Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
   

The Crows of Wentwood

by George T. Philibin



Does DNA pass memories? Maybe!


Billy Martin and his brother Ryan were returning from a baseball game outside of town. The two-mile ride was nothing for them, and the fact that they won, well, that just made their day even merrier. The day was perfect, sunshine, warm, no rain in the forecast. The return ride from the small-crossroad town called Monday’s Corner felt good, refreshing in a way for Monday’s Corner never lost a pick-up game of baseball when they played St.Clair, a much larger town than Monday’s Corner. Today was their first loss.

“We really beat them,” Ryan said.

“Yeah, but not by much,” Billy said.

“Who cares. We won!” Ryan said.

“Yeah–that’s all that’s important. Wait till word gets around,” Billy said.

Some cars passed and the boys that got rides yelled out, “St. Claire all the way!” It really felt good today.

The two boys sped down the road full of energy and delight by that victory that had eluded all the boys from St.Clair for years. The secondary road twisted and turned, and a small brook paralleled it for a while. Finally, a straight stretch of road before entering St. Clair loomed before them; Billy once on the stretch looked over at Wentwood State Hospital in the middle of once was cow pastures and fields of corn and wheat. Billy knew about the acreage the hospital now rested on from his mother, who told him about it. He didn’t pass by it often and each time he did, he looked over at the fresh cut lawns and the walkway with benches on it shaded by maple trees with black mulch surrounding their trunks. The walkway circled the building. Caretakers trimmed the hedges that grew next to the three-story red-brick building, and robins picked at the lawn, seeking worms, or some insect that surely would make a nice snack.

“I wish we still had the farm they say we had over there,” Billy said.

“Yeah, riding horses would be fun,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t that far from town and we would have the same friend and school. Hay rides and sleigh rides----man that would be awesome. Bet they went huntin’ and stuff like that too.”

“Did you ever shoot a gun?” Ryan said.

“Just at the carnival, remember?” Billy said.

“Oh, yeah . . . I forgot about that time—were they real guns?” Ryan said.

“I think so. They sounded like real ones,” Billy said.

Near the entrance to the hospital, both boys stopped under a large oak tree for a rest. The shade felt good, and Billy and Ryan studied the building and its surroundings. Wentwood State Hospital looked like a castle that is often pictured in National Geographic with battlements aligning the top. The brook that runs near it could be thought of as a moat if one stretched imagination far enough.

Billy took off his baseball hat and brushed back his blonde hair and wiped off his forehead. The logo on his hat was the same as the one on this red T-shirt, an old reference to the Brooklin’ Dodgers. Bryan’s hat had the Pittsburgh Pirates on it but his T-shirt displayed the New York Yankees.

“I never see anybody there,” Ryan said.

“Oh—they keep the nuts inside . . . locked away you know,” Billy said.

“Oh,” Ryan said. “Look at the crows on top of the hospital.”

Billy looked over and yes, about fifteen crows were perched on the top. When the crows saw the boys, they started to caw. The more each crow cawed, the more another crow cawed louder. The flock of crows gradually flew to the oak tree. They didn’t sound their caws. They didn’t make any noise as each found a resting spot on the branches, some higher up in the tree, some on lower branches, but all the crows were in the tree, none sitting on the entrance gate or its cut-stone supports.

Billy watched the crows descend. Ryan watched the crows descend. Both boys were silent, and the crows once all settled in the tree looked at both boy, each crow slightly cocked its head but didn’t take an eye off the boys. The crows remained silent. Waiting and looking, and the boys looked back at them.

A cool breeze that often streams though the heat on an August summer day, struck both boys on the forehead. The breeze felt good, evaporating the sweat beads that started forming on their brows, but a chilling feeling not connected with breeze washed over the boys as the crows sat silent--- probing with their eyes.

The crows started a muffled caw, caw, caw, singing to the boys like a chorus as each crow faced the boys contributing its part. The caws crescendoed until the they were so loud that in the boys' imagination, the tree appeared to shake!

We know who you are, yes, we know all about you two and your family! Yes, we know all about it!

