The crows and their winged allies had overtaken the old barn.
About two weeks ago, the crows and several other species of largish birds—some Moses Parsons knew, some not—had started roosting inside the sway-sided structure’s rafters. At first, it was just a few, but day by day the numbers had grown until the birds now covered the overhead timbers, causing the termite-riddled rafters to bow beneath their combined weight. And the smell of their droppings, why, the mess stank to high heaven. They squawked day and night and had upset Dorothy the milk cow so badly that she began refusing to enter the barn. After seeing the bloody pecks peppering her back, Moses couldn’t really blame her, so left the old girl to roam the pasture and find shelter beneath the copse of hackberries near the pond.
And now there was more to worry about: last night Moses had heard them in the attic above his bed, hissing mixed in with the raucous cackles. He wondered how long it would be before they got to him.
It was his own damn fault; he never should have shot at the crows in the first place. He had meant to shoot over them with the scattergun, just scare ‘em out of the corn patch, but a pellet took out one crow. It dropped like a rock while the others flew off.
Moses tried to make amends, fetched the crow’s body and gave it a proper burial, cross and all, beside the pink rose bush crawling all over the garden fence that his late wife Bessy—God rest her soul—had planted shortly before she died of a heart attack last year. That didn’t make ‘em happy, though; the next morning he came out to gather a few early tomatoes for his dinner, and where he had buried the crow, as well as the pink rose bush, was covered in greenish white bird poop. And on top of that, the small cross he had made from twigs and twine was laying on its side, and the buried crow dug up and carted off.
They’re sure ‘nough pissed at me.
Moses was a kind soul by nature. Much to Bessy’s dismay—when she was still living—he wouldn’t even squash a bug or spider that wandered inside the house, nor set a mouse trap. He just put the critters back outdoors when he could catch ‘em. It was safer that way. From the time he had been a young sprout, some seventy-odd years ago, he had known that creepy-crawly things could sometimes be vindictive. But nothing like crows.
He had learned that from his own grandpappy, had heard horror stories while sitting on the old man’s lap many, many years ago, about what could happen to a body that crossed crows. And when Moses’ mama wasn’t looking, his grandpappy slid up the patch that covered his right eye to show Moses the mess of what had once been an eye. Before a crow had pecked it out. His mama told little Moses to ignore the old man, that he was just spinning tales. But Moses noticed his mama didn’t do anything to harm the birds, just put up a God-awful-looking scarecrow, set a fake owl on an old, metal birdbath smack-dab in the middle of the garden patch, and laid some strategically placed rubber snakes in amongst the vegetables. And for good measure, she hung some tinfoil pie plates over the plants from clothesline cord she strung between cedar posts.
I should’ve done all that, Moses thought. Or at the least put up some of them shiny plates to go with that damned, falling apart scarecrow that wasn’t scaring nothing and never had. But in the decades he and Bessy had been planting their own garden, the crows hadn’t been much of a problem. Until this year. When the tassels started turning brown, they moved in on him. Now, he didn’t mind them eating some of the corn—he had planted more than he needed for that purpose—but the black devils started taking more than their share, enough so that at the rate they were going, he wouldn’t have none left to put in the freezer.
So, he had taken Daddy’s old scattergun, loaded it with bird shot, and aiming well above the crows feasting on his corn, pulled the trigger. And one crow had fallen from the sky because of his foolishness; and that one dead crow was most likely going to be the death of him.
More crows showed up after that and other birds too. They ate from his garden like it was their own personal dinner table. Moses took to every time he went outside, he first scanned the sky, making sure no birds were about; but somehow, they knew when he was in the open, and in a few minutes would descend on him, driving him back inside. Several times, he had tried to make it to the barn where his old truck was parked, but before he could get anywhere near it, the murder was on him, pecking and shitting and herding him back into the house.
Moses was on his own. He and Bessy never had no kids, and the few kin he still had were scattered over hell-and-half-of-Georgia. And no phone to call a neighbor, the closest being the Lampros, whose farm lay five miles away. Moses had refused to pay for a line to be run the two miles from the main road down to his little house in the valley. He now realized that had been a big mistake.
Now, for the third night in a row, as he lays on his back in bed, covers pulled down to his waist because of July’s heat, listening to them fuss and squawk, he heard another, unfamiliar noise. Something new was happening up there. Moses felt a fine, dry mist falling on his face and arms. He reached over and flipped on the bedside lamp.
First thing he noticed was the brown grit on his arms, then, when the birds in the attic took to cackling like witches, he looked up. Tiny bits of what looked to be dirt filtered down, stinging his eyes. He blinked but didn’t look away. Then he saw it: a beak.
Aw, well, he thought as more beaks joined the first, and the hole got bigger and bigger. I’m more’n ready to see my Bessy again, anyway.
The following day, Jed and Marybeth Lampro dropped by to pay Moses a visit, see how he was getting on. The husband and wife had been Moses and Bessy’s good friends for almost forty years and knowing how lonesome Moses had been after Bessy passed, they did their best to get out and see him at least once a month.
It was Jed who saw Moses first, hanging crucified on the scarecrow post in the garden. And all he could think as Marybeth was screaming to high heaven was, How in hell did he manage to hang himself up there?
One of the many crows covering Moses’ bloody, half-skinned body plucked out his one remaining eye and flew away.
©2022 July Day