27 Nov The Rise and Fall
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"The Rise and Fall"Written by Howard Moxley
Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
I hate birds. I’ve hated birds ever since I was forced to go to my grandmother Vera’s home, who lived isolated in her inherited Victorian mansion. She let most of her estate fall away to ivy and rot, but not the 160-year-old astronomy room- that room was precious to her, a greenhouse that stored birds from all over the world in a stone and marble chamber topped by a glass dome etched with outlines of the constellations, now shrouded by palm leaves, humidity, and hundreds of birds in flight. Vera had no need to see the heavens. She resented religion, culture and humans as much as I resented birds. My brother fancied her calls and seeming ability to call down certain birds by song, and took my brother under her wing; the woman and her wealth turned away from me, and I had the privilege of never thinking of her, her fanaticism, of birds of any kind until the night something landed in my yard.
A solid but soft ‘PUFH’ turned my attention from the TV to the window behind my couch. I saw a bit of my yard on fire. I worried some kids were pulling a prank that got out of hand and ran outside expecting to see a home-made bomb. Instead, I found a crater about the size of a car hood. In the center sat something that looked porous, about the size and shape of a metallic grape, smoldering in the dirt. The dry grass around the impact point was on fire from the overwhelming heat the dainty blob of metal put out. I stepped back, fearing it might be radioactive. I got my metal wheelbarrow and flipped it over the crash site, wishing that I was wearing lead pants. After a few belts of vodka, I forgot to care about radiation poisoning or Vera or AA or the never-ending calls of the fucking nightingales, and went to bed.
I went out the next morning with the intention of following Chernobyl’s example, which was filling the hole with a few bags of concrete I had sitting in my garage. I stopped right outside my door and stayed there.
Fifty crows, at least fifty, perched on the underbelly of the overturned wheelbarrow. They moved as slowly and deliberately as monks, each one clustering in as close they could to allow more on the wheelbarrow. The ones at the end slipped off the smooth edges to a gentle, dripping tar, something I had never seen them do before. The sight of all those black, soulless eyes together made me wish I had a shotgun. As I approached them, they tried to snatch the keys out from out of my pocket and flew off with the rest of the crows, up and over my house, joining the flying highway of crows that flew in straight, opposing lanes from my house to somewhere in town.
I followed the crows to the Oretown shopping center, consisting of 4 stores and 4 vending machines that did nearly as much business as the stores. I parked and watched in a bit of awe at seeing the crows rip out and use the dollars and cards from pick-pocketed wallets, tapping in selections mid-flight and working in teams to open the door to grab the snack inside. Another set of crows worked by sending two birds up into the machines to clear the spirals while four moved the flaps to get the goods and to let their buddies inside get out before painfully hauling the three or four sealed bags of snacks and cookies an arrow’s flight back to my home.
Two-hundred crows piled a mountain of chips, cookies, french fries and half-eaten chunks of whatever they could find in the dumpsters into my yard without a caw or croak. They made another separate, neat pile of shiny things ranging from earrings to broken CDs. They were especially fond of miniature beachballs, anything spherical really, so that they could stage their own competitions. They had a crowd, with two distinct cheers for their favorite as two crows competed in a ring of spectators. They would wobble on the ball for as long as a minute; the first to fall seemed to lose. The winner was denoted by having a spot of red house paint on four of its tail-feathers.
What I saw crawling on my land below repulsed me to no end, but I couldn’t turn my eyes away and be left wondering what the heck they were doing. I began to watch them night and day. Some crows began to sing in harmonically. By day two, they had invented a wobbling, bobbing dance that would infect every crow, all dancing to a song that consisted of talons scratching and tapping on a piece of bark. They made massive communal nests from the red river clay and reinforced them with sticks, and made it soft with cotton and down. Ninety crows could build what I considered to be lumpy, horrible looking monstrosities that could hold two hundred crows in one night. These things were looking to attract new residents, and it was working all the time to the tune of fifty more crows an hour. I wanted to call an exterminator, but my morbid curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see what would happen if I moved the wheelbarrow first.
I walked out to my yard on the fourth day after the thing fell from the sky, determined to remove what was under the wheelbarrow. Before I could get within two steps of it, a very large crow swooped down and just grazed the finest level of my cornea. It was enough to stop me dead in my tracks and hold the back of my palm up to my weeping left eye. Two equally large crows stood on the wheelbarrow. One held a rattlesnake’s head firmly in its talons while the other held the snake’s tail and long rattler. The crows peered at me, seeming to want to communicate one message: come any closer, human, and we let our weapon go. I backed away.
