What the Crows Said

by Erin Fingerhut

I started feeding the crows when I was nine. I loved the way they looked at me like they were thinking things through. Weighing my heart, or my soul. I hoped they wouldn’t find me wanting.

Corvids. Big, black, glossy. Bossy. Smartest birds in the world. By the time I was eleven they would bring me gifts in return. Pebbles. Buttons. Nuts and screws. Shiny bits of broken glass. Things I was sure people lost, like a tiny little silver ring, one time, and a rusty old set of keys.

Last fall, at twelve, I had to leave school on account of the seizures. I don’t remember the first one. I was in the yard, spreading sunflower seeds for the crows. They were heavy in the trees, watching, weirdly quiet. In a flurry of black feathers they flew from their branches, screaming, and circled my head. I only had a second to be scared, and then I was waking up in the hospital. Mama was at work and our neighbor, Joe, says it’s a lucky thing he heard those crows because who knew how long I would have been lying out there, seizing. I could have died. Everybody said so.

After the diagnosis, I couldn’t go to school anymore. I can’t say I missed it. It was kinda my fault, how mean the other kids were, calling me ‘freak’ all the way back to kindergarten. It took too long to realize not everyone saw the colors I did. How everything pulsed with its own light. I didn’t know not to talk about it. After the seizures, Mama was almost relieved, sure all my talk of colors and lights was the epilepsy peeking its gnarly head out before making its big move.

Mama had to take another job to pay for my medication. Sarah, the home nurse sent to watch over me, was nice enough, but she’d be more apt to tell you who was who on the TV than what I was doing out in the yard all day.

This spring the crows started bringing me different kinds of treasures. Scraps of newspaper. Old coffee cups with logos and company names all over them. Once, two big, mean-looking birds, black and shiny like rainbows in oil, dropped an old rusted license plate practically on my head. It made such a clatter on the metal patio table Sarah actually came running. I kind of missed the shiny pretty things, but collected the papers like I did everything else.

When the first sinkhole appeared at the edge of town, I realized the crows were trying to talk to me. From what the news said, a whole trailer park was swallowed up inside. Without a trace. I made Sarah take me. She wouldn’t admit it, but she was as curious as I was. Scared too, maybe. I know I was.

I got close enough to see the giant hole big as a football field, rimmed in a pulsing red, like the the stove burner turned up high. Pulsing with an anger I could feel.

After, the crows brought more paper. Discarded shopping lists. Parking tickets. I took to smoothing them out on the patio table, corners held down with pebbles and other crow treasures. The birds were insistent. They’d land by my hand, peck at the paper. Swivel their heads, wait for me to understand.

I had another seizure. Sarah came out when she heard the crows. They were pecking at my hands, my arms and legs. She thought they were trying to kill me.

When it was over, I saw the crow papers in a new light. Letters would stand out with their own ominous glow. I’d write them down in neat rows, like a word jumble. I tried to get Mama’s help. She just smiled with tired, sad eyes and quietly closed her bedroom door. She was so sure the epilepsy scrambled my brains she couldn’t believe anything I wanted to tell her about crows and secret messages.

It was Sarah that figured it out. She was checking on me as I sat dejected out in the yard, staring at my page of letters. “West,” she said all matter of fact as she walked by. I about fell over. Once I saw that, I could pick out others. “Fly.” “Wing.” Later I saw, “Deep.” “Branch.” “Dark.”

My favorite crow, a little sassy one, brought two dirty, old scrabble tiles, dropped them right in my lap. She cocked her head, looked at me with her bright, little eye. I turned the letters over in my hand.


In the end, Mama didn’t need much convincing. Cave-ins, sinkholes, tremors and quakes—there was a news story every day. A town gone. Near us, or to the East. We hadn’t seen my grandparents for years, on purpose, but they were “West.”

When my town went, it was the start of something new. We saw it on a live news broadcast, standing slack-jawed in a tiny Wichita living room. Something like the earth itself had come alive in a huge roiling mass. Boulder teeth and pine tree spikes, angry red molten eyes. With a mighty shrug concrete broke apart and rolled right off. And just like that, our southern Indiana town, barely visible on a map, was gone.

It wasn’t long before the crows started gathering again, out in the yard. I fed them berries and cheese, and they brought me their gifts of words. “Deep.” “Dark.” “West.”


My grandparents wouldn’t listen, so it was just me and Mama. I didn’t know where we would go. I didn’t know if it would be “West” enough. All I knew was that I was going to listen to what the crows said.

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