Black leaves fall

The dog is getting old. She has gray around her muzzle and gives up the fence-row race with the neighbor mutts a lot quicker than she used to. Most people don’t like my dog, and I don’t care. She’s a constant companion and likes me when most people don’t. We were alone in the house for an hour today. She nuzzled quietly into a blanket and left me be. I acted in kind, save the blanket.

I hear fairly well and have near-perfect vision, but I didn’t notice what was happening outside before the dog. She let loose a small yip that seemed to come from nowhere. I assumed she had woken from a dog a dream, one where two squirrels were screwing on the back deck and offending the dog’s moral sensibilities. I paid her little attention until she barked again.

Like my wife’s bemused expressions, the dog has a different bark for different occasions. It’s always in the interpretation. The staccato yip usually means, in dog shorthand, something ain’t right. It’s not a meddlesome squirrel. It’s not a neighborhood teen punk. It’s the dog’s alert that something quite off has crossed the property line and threatens to upset the normal order–or disorder–of our home.

I looked up and out the window. I saw what appeared to be an inordinate amount of leaves falling from the giant four-trunked sweetgum in the front yard. We’re nearing that point in the year when the final leaves let loose of their annual hold and fall onto our half-acre. Nothing new. Nothing uncomfortable. Simply seasonal changes in how we process our lives.

The dog yipped again and the sky rained black. The fire-colored leaves were falling, but something else was there, too. The sky was voiding itself of color and the dog was nonplussed. Unsettled, I stood and walked slowly toward the window. The dog did not follow.

My eyes registered the sight before my mind woke up. The front yard–no small amount of space–was nearly black with birds. Dozens of giant crows had landed within a couple of seconds of each other and turned my manicured lawn into a Hitchcockian horror show. I turned my head to look for my camera. It was across the room.

I took one step and the birds rose en masse into the air. I was behind a pane of glass and more than 20 feet away from the nearest beak, but they knew. Chaos choreographed broke into the sky and hung there, a black mass working in confused and unsure unison. The flock knew it had to move, had to do something, had to get away, but–for one tenth of one second–didn’t know where. The birds spoke to each other in a silent alarm. Like the dog, it was if they knew something wasn’t right, but were unsure what it was.

I continued to move toward the camera and grabbed it. When I returned, the birds had lit in a neighbor’s yard, out of my lens’ range but within the bird’s danger instinct. I cracked the door and the birds again took off. This time the birds had no question. Danger was here and they knew they had to be gone. I turned my lens toward the black mass and fired three unfocused shots. The birds dodged and disappeared as if they were from somewhere else–somewhere meant to be unseen, imagined, storied. Evidence of their appearance was beyond inappropriate. It was verboten.

They were gone. The dog was quiet. I looked at the LCD screen on my camera and saw the black blur. It was not half as remarkable as what I saw, what set the dog on edge, what actually happened in my front yard. It didn’t happen slowly enough for me to register good or evil. It was spine-chill quick and away.

Tonight, the reasonable side me assigns no value to the moment other than a brief whisper from nature. That’s what I tell myself.

The curtains, however, are now closed.


Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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2 Responses

  1. and even stranger: didn’t you go to a Black Crowes show last month? Weeeeeeeiiiiirdd….

  2. Your reasonable side assigns no value to the moment other than a brief whisper from nature? Sure….. I’m sure your right.

    Didn’t Randall Flagg appear as a crow. Have you seen that devil dude lately that that you wrote about during the WSOP? Maybe he and his friends came to visit you. I’d keep the curtains closed too.

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