The Crow (A short story by… *deep breath*… me!)

I’ve thought long and hard about posting this, as I am genuinely terrified to show my own writing to other people, unless I absolutely have to (e.g. when I was doing my creative writing dissertation at university, and when I took a creative writing class last Autumn, and tutors *had* to see my stories in order to mark them… le horror!)

However, I have a few short stories sitting around on my laptop that I’m not going to do anything much with, as they were written for practice, so I’ve decided to brave posting a couple of them on here over the next few weeks. This one is called ‘The Crow’ and I wrote this for my class in response to an assignment where we were asked to pick a symbol, and write a story about how the symbol gained its meaning, and then changed its meaning throughout the course of the story.

Hope you don’t hate it…. eeeee *ties stomach into anxious knots*….

The Crow by Jessica Strachan

Ella saw them again on the drizzling corner of a London street. Three of them – crammed together in a booth backed with red, puffy cushions – artificial light illuminating their faces through the pub window.

Ella stopped. Jake tugged at her hand to keep moving, but she couldn’t take another step. They were women now, she supposed, but the faces of the girls she once knew, scarred into the pages of her school diary, were impossible to forget. Her stomach curdled.

‘Here. I want to go in here,’ Ella announced, her voice loud and surprisingly steady.

Jake checked his phone; ‘We’re running late, Els. The table’s booked for half 7. Don’t want your parents to hate me for my shoddy time-keeping, before I’ve had a chance to charm them with my numerous good qualities!’

‘They’ll understand. Please – we won’t be long. I’ll explain everything inside.’ She crushed his hand, radiator warm even in the icy January rain.

Jake sighed; ‘Alrighty then,’ he relented, bemused by the intensity of her grasp, ‘one drink, as it’s you….’ He dropped an affectionate kiss on her cold hair, and Ella shivered with a warmth she wasn’t used to feeling.

‘Give me a second,’ she said, and reached into the deep black pocket of her winter coat until her fingers curled around the small plaster model which took permanent residence there. Ella closed her eyes, drawing comfort in the familiar chalky texture of the object. She gave it one final squeeze, and a surge of power rushed through her. She could do this. She was more than capable.

They found a table on the opposite side of the room, high chairs and a sticky surface, covered with uncollected glasses. As Jake waited patiently at the bar for her gin and tonic, Ella risked a lingering glance at the women in the corner. They weren’t in listening distance, but one had a laugh so shrill and loud it could be heard in a vacuum, and the other two had their necks twisted unsubtly in the direction of an overweight woman in the adjacent booth.  Ella clutched the model in her pocket. She had the upper hand; they couldn’t see her, didn’t know anything about her now. More fool them.

‘So, you gonna tell me why you dragged me in here?’ Jake asked, his breath tickling her face as he placed the drink in front of her. Ella sucked her eyes away from the trio, confident they wouldn’t hear anything she was about to say over their self-important laughter.

‘I’m going to tell you a story,’ Ella said.

‘I love your stories,’ Jake grinned. Ella liked a yarn, a campfire tale, and she had a habit of slipping into parable, usually when she was trying to win an argument. Jake found it endearingly Biblical. He relaxed into his chair, as Ella’s hypnotic voice took him somewhere unfamiliar – far, far away from the clatter and light of the London pub…

Once there was a young girl, who lived in a small town where everybody knew her name. The problem with people knowing your name is that it gives them a power over you they do not deserve – they can take it, twist it, and make it sound as vile and bitter as soot on the tongue. The girl knew this too well, and shrank into her coat as she passed through the school gates each afternoon, wishing never to be called upon.

One day, a drama teacher asked the girl and her classmates to design animal masks, and adopt the behaviours of that animal for the rest of the day. The girl was thrilled, because she loved to make, so she took a stiff sheet of black paper, cut and curled and glued until it fit perfectly around her face, then scored another piece into a triangle, for the sharp, cruel beak. Next, she covered the paper in feathers – real crow feathers – and attached spiralling black ribbons to the corners of the mask.