Prior life decisions made it impossible for me to get anything more powerful than a Super Soaker. I yelled and threw firecrackers, but the birds watched me like the town idiot causing a disturbance. They didn’t fall for the sticky or bat traps. They refused to even look at the poisoned food I left out. I know, I have the heart of a marshmallow.
They responded calmly and rationally to everything I did. I retreated up to the attic window for one week, watching the crows create their own tools, writing utensils crafted for their feet and beaks, works of art made of gold thread and sticks. Their mud-apartments all had their own styles, their own whispering, cackling language, sparse and quiet and strange for what was once such a blunt and noisy creature. They sang and staged outdoor plays, mock battles and love scenes with the crows from neighboring adobe apartments. Above all else, what concerned me was the fact that very few crows were working at the end; most ate or copulated or sang or danced or balanced on balls or all of the above within eyesight of the holy relic under the wheelbarrow while a highway of doves, pigeons, seagulls, and the occasional pet bird worked to bring in food and supplies, who were then allowed to eat from the cookie pile under the watchful eye of the other crows. They paid very little attention to me, or the bottle of gin seemed to have been glued to my lips. Perhaps they were too busy trying to grasp the concept of an economy. Perhaps they were experiencing anxiety for the first time in thinking they were the only ones who had ever grasped the concept of an economy.
I watched them allocate food to the sick and the young first. Certain birds acted as mite and pest exterminators for the crows, others hung small wires or bracelets around other crow’s necks as what I can only imagine as fashion. A finch displayed prize grasshoppers and June bugs not unlike selling meat in an open market. They sung furiously, they ate constantly, they copulated freely and they stayed immaculately clean. None of this softened my heart, for I knew what could destroy them. The same thing that was destroying me.
During my week of observation, I collected nearby holly berries and brewed them in a hot, dark place. After a week, the berries were reduced to a soup of nearly 100% ethanol alcohol.
I brought out the deep tub to the birds as an offering. They ignored it at first as they did with everything else I brought, but a few brave crows seemed tempted by the fumes. When they ate some of the mash and did not die, others swooped in to experience the new thing. They drank more than I could have ever hoped, more than I thought was imaginable. Watching the crows gorge themselves from above was like watching a wildfire smolder into existence and flare into a roaring, raging chaos where the crows couldn’t stop cawing, rolling on the ground in half flight and uselessly kicking their legs that once danced so gracefully. Within an hour, the skies were filled with mid-air collisions, incessant cawing and loose feathers from those that had been killed before they hit the ground. In less than an hour, the yard was a sleek black carpet of ruffled black feathers and broken limbs. Even the snake was dead. The ones who had not died of poisoning or assault were leaving with the other slave birds. In the miniature exodus, one brilliant bird of paradise flew among them. I recognized it. It was one of Vera’s birds.
No sooner than the idea came into my mind, I heard her twitchy, shrill cries behind me. She walked through the door in my fence, as twiggy and full of bitterness as I remembered. She looked at the carnage, at the bird I assumed escaped, the pile around the wheelbarrow, and the empty tub that once held highly alcoholic berries. She asked how I could still be just as stupid as she remembered me being as a kid as two big, clean-cut men walked into my yard. One carefully reached up and tried to grab the bird while Vera told the other to “search around, the damn specter sent the starstone to the wrong Ganes”. When one of the lugs kicked over the wheelbarrow, I tried to stop him. He spun me around and choked me out in less than three seconds. I awoke six hours later with a pounding headache, laying with the crows. The meteor under the wheelbarrow was gone.
The Clallum Free Press had an actual news story to run for a change this morning. Vera Ganes, 94, attacked and killed by a mob of crows. A mob, the paper warned, that is reported to grow larger daily. In unrelated news, instances of break-ins of bars and liquor stores have skyrocketed. The vandals smash a few bottles of booze, and always leave a calling card of a few crow’s feathers.
Check out Howard Moxley’s chilling compendium, REPORT 50: Summary of the Most Supernaturally Active Objects, Places and Entities Located in the United States of America, now available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and paperback formats.
The Secured Bureau of Reclamation, or SBR, is a formally undisclosed scientific research bureau that utilizes the most advanced methodologies and technology currently available to reclaim, ascertain and research the various aberrations of human knowledge encountered within the United States. The Bureau is considered to be the sole authority of locations, objects, people, creatures, entities and constructs that contradict our current understanding of the known universe, and our place as humanity within it. Herein contains what the SBR considers to be the most powerful aberrations localized within each American state, referred to hereafter as REPORT 50.