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It was cold: so cold you could see your breath in the dark hours of the morning, shimmering in the moonlight. Lucky for most, they remained snuggled in bed with still a few hours till daybreak. Expect for one. Henry stalked through the miserable park: exhausted, weak, hungry. His rugged, middle-aged frame looked brittle in the moonlight as he curled in on himself, arms tight around his stomach; if he meant to warm himself, he had no such luck. The curt wind cut through his clothes – through him – as he sluggishly dragged his feet. Each little waver, each stumble, sent him a little closer to collapsing. But he pushed forward until he couldn’t any more. And it all it took, was a little dip in the ground, to send him sprawling forward.
His hands were too slow to save himself, his body to heavy to land properly, so he slapped the dirt with his face and the felt the last of his energy desert him.
His stomach growled.
Not just growled – ached.
He grit his teeth and fought back the darkness threatening to sweep his conscious away. His fingers dug into the grass. He pushed up. His knees buckled and he hit the ground.
A car rumbled in the distance then disappeared. Henry listened, knowing he was alone in this sleeping patch of the world.
Except, he wasn’t.
A sharp squawk shattered the quiet and sharp burst of wind swept past Henry’s head. He jerked to the side – as quick as he could in his groggy state – as the intimate air invaded his ear. Then dared not to move as terror upon him, licking the back of his neck with its prickly tongue.
The crow waited a metre or so away, above the dip Henry had fallen over. Its blood-red eyes bored into his frail figure as he forced himself to slowly – so very grudgingly – turn to look at it.
“What did you do to me?” Henry forced the words out, chocked from his strained throat. His stomach growled – this time louder and far more demanding as it contorted and sent sharp pangs through him. His face paled.
“You did this to yourself.” The woman who spoke behind Henry was beautiful – the personification of sin – with her crimson eyes and tumbling back curls that enveloped her like a coat. She melded with the surrounding darkness, flirting with it, as if she could disappear as swiftly as she appeared from it.
Hot rage sliced through Henry. He launched to a crouch – the most he can manage – and spat. “Witch– fix it. Now.” His face twisted with his malice, but he was, however, to afraid to turn his back to crow and instead hovered between it and the woman with unconvincing anger.
The woman cackled and smiled at the crow. “A witch. He calls me a witch.” Amusement curled her lips. Her eyes, however, were far too cold. “You humans are so funny. Stupid. But funny.”
Pain finally broke through Henry’s composure and he howled in pain. Spams shook his muscles and he caved into fetal position, fists balling his jacket. He coughed. Blood splattered his lips.
“Please,” he moaned, his voice broken. “It will happen again.”
The lady looked down at him; her icy, calculating eyes held no empathy. “Yes.”
The woman pressed the tip of her tongue against her extending canines. “It will come at a price.”
Henry grunted. He forced himself to look at her, panting, his eyes squinted and mouth pulled. But still, he managed one word: “Anything.”
Evi pulled the needle through the cloth before pushing back her black fringe with her elbow. She sat at the workstation in the large art room with only one other. “Can you hand me the scissors?” she asked.
Bell, who sat on the art wooden table’s edge, sucked the jam from her fingers and made an amused nose. “Please?”
Evi scrunched her nose. “Please, Aunt Bell – the scissors.”
Bell copied Evi’s crinkled nose before wiping her sticky hands on her old paint-streaked apron. “Sure.” She stretched to the appliance cart, holding onto the table with one hand to keep her balance; and it took far more effort than simply standing, but she managed to pull out some scissors from a bucket and hand them to Evi. She seemed pleased with the effort.
Evi took them, snipped the thread, and made a satisfied noise. “One done.”
“Twenty to go?” Bell snorted and pushed her black curls from her face. Unlike Evi, she didn’t attempt to restrain their frizz and instead had them in a puffy short bob around her head that had corkscrew curls sticking out at every angle.
Evi crinkled her nose. “Something like that.” She dropped the square cloth onto a small pile of similar designs and pushed herself from the table.
Bell looked around the deserted art room as Evi began to pick up her gear. “Where is everyone?” she asked. “Usually there’s a few more loners in here.”
