The Muster

For three days Owen stayed in the house as the crows gathered. Three days until empty cupboards and hunger drove him outside.

They sat on every surface, gripping branches, brickwork, and dead mammals. He tried to walk through the birds, ignoring their hollow bones cracking under the soles of his boots. There were too many. Before he was ten paces from the porch they clung to his clothes and hair alike.

The birds whispered of drowned cities and cadavers with throats choked by parchment. They told him of streams so clogged with the dead the water did not flow, even when only bones remained.

He did not understand their speech, a scratch of caws, yet he saw every place and death they spoke of. When every crow had told its story the muster took to the wing, free of its burden for another hundred years.

When they had gone Owen lay on the lawn alone, his every thought now belonging to all the choked and drowned he could not save.

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