As the Crow Flies

Happy Halloween everyone! So here’s a spooky individual story for Halloween, which may or may not end up being sort of part of a series! It turned out MUCH longer (and weirder) than I thought it would, just to warn you. Also, trigger warning for spooks and scary things!

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @kpwritingsblog and Twitter @kpwritings!

 

All she wanted was a good picture of the bird. Now, after following it for three hours, she realizes that may have been a bad idea.

 

Pulling her jacket sleeves over her hands, she passes the camera from one hand to the next, the cold metal sinking into her palms. She could almost see her breath, if it wasn’t getting so dark.

 

It was a nice camera. Nice enough, anyway. She had been so proud to buy it with her own money, after working all summer. Dad almost didn’t let her since it was so expensive, so they compromised on this one, as opposed to that $1,000 beauty.

 


It didn’t make sense. She was buying it, so why did he care?

 

Late October’s cool sting drifts over her face as her boots crunch over abandoned maple and oak leaves. Leaving the camera to hang on the strap around her neck, she sticks her hands into her pockets, exhaling sharply. She’s making too much noise, she knows, but at this point she doesn’t care.

 

The crow sits about twenty feet in front of her, on a long-dead tree branch, and caws. He tilts his head at her, as if it actually knows she’s given up.

 

It had been late afternoon when she walked into Cerin Woods, sat cross-legged in the Witch’s meadow with a sandwich, and took pictures of everything around her. Squirrels, leaves, trees, bugs, hikers, anything and everything for something that might be added to her portfolio, the scholarship in the back of her mind. Everything she ever wanted, in the back of her mind.

 

Then came the crow. Sleek and black, with bright curious eyes and a loud caw. He sat right on the branch, staring right at her, head cocked just a little, like it is now, and right as she brought her camera up to her eye, he vanished, floating to another branch ten feet away.

 

Thus commenced the chase sequence. For the next three hours.

 

“Look, I give up.” She says to the bird, wrapping her arms around the leather of her jacket. “Happy now?”

 

Caw! The little shit actually looks proud of himself.

 

Sighing, she turns around, setting down her armor against the bird and begins to follow the trail of crushed leaves she had created not minutes before. But, after two steps, her foot catches against something, and the pit of her stomach falls first. Her face hits the leaves and dirt, hands scraping against the forest floor and lower legs flying up.

 

“Uh” is all she manages, hair and dirt and crumbling bits of leaves in her mouth. Then her heart jumps.

 

Flipping over violently, she scrambles for the camera around her neck. Miraculously, it’s intact, albeit a bit dirty. Brushing it off, she sees the tree log her legs had caught on. A thin log, but thick enough to trip on, with its leaves still intact bouncing a few feet away. A fallen tree, an ordinary thing to find in a forest.

 

Except it wasn’t there two minutes ago, where she had just walked on her way to the bird.

 

Caw!

 

“That…” Heaving herself to her feet, she stares down at the log and tracks the precarious path through the undergrowth that she had come. Shaking the caked mud off her clothes, she reasons that she probably just forgot about the log. And twilight was growing, casting the red and orange and yellow trees in silhouettes. She thinks for a minute that this would be a cool shot, but she shakes her head.

 

No. It’s getting dark and cold. Time to go home. Who cares about the tree or the bird?

 

Starting on her way yet again, she presses down those adrenaline-pulsing thoughts that this doesn’t look like what she’s seen and nothing looks familiar and she must be lost and everything looks different in the dark.

 

Not helpful.

 

But the one thought, that keeps pushing itself back up, creeps her out the most.

 

Why is the bird following me now?

 

It’s about ten feet behind her, every time she looks back, looking just as curiously at her as it has been. Closer now, than it had been when she had been the one following.

 

Finally, after about ten minutes of this, she turns around abruptly.

 

“Can you stop it?” She nearly shouts, fed up. “I came in here to find some inspiration, not be mocked! I followed you for three hours in these damn woods, three hours! I didn’t even think the Cerin Woods were that big! All for a damn picture, which every time I pull out my camera you fly….”

