Story of the Month

The Crow War of Willows BeachFullSizeRender_7

‘Crow War’ was published in Fiction River’s Anthology number 19 Haunted, edited by Kerrie L Hughes.  It is the origin story for a YA book I hope soon to write once I have finished revisions on Truth-Seer, my epic fantasy. Crows and ravens have always fascinated me, none no more than the very clever crows who really do haunt the real Willows Beach in Victoria, British Columbia. Also available through Amazon. Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.

 

 

THE CROW WAR OF WILLOWS BEACH

 

No seagulls, just crows, lots and lots of very smart crows. Sue remembered the PowWow here last summer and the scruffty, bent-beaked crow that had cleverly tried to tease a chip bag out from under her arm when she and her little sister, Lake, were sitting in the sun at that picnic table over there. Why were there no gulls? Lake had said she figured the crows had taken the beach for their own and that they could actually gang up on the gulls and chase them away. But were the crows that strong even against much bigger gulls?

Were they a family like the one she’d just lost?

Sue wondered this idly, like somebody else’s brain was talking to her as she picked her way over the tide-rippled sand and the wind blasted driftwood at Willows Beach. White as bones they were, smelling of salt and kelp and the winter. Even for a West Coast winter it was bitter here. The wind had demons in it. Her long black hair twisted across her eyes smearing the ice-cold tears that hadn’t yet dried.

Lake was gone and Joey, her big brother, and Mom.

Sue hadn’t been in the old Civic that had blown a tire and collided with a hippie waggon on the narrowest neck of the Malahat. Painted wreckage all over the road. No survivors in either vehicle.

She was left. (if that’s what you called this half-life.) At thirteen her grades had tumbled; she felt like nothing more than aches and bones. A misfit. Not really in her own skin anymore.

They’d held the ceremony in Cowichan, down by the water. Back on the 21st of September. Calling on Creator to take her family and transform them.

Now it was winter in every way. Nothing to the days. Nights forever long. Yesterday, she’d started to bleed. Today she hurt inside like a knife was cutting her. Today it felt like it would always be that way.

She looked back over her shoulder at the squat figure sitting on the last bench before the sand started, far enough back not to hear her. ‘Auntie’ Judy was deliberately not watching her. “Walk,” the Elder had said to Sue. “Let the spirits take you, Little Crow. Your first bleeding is important. Powerful.”

Old Judy had deliberately brought her here against her will and turned her loose.

Your first bleeding is important.

For whom? Sue wondered, kicking sand, looking south toward the San Juans and the glimmering white cone of Mt Baker. Worlds away. Worlds with dark crows flying across.

“Hi.”

Sue spun. She hadn’t seen the kid in the crook of the big pile of logs. A pile that hid him entirely from Auntie Judy.

Young. White. Alone.

Was he living here? And why? What was he running from? He was a street kid. That she could tell from the sandy sneakers frayed at the toes. The ugly, ragged, mud-green “Christmas” sweater that covered him from chin to knees. Something from the Goodwill trash bin. The mess of clothes-layers beneath this monstrosity made him look stuffed. All except for his pinched and chapped-looking face. He was sitting on a flattened cardboard box, knees bent and feet tucked right back to his butt. There was a grocery bag behind him, with what looked like a bunch of bottles and jars of stuff in it. Also what looked like some rolled-up bedding. A crow was sitting on the topmost log above him, head cocked, wind ruffling its feathers.

Sue stopped. She knew she shouldn’t, but she did. It was the book he’d been reading that did it. Now, his mittoned finger was shoved between the pages to mark where he’d left off. A tattered thing, but she recognized the bright red cover. She’d just finished studying it in school. One of the few things that had taken her mind off everything else. But if he was a street kid, he couldn’t be reading this for school, could he?

“You’re new,” he said, interrupting her thoughts, his voice light. Still a boy’s. “Welcome to my home by the sea.”

An icy shiver ran down her spine. Sue hugged herself with her arms, but she stayed put. Where she was standing, Auntie Judy couldn’t see her now.

“They won’t let you live down here,” she told him. It seemed the right thing to do. To warn him before he got burrowed in still more. “Somebody will see you; somebody will report you.”

“I’m not living here,” he said.

Now that was an obvious lie. He’d just called this his home by the sea. She put down her chin and stared at him.

“And anyway, this is reserve land,” he added. “Will you report me?”

“I won’t, but somebody might, if they see you from a boat or something. They’ll report you to child services.”

