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Fiction

Bones of Crow

Maggie tapped her cigarette twice on the pack before putting the filter to her mouth, an affectation she’d picked up years ago when she first started smoking. She’d seen it in a movie; it packed the tobacco tighter or something. Whatever the reason, it was as much a part of her habit now as sneaking up to the roof to enjoy it. Her lighter was a cheap throwaway, but it did the job. She cupped the flame, brought it to her cigarette, and sucked in the day’s first glorious breath of nicotine. Pocketing the lighter, she took the cigarette from her lips and exhaled the smoke with a sigh.

The block of flats she lived in was fifteen floors high with a view of urban sprawl and a sky that was early morning grey. Not that she came up for the view. She did like the air, though, away from the traffic and the fast food smells. Up here, the only pollution was of her own making, clinging to her clothes and making her father tut and grumble. “Your health,” he’d say, meaning his. He’d say it the same way he said, “There’s no need, I’ll do it” and “You should get out and find a husband.” He didn’t mean it.

The roof had a low wall running around it. It wasn’t the greatest safety precaution, coming up only as far as Maggie’s thighs, but she supposed it stopped someone simply stepping off the edge. If you wanted to do that, you at least had to make some effort. In her younger years she’d considered it, but only in the absent way she supposed most teenagers did. Now her suicide of choice came one drag at a time. With every breath, she died a little.

There were two small buildings on the roof. One housed the stairwell. The other was some kind of storage facility, its door chained shut. Maybe there was a generator in there or tools or something. Otherwise the roof was nothing but scattered puddles and low walls.

Maggie went to the wall and glanced down at the people on their way to work. Or, more likely, on their way to look for work. Once upon a time she’d wanted that too, hoping to make something of herself like her sisters, but with her father’s pension and disability benefit, and the benefits they were claiming for her, there was little need. It used to bother her how rarely she went out, but the television showed her all that she was missing, and it wasn’t much. And as for marriage, children . . . well, there was still time. In theory. Until then, there was always plenty to do around the flat. Cleaning. Cooking. Plus she had her smoking.

Maggie turned from the street and leant back against the wall in a sort of half sit, half lean, posture. She braced herself with her hands on either side, smoke curling up from the cigarette between her fingers, and looked out across the roof. The opposite wall blocked her view of the city so all she saw was grey sky, but she knew that beyond it was the park, a grand term for what was little more than a pathetic triangle of grass with a solitary climbing frame and a circle of asphalt where the roundabout used to be. It had been taken away because kids were using the wheels of their mopeds to turn it faster than it was designed for. A girl had been flung from it, flying briefly before cracking her head open. Maggie remembered seeing it on the local news. The family petitioned the council to get rid of what they called a death trap, though their daughter hadn’t died and it had been her own fault anyway.

She smoked her cigarette down then checked her watch, knowing the time she’d see. Time to wake father. Time for his breakfast and time for his pills. Time for hers. A final drag and she twisted out what was left on the bricks behind her, dropping the butt into a pile gathered in the corner between roof and wall.

“Okay.”

She pushed herself away from the wall and hoped the momentum would help carry her to the door, to the stairs, and back down to the flat.

• • • •

Maggie’s father had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease almost immediately after Maggie’s mother left him. In his more romantic moments, he claimed it was because he couldn’t breathe without her, but of course it was because he’d smoked most of his life. Now his puffs came from an oxygen canister. His lungs were weak and his natural defence mechanisms were so reduced that he required various medications to fight infections. Maggie looked after him though. She’d effectively raised her two sisters as well, but they’d flown the nest as soon as they were able. She didn’t hate them for that. She tried not to hate them for that. Just as she didn’t hate her father for needing her so much.

Maggie lit one cigarette from another, stubbing one out and drawing breath from the next. The view from the roof hadn’t changed much since morning. It was still overcast, low cloud giving the late afternoon a premature evening light. Instead of time flying, though, it seemed to barely pass at all.

Day in, day out, her routine was the same. Her father couldn’t perform even the simplest of tasks without suffering a shortness of breath, but really all he needed was her company. Someone to watch television with. It was as much her duty as checking his oxygen and feeding him his pills. He had a plastic organiser for his medication, which Maggie sorted for him because he couldn’t get the lids off the bottles. All he had to do was tip the day’s cocktail into his palm and then into his mouth and drink a glass of water, but when the time came, he either spilled the pills onto the floor or made such a pathetic attempt to hook them from the container that inevitably Maggie would end up feeding them to him one by one. Pop one in his mouth, raise the water, tip it to swallow, and repeat, wiping away what spilled between repetitions.