 

The realization hits her like the ground did just a little while ago. She trails off, staring at the bird with her eyes widening.

 

She has to say it out loud. Otherwise it’s just crazy.

 

“The Cerin Woods isn’t that big.”

 

Cerin is smack in the middle of a suburb, the only piece of unkempt land for miles, therefore preserved as a park.

 

Caw! As if it agrees.

 

“I should have hit that development by now, that Trail Creek place. Even if I had been going in circles, I should have run into someone by now…”

 

Then, a rustle erupts from the bushes behind her. She lets out a squeal, light and soft in the thin cold air, and she whips around. Beneath the underbrush, brown leaves twitch back and forth. Slowly, she steps forward, one foot after another, inch by inch, trying her best to stay as quiet and as low as possible. Her ears strain against the unusual quiet, a silence so soft and out of place she can’t imagine how she didn’t notice the lack of the forest sounds before. Her heart thumps against her chest. She feels as though she’s existing in between breaths as she nears the scuttling and…

 

Caw! The crow’s sound bursts into the lifeless scene. She jumps about a foot as a large brown rabbit jumps out of the underbrush, running startled past her.

 

“Oh…” She closes her eyes and presses a hand to her chest as if to restart her heart. “Oh my gosh, don’t do that.”

 

The crow flaps its wings behind her in response.

 

When she opens her eyes again, heart rate somewhat normal, she looks back at the crow with an accusing stare. But then, something catches her vision, back on the ground.

 

Bright, wet red.

 

A tiny trail of bright wet red, coming from the underbrush and following wherever the rabbit disappeared off to. Her feet stumble a little over each other as she backs up, catching her clothes on the thin thorn branches.

 

She doesn’t need to get any closer to know it’s blood.

 

“I-uh…uh,” she stammers, “that…better be from some sort of animal.”

 

A little part inside of her, the little part that pays attention in science class, tells her that rabbits are herbivores and therefore should not be trailing blood.

 

Caw! Now that she’s a few feet away, the crow launches itself onto a low-setting branch near the blood, inspecting it. Sniffing it, if crows sniff.

 

Swallowing, she says, “Well, it’s been real, Mr. Crow.”

 

And then, she’s out.

 

Not quite running, but pretty dang close. A brisk trot, if you will. As fast as she can possibly walk without getting snagged on thorns or bursting into a run and screaming. She just picked a direction, and walked, knowing that eventually she’ll hit some edge of the woods. Leaves and branches crack and snap under her boots, and all she can hear is her own heavy breathing and the cawing of that damn crow still following her and…

 

In the middle of her thought, she bursts out through the trees. Heaving a sigh of relief, she looks back through the trees, where the crow sits solemnly on an apple tree. She gives it a rude gesture and begins to laugh at her paranoia.

 

Turning back around, she starts to assess where exactly in Eris Heights she is, whether she’s by the Boiled Lake or Trail Creek or Hecate Lane, by her house where she came in, or even at the river.

 

But in front of her rests around thirty…huts. Each one is small, maybe fitting two rooms, with old, almost purple wood coated with soot and grime, all across and around this large open meadow. Triangular roofs with roughly planked walls, they’re almost…menacing in some way. In the dying light they looks like homes for shadows, like she could turn around as see the real houses behind her. A sickly sweet smell drifts toward her, coming from the midst of the village.

 

Almost fixated, as if in a trance, she raises up her camera to her eye and takes three quick shots, orange glow of the sunset illuminating the background. Goosebumps prickle up her back, no longer from just the cold.

 

A crudely wooden fence with thin string stretches in front of her, separating her from this…settlement, whatever it is. When she looks closer, she can see boots sitting on steps, ragged clothing hanging on lines, and a small doll, made of straw and buttons, sitting on the leaves in between the closest hut and the fence. Signs of life, recent life, in the vast emptiness.

 

This isn’t right. This can’t be right.

 

For some reason, she can’t bring herself to move her feet, so she whips her head back to where the crow was. But it’s gone.

 

“Seriously.” She says with exasperation. “Now you leave?”