“No they won’t,” he said, raising his left hand. (the one not holding the book). Taking this as a sign, the crow hopped along the log and flapped down to perch on his mittoned forefinger. It scrakked officiously at Sue and fixed her with its beady, determined stare as if to back up the boy’s comment. Its tail feathers bobbed up and down and so did its beaky head, like it was bowing.

She laughed. “So, I’m supposed to believe you, Mr. Crow?

“His name’s Waldo.”

She looked closer at the crow. It was a healty specimen. Almost as big as a raven. “Like, Where’s Waldo?”

“Yeah. So he told me. You wanna hold him?”

“No,” she said and meant it.

This one looked friendly. Like the crow that had tried to steal her chips, it had a bent sideways beak. The same one then—but crows were totally tricksters. Not to be trusted. Ever. If they pecked you, their beaks (even bent ones) would draw blood, blind you maybe, certainly make you sick. Besides, crows had a lot of tradition. A lot of dark stuff. Crows could go into death and come back out.

“He won’t hurt you. I promise.”

She shook her head and took a step backward. That icy gust of wind hit her again. “How do you know that? Did you and him come to some agreement?”

The kid saw her hesitate. Something in the way he was staring at her now, made her step back still more. It was time to leave. All of a sudden, Sue didn’t like the fact Auntie Judy was out of sight. All she needed to do was step back toward the water another five paces and everything would be ok.

But all of a sudden her neck started to itch and her legs stopped moving. The kid’s eyes weren’t looking at her anymore. He was staring behind her and what he was staring at was creeping him out.

A scream welled up inside her, but it wouldn’t come out. There was something right behind her. She could feel it.

The kid put down the bright red book slowly, carefully.

“Don’t turn around. Take my hand,” he said, reaching toward her. His voice told her everything. Whatever had crept up behind her was something pretty bad. She heard this rattling noise that sounded like the biggest snake ever. There was something behind her that would make the Elders scream. Her people had a story about a three-faced snake-monster. It had heads on each end, top and tail, and a human face in its belly, if you looked at the eyes in either of its heads, it froze you stiff.

Sue stopped breathing. Was there a Sisiutl behind her right now?

She didn’t want to go toward this kid. This weird street kid who didn’t belong here. What was he really doing here, and what was she? Suddenly him and the crow felt bad, powerful and terrifying. They stood for something she couldn’t explain.  But what was behind her was worse. There was no Aunty Judy to call for help. There was no way back. She was caught now, between the thing behind her and this boy and this crow.

“Just walk toward us,” he said. “Choose.”

She had no choice really. She did as he asked.

She took his hand and suddenly everything changed. She was riding shotgun in a Volkswagon bus reading THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. She was just at the part where Holden is riding that merry-go-round thing and having one of his thinks. It’s getting dark. She/he is with dad and all of a sudden he/she isn’t. There’s this flash of light, there’s this screaming and this loud buzzing and all of a sudden he’s here…and she’s back in her own body, the crow flaps to her shoulder, her hand is still in the kid’s mittened one and she turns…

It feels like she’s turning through a world made of jelly. The air is so heavy. She feels the tickle of the bird at her neck. Sharp claws, soft feathers. She feels the boy stand up beside her. He squeezes her hand through his rough mittens. She can’t feel his skin, but that doesn’t matter. He’s real. He’s alive.

Her stomach cramps like she’s being gutted. She looks at the things coming for her. These are no Sisiutl. No, these are Soulcatchers—huge man-beings, twice the height of a normal person, yet wide and squat and white as ash. Their mask-like faces are frozen in hungry snarls, bloody and bared. There are at least thirty of them crowding the beach between her and the water, and anything safe.

Those mouths can eat her flesh—and so can the mouths in their clawed hands—and the ones in that other face on their bellies. She doesn’t scream, she doesn’t know why, because she totally feels like it, but her throat is dead.

“I’m here,” says the kid in a tone that warms her. “You’re not alone.”

She keeps hold of his hand. It makes her feel stronger.

The Soulcatcher leader lumbers towards her like a moving hill. His coarse white hair is knotted on top and speared through with a long bone. He’s the biggest of them all. In his clawed white fingers is a rattle which shakes out a scary buzzing noise. It’s a round white drum on a stick, and the noise-makers are babies’ skulls attached by pieces of sinew.

He’s naked like the others and big-bellied with stumpy legs and bare feet with knobbled horny toenails. So gross in the belly she can’t tell if he has parts under there or not. But there’s another face grinning out of its paunchy center right where his belly-button should be. A hungry face into which the world could vanish.

