A crow fluttered down from the heavens and landed on the railing amid a patter of falling snow, its arrival unobserved by those inside. Dull black feathers became tattered clothing, grease-stained blacks and greys blending into the shadows of the fading day.

The crow cocked his head and contemplated the scene on the other side of the glass. A fresh-faced boy, previously engaged in daubing paint across a canvas, paused and glanced out the window. Was he watching the crow? The falling snow slowly coating the old wooden porch and the forest below? Or the way the fading light outlined the bare-branched trees?

A faint frown creased the youth’s face as he shivered violently. Suddenly the damp, cold evening and its encroaching gloom seemed too close. It felt as if the cold night was trying to reach through the glass and touch him. Setting his brush aside, he hastily drew the curtains.

“He can’t see me,” the crow reminded himself as he watched the boy’s shadow move across the cloth. They were ghosts to each other, creatures from different places and times. Even if the crow concentrated, he could not remember the painting he’d been working on that night.

He could remember what had come after, though. It was burned into his soul with razor-sharp clarity: the angry shouts. The screaming. The crash of splintering wood, the roar of the fire, his own screeches of outrage.

Shadows moved in the forest, the first outrunners of the group. They brought dogs; dark, long-legged, ghoulish things with glowing eyes and frothing mouths. Witch hunters. He could still remember the click of their nails as they climbed the steps to his childhood home, the old wooden hut on stilts that sat in the depths of the forest.

The first of the dogs reached the clearing, loping forward as if hot on the scent of prey. The shadow on the railing hissed, a sound like water sizzling on hot coals, and the dog froze. Ears swiveled, eyes darted. The dogs sensed his presence, yet could not locate the source of danger. Blood lust gave way to caution, then fear, as they raised their noses to the wind and caught his scent.

The witch hunters swore and whipped their cringing hounds, dragging them forward. One by one the creatures tore free and bolted back into the forest, yelping piteously. The crow grinned, needle sharp teeth flashing in the twilight.

This time, his family would have a defender. This time would be different.

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Crow On A Cold Winter Night © 2020 Leland Lydecker

This short story was inspired by the artwork Cold Night Meet by the incredible Nikolai Lockertsen. Many thanks to this awesomely talented artist!

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