“There’s some charity dance thing going on in the hall.” Evi slipped the square cloths into a plastic sleeve where they joined about ten others.
Bell gave her an appalled look. “And why aren’t you there?”
“Not my thing.”
Bell sighed, not bothering to comment and looked over at the clock. It was nearly two PM. “Ah, it goes so quickly.” There was sarcasm in her voice that Evi ignored her. Bell rolled her eyes. “What do you have now?”
“Religion.” Evi returned the coloured dye to its home on the counter behind them. Her voice became dry. “We’re watching movies.”
Bell rolled her eyes. “Oh, you must love that. So productive.” She began inspecting her nails, shaking her head.
Evi sniffed and shoved her sewing equipment into a small flowery pencil case. “Rita caught me doing homework last week and flipped.”
“I’m sure she did,” Bell murmured. “Can’t you be on your phone or something like normal girls?”
“And do what?”
Bell exhaled. “Talk to friends – have a friend. You need friends, Evi.”
“I have friends.”
“Not real ones.”
Evi stopped stacking her books and gave Bell a leveled look. “What was that?”
Bell answered with raised eyebrows. “That’s your response? I’m disappointed.”
Evi grimaced. “I have to go.”
“Uh huh.” Bell grabbed the last of her jam biscuits from the plastic wrapped beside her. “You going to tell me what happened with her hand? Or did you tell me earlier and I forgot?”
Evi froze and instinctively moved her left hand behind her. A bandage wrapped the palm. “It’s nothing,” she finally said.
Bell swallowed and narrowed her eyes. “Uh huh.”
“I slipped with the needle last night. That’s it. Embarrassing, okay?”
Bell’s voice deadpanned. “Did you. You slipped.”
Bell frowned before exhaling. She pushed off the table and balled the empty plastic wrap in her hands. “I’ll need your help carrying stuff to the car this afternoon so if you could get out of homeroom a bit early that would be great.”
“Also, I want to take you home tomorrow too; it isn’t safe for you to be walking—“
“I’ll be fine.”
Evi was already out the door, throwing the words over her shoulder.
Bell exhaled. “That girl.”
Evi rested her head on her crossed arms. She sat away from the rest of the students by a good two desks; an old film about nuns played from the projector. It did little to hold her attention. Instead she resisted the itch to do something: work, drawing, writing. Anything would be better than nothing.
Her thumb played with the bandage covering her left hand as her wounded palm itched. She closed her eyes as weariness hung heavy over her. What am I going to do?
I must have done it in my sleep. It wasn’t uncommon for people to sleepwalk and have accidents. She must have tried to sew while sleeping, and boy she was going crazy if that was the case.
But it’s an explanation. A far better explanation than whatever actually happened.
Last time she confided in her mother that she heard voices, she was sent to a specialist for a month. That was another time she lied. She told them they had stopped – the voices – well, at least, that one voice.
‘Are you okay?’
Such a simple question. Surely she had just asked herself that. It was just her mind conjuring up an imaginary friend to make up for the fact she didn’t have any close ones to confide in. But she was seventeen which made the whole thing kind of pathetic. Yet she answered.
I’m fine. Always fine. Dandy as can be.
He didn’t believe her. And yes it was a He. Why not? It was her imaginary friend.
Evi jumped at her name and looked up. An old woman towered over her, which was a rare sight as Mrs Rita only ever towered people when they were sitting; and boy that woman enjoyed every second of it. Rita had to be in her fifties – at least – and was a tiny cow with shriveled winkle skin that barely covered her bones. With her light dusting of mousy brown hair and a permanent scowl etched into her fact, you had to wonder how she managed six kids.
Who hurt you? Was it a student? Someone wasn’t born this cranky were they?
“Tired?” Ashley asked.
“I didn’t have a very good sleep last night,” Evi answered truthfully.
“Well please have an early bedtime tonight.”
“Yes, Mrs Rita.” Please go away.
She didn’t. “I’m not afraid to hand out signatures in my class, senior or not. If I catch you again, I’ll write you up enough to get you a detention.”
“Understood, Mrs Rita.”
Satisfied, the religion teacher slinked away. Evi dropped her head back on her arms.
