“WHEN THE BIRDS CAME”
It was the sound that came first.
A sound that trembled the skies and covered the town with a blanket of uncertainty. Worried
murmurs added to the hum of wings that whipped and lashed against the morning light, cutting the
air like a knife. Windows were opened and slammed shut, doors locked and unlocked, forming a
sing-song rhythm together with the bird’s wings.
As people hid or left their homes to investigate, the light morning sky went dark. Both from the
shadow of the murder and the color of the crows’s feathers. Suddenly, the inhabitants quieted, as
did the birds, except for one. The single crow’s caw echoed through the lonely town like a
countdown. A caw that sent the usual monotonous town into a flurry of panic. A premonition of
things to come.
Dean Declan sat at his desk, earbuds in. He held a pencil in his hand, his journal on display in front
of him. An agreement between him and his mother insists that in it he write the things he couldn’t
bring himself to say out loud. To which he complied for no reason other than his distaste for therapy.
The journal compromised both their worries.
On his worst days, when life proved to be no more joyous than it was unsatisfactory, he would
sketch his better memories in it. One of his favorite memories became a nightmare six years ago on
Josh’s birthday. Still, although the night became traumatic, Dean did his best to only recounter the
happy parts of the day.
Dean could just imagine Josh sneaking into the kitchen an hour before dinner and sticking his
fingers into the cake to get a taste of frosting. Their mom would catch him, of course.
"Joshua Declan!" she would say. "Can't you wait one more hour?"
"Mom, I couldn't help it." Josh would reply. "Can't we just have it now?"
She would give in like she always did. No one could say no to Josh, and no one ever did. But Josh
wasn't there anymore. There will be no sneaking into the kitchen. No catching him. No sweet little
face covered with icing. There will be no presents. No laughter and hugs as Josh opens them.
There hadn't been any of that for the last six years.
Dean sighed and leaned back in his chair, looking at the page in his journal. Dated September
twenty-second, intricate black lines formed a young boy’s icing-covered smiling face on the page.
Followed by the words “Happy Birthday!” beneath it.
As Dean set his pencil down onto the table, a gust of wind blew into his room, forcing his journal
closed. As he pulled out his earbuds he heard the crows's caws. He walked to the window and
looked out. A crowd was gathered at the center of town. They seemed worried. They were shouting,
but Dean couldn’t decipher what anyone was saying. Their voices merged with those of the crows’s.
"Dean!" his mom calls from downstairs. "Are you seeing this?"
A scream interrupted him before he could answer.
From his bedroom window, Dean watched as his mother ran out the door and towards the crowd.
He quickly followed suit, nearly tripping down the stairwell in the process. Curious and worried eyes
pierced through him as he followed her into the crowd, pushing past heavy bodies whose feet
seemed cemented to the ground by fear. By the time he reached the center his mom was already
there, frozen in shock.
“Mom?” Dean asked, turning her to face him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Years seemed to pass until his mom looked at him then to the floor of the center crowd and back.
“It’s your brother.”
Dean turned his attention to the floor center. The townspeople quieted, the only sound came from
the single black crow spiraling on top of them. Laid on display in front of the whole town, was the
body of little Joshua Declan. Identical to the age and appearance he was when he went missing six
Slowly, Josh’s eyes opened. Steadily he looked around at the crowd, searching for familiar eyes
until he found those he was looking for.
“Mom?” Josh spoke. “Dean?” he paused. “What happened?”
Dean stood there in shock and a little bit of hope, as his mother broke into sobs and fell to the floor
beside his brother.