Maggie sighed, glanced at her watch, and took another pull on her cigarette. Today he’d coughed one of the pills back up. It had slipped down his chin on a thin line of saliva. He’d wiped his mouth but the pill fell into the fibres of his dressing gown.

“I’ve got it, Dad.” She plucked it from his sleeve, pressed it between his lips, and helped him with the water.

“You’re a good girl. Why haven’t you been snapped up yet?”

Maggie stared across the roof as if she might find the answer in the grey sky, the bricks and stone. She thought of all she could do to improve her life. It didn’t take long. She took in a lungful of smoke and examined the burning end of her cigarette, tapping away its ash. There was less of it left than she’d thought.

She flicked the butt away across the roof, a tiny flare for no one to see. It sparked as it bounced and skittered out of sight behind the small storage building. Whatever was in there she didn’t much care, but she did worry there might be litter behind it. Newspapers or magazines, somehow dry, or a puddle of something flammable.

She pushed herself away from the wall to check, surprised at her own recklessness; she always crushed them out, the wall black-spotted with proof. She must’ve been more frustrated with her father today than she thought. Or with herself. She was due on soon. Maybe that was it.

The cigarette smouldered where it lay. She squashed it out beneath her shoe and saw she’d been right to check. There was litter, a whole load of it, gathered in the narrow channel between the storage building and the outer wall. Except litter seemed too accidental a term for it.

“What the hell?”

A lot of it was newspaper and magazine pages, polystyrene food cartons, plastic carrier bags, but there were other kinds of street debris too. An old traffic cone, a FOR SALE sign, even a scaffold pole leaning at an angle across it all, resting on the wall. The rubbish had been shaped into something like bedding and Maggie’s first thought was of a homeless person, but then a homeless person who could get into the building would probably tuck up under the stairs somewhere, or in the foyer by the post boxes. There were clothes, though. Mismatched items, some with pegs on them, all of it grubby with bird shit and roof filth. A torn duvet cover was draped over something bulky in the middle of it all. Maggie dragged it aside.

There were eggs underneath.

“What the hell?”

There were four of them, four of the biggest eggs Maggie had ever seen. They had to be fake. Had to be. Each was knee high, about the same size as a barrel for a water cooler. Each was the colour of cement and speckled with dark freckles. She squatted beside them, pressing the back of her hand to her nose and holding her breath against the moist sour odour, the musky wet straw smell of a pet shop. She reached for one of the eggs but withdrew suddenly because she’d read somewhere that touching an unhatched egg meant it would be abandoned. The bird would—

Bird?

Maggie laughed and reached out again. Touched it. And again she snatched her hand back.

It was warm. And something inside had . . . moved. A vibration of life beneath her skin.

Maggie stood and dug the cigarettes from her pocket, double-tapped one, and popped it in her mouth. She sparked a flame, lit it, puffed a hurried breath, and said for a third time, “What the hell?”

Darker clouds were gathering, and the small light fixed to the outside of the storage building blinked to life prematurely, tricked into thinking it was night. A storm was coming. Maggie could feel it in the sky.

She smoked her third cigarette, staring at the eggs. They shone like small speckled moons beneath the light. If it hadn’t started raining, she probably would have smoked her packet empty watching them, wondering what on earth could have put them there.

• • • •

Maggie was awake at first light, despite having stayed up late. She smoked the day’s first cigarette out of her bedroom window, enjoying the cool air, and thought about going to the roof earlier than usual. She’d Googled different types of eggs, and she’d browsed various images, but found nothing useful. The largest eggs nowadays came from the ostrich, but they were only a pathetic six inches high. Not even close. The great elephant bird of Madagascar had laid eggs that were a foot or so high, but they were extinct now.

Maggie smiled. Egg-stinct. Eggs-stinked. She blew smoke into the morning air.

Anyway, the eggs on the roof were twice the size of the Madagascan ones. Even the largest dinosaur egg she could find online wasn’t much bigger than the elephant bird’s.

Outside, the city was slowly coming to life. An Asian man was pulling at the metal blind of a newsagent’s, rattling it up, and a street sweeper was doing his or her best to tidy the city. Someone was walking a dog that kept trying to squat, yanking the lead before it could foul the pavement. A jogger, favouring the empty streets over the tiny nearby park, was running a course that would end in the same place it began.

