The Crow Whisperer
by Rob McClure Smith
The night was cold and cloudless, a scatter of stars above the cupola of Old Main. A crepuscular sky, a dark blue water with the sheen of moonlight on it. Natania had been a classicist and this was the world she saw. But that pained mechanical squawking from the bell-tower! She sighed, opened her umbrella, and jogged the avenue of ashes to the car park. Limp scarecrows thrust into the lawn by the courthouse, arms extended in crucifixion. A girl in enormous black earmuffs, her pale face the sweet white icing between, emerged from Edgar Lee Masters, looked up fearfully, and bolted for Hamblin dorm. Natania sprinted too, the thick drops of coagulate pelting off the canvas like a spring downpour.
Her Lexus was a Jackson Pollock canvas. Enough was enough. She dialed again.
“Mayor Sheehan,” he announced, ridiculously.
“Adam,” she said. “You must do something about them.”
There was a long pause.
“Who is this?”
“You know who this is,” she snarled.
“President Amor?” he said, slyly. “Did campus safety figure out how your Betas got the goat on the roof of Alumni Hall?”
“You know exactly what I’m calling about,” she said.
“I’m on it,” he lied.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she said.
Natania flicked on her wipers. As the view clarified, it was as if the encroaching trees were lacquered with crows, every one observing her. She always felt their presence now, even afternoons when they were far off in a field pecking at frozen cornhusks. The birds streamed back to the quad at dusk, a sky river of black, drawn to this island of trees sheltered by the college buildings and courthouse, which served as windbreak, or owl break, no one knew, their presence a great mystery.
Helen had told her that in Chinese myth the world once had ten suns embodied as crows, which rose every morning in the sky one at a time. But a day came when all ten rose together, devastating the crops. So the Gods sent the archer Houyi, who shot nine and spared only one. What Natania wouldn’t give for a Houyi.
A green-rusted Cadillac caterpillar-crept along Prairie, coughing itself to a halt by Public Safety. An elderly woman in a bright orange vest extricated herself. Propped against the hood, she loaded her launch pistol and, squinting, propelled a screaming firework into the treetops. Black bits detached from the trees and burst into the air, then descended and settled on the branches, a jigsaw puzzle of sky reassembling itself.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” Natania yelled at her.
“Crow-patrol,” the old woman muttered, indicating her uniform.
Natania hit the redial on her phone, viciously.
“Some species are capable not only of tool use, but tool construction.”
The speaker wore bifocals and a distressed black cardigan, was grandfatherly in demeanor, and held a lit pipe against occupational safety and health regulations. Adam decided not to make an issue of it.
“How is that even possible?” he asked instead.
“Highly intelligent, the Corvus genus,” the old man explained, tapping his temple. “Been known to make knives out of stiff grass. I’ve seen it done. They’re cleverer than us even. I had dealings with a jackdaw once. Was definitely as smart as me.”
Adam examined the card again. The motto: “We have never failed.”
“But generally speaking that’s how they’re hard to get shot of. Them being so intelligent and all.”
“How much are we talking, Mr. Todd?”
Todd rapped the bowl of his pipe on the old black wooden box and looked away, embarrassed at the turn to the pecuniary. “Oh, sixty thousand is fine.”
“But you wouldn’t be liable to pay a red cent till the job’s done.”
“How would you go about it?”
“I can’t tell you,” Todd declared, shaking his head. “It’s a secret.”
Todd removed his spectacles and swiped the lenses across his cardigan sleeve.
“See, no company worth its salt is in the business of creating competition. If other operations got a hold of our method, there’s no telling what all would happen. I’ll say this much: I don’t shoot them. No, I don’t harm them at all.” Todd re-hooked the glasses around his rat-like ears. “But I’m not letting loose my secret.”
“Well,” said Adam, frowning. “I don’t see how we can go ahead without some sense of—”
“You read the testimonials?” Todd interrupted. “Over in Decatur they got to bombing the oaks with dynamite caps and buying horned owls wholesale. Worked for a while. Lots of things do the job short term.” He sniffed derisively. “Had to bring us in to get it done right. Find me a crow in Decatur today, I’ll call you a liar. Got a lot of owls though. More owls than they know what to do with.”
Adam stared into the old man’s deep-set black eyes. “And you never harm them?”
