“The crows can see you. They are waiting.”
I didn’t look at my sister—still in disbelief she returned to the city—but I felt her shift beside me on the bench. I replied, “There are no crows in the city, Isabella. There haven’t been for years.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw her shake her head. “They’re still here.”
“No. You’re wrong. They left us.” I stood and walked away, leaving her alone on the bench.
Her voice followed me, “They see you, Anna.”
I walked home through the empty streets. The city wasn’t crowded since the plagues. Many left, followed the crows, but a stubborn few remained. As I climbed the stairs to my apartment, I wondered why I stayed. Fear maybe, of what was beyond the city, or perhaps habit. Lately, none of my reasons mattered. I entered my apartment with Isabella’s words ringing in my ears.
“The crows can see you.”
I hadn’t thought of them for a long time. Memories shifted in my mind, and I recalled the last days of the final plague. When the world understood. When we finally saw the crows: black-winged angels, guiding the souls of the dead away. In those end days, the sky was black with them and the air strident with the sound of their wings and caws. Yet, they vanished after the plagues. Abandoned those that remained.
“No. They never abandoned you.”
I glanced towards the door. Isabella stood there.
Damn, she followed me home. Why? Why did she come back?
Isabella looked at me and said, “It’s time to go. Time to stop pretending. This isn’t life, Anna. You need to remember you’re dead.”
I snorted and looked at my sister with contempt. “Do you think I’m that stupid? I’m not one of the delusional ones. I know I died. I know you’re dead too.”
Isabella sighed. “Then why do you stay?”
I hesitated, then replied, “I don’t know. Fear, perhaps. The city is familiar, comforting, even if it is a city of ghosts. It was home.” I turned away, staring at a dusty picture of my deceased husband. “Maybe we’re only echoes, afraid to move on, but it’s something to cling to.”
“Is it enough?” Isabella held out a hand.
I turned away. “Why have you come back? Why now? You crossed over years ago. You didn’t stay. Not like me.”
Isabella moved to my side, putting a hand on my shoulder. I glanced at her and she smiled.
“I’m a harbinger. The crows sent me, and others, to guide the last souls to their final rest.”
I shook my head. “The crows abandoned us.”
“No. They only waited. No soul can move on until they’re ready. Now they sent me to bring you home.”
“After all this time?” I trembled and jerked away. I walked to the window and stared at the city.
What’s beyond this? Is it good? Am I ready?
If I could have cried, I would have. I blurted, “What if I don’t want to go?”
“We both know you want this, Anna.” Isabella came over to stand at the window with me. “Leave this place. Your family is waiting for you.”
I gasped, staring at her. “They are? Mother and Father will be there? Josh?”
She nodded. “They’re eager to see you again.”
I looked back out at the city and I knew I wanted to see my family again. “How long before…?”
Isabella took my hand and led me out of the building. As we stood on the street she whispered, “The crows are coming.”
I glanced around and saw the sky full of black wings and heard the echo of the empty metropolis. I felt a whoosh of air and the sound of beating wings.
Then I embraced the crows and let them take me away from the city of the dead.
~ A. F. Stewart
© Copyright 2020 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.