Jarrett Bernier sat at his kitchen table, nursing his first cup of coffee, sighed, and put down his iPad. The headlines were a vacuum in which Jarrett’s hope could not survive, and he couldn’t take any more bad news. The pandemic was still in full swing, and he had yet to find a new job since his furlough became an official layoff. Worse yet, his fiancé had unexpectedly called things off the week prior, took her five-year-old son, Josiah, and moved out. Now wildfires were again encroaching on his backyard. Jarrett didn’t understand why his life was descending into chaos as fast as the world at large.
Jarrett refilled his coffee and sat back down, noticing two unusually large crows sitting next to each other on a bare tree in his backyard, squawking at each other as if having a deep conversation. Abruptly, they stopped, turning their beady eyes directly at him. Jarrett shuttered, feeling the birds an omen of sorts – a dark portent he didn’t need.
Jarrett moved into the kitchen, away from the crows prying eyes, and pulled a carton of eggs from the fridge. He cracked an egg into a bowl and gasped with disgust at the mass of bloody goop where the yolk should have been. When the second and third eggs proved just as horrific, he swept the bowl into the sink and the eggs in the trash, cursing to himself.
He returned from McDonald’s with some Egg McMuffins and found the crows still in the tree, their midnight beaks moving incessantly to one another. Jarrett returned to bed, depressed, stomach hurting, and put on a movie.
When the evacuation alert erupted from his phone like a shrieking banshee, he left the dark cave of his bedroom to appraise the backyard. He’d wasted most of the day in bed, and the sky had become a hazy orange glow, backlighting the cragged trees, and the two statuesque crows. They seemed to glow in the nightmare light of the encroaching fire, and shockingly, hadn’t moved an inch.
Jarrett’s stomach clenched, and he grimaced as he approached the window. Why were those damned crows still in the tree? Shouldn’t they have been driven away by the smoke and flames? Jarrett had survived plenty of fires while ignoring evacuation orders, he’d be fine, but those ominous birds watching, waiting – for what? He didn’t like it one bit. He ignored a few calls and texts from concerned family members and went to bed, his body and spirit feeling crushed and broken.
He woke in the middle of the night, seized with pain, scrambled to the bathroom, and retched in the toilet. It looked worse than the bloody egg yolks from the day prior. Weak and cramping, he went to get a glass of water in the kitchen. He choked on the first sip; the two crows were still in the tree, basking in the fiery night’s Halloween glow. Jarrett rushed to his garage and grabbed an old Daisy Red Rider, and quickly made his way to the backyard.
“Get out of here, you filthy bastards,” he said, coughing. The crows looked at him, then at each other; dark, malevolent.
Jarrett fired a shot at the birds; there was a faint plink, and an eerie phosphorescence flashed in a sphere around the black fowls. They didn’t move a feather. Jarrett fired, again and again, inching closer to the tree. Nothing.
Again, Jarrett doubled over in gut-wrenching pain, dropping the air gun as he fell to his knees. He coughed violently, and blood splattered down his chin and shirt. He rolled over on his side and gazed upward at the crows, who looked down upon him with pitiless obsidian eyes.
A strange thought entered his mind: God and Satan’s little wager over the man Job. Jarrett knew he was not a man blameless and upright as much as he knew there was nothing holy about either of the crows watching him. They appeared a silhouette in the orange sky, and when he attempted to stand, the pair of birds simultaneously opened their wings and flapped once, sending a gale-force blast of wind into Jarrett’s face, knocking him back down. He crashed into the dirt, more bloody spittle raining from his grimacing mouth.
His body seized with pain, his eyes clenched shut, his brain failed to comprehend what was happening; was this some terrible, vivid nightmare?
When Jarrett opened his eyes to the tree, the crows were gone. He lifted himself on an elbow, chilled with fear. The crows now sat directly before him, black statues whose features he could faintly discern in the dim, ochre light. At once, perfectly synchronized, the crows opened their black beaks to reveal gullets filled with an abysmal, nacreous light that slowly bled toward Jarrett to swallow him whole.
Jarrett’s scream quickly died as death, embodied as the black-feathered pair, wrapped him in his final embrace.