“No, sir. For one thing our feathered friends are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. You use control methods like chemical immobilization, harassment, scare tactics, trapping, so forth, you best check federal regulations pertaining to such actions.”
“As well, this is a college setting. You likely have those animal rights types inhabiting this environment?”
“Liable to raise a squawking if it weren’t done by the book, eh?”
“Obviously, you come highly recommended,” said Adam, contemplating a cuticle. “But the cost might be prohibitive given—”
Todd shrugged. “Like I said, there’s other things you can do. Over Monmouth they just give up and have a big winter crow festival instead. What’ve you tried?”
“The scarecrows,” said Adam, forlorn. “Sulfur-dipped rags? The crow-distress call machine? Dead crows on sticks.”
“Now there’s something never works in my experience: old crow on a stick trick.”
“More recently we’ve trained a few elderly residents to shoot pyrotechnics, bottle rocket things. The idea is to move the birds to locales away from downtown, to disrupt the roosting behavior. Bit of a bust that.”
“Crows don’t do zoning,” Todd observed.
“So we wouldn’t give you anything till you were successful?”
“You pay for results.” Todd leaned forward for emphasis. “Just don’t ever ask me my secret, and I don’t want no one spying on me.”
“Spying on you?” Adam said, laughing.
“You’d be surprised.” Todd narrowed his black eyes to slits.
“What’s in the box?” Adam asked, pointing.
“See what I mean?” said Todd, peeved. “Can’t leave well enough alone.”
Natania and her ex-husband decided they didn’t want children. This was around the time their daughter turned fourteen. Helen sat on the porch, looking morose and bored, fingers scooting across a keyboard. She glanced up at the car, rolled her eyes that way she did, and sauntered petulantly towards the passenger side.
“Mooooom,” she whined.
“I am ten minutes late,” Natania said. “I had a FASCOM meeting run over and a developing crow situation.”
“No way in hell,” Helen yelped, leaping back, features contorted in horror. “Oh, my god. I am so not getting in that. It’s covered in all this major bird shit. What if someone sees us!”
Helen began a frantic texting, presumably informing all and sundry of the Foursquare coordinates of the Poopmobile.
“Well, they haven’t shit on the inside,” Natania snarled. “At least not yet. So if you want a ride to Camille’s, get your butt in here.”
Helen threw her body in the passenger seat. “So icky. It’s like that Albert Hitchcock movie you made me watch.”
They drove in silence but for the incessant tap of digits on keys. A feathered darkness swooped over the rooftops, a crow flying the black flag of himself. Natania contemplated again how adolescence was a sort of chemical insanity.
“Mrs. Dornan was talking about crows in class,” Helen ventured, apropos of nothing.
“Isn’t she supposed to be doing Native Americans?”
Helen did not respond.
“What about crows then?”
“Actually, Mom, it was about Indians,” said Helen, exasperated. “If you let me, like, finish a sentence.”
“You want to hear the story or not?”
“Well, once upon a time there was no light in this world because it was kept hidden away in a box by the big Chief of heaven or whatever. So everyone lived in darkness. Anyway, the Crow didn’t like this and came up with a plan to steal it. He took the shape of a leaf floating in the river where the Chief’s daughter came to drink. He could do that, change shape and stuff. So she drank him up and then gave birth to him.”
“So now the crow’s a child?”
“He changes shape. Are you listening? And so the child is playing in the house of the Chief now. So one day he starts crying for the box with the light in it, and the Chief, because he loved his grandson, gave it to him. And he changed back into a crow and flew away with the box. But he dropped it, and the light broke into tiny pieces, which are the stars and the moon and the sun.”
With that, Helen inserted ear-buds and took flight into the digital world where she really lived.
He had been this close to sneaking out of city chambers unscathed.
“What’s up, Bill?” Adam achieved a smile. He knew what was up: Alderman Bill Gerk had designs on his job. “How’s Jacob and Ruth then?” he inquired, offering another mouthful of teeth.
“Well. How’s your Samantha?”
“Great. She made varsity, was Western Big Six all conference volleyball.”
“Sensational! You see Jacob got 178 yards against Manual?”
The men despised and feared one another. But virulent hatred was smothered creamily in the soupçon of midwestern affability and nice.
“So you got a minute? I wanted to ask about the rumors.”
“Oh, she’s just a good friend, and her twin only joined in to see what all the fuss was about.”
“Excuse me? Oh, humor.” The Alderman didn’t smile. “I meant about your crow whisperer.”
