Story Press: The Cawing
Two men stood on the sidewalk outside of an abandoned Victorian home, debating whether or not to enter what was rumored to be the haunted lair of a dead witch. Boards covered the windows and pieces of the walls had splintered away. There were cracks in the concrete porch and pillars, and the double-doors barley seemed to be holding on. It was very noticeable that this home was someone’s dream-house. It wasn’t always covered in mold and vines, nor did the roof always slouch and appear in the fragile, hazardous way it does. It’s the kind of beautiful structure that’s no longer created, a true gem. Anyone with half of an imagination can picture how marvelous it must have been at some point in time. One of the men, who appeared a bit over fed and dressed like he was going to the store on laundry day, was finishing his sandwich while contemplating the safety of their visit; he noticed a crow in a tree watching their every move. He pinched off a portion of bread and threw it to the ground next to him and as expected the old blackbird flew down and grabbed the crumbs then hopped away, careful to keep its distance.
Noticing the crow’s eager desire for food the man bent down a bit: “Well then, you liked that did you?” He ripped part of the meat from his sandwich and taunted the bird with it, trying to lure it closer. As the bird cautiously approached it was obvious that it had his eyes on the prize and was ambitiously interested. “What’s your name bird? I’m Brian,” the man said as he dangled the strip of meat in front of him. The bird built up just enough courage to come within feeding distance and then Brian ate the meat himself, pleased to have tricked the bird. He stomped his foot and waved his arms to scare the bird away. Irate, the bird’s wings fluttered as it moved to a safer distance, but it kept a watchful eye on the men.
There was a line drawn with chalk on the sidewalk just a few feet in front of the porch. Brian, being superstitious and a true believer in the paranormal grabbed his friend’s elbow in mid-step: “I wouldn’t go over that line if I were you.” The well-dressed taller man, a known skeptic named Tom, jerked his arm away, looked at the chalkline for a moment and laughed. Tom loosened his tie a bit and then looked at Brian with a sarcastic grin that covered his face from ear-to-ear. “Really? You don’t believe…” — Brian interrupted him, he knew his friend didn’t believe in the paranormal let alone that this mysterious line may have been a warning someone had left to ward away visitors so he motioned for him to stop and held his index finger up. “Just wait a second,” Brian said.
He pinched a few more crumbs from the bread and placed them in a line from the yard over to the sidewalk, tossing the last piece, the largest and most admirable treat, over the line and next to the foot of the porch steps. The bird happily followed the crumbs and picked them up one by one, cocking his head back and chomping down on each piece while hopping across the yard and over to the sidewalk, then suddenly he stopped at the line. The bird looked up at the men as if he was studying them, turning its head side-to-side and then back at the large chunk of bread. The temptation was torture, you could see it in his motions that he wanted to grab it as he paced back and forth a bit. The bird cawed, gave an aggressive flap or two with his wings and then flew back to the middle of the yard.
Brian looked at Tom and raised his eyes brows with suspicion. Tom took Brian’s sandwich from him, tossed it in the bushes and picked up a backpack to take with him into the house. “Give me a fuckin’ break. C’mon,” Brian lashed out over the sandwich. “You’ve gotta be kidding me with all of this superstitious bullshit. What does a black bird know? Man up,” Tom replied in a confident and arguable tone. Brian’s attention was drawn back to the bird. Eager to disprove Brian’s superstitions, Tom quickly crossed the line before he could be stopped again. As he stepped over his head jerked back and he was thrown off balance as his neck met with a thin razor sharp wire that had been tied from post to post. Their attention was on the chalkline so much that the thin wire was overlooked. He staggered a few feet forward and then stopped in his tracks. He stood there in silence, facing the house as he lifted his hands up to put pressure on his neck.
The incident had gone unnoticed, though Tom was merely a few feet away. The bird in the yard had held Brian’s full attention. “Yeah… What does a blackbird know? You’re right, I guess,” Brian said with a skeptical tone. “We know what we know,” the bird answered and then it flew back to his tree. Stunned that the bird seemed to have spoken to him, Brian turned to say something to Tom but then paused when he realized something wasn’t right. He could see Tom from behind, wobbling back-and-forth trying not to fall. “Tom? Tom are you ok?” Brian finally noticed the wire and that it appeared to have blood and small fragments of torn tissue from Tom’s neck clung to it. Tom turned to Brian, confused, holding his neck as blood began to gush out, the downpour drenched the front of his button up shirt. Tom’s face was flush white and the fear filled his teary eyes as the grotesque sounds of gurgling blood could be heard and he dropped to the ground.
“Holy fuck,” Brian blurted out as he stepped over the chalkline to help. He tried to lift Tom to his feet but Tom’s arms fell limp to his sides and his lifeless body was too heavy to move. Tom’s head tilted back, his throat opened and was cut deep enough that it nearly had taken his head off. Brian gagged at the horrific sight and then he let go of the body as he panicked. “Fuck,” he cried out, not knowing what to do. He wiped his bloody hands on his own pants trying to get them clean. “Kaw!” He heard the blackbird in the tree. Several other blackbirds began to fly up and perched upon the branches, they seemingly appeared from nowhere. Brian began to run for help but the birds flew down, diverting his path, pecking at him and pushing him back over the line. They continued until he found himself all the way back by Tom’s body again. Within seconds there were birds everywhere covering the yard, the trees, the bushes… but not one bird would land on the house.
“What do you want!?” Brian shouted at the birds. He tried to scare them by waving his arms and then he stomped his foot on the ground like he had done before only this time the bird he had fed hopped closer as if it dared him to do it again. Brian nervously looked around then began to try to drag Tom back over the line and into the yard. The birds began cawing angrily. Brian had been able to pull Tom’s body a foot or two but the movement of the birds behind him and their earsplitting cawing distracted him. He turned back to the birds, looked around him to see what could be found. He picked up a brick that laid by a bush nearby. He hesitated for a moment as his hands shook nervously. ‘Well fuck you!” He shouted out as he threw the brick towards the birds with all of his might. The birds scattered and began to violently swarm around him as they started their assault.
The darkness of fluttering wings surrounded him. He screamed and fell to the ground as the loudness of the birds grew to match their aggressiveness, ripping and tearing at him, his flesh being pricked at by beaks and claws as he helplessly tried to crawl. He began flailing his arms about, swatting a few to the ground but, as one fell another took its place clipping at his bloody fingers as he held his hands up trying to keep the birds from his face. More and more blackbirds flocked around him chipping at his flesh until his muffled cries for help could no longer be heard.
As the birds dispersed and flew into the sky, the mutilated scene of the two dead bodies remained, one man slumped over the other, blood trickling from their faces and hands. Their clothes were now in shreds and tattered; most of their flesh was ripped; their eyes had been pecked or scratched out and left oozing. As the blood pooled on the ground around them it stopped in a perfect straight line along the chalkline, keeping it from crossing back over. On the porch an old and rugged welcome mat read: “Who may enter, may never leave.” In the tallest tree of the yard the blackbird once again sat alone, watching over the home. He released a proud cry of victory with an eery “Ka-kaw, ka-kaw!” His head tilted and twitched side-to-side with the reflection of the witch’s house in his eyes.
A Short By: William C. Raustler
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