The Legend of Sun Breast

crow story, part six.

Sun Breast is a young warrior, a savvy tracker and the Son of the Chief of the Great Nation in the time soon after the long, long winter has passed and the lakes have returned. He is born with hair as bright as fire and with a great fire spot upon on his breast.

As soon as Sun Breast is old enough to keep up with the elders, he becomes a forward-hunter because he is such a good tracker. But mostly, Sun Breast is an adventurer who is always sprinting ahead, beyond where the others can see. He hurries the older braves, almost to the point of their collapse and his boredom. His quest for knowledge cannot be satisfied. Others cannot keep up. He is impatient.

Sun Breast learns all the stories of Spirit Lake, a mythical place where lost spirts are reborn. He is enchanted.

One day, before ten-and-four winters have passed, Sun Breast sets out to find Spirit Lake. He travels alone as he faces the cold winds for several moons. He travels past earth-shaking herds of thick-coats and thick-heads. And past groves full of berries, and hills full of potatoes and turnips. Past so many lakes dammed by beaver and full of turtle.

He eats only what he can pick until he comes upon a huge black bird standing on a log in a clearing. After many nights without meat or fish, he seizes the opportunity, steps from the shadows, and furies his blade with a true aim.

The crow does not take flight. It opens its wings to reveal a burning-red breast that repels the blade and sends it back just as fast.

Sun Breast catches the blade, but it does not cut his hand. ‘How is this possible?’ he asks.

The crow’s breast glows, and he says, ‘you cannot kill your own spirit.’

The young warrior lifts his shirt and shows the bird his own fire mark, which starts to glow for the first time.

‘Why have you traveled so far from your Nation?’

Sun Breast tells him he is in search of Spirit Lake.

The crow says, ‘At Spirit Lake, flesh turns to clay.’

‘I seek not death, only adventure. The legends are many. I want to know if they are true.’

The crow says, ‘Some truths have come before. Some have been lost forever. If you believe they are true, they are true.’

The bird says, ‘my name is ‘Red Crow’ and that the time has come for us to reunite, to travel Grandmother Island as one spirit, unbound.’

Sun Breast removes his shirt and the crow draws long his wings and they face each other a short distance apart. Their two breasts glow red, then yellow, then white as their light reflects off each other, until they shine so bright that shadows are cast in all directions. Until the Sun is gone from the sky. The two breasts slowly dim and fade to ember under a moonless night.

The next morning, Sun Breast awakes with eyes so keen he sees a moth across the field. He hears snakes slither, and the high-pitch songs only the great wings and wolves can hear and sing. He can detect dark movements in the night and feel the wind groan as it passes through the trees. He can taste the slightest scent of fear in the air.

Red Crow awakes the next morning anxious to tell Sun Breast about a dream, his first dream!

For ten-and-two seasons, teacher becomes student and student becomes teacher as each learns the other’s songs, dances and dreams, until they can communicate flawlessly.

Red Crow takes Sun Breast to a tall, tall ridge overlooking the forbidden Spirit Lake, and warns him, ‘No further, or become what you see.’

What he sees is a vast, crystal-clear, frozen lake that falls off the horizon. Above it, colorful lights dance beneath the stars and reflect off the ice. Shadows dance from the thousands of full-coated, full-color clays that stand frozen in time. There are clays of braves who have come before him, and clays of crows, but so, too, clays of fox, owl, wolf, eagle, cicada, turtle and a lean, golden-horned, pale animal he’s never seen before. All, frozen in time.

Red crow tells him, ‘Spirits know many forms and fight many foes. Not all battles are won. Look and see the many spirits who lost. Watch and see their shadows dance together. When two clays become one shadow, their spirit becomes flesh anew on Grandmother Island.’

After three harsh winters have passed, Sun Breast returns to the Great Nation with Red Crow on his shoulder. He no longer has bright hair or a fire spot on his breast, but he is now as tall as three strides are long.

He learns his father has died, and he is now Chief of the Great Nation. And the Great Nation is starving.

Red Crow guides young Chief Sun Breast and his braves to the expanding white forests where trees become canoes and firewood abounds, and to the great hunting plains where the warm-coats roam. Red Crow guides them to soils richened by swollen rivers, and to many distant lands where his people prosper, and live in tipi warmed by fire and fur. The Great Nation survives.

As time goes on, Chief Sun Breast sends many young brave and young winchinchala in all directions to find and fertilize new lands, and to bring back their riches and their stories. He has born to him many sons and daughters that pass on his spirit to many sons and daughters. Many First Nations are born.

Red Crow fathers many offspring that pass on the spirit to their offspring, and for generations too vast to count, Red Crow’s descendants have acted as guides to easy prey, and as lookouts for all unseen dangers. Descendants can tell when the winds will rise and when the rains will fall, and they can see the path ahead before it arrives. Descendants of Red Crow still roam the Americas today, guiding all First Nations’ peoples and their spirits to richer lands, in this life and the next.

End of story.

It makes no sense to me. Even if Jeremy is a decedent of Red Crow, why us? I’m not Native American. Neither is my wife.