“Did you hear that!” Ryan said.

The boys looked each other and together in unison said: “Lets get outa here!”

They started down the road and picked up speed. Both boys stood up pedaling to get more speed. The flock of crows fluttered off the tree and started to follow, silently with eyes on the boys like a military-laser-targeting system locked onto its target.

The secondary road became East End Avenue once past St Clare’s city limits sign. Both boys shot down the avenue past large-old Victorian and Colonial styled homes, past a conveyance store and finally stopped under a low pedestrian tunnel that transversed under a railroad bed. Once in the tunnel the boys looked out and saw the crows circling overhead.

“Are they really after us!” Ryan said.

“I think they are!” Billy said. “Let’s get home.”

At the other end of the tunnel the boys turned onto Rosemont Boulevard. The old Dutch Elm trees canopied that boulevard, and Billy thought that the crows wouldn’t see them under the canopy. He was wrong. The flock of crows flew under the high tree branches. Billy saw them and took evasive action for he now suspected: They really, really want us! Ryan did the same and the boys did un-geometrical-figure eights down the lightly traveled boulevard as an evasion strategy.

The boys slammed on their brakes and stopped abruptly at Ford’s Alley. They headed down a narrow walkway; Billy thought it would be harder for the crows to see them here. They ducked into another walkway between a body shop and a large commercial garage. Unfortunately, Billy heard the crows circling overhead. Around and around they flew waiting for them to appear back out on the street. They cawed an un-earthy sound— CAWWWCAWW! Ryan peeped up at them through a hole in the corrugated-metal roof that was an overhang and he didn’t like what he saw. The crows were all looking down in their direction. He looked over and two guys from the body shop were taking a break, smoking outside. They looked up at the crows and stopped talking. A strong odor of paint permeated the air.

The boys silently pushed their bikes out of the alley and jumped on them again. Parks Street led to their house, and the boys picked up speed. The crows followed overhead for Billy could heard them and they were calling his name he thought. He didn’t look up. Ryan kept focused on riding faster. He knew that they were flying in formation and watching their moves.

The boys sped through a stop sign on Parks and made a left on Feeder Street. The large maple trees along Feeder street made a very low canopy overhead, and Billy felt better thinking that this low canopy would block out the crows. He was mistaken. The crows flew under the canopy, some almost beside Bryan and him. The boys did figure eights again.

We know who you are now. Yes we do! And we’ll get it! This time the voices sounded like echoes in a canyon.

The boys raced up the driveway to their house and stopped when they reached the back of the garage. Thank God the garage door was open. Ryan slammed down the garage door; the boys ran out of the garage by a side door and into the kitchen.

Their mother was making supper. She said, “You two are early. Why are you breathing so heavy?"

"Oh--we raced home." Billy said.

Ryan slipped down to the family room. Billy looked outside, took a deep breath and thought how Rambo always looked calm. He copied Rambo’s style as he faced mom. He sauntered over to the refrigerator and got a can of creme soda then said, “We beat them. Boy they were mad.

“They want a rematch before summer’s over and Nick said he would think about it. I don’t think we’ll be able to get the guys together for one. Timmy’s going to New York for a week to visit his aunt. George is going someplace too. We’re going to the Jersey shore for week ain’t we?”

“Yes, week after next when your dad can take a vacation,” Kayla, Billy and Ryan’s mom said. “You two have school in four weeks and we want to spend some time at the beach before summer’s over. Why did Ryan run downstairs?’

“Oh--- he wants to post it on FaceBook---- you know brag about winning. It was only a pick up game, nothing to really brag about,” Billy said.

“Well, your younger brother is proud and so am I. That’s the first game he’s ever played in, isn’t it?” mom said.

“Yeah, last year he was too small. He really got bigger this year. I’m glad he’s a good guy. Kevin and his brother Mark fight all the time. Ryan and me are like—friends. Do you believe that.”

“Thank God you two are close,” mom said. Kayla remembered that her and her sister Crystal fought all the time when they were younger, but now they are close. “And thank God you two and your older brother get along so well.”