The teacher was pleased with her work, and the girl glowed with pride for her creation. But that was nothing compared to how she felt when she finally put it on. It was a strange, but exhilarating stirring. In this mask, she could slip past those she feared undetected– she would stride home through the streets, haughty as the crow, and she would be mistaken for somebody else; somebody with the power to hurt them as they had hurt her.

For the rest of the class, the girl perfected the swagger of her walk, the swift ignorance of her surroundings, and the confident tilt of her chin, under the protection of her new-found spirit animal. When the shrill wail of the bell ended the school day, the girl stepped out into the playground, fantasising about inciting a similar shrieking cry from anybody who dared to stand against her.

At the school gates, they were waiting for her – Ivy with her porcelain face and ink black hair, Brooke with her smirking red lips – the one she’d thought was a friend, once upon a time – and Abigail, a stocky, ruddy skinned wall of a girl. The pathetic paper mask was no match for them – they knew her in disguise, and they weren’t going to let her pass.

The girl froze in front of them.

‘The minute you step out of these gates, we’re going to hurt you,’ Ivy threatened. ‘What the fuck is that you’re wearing anyway?’ She ripped the crow mask from the girl’s face, and threw it to the ground. Brooke snorted, as Abigail crushed it beneath her boot.

Face to face with them, she opened her mouth to defend herself, but the words dried on her tongue, her throat hoarse as white noise.

‘God, you’re dog ugly,’ Brooke sneered, ‘Can’t believe I ever used to hang out with you.’

On and on the insults came, sinking into her skin like bullets. She pinched the palms of her hands to keep from crying, but when the teacher came down the path to find her, lead her back to the safety of the studio to wait for her parents, the girl couldn’t help the tears that instantly came, blurring their faces into grotesque abstract paintings, here a fearsome eye, there a vicious white tooth. The teacher dismissed them, though even as they left, they continued to shout and swear until they were too far away to be heard.

Later, in her silent bedroom, the girl lay awake, hot and uncomfortable beneath a ceiling of plastic stars, wishing that she had somebody to protect her. She rolled over and over in her bed, long into the night, words flashing in her brain, trailblazing her nervous system until the belief in what they said about her lived in every part of her body.  

After what seemed like hours, the girl fell asleep, but soon after, she awoke to a tapping at her window. Sodden with sleep, she stumbled across her room and pulled back the curtains. What she saw and heard out in the dark made her heart drop like a stone into her stomach.

There, peering into her bedroom, was a large black crow, its beak scraping the glass as if determined to wear it down, and, inside her mind, an inhuman voice croaked; ‘Let me in, child.’

Though impossible, she knew it was the voice of the bird.

Horrified, but unable to stop her trance like movements, the girl opened the window and the crow squawked, before settling on the sill, its head swivelling from side to side revealing one glistening black eye at a time.

‘What do you want?’ she spoke boldly, surprised to find she was not afraid anymore, though the keen night air gave her a sudden, involuntary shudder as if she were.

Is this a dream? she pondered silently.

‘Dream? Reality? Does it really matter which?’ the crow replied, as if she had spoken aloud.

‘Why are you here?’ the girl asked, dissatisfied with its evasive answer.

‘I’ve always been here,’ the voice answered knowingly.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ An uncanny knowledge fluttered inside her, and somehow, she could taste the next words like they were on the tip of her own tongue:

‘I am the darkest and best part of you,’ said the crow. ‘You are capable of devastating things, and if your heart embraces me, we can destroy those who have hurt you together.’

‘I don’t know if I can do that,’ the girl replied, ‘and what if I don’t want to?’

‘Now, dear girl – you and I both know that deep down, a fitting revenge is exactly what you desire.’

The girl shook her head, closing her eyes to lull herself back to sleep. But when she opened them, the creature was still there.

‘Ivy, Abigail, and the one you used to call a friend – Brooke, was it not? You know what they deserve. And with them in the picture, you will never have what you deserve. Truly, the thought troubles me deeply. Think about it, and when you’ve made your decision, you know where to find me.’

With these parting words, the devastating bird spread its wings and swooped out into the night. Dazed, the girl staggered back to her bed, and buried herself beneath the covers, convinced the episode had been nothing but a peculiar, waking dream, brought on by the trauma of the run-in with her enemies.

