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Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

Melody wakes up screaming.

It’s midnight.

Her body jolts up. Eyes shut tight; mouth open wide. Screams rip from her throat. They turn into sobs as Buster jumps onto the bed. He nestles his head in by her side, purring and watching her catch her breath.

“You’re okay,” she says.

Melody holds his head between her hands. Gives him a kiss on the forehead.

Moments ago, she envisioned him approaching her with no head. Only his bloody neck and a bone poking out the middle. She panicked and found his head in the trash. But when she went to put it back on him, it fell off. Again and again.

Then vultures came in the house. They watched her struggle and cry. They sat and waited.
Now she strokes his back, his soft cheeks. He rubs his teeth against her hand. She sighs and goes back to sleep.

In the morning, Buster follows Melody outside. They feed the chickens and cows. When they get to the calves, Buster’s favorite part of their chores, he gets shy. He stands back, away from where they can lick cracked corn dust from the hair on his back. He scurries away to chase mice instead.

Melody walks back to the house, noticing a large shadow casting over her path. She looks up to see a gargantuan black bird perched in the tree. A vulture. It looks straight down, meeting her eyes with its own. Then, it bats its wings and swoops down about a hundred feet away.

A murder of crows appear out of nowhere, cawing and fighting their way over to the vulture. It bends its neck to the grass. The crows fly up, kicking and attacking the vulture with their talons and beaks. They scream as they swarm together.

Melody calls Buster inside. She notices his collar is gone.

After the evening’s chores, Melody wanders out to where the birds were. There’s a pile of crow feathers, some of them tied together through flesh and blood. She turns to walk away but her fingertips go numb. Her heartrate quickens. She grabs a shovel. Picks up the feathers. She buries the remains in the center of the woods. She marks its position with a stick. But she doesn’t know why. She cries as she walks home.

The crows’ ruthless defense of their kind brings a certain kind of comfort and fear. She wishes for their return. So she scatters a handful of peanuts and cracked corn where the fallen crow lied.

That night, Melody has another nightmare. This time, Buster has no legs. He rolls around on his back. He falls off the bed and hits the ground with a hard, wet splat. She leans over the edge of the bed, only to see a pile of black and white fur balled up like a dust bunny.

When she awakes in the middle of the night, she reaches out to grab Buster and pulls him in by her side. She squeezes him tight and whispers to him that she’ll never let him go.

Melody sees the vulture in the same tree every morning. It sits still in its place, frozen like an old photograph. With each day it moves lower and lower on the branches. Getting closer and closer. At each night’s sunset, Melody calls Buster inside and the crows come and chase the vulture away. They collect their peanuts and corn as a reward. It becomes routine for Melody and Buster to sit on the porch and watch the crows. They don’t seem to mind Buster, even with his killer instinct. He loves the birds.

One day, the vulture gets so far down the tree that it must perch on the ground. Melody watches it through the kitchen window, waiting for any signs of movement. It only stares back into her eyes, following her as she paces in the kitchen. At first, it was a lovely sight. But now, she worries.

Melody waits ten minutes before calling animal control. An hour later, a white van shows up and a burly man steps out with a carrier and cane.

“Thank you so much for coming,” Melody says.

“Where is the big guy?”

They walk around the van to see the thick oak tree that Melody now calls the vulture tree.
“Right there.”

The man looks to Melody and then back to the tree.
“Er, where ma’am?”

Melody blinks and the vulture, once perched on the ground, disappears. She blinks again and it reappears all the way at the top of the tree.

“There, up there.”

“I see.”

“He sits there every day. I just wanted to be sure he’s alright. He never ever moves. Till the crows come chase him away.”

“Seems to be just fine. They like to go to the same places a lot. Probably the smell of a farm.”

Melody thanks him for his time before he leaves. The vulture immediately returns to the ground, though she does not see it move. Only its eyes follow her. Watching her. Waiting.
When the crows arrive that evening at sunset, mobbing the vulture and driving it away, Melody walks out to them. Not too close, but just enough to get a better look at them. They watch her back.

Melody pulls a handful of peanuts from her pocket and holds them out. One of the crows notices and flies toward her. Her heart flutters as the bird lands on her shoulder. Melody smiles as the crow picks through the peanuts in her hand, putting almost all of them into its crop.