I turn to the book, Crow Stalker, the Man Who Mastered Crows. The life and times of Herman Blackclaw. This, too, is translated by Mr. Seven Blackclaw. All the stories, it says, are transcribed from videotaped interviews done between 1985 and 1987 with his father, in Ojibwa with subtitles. The original tapes are in the Seven Suns museum. You can download videos of Crow Stalker’s interviews, complete with crows. It says to understand the messages you must understand the emphasis that is put on each word or song. And to observe the physical movement of the wings, feet, eyes and their stance. ‘Crow’ is more body language than vocal.

It might be useful to see exactly what crows mean when they bob their heads or dart their stare from one eye to the other. I am curious, but my head is already dizzy from Sun Breast.

Crow Stalker’s biography is much easier to read, even with all the Algonquin and Ojibwa native words. Pictures help a lot, too, so do the images of the old posters and fliers that were used in advance of his appearances from Albany to Winnipeg. These are at least in plain, if ignorant, English.

But I want my first question answered before I delve into this old man’s magic, so I look up his vital statistics.

Herman Blackclaw was born in Joliet, Illinois in the winter of 1887-88. The exact date was not recorded. He was father to seven sons and four daughters from three winchinchala. He died one-hundred-one years later, on August 23, 1989, in Laramie, Wyoming.

‘Laramie!’ I say in a gasp.

One of the unforgettable adventures we took in on our three-month long honeymoon in the summer of 1989 was in Laramie, Wyoming. I don’t remember now if it was before or after Las Vegas, but it was the only night out of eighty-nine nights that we didn’t have indoor plumbing. We slept on bison skin rugs on a dirt-floor in a tipi to experience what life was like in Wyoming in the 1500’s. Some adventure! It rained all night with thunder and lightning that created eerie flashes on the side of our tipi.

I remember it was a cuddly-up-tight kind of a night, and not all the thunderclaps were outside the tent. But recalling that evening now, 28 years later, gives me goosebumps.

end part six.

Phil Rosette

 

Dear readers,

On September 14th, 2017, Phil Rosette passed away after a short bout with an aggressive bladder cancer. This letter is being sent by his son, Jack. Before he left us, I had promised him that I would finish this story on his behalf, in his voice, to the best of my ability. This blog entry, written for the month of September, was the last one that he had written before entering the hospital, and thus, the last completed post for the Crow Story as told by my father. I was anticipating having to write this one out from scratch, until we found this completed draft on his computer. As it turns out, I would have taken a similar approach as my father had to writing out The Legend of Sun Breast, which gives me encouragement for the future of the series. My father never gave me specific instructions to ending the series, only that it could be done in one more post or three more posts depending on a few things. Having read the series over several times now, it will likely be three more posts, as I don’t see a reasonable conclusion happening in a single entry, and I believe my father promised a 10-part series anyway. This will take the story out to the end of 2017.

A few personal notes: the service was held on Tuesday, September 19th, and was well-attended by family, friends, and fellow writers. Phil’s body was cremated, and his ashes will be spread at Brands Hatch race park in Kent, England. If you have not done so already, you can leave your respects here: http://www.desmondfuneralhome.com/obituary/Phil-Rosette/Michigan/1753137.  Phil’s first book, The Freya Project, is available to anybody who wishes to take it – just email me at jackrosette41@gmail.com and I will happily send it to you for the cost of shipping, or I can arrange to bring it to a Deadwood Writers meeting soon. He had left a note here to update everybody on the wedding, so I’ll do that now. My brother and his wife are now happily married, spent their honeymoon out in Canada, and (believe it or not) are now expecting a child. We all wish that Phil could have lived to see his grandchild, but his memory will be passed on through the lessons my brother and his wife will impart.

Thanks for reading, everybody! Until next month,

-Jack Rosette

The Man with Seven Sons

Crow story, part five.

After Fred and I rescue the fawn from the swamp, we take the dogs back to the lake for a second bath, and it’s nearly eight o’clock by the time I get home.

I put Joker and Gracie in the backyard then strip naked in the laundry room. I load my soiled, stinky clothes into the washing machine and head for the shower in my birthday suit.

My wife is reading in bed with the television on mute when I walk in the bedroom. She looks me up and down. I put my phone and the baggie with its Jeremy charm on the dresser. She smiles and starts to say something, but then curls her nose, points to the bathroom and says, ‘How bad are the dogs?’

‘I got most of it off them in the lake, but neither one is getting in this bed until Friday!’

‘What happened?’

I tell her how all four dogs bolted for the woods and how Taco chased out the first fawn. ‘It was like watching a mouse chase a lion!’

But when I get to the part about our dogs and the second-fawn, her frown folds and she interrupts me with, ‘And they killed it – That’s two days in a row they’ve killed something! Damn it!’ I start to explain but she raises her voice and declares, ‘You’re turning them into killers!’

‘I’m turning them into killers!’ … She’s not giving me a chance. They didn’t kill the fawn; Sadie led Fred to it. Damn thing was stuck in the swamp. It even tried to bite me as we pulled it out, but she’s not letting me get a word in edgewise…

‘What if the next time it’s the neighbor’s cat – The last thing we need is a lawsuit from them!’

That does it.

Our four-foot, chain-link fence is enough to keep Gracie and Joker in our yard but not enough to keep out their fat, old, senile cat. We’ve had words with our neighbor – the dog’s cowbells are a direct result of her first such threat.

