The Crows

“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.

 

Into The Blue

“Hello there,” a man’s voice says.

I open my eyes and realize I’m standing on a pier. Snow lies in small, shoveled heaps along the edges and the sky is a cloudless grey. It’s cold yet I feel nothing.

“I bet you’re wondering why you’re naked?”

Looking down I see that the voice is right but feel no need to cover myself up. Turning to my right, I see him.

He’s an older man with thin, white hair combed to the side. Thick rimmed glasses rest upon his nose magnifying his green eyes.

“My name’s Horton,” he says extending his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Herman Trotter.”

“How do you know who I am?”

“There’s no easy way to say it so I’ll just come out with it. You’re dead.”

I blink twice. “Dead?”

“Unfortunately. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Thinking back, I easily find the memory. “I was filling my truck up with gas.”

Horton nods and says, “While you were filling your truck, two rival gangs got into a shootout. A bullet ricocheted off the pavement and penetrated your skull just behind your right ear. You were dead before you hit the ground.”

I take the information in stride, knowing that it’s true. Looking at the pier, snow and the sky, nothing here seems alive, myself included.

“I’m surprised you haven’t asked yet,” Horton says.

“Asked what?”

“If you’re in Heaven or Hell.”

“I’m an… was an atheist. I’d never given much thought to where I would end up.”

Horton laughs and says, “Some atheists are like that. You may not believe in a god but you still have a soul and when your physical body expires, your soul has to go somewhere.”

“Where exactly is that?”

He places his hand on my back between my shoulder blades and gently ushers me down the pier. “To the Blue.”

For the first time since I arrived, I look out beyond the end of the pier.

It’s unbelievable.

Upon first glance it looks like the ocean with waves rolling about, gently lapping against rocks along the shore. I then notice it’s navy blue in color with streaks of aqua green and black cutting through the jelly-like texture at various intervals. Beneath the surface, flashes of white flicker like lightning.

“What is it?” My voice is barely a whisper.

“That, my friend, is the resting place for mankind’s atheist souls. Good or bad, they all come here in the end.”

I have a strong urge to leap off the pier into it.

“What’s your role in this?” I ask.

“I’m the administrator. It’s my job to keep track of who goes into the Blue.”

“How do you do that?”

Horton reaches into his inner coat pocket, pulling out a folded paper and gold pen. “Whenever someone new arrives, they must sign this registration before they go into the Blue.”

Although I don’t want to, I pull my eyes away from the Blue and look at him. “Is that it?”

Horton nods and says, “Alexander the Great asked me the same question before he went in and yes, that’s it.”

My eyes find their way back to the Blue while I reach out for the pen. Gripping it in my hand I barely manage to scribble my name along the dotted line.

“Very good,” Horton says. He folds the paper up and slides it back inside his coat. “Whenever you’re ready, you may jump.”

I’m already in the air falling towards the Blue before he gets the words out.

There is no splash.

The sensation of falling is instantly replaced by bliss. My eyes are open and while I don’t see anyone, I connect with them; with everyone in the Blue. Time stands still as I fully accept the Blue’s embrace.

Below me is a flash.

I don’t think much of it until the searing pain hits me.

We all cry out without making a sound.

Another flash flickers below, but closer.

And I see it.

Swimming amidst the Blue is a translucent eel-like shape with a large mouth. It emits a flash each time its mouth opens, exposing row upon row of teeth.

It’s taking bites out of the Blue.

I begin swimming… struggling towards the surface. When I finally break through, I cry out, “Horton!”

The old man is still standing on the pier and he looks down at me, puzzled.

“Why Mister Trotter,” he says. “Whatever is the matter?”

“What the hell is in here with us?”

I briefly slip below the surface but rise up again.

“We call them the Translucies.”

They’re eating us!

Horton laughs and says, “Well of course they are. How else do you expect us to maintain the maximum number of souls allowed in the Blue at one time?”

He begins saying something else, words I don’t hear as I slip below the surface; down into the Blue.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved