For most of my life, I never thought much about crows. They were just those big black birds that sat around on trees and telephone wires, "caw"-ing to each other and occasionally making a general nuisance of themselves. They weren't pretty, they weren't majestic or awe-inspiring, they didn't sing beautiful songs. . . they were just there.
Like they were the most average, unremarkable bird you could think of. I was jaded with crows from an early age--I grew up in rural North Carolina, and out there, crows are pretty much the only birds you can count on seeing on a regular basis. However, there's a reason I'm saying all of this in the past tense, and that's because I have a very different view of crows now.
It all started when me and my friends-- I don't want to share their real names, so I'm going to call them Steve and Joe -- had gone down to the woods near where I grew up for a hunting trip. Joe was the one who had organized it, and he was the one who had brought all the guns and other hunting equipment. It was a brisk fall day--the temperature was in the low sixties, and the sky was somewhat overcast, but I'd checked the weather and there wasn't supposed to be any chance of rain where we were going. I was excited; I hadn't been out on a proper hunting trip in ages, and it felt great to finally be out with my buddies again.
Unfortunately, our plans quickly went south. No sooner had we arrived at the cabin at the head of the trail than large, fat raindrops began pelting us. Thinking quickly, I told Steve and Joe to come inside the cabin with me, so we could wait until the rain had passed over us. Truth be told, I had no idea how long the rain was going to last, but I wasn't going to just turn around--not on my first day out with my best friends in God knows how long. No, this hunting trip was going to happen rain or shine.
That was when Joe saw the first of them "Check it out," he said. "It's a crow."
"Yeah. Like hell it's a crow," Steve said. "Why are you pointing that out to us?"
"You don't normally see them out in the rain like this, do you?" said Joe. "I wonder what he's doing."
I walked over to the window where Joe was staring out, and saw it for myself. It was a crow, all right, but there was something different about this one. Crows in general always have this sort of quizzical, curious look about them, like they're constantly investigating something. This one, though. . . it looked more devilish than anything else. Like it was up to something nasty. Like something that would give Alfred Hitchcock nightmares.
The crow turned around and let out a loud caw into the rainy afternoon sky. A second crow flapped down, followed by a third and a fourth. They all had the same mischievous, up-to-no-good air about them. I wasn't quite sure why, but it made me nervous. The crows kept coming. Dozens of them, flapping down into the trees in swarms like feathered locusts. All of them staring at us. One of them, I noticed, was holding something in its beak. It was shiny, smooth, and looked as though it was metallic. This didn't surprise me-- I'd read all about how crows were curious about shiny things.
"You think we should just call it quits?" said Joe.
"I'm not going out there," Steve said. "Not with those birds giving me the stink-eye like that. I left the guns in the truck when we hurried in."
"Then I'm going to go get them," said Joe. He walked out the door of the cabin, and started towards the truck. As he walked past the tree, the crows immediately reacted. I'd seen crows mobbing hawks too many times to count--they would harass the bigger bird in a violent frenzy until it gave up attacking. This was not like that. One of the crows--a big one with a patch of grayish feathers on one side of his head--let out a long, low squawk, and five of the crows in the tree took off. They rose up in a perfect V formation, then swooped down like fighter planes, diving at Joe with their beaks and claws outstretched. Joe stumbled back, and cursed at them. "Fucking birds. . ."
The big crow made the same sound as before, and this time, more crows took off. Like the first time, they took to the air in a V-shaped formation, then dove at him with astonishing speed and precision. Joe was knocked off his feet, and before he could push himself back up, the crows began the next phase of their attack. The crow in the tree with the shiny object in its beak flew down, while another dozen or so crows continued to harass and bombard Joe to stop him from getting back up. It brandished the object in its beak, and I could now see clearly what it was--a piece of scrap metal, perhaps from an old aluminum can. What's it doing? I thought to myself. *Is it going to. . ."*Oh, shit! Joe!"
I banged on the window of the cabin to get Joe's attention, but it was too late. The crow carrying the piece of scrap metal flapped onto Joe's face and sliced its makeshift knife into his neck, right into where I knew the jugular vein was. A geyser of dark red blood spurted out, dousing the crow's feathers. Th other crows fell silent, while the crow with the piece of metal let out a single low squawk.
This isn't happening. I'm dreaming, I said to myself. There's no way this is real. It was a self-serving lie, of course, but what I'd just seen seemed impossible to believe. It would have stayed that way, if it weren't for the fact that Joe was obviously now dead. But it was about to get even weirder. By now the rain had stopped, but Steve and I were too scared gutless to go outside.
The same crow that had just killed Joe then proceeded to tear open his shirt and cut into his chest with its piece of scrap metal. At first I wasn't sure what it was trying to do, but about ten minutes later it pulled its head back up with something red and solid in its beak. "Is that what I think it is?" Steve asked.
"You mean his heart?" I said. "I think so. But what are they doing with it?"
My question was answered when another crow arrived bearing a long stick from which all the twigs had been removed. With my binoculars, I could see that the tip of it had been sharpened to a point, almost like a spear. The crow that had killed Joe and removed his heart stabbed it on the end of the stick with a hideous squelching sound, then hoised it into the air in his beak.
The moment he did, the dozens of other crows formed themselves into a circle around him. They lowered their heads, raised their wings, and puffed out the feathers on their necks, sort of like what I'd seen crows doing when they were fighting. But these crows weren't fighting. Instead, they slowly walked in a circle around Joe's body, flapping their wings and bobbing their heads, but never making a sound. The crow in the center perched on Joe's head, and held the stick as high as he could. This went on for almost twenty minutes, before the crows all flew off as a group.
Steve and I were questioned regarding the circumstances of Joe's death, but no matter how many times we told the story, the authorities never seemed to believe it. Joe's body wasn't available as evidence--when the cops came by the next day to look for it, it was gone. Steve took it even harder than I did. He committed suicide a week later, and in his note he wrote that he figured he was going to get the death sentence anyway, so he did it himself
And that leaves me. All of this happened ten years ago. I don't live under the identity I had back then, and if you meet me in public you probably won't think I was the same guy who was accused of murdering his hunting buddy. For obvious reasons, I can't see a therapist, but I take medication for the anxiety this has caused me, and that at least takes some of the edge off. I don't hunt anymore--not because I'm some sort of hippie tree-hugger now, but because it carries too many traumatizing memories for me. I've found a new calling writing in my apartment.
There is a crow outside my window.