Daisy stared at the birds, wondering how they could possibly show her anything. They were just birds, she told herself. And she was just a girl with a sleep disorder.
“Let go,” Caleb whispered in her ear, startling her with his closeness and the way his voice tickled her skin.
She closed her eyes, controlled her breathing, and steadied her heartbeat. She could feel the eyes of every bird, but instead of weighing her down, she felt lifted. She felt like she could perch beside them and be accepted as one of them. When she opened her eyes, she was met with Caleb’s smile.
She remembered everything.
It began in the spring, when the elm was newly stripped and the crows were dark lumps on its charred branches. Instead of going through the yards on her way to school, Daisy gave the old tree a wide berth. The early morning air was cutting and it would have been faster to pass through Caleb’s yard, but it wasn’t worth it to walk beneath the old bones of the tree.
So when she paused and held out her hand to feel for rain, she should have noticed how odd it was that an elm seed landed in the center of her palm. At the time, it had only been a strange irritation. And as she closed her fingers around the seed’s delicate skirt, a crow said caw.
That was the first night she’d woken in the forest with nothing on but her old Muppet Show t-shirt and sweats that weren’t meant for outdoor use. But now she also knew that it was the first night she’d stood outside a circle of crows.
They flew one after another, beak to tail to beak, all of them diving forward and falling back. Each night it was the same; crows flying in a constant circle. At first, there were only twenty, but over the summer more had come. And more and more until there had been so many Daisy couldn’t see to tell them apart. They flew in a ring. The only noise about them was the beating of their feathers and the rush of wind.
Sometimes she would close her eyes and the sound of their flight, the feel of their passing, gave her the sense of flying with them. And sometimes she would stare until they were nothing but a smear black in the moonlight. She always stayed: to watch, to listen, and to protect them as they focused on the task at hand.
But even now she didn’t know what that task was. Caleb’s smile was pleased by also devious when she turned her face back to him.
“Good,” he said and he squinted up at the rising sun. The light fell in streaks across his face, revealing and hiding in equal parts. “Tonight will be the last.”
* * *
That night, Daisy woke to the caw, caw, caw of a crow just outside her window. She was already prepared for a night out in the elements, but she grabbed a hoodie from the back of her desk chair before moving silently through the house and out the back door. It was more than a little amazing to think that she’d done this so well in her sleep that neither of her parents had caught on. That either said something about her future as a spy or her parents’ anti-anxiety meds.
Her breath came in short, white puffs as she jogged around to the front of her house. She’d expected to find Caleb waiting for her by the lurching elm, but there were only crows and the cold quiet of night.
A single crow jumped into the air, its wings spread wide, and glided into the forest. The others followed, one by one like bows on a kite string.
Daisy followed and even though they soon disappeared in the shadows, she knew where to go. She could find it in her sleep, she thought wryly.
The clearing wasn’t far from the place she and Caleb had visited earlier in the day. Just behind the small creek and through a copse of old, gnarled elms, she emerged from the shadowed woods to find the clearing full of moonlight and more crows than she’d ever seen in one place. They stood at irregular intervals, each one a dark star against the grass, and each one looking at her.
Daisy didn’t move. Mostly because there was no clear pathway ahead of her and she wasn’t prepared for kicking crows, but partly because she knew it wasn’t time.
In the center of the clearing, a pale figure crouched. His head hung down and, Daisy realized, he was stark naked. Without seeing his face, she knew it was Caleb. She started to call out, to make sure he was okay, but he lifted his head and stood.
The crows all leapt into the air. They darted toward him, beating their wings furiously to gain speed, diving over and over each other to be the first to reach him. Daisy ran after them, trying to keep him in her sight, suddenly aware of what was about to happen. The crows flew and she ran, but the crows were faster. They swept around him in a continuous ring. Their wings thundering through the air and blotting him from her view.
She reached out, pulling back in pain. Blood in her palm where a beak cut it open. She cried out, “Caleb! Caleb!” But there was no response except for the beating of wings and the shushing of air.
When it was over, the birds slowed in their circle and landed all around her. Caleb was nowhere to be found. In his place, standing on a pile of his old clothes, was a crow.
* * *
The first streaks of dawn were climbing from the horizon when Daisy left the forest. She felt the crows settle into the sagging branches of the elm. There was one more now, than there had been before. Not that anyone but her would notice.
She jogged the short distance to her doorstep and paused to glance back at the dark shapes in the tree. They were waiting for her. She knew. It thrummed in her like wingbeat. Come play. Come play. Come play.
She turned the knob and pushed the door open just a hair. “Soon,” she said, and closed the door behind her.
Thank you for reading! We'll be taking next week off to chow on some Turkey, but we'll be back on Monday the 28th when Lacey will kick off a new Tangle.
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