“That’s what they’re calling him in the Register Mail.”
“There’s a man knows a whole lot about crows.”
“Well,” said the Alderman, sneering. “I get Wikipedia too. So you hired this grifter?”
“Did you know,” said Adam, “that the crow evolved in central and radiated out into North America, Africa, Europe, and Australia? Can you distinguish between raven, rook, jackdaw?”
“Been spending time with your crow person, Adam? He a college boy too?”
“Did you know they can count? And can distinguish individual humans by recognizing their facial features?”
“I can do that too,” the Alderman observed.
“But you can’t distinguish individual crows, can you?”
“All due respect, Adam, but you’re being ridiculous.”
“Admit it,” Adam barked, accusingly. “You can’t tell crows apart. They all look the same to you, don’t they?”
“What’s your point? That I’m racist towards crows?”
“They also transmit information about ‘bad’ humans by squawking.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“That I’m the mayor and you’re not.”
The Alderman smirked grimly. “That’s something the voters will have an opinion on next November. You will recall we had a tested crow-fighting strategic plan, and if you’d been willing to invest in—”
“Lasers? God almighty, you’re back at that again! We want to get rid of them, not entertain them.” Adam was bellowing, and so had frightened Karrie Cheeseman, the Assessor, who scooted quickly into an adjacent office. “But if I decide to put on a Pink Floyd extravaganza, you’ll be first to know. Maybe I can get Cirque du Soleil too.”
Gerk shook his head, sadly. “You did it. You used county resources to hire a crow whisperer. How much?”
“Did you know,” said Adam, “that in California scientists build vending machines for the crows?”
“How much, Adam? Have you been into the discretionary funds again?”
“See, how it works is the crows are trained to pick up trash, and the vending machine is designed to give a reward in exchange for it.”
“What kind of reward?” the Alderman fired at him, unexpectedly.
“I don’t know.” Adam was befuddled. “Something a crow might like. A worm?”
“They keep live worms in a vending machine? How’s that work?”
“I don’t know all the details, Alderman,” said Adam, voice spiraling up an octave. “This was just an example of their intelligence.”
“The city manager thinks you’ve gone mad. I said, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s the stress of the barrel-burning issue coming home to roost. But a crow whisperer!”
“Yeah, we should have spent more on old ladies with flare guns. More half blind demented senile old bats on walkers setting trees on fire—”
“One of those senile old bats,” hissed the Alderman, outraged, “is my mother.”
“Give her my regards,” said Adam, turning away.
“Do you know what he does?” the Alderman screamed after him. “Do you?”
Staff popped gleefully from the warren of offices, enjoying the latest altercation.
“I don’t care,” Adam yelled. “I hear he trains special pigeons. Get back to me when you’re ready to apologize. When you’re ready to eat crow I mean, hah!”
“I have my suspicions,” the Alderman yelled. “I got a few things to check out.”
“What do you mean?” Adam yelped. He meant to leave with dignity after his perfect exit line, but now found himself chasing after the alderman. “You leave that man alone,” he yelled. “He isn’t to be spied upon. You stay the hell away from my crow-man.”
Rolling her Waste Management bin to the curb, Karrie Cheeseman was perturbed to find a large black object athwart her brush pile. Bending to investigate, she became further concerned, not to mention hysterical, when a bird tumbled out of her oak tree and crashed against her skull.
“Well,” she told her husband, after a long shower and an examination of the carcass. “Must be that virus.”
Till then Karrie assumed crows went somewhere secret to die, like elephants.
Shortly after leaving the Beta clothing optional “red-light pimps and hoes” party, an inebriated Douglas Cochrane (major, undecided), informed Campus Safety he had been confronted near the library by several scary black birds who “cawed menacingly while looking at him funny.” The incident was referred to the Office of Student Development.
Driving home after a difficult budget session filled with the usual idiot questions, Adam was startled to see a dark figure rappel down the northeast corner of the redbrick facade of the Central Congregational Church. At first he thought it a weird effect of shadow, trickery of moonlight. But someone was climbing down the church, scaling backward at great speed, clawing the masonry. He assumed it was one of Todd’s associates, for no less than three of them were working the job now, the father, the son, and the one he’d never seen. As the descendant strolled off nonchalantly into the night, black coat spread around him like dark wings, Adam could see no sign of a rope. He hoped to God that lot had proper insurance.
Ducking beneath his dashboard, Alderman Gerk watched the window of the old truck being wound down manually and from it emerging in sequence the barrel of a Browning A-Bolt and a torch that arrowed its narrow white beam of light into the inky darkness above Carl Sandburg Hall. The Alderman, concealed, held his phone out the window of his car, clicking excitedly.
The day’s thaw froze earlier that evening, a slow dissolve arrested on the sidewalks. But banked snow sat patchily on the courthouse lawn still, white sheen glistening in slivers of blue starlight. A black and green scarecrow leaned askew, hat perched at a jauntier angle. The sentimentally inclined, Natania supposed, might find such a scene picturesque, but she felt the thing had acquired a rather sinister mien. She stopped abruptly at the dead bird splayed on the brick walkway, wings extended, soft black feathers bunched. Yellow froth leaked from its beak. She stepped gingerly over the corpse, saddened by the vicissitudes of time. And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father—How did it go again?
The old fellow in the black hoodie was hunkered by the bespattered Mother Bickerdyke memorial. He gazed up into wet-black moon-blanched branches. At first she had mistaken him for another scarecrow, given his stillness and sartorial sense. Now he began gliding slowly from tree to tree, a moonlit shadow. As he motioned, arms outstretched, the avian remnants seemed to lift up as if he willed them into the sky. She heard a murmured incantation and wondered if it was true, that he talked to them.
“What wonderful stars,” she announced, with a wave at the cosmos. That blood-red harvest moon had drifted behind a tiny cloud.
“That’s where you usually find them,” Todd said, studying her. “Up there.”
He was carrying an ancient black box under his arm, marked by an intricate hieroglyphic carving, although she couldn’t say for sure what he was doing with it.
“You’re the one got rid of them for us, aren’t you?”
“Can’t say I isn’t,” Todd observed, “seeing as how I am.”
She smiled at the savior of so many faculty Volvos.
“What’s in there?”
Todd cradled the box securely in his arms. “What’s known around these parts as nobody’s business, lady.”
“Ah, a trade secret.”
Behind the spectacles, Todd’s eyes acquired a vaguely crocodilian cast. “Ain’t nobody trading here I know about.” He ran his hand along the sharp edge of his box and cleared his throat. “Better question,” he offered, “is what’s not in a box.”
This remark either had the one-hand clapping profundity of a Zen koan, or provided further evidence that the man really wasn’t playing with a full deck.
“Got any idea how many was in your murder?” he asked.
“In your roost.” Todd pointed at the skein of overhanging branches far above.
“Go on. Guess.” He looked at her eagerly now.
“I have no idea.”
Somewhere overhead a distant plaintive cawing commenced.
“Have a guess!”
“Umm … A thousand?”
“Christ, no. Don’t be ridiculous.” Todd coughed in disgust. “There was more like 40,000. Of course there was 2 million in a roost in Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. You have to wonder what they was all eating there. Eat almost anything they will: fruits, nuts, seeds, earthworms, mollusks. Crows snack on snails for calcium. Good for eggs, calcium.”
“Also frogs, eggs, nestlings, carrion.”
Natania wanted very much to get away. This was worse than the Biochemistry Chair, whom she suspected had early-onset dementia.
“Very opportunistic and adaptable, your crow. Eats other birds too.”
“In mythology,” she offered, “crows are associated with death and the otherworld.”
“Doesn’t surprise me any.” Todd pulled his hoodie tight around his frame. “Crows are smart. They figure things out.”
“How did you get them to go?” she asked. “Did you put something on the trees?”
“You’re not even close, lady,” Todd said gleefully. “You haven’t even got one-tenth of the secret.” He extracted a card. “Looks like you got yourself a few squirrels too.”
“Oh no,” she said, horrified. “Our students like squirrels.”
“I’m just saying,” Todd observed. “Two-for-one special. Your squirrel is a rat with a tail, essentially.”
He handed her the card.
“Thank you, but I don’t think—”
“You can’t even eat squirrel meat, not really. Tasteless it is.”
“Honestly, I don’t think—”
“You got a fox too I hear. Not sure I’d want one of them things running loose everywhere. Especially if there are chickens involved.”
“We don’t have no chickens,” she said. “Any, I mean.”
“You sure about that?” he asked, peering at her with a glazed intensity.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” Natania asked suddenly. “Have we met before?”
“I been around a long time,” he said, shrugging. “You never do know.”
She left him there, fingering his black box, and walked hurriedly, a deep chill settling in her stomach. When she turned he was staring at her still, the very embodiment of the presumptuous male gaze, and making a peculiar whistling noise, a shrill tone high and keening, like a thin jet of steam bleeding through a valve. She fixed him with a provocative stare of her own, and he responded by waving at her.
She imagined seeing a black crow flap down to settle preening on a piratical shoulder.
Todd simply stood, shuffling from foot to foot on the other side of the desk, looking like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Gerk lurked behind Adam’s back, reeking of Old Spice and contempt.
“Say that again?” Todd said.
“Avitrol,” the Alderman repeated.
Adam flipped through the stack of yellow-highlighted clippings spread out on his desk and sighed. “Mr. Todd,” he said. “Have you heard of Avitrol?”
“Sure, I heard of it. Who hasn’t heard of it in my line of work?”
“You have a state license to use it,” the Alderman added. “I researched this.”
“Did some research did you?” said Todd, bitterly. He extracted the pipe from his jacket pocket and commenced packing the bowl from a leather pouch.
“He can’t do that here,” the Alderman noted.
“I’d just chew,” said Todd. “If there was someplace to spit.”
“Do you deny,” said the Alderman, “that state inspectors have found Avitrol on your company premises.”
Todd sniffed contemptuously. “I keep a state pesticide license in case I decide to expand is all. I might want to do some termites. I got a considerable number of premises also.”
Adam examined his reflection in the black mirror of the screen. Tired eyes with crow’s feet on the edges: below, near the bitten apple logo, that clown-like mirthless smile.
“The Alderman is concerned you have been using an anti-bird pesticide regulated by the EPA.”
Gerk snatched up one of the columns and began to read aloud. “The manufacturer was quoted as saying, quote: ‘There are a lot of people who use our products who keep it quiet because of the lethality involved.’ The lethality. Quote.”
“I don’t use no Avitrol on birds,” said Todd, grimly. “That’s all I got to say on it.”
“Now, just because Mr. Todd has a pesticide license and the State found this stuff at one of his business premises proves nothing,” Adam offered, pathetically. “If he says he doesn’t use it, he probably doesn’t. I mean, farmers have a license to use anhydrous ammonia, but they all don’t make meth.”
“If you look at court reports,” the Alderman observed, smiling horribly, “since your election—seems a substantial number of local farmers do manufacture meth. Here’s the thing though: birds poisoned by this Avitrol fall out the goddamn sky. We have reports of crows crash-landing in Ronald Reagan middle school and the hospice. The hospice! The nuns are freaking out. Birds are falling out the heavens here, Adam! This thing is of biblical proportions!”
Adam looked at his exterminator. “Mr. Todd—”
“Don’t use no bird poison,” Todd declared, shaking his head. “Such is not my method. Maybe these birds of which you speak have been taken ill.”
“The Alderman also says you and your associates may have been shooting birds from your van.”
“Been following me around have you, baldy?” Todd sneered. “Been spying?”
“Do you shoot birds, Mr. Todd?” said the Alderman, flushing. “Answer the question. No more fairy stories.”
Todd shrugged. “Only sick ones. Sometimes, you have sick ones sitting on a ledge. Can’t get them no other way.”
Adam had the urge to begin weeping but decided such a gesture might be inappropriate.
“Are they gone or not?” asked Todd. “Just give me my check, and I’ll go too.” He stabbed his pipe at the Alderman. “Won’t have any cause for spying after that.”
“The council has decided,” ventured Adam. “That we can’t pay you the full amount given the unorthodox method of your … um … methods.”
“You say what?”
“We’ll give you half, for your time, and other expenses.”
“I don’t think so,” said Todd, folding his arms. “Oh, I think not.” He stared at the two men. “Give me my money,” he said in a whisper, black eyes disappearing. “Or you’ll be sorrier than sorry.”
“Are you threatening us, Mr. Todd?” inquired the Alderman.
“Give it to me,” Todd demanded.
“Or what?” said the Alderman, giggling. “You’ll bring the crows back?”
“Bill,” said the mayor. “Enough.”
“I’d rather live in a town full of bird shit than with the poison he’s been spreading,” the Alderman noted.
“Stuff you stick on your scalp is more poisonous than anything I done here.”