Billy popped open his soda. He took a swallow, took another one then said, “What’s that place called Wentwood? Didn’t our family own it once?”

“It’s for people who have problems. Many out there are addicted to drugs, some don’t feel good about themselves, some have deep family problems and need professional support . . . things like that.”

“You mean they’re nuts!” Billy said.

“Honey don’t ever say that about people that have problems. It’s not nice!” mom blasted out.

“Sorry Mom, didn’t our family own that place once?” Billy said again.

Kayla’s frown left. She thought for a second then said, “Yes, on your father’s side, his grandfather’s father owned all the land. It was a farm once. We have pictures of him and the farm, really old pictures and they are all black and white. I’ll show them to you.”

This surprised Billy. He never figured that his mom would want to show him those old pictures in the attic. The albums are locked up in a very large-cedar chest that had other things relating to the farm there. The chest was huge. Billy always wanted to open it and look inside.

Mom looked at the timer on the oven, adjusted it then said, “Watch the oven. I have to go up into the attic.

She left the kitchen and Billy heard her climb the steps to the attic. However, she returned quickly with an old album.

“The first couple of pages have pictures of the farm and your father’s distant grandfather and grandmother. Things were different in those days . . . no TV, no video games and just a few families owned cars. I want you to look over those pictures . . . you have a right to know about the farm and your relatives that lived there.”

Billy looked over the pictures as mom attended to cooking. A picture of a hunting dog sitting by a group of hunters looked very old fashion. Another picture of a pile of dead birds caught Billy’s eye. Pheasants probably or maybe wild turkeys . . . ducks were also a possibility. The old farmhouse in the background looked spooky especially with some crows sitting on the roof. In another picture Billy could make out the road that he rode back on from Monday’s Corner, but in this picture the road was dirt and not paved. An old truck was on it.

Billy looked up. He started to ask a question, “Mom what . . ." but stopped when he saw mom looking out the back window. She mumbled something under her breath, and Billy couldn’t hear what she said. Billy got up, frowned a little and walked over beside her. He heard her this time, “This-is-just-too-weird.”

Billy paused a second then said, “What is?”

Mom jerked her head around then said, “There must be fifteen crows in that tree.”

The same crows that followed them home, Billy was sure about that!

“Ahh--- they’re just hanging out with other crows. Bet they see some garbage—that’s what got them excited. You know I’ve seen them steal worms from other birds. They went after a poor robin one time in the front yard and the robin dropped its worm. Crows stick together like those gangs do in the big cities. Other birds don’t like to mess with them. Bet it might be some turf war with other birds,” Billy said.

We know who you are Billy, yes, we know all about you and your family! Yes, and now we know where you live! And we want it!

“You’re probably right Honey. They are nasty birds.”

The voice in his head was for his ears only. Mom didn’t hear it. Billy took another sip and casually turned around. Sweat beads started forming again. He backed up from the sink. Just then Ryan came up, looked at the album on the table then whispered to Billy, “I’m scared!”

*****


“That’s a crow shoot,” Carl said, Billy an Ryan’s dad.

“That’s what Dad!” Billy said.

“Really!” Ryan said.

Dad was pointing to the picture that had the dead birds in a pile. Yes, they were crows and not pheasants. The old black and white picture wasn’t too clear. However, after studying the picture closer, you could see that they were crows, Billy thought.

“It’s still legal to shoot crows on certain days. I think Sunday’s one of those days. Farmers let them do it on their property. Hell, they hate crows,” Dad said.

“Boy that would be fun!” Billy said.

Eric, the older brother who worked with dad in their plumbing business, said, “Some of the guys at the shop shoot crows. Did you know that Dad?”

“Really--- we’ll have to go along with them sometime," dad said.

“Boy would that be fun,” Billy said.

“Why don’t we put away that album and have a nice dinner. I don’t think we should be talking about killing birds at the dinner table. That just teaches violence. And we have enough gun violence today. Just listen to the news,” mom said.

Dad flipped his eyebrows up, clenched his jaw then finally said, “Listen to your mom.”