“What do you want?” she says to him. Her voice comes in a drowned way. It’s a low, slow mutter like it’s passing through jelly. The mouth in his belly opens so she can see his intestines squirming inside him, plus a long red tongue that darts in and out. It flicks here and there like it has a brain of its own.

“You,” he roars, and shakes his rattle after. “You are ours.” His glutinous bellow freezes her to the sand. Her heart flutters like a dying bird. How can she fight him? She doesn’t know how.

The Soulcatcher’s long belly-tongue poises just inches from her face. Oh, Creator, what’s inside him stinks worse than a whole river full of dead salmon!

She cringes away, terrified.

“Why her?” says the kid suddenly. “And how come there’s so many of you big dicks here, when there’s only one of her?”

There’s a snarl and a sucking noise as the Soulcatcher pulls in that stinking tongue. “You’re not supposed to be here.” The belly-face glares at the kid. Still terrible, still hungry, but not as overpowering.

She feels the kid shrug, his fingers still in hers, neither warm nor cold. “Well I am. Guess there’s a reason for everything. Me and Waldo are standing by her, you got that?” She almost laughs as the crow launches itself off her shoulder and flies away.

Oh, thanks a heap, Waldo. We’re outnumbered by cannibals thirty-to-three, and you do what crows do. You ditch!

But she’s not frozen now. She can breathe again. She’s grateful for the kid’s brave show. He has guts. Somehow hanging on to him counts for a lot. He smells good. Not like a street kid at all. In fact, he smells like incense. She doesn’t dare let go of him—

Again, there’s this brilliant flash of light. She hears a shriek like the squeal of tires, a deafening crash, like thunder. Her eardrums rattle. Everything speeds up for a second, like the world is cracking to pieces. Then she’s back here in this sluggy world, this slow-mo place, but she knows what happened. The knowledge smacks her in the head.

“There. Was. An. Accident. There’s. A. Crack. In. The. World.” She has to force out the words. Ugh! It’s like plowing through mud.

“We. Cracked. The. World. Not. You!” The angry Soulcatcher jerks back and forth through the thick air. “Your. Knowledge. Is. Useless.”

“Yeah?” The kid’s voice cuts through the pasty air like a blade. “Then I repeat, what do you need us for, you bastard?”

“Power!” The creature lunges at Sue without warning, the rot-filled maw in his belly gaping wide. He moves slow, but she is slower. She screams and tries to leap, but the air slams into her like a wet ceremonial blanket.

Not so the kid. He pulls her with him. The force sends her reeling. She lands like a puppet right into a heap of seaweed and flotsam. Her hands are in the slimy mess, covered with pulp, bits of old rope, sandpapery flakes of mika and tiny rocks. Her fingers are cut by pieces of sharp driftwood. Now she’s bleeding in more than one place. This was once Willows Beach, now it’s a battle ground. She doesn’t know why she and this kid are caught in this crack between worlds but they’re failing.

The other Soulcatchers stalk toward her, a wall of hungry ghouls. She can’t get away; this isn’t her world. They’re stronger than she is, bigger than she is. And once they eat her, what then? Their leader turns to face her. She and the kid are trapped. The setting sun shines on the mica chips in the sand, washing the beach with sparks of magic.

Mica? Is this really mica, she thinks, or are these the scales of a real Sisiutl? Only a Sisiutl could fight these monsters. Only a Sisiutl could keep others from falling through this crack in the world.

Hundreds of crows converge on the beach as they had on the day of the Pow Wow. Clustering in one big murder like a family planning to drive off any offending gull. But it’s not gulls they’re after now.

They swoop, even as the Soulcatchers move in on her. All of their mouths open wide to pull and tear and devour. They swipe at the crows. The frightened crows screel and dart away, all but a few just a little too slow. These ones the Soulcatchers claw out of the air and crunch to pieces black feathers and all. There are screams now all around her. The screams are human.

These aren’t really crows! They’re spirits! Again the hand of Knowledge slaps her. She remembers a saying of the Dalai Lama: “If you think something small has no effect try sleeping with a mosquito.”

Now I have to be a mosquito. One who’s going to get swatted!

“Get up!” she says to the kid. “Take sand.”

As the sun hits the horizon the air thins, freshens. The wind changes.

“Sand?” he says letting go of her. “What’s with the sand?”

“There’s mica in it. I’m going to call up a Sisiutl.

“What in sweet hey is a Siss E ull?” he says.

