by Myke Johns
The crow took flight, not knowing where it was going.
The girl had left home in a similar manner. She had shouted that she was off for a walk, the punctuating door slam throwing up a roadblock between her and home. She realized that she had no plan beyond leaving. So she left.
Eight blocks away was the park, a sprawling green space that eddied and dawdled like a summer afternoon. The trees and grass invited her in and she followed, hoping to lose an hour.
Above, a call and black wings shook the high pines around the east end of the park. The crow pecked at some sap, bored. She walked down the path below and circled the tree, running her hand along the trunk. Her hand strayed behind her and she shouldered the pine, spreading both arms around the rough pillar. She sat down, and as she looked up and scanned the branches, the crow leapt from its perch and spiraled down towards her.
She gasped and nearly lost her balance, her arms giving way behind her back at this sudden break in the still sky. Eyes shaded and narrow, she admired the bird–watching its slow descent. Its wings were spread wide for resistance–a black blade against the green and blue above. It landed at her knees, shook its wings and cawed.
“Hey bird. Hey bird.” she said. It cocked its head back and forth, examining her with both eyes, then looked at her dead-on. “Where have you been today?” The crow ruffled its feathers and rasped and barked. “That sounds exciting.”
A door slammed somewhere–a car on a nearby street. She whipped her head in its direction. She was back at her house–where the yelling was–deep there, in the womb of her beddings and headphones and quiet music. The yelling was usually outside of her room, between the other two. She’d learned to lie low. But every time she heard her name, muffled by all the layers between her and them, she felt like a catalyst. She wanted to explode.
“I’ve been cooped up in a house all day with people who don’t like me much,” she said to the bird. The crow sat still. “They just…” She thought of their faces but could not see them. Their voices rang wordlessly through her, as incomprehensible as the call of the crow. She let it swirl around, quiet, then ease from her nostrils like bitter smoke as she exhaled. “There’s nowhere else for me to go. I’m…” she looked down at the bird. It was staring intently. “I’m talking to a bird. This is the best conversation I’ve had all week.”
The crow stretched its wings to half-span and hopped awkwardly toward her. A flurry of wings and a surprised shudder and it was perched on her arm. “Hey! Hey bird!” It fought to keep balanced on her forearm and looked into her face. The animal’s round black eyes betrayed nothing–she could read nothing in the ancient architecture of feathers and pebbled skin. The crow bent down and pecked at her arm. “Ow! Fuck!” She shook, but the bird gripped tighter, its talons digging in, drawing blood. It pecked again, this time loosing a beakful of skin. She screamed and grabbed at the bird’s neck, but the bundle of muscle and will power drew its head up, pulling a thin strand of flesh.
She pulled at the bird harder, this time yanking it from her bloody arm. It dropped her skin, but managed to snatch it in one claw and hold fast. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she yelled, and the crow took flight, not knowing where it was going.
The tangle of sinew became wound around the bird’s claw and knotted there. At the other end, she stared in horror as the slender thread pulled from her arm as yarn from a sweater. She found herself focusing on the sensation. The tugging, the pulling away–it felt like a continuous ripping, an old scab being peeled off. The crow flapped against this anchor and pulled more. She gripped the sinew and held fast and raced for a way to free this animal from her body. A sharp yank and a screech of frustration from above and she pulled back defiantly, sank her teeth into her own lost skin and bit hard. It was less painful than she thought, like the flaking end of a hangnail, but the skin stayed firm. The crow pulled harder now as it caught an updraft and soared into the sky. Circling above her, she felt herself unravelling as the bird stole away more and more. The line of tissue travelled up her arm, around her shoulders, and down her back, pulling so fast it nearly lifted her off the ground.
As the tissue tore away from her back and she felt it spiraling away, the pain bore a new sensation. She felt a pressure between her shoulders–pounding from her spine, it felt. Her skin unraveled and thinned and the pounding inside drank in the cool air. Like mountain wind billowing into the mouth of a cave. She inhaled sharply.
As quickly as the strap of flesh had peeled away from its purchase, her skin drew taut–from the slender thread wrapped at the crow’s foot, through the naked air and down down down to the center of her back. An unpleasant twang reverberated through her chest, in sympathy with her reluctant and airborne twin. The thin line of tissue stopped, anchored right between her shoulders.
The bird was surprisingly strong as it strained at her skin. She danced in each direction it pulled as it circled in the air and it in turn flapped and bobbed at this awkward ballast. As the tether strained, she was pulled to her toes. The air involved itself with a gust of wind, pulling hair across her face and as she spat and brushed, the crow followed the breeze. There was stumbling sideways like a newborn fawn, but then her legs were carrying her after the crow. It felt as if she was being lifted off of her feet, her weight reduced, gravity losing grasp. Her strides grew longer as she ran, until she was bounding over hills with barely an effort. Was the bird leading her, she wondered, or were they moving in synchronicity? Leaping from footfall to footfall, she spread her arms, fingers wide and palms flat. The wind moved through her, swept under her and the strain on her back tugged like an invitation.
At the crest of a hill, she jumped and the sky received her. She felt only lift, only equilibrium between land and sky. The crow carried them and she looked at it and it cawed down at her. She reached up and grasped at the tether between them and began to climb, looping her ankles under her, straining to pull up and up and higher still. As she climbed, the crow took to the clouds. They cleared the treetops and the town below. The rush of cool air filled her ears. It stung tears from her eyes and higher she climbed. When she got to the crow’s feet, she held onto them. The bird looked down and opened its beak; its maw yawned wide and engulfed her. The crow struggled to fly with a girl in its belly, but inside, her hollow chest and strong arms found new homes. When she opened her eyes, she saw straight ahead, the blue of the world reaching farther than she’d ever been able to see. Testing her arms, she flapped once and her new wings beat against the wind. She laughed, and a brand new call echoed against the earth.