by Pam Sears
Can a murder of crows bring magic?
| He was back. He’d nodded and tipped his hat to her and she’d flushed, glancing quickly at her date, Jeff, but he didn’t seem to notice the man. She wasn’t sure why but very few people seemed to notice him and he was very noticeable.
It wasn’t just that he wore unrelieved black, many people did. It was the strangeness of his top hat, a silk creation that looked like it was modeled on the Mad Hatter’s. He always tipped it to her whenever he caught her gaze which was happening with more frequency.
And, of course, there were the long black feathers. She’d thought she was seeing things the first time she saw him and noticed that he seemed to disappear quickly in spite of that hat and those feathers. But he’d left a feather behind. She’d been on a date then, too, and as they passed where he’d been standing she’d seen it lying there, gleaming darkly against the pristine snow.
“You’re not really going to pick up that nasty thing, are you?” Jeff had wrinkled his aristocratic nose at her when she’d stooped to lift the feather from the snowbank.
“I think it’s beautiful. And it’s not dirty at all.” She’d stated, stroking it gently.
And it was beautiful. The black was so dark it gleamed with deep purples and greens in it’s depths. It currently sat on her dresser where she could see it whenever she happened to glance over.
She always looked for a feather whenever she spotted him but she’d only found three others. She wondered if anyone else picked them up before her but, no, she always reached wherever he’d been standing before anyone else. And she always made sure to look. She looked this time, too.
She felt her breath catch in her lungs. Was that…? Yes! An inky black spot gleamed against another small pile of snow. She paused to stoop down for it only to have Jeff kick it away. She cried out in surprise.
“What is with you and those feathers? Leave it alone, Beth.” He demanded, sounding surly.
“I happen to like them.” She frowned. “There’s no reason to be so angry over me collecting feathers.”
“Well, they look dirty. I don’t want you catching some disease being carried by whatever bird is losing that many feathers. Birds only lose them when they’re sick, you know.” He tried to sound wise.
It was all Beth could do not to roll her eyes. “Actually, birds molt seasonally or lose feathers for other reasons that have nothing to do with illness or disease.” She corrected, still irritated with his actions.
She glanced at where the feather now lay, partially in the street. “Crows have also been known to leave feathers -among other things- as gifts for humans they like.” She added as she checked traffic.
Jeff snorted. “Leave it alone, Beth. I mean it.”
She turned to frown in surprise at him. “You ‘mean it’, Jeff? Really? You’re not my parent and we’re only dating, not married. I happen to like feathers.” And she once again stooped to retrieve the feather.
Jeff snarled a reply but she ignored him, gently running the feather through her fingers with a small smile. It really did feel like the unknown man was leaving a gift especially for her.
As she stepped back onto the sidewalk Jeff snatched her arm and began walking swiftly toward where they’d parked. She protested but he ignored her, as usual. It was something she didn’t like, this lack of concern for anyone but himself. It might be time to end things before it went any further.
She glanced at his stony profile and decided not tonight. She’d tell him later, when he’d calmed down. Two of them upset wouldn’t be a good idea. Sighing she tucked the feather into her purse and buckled up.
“What do you mean you’re breaking up with me!” Jeff barked.
Beth pulled the phone away from her ear with a wince then sighed. She was on her back patio and had been refilling her bird feeders when Jeff called. She had put off going on any more dates for several days but he wasn’t to be put off any longer so she had finally told him the truth.
“I believe it’s for the best, Jeff.” She told him as she continued setting out seed and suet and checking that the water fountain was clean. “We don’t value the same things or have the same wants in life. I really enjoyed our dates,” not really but she could be nice. “But I think it’s time we accepted our differences are too much and move on.”
“Well, I don’t happen to agree.” He retorted stiffly. “If this is because I don’t like your silly feathers, you can just get over that idea.”
“No, Jeff, it’s not about the feathers.” She sighed, although a part of her insisted that it was. Those feathers had been gifted to her. She knew it.
“Good, then I’ll be there to pick you up in twenty minutes. We’re going out.”
“No, Jeff –“ but he’d already hung up.
She sighed and glanced at the time, then around her yard. Several creatures, both the feathered and furred kind, watched her in return and she smiled tiredly.
“Don’t worry, kids. I’m leaving. You’ll be able to get to your treats in a sec.” She promised.
A low, almost warning caw sounded and she looked up. Near the tops of her trees were… she counted… eight large crows. A murder, she remembered they were called. A group of crows were called a murder. She grinned.
They were watching her closely, not moving. Dark eyes staring from her to a particular crow in their midst. He was much larger than the others and he never moved and he never took his eyes off of her.
