Thursday, 28 August 2014
Eating Crow By Ken MacGregor 2013
By Ken MacGregor 2013
Bumble Jackson waited. Ten minutes had passed since the squirrel had gotten hit by the Camaro that blew by way too fast. Nice car. Bumble wondered who was driving and what the hell they were doing in this shithole. Passing through, most likely. Nobody with any sense stayed in Oak Woods. Hell, even the six hundred permanent residents all wanted to be somewhere else. That went double for James “Bumble” Jackson. He hated it here. Hated the nickname, too, plastered on him when he was three and terrified of bees. Daddy was a James, too, so it was only a matter of time before Junior got a nickname. He wished it could have something cool, though.
Bumble heard the wings first, then he saw the big, black bird glide in and land on the road. It was a few feet from the flattened squirrel, so it hopped closer, looking around, wary of cars and predators. Five hops took the bird to the carcass, and it plucked a bit of meat, tossing its head back to swallow. Slowly, Bumble lifted the rifle to his shoulder. He pulled back the hammer as easy as can be. Still, the click was damn loud next to his ear. The crow stopped eating, whipped its head around and stared at Bumble. Man and bird were perfectly still for a moment. Bumble could feel his pulse throbbing in his neck. He took deep breaths and watched the crow; neither blinked. Finally, the bird looked away, pecking out another tidbit. As the crow tilted its head back to swallow, Bumble fired, the .22 caliber bullet blowing a neat hole through the bird’s chest.
“Gotcha.” Bumble grinned, unbothered by the stink of rotten teeth rising from his own mouth. He snuffed that motherfucker. Bumble may be a sixteen-year-old virgin with no prospects, but just then, he felt like a god.
It was another fifteen minutes before the next crow showed up. Bumble wondered if it would eat the squirrel or the fresher meat of its brother crow. This bird did that same land a few feet away and hop toward the kill routine. Bumble figured all crows probably did that. Some kind of race memory thing maybe. He learned about that at school, not long before he gave up going to class. Last year, the teacher was all right, so Bumble was interested enough to show up most days; this year’s teacher made going to class about as much fun as cleaning the toilet. Of course, every time Bumble had to do that particular chore, the older James always told him at least you have indoor plumbing. That when he was a boy, he had to clean the damn outhouse. Bumble was supposed to be thankful for small favors.
Turns out this bird was after the squirrel, too. Maybe crows wouldn’t eat each other.
He shot the second crow. Got this one in the neck and blew the head clean off. The bird’s head landed a few inches away. Its beak opened like it was being pulled by invisible strings and stayed that way.
“Sweet,” Bumble mumbled. That afternoon, Bumble shot five crows. When the thrill of taking lives got stale, and Bumble’s stomach growled, he set the rifle on its wall mount. He planned to head to Murray’s, get a sandwich, maybe a beer if Murray is feeling generous enough to forget Bumble’s age. He’d strip and clean the .22 when he got back. The old man would have his hide if he found out James had used the rifle without taking care of it after.
The sun was dipping westward, and the temp had already dropped a few degrees. Bumble grabbed his denim jacket off the antler mounted by the door and pulled it on. He whistled as he walked toward what passed for town; it was a tune he’d heard his dad whistle many times, but he didn’t know what it was from. Bumble plodded along the road, looking mostly at the ground. One time, he had found a ten dollar bill, and he always hoped it would happen again. The sound of wings made him look up.
Crows. Seven or maybe eight of them, circling overhead. Huh, Bumble thought. Maybe they’re pissed about their friends. He smiled at the thought of vengeful crows.
“Screw you,” Bumble said to the crows. He kept walking. Every so often though, he’d glance up. When he did, there were more of them. A dozen, then twenty, then fifty. Jesus. Bumble picked up the pace. Murray’s was only another mile, mile and a half, tops.
It was getting dark fast. Bumble looked up to check the sun, but the sky was black with crows. A piece of black detached itself from the sky and swooped down on Bumble, missing him by inches. He ran.
Bumble wasn’t exactly fit. His breath got ragged fast. His feet hammered the road, the damn crows screamed at him with their harsh cries and his chest felt like it would burst. Still, he ran. If I can just make it to Murray’s, he thought.
Sudden pain exploded in Bumble’s legs and lower back and he was airborne. Time slowed to a crawl as Bumble flipped in midair over a Camaro. That same electric blue car that had hit the squirrel in front of his house. It had to be. Bumble could read the license plate, and he tried to memorize it so he could tell the Sheriff. The impact spun him, and he landed on his back. The Camaro’s brake lights flashed for half a second, then the engine roared and the car disappeared.
Bumble hurt over his whole body. He tried to get up, still hoping to make it to Murray’s. He could only move his left hand and his eyes. Nothing else worked. The crows circled lower and lower until they were on the ground, the closest a few feet away. Bumble could hear them settle on the ground, hundreds of tiny talons clicking on the blacktop. Bumble knew what was next. The hopping. He screamed. Turns out his voice was working at least. Bumble cried for help. He wept. The black birds looked a lot bigger on the ground. One was right above him now. Bumble locked eyes with the crow, saw cunning there, and recognition maybe, though he might be imagining that. The bird dipped its head toward him and Bumble’s left eye never saw anything again.
Bumble screamed in agony and another crow latched onto his tongue, severing the end. He could feel the beaks tearing into him all over. They ate him alive, and they took their time about it.
Murray, roughly 500 yards away, heard the screams and came outside of his bar. He saw the murder of crows on the road, but couldn’t see through the cloud of black wings. Murray had never seen birds behave like that before, and he stood out front, watching. If he’d known it was a person in there, he told himself later, he would have done something. Finally, the birds flew off, moving as one great cloud. Murray, curious, walked down the road.
A human skeleton lay there, the bones picked nearly clean. Murray had seen bodies before, in Afghanistan. His cheek twitched with the memory of dead kids. Murray noticed a strip of leather near the middle of the corpse and nudged it with his boot. He flipped over the belt buckle with his toe; it was a U.S. Cavalry buckle from WWII. Old Vinny Jackson had handed it down to James Junior when he passed on five years ago. This was Bumble. Christ, Murray thought. His stomach lurched and he puked, managing to turn away and hit the empty road behind him instead of the bones. When he recovered, he saw a crow sitting on a branch looking at him.
“Ain’t got no quarrel with you,” he said. The bird dipped its head. It sure as hell seemed like a nod. Murray backed away, heading to his shop. He didn’t take his eye off that crow until he was inside with the door closed.
Re-printed. Siren's Call Publications