As Newton decreed, there is both gain and loss in any exchange. This law is one of the most basic tenants of physics and rules the world that man lives within. In order to get what he wants, he must act a certain way, do a certain thing and pay for that boon with his compliance. Chaos ignores this rule. It delivers without request, takes without exchange. One must understand that Chaos is always with us. She sits next to you on the bus and she ignores you. The entire time you sit beside her, lost in your thoughts, she waits. She bides her time for an opening into your ordered little world to appear and when she sees that door fly open, no doorman or army of angels can keep her at bay. One must remember above all else this one thing. When the dust from her wake settles...none of this was personal.
Kennedy stared at the mess in his living room and raged. “They will never understand.” he thought
He walked into the boy's room and punched the light switch on. The boys shot awake like a bolt.
“That living room is a Goddamn disaster zone!” he screamed. “How many times do I have to tell you to clean up after yourselves? He started to remove his belt as the boys cried out in protest.
“Get your asses up and get those hands on your beds!” he ordered. “NOW!”
The boys complied and Kennedy slashed each of them five times across the backside, counting each one aloud as if ticking down a New Years Eve celebration. Once the rounds were complete, Kennedy marched the boys into his living room and watched as two 14 year old boys tried to figure out how to carry a single napkin between them to the kitchen trashcan.
“That'll teach them.” he smiled to himself as he re-thread his belt. He left the boys to get ready for their school and went outside.
The streetlights were still on as he walked to his truck. “sure is getting dark early.” he thought.
“Caw! Caw! Caw!”
Kennedy spun and looked up at the power lines above his house to see the crows.
Their attention was not focused on him, however. The crows stared at the house Kennedy had just exited. He turned back to the house and saw both of the boys looking out the window at the birds. He flung his finger away from the window and the obedient children shrank into the darkness of the house. He turned back to his truck and noticed that the crows gaze was now fixed on him.
“Get outta here you filthy bastards!” he grabbed a rock from the flower bed and flung it at the birds, causing them to scatter.
“Dumb-asses.” he said as he drove away to work.
Walter reached for the coffee. He kept it on the top shelf way in the back as a courtesy to the doctor who had advised him to cut down on its consumption. He prepared the drink to his preferred potency (somewhere between battery acid and thick molasses) and walked outside to collect the morning paper. Walter didn't have time for the technological nonsense of smart phones and Internets. He preferred the old fashioned way of things and saw nothing wrong with reading words printed on paper after being typed by another person.
He sat in his chair at the head of an empty table and opened his paper. This table had seen hundreds and hundreds of breakfasts with his wife , children and grandchildren, but these days, like Walter, it enjoyed the quiet solitude of a single occupant.
He felt the first shock as he opened to the Metro Section. He started to read an article about the squandering of a bond program the public had voted on twenty years ago when the second one hit him with a sledgehammer in his right shoulder. He pulled the assaulted limb tight to his chest as a bolt of pain shot deep into his chest. He fell to the cold tile floor in a ball as his body quit on him. The last thing he saw as the black tunnel closed around his eyes was the crow perched outside the kitchen window that looked out onto the creek across the street. The tunnel stopped shrinking for a moment as the two locked eyes. Walter knew, and the crow offered no apology as the tunnel closed it's grip on him. Walter's body spasmed one final time and then relaxed alone in a ball on the cold tile floor.
Claire held her morning jogs even dearer as Fall drew closer. The cooler temperatures in the morning allowed her to open her run up a little more than the oppressive Texas Summers would. This was her favorite part of the day. She spent these precious minutes alone in her thoughts as she wound her way up and down the streets of the neighborhood. It allowed her to focus her energies on the tasks ahead and start each day with a clean plate. This morning the creek that formed the eastern border of her neighborhood has abandoned its signature musty smell in favor of a translucent fog. Claire took this change as an invitation to jog on the creek-side of the street. She never wore headphones when she ran. She thought music was too much of a distraction. This was why she heard it.
“Help.” The voice was distinct yet weak cry rising up from the creek-bed some 20 feet below.
“Hello?” she asked. She walked closer to the treeline that signaled the drop off to the creek-bed.
“Help.” the voice repeated.
Claire ignored all caution and passed the treeline to peer into the creek-bed below. The light from the streetlamp could not fully penetrate the dense trees that fenced in the creek and the bed 20 feet below remained shrouded in darkness.
