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A Murder of Crows

February 21, 2017

Sean Michael, 2016

I am an avid birdwatcher. I have been able to identify hundreds of species of birds on my travels, study them, and write about them in my many journals. Ornithology has always been of great interest to me. Shortly after retirement, while on a trip to India, I was privileged to see the endangered Indian Vulture. Unfortunately, the bird was entangled in the lines of a kite and was bleeding to death. I observed as a vet painstakingly started an I.V. from one of the very fragile veins in the bird’s foot in an attempt to save its life. Sadly, the bird perished.

People don’t interest me much. Whenever I turn on the television or open the papers, it’s another version of the same story: a mass shooting, a terror attack, warring religions, a child paralyzed by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting. The world is in constant strife and chaos. I envy the birds their freedoms, freedom from government and corruption, freedom from gravity. I guess none are free from the cruelty of man.

I’d have paid the boy across the street no mind except he was harassing the crows with his pellet rifle once again. I saw the glee on his face through my binoculars as he struck one of the birds, and they scattered from his yard to the nearby telephone wires. The flagitious boy continued to pop shots at them, but thankfully, the birds had moved out of range.
Crows are very intelligent birds, adept at using tools to dig in the ground for worms and other insects to eat. I’d learned from a PBS special, which I enjoyed very much, that crows can even recognize human faces and discern if they are a threat based on past experiences. For instance, they should recognize this boy, who’s been shooting pellets at them, so it made no sense to me that they hardly tried to avoid him. The only reason I could figure the birds favored that yard, despite the risks, was the primal necessity of food supply. The boy’s mother grew flowers and vegetables in the front yard which obviously attracted insects and worms, not to mention the vegetables for the birds to feed on.

I decided to hang some feeders filed with seeds and dried kernels of corn from the tree in my front yard that night, though I was dubious it would entice the birds from his yard to mine. After all, they’d developed the habit of feeding there, and the menu was much better, but it was worth a shot.

The following day, as I went to check on my feeders, I watched the boy climb with his pellet rifle slung over his shoulder to a sniper spot in the trees. Eventually, the crows began to show up, digging in the yard and filching vegetables from the garden. The boy took careful aim and fired, striking his target. The crows fled for safety to the telephone wires, but for the one that had been hit. Looking closely through my binoculars, I could see the boy had shot the crow’s beak off its face. Confounded and in pain, the bird beat it’s broken beak against the ground. The boy dropped from the tree and stalked the bird as it flapped its wings at its injured face. Crouching slowly and carefully, the boy gathered the bird in his hands, and I knew the animal was doomed.

The crow tried to flap its wings and struggled to get away from the boy, but was unable to make its escape. I watched through my binoculars as the boy attempted to tear the bird’s wings off with his bare hands. I heard the bird squawk in outrage. I’d had enough. I rose, preparing to go outside and scold the boy, call upon his parents if I had to, when I spotted something sleek and black dart down from the sky in a flurry.

Several crows swooped down on the boy, cawing and spreading their wings threateningly. Startled, the boy stepped back, but kept hold of the injured bird. Another cluster of crows dove from the sky, cawing angrily and joined the attack. The boy dropped the injured crow and swiped at his assailants. Dozens of crows fell from the sky like kamikaze pilots, alighting on the boy until he was hardly visible to me anymore.

I watched as the boy tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground, his screams now melding with the angry war cry of the crows. I watched as he flailed his arms, and a crow latched onto his trigger finger, tearing flesh from bone with its beak. I stood and watched in stunned silence before I realized the birds were not going to stop their attack until they’d torn off all his fingers, eaten his eyes and his tongue, maybe killed him.

I rushed outside and across the street realizing then that I had no sure way to stop the vengeful birds from tearing the boy to bloody ribbons. As I reached the yard across the street, I began to stomp my feet, flap my arms and yell, “Yah! Yah!” which resulted in scaring away only a few of the birds. I began to grab the crows on the boy, tossing them, slapping them away, hoping they wouldn’t turn their attack against me as well.

As the birds cleared away, and I saw the boy, I became ill at the gruesome sight before me. Several of the boy’s fingers had been skinned to the bone, the trigger finger was missing completely. A portion of his cheek was missing, leaving his jawbone and some of his molars visible and bloody.

As I stood and stared in utter disbelief and amazement at the boy holding his bloody face with maimed hands and rolling around wildly on the ground, several crows swooped and circled, prepared to continue the attack. I “cawed” loudly and flapped my arms and stomped my feet at them. “No more!” I shouted. “Go away, leave him alone. You’ve had your revenge!” The birds flew away and alighted on the telephone wires across the street. They “cawed” and flapped their wings defiantly, all with their eyes on me and the writhing boy in the front yard.

I went over and picked the boy up off the ground. He leaned against me, crying harshly and mumbling incoherently (I wondered if they’d gotten his tongue). As I led the boy across the street to clean him up and call for medical attention, the sun was suddenly blotted out, and we were veiled in shadow. The murder of crows… no, the murderous crows flew over us and disappeared.

PBS Murder of Crows video

N.B. This story was originally published by “Morpheus Tales,” October 2016.


From → BLOG, Short Stories

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