 

Suddenly, in the silent evening, a huge crack rings out. She jumps, nearly out of her skin, but looking back around in the direction it came from, in the direction of the village, she sees nothing out of the ordinary. Beyond, of course, a random small village in a suburban woods that by all accounts should not possibly exist.

 

Crack! Like someone is snapping huge wooden planks.

 

Something inside her tumbles deep in her stomach, and her throat closes up. Some sort of instinct, ancient and primal, makes her feet move, climbing over the small fence and around to hide behind the close hut.

 

Back pressed against the weak wood, sucking in deep and precious breaths, she widens her eyes. Why did she just do that? What? Why didn’t she run the other way? What the heck?

 

The shot. Another little voice squeaks out. We have to get the shot.

 

It’s here, whatever it is. The best shot, the craziest shot, the most unique shot ever, the shot that will pay her way into the Eris Academy of Arts, the shot that will shine out of any and all other applicants is here, in this creepy-ass village. Her ability to go to college, her future, is somewhere here.

 

And she’s going to find it. No matter how scared she might be.

 

Then, standing there, she realizes that the wood on her back is…wet. Dragging her hand down the jagged wood, a thin, dark substance comes off on her two fingers, something unidentifiable and…slimy.

 

After taking a quick shot of whatever this is, she sidles along the wall to the back on the hut, slowly inching her way around barrels and crates. At the edge of the first hut, she musters up all her bravery and, bending stealthily, dashes quickly and quietly to behind the next.

 

Proceeding down the line, she takes a few pictures of abandoned shoes, picked clean bones, and through cracked back doors. Each hut is empty and coated with the cold wet slime, but she can tell that that one had two little girls, that one had an older couple with wooden canes, that one had a young boy. She can’t help but wonder why they’re all gone. They were primitive, of a sort, some kind of isolated village. Maybe religious, or a cult?

 

And the cracks keep coming. Getting closer and closer as she moves further and further into this weird settlement.

 

Suddenly, after about ten huts, a glow flickers in the space in front of her, somewhere off diagonal to the hut where she can’t see. The hut in front of her is way too far. Another crack rings out, so loud it rings inside her head.

 

Peaking ever so slightly around the corner, tiny beads of sweat rolling down the side of her face, she tries to get a glimpse of what it is.

 

That’s when she sees the bodies.

 

Lined up in neat little rows. Face down in the dirt. So many. In front of a blazing fire. Each with deep, empty gashes over their skin.

 

And a woman. A woman with a mask. A mask that looks like a human skull. A woman stepping down forcefully on random planks, splitting them in two and causing huge, sounding cracks, her long blonde hair frizzy and tangled, her bright blue eyes shining through the mask and her black shirt and pants thick with sweat and her body strong and tall and her posture hunched and…angry.

 

Almost on muscle memory, she lifts up the camera, dead weight in her hands, and snaps a picture.

 

A woman looking right at her.

 

Flipping back behind the wall, she breathes fast and heavy, frozen with fear, hoping against hope that she didn’t see her, couldn’t have seen her.

 

“Hello?”

 

Her voice, young and strong, echoes in the village, in the forest, in her mind.

 

“Hello? It’s okay. You can come out. I won’t hurt you.”

 

She would have laughed at that, if she wasn’t so terrified.

 

“Oh. Well, I mean, I know it looks bad. What you saw. But I didn’t…I didn’t do this. I’m the only one left, you see. They came in the night, and they killed everyone but me because I had left, you see. They had cast me out of the settlement. So I lived. But I came back, after…hearing all the noise, and now I’m burying them.”

 

Her voice is flat. She is barely even trying to show emotion.

 

There’s a pause.

 

“Wh-what is your name? Mine’s Morri. How did you get here?”

 

Slowly, slowly, slowly, as she grips the camera around her neck, she turns, inching her way along the back of the hut. Stepping ever so softly on the dried mud, her heart doesn’t seem to be beating.

 

“Come on, love, come on out.”

 

It’s ice now, Morri’s voice.

