“…cities became tumors on the earth, devouring the farmland that sustained them.”
The scarecrow hung on his T-shaped stand, consciousness ebbing into his straw ganglion. Searching the fibers of his fresh brain for memories, he caught an image of himself lying in front of a barn, the farmer’s rugged hands thrusting a final handful of straw into the gap of his shirt.
Gazing upon his burlap face and seeing the gaping, torn hole of a mouth gashing into a crooked half-smile, the farmer’s young daughter peeked out from behind her father’s faded blue coveralls. “Let’s call him Koi. He looks like a fish out of water,” she giggled.
“Call him what you want Mindy, he won’t know the difference.”
Koi lifted his right arm and noticed the straw sticking out of the blue and yellow plaid sleeve, forming crude fingers. How had he attained what little consciousness he possessed?
His thoughts were interrupted by two crows landing on the ground in front of him. He dropped his arm and let out a hissing growl. The birds froze in terror for a second and he saw the shine of their eyes flicker into dullness for a moment before they took wing. Instantly, more knowledge flooded into him. It was visceral and instinctual, but somehow he knew he’d been created on a blue moon; the second full moon of a month. Some believed magical things can occur on a blue moon—perhaps this explained his self-awareness.
He spent long, golden summer days hanging in the breeze hoping for some shard of memory to reveal his purpose, but mostly he remained alone with the few thought fragments he owned.
One day the farmer Johnson walked past, carrying a shotgun over his shoulder, his daughter dogging his heels. They stopped for a moment and the farmer tilted his head, critiquing his creation. He took off his own sweat stained straw hat and strapped it under the scarecrow’s chin.
“I need a new hat. Koi might as well get some use from my old one.”
The sun sparkled on the faded brim of the hat. “Daddy, he don’t look like a fish no more. He looks like a king!”
The farmer, struck by some ineffable look of intelligence in the straw man, forced himself back to Mindy’s words. “Yeah, he’s a king alright, king of crows.”
A rustle between the rows of corn caught the farmer’s attention. He brought his shotgun to bear on a crow, pulled the trigger and the unfortunate crow fell in a flurry of feathers.
“Sorry honey, but every bite they eat is money out of our pocket. Looks like old king Koi needs to do a better job.” With that, the two were on their way to lunch at the farmhouse.
The words “king of crows” echoed through Koi’s mind. He knew he was called a scarecrow and it had been his first thought and instinct to frighten the birds away, but maybe he had it wrong. And the image of the farmer’s violent shooting of the crow remained, a disturbing image, in his mind.
The next time a crow landed nearby he resisted the urge to thrash and hiss at the bird and instead called out to it with his thoughts. The crow nearly flew away, startled by the voice in its head. But the voice was reassuring and commanding and the bird bowed its head and sent the sum of its life experience to Koi before rising and flapping off across the cornfields.
Sunrise brought hundreds of crows to Koi’s field. They clotted the ground around him and stepped up to their king’s straw feet to offer snatches of memory and imagery. In the afternoon, a bird, larger and more ephemeral and shadowy than the crows, brazenly landed on Koi’s shoulder.
“I am Raven,” it croaked softly to the straw man. “Although I am the spiritual essence of all crows that have ever existed, I am only the one who came before. You were created by man but are not a man—created by crows but not a crow. It is your destiny to deliver us.”
The raven’s shiny black talons pierced through the shoulders of the scarecrow’s shirt and sank into his stuffing. The great black bird flapped his wings and lifted the straw man off his stand and let him drop to the ground before disappearing into the mottled emerald greens of the corn rows.
Koi lie face down, the cool energy of the earth pulsed into his body. He fell asleep, but not into the unconscious nothingness he had known. Dreams flooded his mind. He saw the world, young and wild, ruled by the beasts and birds. Then came humans, and as their straggly numbers grew, they tamed the world and wrested control from the animals. Hundreds of thousands of years flashed through Koi’s dreams and he saw forests replaced by vast cities. The flowers and prairie plants gave way to corn, wheat and oats.
With the growth of grain crops, the crow population grew also. But the cities became tumors on the earth, devouring the farmland that sustained them.
The sun rose and fell and rose and fell again. The thoughts of hundreds of visiting crows flooded his congealing brain as the life force of the earth throbbed into his body. On the third morning, Koi felt the straw comprising his body form into sinewy muscles and he stood up and walked as a new creation.
He looked up and saw that the sky, from horizon to horizon, was blackened by the greatest murder of crows ever assembled. Koi lifted his arms and turned in a circle, acknowledging his dark flock. His mouth was no longer a slash in a material face but real lips, dark pink and fleshy. His eyes were no longer etched in with black permanent marker, but glossy black with fire orange irises.
His turn brought the chimney of the farmhouse into view and he ambled toward it; the mass of crows above him ebbing with each step. Not far from the house he came upon farmer Johnson supervising a hand at a burn pile. The worker was tossing the tattered remains of Koi’s predecessor onto the flames. As he approached, Mindy squealed and ran behind her father. The farmer looked at him and his mouth froze into a crooked, gaping, scarecrow like expression. Johnson swiveled his shotgun toward Koi but couldn’t pull the trigger. A strange voice, backed by the rasping thoughts of a million crows reverberated in his mind.
“Surrender to the new regime.” Koi lifted his arm and the farmer pointed the gun at the hand. The farmer struggled to turn the gun away but the weapon discharged into the chest of the man. The farmer tried to regain control of the gun and this time it swung in the opposite direction, leveling at Mindy’s head.
“From now on every bullet meant for a crow will find a human instead,” Koi’s voice droned. “The civilization of humans will fall and only those who give their minds and wills to us will survive. Resist and die, or go prepare more fields for corn.”
The gun fell at the farmer’s feet and he put his arm on Mandy’s shoulder and walked listlessly into the fields.
Koi turned again and caught sight of the city in the distance, smog smudged like a half erased pencil drawing. With each step, the dark thunder of wings rippled the corn leaves behind him.
About the Author
Rocky Hutson is a lifelong Pacific North-westerner residing in the town of Okanogan in eastern Washington state with his wife Myrna, a mini-pin named Finn, a pugapoo named Lobo, and a cat appropriately called Catastrophe. Rocky began writing in high school, focusing mostly on poetry. In spite of accolades from staff and students, his early work now resides in a plastic bin under his desk.