“I can’t believe they’re making us go to school when there’s a serial killer on the loose.”
“I don’t know why you’re worried, you leave in whoop-whoop-land a good half an hour drive from here. I live two streets away from the last murder!”
The students fell silent at Ashly’s snap, but it was only minutes before they started again.
Evi closed the boot of the four-wheel drive, and stepped back to wave at her cousins; they wrestled against each other, trying to get closest to the window. Bell shot a look at the cheeky boy twins and daughter—they quieted—before turning back to Evi.
“You sure you don’t want a lift tomorrow?” she asked. “I swing by on the way to primary.”
“Yes, thank you,” Evi said. “I’ll be fine.”
Bell pursed her lips. “Really, I’ll feel better taking you home; cars have been hovering about trying to pick up kids and you know—” She glanced at her kids as one began to cry—he had been shoved a little too hard by the other twin— “the other incidents,” she finished lamely as her attention darkened. The kids fell silent.
Evi waved it away. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine.”
Bell huffed. “Alrighty.”
With a final goodbye, Bell drove off with the now heavily scolded kids. Evi turned to her house, and with a heavy heart, walked up to the front door of her home.
She didn’t bother calling out as she unlocked the front door. The house was as vacant as it looked, like one of those display homes; unlived. She and her mum had been there for years, and it was like any minute they could pack up and leave.
Her room was the only space with a little life, and she dropped her bag by the door covered in posters and sat at her desk. After replying to her e-mails, she brought up her current assessments and stared at them. Within a minute, the words began to mash together into unintelligent scrawl.
By the fifteen mark she gave up on working and dropped her head to the desk.
I can’t keep doing this.
She needed to go make coffee—a lot of it. But as soon as the thought came, it disappeared with the darkness…
Evi woke in another world.
She stood outside of her house, still wearing her school uniform; above her, the sky was blood-red. It was normal to have whacky dreams, but this seemed to real. She didn’t feel like she was in a dream—not truly.
Wings flapped over her head, and suddenly fear struck her hard. Her heart pounded against her chest, threatening to burst through as she turned to watch the crow perch on her neighbor’s fence.
However there wasn’t just one—but a whole bunch of them, lining the white stumps.
Another squawk. This time she turned to see her whole building covered in the pests. It was as if the whole crow population in Australia had decided to uproot themselves to her neighborhood and why?
“What do you want?” She stepped back into the middle of the road, an attempt to put distance between herself and them. But there was so many of them; hundreds of glassy, beady eyes staring at her and–
She nearly tripped as she whirled around at the sound; this time it was closer, and she found herself staring at two crows a good house length down from her, standing on the road.
Their eyes were red.
They cocked her head, and Evi unintentionally did so to. “What do you want?” she asked.
The one on the right answered with a sharp squark.
Evi frowned. “I don’t understand Crow. If you want to tell me something, use Engli**** was a dream, right? Stuff didn’t have to make sense. The crow on the left ruffled its wings—irritated?
The right crow burst into a flurry of squawking that grated at her ears, before cutting off and giving her an expectant look. Now she was perplexed. “I don’t understand you,” she said, stressing her words.
Had it gone like this last time? She couldn’t remember.
Only that the crows had appeared—something had…
The paranoia returned and Evi twirled around, taking in the sharp beaks of the crows glinting in the red sun. ****.
Claws scraped the road, and her attention shot down to see the crows with red eyes only a hand reach away. She flinched back. They launched off the ground and hung, suspended, mid-flight in front of her. Their black wings extended out, moving in slow motion as if the air thickened around them; and Evi stared at her, her whole body seized with fear.
Their beaks opened and they said something, but she didn’t him them.
Instead one word run in her mind.
The crows dove for her.
He lent up against the brick wall, panting. His eyes glowed a vibrant gold as he stared out, unseeing, at the steady follow of traffic before him. Little beads of sweat appeared on his brow, partially covered by a choppy short brown fringe.