“The Alderman tells me,” interrupted Adam, “that if you don’t settle with us amicably there may be an article in our local paper—”
“More of an exposé,” added the Alderman. “Of a charlatan, let’s say.”
“I get it.” Todd picked up the black box and thrust it under his arm. He sniffed significantly and stalked to the door. Arriving at the lintel, he wheeled around, his pipe sending up a cloud of furious little smoke signals. “Don’t you forget to remember this,” he said, coldly. “We ain’t never failed yet.”
And with that, he was gone and never seen in town again.
“Now you’ve gone and made the crow whisperer mad at us,” Adam said. “Nice work.”
Helen examined her face in the bathroom mirror. The girl in the glass was pale and green-eyed and dark haired and hated her nose passionately. She was still herself then. She took a selfie, holding her phone up to the mirror in the mirror.
Back in the bedroom her window was a blackness salted with stars. She stared out and shook her head as if to get awake. In the window’s reflection a girl in a nightgown tousled her hair. She climbed in bed, logged on her tablet, Instagrammed the photo. She’d check tomorrow to see if she looked as weird as she felt. Friends would have commented, and she’d have other opinions to know how she must have been feeling.
She noticed a stain behind her image, a shadow effect caused by the camera flash, a curious smudge. She enlarged the photo, reducing her body to pixilated dots. The smudge was still there, but disproportionately large now; what had been before an ugly spot the size of a dime seemed to cover the area of a dollar bill, protruding from her shoulder like a wing. Helen stared at it with tired eyes. If anything, the mark more resembled a hole, a hole that, as she peered at it, seemed to move, turning slowly, like water rotating in a bathtub drain. She felt as if this whirlpool went down through the photo and through the tablet screen and through the comforter on which she lay and down through the floorboards, and down and down. The conviction came to her that something was coming for her. She didn’t know what, only that there was no escaping it. The whirlpool turned and churned and sent blue arcs and pulses across the desktop in rhythmic waves. Had she uploaded a virus? From the center of the blue spinning vortex came an object, its motion upward, a black thing buckling in an updraft like a bird, nearer approaching, enmeshed in pixilated blues and greens.
Scattered stars were broken in shards by the moonlit clouds racing across the sky. The moon illuminated everything now—white roofs, ice-draped cars, the slippery frost-rimed tar of the driveway. Those stars chattered away in light years. Natania pulled her dressing gown tighter and looked at the bedroom window ledge upon which her daughter was so perilously perched. The girl stared off at that heavy, drooping white moon as though it were a lover whispering soft endearments.
“Come down from there,” Natania cried. “You could fall.”
But Helen didn’t hear. “One for sorrow,” she chanted softly, with that mysterious smile. “Two for mirth.”
“Helen, will you please—”
The girl chanted on. “Eight for heaven, nine for hell, and ten… and ten… and ten…”
“What’s for ten, Helen? What?”
When at last she leapt, her mother let out a sob and then, an instant later, an involuntary gasp when the girl failed to plunge but was borne up and suspended, floating as if gravity were rebuffed, and then receded at great speed towards that distant chalking of stars.
And then, from the old, redbrick Victorians along Prairie and Seminary and Academy ascended all the town’s teens, some dazed and somnolent in pajamas, some in shorts and tee-shirts clutching at their PlayStations and Xboxes, some from a basketball game at the Y taking a vertical leap now beyond their wildest imagining, some snatched from fumbled gropings on basement sofas in Hamblin, some taken up studious from library carrels, some delinquent and newly-pledged grasping half-empty beer cans and flaming joints, and at last, from the backseat of the secluded blue coupe, naked in throes of coital ecstasy, Samantha Sheehan and Jacob Gerk, bodies slick with sweat, coiled as one, hair damp against their closed eyes, blissfully unaware of all but their entwining, up too into that star-spangled sky as if tugged on invisible ropes, reeling into the black, into darkness visible on wings unseen. And so they left all and every one, without a word of goodbye, the cultish followers of a siren whispering they alone could hear, and as the glowing of their cellphones firefly-faded (for so many texted still in the rapture of their departure), the parents, earthbound, could only wonder at their flight.
Rob McClure Smith’s fiction has appeared in literary magazines like Gettysburg Review, StoryQuarterly, Chicago Quarterly Review, Warwick Review, and Barcelona Review. His story collection The Violence was published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2015.