Something that will kill me, she thinks. But it will be a good death not a bad one.

She doesn’t tell him this. Instead, she looks at the sand in her bleeding hands. Blood mixes with it. Her own life blood. She bites hard into her tongue and draws more still. Past the pain she spits blood and saliva into the sand she holds. She chants to herself as she faces the Soulcatchers.

I summon you, Warrior Spirit, Wasgo! On this edge of day and night. I summon you with all that is in me, with the truth that all will die, even you, if this crack in the world is not healed. The world is in torment. It will get worse unless somebody stops it. I am a girl at the time of my first moon’s blood. If this is power take it. I give it all in return for your help.

She holds the sand still glittering with in her hand just as the daylight goes.

The light fails. I’m all alone. I have to try. Momma, Joey, Lake, I’m coming…

The Soulcatchers reach her, their long tongues grope and twist. Around her and the kid an overpowering smell of death and decay, and something worse. Hopelessness.

“Hold on to me and do as I do,” she tells him.

“Holy shheee…” His eyes are huge, like he sees something she can’t. “I can’t.”

“Hand! Now!” she roars.

He grabs her hand hard, squeezing his own fistful of sand in the other.

Making a great arc, she throws the sand high, so it splatters all of them. The kid flings up his hand and does the same. The move accomplishes nothing. Except to fill their hair with sand, and get in their eyes, or so she thinks.

The Soulcatchers pause for only one surprised breath, startled by the shower of sand, then they keep coming. Yet something has changed. She blinks hard through her smarting eyes. She can’t see well, and it’s dark now, but she can see as though through other eyes. A tribe of hoots and hollers shatters the twilight.

She hasn’t called up a Sisiutl. She’s called the Crows. Where once there were hundreds of wheeling crows between her and the Soulcatchers now there are human-looking spirits, boys and girls no more than a year or so older or younger than her. All shapes, all nations. There’s so many. All of them dressed in black. They are ready to do battle. Where once they had wings, now they have branches of hemlock and holly switching them hard and clacking their tongues against their teeth. They thrash these branch-whips back and forth as they rush at the Soulcatchers. At their forefront is a tall, lanky young fellow—a Crow Captain—with a bent sideways nose and death in his grin.

Yet the Soulcatchers are strong. Her heart knows this. These are still only branches and slim ones at that and these young spirit warriors will fall. They must not fail, these brave young crows and their lanky Captain. She knows now they’ve been here a long long time, upon this beach, protecting this world.

“Do it. Take them!” She cries out. “Do it. Take them. Use claws, use hearts. I am with you.”

Willing them her heart’s blood, her life, everything she is, Sue wishes them Power.

Power builds in her and flows from her, from the tears in her eyes and the heat of her face from the roar of her mouth and the crest on both her heads.

“Ohhhh,” screams the street kid, like he’s snowboarding down a slope. Still holding to her hand, he cringes as something huge thrusts itself around them. It pulls them both forward as though on wings. About them sweeps a mantle of feathers. They begin to spin, not anchored to the sand any longer. With them comes a smell like deepest ocean and something deeper still than that. A wakening. A yearning.

Now the Soulcatchers do stop. So do the Crows. They watch as in her spinning she becomes conscious of the two great crested heads upon the Being wrapped around her. It searches for her but instead it looks into its own great eyes and in those eyes sees Truth.

It seems she has called the Sisiutl after all.

Within its arms she has Power because she and this magical Being are of one mind. The boughs those young Crows hold can be deadly weapons if she makes them so. The holly boughs can become magic knives, each leaf diamond-sharp. The Juniper boughs can become flails, every needle laced with acid.

Still within the arms of Sisiutl, Sue flings this Power at the weapons of the Crows, and as she wishes, so it is. With screams of triumph they charge the Soulcatchers like a dark flood against a wall of ash.

#

When Sue returned to her own mind and body and her own world, she was covered with filth, and she stank like a dog that had rolled in rotten meat. There was no sign of the Soulcatchers, the young Spirits had transformed back to crow shape and flown off to roost somewhere, and it was really, really dark now. The wind was blowing down from the land, and from the grass hills and the belt of trees that separated the Res from the Beach. She thought about what had just happened as she walked back up the beach to where she’d left Aunty Judy. So much had changed.

She’d taken the worst of the carnage. Though all the Crows and her friend the street kid had fought as well as any of those guys she’d seen in the movies.

