Forever Autumn12 min read

Forever Autumn12 min read

Soon after Jack returned to the cabin from his afternoon walk, he noticed the crow perched on the wooden railing. Its plumage was so incredibly black, and in the late-afternoon sunshine, each individual feather seemed to shimmer. Its eyes were transfixed on him, tracking his every move.

Outside, the sharp air had a deceiving chill. The sun, merely suspended in the sky, served more as a light source than a provider of warmth. Jack was eager to return to the leather armchair beside the fireplace, but it was fading fast and needed more wood. Apprehensively, he rushed through the galley kitchen and into the adjoining storage room, his eyes firmly fixed on the ground. An involuntary shudder ran down his spine as he grabbed six logs before urgently marching back and placing one on the fire. The relentless stare from the crow outside did nothing to ease his frayed nerves.

Under the bird’s beady eye, he felt a heavy burden of judgement. Jack often thought birds looked down upon humans as leaden and ungraceful—inferior land-confined beasts. Their majestic movements in the air often mesmerised him, and as a child, he had always fantasised about the superpower of flight. He broke an ankle once after he jumped off the roof of a shed, arms flapping wildly before falling clumsily and painfully to the ground. Jack knew in his heart of hearts that liftoff only happened in dreams, but whenever he got an idea in his head, there was no reasoning with him. It was just his personality.

He wondered why the crow was so interested in him.

Jack ate some leftover lunch by the fire and tried—but failed—to read a chapter of his book. Two tumblers of warming scotch and the hypnotic crackle of the fire soon encouraged his eyelids to close. When he woke an hour later, the crow was still in place, a dark and sinister stain on an otherwise stunning woody outlook.

The cabin stood in a small clearing, surrounded by gold and red-leaved trees and a matching carpet, giving the place a softness that inspired nostalgia and a satisfying melancholy. They had stayed here in happier times and immediately fell in love with the place, with its wraparound porch and endless windows. It had been autumn then too, and from what he could recall, they never left the cabin—days and nights by the fire, under blankets, eating food, talking and making love.

They intended to stay for a week this time, but Jack had been there for nearly two and had no plans to move on. He’d made a call to let his parents know they were staying on for a while and another to his office to inform them that he wouldn’t be coming back, hanging up before they could ask why. Subsequently, he walked to the small river that ran through the property and threw his phone in.

The bottle felt good in Jack’s hand. He lifted the twenty-year-old liquid towards the last of the late evening sunshine and made a toast to Rebecca. They originally planned to save the bottle for their wedding anniversary, but future plans were now on ice. The whisky didn’t taste as smooth as he expected, but he guessed jealousy, anger, and grief were not the best mixers.

He eyed the leftover bread on his plate and looked towards the crow. Its unwavering glare unnerved him. “What do you want, crow?” he said out loud.

The bird said nothing.

The last of the evening sunlight entered the cabin and again deceived as Jack moved from the warmth of the fire to the sliding glass doors. The crow watched him, but as Jack reached for the handle, it screamed its caw, flew off to one of the nearby trees, and perched on a low branch. It continued to stare as Jack slid the door open and placed the bread atop the wood railing before closing it quickly and retreating to the warmth of the fire. By the time he sat down, the crow was back on the railing, next to the bread. It ducked its head down, flicked the bread away with its beak, then continued glaring at Jack.

Jack stifled a nervous laugh at the obvious demonstration of disrespect. With awareness of their reputation as a highly intelligent species, this crow had him more than a little unsettled. His heightened state of paranoia didn’t help. It was only a matter of time before they came for him.

For the time being, he would wallow in the comfort and surrounds of the cabin.

The early years had been good ones for Jack and Rebecca, both so full of passion and hope. They began dating in high school and married right after graduation, against the wishes of their parents. Rebecca was devoted, supportive, and patient—a ballast in a world that seemed too much at times. He took it all but had little to offer in return. His quirks often alienated him from others, but not her. She encouraged Jack and supported him in everything, but ironically (and perhaps predictably), his ambition lead to the downfall of their marriage. His passion for writing consumed him, and he shut her out.

