The Crow's Decoration - Short Story
© 2018 J. J. Hanna
“Take this.” He took the small contraption from his sister. The fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling reflected off its metal casing.
“What is it?” he asked, flipping it over in his tiny hands.
“Happy eleventh birthday, David,” she said with a wink, tucking a few stray strands of brown hair behind her ear. “I know it’s not the game you wanted.”
He looked at it more closely. No, this wasn’t the game he wanted. This wasn’t even close. But he’d been stupid for hoping, really.
“How does it work?” He raised his eyes to her face, peering through his shaggy blond hair.
“Feel the switch on the side?”
He searched for the switch, his fingers fumbling over the contraption’s smooth surface. While she waited, she double checked that the pistol she carried was loaded. He nodded when he found the little divot.
“If a mage tries to hurt you, you flip that switch and they’ll lose their magic.” He looked at the box again and threw his arms around her waist with abandon. She tousled his hair and planted a kiss on his forehead. Safe. This means I’ll be safe.
* * *
David pulled on his combat boots and checked his pistol. He glanced around the shack to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, catching a glimpse of himself in the glass shard propped against the wall. Even without magic, he could see her warm brown eyes looking back at him. He approached the shard as if he were sneaking up on a mage and in one swift movement knocked the glass over, watching it shatter into even tinier pieces than before, each sliver sending a fragment of his face into the room: stubble here, unkempt hair there, black eyes a few feet away.
Three solid knocks thudded on the door. “David! You ready yet? Gosh, you take longer to get ready than half the camp.”
He pushed the door open, casting one last look at the chaos of his sleeping quarters, and as an afterthought, grabbed the little silver box that had gotten him through so many other missions. He’d never had to use it, but it reminded him of her. And anyway, now it was more of a security object than anything else. He came face to face with Luceile.
“Come on, slowpoke. The mages are on the move.”
He nodded and stepped out of the shadow his hut cast on the charred ground. A while ago—he wasn’t sure how long, it happened so often—a bomb had cleared this section of forest. He glanced at what remained of the small crew. Luceile hopped up on one of the remaining stumps and called for silence.
“Today the imbalance ends. The mages have ruled over us for too long. How many have we lost to their magic? How many sacrifices were made to ‘keep balance’ in the world, when their magic is what caused the imbalance in the first place? Today we rise up. Either they become like us or they die. There’s no other option. Who’s with me!”
As a cheer erupted from those around him, David tried to join in. But something was different this time. He should have been elated to be out in the field with Luceile, but he couldn’t shake his unease. This no longer felt like a mission; this felt like genocide.
* * *
Every hair stood up under his kevlar sleeves. A trickle of sweat called his attention from the trees around him as it slid lazily down the back of his neck. A twig snapped to his five. He spun, pistol raised and ready to fire when his eyes met the stock-still figure of a doe. She watched him for a few moments, flicked an ear in his direction, and bounded off into the trees, oblivious to the way his heart pounded in his ears, ringing like gunshots in the night. He took a deep breath and continued the way he’d been going. He reached a clearing in the trees and stopped, searching the silence for any sign that he wasn’t alone. Even the deer seemed to have left completely. No birds sang. No squirrels chirped a warning. No wind whispered in the trees. His breath invaded the space like an unwelcome guest rifling through the supply crates.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood listening, but when he finally decided it must be safe to proceed, he stepped into the clearing.
All at once the forest burst around him. Flies fled the grass where his foot fell. Squirrels shrieked at each other across the tree. Cardinals screamed a siren, followed by the squawking of three crows as they fought for a place at the edge of the ring. The doe stepped into view, no longer frozen as it had been before, but focused, its black eyes directly on David’s face. Just as suddenly as the noise had started, with a cry the deer silenced the forest once more. David rose his gun and took aim.
In an instant, as if he’d blinked—and he wasn’t entirely sure he’d seen it happen in the first place—the deer was gone, replaced by a teenager with stubby brown hair and piercing green eyes.
“You don’t have to do this,” she said, raising a hand slowly.
“Don’t move another inch,” David hissed, the gun trembling in his grip.
She remained calm, stepping closer.
He lowered the gun and grabbed his silver box.
“I said don’t move!”
“I’m not what you think.” Her voice was sweet and soft, like bells on a winter sleigh.
“You’re a mage. A green one at that. It’s in your eyes.”
“And you’re Resistance. You’ve been causing trouble.”
Bu-bum. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. Bu-bum. He settled his shaking fingers over the trigger. If a mage hurts you. Sweat slipped down his forehead, stinging his eyes. He squeezed them shut and pressed the switch. In the same moment, a wolf’s jaws clamped down on his neck, dragging him to the ground—her last magical act.
He opened his mouth to cry out, but no noise left him aside from a strangled gurgle. The wolf shifted beside him, eye’s flashing green past the spray of crimson across her face. He aimed his pistol at the wolf. She may not be able to transform anymore, but being stuck as a wolf made her no less dangerous. He pulled the trigger.
* * *
As the sunlight left the forest, animal noises returned. Birds sang without fear. Flies returned to the grass, buzzing around the neck and eyes of a man and a wolf. As the forest moved on, the crows lingered, flying off one by one, the last clutching a shiny silver box in its claws; a pleasant decoration for his nest.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in anyway. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real life events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her cuddling with a cat, drinking a caffeinated beverage, and watching one of her favorite shows. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.