That crow flies off and another one starts to walk out toward her. Its holding something shiny in its beak. She bends down and holds out her hand.

“Thank you,” she says before the crow takes off.
The rest of the murder follows.

Melody turns over the reflective object in her hand. It’s a flat silver circle with Buster’s name and her phone number on one side. She looks around for him.

“Here kitty-kitty!”
She waits.

Buster runs from the barn. His black and white legs race under him, through the plush grass, toward Melody. As he gets closer, she notices one of his eyes is missing.

“Buddy. What happened?”

Melody picks him up and looks into where his eye used to be. There is no blood. It’s sewn up neatly. The other eye is intact and the rest of his body appears okay.

“We’re gonna take you in.”

When they get to the vet, she worries even more.

“What do you mean?” Melody says.

“We removed his eye,” the vet says.

“I think I would remember something like that.”

“It’s right here in the records,” the vet turns the computer screen so Melody can see. She doesn’t hear half of what the vet says because she’s so distracted. “Remember? October 16? I came out to the farm after the accident.”

“No. That can’t be.”

“Listen, Melody. I know how hard this is. But you can’t see well out of equipment like that. Accidents happen. I can assure you Buster is comfortable, not in any pain. I can promise that.”

Melody looks down to Buster and strokes the top of his head.

The two of them go home and settle in on the couch together. She needs a minute to relax and process everything. She’s never this forgetful, especially not when it comes to Buster. But he seems comfortable, curled up on her lap. Purring loudly against her skin. They watch a movie and fall asleep together in the arm chair.

No nightmare.

But a knock comes from the front door. Melody pauses the movie and looks at the time. Midnight. She peeks through the curtains and sees only darkness outside. No person. No cars in the yard. She grabs a flashlight and opens the door. She shines the light all around.
The knocking comes again.

Melody turns around and her eyes fall to the ground. There’s a crow pounding its beak onto the front door. It stops as soon as Melody bends down beside it.
“What are you doing out so late?” she says.

The crow tilts its head.
“Are you alright?”

The crow nods. Her heart skips in place. Numbness trickles down to her fingertips.
“Would you like to come inside?”

The crow nods again and steps into the house. Melody shuts and locks the door behind them. The crow waddles on its talons, head poking forward with each step, toward the living room.

“We’re just watching a movie.”

The crow flies up and lands onto the arm of the couch where Buster is sleeping. It doesn’t acknowledge him.

“I don’t even know what to call you.”

“No name,” it says.

Melody swallows hard.

“I didn’t know crows could talk.”

“Of course.”

“Well, you and your friends are welcome here anytime. I love having you around.”

“Too.”

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“Can I get you some peanuts?”

It nods.

Melody pours unsalted peanuts into her hand. She sits down next to Buster and the crow on the couch. She holds her hand out and it grabs a few peanuts.

“Do you have a name?”

“No name.”

Melody nods.

The crow finishes the peanuts and slumps down onto the back of the couch. Buster doesn’t move a muscle. His eye is clamped tight in slumber. She watches him. Turns to the crow, eyes shut. She shuts her eyes.

In a dream, her and Buster and the crow lay on the couch together. She knows it’s a dream because he has both eyes. She reaches out to pet him, but her hand falls flat to the couch. He disappears. And the crow is gone.

Melody’s head spins in a daze as she stands from the couch. Her feet brush up against something soft. Feathery. She looks down to see a room full of vultures. They crowd the floor. Fill up every blank space. They watch her. She screams and shuts her eyes. She wills herself to wake up but she cannot. The screams rip from her throat as she falls to her knees. She cries.

From the distance, caws blare out and start to grow closer. Melody stands up as the murder of crows pours into the house. Their feathers make a sensual, whooshing sound. There are so many that the house is only a sea of black figures swooping and ducking.

The crows land on top of the vultures. They attack their wrinkled heads and bodies with their talons and beaks. They caw. Vultures scream. Blood drips to the floor. Melody can hear every trickle ring in her ears. The caws bounce around in her head. She watches their bloody war. The vultures stand and take it. The crows pursue their execution.

Until the house falls quiet. Crows perch atop feathered bodies. They wipe their beaks clean on the carcasses.

Melody looks around. Dark blood. Black and white feathers. Talon scratches on the wooden floor. Deafening silence.

