A Little Tale For Halloween
A Murder of Crows
The afternoon of Halloween found Albert Dalrymple back in the waiting room, watching the clock and carelessly drawing a caricature of the woman across from him on the back of the grocery list he held in his lap. She was a large woman, all creases and folds, and she was at this moment rifling through her incongruously tiny handbag in search of … what? Her face gathered itself up in corrugations of concentration while Albert stared. Then like a falling cake, she softened with the satisfaction of discovery and pulled out a fan. Pleated and black as a crow’s wing, she flipped it open with all the flourish of a magician’s assistant, and began waving it in front of her face, revealing the words, See Rock City, printed along the side in the color of blood. Swooshswooshswoosh. The mental image of Tidy, his brother's oxymoronically named terrier, flashed in front of Albert’s eyes. Tidy’s tail wagged at that precise speed.
“Hot, ain’t it?”, the large woman asked to the room in general. No one looked up to meet her gaze as it fell on each of them in turn. Albert had the misfortune of being the only one slow enough, or curious enough, to be caught. He coughed quietly, uttering an almost inaudible, “I suppose it is”, before dropping his eyes back down to his drawing. He pulled his coat a little tighter around him. He’d been freezing for the past fifteen minutes.
This was his third time here and Albert had already decided it was to be his last. He was eighty-nine on Thursday and had decided he’d lived quite long enough. Not that he didn’t enjoy his life. He did. He’d just had enough of it. He was ready for something else. The young doctor (A specialist. This moniker always made Albert laugh to himself.) had been trying, God help him. But no matter what new-fangled treatments or trials came down the pike, nothing could stop the inevitable. Eighty-nine. People don’t live forever, young man.
“What’cha here for?” Albert looked up to see the corpulent woman staring at him, fan flying in front of her fat face. See Rock City. See Rock City. See Rock City.
“I’m…. Well… “ Albert looked at the woman for a long moment. “You know, I really don’t know.” He folded his grocery list on which was now drawn a most unflattering portrait of the woman he’d just addressed, placed it in the pocket of his black overcoat, got up and left the room.
“Well. I never.”, said the woman. The black fan stopped in mid-air. No one else looked up.
Albert stepped out into the orange light of a setting October sun. Brilliantly coloured maple leaves carpeted the pavement in front of him. Follow the yellow brick road. Albert hummed to himself as his walked. He had just enough time to make it to the market and home again before the children started showing up. He had no intention of being caught having to hand out soda crackers like he’d done last year. Totally forgot it was Halloween. Well, Lydia had always kept track of those kind of things. But this year he planned to be the best house on the street. Candy bars galore. And not those little ones either. The full size bars.
Turning the corner onto River Street, Albert found himself walking alongside the iron fencing of Meredith House, the oldest house in town. His steps slowed a bit as he stopped to gaze at the house from between the vertical posts of the black iron fence. The many trees that crowded the garden had already dropped their leaves; the ground was dark with them. Long believed to be haunted, Meredith House had, through the years, endured the midnight visitations of little boys who, on a dare, ran up to touch its massive wooden door or peer into its dusty leaded windows. Albert had been one of those boys, once. He wasn't sure who lived here now. Old man Meredith was long gone. But there on the front porch sat two large, carved pumpkins. Their faces smiled back at him, toothless and macabre.
A rustling sound began to fill the air and Albert was amazed to see the ground around the house begin to move. A roiling, rolling mass of black, lifting and falling like waves on the sea. It’s not leaves. Why, it’s crows!, thought Albert, as thousands, millions, of black wings caught the light, transforming into prismatic ebony jewels, so bright, so splendid, they made Albert’s eyes water. Then as if answering an authority known only to them, they rose as one in a swirl of black, in a dance of celestial choreography both thrilling and apparitional.
Albert watched in fascination as they ascended upwards through the trees, up over the house and out into the autumnal coloured sky, all the while moving in patterns as intricate and fluid as music itself. After a moment or two it seemed to Albert that the crows began to drift downwards a bit, the sound of their wings filling the air all around him like the indecipherable voices of a crowd. Never stopping, never slowing, they came closer and closer to the spot where Albert stood with his hands at his sides, transfixed into silence. The flutter and beat became deafening as the birds encircled him. Feathers tickled his nose. Then Albert Dalrymple’s feet began to feel too light to secure him properly to the pavement and he felt himself lifting up. Up with the birds; up high in the air.
There weren’t many trick or treaters at Albert Dalrymple’s house that night. He hadn’t left a light on in the window as an invitation and most of the kids didn’t fancy the soda crackers of the previous year anyway. But if they’d chanced to come up the walk they might have seen a large black crow watching them from the naked branch of a poplar tree. They might have found a bowl of candy bars on the front porch. Not the small ones, either. The full size bars.