It wasn’t until the next morning, in the familiar light of day that she saw it – a miniature, plaster model of a powerful black bird, sitting there on her windowsill. Her fingers closed around the crow, and she felt it in her bones – strength, like she’d never known before.

Ella ended her story abruptly. Throughout her narrative, she hadn’t given the women a glance, but now she turned, appraising them with her dark eyes. Ivy, Brooke and Abigail were huddled together, giggling, sloshing clear liquid over the sides of three fluorescent shot gasses. She looked back to her own unfinished gin and tonic, and at last, took a three-finger gulp.

Jake exhaled. ‘Ella…’ he began, but words failed him, so instead, he reached for her hand, inter-linking their fingers across the table. Ella noticed then that his eyes were red rimmed – she hadn’t looked into them since she’d opened her mouth to speak.

‘So, how does the story end?’ he finally asked.

‘You’ll see,’ Ella answered. Jake watched as Ella left the table, and walked across the pub, making towards a table in the corner. He recognised them immediately. They were cruel looking women, Jake thought – sharp faced, like the bird at Ella’s window.

Ella stopped, hovering at a safe distance from the table. They hadn’t noticed her, and there was a certain power in that. It would be easy, so easy, she thought, to make them pay. God knows, she’d always wanted to. But who would that make her, in the end?

Jake saw Ella reach into her pocket. Christ, his heart reacted, what has she got in there? What is she going to do to them? Not for the first time, Jake thought how scary Ella could be, when she wanted to. And it made sense now – he couldn’t blame her. But surely she wasn’t capable of –

Jake leapt from his chair, his sudden movement overturning both their drinks, and raced towards her.

‘Excuse me,’ Ella said, tapping a sturdy looking waiter on the shoulder, ‘I think the ladies over there dropped this at the bar – can you give it to them? I don’t want anything to do with it anymore…’

Jake reached Ella just in time to see her handing a small something to the puzzled waiter. It was her crow.

‘Come on, Jake,’ Ella said, without looking back at them, ‘Let’s get out of here! We may be half an hour late, but there’s still time for you to charm my parents tonight….’ She grabbed his hand, her other swinging freely at her side, and her heart felt light as they walked out of the door into their future.

Okay, so I feel totally naked after posting that, and am going to go hide under a blanket for a while…

Have you posted any short stories on your blog? If so, please link to them in the comments, as I’d love to read them!


31 thoughts on “The Crow (A short story by… *deep breath*… me!)”

  1. I loved this, your writing style is intense! Only thing I’d say is that this story seems to be leaning more towards a ‘literary’ direction than a traditional arc / commercial approach (if this makes sense?) – not too sure if that’s what you were going for. There are questions unanswered, and things open to interpretation, I like it:) I have never posted anything on the blog but sometimes I use scribophile.com to get critique / advice

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂 and this is really useful feedback. I’m not sure what I was going for to be honest, I kind of wrote it in one sitting (it was for a class the next day, I’m so bad at doing things ahead of deadline!), and was mainly practising finishing something (another thing I struggle with haha…). We had a word limit of 2,000 words, so I think if I went back to it and polished it up, I may add more to it plot-wise. If you do ever post any stories on your blog, would love to read them! I’ve never used scribophile before, but will look into that, as it sounds like it could be really useful for feedback.

      1. You’re more than welcome:) I struggle with finishing things too! Haha, I think that’s the most difficult part. Scribophile works like this: You get points for commenting other people’s work until you get points to post your own. Most of the advice I got there was really helpful and none was discouraging. Might be useful if you are trying to test the ‘audience’s reaction’ before submitting your work to a magazine or a contest, for example. Beta readers work too, of course, and there’s a few groups for that in Goodreads. But I know the feeling of sharing our work! It’s so scary, it makes us feel vulnerable. But it has to be done. It’s incredibly insightful too! I can reread my work plenty of times and there are still things that I won’t spot and a ‘new reader’ new to the story will.