I growl back, ‘If he gets in our yard again – as far as the law is concerned – he’s fair game!’

Instantly, I realize that was the wrong thing to say when I see her face turn red. But here I stand naked and slimed, accused and innocent on all counts! Telling her about the rescue now is pointless; the argument has moved on from there.

I say, ‘Sorry to disappoint you, dear, but your hypothesizing – once again – is wrong! They didn’t kill it!’ I close the bathroom door and turn on the vent fan to drown out any response, and say to myself, And I’m not the one turning them into killers! I still haven’t told her about my first encounter with Jeremy back in April, when he got our dogs to kill a squirrel in our back yard – after first telling me to Leave It for his murder to feast on.

Under the shower, I realize my wife is right; you can’t let dogs kill – anything. As amazing as this bird seems, I can’t let it rule the roost. Not my roost, anyway. Not with an angry hen in the house.

When I get out of the shower, I can hear my ringtone. I open the door to see my wife is no longer in bed, but the little woman who lives inside my phone tells me Fred is calling. I let it go to voicemail and towel off. I notice the charm is on top of the baggie now. My wife must have taken it out.

Dressed in grubs, I find a note downstairs. Taking mom to late mass then shopping… home about 3:00… grill tonight? You need beer?

My wife rarely apologizes for anything directly and I detect a reconciliatory tone in her note. I’m still pissed at her jumping to conclusions. And then, to use a hypothetical to reinforce an assumption before I can even… Well…

Both Gracie and Joker still need proper baths and scrubbing them clean gives me plenty of time to decide what to tell my wife, or just drop it as she appears ready to do.

It’s an hour before I call Fred back.

I put my phone, iPad, and the Jeremy charm on the table and sit under the umbrella on the back deck.

‘Crow Stalker,’ Fred says when I get him on the line. ‘Cousin Tom says he died long ago. His show name was Crow Stalker. Real name was Herman Blackclaw.’

Red continues. ‘He was Ojibwe, from around Fond du Lac. Did sideshows with crows. Called em down from a wire, one at a time. They had names. He’d feed em out of his hand then get em to walk into a dark wigwam an wait until he’d call em out. One at a time.’

I don’t say anything, and he continues, ‘He had seven sons, an one of em, number Seven – he didn’t name his kids just numbered em – number Seven claims to be a Crow Catcher too. He wrote a book about masterin crows.’

‘A book, huh?’ I’m trying to recall the last time Fred jawed this much about anything. ‘What else did your cousin tell you?’

‘Tom just said he died, an that Seven Blackclaw had a website. All the rest’s from the website.’

He tells me the web address, then says, ‘Except you spell the last part s-U-n, not s-O-n.’

‘Thanks!’

The umbrella I’m under was once green but is now sun-bleached and thread-worn. As I punch up the Seven Suns website on my iPad, the sun peeks through a thin mesh area and a beam of light sparkles off the charm inside the baggie. I smile, thinking, maybe I’m on to something.

The website doesn’t come up. Not exactly. I get the home page in the background with an overriding message that says, ALERT! THIS WEBSITE CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID! CONTENT CANNOT BE DEEMED SAFE. There are two option buttons; Proceed anyway, and Get me out of here!

I’ve never seen a message like this before. My WiFi automatically sniffs out the strongest signal, but from my back deck, that could be mine or any of three others I can see in my connection app. I use a third option and just kill the page. My office computer has a landline and I head inside mumbling the web address, leaving everything outside including my phone.

The Seven Suns website is massive. Everything Fred told me I can find on the home page, but there is much more. History, maps, and the native dress for all eleven Minnesota tribes. Seven Suns’ online bookstore features Crow Stalker, the Master of Crows. Written by Sons Four and Seven Blackclaw, the blurb promises insight to the life of crows and their true meaning. I order the book and pay additional for rush delivery.

Then I mouse around the website from section to section, printing what I want to read later until I’m finally exhausted from quick reading. I grab a cold beer and head back to the deck, but stop short of opening the door. I can see my neighbor’s cat tucked in the shadow of the umbrella, staring at the birdfeeder. Gracie and Joker are upstairs. I slide open the deck door in a loud rush and the cat leaps off the table. The familiar sound of the door also wakes up my dogs, but the cat wiggles its fat ass over the fence before my girls can get downstairs. ‘And stay out of here!’ I shout at it.

My iPad is under the umbrella where I left it, only now there is a plop of dirty-blueish bird shit on its touchscreen! It’s all caked and crusted. Pissed, I say under my breath, ‘How the hell did that happen?’ I take it to the kitchen sink to sponge off.

As I’m cleaning the iPad, a thought comes to me: This is Mr. Jeremy’s doing. He’s not pleased with me and Fred interfering with his deadly plans. I theorize, Crows are not strong enough to open a deer’s hide, even a fawn’s. They need the buzzard’s longer talons and stronger beaks for that. When my dogs won’t do.

Once clean, I swipe across the screen, only to see a low battery warning. I charge my iPad and go back out to get my phone. That’s when I notice the charm next to it.

It is sitting on top of the baggie.

How the hell? It was inside. I look at the Ziploc bag for scratch or bite marks. None. I say to myself, cat was on the table, but… the bird. This is crazy.

