By: Mason Bushell
His was the fourteenth post from the gate. The crow always perched there amid the barbs of the wire fence between the ditch and the field. Today the mists descended like an eerie curtain closing at dusk. In fact, the curtains were opening on the final act for one being, this night.
A shadowy figure forded the ditch with ease. Vaulting the gate, he vanished into the mist. The crow had seen him before, sheep always disappeared when he came prowling. The crow listened to alarmed bleats from the sheep. He couldn’t see them in the fog but knew they were being herded. He let out a warning squawk, took flight, gliding to a withered alder tree. There he landed not on a branch, but upon the shoulder of a bewhiskered man. He turned his head, looking at the crow from beneath the brim of his worn cow-hide hat. A scar graced his cloudy left eye, the right as green and shiny as the day he was born. An old black smoking pipe hung from his lips, peaking out of that yellowed beard.
The crow bowed his head. A human-like nod if ever a bird could give one.
The crow leapt from his shoulder and flew straight as an arrow through the heavy mist. The man tightened his old tan jacket, shouldered his trusty shotgun and followed. He’d faced many adversaries in his long life. One sheep-rustler didn’t scare him.
Carrying no torch to betray him and with no moon, the field was like the darkest cave filled with smoke. Visibility was down to less than thirty feet. The old man stumbled over a rabbit hole and cursed beneath his breath. Not far ahead the crow sent up a caterwaul of screeches, punctuated by the curses and groans of the rustler.
“Damn you, bird. Leave me be.” The voice was deep and familiar to the old man. He closed the gap fast. An old box truck became visible by its tail-light glow. There stood the man besieged by the crow.
“Granger! You double-crossing carcass.” the old man’s shout was as husky as his beard. He levelled his gun at the trespasser without blinking an eye.
“Don’t shoot me, Harley. I can explain.”
“Then talk. You have one minute before I blow your head off.” The old man cocked the shotgun proving it to be loaded.
“Get this bird off of me.” Granger swung a fist at the crow, missing by a mile.
The old man gave a whistle. The crow landed on his shoulder. There he stroked its long beak. “Now talk.”
“Okay, okay. Look I’m desperate for money. You have hundreds of sheep. I figured I could sell a few and we’d both be okay. I’m sorry, okay?”
The old man shook his head slow and furious. “I called the police, the first time. They wouldn’t help find the rustler; you know that, Granger.”
“Shut your mouth. I sent you out to catch the rustler the second time. You told me you never saw him despite sheep disappearing. It was you all along, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. My children are hungry. I had —”
“Liar, your only son is thirty. My wife gave you food three times a day since you started working on my farm. You’re nothing but a thieving carcass. One that needs skinning alive.”
“Try me, old man.” Grangers voice had grown colder, evil now.
“You got three seconds to get out of here. Or you’ll never leave alive.” The old man gripped his pipe in his teeth. “Now get gone, never come back.”
Granger swung a hand to his belt. “I’m going and I’m taking the sheep with me.” He drew a revolver and fired two shots. The sheep scattered full of fear. His eyes grew wide with terror.
The old man had rolled through the fog, avoiding both shots and losing his pipe. Regaining his feet, he unleashed a blast of buckshot levelling the farmhand. A horrendous sight.
“What a waste of skin, hey bird?” he breathed while dragging the corpse to the box truck. With Granger in the back, he set it aflame, sent it rolling into the valley. It would burn away all trace of the atrocities of the night. The old man picked up his pipe, lit it, and disappeared into the fog. The crow perched on one shoulder and his shotgun over the other. He was smiling now his sheep were safe once more.