My best friend Avery liked crows very much. We often sat on the roof, watching them fly at dusk, black streaks comparable to shooting stars against the orange burning sky. She was fascinated with their calls, always telling me that they sounded like nothing else in the world. She loved the colour of their feathers, a gift given from death itself. She liked what they meant, what they brought to the world. She always told me that seeing six crows meant that death was coming.
It was a sunset like any other. The crows zipped past like shadow coloured comets, minions of the dark pulling the night sky down upon the world. I never liked crows. They scared me. But for Avery, I watched them. For the happiness they brought her, I stayed.
“One,” she counted as one of the great birds flew by.
“Two,” I said as another one trailed behind.
It was strange. She never kept track of how many flew over us, but I decided not to question it. Avery was an odd person, but I was equally odd myself. Besides, it was a fun game.
“Three.” Another passed, in front of the descending stars.
“Four,” I continued upon seeing another.
“Five.” Avery reached into her pocket as she spotted another.
Bats began to plague the air. It was difficult to distinguish their dark shapes from the crows.
“Six.” One final bird swooped down into the dense leaves of a nearby willow tree.
Avery pulled her hand out of her pocket, holding a Y-shaped piece of wood with a rubber strap strung between the prongs. In a matter of seconds, she had primed the slingshot with one smooth stone and let the projectile loose into the night. A soft squeal could be heard and the limp body of a young bat was plucked out of the sky by gravity, its wings spread out wide in anticipation for the violent landing that was to come. I didn’t know what to say. Avery had never killed anything before, none that I knew of. She had eccentric behaviours, but nothing so… morbid.
“We saw six crows,” she explained. “That meant that death was coming.”
“You didn’t have to kill it.”
“Sure I did. If I didn’t, something else would have to die.”
The moon finally descended, sealing the world in a shield of darkness, as if marking the end of something sacred.
It had been three months since the bat. After the incident, I did my best to make it clear to Avery that killing was not okay, no matter how small the life was, no matter how many crows fly past. She promised never to take a life again and had kept to her promise well, as far as I knew. She had not counted the crows out loud since she shot the bat. In fact, she was mostly silent. I sat with her on the rooftop again, following the unpredictable movements of the creatures best I could. All the while, I could not help myself from ranting about a boy from school called Michael, who sent an everlasting stream of less-than-positive notes my way. Avery still did not talk, but I knew she was listening. She always listened, even as she watched the crows. Just as I was recounting one of the not-so-appropriate messages Michael had let on my desk, she broke her silence.
“One,” she whispered into my ear as a crow crossed the full moon, casting a shadow over the white glow.
A chill ran down my spine. Avery never used to break her promises. The one thing I depended on to keep her from doing harm had been rendered unreliable.
“Two,” she continued as another flew from the leave of the willow tree.
I reached to feel her pockets. There was nothing in them. Not even a stone. She had no possible way of killing an animal.
“Four. Five.” Two more crows burst through the cover of night, their birdcalls reminding me that death would come knocking at unfortunate soul’s door soon, but not before Avery had given her contribution.
Avery did nothing. She only grinned, keeping her stare just a little too constant. I could not help giving a sigh of relief, but I had not yet seen the gruesome outcome.
Michael did not come to school the next day. The teachers said nothing about his absence. None of his friends had an inkling of why he did not show up. His violent death was only revealed to me in the news a day or two later. His body was mangled and torn beyond recognition by the terrifyingly decisive strokes of a kitchen knife. They could only confirm his identity after the autopsy. Avery insisted she knew nothing of the murder, but her smile conflicted with her story. I knew that the crows were no longer the only servants of death.
A week later, Avery called me to her house. I had avoided her like the plague until then, but my family, who did not understand my circumstances, insisted I watched the crows with her. I no longer had a choice. I knew I sat next to a killer on that rooftop, but it was oddly calming and nostalgic for me. I spend years with Avery watching the sky. It was almost as if it was any other dusk.
“One.” The night took a sinister turn when she began counting again.
I struggled to piece together who would become her next victim.
I had done my best to keep people from angering her, from unknowingly putting themselves in her path. Perhaps she only wanted to shoot another innocent animal down again. I hoped so.
“Michael was a bad person,” Avery said. “You should be happy he’s gone. Three.”
“He’s dead, Avery. You promised you wouldn’t do that anymore.”
“But you’re not happy,” she continued, as if I didn’t say anything. “In fact, you might get me in trouble. Four.”
“I’m not going to tell on you. You just have to stop,” I said.
“So now, I have to take care of you. Five.” She put her hand in her pocket.
“I want to go home now.”
The final crow perched on the ridge of the roof, eyeing the two of us in anticipation. It was almost as if it could foresee the macabre future. Avery smiled at the crow, silently communicating their grisly commonality. She turned back to me, slipping a kitchen knife from her pocket.