Crows

At first it was quite exciting to see the murder downtown. There were at minimum a thousand crows, from dusk to dawn, populating the trees and crowing incessantly. There was something magical about them, how they simply appeared one day. It was almost as though there was some primeval force that called them to the city streets. Perhaps they came because this place, before mankind littered the ground with buildings, was a home for them.

The weeks following their first appearance were marked with nuisances for the citizens frequented the downtown city streets. Cawing throughout the night and the occasional broken window were the most minor of disruptions. The biggest problems were the droppings. People began to look up constantly when walking the streets for fear of being struck by guano. Park benches and sidewalks were slick with uric acid and feces from the tremendous number of birds.

Eventually science took notice of the birds. There were attempts to track them as they left the city each morning with the rising of the sun. Over and over stations would observe them flying west towards the mountains, seemingly to escape the dawn. The mystery deepened because they never made it over those mountains. They seemingly disappeared at the apex.

The disappearing birds was just one thing in a long list of how mysterious their presence had become. As ornithologists and zoologists were joined by other members of the scientific community several abnormal things were discovered. It was determined that the caw of these crows was distinct, it had certain tones that did not match standard records of crow calls. Their droppings contained a very high level of sulfur and almost no ammonia, which was usually very prominent.

The most troubling events began when the scientists started conducting tests. The first involved the release of several crows’ bread for scientific purposes into the murder. These birds were equipped with small tracking devices. The idea being that these birds would reveal where the crows were going when they disappeared over the western mountains.

The first night of the experiment the crows seemed to integrate easily. As dawn approached they were tracked to the apex of the mountains. They remained there for the entire day. It seemed to some that the answer was obvious, the crows were simply feeding in the woods. When the crows returned to the city at dusk the tracking remained in the woods.

Armed with GPS devices a team was dispatched to the mountain range. All of the crows appeared to be located in one spot in close proximity to one another. Hiking into the forest was a slow process and it was late in the evening before the team arrived at the coordinates. What they found was far more gruesome and horrific than they anticipated.

The first bird was found lying on the forest floor. It lay flat on its stomach, wings outstretched, beak pointed at the tail of the next. When they flipped it over they found that it wasn’t laying on its belly, it was laying on nothing. There were no internal structures, organs or otherwise, remaining in the body. The eyes had been pecked out and the brain had been removed from the underside of the skull along the throat.

Each bird was the same, spaced exactly twenty three inches apart. A line of eight birds lead to the final horror of the discovery. Strewn around a small clearing in the trees lay an ornate positioning of such mysterious design that it best not be described. Each organ from the birds was present, along with the remaining corpses of those released into the downtown murder. The ones in the clearing had met an even more meticulous end than the ones discovered before. Photos taken of the scene still defy explanation. In the heart of the clearing all the tracking chips had been piled into a little pyramid structure.

Assuming that the mutilations must be the work of humans and not the birds themselves an additional experiment was performed. Several of the crows were captured and tracking devices were affixed to their leg. At once, when the birds were released each bird began biting and assaulting its own leg, severing it and leaving both its leg and the tracker behind.

One of the crows proved unable to properly remove the device. It made no sounds and did not attempt to escape the ensuing onslaught from the murder. At one moment it was perched, then such activity of the crows effectively blocked view of it. In a matter of less than a minute the birds disbursed. All that remained was the leg on which the tracker was attached, clutching the branch, and a cloud of feathers slowly descending to the ground.

Seemingly overnight the number of crows grew. At first the estimate was an increase of three to four thousands. Within a week they numbered in the tens of thousands. They filled every tree for blocks and blocks surrounding one point at the center of the city, a public park. Not a bird was seen in the park, not even to fly across the space, they all flew around the perimeter.

Increases in bird droppings and the subsequent rains and constant pressure washing of the sidewalks started to have a toll on the surrounding environment. The majority of surface water runoff was diverted to the main river that ran along the east edge of the city. Within a week of the massive increase in the number of crows the sulfur levels in the river grew to a point that was lethal to the fish. The scene was monstrous; a shore to shore massing of carcasses and an accompanying the odor of dead fish and rotten eggs permeated the air and moved through the city like an invisible fog.

Finally the city began to take action to get rid of the crows. Standard methods were used at first; scarecrows, loud noises, statues of owls and raccoons placed in the trees. The murder would disperse temporarily but could never be forced out beyond the perimeter of the city. Ultrasonic devices which were dispersed through the city were totally ignored. Real owls and hawks were released in small numbers only to be mobbed and utterly destroyed by the crows.

When audio recordings of crows in distress were played from dummies placed in the trees the response was violent beyond comparison. The birds did not feign to be helping do anything but put the distressed bird out of its misery. At last open hunting of the birds began, but given the sheer number it was futile and caused far more property damage than was anticipated.

A few of the birds that were killed were collected and examined. Autopsies revealed nothing definitive. The only discrepancies existed in three forms; a greatly increased sulfur content throughout the animals body, identical fungal infections in all of the examined birds digestive tracts, and a small non-cancerous growth around the Striatum. It was the growth at the Striatum, the convergence point of sensory memory and emotional neurons in their brains which sparked the most debate. Many wanted to identify these birds as a totally new species unlike any other.