Eric shrugged his shoulders then said, “Hey, you guys beat Monday’s Corner. Good show! Boy am I going to rub that in Cindy,” Eric said.

“Cindy does not care about baseball, who wins and things like that. She’s too nice of a girl for that. She has common sense and will not get between her brother and us over a baseball game,” mom said. Cindy and Eric’s been an item for a year now. She lives in Monday’s Corner, teaches grade school. Mom always wants her to come over.

After dinner, Billy and Ryan played video games down in the family room--- they didn’t want to go outside. They were tired after a long day playing baseball and riding their bikes for miles. Ryan fell asleep. Billy felt tired but stayed awake thinking about the crows and how they followed him and his brother home. That was just plain eerie. Like something you see on a scary TV program, or in the movies or hear about from your parents or relatives.

Billy turned the television on. He flipped through the channels but found nothing to his liking. Ryan was fast asleep. The next channel had Vampires From Mars Attacks and he decided to watch it for the vampires looked so real, and when they turned into bats holding ray guns, well, that looked so real too. Almost every outside scene in the movie had crows in the background or maybe ravens. Whatever, but Billy couldn’t keep his mind on the movie except when a crow silhouetted itself in the background during a scene.

Finally, about an hour before dark, Ryan woke up.

“Are the crows still outside,” Ryan said.

“Let’s go see,” Billy said.

The cool-evening air hit the boys, a change from the hot afternoon. The crows were gone. Some sparrows were in the tree and a blue Jay was sitting on the fence. However, they could hear a very soft yet distinct muffled caw of crows but couldn’t see them. Was it the same crows? and what were they doing? Hiding? Keeping their distance? Just waiting? Billy thought.

Before Billy could think about it, Ryan gently tapped him on his shoulder. After he got Billy’s attention, he pointed to the top of their house. About fifteen crows were sitting on the roof and now not making a sound, just watching and waiting it seemed. The crows cocked their heads to one side, but kept their eyes on the boys. Then they cocked their heads to the other side, and kept both eyes on the boys.

We know you. We want that thing destroyed! The thing that is in your attic! We want it destroyed!

The voice echoed in their heads, and every crow stared at them, silently, pensively, and very attentively. After an interlude of maybe five seconds of silence, the crows started taking off but circled overhead. After one crow took off, a second crow followed, then a second later another…

Eric came out of the garage. He saw his brothers looking up and watching the crows take off. He eyed the crows, silently.

“What’s with those crows?” Eric said. “They been hanging around all evening.”

Billy told Eric about the voices and about the crows following them. Ryan shook his head in agreement with Billy, and added a comment sometime, trying to re-enforce Billy. Eric listened then said, “Come into the garage.” He looked over at the house as he directed the boys inside--- probably making sure that mom wasn’t listening. The rear kitchen window was open and mom at the sink could hear.

“We want that thing destroyed,” Eric said. “Did you hear that just a moment ago”

“Yeah!!” Billy and Ryan said in unison.

“I’ve heard it all my life, especially when I pass or work at Wentwood.

“What do they want?” Billy said. Both boys stared at their older brother wide eyed and silent. Eric looked up at the circling crows then said. “They want the old shotgun destroyed that our great grandfathers used to shoot crows. I’m sure about that. Dad figured that one out a few years ago but didn’t say anything. You see when I pass by Wentwood, I’m on my Harley, they can’t follow me. I go too fast and I usually don’t go straight home. When we service their HVAC units, they sometimes follow for a short time but then turn back before we reach the shop. Dad has always heard the voices. I think they sense that some of the guys at the shop go to crow shoots. That probably keeps them away. I don’t like them hanging around our house—they might have West Nile Virus or some other bird disease. Who knows, but I don’t want them around. Don’t tell mom about this. Me and dad never said anything about the voices we hear. Dad said if we did, we might be put in the looney bin. People who hear voices are crazy they say.”

“Why don’t mom hear the crows talk?” Ryan said.

“Mom’s isn’t related by blood to the old farm. Her grandparents were different. I guess the crows can smell DNA or something like that–I don’t know,” Eric said.

