LACKINGTON'S

speculative prose

Wite Cro, by Natasha C. Calder

witecrow

Thissa tail o’tha Neer-Longago, wen tru things an dreemins stil walkt won b-side th’otha in tha Haf-Wuds. Na person now can visit ther, fer tha Haf-Wuds r longsins rottid away, bu a won tiem they sprawlt acros tha very hart o Sumwair Lands, rootid in tha rustid bones o metil beests tha, evn then, had longsins gon gon gon fram th’erth.

Tha Haf-Wuds wast a majik plais, wair tha silk-wingeddy bat wud hang fram th’elm, tha bitin notweed wud giv home t’th’afid an tha bone-silvr birchis wud cast hungry hungry shados tha reecht up b-yond tha canopy ta snatch fledglin sparrers fram tha sky. An it wast in tha Haf-Wuds tha al tha birds wud gathr unner tha darc o’tha nu moon an hav ther parlyamen.

Jakdor an Cuku, Heron an Eegl, Swallo an Swft; al tha birds a wons wud gathr tagetha an listn as ech tuk ther turn ta speek afor tha’othas. An tha birds wud al d-side witch amung them had spoke tha best, an ta tha bird wast gifen tha tribeut tha al tha birds had brort wiv them ta tha parlyamen; a feest o joosy stink beetls an greenglas snails gathrid fram thruowt tha wuds.

Acros tha yeers, most birds had won tha tribeut a sum tiem or otha. Bu ther wast won amung them whose turn had nevr cum, an this wast Cro. Hi wasna then as hi ist nowadays; na tha inky-blak raggidy fethr-flap wi no, bu a grait moonwite bird so vast tha hist greytippt wings cud span tha owtstretcht arms o any hemman or femman. Bu tho hi wast stil tha saim triksy bird wiv tha saim sharp wit tha wi al luv, tha’otha birds didna cair fer him mutch. Evry tiem hi spoke hist pees ta tha parlyamen, tha otha birds wud ony laf. Evry yeer Cro resolvt ta win tha tribeut, an evry yeer hi wast met wiv nathin bu dysdain.

So wen hi arrivt a tha growv in tha hart o’tha wuds wair tha parlyamen met, hi wasna mutch suprist ta note tha sidewise glansin o’tha rest o’tha birds. Hi didna need ta listn close ta no how they jeerd at him fram b-hind ther wings. Bu hi did hist best ta pay na heed.

In tha mid o’tha growv stud a reckit metil box wiv a toofy grin o smasht glas. Nabiddy new fram wair it caim, bu it had stud ther forevr an evr, an tha birds had taikn ta uusin it as ther day-is fer tha parlyamen. As usul, it wast Warblr who spoke firs an then Lark an then it wud be Cro. Wen hist turn caim, hi hoppt down onta tha day-is an spoke hist pees ta th’otha birds.

As usul, they listind polite. As usul, na soonr had hi finisht than tha laffin b-gan.

“Pay tribeut ta thu?” sneert Pecok. “Y, ther nevr wast a bird so plain!”

“Nor a a mair impayshunt flap o fethrs!” attit Owl.

“Nor won wiv a hart so closed!” scoffed Turtlduv.

An al tha birds laft an cawd, apart fram red-bilt Ibis who lookt sadly ta hist feet an sed nathin. Cro, havin tuk hist fil o humblin, flappit hist wings al angry an returnt ta hist perch.

“Proof us rang,” counsalt Raven cwiet fram b-side him on tha branch. “Find thursel an forevr-mate an ax agen a tha nex parlyamen. Fer na won wiv a forevr-mate cud b-cuused o bein impayshunt or clost-harted. Itll na do mutch abowt thur plain wite fethrs, mind, bu Pecok ist a foolish bird an ahll b-havin wrds wiv him.”

Cro sed nuthin. Tho hi new Raven wast tryna help, tha birds advisin ony downcast him mair. Cro had taikin luvrs in tha past, acors, bu they had ony evr bin spring-mates. Na tha hid evr longd fer a forevr-mate. Hid watchd unmuvd as hol genrashuns o fledglins b-caim nest-bildirs an welcumd ther own littl hatchlins inta tha wrld. Mair trubl than iwast werth wen als told. Hi wantid na part o it.

Bu as tha parlyamen unfoltit b-lo an Cro unwatchin likkit at hist wownded pride, hi b-gan ta think tha if a forevr-mate wast wat ituk ta get hist ritefl tribeut fram th’otha birds, then a forevr-mate is wat hi wud find. An tha nite, as hi gaind hist nest in tha hites o’tha ew tree, Cro vowd tha hid ope hist hart t’tha firs creetr hi met an maik dem hist forevr-mate.

Wethr or na Cro truly b-leeft this plan is any wons ges. Bu tha mattir wast areddy owt o hist controllin.

Wen tha lite o’tha erly sun bled thru tha twynnin branchis an wok Cro in tha morn, hi peerd ova th’side o hist nest an sor a beest wiv redty-gold fur a-sittin down lo lo lo b-lo. Evn fram tha hite o hist perch, Cro d-lyted in tha hundrd shaids a-runnin thru tha creeturs fur, ech as brite aleest as tha craklin flaims tha rebyrthd Feenix evry yeer.