After a time, as the bird population continued to grow, city officials issued evacuation orders. Sulfur concentrations had made the entire city reek. It had become apparent that sulfur contamination had reached the fresh water supply and none of the drinking water in the city was safe. Additionally, the birds had become increasingly hostile, attacking pets and other domesticated wildlife.

It took a week to evacuate all but critical personnel. Those that stayed finally concluded that they should determine why the birds avoid the park. The hope was to duplicate whatever effect was there and force the crows out of the city perminently. Three teams were assembled consisting of scientific and government officials. Two would explore the park in depth while the remaining team would serve as a base camp to coordinate the investigation.

The park spanned a mile square. It was a natural formation of great beauty. Ancient pines and other evergreen trees spotted the fields lined by natural black sand paths which lead in and out of small stone canyons. Caves had been discovered when the city was founded, but an accident killing several caused them to be sealed shortly after.

As the teams progressed through the park it was discovered that two of the caves entrances and been re-opened. If it was natural or manmade interference that breached them it could not be told. Each exploratory team descended cautiously into the caves. Radio contact was maintained with the basecamp at all times.

The first cave, located at the southwest end of the park, held several deep caverns. One was found to be teaming with the same fungus found in the bird autopsies. The fungus appeared to be feeing directly on the stone which was a sulfurous volcanic rock. Estimates indicate that the original cavern was no greater than the size of a single bedroom but that it now spanned the distance of two football fields and was hundreds of meters deep. In this dark environment a second property of the fungus was noted, a red bio-luminescence where the formations were largest. The smell filling the cave was a sickly sweet, like burning sugar and vinegar, and caused many of those that explored the cavern to grow ill. Some lost all mental faculties and ran shrieking from the cavern shouting what could only be describing as non-sense, similar to the sounds made by people speaking in tongues.

The second cave, located in the very heart of the park, proved to be the most dreadful. The entrance was littered with the remains of hundreds of human skeletons. They covered the floor except for one path through them. This path lead to a miraculously wide spiral staircase of carved obsidian. The work done here had to date to pre-colonial times. The craftsmanship and the sheer volume of stone that would have needed to have been removed would have taken many lifetimes. Along the walls of the stair were numerous bas reliefs of a human figure with small and thin characteristics, none of which were terribly clear in design. These reliefs were flanked by a hieroglyphic writing of unknown origin.

At the bottom of the stairs, which stretched better than 10 stories into the darkness, there were two paths. One path lead to a room which could best be described some sort of ancient Nave. Indentations in the floor appeared to be well worn from much kneeling. At the far side of the room stood a statue of such detail that modern master artisans would have needed to spend all their lives to duplicate it. Carved out of obsidian it depicted a man, clearly human, with an old face that showed the passage of years deeply. Most shocking were the eyes. They were clearly open but held no detail, only smooth and glistening obsidian. He was very thin, stood about five feet tall, and was draped in a wrapped garment similar to a toga, but detailed as to depict leather. On his head he wore a cap with straps that framed his face. In his left hand he held a staff that towered over him by at least a foot. His feet were bare. Above him, carved into the wall, was an incredibly detailed hieroglyphic of the same type seen on the stairs.

The second path lead to something totally unexpected. Extending down several hundred yards it eventually opened into a small chamber. The smell of sulfur was thick in the air. The room seemed to be a dimly lit living quarters, as evidenced by the light being cast from several burning candles. They lined the walls on small rock platforms, with wax coating the walls and extending like stalactites under each outcropping. A heap of rags in the corner gave hint of a bed. A small box that was opened contained one ornate glass orb, completely sealed, and filled with some brackish liquid.

In the center of the room was a small table and chair carved from stone, as though they were carved directly from the cave itself. Covering the table were stacks of ancient a parchment, similar to papyrus. A small vessel of stone contained burnt wooden sticks used for writing.

Electing to return to the surface to examine the parchment and sphere the team began to ascend the stairs. Mid way up all of the teams radios began shrieking static. As they reached the entrance to the cave the sound from the radios stopped and a new dread befell them.

The entrance to the central cave was surrounded by a field of well-maintained grass. Of this field all that was visible was a single path the width of a car. On either side were crows, densely packed together. Their eyes were all locked on the entrance to the cave as the team stepped out.

The silence on the scene was heavy. The team huddled close, watching the birds watch them. Some movement stirred from a small grove of trees at the edge of the field. It was a figure moving through the birds. It moved slowly, slumped over, supported by a very long staff. It moved through the murder without any disruption.

As the figure drew near it could be seen that it was a man, old, wearing leather, with bare feet. Tension mounted as he drew near and they could see the detail in his face as being similar to that of the statue. The final moment as he stepped out onto the path and looked up cause some of the members of the team to gasp and yell in horror; his eyes were black as obsidian.

Staring, looking at them, he used the staff to straighten himself. He looked at them curiously, as though he could not tell what they were. Tilting his head to the sky he emitted a perfect caw. The resulting cacophony was deafening. Seemingly from nowhere the sky turned dark and filled with millions of crows. The crows on the ground did not move, did not make a sound and did not adjust their gaze off the team.