“Are you there? I can't see you.” she said. “Do you want me to call for help?” There was no answer.
Claire felt the shawl of dread wrap itself around her shoulders as she realized how dark it was in the creek-bed. Some light from the streetlamp should make it down here but it was as if something were intentionally blocking even that. She looked back to the street and saw the reassuring yellow glow of the streetlamp when she saw it. Silhouetted against the light from the street were hundreds of crows all staring back at her.
“Help.” said one of them.
“Help.” said one of them.
Claire remembered something from her childhood. She was watching a TV show with her father about crows. The narrator mentioned that some crows have the ability to mimic human speech. She remembered how silly she thought that sounded then. She laughed at herself for doubting that fact as she felt the cold arms grab her and drag her down to the darn creek-bed.
She never screamed.
The crow flew above his car as he sped down the winding street. He was playing his music way too loud for this time of the morning but he didn't care. He needed it to pump him up for work and this was how it was done. He took a sip of the coffee he had just bought but it was still way too hot. He stopped at the intersection behind an SUV. The crow touched down on a wire overhead, still watching. The driver of the SUV was distracted and hadn't moved fast enough for him so he layed on his horn. Again, he didn't care how early it was. He didn't care that this was a residential neighborhood populated by older folks. He only cared that this “Stupid Fucking Idiot!” was not paying the proper amount of attention to her driverly duties this morning. She finally stepped on the gas pedal and moved on allowing him to resume his shortcut through the neighborhood. The crow took flight again, maintaining its aerial shadow of the loud man in the expensive car. He was changing the song on his iPod when he entered the School Zone. He slowed down a bit but was still above the required 20 miles per hour. He was selecting the next artist to play on his radio as he approached the blind curve that preceded the school. The crow closed the gap between them. His windows were open. His hand was still filled with a cup of hot coffee. The crow flew into his car just as he rounded the curve, still well above the speed limit. He spilled the coffee in his lap and screamed out in a howl of pain as he jerked the steering wheel and his leg spasmed onto the gas pedal, sending his expensive car on a runaway course through the cross walk.
Marty held his neon stop sign high as he stood in the middle of the street. He was certain that the path was clear and motioned for the children to begin making their way across when he saw the car making a beeline towards him. He threw up his hand on reflex to stop the children as the man's expensive car screamed around the corner and crushed him into its hood and windshield. Marty tumbled over the car as the man was finally able to apply the brake and a crowd of parents and children ran to the spot the old man had fallen to. As his smashed body lie dying in the middle of the street, Marty looked up one final time and saw the crow. The bird on the wire above him looked into his eyes and again, offered no apology as the spark of life wisped away from the crossing guard.
“Now that I have your attention...” Kennedy heard the disembodied voice say.
“What is happening?” he screamed. The voice laughed.
“Are you sure you ready for the answer to that question?” it asked.
Three minutes ago, Kennedy had just returned home for the day. His job had taken its usual toll on his patience and he could already taste the Jack Daniels. He had barely shut the door to his truck when the first crow slammed into him.
“OW! Motherfucker!” It took him a half a second to recognize the black bird as it flew away.
He was looking on the ground for another rock to throw at the bird when the second bird struck.
“Sonofabitch!” he screamed. A third and then a forth crow crashed into him, their beaks tearing at his clothes, their talons shredding his skin.
“What the Fuck?!?” he demanded.
He spun to face the direction the first crow had attacked from as another one pounded his face, knocking his glasses to the ground. He retrieved them and returned them to their perch atop his nose when he saw the cloud of crows closing in on him. He had never seen this many of them at one time. He broke into a dead run away from the sky-borne assault and fled down the street. The crows tore after him as he ran, slamming into him from one side and the other, herding him towards the creek that made up the eastern border of his neighborhood. He reached the treeline that marked the creek and tore a small branch to swat at the swarming crows.
“We don't like that much.” a voice from nowhere said.
“We like you even less.” it added.
“Who said that?” Kennedy blurted. His anger was catching up to his panic and he felt the red blood beginning to boil up from its depths.
“What the fuck is there?” he demanded.
“What the fuck is there?” he demanded.
The crows ceased the attack and began flying in a giant circle before Kennedy. It was a black tornado composed of gleaming black feathers and razor sharp claws.