Tha faits r kynd, hi thort, an hist hart beet a littl cwicr undr hist fethrs.

An then Cro lookit closr stil an sor it wasna beest sittin down b-lo. Fer those wer fingrs a-cuppin watir fram tha bruk, an tha redty-gold burnish wasna fur bu hair, grown so long as ta covr tha rest o’tha straingrs body.

Ituk Cro a momin ta find tha rite callin, bu then hi had it. It wassa femman. It wassa femman mair beutifl than any beest Cro had evr seen innan tha Haf-Wuds.

Hi watcht wiv rapt intrst as tha femman splasht watr on hir fais an arms. Wen shi wast dun, shi tukt hir goldty hair b-hind hir eers an lept graisflwise fram tha rok ta set on down tha trak tha led inta tha darc o’tha wuds. Eegr nata loos site, Cro left hist nest an followt close b-hind, a-hoppin fram branch ta branch.

Bu tha femman hadna gon mair than sevin lenths down tha trak wen shi stopp-ded stil an turnt hir goldty hed branchwrds. Hir huntr eyes lok-tonta Cro in an instans, so astowndin tha pur bird tha hi neerly fel fram hist perch. Shi hadna samutch as glanst in hist direcshun afor, an hi thort tha praps tha th’straingr wud forgit him an move onnan down tha trak. Bu shi didna sutch thin. Shi ony stud ther, leenin ageynst an alder, eyes fix-ton Cro.

A’las, conseedin hid bin cort owt wel an tru, Cro flu down fram hist branch an lan-tin fron o’tha straingr. Grais, grais, Cro a-minded hisel. Hi introdust hisel wivan lo bob, a-tuchin tha tip o hist beek ta tha leef-strwn erth.

Tha straingr, who stud sevrl heds tallr than Cro, didna retirn tha certsy bu meerly dropp-tan eer twrds an hair-strewn shuldr an kep-ton a-lookin a Cro wiv greengreen eyes tha didna seem ta evr blynk.

“Y r thu a-folwin me, littl bird?”

Na, normlwise, Cro wudnav thort mutch at al a’bein callt littl bird, bu hi wast so bent onnan hist perpus tha hi let tha wrds slik offan hist fethrs liek raynwatr.

“Forgifn mi,” sed Cro, triksn fast. “Bu ah cudna helpen misel. Thu r shurly tha maist beutifl creetur evr ta hav graisd tha Haf-Wuds. An ah didna rekn thu wud pay any heed ta won as playn as mi.”

Tha straingr considrd this, eyes stil al unblynkn. “Thur witewite fethrs a-shine bryt in thissa darc wuds, littl bird.” An hir speekin wast so soft tha Cro neerly lost tha wurds unner tha sownd o’tha neerby bruk.

“Wat brings thu t’tha Haf-Wuds?” axd Cro, keen ta keep tha straingr talkn.

“Y, ta hunt acors.” An shi helt owt hir hand ta sho tha long blak blaid shi carrit. Itta jaggyty-flasht in tha sunlite an wast so frite-maikin tha Cro neerly tuk flite awons. Bu hi held fast an swollowt hist feer.

“Praps thu wud liekst sum cumpny wylst thu hunt,” hi suggestit. “Ah no thissa wuds bettr than any, an ah can sho thu wair ta find tha seecrit hydin plaises o’tha taystyst beests.”

“An a wat cost cums thur cumpny?”

“Ah ax ony thur naim.”

Tha straingr lafit soft. “Y? Thu lukin fer a mayt, littl bird?”

“Luv finds tha luvrs, so ahm tolt.”

“Wel thu may cal mi Rudu, littl bird. An ahd b-glad ta no wair ta hunt, bu ah canna hunt wiv thur witewite wings b-side t’annowns mi.”

Cro b-gan ta maik hist argment contrywise, bu Rudu cut him shor. “Thers a way,” shi set. “If thu rly want.”

“Ahll do any thin,” replyt Cro hastly, puttin asyd hist erlyr coiniss.

“If thu promis wel nata flyway wiv it, ahl giv ta thu mah shado. Tha way, thu can movest cloekt an hiddn thru tha wuds.”

Cro hid a grin. If Rudu did proof danjrus, hi cud always drop tha shado an fly off. “Ah wilna flyway fer as lang as thur shado a-tutches mah wings,” hi swore.

Hi watcht as Rudu tuk hir long blak nife an maid twa cairfl cairfl cuts abowt hir feet, so tha spredin stayn o’hir shado caim loos. As Rudu pikt up tha shado an passet it ta Cro, Cro thort hi saw tha shado flik a lang blak tail—efn tho Rudu had nunsutch hirsel—a lang swishswish tail almaist liek tha o an wildin cat or dog. Bu then Cro blynkit, an tha tail wast gon.

