This story is copyright. Except for the purpose of fair review, no part may be stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording or storage in any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. No reproduction may be made, by any means, unless a licence has been obtained from the author or publisher. ©️ Tabatha Wood 2021
“He’s up there again.”
“What’s that, dear?”
“That man, you know the one I mean. He’s sitting on the telephone lines again. Watching me.” He scowled through the window and glared at the sky.
His wife tutted and wrung her hands. “Edgar, don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “Come and sit down. Look, that nice Rex George is on the television again. Dickens of Dockland Green.”
He sighed and dropped the edge of the net curtain. Lorraine poured him a fresh cup of tea. It was ridiculously hot, and while he did his best to sip it carefully, he noticed, with great annoyance, that he’d still managed to spill some on his pyjama bottoms.
“It’s not right, Lorraine. Him being up there like that.”
Lorraine sucked her teeth and screwed up her face. Here we go again, she thought dismally.
“Edgar, dear, don’t get yourself all worked up. You know, the doctor said it’s all just stress. You need to stop worrying so much.”
Edgar slammed his teacup down on the table with such ferocity it made her jump.
“Oh. it’s all very well for you and him to say that, ain’t it? You’re not the ones who see him up there all the time. Taunting me!”
Lorraine sighed. “It’s just birds, Edgar dear. Ravens that have flown over from the Tower, most likely. Try not to worry yourself.”
Edgar grumbled and opened his newspaper. He shook the pages angrily, holding up a paper wall between him and his wife. Lorraine could hear him muttering behind the print. “Ravens. Ha! It’s not bloody ravens. Some bloody odd bloke sitting on the lines. Leering at me. Listening to me. Poking his nose into my business. Ravens, my arse.”
She wondered if she should call Doctor Auspex again, tell him that Edgar’s medicine didn’t seem to be working. The doctor was expensive, but she’d been told his work on Avian Psychosis had been seminal in his field. He was the best person — indeed the only person — who could help Edgar get over his terrible affliction.
Carefully, sneakily, so that her husband wouldn’t notice, she leant forwards so she could see out of the lounge window.
The telephone line was thick with black birds. They moved as one as a giant hoard, a pulsating mass of feathers. She had never seen so many gathered all together before. No wonder Edgar was spooked.
He was still hiding behind his newspaper and mumbling. Something about, “Bird Brother. Bird Brother is watching me.”
A movement caught the edge of her eye and she looked quickly to the window.
Among the birds, sitting casually on the telephone lines, was a rake-thin man dressed head-to-toe in black with a battered, old opera hat jammed over his ears. He winked at her and tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially.
At once, the ravens took to the air and surrounded him like a feathered cloak. In a flurry of movement, of beak and wing, the man disappeared into the chaos. Lorraine gasped and her palm flew to her mouth. Had he slipped from the lines and fallen to the ground? Was he sprawled in the dirt somewhere, hurt?
“Is he still there?” Edgar called. “Or has he buggered off yet?”
“I…” Lorraine began. “I’m not sure…” Common sense kicked in and she laughed at her foolishness. At how ludicrous the situation. Of course, there couldn’t be a man on the lines. She must be tired. Seeing things. She’d let Edgar’s mania get to her. What absolute stuff and nonsense. She settled back and sipped her tea. “As I said, dear, it’s just ravens. Nothing to get worked up about.”
Something rapped on the window; like a shower of gravel, a light touch of drummed fingers. Or a convergence of feathers and bone. The room grew dark, the light smothered with black. A thousand bodies pressed urgently against the glass, squirming and writhing together.
“Edgar!” Lorraine squeaked; her voice gripped with terror. “What’s happening?”
Edgar folded his newspaper neatly and dropped it by his side. He seemed oddly calm for a change.
“I told ya, Lorraine,” he said quietly. “Bird Brother. There’s no escaping him. Not now you’ve seen him. Not ever. Especially not when he knows where we live.” Edgar rose from his chair and made to exit the room. His movement seemed to enliven the creatures. Sharp beaks scraped on the windowpanes, echoed by an army of claws. They worried at the putty surrounding the glass. Raked at the wooden frame.
“Where are you going?” Lorraine whimpered. “Don’t leave me.”
“Stay here,” Edgar told her, disappearing behind the door. When he returned, he carried something long and heavy underneath his arm. Lorraine recognised it immediately.
“Are you going to shoot them?” she asked him, hopefully.
Edgar eased two shells into the chambers. He brought the barrel back up and closed the break. It snapped shut with an ominous click.
“No,” he said, putting the shotgun to his shoulder. “I’m going to set us free.”