They’d all fought as one after the great Sisiutl had set her free. Her and the street kid both picked up big sticks and had gone at the Soulcatchers like two arms on one body. Her stick had broken immediately, being a silly piece of wood. Even so, the Soulcatchers had quailed from her in surprised fear, for around her still danced the remainder of the Sisiutl’s power.

Seeing she was weaponless, the gawky bent-nosed young Crow Captain had thrown her one of his deadly branches. When the street kid’s stick busted, an Asian girl with no hair tossed him a holly branch.

They’d all waded in like a clan, hacking at the Soulcatchers in a fury, seeing flesh fly and great wounds open. Two of the Soulcatchers fell into smoking pieces and melted into the sand. Many more were flayed and wounded. Crow Children also fell. Some eaten and some dragged screaming into nothingness. Rage at this misery possessed Sue as never before. She hacked at ignorance and the destruction of youth, at meaningless torture, at senseless war, at greed, at blind fanaticism, at misery, at poverty, at chaos and evil. She hardly knew when the monsters fled back to the darkness they’d come from. She only knew she was more exhausted than she’d ever been in her life, and that for the first time she wanted to live!

“You did pretty good,” said the gangly Crow Captain coming up to her as her branch dropped out of her nerveless fingers. He held out his hand. Blood streaked his pale features. She looked at his hand like she didn’t know what to do with it. She was gasping so hard her heart felt like it was going to leap out of her chest.

She could see him easily. Now those Soulcatchers had fled, the night didn’t seem so dark. There was a lopsided moon, just off the full and the whole of Willows glimmered like white dust. It looked like  a normal beach. Even the remains of the battle had gone. It felt like they were only one step away from the real world now. The Willows she knew.

“We’re going to change back soon. I want to thank you.” The Crow Captain kept his hand out. It was as steady as a rock. The palm a dusty white. None of these daredevil kids in their black clothes was dressed for the winter.

They’re crows! She reminded herself. Crows never seem to mind the cold.

“Who are you?” she asked the Crow Captain.

“My name is Waldo,” he said, still offering his hand.

Of course.

“You’re the one who tried to steal my chips,” she said, like an idiot.

He laughed. It was a good laugh. “I was checking you out. We’ve all been waiting for you for a long time, you know. Us and the Soulcatchers too.”

“Me?” she said. “Are you kidding?”

“What you did today, calling up that huge crested serpent? It curved around you like a cape! I’ve never seen anything like that. No wonder the Soulcatchers want your power.”

“It’s called a Sisiutl,” she told him.

“Whatever it’s called, it was big, and it was bad, and it kicked ass. This isn’t a one-day war, in case you didn’t know. Until you came it was getting worse and we were losing. Barely getting those monsters to retreat, and only then after great loss. Are you going to shake my hand, girl, or are you going to wait until it drops off?”

She had to laugh. Fighting with Waldo and the street kid beside her—it felt good. White or not, these were guys who’d stand by her through anything. “Ok.” She took Waldo’s big hand in hers and shook it. The icy feel of it sent shivers all through her.

I’m shaking the hand of a Spirit.

“Thank you, Sue,” he said, letting her go.

She gave a sharp nod. Anything else and she was going to cry. She hadn’t cried when—when the accident happened—but in touching Waldo? There was something so hard about him and the others. Something desperate and sad. A lot of them had been lost tonight.

She didn’t even ask him how come he knew her name. Everybody knew her name down on this beach. As a crow, he must have heard it called out a million times. What she needed to know was what was going to happen next?

“We didn’t do it, did we?” she asked him. “Close the crack in the world, I mean? We got rid of the Soulcatchers for a month, but they’ll come back, won’t they?”

He nodded. “ They will and worse. As the battle gets fiercer, if that crack opens further, as the trouble in the real world seems to show that it is, then still more evil will come through. That’s why we’re here, me and all these other Crows. When we died, we were given the chance to come here and fight. Fight first. Close the crack in the world second, if we ever get to that part. Willows is a sacred place. One where kids like us, those on the edge of adulthood and just coming into our most powerful time can make a difference. I’ve been here the longest. A lot of us got eaten tonight and next month still more. This is the first time we’ve had a win in forever. That we’ve actually taken some of those Soulcatchers out. We hacked some up and killed a couple. That’s thanks to you.”

Sue opened her mouth to say more, but the street kid (who’s name she still didn’t know) jumped in.

“But we’re not dead!”

“Yes you are, man,” said Waldo. “By the way, what is your name?”

“It’s Ralph.”

