somebody to take down that maple. Don’t think it’s coming back.”
“I thought you wanted to grow vines on it or something.”
“Naw, it’s dead. Could come down right on top of us any day now.” She pushed pasta around her plate. And didn’t mention the crows.
Rob looked up from the table, surprised. “Guess I’ll get someone to take care of it then.”
“Okay, cool your jets. Put your shoes on first.” Marlene pulled on her garden clogs.
“Shoes!” Alice held out pink sneakers. “Help.”
Marlene bent to shove pudgy feet into sneakers and fasten Velcro. “Time to water the flowers!”
Alice ran to the backdoor. Marlene glanced out the window. Two crows were on the lawn, hopping through lush grass. Pointy beaks jabbed at the ground, searching for something, worms or bugs or whatever crows eat.
Marlene looked up at a high pitched squeal, suddenly cut short. One of the crows held up a small wriggling creature, its four limbs flailing, then stilled. The second crow turned toward it, stabbing with its beak.
Still dangling, the creature moved, slowly, trying to protect itself; twisting into a rolled up ball, its long tail hanging down.
The crow jabbed again, seizing the torso, and pulled. Tiny scream ripped apart, then silence as the crow gulped, thin tail dangling from its beak. The first crow swallowed the remainder, still held aloft.
Both birds suddenly looked up at her, staring through the window. Penetrating gaze into nothingness. She shivered. It’s like they were watching her.
She looked at the tree, expecting the third. Nothing.
From the lawn, a dark cackle exploded, hoarse laughter as the crows called, voices overlapping, and then launched into flight.
Sickened, Marlene turned away from the window. “Uh, honey, let’s go out front today. Mommy has to check on her roses.”
Alice’s lower lip threatened a pout. Tears welled.
“And if you’re good, we can walk to the mailbox. You can mail the letters all by yourself, because you’re such a big girl.” Marlene handed her a bundle of envelopes.
Alice beamed. Crisis averted.
Walking back from the mailbox, Marlene was surprised to see an elderly couple standing on her front stoop, both dressed in black. A whitehaired man rang the doorbell, while a lady in a heavy black skirt peered through the window. Must be lost or something.
“Hi, can I help you?” Marlene walked up the driveway.
The lady whipped around, faster that Marlene thought she could possibly move; as though stung. “Oh hello dearie,” the old lady croaked, “Do you live here?” Beads of perspiration dotted her lip. She must be roasting in nylons on a day like today.
Marlene held Alice’s hand tighter. “Uh, yeah. Can I help you?”
“Oh, yes, dear. My husband and I are visiting the neighbourhood to offer our brochure to people. Spreading the news.” She smiled, her dark eyes gleaming.
“Uh, no thanks. I don’t really need anything. Thank you.” Marlene walked toward the front door. They didn’t move from the stoop.
Marlene stood at the bottom of her own front steps, Alice twisting beside her. Talk about awkward. How do I get into the house when they’re between me and my front door? She thought briefly about going through the backyard.
A crow cawed, voice of rusty nails. Marlene glanced up at the maple, bare branches stretching above the house, like claws reaching for the sky. She quickly decided, not the backyard.
Marlene put her foot on the step, and told the old people, “You know, I’m kinda busy. I got things to do.”
“Oh, I understand completely,” the lady leaned down to pat Alice on the head. Alice shrank away. The lady didn’t notice. “When I had my little one at home, I barely had time to sit down, never mind talk to folks. Oh, but time flies. Before you know it, she’ll...Continue Reading