In the park, someone was standing on the climbing frame. The climbing frame was two upright ladders with another leaning at an angle, and connecting all three was a horizontal section of bars to swing across. The figure was balancing in the middle of this, standing on the bars rather than hanging below them. Too big to be a child. Maggie was several storeys up, and a good distance away, but she still had the distinct impression that whoever was down there was staring straight at her.

“Hello,” she said quietly, bringing her cigarette up for another breath, giving a little wave.

The figure shuffled sideways a few steps. Maggie supposed they had to go sideways because of the climbing frame, but wouldn’t they want to see where they were stepping? Once it had shuffled to its new position, the figure opened up a long coat, black with black beneath, and Maggie wondered if she was looking at a flasher down there, or some other kind of pervert.

“Goodbye.”

She scraped her cigarette out on the bricks of her window sill and brought the stub inside, pulling the window closed. She levered it shut and went to make a coffee. Maybe the person down there knew about the eggs. Maybe they’d put them there, and was waiting to see how Maggie would react. Maybe it was some sort of elaborate joke.

She readied a cup for her father, though he wouldn’t be up for some time yet, and she put his morning pills on a saucer. She spooned coffee granules into her own cup and took her own pills waiting for the kettle to boil. Tiny ovoids in her mouth, sitting on her tongue. She thought about the eggs on the roof. She thought about keeping one, bringing it down to the flat stuffed under her jacket, “Oh, I’m pregnant, Dad, didn’t you know?” Like he’d ever believe her. Like she could ever compete with Julie or Jess. Like she would ever have kids. She spat the pills into the sink and washed them away. It didn’t matter. Looking after Dad was more than enough.

She took her coffee up to the roof.

In the early hours of the morning, the air on the roof smelled different. There was a coolness to it, a fresh promise that today was new and anything could happen. She liked the quiet, too. Few cars, no TVs in the flats below, workmen yet to arrive at the site opposite, filling the world with their radio and banter. She didn’t pause to enjoy the air or the peace, though. She went straight to the space behind the storage building, half expecting to find only a clutter of litter, but the nest was still there. The eggs were still there. She raised her cup to them, “Good morning,” and took a sip. It was very hot but good, and the smell of it did something to dispel the rotten odour of the nest. “Sleep well?”

She wondered how long they’d been there before she’d found them. Some eggs, she knew from her research, were actually fossils never to hatch. What were these? One had been warm yesterday, hadn’t it? She crouched to touch it, the same one as before, and yes, there it was. An internal heat. Or maybe a residual warmth. She gave it an experimental tap and though it didn’t yield beneath her knuckles, she could tell that it might, with enough pressure.

There were no feathers in the nest. That was unusual, wasn’t it?

Because four giant eggs was completely normal.

She took another sip of coffee and put the cup on the wall before pressing both hands to the egg. She caressed it, marvelled at how smooth it was, just like a real egg. With one hand on either side, she attempted to lift it. It was heavy, and something inside fidgeted, a confined squirm that made Maggie snatch her hands back. She wiped them on her jeans as she stood then took up her cup again, glancing out to the park.

That same figure was still on the climbing frame. It hunched suddenly as she watched, and with the action came a shrill scream that broke into a sequence of aborted noises. Then it dropped from its perch and its coat opened, opened, opened far too wide on either side and flapped, flapped, because it wasn’t a coat at all; with two hard beats of its wings, the thing was aloft.

Maggie fumbled the cup she’d hardly taken hold of and it spilled, dropped, smashed, “Shit!” She glanced down as she stepped away from it and when she looked up again, the sky was clear. She peered over the wall and saw nothing coming. Still, she left the broken pieces of her cup where they lay. She headed for the stairs, not running but certainly hurrying. Dad would be wanting his morning cuppa and she had to take her pills.

She didn’t look up and she didn’t look back.

• • • •

She was supposed to be watching an old movie with her father, but her mind wasn’t on the plot. At least she didn’t have to follow any conversation though; he was wearing the full breathing mask today rather than the nostril tubes. It fitted around his nose and mouth and it prevented him from talking. He had to look his question at her when she got up during the adverts.

“Toilet,” Maggie said. She checked his oxygen, adjusting it on her way out. “Cuppa tea, Dad?”

He nodded, returning to the black-and-white world of the TV.