I take the charm to my desk and tuck it into a dark corner for safekeeping, and double-check to be sure the baggie is sealed.

I knock back the rest of my beer and go to the kitchen for another, and try to think of something else.

There are two missed calls and three text messages on my phone. All from my wife. I read her text messages. The first says, Steaks or burgers? Beer or not? The second says, I’m not mad at YOU, and the third, sent about an hour after that, says, two texts and two CALLS… sorry to be such a bother!

I don’t need to listen to the calls now.

Early evening, while preparing steaks on the back deck, and after my wife has had a couple of glasses of wine, she asks me, ‘Well? What did happen at the park this morning?’

But before I can say anything, her phone rings. She sees who’s calling and crosses her fingers, and says, ‘It’s Susan!’ Susan is our daughter-in-law, and I know what crossed fingers means in this case; Let’s hope she’s pregnant. I relay my love to Susan and Martin, then add, ‘Stakes will be ready in fifteen minutes.’ She takes her phone inside to talk.

Martin, our oldest, moved to Colorado after his company offered him the Northwest Region to manage. Only twenty-six and he’s already the Regional Logistics Manager for Canagra Feed and Seed. His star started to rise when he met Susan in their final year of college. They were married last summer, right before they moved away.

After the call, my wife finds me and says, ‘Well, not yet. Or, if so, she’s not saying.’

My wife answers questions not yet asked. Two can play this game. I say, ‘They both need to pay off their college loans first, dear.’

‘I suppose.’ Then she tells me, ‘Martin has a meeting in Chicago on the Monday before July Fourth, so he and Susan are coming in Thursday night and staying the weekend.’

‘Great! I can’t wait to see the old boy.’ I say behind a wide smile. I’ve only seen my son twice since their wedding and move.

‘Well?’ she says, as she pours herself another glass of wine. ‘What happened with the dogs this morning?’

I jump right to the chase and tell her how the second fawn got stuck in the swamp. ‘The dogs didn’t kill the fawn, dear. They led Fred and me to it and we saved it. That is what I was going to say but you wouldn’t let me. That’s why I got so mad. I’m sorry.’ All of which is true.

She’s mellow, and just gives me that all’s-forgiven look of hers.

But that’s not enough. I want a full-blown apology this time. I’ve had a few hours to think what to say, and a few beers to think about how to embellish it a little.

I leave out the part about the weed and the how the dogs swamped the fawn in the first place, but tell her how much Fred laughed at my Honey Buns boxers she bought me for Valentine’s Day. That uncorks a smile. Then I add, ‘I even got a boo-boo,’ and pat my ass. ‘I slipped on the boat launch carrying Joker into the lake and she was fighting with me all the way. But I had to be sure the dogs didn’t stink before letting them in the van. In case you needed the bigger car for church today.’ I snort. ‘But it was all worth it when we saw the little fawn reunite with its mommy.’

She’s wearing her long face now. I knew that would get her. Only, that last part’s not true; with the dogs leashed, the fawn bolted as soon as it was freed. Momma deer was nowhere in sight. But between my beers and her wines I make it sound heroic. I choke up for added effect, ‘Just the sight of that baby deer running up to its mommy! And, and its… its mommy licking it clean!’ Snort. ‘That’s what I wanted to say.’

She’s almost in tears and says, ‘I’m sorry’ – twice! – and promises to let me finish my own sentences from now on. I smile and tell her again that I’m sorry, too, and ask her if she’d like more wine.

Over dinner, she even apologizes to Gracie and Joker and gives each a thick chunk of steak right from her plate. Later that night, Honey Buns gets an apology, too.

***

 

I don’t use my iPad again until I get home from the park the next morning. I wanted to talk to Fred, but he wasn’t there. I wanted to see if there was any bird shit on his truck, too.

What comes up first on my iPad is usually whatever I was doing last. Not this time. The page that I’m staring at is one of the Seven Suns website’s interior pages that I visited yesterday – But that was on my office computer! My heart starts to race and my palms get sweaty as I now distinctly remember the warning that came up and blocked this website. How the hell did it get to an interior page? I catch my breath. And that warning! I suddenly recall not getting that same warning on my office computer. And the charm! I didn’t do that, either.

I look at the corner of my desk. The charm is right where I left it, only – again – it is sitting on top of the baggie! I fall into my chair and try to slow my heart and understand… What the hell is going on?

I look closer at my iPad. It’s one of the stories I printed yesterday to read today; Legend of Sun Breast. It’s about a crow that possesses a young Brave’s spirit. A spirit that cannot be bound.

 

Oh Dear, Deer!

 

Crow Story, Part Four.

 

Sunday morning dawns chilly for the first weekend of summer. Swift, sporadic clouds rush overhead as Fred, our four dogs, and I appear to have the park to ourselves. The wind blows predominantly out of the West and slaps our faces as soon we’re over the footbridge. We start down the trail that winds along the river. Gracie, Joker, Sadie and Taco all have their noses in the air as they lead our way past the football and the soccer fields and out onto the river trail. Sunshine dots and dashes along the spectator berm like nature’s Morse code.

I ask Fred if he called his cousin. ‘Playin phone-tag,’ he says.

I show him the charm, now in a baggie with the pouch of poo pourri. ‘This is what that crow dropped on my deck.’

