Story by Pippa Lewis, illustration by BH Hawkins as part of the 52 Crows project.
I don’t feel like myself today. I feel … insubstantial, ephemeral, temporary. Like dandelion seeds or a butterfly wing, a breath of wind could carry me away – across the broken ground, the cliffs and the grey-green sea, towards the horizon. The sun rests low in the sky – a winter sun, more like its moon sister than the yellow fireball of summer. Its light has a glitter that I’ve never seen, all colours and no colours, and every colour in between.
It occurs to me that I don’t know why I’m here, or even where I am, and I wonder whether to be afraid. And then I see the crow.
Watching me from a fence post, with eyes bright black and head on one side. I move toward it, thinking it will fly. Instead it winks, and hops to the next post. Something dangles from its beak, something shiny and the size of a marble, or an acorn. Something familiar.
The crow moves and I’m compelled to follow. It moves I follow. Crow, me. Following. It should seem strange, that a crow has singled me out, but it isn’t strange at all. Across mud, stones, bramble, rock, bracken – my feet skim over the ground like a swallow catching flies above a lake. The crow stays just ahead of me, hopping from post to post, one foot, two foot, winking at me, leading me on. The thing in its beak swings to and fro, gleaming in the last light. What is it? I know it, I’m sure …
The crow flaps its wings and rises heavily from the last post, tilting to one side, sliding on the wind, dropping out of sight below the cliff edge. Craaak. Craaak. Craaaaaak. It calls to me, and still I follow, not questioning, but passing easily over heather and gorse. Small birds rise in alarm, then settle when they see I’m no threat. I’m nothing. A dandelion seed on the wind, a butterfly wing.
The ground falls away. Broken earth – rich and wormy – where rocks and soil and grass have slipped and crashed to the beach below. A fear memory shivers down my back. I know this place. The crow balances on a gorse bush. Far below on the pebbles, something is moved by the waves. Hair, head, arm sway gently in the swell.
A great urgency fills me. I slide and leap from rock to clod to crater as I hurtle downwards to the beach. Panic must give me special powers, as I don’t stumble once. In no time I am down, and speeding towards the body, a woman, a person to be saved, perhaps. The crow is with me, flapping from rock to rock, always close. The thing swings from its beak, catching the dark light in its creamy depths. I know it …
The woman is dead.
I see this now. Her back is bent strangely, a trail of blood seeps from a hole in her head, and bits of skull gleam white like smiling teeth. Her hair lies in wet ropes across her face, her blue lips are parted. I know her …
The crow hops, perches on her knee, and I see the thing it carries. A pendant on a silver chain, a moonstone mounted in gold. A Christening gift. My birthstone. My deathstone.
A wave lifts my body. The crow drops the pendant back around my throat, and takes flight. For a moment I look at my broken self, then spread my wings and follow.