 

Suddenly, she hears Morri’s heavy footsteps, treading on the soft ground around to the back of the hut. Heart beating like a bird’s wings taking flight, she makes a break for it, running away from the hut, across the small lane in between the two rows. The blazing fire and the bodies to her left, she runs as far to the right as she dares, looking rapidly backward. In a split second, she realizes if she keeps running, Morri will see her down the path and then likely she’ll be the next body in the line.

 

Bolting up the tiny stairs of the closest hut, she yanks open the door, backing away to until the wood hits her back.

 

“Oh, a little mouse, are we? Well, the bird always gets the mouse, young lady.”

 

Looking around frantically in the dark hut, she searches for something, anything. But then, on the bed to the right wall, is him.

 

Another body. An old man, with flies buzzing around him and maggots crawling through his blackened, decayed face. He’s been here a while, way too long.

 

Pressing her hand against her mouth as the smell of death shoves itself in her face, she begins to suck in big, panicky breaths through her nose, tears creeping out from the corners of her eyes.

 

What the hell is this place?

 

Suddenly, an earth shattering scream explodes into her ears, and she has to move her hands to her ears.

 

Peaking out the cracked door, she sees Morri letting out the scream, which ends as suddenly as it starts. Then, immediately after, the crow flies over to her, landing on her shoulder, its black eyes suddenly a deep glowing green. They stare at each other for a minute, bird and woman.

 

“Calliope.”

 

The girl’s heart stops.

 

“Well, that’s a lovely name.”

 

The bird…told Morri her name.

 

“Calliope, I am so glad my dear pet led you here this fine day.”

 

Before her sentence was finished, Calliope rips through a broken plank in the hut and runs.

 

She doesn’t care where; she just runs and runs, somehow leaping over the fence and out, getting the hell out.

 

The sound of wings flapping pushes her forward and forward, tears streaking down her face and the arches of her feet on fire and thorns tearing at her sides. All she can think is that this is wrong, this is wrong, this is so wrong. This is impossible.

 

She doesn’t even know how long she runs. She just knows she’s being followed. She runs as the darkness begins to lighten, slowly, as though the sun is climbing back into a sunset. Her chest hurts, her feet hurt, everything hurts.

 

Suddenly, there are hands–no, claws–digging into her shoulders, turning her around. And she’s there, Morri, in her terrible skull mask that, now that she’s so close, she can see is actual bone.

 

“Hello, pet.”

 

Morri’s breath is steady, calm. The bird on her shoulder is unnaturally still, uncharacteristically silent. Calliope is breathing harder than she ever has.

 

“You’ve been good, you know. Better than the others.”

 

Her claws pry into Calliope’s skin, making her arch her back, and she tries to cry out, yell, scream, and she even feels her vocal chords moving but no sound comes out.

 

The bird’s eyes flash black, just for a second, and its beak moves downward, as if pointing. Then, the green glow comes back.

 

“You almost made it home.”

 

Home. Something in the back of her mind triggers, even through the pain. Morri lifts up one hand, one talon-shaped hand, and in that split second, she does it. Pressing the right button, Calliope lifts the camera and takes the shot.

 

And the light flashes in the night, in Morri’s eyes, and the white light fills Calliope’s world. And she runs, blinking the shine out of her eyes, stumbling as the blood creeps out of her back.

 

Shuffling along, Calliope starts to see familiar trees, small landmarks, certain rock formations. She’s back in Cerin Woods, from wherever she was, with blood trickling down her back and eyes still adjusting to the faint light.

 

Finally, she bursts out of the trees, to a little meadow with tall, yellow grass next to a deep blue lake. The Boiled Lake, south of town. She’s back.

 

Tears streaming down her dirt-covered face, she slumps down next to the lake, heart nearly lifting out of her body with relief. Her camera, the lifeline for her for years, actually saved her life. Catching her breath, she turns her head back to the woods, relieved it’s all over.

 

And there she sees it.

 

The crow and its gleaming eyes.

 

Thanks for reading! Sorry it was super long, but I didn’t really want to split it up. Let me know what you think, or what I should write about next, in the comments below!

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