Maggie had a packet of cigarettes hidden in a box of tampons in the bathroom. She grabbed them and flicked the kettle on in the kitchen before letting herself out into the corridor. She closed the door quietly and lit the cigarette early; she needed the nicotine before getting to the roof this time. She was confident there wouldn’t be enough smoke to set off the alarms. Confident, too, that they probably didn’t work anyway.

It had been a few days since her last visit to the roof. Since then, she’d enjoyed her cigarettes in the bathroom, extractor fan on, her hand and face at the tiny open window because she was too worried about what she might see from her own. The one in the bathroom had glass that was opaque even though they were so high up, and more importantly it didn’t face the park. She’d had nightmares about the park, dreams in which the thing she’d seen there had flown right at her, crashing into her bedroom in an explosion of glass and brick only to drag her out screaming, both of them screaming, and then she was falling until she was suddenly awake. One night she’d woken from this to find her father shuffling in the hallway. He’d opened his dressing gown and released a flock of dark birds at her and she’d woken a second time, smothered beneath her blankets. She was ready to check the roof again now if only because it might put an end to the dreams.

At the door to outside, cigarette somehow half gone already, Maggie paused. She listened. Nothing. She opened the door.

As soon as it was open, she heard shrieking, an endless series of short, sharp, stuttered cries, shrie-shrie-shrie-shrie-shrie, and she knew what had happened.

The eggs had hatched.

Cigarette in her mouth, Maggie put both hands to her ears as she nudged the door wider. The things weren’t loud, exactly, but shrill and constant, overlapping. Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!

She stepped out onto the roof with her eyes to the sky. She checked the park. A woman with a pram was walking through, that was all.

Eventually Maggie was able to look away and lower her hands, wincing at the din but knowing she’d get used to it. She could get used to anything. She dropped her cigarette, stepped it out, and approached the nest, careful to keep her distance. She only wanted to see them.

They were ugly little things. A shuffling mass of black, puffy with erratic plumage, they held their beaks up to shriek-shriek-shriek! at the sky. Pale grey eyelids clenched closed against what little sun there was; they beat at each other blindly with stubby wings as they fidgeted into new positions.

When a dark shape blurred into her peripheral vision, Maggie screamed and crouched and covered her head with her arms. The thing dropped from a high position behind her, landing at the nest. It settled on the scaffold pole as Maggie scurried backwards towards the stairs in a crab position, hands and shoes slipping on the wet roof.

The bird was huge, even hunched over. As tall as her, but more broad. Wings the size of ironing boards folded against its body. It was entirely black, so black that it gleamed, and the one glassy eye Maggie could see was so dark it absorbed all other colours. A hole’s shadow, dark as ink not written. In its beak, in its terrible split black beak, it held a giant snail.

The young in the nest jumped, jumped, knocked against each other, and beat their stumpy wings. They snapped at the air and set up a discordant chorus of shrill calling so intense it forced Maggie to stop fleeing just so she could cover her ears again. She still heard the crack, though, when the mother slammed its catch down against the roof wall. Crack! Crack-crack! A couple of those, then the bird held its catch on the wall, talons spread to grip it steady. The beak came down. Hard, quick, darting stabs. Crack! Crack-crack-crack! And Maggie realised at last that what she saw was not a snail. Of course it wasn’t a snail.

“Oh, Christ.”

Its beak withdrew from the motorcycle helmet with a string of something red and meaty. It tossed this to its nest. As the young fought over the flesh, it pecked again at the hole it had made in the visor, scooping more from inside, nodding to throw more strips to its children. Maggie saw blood spill from the opening, a single thick line of it running down the helmet to drip into the nest where the three snapped at thrown morsels until the helmet was dropped for them to peck at. They rammed their beaks into whatever gap they could find, nudging and shrieking at each other in between.

Beyond them, visible now as they fed themselves, was the last egg. The one she’d touched had not hatched.

The young were quickly done. They craned their necks upwards, tipped their heads back, and held their beaks open for short pauses between squawks. The mother dipped to each in turn, opening its beak in theirs to regurgitate a previous meal. Perhaps the rest of the motorcyclist. Perhaps something else. Maggie tried not to think of the woman she’d seen in the park. The one with the pram.

“Oh fucking Christ.”

The bird looked up. It turned its head one way then the other, locking one dark eye at a time on Maggie. It shuffled sideways on its perch, as she’d seen it do on the climbing frame, then arched its body forwards with its beak open wide. A long bloody tongue uncurled from inside with a scream of vowels, accompanied by the spreading of wings. They unfolded like vast blankets.