The crows turn their gaze from her and begin to walk through the open front door.
Melody steps around all of the fallen corpses. She almost slips in a pool of blood, feathers creating a slippery landscape. But she makes her way outside and wipes her damp socks on the grass.

The murder of crows venture out into the night. No moonlight, no stars. Total darkness.
“Come,” a crow says from behind her.

It flies up and perches on her shoulder.
“Where?”

“Special. Walk.”

Melody walks straight ahead. She cannot see any of the crows but she hears their talons softly patting on the grass. When she glances behind, there is a trail of light following her path from the house. Crows walk on every inch of the ground around her.

“Why?” she says.

“Tired. We are.”

They walk for another minute before leading her up to the vulture tree. A vulture sits at the base of the tree. Stares at her.

“Sit,” the crow says.

Melody sits in front of the vulture. Looks into his eyes. And she’s taken back.

The world around her shifts from darkness to a sunny day. The grass full around her. Birds chirping in the distance. Her heart fills with warmth and peace.

The vulture slowly disappears. And in its place, Buster emerges with both eyes.
“What are you doing here?”

Melody pats his head and he purrs in response.

“You aren’t supposed to be outside. Did you sneak out behind me?”

Buster sits and flicks his tail. He tilts his head as he looks directly into her eyes.
Then his eyeballs pop out from his head. The sounds are like gunshots. Waterfalls of blood flow from the sockets. His head is cut from his neck and it falls to the ground. Melody grabs it. She puts it back onto his shoulders. It falls off again. It melts into liquid in her hands.
Rain begins to pour all around them. Thunder cracks.

Buster’s arms and legs pluck off and are thrown out into the thunderstorm. He rolls around on his back. His fallen head screeches. His hair showers out toward her in the strong wind. His screams drown out as teeth fall from his mouth. His whiskers fall off. Then his ears.
And suddenly, he disappears.

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Melody wakes up screaming.

It’s midnight.

She’s sitting up in bed, struggling to catch her breath. She pats around the bed for Buster.
Melody shakes her head and grabs a flashlight from her nightstand drawer. She slips on a jacket and boots and marches outside. She walks past the vulture tree and into the woods behind the house.

She has no sense of where she’s going but her feet keep moving. In front of her, black birds swoop down. A couple of them walk with her. The others perch in trees along the trail. They watch over her.

“Where are we going?” she says.
None of them respond.

They reach the center of the woods after a few minutes. She shines the flashlight onto a wooden sign. One of the crows flies up to rest on top of it.

HERE LIES A CROW
A STOLEN SOUL

Melody furrows her eyebrows. She looks to the crow. When their eyes meet, she’s taken back.

To an ordinary day on the farm. Calves lick corn dust from Buster’s back. Buster bosses around the chickens. He contemplates eating the chickens. He chases mice. Watches birds on the feeders.

That evening, Melody climbs into the skid loader to move barrels of hay to the hayrack.
The breeze blows through her hair, against her face.

A perfect day.

She fills the hayrack. Then she goes to a tree that fell from the woods. She cuts up the wood with a chainsaw and piles the logs into the skid loader bucket. She looks around for Buster.
“Here kitty-kitty!”

Melody waits a minute. Then she finishes the rest of her chores. When she’s done, she grabs a beer from the fridge and sits on the front porch. She stretches her legs out and lets her eyes fall shut.

Crows cawing in the distance wake her. She swigs down the rest of her warm beer and looks across the driveway where a circle of crows form.

Melody watches them for a minute. They love the corn that falls from the crops this time of year. Except it doesn’t look like they’re eating corn.

Melody walks toward them. She moves slowly, not wanting to scare them off from their meal. But she’s concerned a hawk got one of the chickens. As she steps closer, she can see black and white chicken feathers.

“Not again.”

But when she gets over to the feathers—they turn to fur.

Melody drops to her knees. She looks at the black and white fuzz before her. The thick tire marks that squished a small body. She touches the fur. Grabs some of it and rubs it against her cheek.

She screams and it fills the air for miles.

Vultures circle overhead.

And she’s brought back to the middle of the woods.

It’s midnight.

The crow’s eyes meet her own.

“Denial,” it says. “Tired. We are.”

And she remembers.

HERE LIES BUSTER
A STOLEN SOUL
I’M SO SORRY
I’LL ALWAYS LOVE YOU, MY LITTLE BOO

Credit: Amanda Eiden

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