On reflection, he supposed she had given him fair warning, but he was too obsessed to change. He thought people in committed relationships were supposed to provide an ultimatum—a loud and obvious final demand for change. Instead, she had simply sought attention and affection elsewhere, and for that, he had caved her head in with a fireplace poker. Her unapologetic confession and unflinching request for a divorce had messed everything up. Consumed by a vacuum of confusion and rage, he lost all control.

Trauma and abrupt change weren’t things he could easily copy with. He needed control. Stability was essential. She knew that. She must have known what that would do to him.

Fuck off, crow.

During the entire process, Jack felt somewhat detached, as though he was reading about someone else’s actions in a book, and even when the life had so obviously left her, he had continued bringing the poker down onto Rebecca’s skull. By the time he finished, her mother would not have recognised her. It was only when his arm tired that he had collapsed on all fours and broken down in tears, a lengthy string of bloody saliva hanging from his mouth where his teeth had cut through his lip.

They had been together twenty years, married for fifteen, and trying for children for the last three. All of that history wiped out, and now she was just a piece of meat, folded up in the chest freezer.

Stop staring at me!

After Jack had lowered Rebecca’s body into the freezer, he had checked her phone, but there was nothing from lover-boy as far as he could see. Instead, he came across a text from her mother, Jodie, and it was only then that the horrific realization of what he had done hit him—as though a fog had lifted. The guilt and remorse followed.

Jack looked at the table in the centre of the room, at the jigsaw puzzle depicting a rural landscape. When Rebecca stood in front of him, asking for his attention, the sky was only half-finished. Jack had pleaded with her for another ten minutes, even though she had tears in her eyes.

I’m sorry, Bec.

The room began to spin, and Jack, too drunk to function, reached for the arm of the chair to steady himself. A startlingly loud caw suddenly filled the cabin. He turned and saw a murder of crows approaching from all directions. Like an army, they emerged from the now clouded and colourless sky, and came to rest on the wooden railings. They danced and cawed excitedly, staring at him through the floor-to-ceiling windows that surrounded the cabin.

He was sure the demonstration wasn’t normal behaviour, but then again, neither was bashing your wife’s skull to a mushy pulp.

Her brains had been gray.

In unison, the crows ceased their shrieking, and an eerie silence prevailed as his entire audience eyed him from the crowded wooden railings. Jack gaped back, and for a moment, they all seemed to be playing their part in an incredibly sinister standoff. Suddenly, the crows gave a single unified caw and took off—all but the one that had greeted him from his walk.

He knew that to be true. He just knew.

The army of birds moved away from the cabin, keeping low to the ground—a moving blanket of darkness, disappearing into the woods. Through the dense foliage, Jack saw some of them occasionally swoop the forest floor, grabbing sticks and rocks with their claws.

The ensuing silence was terrifying, but short-lived as the birds burst through the trees in a frenzy of black and green and made their way back towards the cabin. Jack knew their plan, even before the shower of ammunition started to hit the glass. He prepared himself, but the menacing imagery and the explosion of noise still sent him recoiling back into the chair. The crows hurled the projectiles with remarkable accuracy, returning to the ground to scavenge more weapons.

More crows continued to add to the pack until the sky was alive with thousands of them, completely blocking out the waning daylight. They made their next charge—the same pattern, the same formation, and the same crushing, thunderous sound as rocks and branches hit the glass. Throughout the assault, the crow Jack knew to be the commander continued to scrutinize him from his perch on the railing.

It felt as though the nearly empty bottle of whisky might shatter in Jack’s grip. He expected the worst was not over. This fear was validated when the commander cawed to no doubt signal the next attack. Jack raised the bottle to his lips with a shaky hand and took a large gulp, draining it.

“What the hell do you want from me?” he shouted.

The inky cloud approached. Jack covered his ears and braced for impact. As the front line came into view, he saw that they were carrying larger rocks and sticks, working together to share the burden. The first wave hit, deafening and relentless, and the first crack in the glass appeared. Then another.