“Oh,” Ryan said. “Where’s that shotgun?”

“Up in that cedar chest in the attic. It’s an old one not worth anything much. I think J.C. Pennies model or maybe Sears.

“Man, I didn’t know we had a gun in the house!” Billy said.

“Eric!” mom screamed.

“What?” Eric said.

“The front yard!” Mom screamed. “Ryan, Billy get in the house now!”

Eric shot up the steps and into the back door with Ryan and Billy in hot pursuit. The boys ran through the house and onto the front porch with mom behind them. What met their eyes burned into their memories. Crows everywhere: Some on power lines, some sitting on the trees, some on the neighbors’ fences, but all had their heads turned toward Eric, Billy, Ryan and mom.

Eric looked around and studied the scene with deep frowns forming in his forehead. He put his arm out blocking his younger brothers and mom from coming out any farther. His eyes looked up. A moment later he said, “They’re on the roof too!”

“Your father got called out on an emergency leak” Mom said. “I’m calling the police right now!”

“That’ll do no good,” Eric said. The crows made a soft caw, caw sound. The caws meshed together, purring somewhat then cawwwww, cawwww together with a cackling overture and finally a ruff ka, ka, ka. Again and again the unsettling caw came and danced through the air.

“We have to do something—boys get in the house now!” Mom said.

For once Ryan and Billy unquestionably obeyed their mom. Eric stood his ground on the porch and faced the crows without flinching. He stared back at them, rubbed his chin, but kept his eyes fixed back at their stares. A smile crawled over his face. “I know how to get rid of them. Stay inside,” Eric said. Mom, Ryan and Billy backed into the living room.

Eric ran upstairs and within twenty second he was stomping down the staircase with a doubled barrel shotgun open at the breach and cradled over his right arm. It was the old one from the attic.

“Eric put that gun away!!” Mom screamed. “What are you doing?”

Don’t worry Mom. It’s not loaded and I don’t think it can be fired anyway. If I’m right, our friends out there will scatter!

“Eric I’m telling you…” Mom started to say.

Eric stomped out to the edge of the porch, flipped up the barrels and lock them into place. He made as much noise as he could, and the snap action of the barrels locking with its ringing metallic sound, reached the crows before Eric could think a thought. All the crows together shot up like a rocket on overdrive. However, once they reached about one hundred and fifty yards, they started to circle.

“My God,” Eric said. “They know the range of a shotgun.”

“Boy ---you could have blasted them!” Ryan said.

“You’re not allowed to discharge a gun in city limits,” Eric said.

“Oh,” Ryan said.

“I’m glad they’re gone . . .” mom started to say until she looked up and saw them circling.

“They’ll not come near the house anymore. They know I mean business!" Eric said.

*****


Early the next morning Eric and dad where having breakfast before work. Ryan and Billy were asleep yet.

“Those crows must be… I don’t know maybe the city… maybe they’ll come back and if they do…" Mom was mumbling to herself.

“I’m taking the gun over to the shop. Since the boys know we have one, they’ll pester me all day long to see it again and again and pester Eric to sneak it out and shoot it. I know boys,’ dad said.

“You’re right dad,” It’s not worth anything.” Eric said. Dad and Eric’s eyes came together in mutual understanding. We want that thing in the attic destroyed!

“Well, we got a heavy work load today,” dad said.

Eric grabbed the shotgun and followed his dad out to their service truck. Eric looked up. No crows but he could feel their presence. Somewhere. Sure enough, about two blocks from home, he sighted crows, and as the truck passed the ones sitting on power lines and fences, those crows took off and followed the truck.

“I’ll give them what want. This shit‘s gone on long enough!” dad said. “Too long. Ever since I was a kid. And now they are after my family! Eric we’ll end this once and for all at the shop.”

Eric frowned. He looked down at the old shotgun then looked over at his dad. How was he going to end it? He couldn’t kill all the crows, yet dad was determined to end it. Dad always came up with a unique way of getting a job done. But this?