At his name, he blinked and doubled over with a groan. His shoes skidded across the ground and he caught himself against the wall. A cough wracked his body: wet and rough. He wiped his mouth with the back of his arm. His partner stood in front of him warily looking around as he attempted to shield his friend from the few citizens walking about. Two years his junior, Matthew nervously bit his bottom lip as he rubbed his hands against his jeans. “Come one, man. Do you really have to do this **** here?” He ran his hand through his thick, black side-swept fringe and grasped his temples with his palms. “Please tell me you got something good?”
Aiden gave a breathy, brief laugh then a grunt. “He’s two kilometers west, rounding Elena st. He’s getting harder to track him.”
“Harder? Dude you were out for a good five-minute with your eyes doing that glowy ****. I’ve never seen you out that long.”
“That wasn’t the Wendigo.”
Seeing he wasn’t going to elaborate, Matt pushed. “Well, what is it? Is there bigger fish to fry around here? Please tell me there is. Kathy has you down two this week for the kill count.”
“No,” Aiden said. “Nothing like that.” He headed towards their car illegally parked across a driveway and got into the driver seat.
“Then what is it?” the boy probed, jumping into the passenger seat.
Aiden shot him a sharp look. “Matthew, drop it.”
Matt held up his hands in surrender. “Woah, full name—I get it. I’ll drop it.” For now, was the unsaid tag.
Aiden gave another grunt, put the car in drive and pulled into the street. He entered the traffic as Matt blubbered on about their next target—a Wendigo: a nasty piece of work that was born from humans who became cannibals. Rare creatures, especially in the suburbs.
But Aiden wasn’t focusing on his partner’s fascinated drivel. Instead he projected his thoughts: Are you okay? It was the second time he had to ask that question today. But instead of a confident answer, this time the voice in his head replied with a weak: ‘I think so.’
His hands tightened on the steering wheel. In the back of his mind, he could see Evi’s arms held out over the bathroom sink. They were shaking, and dark crimson smeared the porcelain skin from multiple deep scratches lining her arms.
‘Did I do this?’ she asked.
No, he answered firmly.
‘Then what did?’
He didn’t have an answer for that, and his silence only confirmed for Evi that she was talking to herself. Aiden gritted his teeth at her sudden denial of his existence and questioning of her sanity. He ignored Matt staring at him with concern.
“What?” he finally asked, getting irritated at the puppy dog eyes.
“Good.” He took a sharp right—and halted. Matt shot forward before catching himself. He exclaimed, but Aiden was looking around in shock.
“What?” Matt asked.
“The Wendigo. I lost its trail.”
“Well, maybe if you weren’t so lost in your fantasies maybe you wouldn’t—”
“No,” Aiden shot back, his brow furrowed. “Something’s blocking it from me.”
Matt’s face dropped. “Oh. That isn’t good?”
No, it wasn’t, and it was happening to close to Her for his liking as well.
“What’s strong enough to hide from you?” Matthew asked.
“I don’t know.” Many things had the ability, but a new-born Wendigo wasn’t one of them. “I have no clue.”
Evi dabbed the sterile, disinfectant cotton bud on her wounds, and hissed as sharp stinging erupted across her arms. She pulled the now red cotton bud away and leant back against the tiled walls. She sat on the bathroom floor, still in her uniform. It was dark outside, and although it felt like she had only been asleep for a few minutes, over two hours had past.
**** crows. She had awoken seconds after the crows attacked her, but not before a fair few of them got their claws into her. And she was going crazy, that was what. Bat-****-crazy. She dropped her head against the wall, staring up at the white ceiling. This can’t be happening to me. She was a practical girl. Everything had its place, everything had an explanation—
Her eyes began to water. She blinked furiously, trying to hold the tears back.
Hey, voice you still there?
Yes, came the answer in her own voice which really wasn’t an answer, but her creating one.
Double ****. She closed her heavy eyelids, before snapping them open. Cold fear trickled through her. I can’t sleep. The moment she went back to sleep, she went back There.
It was too silent too—too silent, with only the howling wind picking up every now and then which did nothing for her nerves. Crazy, crazy—I’m going crazy. But didn’t the saying go, only the insane thought they were sane? She couldn’t remember, or care.
Gathering her few medical supplies, she stashed them under the sink counter and draw from the ground. She needed coffee. Black coffee with multiple shots in it.