As the cracks spiderwebbed into a latticework of fractures, Jack pushed himself up from the chair and retreated to the kitchen at the back of the cabin—the only other exit. He peered through the back door’s glass panes and saw his new nemesis, the commander, perched on the railing, staring him down. Waiting. The branches of the trees beyond were laden with crows for as far as he could see. The commander gave its orders, and in unison, the others swooped toward the cabin in formation, screaming.

Jack covered his ears but could not drown out the blood-curdling shrieks and thunderous impacts coming from every direction. He gripped the door handle and considered making a run for the car, but within seconds the army of crows had covered it in a cloak of darkness as if to pre-empt his escape plan.

He was kidding himself anyway. There would be no escape. He had murdered his wife.

They were on the roof now. Jack could hear their thumping steps and their talons scraping on the shingles. They were everywhere, and only darkness loomed outside now, the night taken hostage by the black army.

The commander still watched through the door, eyes fixed on the murderer. Jack imagined their sharp beaks pecking out his eyes and their claws ripping his flesh apart. How long would it take him to die? The thought was too much to take.

Releasing the doorknob, Jack opened the cutlery drawer and grabbed the sharpest kitchen knife he could find. The sinister caws echoed in his head, amplifying into a brain-bleeding crescendo.

Jack backed into the adjoining storage room, where they kept the extra blankets and firewood, and where the freezer stood. The windowless room provided a momentary escape from the visual carnage, but the knowledge that his dead wife sat only a few feet away erased any relief he may have felt.

The glass window at the front of the house shattered, but the invasion of bloodthirsty crows Jack expected didn’t come. Silence fell. Only the frigid breeze trespassed. Hairs prickled on the back of his neck. His blood pumped through his body at a frantic pace. In the darkness, he waited.

Jack had never felt so alone.

The commander emerged from around the corner and strutted to the centre of the kitchen. It cocked its head as if prompting Jack to make the next move. Behind the commander, the others waited.

Jack recognized the ultimatum.

Without hesitation, he ran the blade across his left wrist, swapped hands, and did the same to his right. He wasn’t sure if he had done it correctly—if he had cut deeply enough. The pain was not as intense as he expected, but the blood flowed from his lacerations in sheets, dripping steadily off his fingertips and onto the floor. The commander cawed then, followed by the resounding chorus of acknowledgement. The army slowly advanced. He recognized this ultimatum as well.

Jack turned and lifted the lid of the freezer. Rebecca sat as he left her, her frost-covered skin now a gray-blue shade, her skull still a caved in mess of brain, bone, flesh, and hair. Blood dripped from his elbows, onto the snow-like interior; its brightness exaggerated by the starkness within.

Red as blood,
white as snow,
gray as brain,
black as crow.

He climbed in next to his wife. He reached for the lid and slowly brought it down. He didn’t feel cold—just numb.

The last thing Jack heard was the thump of the crow landing on top of the freezer, and the scratch of its claws as it patiently paced.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Mark Towse is an Englishman living in Australia. He would sell his soul to the devil or anyone buying if it meant he could write full-time. Alas, he left it very late to begin this journey, penning his first story since primary school at the ripe old age of 45. Since then, he's been published in the likes of Flash Fiction Magazine, Cosmic Horror, Suspense Magazine, ParABnormal, Raconteur, and his work has also appeared three times on The No Sleep Podcast and many other excellent productions. His first collection, ‘Face the Music,’ has just been released by All Things That Matter Press and is available via Amazon, Dymocks, B&N, etc.   His story, 'Devil's Cry' will be featured in the 'Midnight in the Pentagram' anthology from Silver Shamrock Publishing alongside the likes of Graham Masterton, Brian Keene, etc.  

His story, 'A Sense of Belonging,' will be featured in
IFWG Publishing - International anthology 'Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies.' A cracking line up, featuring the likes of Kaaron Warren, Jack Dann, Charles Spiteri, Sean Williams, and Deborah Sheldon.
Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies will be released world-wide in Q2 2021.
    https://twitter.com/MarkTowsey12 https://marktowsedarkfiction.wordpress.com/ https://www.instagram.com/towseywrites/

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