Fear was palpable in the new dim light being cast over the field. From the sky a series of objects began to fall in front of the team. Clothing, radios, reading glasses, wallets. A female government official picked up a wallet and dropped it just as quickly after seeing the id belonged to someone from their basecamp. Fear broke her and she ran blindly into the surrounding crows, screaming.

The description of what happened to her indicated her death must have been quick. In a matter of seconds the crows swooped out of the sky down on her. When they departed all evidence of her was gone.

The old man lowered himself to sit on the grass in the middle of the path. He supported himself with his staff. He repeated his caw and silence came over the field again. Reaching into a small satchel on his hip he produced an orb identical to the one that the team had found in the cave. He held it up to his face and studied it carefully, as though mesmerized. Looking up at the team he gestured down the path behind him, wordlessly telling them to leave.

The team began to walk slowly down the path. The old man sat motionless as they approached until they were close enough to smell the strong odor of sulfur coming from him. He raised his hand and smiled at them with those cold black eyes.

Members of the team who tried to explain what happened next met with skepticism at their recollection. Others refuse to acknowledge anything happened. The events that described the final doom of the city were unbelievable.

The old man began to speak, but his words were intelligible. The movement of his mouth did not properly coincide with the sounds that were being generated. The tone was deep, and could best be described as nonsensical strings of moaning. As the sounds came from him he threw the sphere into the air and delicately caught it on the end of his staff, unbroken. He stared at the sphere and tapped the staff with his free hand. The sphere began to glow brighter and brighter, glowing purple and green, until finally the old man grasped the staff with both hands and swung it upward. The sphere ascended, much faster and farther than should have been possible. As it reached the crows a sound that has only been described as rage burst forth from the entire murder. The ones on the ground took flight just as a brilliant purple and green light rushed through the flock of birds above.

Within seconds the crows disappeared into the city. The resulting sounds echoing down the abandoned streets indicated great destruction was taking place. The old man stood and once again gestured for them to leave. He momentarily detained one of the scientists long enough to reclaim the wooden box with the sphere in it. He then disappeared into the darkness of the cave.

Their escape from the city was incredibly intense. They discovered their basecamp had been completely destroyed. Small shreds of every conceivable material littered the ground. Among the detritus matter were fragments of steel, of glass, of computer components and what was assumed could only be human bone. As they approached the edge of the park the smell of sulfur became stiflingly thick on the air and the cries of the birds echoed like maniacal laughter.

As the team drove through the streets they witnessed things that no human should have seen.   It appeared as though the murder had divided into two groups. One group, which appeared to consist of very normal looking birds, was actively dive bombing cars, houses, anything and everything man made.

The second group was a different story. These birds, it could be seen, had grown in size two fold. Their eyes glowed green in the artificial twilight. They would systematically swarm around the tallest buildings in the city and wrap them in swirling darkness. The top of these crow chimneys would emanate a purple light briefly and would be followed immediately by a great plume of particles, either dust or ash. The flock would disburse and it could be seen that the building was collapsing into nothing, disappearing as though it had been built of dry sand and was running through the fingers of God.

The destruction of the city continued for two full days. When it was over the only evidence that had ever existed were the severed ends of the freeways that ran through it. All man-made structures were gone. The miles and miles of open space were dotted with patches of green which used to be the yards of countless homes. No stone, no steal, no piping, not even evidence of where the debris had gone. Having done their job the crows had disappeared as well. The murder had successfully killed the city.

The surviving team suffered terribly. All of them had sleep disturbances so severe that they needed to be sedated in order to get rest. When they slept they experienced extremely lucid dreams. The dreams they described indicated that they were present at the construction of the underground temple, participants in its construction. They were not just building the place, they were digging out a creature who had been imprisoned there by a race of ancient creatures. Some called them Old Ones, others used the term Elder Gods. All of them described them with an unknown word; Eldritch.

As the months after the city’s demise passed they reported that they began understanding the hieroglyphic writing in their dreams. They told a story about how these Old Ones built a civilization that existed where the modern city was now located. They filled it with devoted acolytes from the many native inhabitants. Eventually one specific Elder God became the lone deity for the inhabitants. They worshiped this God, and gave it a name; Croven.

It was also hinted that there was a period of discord amongst the Old Ones. Some event beyond description occurred and Croven was sealed away. The ancient inhabitants responded by preforming some sort of ritual, which defied description, to cause a “dreamless sleep”. This sleep would let them return once the discord diminished and would mark the return of their God.

One acolyte was deemed worthy to remain hidden through the ages until that time came. This old man was transformed into a timeless creature. There was also a description of a process using black wings to call on the powers of the Elder Gods. These wings would bring on a darkness that would purge the land so that Croven could reawaken and restore its disciples.

In the months that followed these first dreams several of the survivors committed suicide. Those that held on at the brink of madness reported that their dreams had changed. All reported the same dream; a great abhorrent creature, lurking in the darkness of the underground caverns. It was being tended to by the old man with obsidian eyes.

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