Maggie scrambled in retreat until she felt the closed door press against her back. She slapped around for the handle.

The bird’s long call became a sharp sequence of noises like nails being wrenched from wood. It flapped its wings, leapt, and swooped at her.

Maggie yanked herself to her feet and the door open at the same time. She rolled around the frame, slammed the door shut behind her. Holding it closed, she braced herself for an impact that never came. When the automatic light in the stairwell finally registered her existence, it blinked and flickered a rhythm as quick as her breathing.

Another cry resounded off the walls, deafening in the confined space of the stairwell.

Maggie shoved herself away from the door and took the stairs down two at a time, chased by a long dark echo.

• • • •

Maggie’s father had died while she was on the roof. All those years she’d spent with him, and she hadn’t been there when it happened. It didn’t seem fair.

At the cremation, people gave Maggie their condolences and platitudes, spoke of a tough man she didn’t recognise, spoke of mods and rockers but never explained how her father fit in. The man they knew had died long ago. The man in the photographs her sisters provided for the wake—Dad on his motorbike, Dad with his wife and girls—was a stranger to Maggie. The man she knew wore a faded grey dressing gown and had died with his eyes bulging and his hands twisted into claws that couldn’t get the mask from his face, couldn’t turn the oxygen dial. He’d wet himself, too. The small living room had been ripe with his odour.

Maggie spent the funeral thinking about a group of crows. Everyone in black. She thought of her father’s bulging eyes, his clawed hands, his stink, and found it hard to say she loved him. She let her sisters say it for her and thought of crows.

There had been few things to do afterwards. He only had a small selection of mismatched clothes to sort through. He’d left her with little more than his ashes. She had seen her sisters through their grief, but they didn’t stay long. They invited her to stay with them for a while, but they said it the same way Dad said a lot of things he didn’t mean. Within a fortnight of his passing, the house was finally empty and Maggie could do whatever she wanted. Hell, she could even smoke.

She went to the roof.

She tried to light a cigarette but her hands were shaking too much. She had to hold one with the other to keep the flame steady enough, puffing out quick breaths of relief before releasing a slower drag that calmed her. It would be her last one.

A chill breeze carried her smoke away and swept her hair into tangles. She zipped up her jacket to the sounds of them all screeching, hacking out their staccatos, calling her to their nest.

They were even uglier close up. The beaks seemed too wide for their feather-fluffed faces, and the eyes bulged beneath closed grey lids. Their squat heads were ruffled with a scruff of down that extended to the wattle of their throats. They were all elbows and claws, it seemed, feathers dark like tar, wafting their stench around as they shrie-shrie-shrie-shrie-shrieked!

Maggie dropped what was left of her cigarette and twisted her heel on it. “Stop it,” she said.

At the sound of her voice they became louder, scrabbling at the debris of their nest as they shoved each other, straining their heads and necks for their next meal.

Stop it,” Maggie said, “Stop it, stop it, stop it!”

She grabbed the nearest one under the foreshortened stubs of its arms or wings or whatever the hell they were and barely registered the weight of it. She scooped it up and cast it skyward, over the edge of the roof. It hung there for a moment, turning with the force of the throw, and faced her. It rawked and beat at the air, caught in the pause between up and down, flailing with limbs barely feathered. It had never seen another fly, not yet, but that didn’t matter. Seeing it done didn’t mean you could do it yourself.

Gravity snatched it away.

Maggie grabbed the next—it was warm in her hands, wriggling—and she turned on the spot to throw it harder, farther. “Fly!” she said, and watched it drop.

The crash of the first one landing was followed by the wailing repetition of a car alarm. She didn’t hear the second one.

Maggie put her hands on the third sibling, pinning its wings, and raised it to chest height. It snapped at her breasts and her head so she held it straight-armed and turned her face away from its beak. She walked it to the wall and let it go.

“There,” she said, facing the remaining egg. “Just us.” She stepped into the nest with all its filth. She crouched, put her palms on the egg, and caressed the smooth coolness of its shell. Nothing pulsed inside. Nothing moved. It was cold. It may as well have been stone for all the life it had. She tapped at it with her knuckles—”Hey!”—then knocked her fist against it, “Wake up!” She held it by the top and rocked it to and fro, pulling the base free from a caked mound of bird shit. The broken pieces of her coffee mug lay nearby. She retrieved a section that was mostly handle, dirtied with smears of black and white, and tossed it aside. Another fragment, cleaner, was a sharp triangle of ceramic. It fit snug in her hand.