Fred looks at it. Stops. Doesn’t take it or say anything, just lights up a joint. I put the charm back in my pocket.

We’ve done this before, smoked in the park when it’s just the two of us. I don’t think any more of it than he does. Marijuana can enhance your senses, especially when the sensations are created by Mother Nature. It can dull other senses, too, like being clued in to what your dogs are doing. Fred takes a hit then passes the joint to me. I fill my lungs until even my nostrils flair, then pass it back.

I pay only casual attention to Gracie with her nose high in the air and prancing left then right. All the other dogs start to mimic Gracie. She growls deep-throated and glances at me a few times. But Fred hands me the joint and I’m easily distracted. Fred starts to say something, but, just like that, Gracie bolts and the other three dogs follow her into the woods and out of sight.

Fred calls, ‘Sadie, Taco! Here!’

I give the joint back to Fred, ‘I’m done.’

We hear my dogs’ cowbells and their growling and barking but we can’t see them through the underbrush. Suddenly, a deer bolts from the woods and gallops past us, zigging and zagging across the soccer field. It goes over the spectator berm and out of sight. We both call our dogs, but another deer comes running out next. Short and lanky and still with its spots, it can’t run nearly as fast as its mother. It follows her scent over the berm. Fred’s Chihuahua comes out chasing the fawn. It’s hysterical and I start laughing, but Fred calls her off, ‘Taco! Here!’

We hear growling and snarling in the distance. Fred says, ‘She probably had two fawns.’

Humor gone, I say, ‘Had being the operative word!’ We fast-track it into the woods.

I don’t have much sympathy for baby deer – they just grow up to become car magnets – but I don’t like my dogs killing them. I say, ‘I just hope it isn’t another skunk, or worse; a porcupine.’

Fred puts Taco inside his jacket and we follow a deer-worn path through the woods and underbrush calling for our dogs.

It’s some minutes and we’re at least fifty to sixty yards deep before we see them walking out of the swamp with their tails tucked and ears down. Joker’s legs and underbelly are as black as Gracie’s natural coat, but there is no blood around her mouth. Sadie, tan, and tall as Gracie, isn’t nearly as bad. Gracie, you can’t tell at all without your nose.

Fred looks over Sadie and says, ‘Fawn maybe got away.’

We look and listen but do not see or hear anything dying or crying. I say, ‘Let’s get these girls in the lake before this shit turns crusty.’ We head for the L-shaped lake-with-no-name in the northeastern corner of the park. It’s about a half mile from here, as the crow flies. We finish the joint on the way.

Sadie and Gracie are already in the lake when we get there, but Joker is just standing on the shore. She was swept away in the river when she was a puppy and has never trusted deep water since. Taco walks along with us.

On this side of the lake, there is only the old public launch; a cinderblock-lattice slope of about twenty-degrees that these days disappears under mature lily pads. I take off my sneakers and socks and strip to my boxers. It looks like I picked the wrong day to wear my pink and green polka dots when I hear Fred laugh and say, ‘Your wife names your butt!’

Three homes on the far shore have a clear-if-distant view of me in my Honey Buns but I don’t care. I’ve done this twice before when I had to de-skunk Joker and I can now strip faster than a streaker. I put my sneakers back on.

I pick up the stinky, white dog and point her feet to the sky to keep most of the muck off me. I carry thirty-eight pounds of snub-nose protest wiggling and twisting into the water. Fred laughs and encourages the dog, ‘Go Joker! Go! You can do it!’ The launch is slimy and I lose my footing, slip and fall on my ass, but manage to keep a grip on Joker’s collar. With her rear feet on the cinderblocks, she calms down and starts licking my face. Her breath doesn’t stink, and that’s a good sign, too. I use one of my socks to scrub off as much swamp as I can. Thankfully, I find no bite marks or broken skin wounds on either Joker or Gracie, but Fred says that only confirms his second-fawn theory when I tell him that Sadie is clear of any marks, too.

Fred points to the sky over the swampy area. ‘Look.’

I turn to see two vultures circling barely tree-high. ‘Probably turkey buzzards,’ I say, and automatically scan the skies for crows. Then it dawns on me – vultures only eat carrion!

Fred says, ‘If they’re in the air, the fawn ain’t dead yet.’

Back in the parking lot, and with my shirt and pants back on, I dry off my dogs. Fred lets his dogs just jump right into his pickup’s cab. He says, ‘Fawn probably got stuck in the swamp,’ and rushes off.

I scan the skies again. Still no crows, but now there are three buzzards over the swamp and I realize Fred is probably right; fawn is probably laying on some slope, struggling between slippery logs where it can’t get traction to free itself. Digging its own grave. Maybe it broke a leg. Either way, it will soon die of exhaustion.

And that’s all my dogs’ fault!

This is that crow’s doing, somehow, I know it! And it doesn’t make me feel good at all.

Instead of heading straight home, I cross over the car bridge and drive past the soccer fields. Then out of that parking lot and onto the trail we walked earlier until I get the van as close as possible to the swamp. When I come around the last corner, I see Fred’s truck. Taco perks up in the back window, but Sadie must be with Fred.

I park behind the pickup, put Gracie on a short leash and tell both dogs, ‘Go find the fawn! Find Sadie!’

