Marco Etheridge: Fiction: Oct 2021


Southern Legitimacy Statement: I don’t know if any of my people were legitimate, but they were most certainly poor dirt farmers in the Carolinas back into the 1600’s. My folks consider sweet potato a vegetable, and salads wiggle like a hula girl’s hips. Is that a decent enough pedigree to submit?

Crow Chain

The crows are gathered for a murder or maybe a union meeting but whichever it must be big because they fill the tallest fir top crown to lowest branch. There is a gross of crows, a quorum of quora, and they are screaming to every other corvid within dimensional range to come and join the fun.

The black-frocked choir chants the names of the intended victims, or perhaps calls the role. Who really knows? Could be the only real purpose of their cacophony is to draw the angry man out from his crooked little house and it works, of course, just like it always does. 

He comes out hatless and red-faced, plump and seething, a flour dumpling bobbing in his own bubbling soup. He staggers toward the fir waving an airhorn like an amulet and fires the thing off in bursts of canned flatulence. The blasts of the horn drown out the stream of curses that flow from his open mouth but do nothing to dissipate the blue cloud that hovers about the bald man’s beet red pate.

The crows laugh as if there’s no tomorrow, which for them is true, laughing so hard they have to scrabble at the branches to keep their perches. The air horn screams again, and the waves of laughter build and crest into a tidal wave of crow obscenities, most of which draw comparisons between the little man’s forehead and his scrotal sac. 

A few youngsters manage to flap into the air and swoop down for an aerial faecal bombardment, but the rest of the crows are too paralyzed with laughter to get airborne.

He toots his horn once more and then Little Angry retreats to his crooked little house. The door slams and the front of the house shakes. He stomps up his crooked stairs and plops himself down in a rickety chair. The chair sits before a wobbling table and beyond that is an open window and a fir tree full of laughing crows.

Little Angry scrabbles through piles of papers, knocking the unwanted sheets to the plank floor. The ballot is what he is looking for and he finds it at last. Smoothing the paper with sausage fingers, he picks up a well-chewed pencil. Making sure to completely fill each oblong absolutely full to the very edges of the lines and no further, leaving no white gaps, he marks every anti-crow candidate on the slate.

On the far side of the fir tree a boarder skates beneath the branches, her lower body swiveling independent of her torso. She waves up at the crows and they squall down their good mornings as the sidewalk panels thump hollow.

The day market is in swing below the derelict buildings immune to renewal of any kind, urban, demonic, or divine. Skater Grrl slaloms past two smartphone zombies and pegs a third with a vortex, sending the braindead thing spinning into a display of organic yoga pants. The flailing creature is entangled and falls while the others gather round to video its death throes.

The board grinds hard in front of the bakery stall. Skater Grrl back-kicks the tail and the board leaps to her waiting hand. She flashes a gap-toothed smile at a tall boy draped in an apron dusted with flour. She drops two coins on the makeshift counter and points to a basket. She lays a third silver coin on the counter and nods to the alley behind the stall.

Tall Boy grabs a pair of wooden tongs and flips four seed-crusted rolls into a brown paper bag. He offers the bag to Skater Grrl like the suitor that he is. She takes the offering, drops the board and smiles, all in the same moment. Then there is only the void where she had been and the grinding of her board. All the love in the world rushes from Tall Boy’s heart to fill that empty space.

Three coins jingle in his hand as he weighs them and drops them into the till. He turns his head to the next stall, clicks his tongue twice, sees the dreadlocked man nod. Tall Boy reaches to another basket and lifts out a small meat pie. Wrapping the pie in a scrap of newspaper, he steps out of the back of the stall and into the labyrinth of ruins that line the market street.

Two passages back, he steps into a crumbling courtyard. A raised walkway girds the courtyard, and a pile of cardboard is decaying against one wall. Tall Boy pokes the pile with the toe of his shoe, then sits on the broken stone and lets his legs dangle over the edge.

He lights a cigarette and waits. A low moan issues from beneath the pile of cardboard. It shifts and stirs. A head emerges under a crown of matted hair, face obscured by a tangles black beard. A smell emerges as well, fetid and foul. Tall Boy pushes the wrapped pie within an arm’s reach of the nest. Two dark eyes blink at the sky, then at him, then down at the crumpled newspaper. A claw shoots from the sleeves of two greatcoats and snatches up the pie. 

Tall Boy pushes himself off the wall, drops his cigarette, and crushes it out on the pigeon-soiled cobbles. He leaves without looking back, not needing to see the pie’s destruction.

Foul Tommy swallows the last of the pie and runs a greasy hand through his beard. His stained fingers dislodge and scatter flakes of pastry. He paws through the scraps of cardboard, finds a shapeless woolen hat, and rams it down over his aching skull. 

Rising from his nest is hard, and walking is harder, but Foul Tommy wills it to be so. He staggers through the maze of broken buildings and crumbling walls, negotiating passages that only the denizens know. He emerges at the far end of the day market and squints into the light. 

Foul Tommy moves past the shuffling zombies. His stench keeps them at bay, and they give him a wide berth. He pauses to adjust his greatcoats, making sure his armor is wrapped tight. Two huge macs, one over the top of the other, armor that holds in the bullets and the screaming, the blood and the dead.

The fir tree looms ahead of him and he plods into the shadow beneath its branches and congress of crows. The black birds shift above his head. They croak out a dirge stripped of all derision; a professional courtesy extended to a comrade of the deadly field.

He leans his left palm against the fractured bark. The fir gum binds to his skin, cementing his hand to the trunk of the tree. It will not let him fall.

Foul Tommy leans forward, his right hand fumbling at his crotch. He unzips and unbuckles, folds back and exposes. Finally freed, he lets go a stream of steaming piss. The arc of it splatters off the rough bark and dapples his boots.

His member shaken and stowed, Foul Tommy straightens himself to his full height, looks up, and nods to the crows. He turns himself back towards the market and sets out in search of a bottle.

As Foul Tommy staggers away, the crows begin to rise from the fir tree. The younger of the murder are the first to take flight. They circle and caw, waiting on their elders. When all the flock are at last swirling above the crown of the fir, they make their temporary farewells and wheel off in fours and sixes. 

Some soar off above the crooked little house, others over the stalls of the day market. Still others swoop past the derelict ruins to the rotting piers along the riverbank. 

They will hunt for trinkets inside old tires half sunk in mud, and amongst the broken ribs of boat hulks. They will scratch and peck beside the gravestones and under green-stained statues. Shiny bright baubles they will find, things to be carried in sharp beaks. 

At evening they will return to the great fir and tuck their harvested riches into crooks and knotholes. The flock will covet and guard their trove through a night as black as feather. When yet another morning comes these same guardians will feign carelessness and allow their treasure to scatter upon the ground, shining seeds for the new day.