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The Illusional Crow: A Short Story by CherAnn Wright

The Illusional Crow

I open my mouth, wanting to scream, but the dark one enters and silences me. Shadows dance along the walls of the dimly lit room, caused by the flames in the fireplace. Young Sarah squeezes my hand so tightly that my fingertips turn cold and tingly. A foul smell overwhelms my nostrils, suffocating the odor of the burning pot roast in the oven.

I know something terrible is going to happen. It always does when he comes—the dark one, the one with changing eyes when he shifts his head to look at me, the one that lurks in the shadows.

I close my eyes and send my mind somewhere else, somewhere peaceful—back in time to a safe place before it comes. I move my thoughts backward, slowly, focusing on the sounds of crickets and night creatures. Sending my mind in reverse, I focus on the music of the evening birds just before dusk, then even further to their morning songs—it’s fully daylight outside. Further back still, to sunrise, the morning dew blankets the ground, and I hear the pleasing sound of the water flowing downstream. I sit with my arms embracing my knees, barefoot beside it. The smell of honeysuckle levitates in the air so sweet I can taste it. I breathe it in. My senses make their final shift to the woodsy scent of the arms that wrap around me. I stop here, intending to stay in the moment forever—a moment when illusion makes everything seem perfect.

"Good morning, my love," Andrew says, squatting down then sitting in the grass behind me, extending his legs, one on each side of my hips. He scoots in close, pressing his whole body against me, wrapping me between his legs and arms like a security blanket, pulling me back against him.

My whole face lifts into a smile as I curl my hands around his forearms and lean into him. I let go of fear and darkness. A breeze tickles my skin, and with each act, the moment prompts me to take a satisfying inhale, and I relax into it. I can stay here forever—I swear I will. We'd stay like this forever. The dark one wouldn't touch us. We'd just be—here—just like this—always. Time slows, and for a moment, I am safe.

It first comes as a feeling—an overwhelming fear that’s impossible to ignore. Then it's a subtle sound that buzzes inside my head instead of my ears. It morphs into a scream—louder, clearer. Then he is there—the piercing caw of the crow.

"No! No! Not again. You can't! You won't take this from me again!"

I open my eyes. He lands in front of me, his eyes no longer shifty but black and haunting. The smell—vile like rotting fruit—spews from his mouth along with his screams.

The crow never changes—only his eyes. Ever since I was a little girl, he appears the same way. It’s a feeling, a scream, a smell; then horrible things happen. The crow has entered Andrew's body, just as he did my father's, and shapeshifts him into something else—something evil and unrecognizable.

"Sarrahhh," comes a slow, twisted pronunciation of my name. "Sarah!" It comes again, quick and mean. "What did you do?"

At first, I’m confused. Then I realize I’m back inside the house. The trembling returns, more violent this time. It’s my father! No, Andrew? I can’t tell anymore. It’s the crow. He morphs everyone who takes him in and makes them the same vile person.

"You burned my food again! Do you think I want to eat this shit?"

Andrew glares at me, but they’re not his eyes. It’s the black eyes of the crow. Andrew places the bottle of the crow's poison down on the kitchen table, and the brown liquid sloshes in the bottle.

A stinging whack lands just below my right temple, next to the freshest scar. Involuntary tears form in the corners of my eyes. I place a hand on my cheek and feel the fresh blood.

"You never learn, do you, bitch? You’re worthless. You would have nothing if it weren’t for me."

My neck pops when Andrew jerks my head backward as he grips a fistful of hair. He clamps the other hand around my throat, cutting off my air. The pain is nothing compared to the emotional toll of living this over and over. The fear that I am going to die.

Ten-year-old Sarah's trembling hand takes mine, her grip pleadingly tight. I look down into younger Sarah's eyes. My eyes. I must protect her just as I did when we were children. I have to kill what the crow continues to create. Just like my father, he must die.

With all the energy I can build within myself, I shove Andrew and pound my knee into his groin. His hands release me, and he doubles over in pain.

I find the knife on the counter and grip it with such intensity that my knuckles whiten and protrude against my skin. Younger Sarah looks up at me, fear consuming our faces as I lean down. I look at the younger version of myself and nod; she does the same.

We clutch the knife together and raise it into the air, bringing it down over and over, feeling it tear through flesh and muscle. I hear my father scream out. His cry shifts into Andrew's as we continue to stab him until he is no longer a threat to us. Young Sarah lets go, and I stand and look at the person lying on the floor.

Blood drips from the knife, and the sound of it becomes unbearable, intense. A cacophony so loud it hurts my ears. Drip, drip, drip. My body continues to tremble all over. I feel the darkness looming outside the walls of the room, inside the walls of my mind.

I look down at my younger self, and she gives a half-hearted smile and says, "It had to be done, Sarah. The crow is never going to let them go." Matching tears flow down our cheeks. "We’ll fix it next time. The next time the crow won’t come. It will end differently."

I close my eyes and send my mind somewhere beautiful and safe, where the crow won’t find us. A pleasant, cool breeze washes over me as a dove coo’s above my head. I peek through parted eyelids to look at it, then open them fully. Snow blankets the ground and gathers on the frozen parts of the stream. Strong, warm arms wrap around me from behind, squeezing me close to his body. I reach up and curl my fingers around his forearms, and my face lifts into a smile. I stop here, intending to stay in the moment forever—a moment when everything seems perfect. "We are safe here," younger Sarah says. My smile deepens, and I nod.

It first comes as a feeling, an overwhelming fear that's impossible to ignore. Then it's a subtle sound that buzzes inside my head instead of my ears. It morphs into a harsh scream—louder, clearer.

"No! No! Not again. “You can't! You won't take this from me again!"

My eyes jump open, and I stare through the barred window, my hands clutching the breast of my hospital gown. The tree branch just outside the window bounces as the dark one lands there. His damning eye turns to look at me, and I stare into the green orb. He shifts his head, and his eye does the same, turning from green to black and back to green.

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