She drove it down hard against the egg.

The egg cracked. Another hit, and a network of fissures flattened the crown. The cup shard broke its way inside. She pulled it out and threw it away, hooked her fingers into the egg, and pulled at the shell. It came away easily, a viscous fluid spilling over her hands and into her lap, releasing a stench as thick as the albumen or yolk or whatever it was that coated her, a bloody sepia slime that stank like snotty menses.

There was a dead bird inside.

It lay against a concave wall of shell as if sleeping, head burrowed into its partially feathered chest. Maggie cupped the beak under one hand and gently raised the face. It was mostly pink puckered skin, slick with fluid, a patch of feathers wet against its head. Its eyes were wide black domes without lids, sightless pupils dark as blindness. Dark like oil. Dark like tar. Maggie saw herself reflected there, distorted.

“Poor thing.”

She unzipped her jacket, took it off, and lay it on the ground. She slipped both hands into the remains of the egg and gently withdrew the bird from inside. It was much lighter than the others, all loose bone, sagging skin, and limp feathers. Its talons had been tucked beneath its body but now they dangled, flaccid grey-ringed toes curled with the weight of hard claws. Maggie lay the creature on her jacket and folded both halves over it, tucked in the top and bottom, made a neat parcel of what she’d found.

“You’ll be okay now.”

She took the cigarettes from the pocket of her jeans, withdrew the lighter, and lay them on top of the jacketed bird before settling herself into the nest. She fidgeted, clearing a space amongst the papers and food boxes. Flies buzzed at the motorcycle helmet but she kicked it away and the dark cloud dispersed after it, reforming once it had stopped rolling. Her backside slid on a cushion of thick droppings, and she put her hand down into something bloody, but she no longer cared about things like that.

She waited.

She didn’t have to wait long. The car alarm was still repeating, but over that came the whump! . . . whump! . . . whump! of beating wings. Maggie looked up and, yes, there it was, swooping down at her, bigger than before, diving with urgent speed and the scream of an eagle in descent, talons outstretched.

Maggie tipped her head back. She closed her eyes.

The claws did not come. She was buffeted by a wing-made wind, but not struck. She felt the nest-litter stir as the dark bird hovered, smelled the damp feathers beating near her face. She heard the scrape of metal on bricks and knew that it had settled upon its scaffold roost.

Maggie opened her mouth.

The bird screamed for her and thrust its beak in hard. The suddenness of it surprised her, but her cry was strangled before it could become sound. She squeezed her eyes closed tighter and grabbed at the scruff of its feathers, all spiny and coarse and thick as starless night, impossible to wrench free no matter how hard she pulled in pain. And still the beak came, filling her throat, stretching her lips around it so that the corners of her mouth split. A mass of feathers smothered her as the point of its beak rooted deeper until finally it found what it wanted. Maggie opened her eyes then. Something inside was wrenched free and her eyes were suddenly wide, hands falling limp to her sides as she gagged around whatever it was that came up her throat, thick and moist and ravelling out of her. She convulsed, gasped, retched. With a flick of its head the bird tossed it aside, and Maggie saw twin black sacks fold open like tiny wings before they fell away. When the bird’s beak entered her a second time, rummaging, she barely felt it. The third time she felt even less, saw all that was black and bloody coming out of her—black heart, black feathers—and was only dimly aware that the jacket beside her stirred. With her arms by her side, fists clenched, she leaned back as the dark bird emptied her, twitching like the jacket as the big bird broke her bones and scooped her hollow, scattering her insides like ashes to be borne on the wind.

When all that remained of her was a vacant sack of skin and clothes, Maggie collapsed in upon herself, mouth open as if hungry for all she had lost.

Her jacket burst open with a sudden flurry of fledgling energy, and a long shrill cry that might have been pain, might have been joy.

Ray Cluley

Ray Cluley’s work has appeared in a various magazines and anthologies and has been reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, Steve Berman’s Wilde Stories 2013: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, and in Benoît Domis’s Ténèbres series. He has been translated into French, Polish, Hungarian, and Chinese. He won a British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story and has since been nominated for Best Novella and Best Collection. That collection, Probably Monsters, is available from ChiZine Press. He is currently working on too many things at once.