I decided to spotlight “The Crow’s Curse” because, ironically, of how dark it is. I enjoy stories that are dark because they have a unique chance to offer hope in even the worst circumstances. That’s what I offer with this story: hope in a bad, bad place. I hope you enjoy it again.
The Crow’s Curse
The clouds hung heavy over the city as she walked down the cobbled streets. Her bare feet shuffled against the ground. She tripped over a loose stone and barely managed to stay upright. She missed Mama. Mama would have been there to catch her. Mama would have held her hand, but now Mama and Papa were gone.
She stumbled down the row of shambled houses, many of them marked with a white X. Large brick walls rose on her other side. The gates were barred shut, and flyers warned of the curse of disease: how bodies once dead might return, worse than before, either as shambling corpses or screaming goblins.
As she made her way, the road began to fill with smoke. It burned her nostrils and her eyes, making her blink back tears as the smell of burning flesh hit her.
She followed the smell around a corner until she could see the crackling of flame and the dead rotting bodies. Around the fire, like dark birds, stood a group of doctors, dressed in long dark overcoats with their hoods up. Their bird-like masks glowing eerily in the firelight.
Timidly, she walked up.
“Sirs,” she asked, voice shaking. “I need help.”
Like one being, they all turned. She shrunk away as she beheld that they were not her saviors. Their masks were bone, and she could see the beady red eyes hungry for her disease-ridden flesh.
Heart beating like a caged bird’s wings, she turned and ran. With nightmarish screams, the monsters followed.
She didn’t make it far, what with her short strides being easily outdistanced by the crow like monsters behind her. One of them swiped a claw at her back, missing by barely an inch. She turned the corner, and her clumsy foot caught on an uneven cobble. She tumbled to the ground, and instinctively curled up. The monsters were going to eat her!
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as the monsters began to descend. She cried out in fear. She wanted her mama, her papa. She shut her eyes.
“Get back, you devils!” someone yelled.
She opened her eyes to see someone leaping over her, a torch in hand. He was dressed like a doctor too, but his mask was not bone. The creatures screeched as the man waved the torch in front of him.
“Find some other carrion to satisfy you.” He waved the torch again, and the monsters fled. He turned towards her shaking form.
She watched him warily. Would he eat her too? Was he even human? There wasn’t an inch of skin showing beneath his outfit to prove anything. The dark eyes of his mask prevented her from seeing him. Was it just a clever disguise?
“It’s alright, the monsters are gone.” He knelt down beside her and offered her a gloved hand. She curled away from it.
“I’m not one of them,” he said. His voice was calm and gentle, but she knew crows could be clever. He sighed. “I’m not allowed to do this, but I will show you I’m still human.” He took off his mask revealing a human face. His face was pocked with scars. An illness maybe, from a long time ago? “See, I’m still human. I won’t hurt you.” He put the mask back on.
“My mama,” she blurted out. “My mama is dead.” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“I’m so sorry.”
“But she came back.”
The words hung in the air for a moment. The doctor, back behind his dark mask, seemed to pause.
She started sobbing “I woke up to the sound of something screaming and banging against the door! It’s not Momma anymore.” A shiver ran down her spine, and the gloved hand of the doctor touched her shoulder.
“She is now a goblin,” he said for her.
She just wept on the ground, and the doctor carefully lifted her up revealing the dark spots of the plague under her arms.
“It will be alright.” He wrapped his arms around her.
It had been such a long time since she had been hugged; she sobbed into his shoulder.
He sighed, the sound muffled by the mask. “Do you have any other kin?”
She shook her head.
“Then it looks like your stuck with me for the time being.” His voice was gentle as he said it, and she felt, for the first time in a long time, like things were going to be alright.
“Thank you,” she said, stepping away and wiping the tears from her eyes.
He offered his hand again, and this time she took it.