As we head into the woods, I call, ‘Fred!’ But before he responds, I hear three loud, harsh caws. I look up, see no crow, but hear it call again, angrily drawing out each caw. I up my middle finger to the sky.

 

End, Part Four.

Beautiful Day for a Murder

It’s early morning and I pile Gracie and Joker into the van and race the sunrise to the park, two miles West of here.

I don’t see any wildlife as I pull into the park entrance with my high beams on. The road winds past the fenced-in baseball field on the right and the lake on the left. No dogs are allowed in this part of the park. I open my window and the dogs and I sniff the air. Me, for skunks. Them, I’m not sure. I’ve caught lovers – and sleeping cops – this time of day, too, but this morning both the air and the parking lot are lacking any predawn drama. The eastern sky burns away the night as I drive to the far end of the parking lot and pick a spot closest to the footbridge. It looks like a magnificent sunrise is about to be born. Easily, this is my favorite time of day.

I use my mega beam flashlight to spotlight what I know will be the dog’s first stop; the holes under the bushes by the footbridge. Various wildlife use these holes because of their proximity to the river, so there are always fresh scents for the dogs to explore. There is nothing lurking around bushes that I can see from here so I trust my nose and let the dogs out, then follow them at a much slower pace.

As they run, their tags jingle like cowbells that act as an early warning system. That’s not by accident, and I use the flashlight to scan the tree line for beady red eyes or critters running away.

Suddenly my ballcap, which I wear backwards, flies off my head and I feel a breeze through my hair, but that was no gust of wind! My heart races as the silhouette of a large bird drops my hat from its claws then flaps up to the sky. I watch it turn around as the clouds set on fire, and I get excited.

Gracie and Joker start growling and I turn the flashlight just in time to see my white dog, Joker, dart down the bank towards another hole. I can’t see Gracie. I turn back to the sky to see the clouds turning from burnt-orange to bleeding-red, but no crow. It is one of the richest sunrises this summer and wish I could enjoy it. But I spot my hat and then shine the light around for Gracie.

Three loud shrills cry out from overhead.

I turn to see Fred in his pickup truck pulling into the parking lot, but no sign of the crow. Fred is usually the first one here. He owns two dogs, too; Sadie and Taco. Both are female and get along great with my dogs. Sadie’s tan and as big as Gracie. Taco is a Chihuahua.

The crow swoops just over my head and flies straight at Fred’s truck!

I flash back to when Fatso cut off the squirrels’ retreat in my backyard and suddenly have more concerned for that stupid bird than my dogs. I run towards the parking lot waving my hands and yelling, ‘Stop!’ thinking the crow doesn’t know a truck from a squirrel! Behind me, I hear cowbells and Gracie growling something fierce, but I keep running, shouting and waving my arms.

The crow soars only a foot or two over the truck’s cab then flies up. The sky is already fading to blue.

Fred stops, lowers the window and casually says, ‘What’s up?’ He looks over my shoulder, adds, ‘Oh.’

I turn to see Joker and Gracie playing tug-of-war with a critter! ‘Gracie! Joker! Stop that!’ Gracie growls louder. I shout louder and with more growl in my own voice, then take off towards them. After a few more calls, they come to me.

Fred’s dogs listen when he lets them out and tells them to heel.

I scold my dogs as soon as we’re back in the parking lot, then look them over for bite marks or scratches, and say to Fred, ‘Did you see that crow flying at your truck?’

‘Saw somethin out of the corner of my eye. I was watchin you wavin your hands an figured Joker got skunked again. But it looks like a rabbit from here.’ He reaches into the bed of his pickup and pulls out a five-gallon bucket. But before we can take a step, a few common crows fly in and start to feast on both halves of the rabbit, now separated by about ten feet. More crows are overhead. Fred says, ‘Watch this.’

Before he can sic Sadie, I grab his arm and tell him, ‘Don’t do that! That’s what the crow was trying to tell you!’ My voice sounds strange to me and I have no idea where the statement comes from, but I say it with certitude. ‘That crow got Gracie and Joker to kill it for them!’ I nod towards the massing crows. Fred stares at me.

Fred’s an old farm boy from Minnesota; a man of few words. He just nods back and lights a cigarette.

Sunlight is just hitting the taller trees as I tell him how Gracie and Joker killed a squirrel for the same fat crow that just attacked his truck, and how I let the crow feed it to its flock. How it took almost an hour. ‘Look at the dogs! Gracie and Joker were just that calm the first time, too.’

All but Taco are down on their haunches and ready to spring into action if necessary, but they’re just sitting on the grassy edge by the pavement with their ears up, watching the birds. Taco is at Fred’s feet. There is an entire murder of crows now, too many to count, coming from every direction.

Crows are not a quiet bunch when they eat, or friendly. More and more land and all ferociously fight each other off for a piece of rabbit. There seem to be more losers than winners with some crows stealing from others in midflight.

As morning breaks, a few more dog owners drive in and I tell each to leash their dogs and just watch.

When there is nothing left, the crows fly off as fast as they flew in.

As we walk up to the battlefield, I say to Fred, ‘You only got here, what? Fifteen, twenty minutes ago?’

