Scott was dreaming about the war… and crows. In the dream, he was lying on a battlefield, injured and unable to move. On the bare branches in the tree above him, silhouetted against the sky, were perched hundreds of crows, staring down with beady eyes. Waiting. Watching.
Crows were scavengers, carnivorous ones, and he’d seen many a soldier’s corpse devoured by the large black birds. They would peck and tear with their sharp beaks, leaving nothing but bone and shreds of skin and tendon behind. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even wait until the man was dead before beginning their macabre feast.
When the birds suddenly descended from the tree and landed on top of him, their talons digging into his flesh, he awoke with a choked gasp and flailing limbs. As he lay there panting in the early morning light, he could hear a raucous cawing as a pair of black wings glided past his open window. Then another. And another. He climbed out of bed and went to the window.
Unlike the tree in his dream, the sycamore they occupied was lush and green with the growth of summer. At least two dozen crows had gathered there among the branches, like strange fruit, cackling and rustling their glossy black feathers. He had seen them in this tree before but had never paid them any attention. It was only now, with his dream still fresh in his mind, that he gave them any serious consideration.
They seemed to know that he was watching them and they stared back with eerie intelligence, as if sizing him up for a meal. It was then that he remembered that a group of crows was called a murder, like geese were a flock or cattle were a herd.
A murder of crows.
A feeling of unease bloomed in his belly and Scott had to stop himself from backing away from the window. Swallowing hard, he stood firm and stared back. They were just a bunch of birds. There was nothing unnatural about them. Nothing to be afraid of.
The contest of wills between man and avian lasted less than a minute before the crows took off in a flurry of ebony wings, startled by the kitchen door that had flung open with a bang. Looking down, Scott saw Teresa, laundry basket in hand, humming an off key tune as she headed towards the clothesline.
Flicking his eyes skyward, Scott watched silently as the crows became nothing more than black specks against a cloudless blue backdrop and then finally vanished.
The birds were long gone and the sun continued to climb higher in the sky but Scott remained there by the window, staring distractedly off into the distance. It was a long time before he finally turned and began to dress for the day.