“I have seen how you treat the boys.” the voice stated.
“Yeah? So the fuck what? What business is it of yours?”
“My business is my business.” the voice answered. “My time is short here so I will keep this brief. You have been bad.”
Kennedy gripped his branch tighter. “What are you talking about?” he cried.
“Stop. Listen to what I say. This is the important part. By what right do you abuse those boys?”
“I'm their goddamn father! I hate to teach them discipline!”
Laughter exploded from within the circling cloud of crows. “It has cost much for me to be here today.”
The crows began to circle faster and faster. “The old man, the jogger, the crossing guard. Three innocent souls had to perish that we could have this little chat.”
“What are you talking about? Who ARE you?”
Crow after crow began crashing into one another as the central mass of the circling birds began to solidify. “You beat those boys every day of their lives. Why?”
“They never listened to me! They never dis as they were told!” Kennedy screamed.
“That is a lie.” the voice laughed. “Trust me to know.”
“It wasn't easy for me to raise those two brats all by myself. I never even asked for them to be born. I tried the best I could but it was hard without their mother...”he trailed off.
“Right. She died giving birth to them. The final necessary sacrifice”
“How do you know that?” the voice ignored the question.
“How do you know that?” the voice ignored the question.
“So you took your abandonment. You took your anger and rage. You took all of that and focused it upon two helpless creatures entrusted to your care.”
“They are MY boys! I'll raise them however the Hell I want! I'm not going to bring two spineless little whiny-ass pussies into a world already full of them! I'm going to bring two ass-kicking Men into the world!”
“You are wrong.” The swarm of crows sped up their pace and continued slamming and crashing into each other.
“What the Hell do you mean I'm wrong? Who the Hell are you to tell me how to raise my boys?”
“Oh, you aren't wrong in how you raised them. That was why you were chosen, after all. You are wrong in thinking them to be your boys.” Kennedy could see the shape of a torso begin to appear deep within the circling cloud of birds.
“I don't understand.” he said.
“That much is obvious, but again that is why you were chosen.” The circling crows continued to crash into one another and he could see the trunks of legs begin to take form. “The cost was much higher then. Many thousands of innocents had to die that September in fire and rubble for me get access to her, to your Loretta.”
“I've been called worse.” a Cheshire grin said as it floated above a still-forming body.
“All this time and the ain't even mine?”
“Oh they are yours...after a fashion.” the toothy grin said. “While it wasn't your loins from which they sprung, those two little darlings are every bit the men you raised them to be. Callous, coldhearted, ruthless and angry...oh so angry. You are to be commended on the fantastic job you have done.” Three crows slammed into the arms of the creature in front of Kennedy forming hands that now applauded as cold white eyes atop the evil smile cut deep into him.
Kennedy found the power of speech had abandoned him. The bluster and bravado that was his trademark had wilted like lettuce left on the counter for days.
“What are you?”
“Ah! No longer who but What? You are a quick one.” The crows kept adding mass to the man-shaped shadow before him. Two slits of white resembling eyes and the crack of jagged teeth that no sane man would mistake for a smile stood within the still circling cyclone of crows. Kennedy could see feathers, eyes, beaks and claws within the shape before him shifting, squirming, writhing as if trying to free themselves from an unholy form.
“Father?” Kennedy spun on the spot to see the twins behind him. “Call for help! GO! Get somebody! Anybody!” he screamed. “Move you little bastards!”
“We weren't talking to you.” they said in unison.
“Ah...my children. Come to say goodbye to the babysitter?”
The boys nodded. Kennedy lunged at them with his torn branch and felt a cold claw grip his arm.
He turned back to see that the shape had closed the 20 foot gap between them in the blink of an eye.
“This is the part where you say farewell, Kennedy.” the smile atop the shape said. “But I believe these two rambunctious little scamps might want a word with you before I take them home.”
“May we, Father?” they asked.
“May we, Father?” they asked.
“Oh why not. It is a long trip and you're bound to get hungry along the way.”
The boys tore into Kennedy like a pack of hungry dogs as they showed their true form to the man who had beaten, berated and tormented them for fourteen long years. It was not the tearing, the clawing or the gnawing that ended Kennedy's life. It was the knowledge that he had been responsible for unleashing these monsters upon the world that sealed his fate.
After all, they were their father's children.