      2. Haha yes finishing is definitely the hard part! Thanks, this sounds really interesting, I think I may give it a go after NaNoWriMo – hopefully I will have something definitive to get feedback on by then. And yes sharing definitely makes you feel vulnerable, this one in particular for me as I put something quite personal into it. Definitely helpful to be read by others though, I’m not good at reading my own work as I only see what I want to see, and I very often miss things that don’t make sense! You mentioned on your blog that you’re doing NaNoWriMo too- what sort of genre are you going to be writing?

      3. It’s very difficult to judge our own work, because everything is so ‘automatic’ already. So, yes, completely get you! I intend to do (try, haha) NaNoWriMo, and I have some ideas / vague outline for a Fantasy novel (high fantasy, a few feminist aspects, think “Black Jewels” but not as dark). So I’d like to work on that, get motivation from NaNoWriMo to get those 50k and then write more. How about you? You can add me there as a writing buddy if you want!

      4. That sounds amazing! And I’ve never had a writing buddy on NaNo before, but sounds like a good way to stay motivated – what’s your username? I have a couple of ideas that I’m torn between, but I think I will be working on a YA psychological thriller this year… fingers crossed it’s the one I end up finishing!

      5. Yes, writing about my writing’s journey is already helping me staying motivated. My username is Nyemia:) Good luck!

    1. Thank you so much!! 🙂 I am completely the same, I’ve started so many stories (mostly novels) but abandoned all of them. I have about 6 novels which have only 1 chapter each and are going nowhere haha! I only seem to finish them if I have a deadline, like for a class! If you do finish any of the ones you started, let me know – I love reading short stories 🙂

      1. You’re welcome! I know, I have so many ideas for novels and short stories, but they’ve pretty much gone nowhere after the first chapter or two. XD It always does help me to have a deadline though – I’m a very goal-oriented person. I might start working on one of them right now, now that I think about it! 🙂 Oh, and I’ll be sure to let you know about any of the stories I’ve finished! I’d love it if you could do the same for me- your writing style is amazing and I’d love to read more of your work! 😀

      2. I’m exactly the same – I have so many word documents on my computer which are like… first chapters of stories I’ve given up on! Hopefully one day I will finish one of them! I think you’re spot on about the deadline – it really helps to have a goal to work towards by a certain date. Have you ever done National Novel Writing Month? I think I’m going to give it a try this year! And will hopefully be posting another story at the end of this week 🙂

  2. Well done Jess! Now you’ve bit the bullet you should post more! I really enjoyed it, it was simple and familiar and the nicest ending for the character. I like the symbolical use of the crow. To begin with it reminded me of a modern day version of Edgar Allen Poe’s the Raven. It is perfect and unique as a short story with a moral. Kudos!

    AW xx

    1. Thanks my lovely! I am planning on posting another story called The Box, possibly around Halloween as it’s a creepy one 🙂 Did I hear you mention you’re working on some Secrets of Oxford Halloween stories? Look forward to reading them xx

      1. Ooh exciting! Yes I am, I’m fact *Cheesy grin* was going to ask you if you want first eyes on it? I.e would you like to edit it? It’s worth a bottle of wine 😀 xx

  3. Absolutely brilliant Jess. Kept me hooked right till the end – and left me wanting more. Creepy and edging on fantasy yet focused around very real issues of identity and friendships. Would love to know where the idea of the crow camemail from. Post more stuff! Andrew.

    1. Thanks so much Andrew!! 🙂 The idea of the crow came from something which happened to me when I was 13 and was being bullied by some girls in the year above, who I was friends with for a while but then had a falling out with, and they turned nasty. The part with the crow mask is more or less true, and was based on something which happened on the last day of year 8 after we’d been doing a drama/expressive arts week at school. Obviously the magical realism aspect is made up though! It felt rather cathartic to write. Will definitely be posting more stuff later in the month 🙂

  4. Your story kept me in suspense all the way through. I thought the pace was very well-handled too. I like the different perspectives and tones of voice. And the symbolism worked well.

    1. Hi! Thank you so much, it means a lot to me 🙂 I’m glad that you liked the symbolism, the scene with the crow mask is based on something that happened to me in real life, so I wanted to try and work it into a story. I’m glad you felt it worked 🙂

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