“Ok, good, Ralph it is. Can’t keep going calling you ‘dude’ or something equally stupid the whole time can I? The fact is, Ralph, Sue here isn’t dead, but the rest of us are. I’m hoping she’ll agree to be our Shaman, which means she doesn’t need to be dead, which is why those Soulcatchers wanted her so bad,” said Waldo offering his hand. “You’ve got the same offer the rest of us got or you wouldn’t be here.”

“I can’t be dead,” said Ralph, shaking Waldo’s hand in a daze. “No! Dad’s just back there. We don’t live here. I’m not!” Now he looked like he was on the edge of tears. Sue knew exactly how he felt.

“But you are dead, Ralph,” said Sue, understanding now. “When I grabbed your hand at first, I saw something. You and your dad. You were in a Volkswagon bus weren’t you? You were reading that book. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE.”

He stiffened and looked over toward the place among the logs where he’d been sitting. “How do you know that?”

“I tell you, I saw what happened when I touched you. And then again later when I realized the world had cracked. I got the two confused. I figured what I’d seen was because the world was cracked, but it was more than that. You died. I felt it. I saw what happened to you.”

“Not true,” he denied her pointing toward the trees. “The bus is up there. Dad’s up there.”

“No he isn’t, she insisted, trying to make him understand. Part of this was about making him understand. It was a hippie waggon—“ She slammed to a stop like she’d just been hit in the chest. “Oh My God!”

Waldo stepped up to her and put a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“That was YOU,” she said to Ralph her eyes stinging. “You’re the bus my family hit—when, when—“

Waldo took over. “Nobody walked away from that one, at least not in their earthly bodies they didn’t. The Civic and the Bus? They were both wrecked. But the ones who died? They went on. We all go on. You’re here, Ralph. This is your path, if you choose it. If you choose to join this battle with us. You’ve got what it takes. I saw that tonight. But you can bow out if you want. Go join your dad. Accept you’re dead and go into the Light. Just understand this fight we’re in? Its for him too and Sue’s family. It isn’t just the good folks in the world we’re fighting to save; it’s the dead ones too.”

Ralph looked at them all, like a deer caught by the high beams. It was taking him some time to process it all. He was tall, but Sue figured he was even younger than she was.

Ralph was processing what had really happened. Sue saw it in his eyes. She tried to imagine how hard it must have been. The shock of being thrown out so fast. He was like the other side of her. She hadn’t come to terms with it all either, even though she’d been left on this side.

But she knew what choice she’d made. If she was their Shaman, no matter the odds, she was in this fight, for Lake, for Joey and for Mom. Yeah and for Ralph’s dad too, who had to be a pretty good guy if he’d raised a kid like Ralph.

“Is your Mom going to miss you?” she said.

“I, I guess so.” Ralph shook his head as understanding dawned. “She died of Cancer,” he said. “I guess now she must be with…,” he swallowed, “….with Dad.” He looked at them all and nodded with that same bright stare Sue had first noticed in him.

“Are you with us, Ralph? Are you ready to become a Crow?”

Ralph looked up the beach. He took one more look longingly at the trees and he nodded. His face hardened. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

A cheer went up from all the Crows. “To next month!” cried Waldo.

“Right.” Ralph looked shell-shocked. He looked down at himself as his ugly sweater vanished, along with the illusion of all his earthly clothes—the remainders of what he’d worn in life. He wore black clothing now. Black shirt, black jeans, black shoes. He’d accepted Crowhood. He was part of a murder and they were out to murder Evil.

“You’ll get used to it, bro. Trust me,” said Waldo. “Are you sure, Sue? Will you lead us? You don’t need to be dead. With you, I think maybe more of us will survive.”

“When those monsters showed up? They wanted to get rid of me fast. It didn’t work. Yeah, of course I’m in,” she said. She knew as she said it that what they’d seen tonight was only the start. She didn’t care. She had a purpose now that went beyond anything she’d ever dreamed she could do. She could go home.

#

Aunty Judy didn’t ask her where she’d been, even though now it was truly dark. She didn’t even wrinkle her nose at the smell that came off Sue. She was still sitting quietly and serenely on the bench where Sue had left her, bundled up in her heavy coat and that beacon blanket she always wore. As Sue came up to her she could almost see a waver in the air. Three wavers, really, as if three people stood close by watching, before they vanished with approval into the night.

“Hi,” she said to the Elder.

“Hi, Little Crow,” said Aunt Judy. “It’s time to go home.”

 

 

 

 

 

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