‘Crows don’t waste time,’ Fred says as the dogs sniff and piss. We kick the rabbit’s head and a couple of attached bone-and-pelt bits into the river, they can be dinner for some other scavenger. Mother Nature will have to take care of blooded grounds, and there isn’t much else to clean up. We set off on our morning walk through the woods with four other folks and a half dozen other dogs.

Fred and I were the only ones who saw how the rabbit died and he agrees to play dumb. It’s not something I’m proud of. Not something you boast about, especially to other dog owners. After a few minutes, the ferocity of the crows and their dazzling aerobatics are old news, and conversations drift to other things.

Fred and I fall behind the others. While our dogs play and scout as dogs do, I tell him, ‘This is the third time that crow has paid me a visit.’ I tell him about the second time, when the crow dropped the charm on my deck. I make my wife the scapegoat and tell him the fact it arrived on the twenty-seventh anniversary of the date on the back freaked her out. ‘It had the name Jeremy on the other side.’ I don’t tell him what that meant to her, or how she deduced the date to be 05/??/1990.

‘Crow’s tellin ya his name,’ Fred says. ‘Greeks worshiped crows. Egyptians made em gods in the afterlife.’

I start to feel all sweaty under my long-sleeve tee and jeans even though it not even sixty degrees yet. I still haven’t told my wife, but after this morning, I’ve got to tell someone before I go crazy.

‘He talked to me, Fred. I heard someone say leave it and when I looked out my window there was only that big, fat crow. Just staring at me. I swear, he spoke to me. He told me three hours before the dogs killed the squirrel; he said leave it – twice! He knew what was coming!’

After a long pause, Fred says, ‘Crows can talk.’

‘I’ve read that. They can mimic certain words, but I didn’t say that first.’

We walk on in silence. Fred starts to chuckle, then says, ‘Tell ya somethin even funnier.’

I wonder if he thinks I’m making it all up.

He lights another cigarette, says, ‘When I waza kid, growin up on my uncle’s dairy farm in Minnesota, I once saw a lone wolf chase down and kill a sick ol moose. About an hour later, a pack of coyotes chased off the wolf. A while after that, dozens of buzzards chased off the coyotes an got that moose all to emselves. Until hundreds of crows attacked the buzzards, in waves, an chased em off. Crows are social in that kinda way, but once they got the moose all to emselves, it was each crow for emself. Just like we seen here.’ He chuckles, ‘I never heard of one crow feedin another. Maybe in a nest…’

We walk on without conversation. I’ve never known Fred to bullshit, but I feel like he’s playing One-Upmanshit with me. I don’t defend my position any stronger than, ‘Tomorrow, I’ll bring the charm.’

When we get back to the parking lot, Fred says, ‘Growin up, there use to be this ol boy, Indian guide, who talked crows into huntin for em an to bein lookouts for em. Remember seein em, maybe thirty years ago, walkin along a dirt road an sure enough, there’s crows flyin over em.’

‘I’ll look him up on the Internet,’ I say, sure I’m getting more upmanshit. ‘What’s his name?’

Fred shake his head, says, ‘Owe Cousin Tom a call, I’ll ask em.’ With that, he drives off.

Maybe he does believe me, I don’t care either way. I know what I saw, what I heard.

I use a tattered bath towel to dry off Gracie and Joker before I let them get in the van. As I do, I hear three quick caws. I turn expecting to see Fatso, but it’s only a small common crow up by the pagoda. He’s not even looking in this direction.

Driving back home, I realize Fatso knows our morning routine, too. I wonder how long he’s been watching me, watching my dogs. I mumble, ‘Smart bastard needs a better name than Fatso.’

Joker comes forward in the van and I say to her, ‘What about Alfred? Or Hitchcock? He’s every bit as smart as those birds.’ But further thought of those birds is chilling. Then I remember Fred’s comment; He’s tellin ya his name.

Jeremy

Part Two

It has been a few weeks since that fat crow swooped in and cut off the squirrels’ retreat from my dogs. After Gracie killed one of the squirrels, ‘Fatso’ crow proceeded to dismember it and dish it out to a murder of other crows. That’s right, a murder. Since that day, I’ve found out a lot about crows and that’s what a bunch of them are called; a murder. How fitting. I can’t think of anything more premeditated than what I witnessed last month.

I also learned that crows, in fact, do have a language. Three caws are thought to mean either all clear when they are short and crisp, or varying degrees of danger depending on the pitch, volume and the duration. Crows are thought to be monogamous, and generations live together in colonies in groves, like the patch behind my neighbor’s house.

All this I learned and mostly forgot since that episode, but for some reason it comes back to me today. I’m working on my computer but my mind keeps drifting. The windows are open and the morning sun warms my face when suddenly the sky goes dark for an instant and I catch a huge shadow cross my lawn. I look up but too late to see the bird who created it.

A minute later it happens again. I get up and go to the window just in time to see a fat, black bird land on the peak of my neighbor’s roof. It’s Fatso, he’s back, and my heart starts to race. I say to myself, I was just thinking of you.

It sits there and stares at me staring at it, bobbing its head all the while. It’s holding something in its beak.

