“A group of crows is called a murder, who know.”
Melanie had an odd glint in her eye as she watched the large flock swirl around us. The big black birds were gibbering, as if speaking to each other in their own secret language.
“Yes, I’ve heard that,” I said. “Do they know something that we don’t?”
Melanie laughed. “Of course they do. Can’t you hear them whisper their threats and spells?”
“Whisper? That racket is anything but whispering.”
She just smiled at me.
I had never seen this side of Melanie, but then I realized that I really didn’t know her very well. We had worked together for a couple of years and had carried on something of a flirtation, but it was only this last week that she finally excepted one of my advances and had agreed to go hiking with me. She picked the route, the Badega Trail up Mt. Hitchcock, and I agreed. I had never taken that trail, so it would be a special treat.
“I know you spend a lot of time out of doors,” I said. “Are you a birder?”
“I love birds, if that is what you mean,” she said. “I don’t go around spying on them though. I feel a connection and don’t want to spoil it with field glasses and cameras.”
I had dated a birder several years before. It fascinated me, but I was not patient enough for it. I liked walking and feeling the landscape change under my feet. I loved to touch the trees and discover the life within. Sitting in one spot trying to track down a sound just wasn’t appealing.
We hiked on and the crows left us. They had been following along with us for a while and I almost missed the constant cackling, but without their presence I started to feel the wild woods again.
“We’ve known each other for how long?” Melanie asked.
“I don’t know. I think I first met you about three years ago, but we’ve only been working together for the last eight months or so.”
She nodded and continued to walk in silence.
There was obviously something on her mind, but I couldn’t figure it out. She was distant, and yet kept engaging me in conversation. I found myself just following her, both up the unfamiliar trail, and in our conversation. At work, I was the one to lead with my gentle flirting and teasing, but here she was the master.
“Hey, are you sure this is right?” Melanie had taken a small, unmarked side trail.
“Don’t you trust me?” she asked. The glint in her eye was brighter, more mysterious.
“Uhm, of course I do.”
The trail seemed no more than a small animal path and we often had to push things out of our way to follow it. Part of me wanted to turn back and take the main trail, but the lithe form of Melanie, almost dancing as she walked in front of me, kept me going.
“When did I first turn down one of your advances?” she asked. She glanced back. The glint was now fierce.
The question took me by surprise. We began flirting pretty much as soon as we started to work together. I had half-jokingly, half seriously asked her out within a week. Was that what she was talking about? I really didn’t think of it as an advance, more just being friendly.
“I’m not really sure,” I said. “I’ve asked you out a few times, but I never thought of it as advances.”
She laughed again. There was an edge to the laugh. “I’m sure you didn’t,” she said. “You didn’t have to worry about what I’d say or do every day as you prepared for work. You didn’t have to worry about the constant, unwanted attention.”
I didn’t know what to say. Did she really feel that way? She could have fooled me. She always responded to my jokes and such in such a friendly manner.
We walked on in silence. In fact, I began to notice that the woods had grown totally silent, as if it were holding its breath waiting for something to happen.
We came to a clearing. Melanie stopped and motioned for me to pass her.
“This is a great little look out. Go up on the ledge and tell me what you see,” she said. She smiled sweetly, the smile I’d seen a thousand times before at work.
It was narrow, but I slid by, thrilling where I brushed against her. Once past her I came up to a small cliff. The was a drop of perhaps 30 feet high and mostly looked into the trees in front of it, not really out into the world.
“Not quite the view I expected,” I said. “I see trees, but not a great vista.”
“Anything in the trees?”
I looked closer to the trees just below the drop off.
“Yeah, that flock of crows is down there.”
“Flock? No, you know what they’re called.”
“A murder?” I asked.
The shove was hard, violent. I couldn’t catch myself, couldn’t get traction. I quickly found myself grabbing at the open air. I flapped my arms, like useless wings, but still fell.
I awoke at the bottom of the little cliff. There was no part of my body that didn’t feel pain. I tried to move, but was stuck. A crow flew down from the trees. It eyed me with its intelligent eye. I tried to swing at it, but the attempt was feeble. Another landed beside it, and then a third.
The first crow, careful to stay out of my arms reach, circled around and pecked at the back of my neck. I screamed in pain and frustration.
I looked up as the sky turned black.
The entire flock was in the air, their wings blotting out the sun. They flew towards me, landed on and around me. The entire flock was on me, yet I was helpless.
No, not a flock.