They pulled into the shop’s parking lot

The crows kept their distance. In fact, they vanished in a few seconds. Eric knew why they stayed away from the shop and now with this old shotgun, well, the crows somehow knew what the business end of this gun could do.

Once inside the shop, dad said, “Detach the barrels from the stock. Take the barrels over to the band saw and cut them into about thirty or forty pieces.”

The industrial-size band saw was used to cut heavy-wall pipe used on furnaces. Eric placed the barrels into the vice gripe, hydraulic clamps tightened the grip, then he started the saw and hit the forward button. The barrels gave no challenge to the saw for it easily cut through them in a few seconds. Dad cut up the shotgun stock with a circular saw.

After about a half hour’s work, the remains of the barrels looked like flat washers. Eric cut the barrels into fifty pieces or more. The remains of the stock now looked like small wooden strips in a sea of sawdust.

Dad swept the remains of the stock then said, “Put everything in that crate and loaded it in the truck. I gotta go to the bathroom.”

Eric loaded the crate with the remains of the shotgun inside and waited for dad. Dad come out in a few minutes climbed in the passenger side then said, “Drive out to Wentwood.”

“What!” Eric said.

“Trust me—I know what I doing!”

The contract for all of Wentwood’s HVAC and plumbing belonged to Eric’s dad, “Johnston HVAC and Plumbing.” He could come and go as he pleased, and they knew him and his son and the other employees of his company.

At the front gate they turned onto Wentwood’s driveway. They parked at the main office and got their badges.

Back in the truck, they drove around behind the building and parked at the rear door of an outside building marked “HVAC Authorized Personnel Only.”

“Nobody can see us back here,” dad said.

The outside building, some trees between it and the main building and shrubbery and the off limits signs posted, kept everyone away. Within twenty feet, the woodland began and Eric knew that from the main building they couldn’t be seen.

“Scatter the shotgun parts over that lawn. We’ll let the damned crows have them,” dad said.

Eric did as dad said.

“While we’re out here, might as well check the air intake filters inside,” dad said.

They both went in. The filter check only took ten minutes and when finished, Eric looked out.

“Dad!” he yelled.

Dad ran over and looked out. About forty crows were picking up the pieces of the old shotgun and flying away with them. Where they went---- Eric and his dad never found out.

*****


The crows left Wentwood. Never again did anybody see flocks of crows there. A few occasionally but never a largr flock. Crows never again followed the boys on their bicycles. Nor did they follow the boys when they got older and drove. Nor did they ever come around the house. All except one.

That crow sat on the top of lamp posts. Sometimes in the backyard tree. Sometimes on the garage roof, but it never cawed much. This crow made its home there near the house. He was a loner. He perched for hours but didn’t bother anyone even the sparrows or robins. He cocked his head toward Bill and Ryan's house and occasionally sat on the roof atop a gable.

One night when the moon was full-- Ryan now about seventeen--he looked out the upstairs window, and that one lone crows was sitting on a roof three houses down. The full moon behind the crow silhouetted it, made it look huge and eerie. The crow’s head turned, but Ryan couldn’t see which way, but for some reason deep within the caverns of his mind, he knew the crow was staring at him. He ducked back behind the curtain. When he peeped out again, the crow was gone.

Ryan never saw that crow again, nor did he tell his brothers or dad and especially his mom about the encounter that night. No, some things are better left unsaid.


THE END


2017 George T. Philibin

Bio: "I've been writing for about twenty years, occasionally, and enjoy every strike on my keyboard. I'm not sure why I write -- it's fun, I'm sure about that -- and I intend to continue and learn. I served in Viet-Nam and during my last two years in the army, I played French Horn with the army band at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. I attended the University of Pittsburgh for Mechanical Engineering, but had to quit after the Johnstown Flood of 1977. I worked in a coal mine, a steel mill, and a dairy once. After about thirty-years service at the Conemaugh Generating Station, I retired. My favorite authors were Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, and Kurt Vonnegut. Lately, I’ve become interested in Ambrose Bierce. My last story: It Came out of the Condenser.”

E-mail: George T. Philibin

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.