For the Birds

by Amanda Crum

I am not your version of Death.

Slatted teeth, a dirty skull hidden beneath blackened folds. A scythe, sharpened to an edge and ready to cut down the wicked. Be honest; you’ve seen that version in your mind’s eye, yes? Perhaps even feared it, dreamed of it, doodled it in the margins?

That’s not me. I’m more bone than flesh, it’s true, but there are no tools fashioned that are more effective than my own hands; a cloak would only slow me down. Where my shoulder blades should be, there sprouts a pair of golden wings so magnificent they might make you weep if you could feast your gaze upon them (you can’t).

And why should you require wings? you might ask me (if you could). It is not to hover over a farmer as he works his field, or to make an easy job of taking the moribund woman who lives in a New York City high-rise. My wings carry me across the tumbling oceans, over ruined desert landscapes, from oak tree to bonsai. I ride the thermals behind birds and insects. Those are my target.

You might rail against the thought that such beautiful creatures require their own Master of Death, or the idea that they should deserve their fates. You are not alone. Many have wept at the sight of a fallen robin lying stiff in the grass, at the sound of hungry babies crying out from the nest. Humans rarely have an affinity for death, even when it brings only release.

It is not about what the winged ones deserve, but rather what they deplete. When they have used all the resources they are allotted, it is my job to call time.

What happens next? you might ask, but I have no answers. That is not my job.

*

Lately, I’ve been thinking that I might have a time limit, just as the birds do.

I’ve never entertained the notion that I should want something else, never thought that perhaps there lives a being above me whose only job is to wait. I have been content to watch, to follow the cycle of the Sun and Moon as they meet the horizon, but now I have questions circling in my brain. I realize that contentment has only fostered a false sense of security.

I have never met another Master of Death. We don’t mix. It’s better for everyone that way, but it makes for one hell of a lonely existence; I can’t be seen until it’s time. Imagine, for a moment, how it might feel to know that no creature alive has ever looked upon your face. To exist in a state of in-between until you are necessary.

The worst part is that I have no one to guide me, no words of comfort but those I make for myself.

*

I’m good at what I do.

I crouch low, hidden well in a maple tree. The cardinal never sees me coming; his is a good death, a quick one. When he falls like a whim of poppies, I follow to the ground and study him for a moment. I wonder, not for the first time, what might have been behind those intelligent eyes when the future came for him.
When the air changes, I pull up, folding my wings with a hush. Above my head and in the distance, a murmuration of starlings has formed. They seem to hover, then change direction in that eerie way they have.

I watch for a long moment, time drawing out like warm taffy. They are here for me; I can feel it like a feather drawn across my back. Their shadows move like oil slicks across the deepening sky, pushing the air before them with a rush. Soon I can hear them, a chorus of wings and hungry voices rising in a frenzy as they descend upon me.

And I think, here are the answers.

Amanda Crum is a writer and artist whose work can be found in publications such as Eastern Iowa Review and Barren Magazine. Her books of horror poetry have been shortlisted twice for a Bram Stoker Award nomination. Amanda currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and two children.
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