I never did explore that area behind my neighbor’s house like I promised myself. For one thing, its private property and for another its largely swamp and underbrush. I look off in that direction now to see if there are more crows mulling about. I wonder if Fatso is planning another attack. I don’t see any other crows, but this one, remarkably, swoops down and lands on the birdfeeder fifteen feet from my window.

I can’t quite make out what’s in its beak. It keeps bobbing its head up and down as it looks at me first with one big brown eye and then the other. Its eyes look almost human.

It drops what its holding and the object pings against the planks. The bird flies off.

Staring at the object, I try to make out what it is and don’t notice the crow circle my house. Fatso breaks the sunlight again, and as it does the object seems to wink at me. The crow’s shadow is twenty-feet wide as it glides across the lawn. I hear three short, quick caws as it flies behind my neighbor’s house. Happy calls, if I remember right from my studies.

I rub my palms against my pants. From the window, I can only tell the object was once round and shiny.

Crows have been known to bring gifts to humans that feed them or leave out food for them. I wonder if that’s what this is. I’m thinking that Fatso, who a month ago got me to leave the dead squirrel so it could feed it to its colony, is now rewarding my good behavior. Good human, here’s your treat!

I go out to retrieve it.

It’s a charm. A bracelet’s charm with a broken loop attached to the cleft of a heart.

Dirty, bent and battered, it is hard to tell much else as I pick it up. There is writing on it, on both sides, but I can’t tell what it says. It stinks like a swamp and I take it to the sink to wash it off.

It must have been wherever the crow found it for a long time, judging by all the grime I work out with a nylon scrub brush. One side is engraved bolder than the other and I make out the name Jeremy. The other side is a date, but only the top portions of the middle numeric date are still there. Under stronger light and using a bit of numeral deduction I work it out to be either 5/23/1990 or 5/28/1990.

I take it to the kitchen table and sit. Jeremy? The name taps something in the back of my mind, but it is the date that has me excited; it could be exactly twenty-seven years ago… ‘Today! This is more than a coincidence,’ I say out loud.

I remember that feeling I had this morning; thinking about Fatso crow and then there he is. ‘This bird is playing with my mind.’ I go back outside to see if it is on my neighbor’s roof. I don’t see or hear it. Or any other crows.

Crows have the intelligence of a small primate but this goes way beyond that. I say, ‘How could a bird know a calendar? It has to be pure coincidence… and stop talking to yourself!’ Then add under my breath, ‘bird’s making me crazy.’ My heart for some odd reason is racing.

Jeremy? The name does mean something, but I can’t place what.

I put the charm on top of my wife’s mail. That way I’ll be sure to remember to tell her about what happened today, and four weeks ago. I still haven’t told her about the first episode. I don’t want to admit to her that I tried to talk to a crow, and anyway, she would not have been impressed with Gracie’s and Joker’s behavior that day… Once, after Gracie brought the head of a rabbit into the kitchen, she went after the dog with a broom! My wife is a nurse. She has no appreciation for battle trophies, or delusional husbands.

‘What’s this?’ she asks as soon as she gets home, picking up the charm. She reads the name. ‘Jeremy?’

‘That came special delivery,’ I say. ‘Read the date.’

‘Special delivery?’ She turns it over. ‘What’s the date? I can’t read it. Who sent it?’

‘It’s today’s date. May 23rd, only 1990. Or maybe it’s the 28th; it’s hard to tell. A crow dropped it off.’

She looks at me.

‘Seriously,’ I say. ‘A crow literally dropped it off.’ She rolls her eyes.

I tell her about the shadow, the crow staring at me from the birdfeeder, and how it dropped the charm on the deck. But I decide not to tell her about last month’s episode as her expression changes from her cute dear to curious to something else entirely.

She clutches her fist around the charm until her knuckles turn white and she says, ‘Jeremy,’ with a look in her eyes that I’ve only seen two or three times. The last time was the day her sister passed after a long illness. It is the look of closure, the look of final resolve; there is nothing more she, or any nurse, can do.

She starts to break down and cry and I go to her and hug her but not understanding. I can only think she must have a patient with that name. She calms down in my arms, then says after a moment, ‘You don’t remember?’ She backs away and looks at me with steel-grey eyes torn red at the seams. ‘Jeremy? Julia?’

Suddenly, I do remember!

The second name triggers it; Jeremy was going to be the name of our first-born, or Julia, if it was a girl. We made that decision on our Honeymoon in the summer of ’89, right after my wife told me she was pregnant.

She turns over the charm and says, ‘those middle two aren’t numbers, they’re question marks.’

I flash back to a store we stopped at outside of Las Vegas, where we bought a pair of fluffy baby booties. Seamed together, one shoe was pink and the other was blue with ‘Las Vegas’ stitched in red across the toes. It was specifically designed for expecting couples like us. We had the names ‘Jeremy’ and ‘Julia’ stitched on the sides, and we hung them from the car’s rearview mirror for the rest of our Honeymoon.

But our first-born was not born. My wife had a miscarriage a day or two after we got home.

Coming at the end of a fantastic three-month, 5,000-mile long honeymoon, and eager to start a family, it felt like someone turned off the perfect picture show in mid-frame.

We vowed to try again, and not to use either name after that.

We couldn’t know the sex of the child that soon, but we did work out an approximate due date. My wife had them stitch the heels of the booties with 05/??/1990.