She thought she should feel nervous to have such large birds with sharp beaks staring at her so intently but she wasn’t. She smiled, a real smile, at the darkly feathered creatures.
“You’re more than welcome to join the others.” She called softly. “But we share around here. No chasing off the smaller ones.”
The middle crow, and he *was* bigger than the others, bowed his head to her before flying down to land gently at her feet. He called to the others and they joined him. Some even tried the treats she’d spread around.
She chuckled at their behavior.
“No? Well, I’ll look up what treats you all like and put them out tomorrow. For now, I have to get ready to go out.” And she sighed again.
The larger crow ruffled his feathers and shook his head at her, croaking and clacking his beak. He spread his wings slightly and bobbed then hopped toward her. Not as if to attack but to catch her attention.
Surprised, Beth slowly knelt and carefully held out a hand. The huge crow paced right up to her and allowed her to stroke him.
“You are so beautiful.” She breathed, touch gentle. “You must be their king, yes?” She teased.
He bowed his head to her again and she smiled.
“I have to go, I’m afraid. I need to make sure ... someone... understands I’m serious. I can’t be with someone who doesn’t care for anyone but himself.” She stood just as slowly so as not to startle the animals but they seemed unafraid.
At her back door Beth paused to glance back. Once more all the crows were watching her.
“You are not just dumping me, Beth! That’s not how it works!” Jeff hissed at her.
They stood on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant he liked best as she tried to get him to understand they were done. He’d ignored her the whole drive over and now looked ready to hit something.
“Jeff, we don’t mesh. You and I don’t like or want the same things.” She kept her voice low, hoping not to attract attention.
A barking caw sounded and she glanced up to see a number of large crows on the telephone poles and streetlights around them. Watching. Were they the crows from her backyard? She frowned.
“Beth!” Jeff snapped.
“I’m sorry, what?” She turned back, finally a little impatient at his behavior.
“I said get in the car! We’ll discuss this at your house.” He yanked the car door open.
“No, I don’t think so. I’ll take a cab home. We’re done, Jeff. You go home, too.” She told him and turned to walk toward the rear of his car, looking for a cab.
The warning cries of the crows sounded just as she felt hands slam into her back. As she heard Jeff snarl at her.
“No one leaves me. NO one!”
There was a screech of brakes, the cry of the crows and her own strangled scream as she stumbled in front of a large truck. She waited for the pain of impact knowing it couldn’t miss.
Instead she felt the heat and softness of feathers. Heard Jeff’s cry of pain. Felt herself lifted away then set on her feet and a deep voice asking if she were hurt.
Beth looked up to find herself staring into glistening black eyes framed by glossy black feathers.
“You.” She breathed. “Did you just save me?”
The man dipped his head once in acknowledgement, almost a bow. The feathers of of his costume seemed to settle around his shoulders.
“Are you hurt?” He repeated.
“No, I’m fine thanks to you.” She couldn’t seem to look away until she remembered.
The man held her in place, shaking his head. “Don’t look. Only know he will never harm you again. I am Samhain.”
“Saw when?” Her brow wrinkled and he smiled, causing her to gasp at how handsome it made him.
“Perhaps Sam will do. I would protect you if you will allow me.”
“Why? You don’t know me.” Although she didn’t pull away. He was... mesmerizing.
“I know you are kind and giving. Patient. Gentle. But fierce when needed. A woman I should like to ... care for.”
Beth reached up to touch his face then the feathers at his shoulder and he shivered. Grasping her hand he brought her fingers to his lips for a soft kiss.
“I don’t know you.” She spoke with regret.
“You do.” He denied, still smiling. “Better than you knew him.”
He faced her towards the other end of the sidewalk, away from where Jeff had been, and she saw the crows. They all bowed their heads.
Sam leaned down to whisper in her ear. “I am their king. And I need a queen. I need you, Bethany.”
Eyes huge she turned to look at him. “You? You’re the crow in my yard?”
He handed her a large, glossy black feather. So dark it gleamed with deep purples and greens. She drew in her breath as her heart sang in response.
“Oh.” She took it, drew it gently through her fingers. “Oh, I see.” She sighed happily.
She met his dark gaze with her own brown one. “I knew there was a reason only I seemed to see you. Only I found the feathers.” She smiled. “Yes. I will be your queen, Samhain.”
His own smile widened. “You will never regret it, my Queen. I swear it.”
Lifting a long, silver encased finger he gently drew an intricate symbol first on her brow, then over her heart. Stepping back he blew a soft breath at her and a flurry of black feathers swirled around her.
Moments later a murder of crows rose into the sky, ignoring the mayhem gathered round the body of the young man lying under the truck that had struck him.