Hi graitful asepted tha shado an maid an’labrut sho a’donnin it, smoothn down tha folds jusso geynst tha cwils o hist wings. Wen hi wast dun, Rudu cast an’preeshtif eye ova tha birds disguys an grantid Cro a rair smilin tha showt evry singl won o’hir witewite teef.

“Na wi hunt.”

Cro told wair Rabbyt maid hist warrin an Hair maid hist form, an then they set owt tagetha, Rudu stalkin silentwise ahed an Cro folwin hidden b-hind. Jus wait, thort Cro, as hi admirt tha poys o Rudus evry moshun. Jus wait til th’otha birds see. Jus wait til ahv mah forevr-mate.

Hi lukt on wiv intrest as Rudu cort an kilt hir prey. Hi wast particlr presst wiv how Rudu snappit Hairs nek wiv hir strang hands an wiv how shi deft unlaist pur ded Rabbyts hyde wiv a singl strohk o hir cutcut nife ta’spose tha sinewt flesh b-neef. Shi pushit hir fingrs hungry inta tha bluddyd gash, tairin stilwarm flesh fram bone an d-livrin it raw onta hir tung, blud drip drip drippin a-down hir chin an mattin inta hir long red-goldty hair.

Wen Rudu wast dun, hir hungry eyes feltapon Cro, stil clad innan hir shado. Rudu reech-towt fer Cro, who wast tremblin wiv feer bu ta struk wiv d-sire ta drop tha shado an fly. Bu hi neednt hav been afeerd. Na then. Na yet. Fer Rudu didna nife bu kissit Cro an likkit Cro an mayd luv ta Cro antil hir entiar hungr wast sayttit an Cro wast hevylite wiv plesr.

Ony aftr Rudu wast dun did Cro sy hist d-lyt an pul asyde tha shado hid bin a-warin. An as tha shado slithrd ova tha gras ta cleef ta Rudu, Cro thort hi saw agen thru haf-clost eyes tha saim flikswish tail hid seen tha morn. Thinkin ta poynt it owt ta Rudu, hi stretchtowt a wing an awons forgot tha shado. Fer tha wing afor hist eyes, whoso fethrs had wons bin moonwite, wast now col-tar blak wair Rudus shado had staint an brosst tha fethrs.

Cro shuda bin displeest, shuda bin angry wiv Rudu fer na warnin him, bu hi wast hevy stil wiv spen lust an pleest ta hav sutcha tokin o hist luvr. An as hi luk-ta hist shinynew fethrs al hi cud think wast thatll sho Pecok. Soon, hi hoped, hid hav mair ta sho fer hisel than jus nu fethrs.

Hi settlt b-side Rudu an mused hisel happly, majnin tha luks o th’otha birds wen hi brort hir wiv him t’tha nex parlyamen.

Bu wen a’las hi did drif-tonnan ta sleep, hi dremt tha Rudus shado pownsd appon him wair hi lay an pluck-towt hist wing fethrs won bi won, shado tail swish swish swishin al tha wile.

In tha morn, tho, Cro didna recal hist dreemin. Al hi new wast Rudu. Hi gentl kissit hist nu lovr an wast suprist wen shi bairt hir teef innan jaggit snarl.

“Stopan tha,” shi growlt. “An if thur wantin ta hunt wiv mi taday, thu’ll na fly an giv mi away wiv thur curst flap flap flappn.”

Tha wrds stung Cro, na doot afit. Bu ankshus ta’pees Rudu, hi foltit hist shado-blak wings firm b-hind hist bak, vowin cwiet ta hisel nata angr hir agen.

Seein tha Cro wast suutly chaistnt, Rudu set abowt hir mornin luushuns wile hi watcht, runnin hir hands along hir skin an hair ta chaif away tha dryt blud fram tha day afor. An as shi strohk-tan likkt, tha skin peelt an curlt away, reveelin a furry pelt b-neef as red-golt as hir hair.

Shi likkt an scratcht til shi had cleent offan hir skin entiar an stud hedta to innan hir tru fur, bristlin redty-gold heer, tayprin colblak ther. An now shi walkt onnan al fors, hir longred tail swish swishin b-hind.

Cro, fer hist part, astud rootit ta tha spot, drinkn in tha blak-tipt eers, tha archin whiskrs, tha narrer snowt o’tha fox inta witch Rudu had transformt. Hist firs thort wast ta fly, taik wing, get as farway as hi cud, get owta reech o’them sharp claws an teef.

A fox. Al this tiem, a fox.

An then Cro tuk a deep bref, tryna stil hist beetin hart. This wast Rudu, hi rashunt. Rudu luvd him. Mairsta poynt, hi luvt Rudu, an ther wasna na altrashun Rudu cud maik tha wud altr how Cro felt. B-side, if Rudu forgot hirsel fer a mo, Cro new hi cud always taik ta wing an get owta harmsway, watevr hist promiss.

“Wha nex, littl bird?” murmurt Rudu. “Ahm hungry.”

Cro wast stil so mazed a hir transformayshun tha it tuk him a momint ta find hist wrds. “Ah can show thu wair Mows maiks hist burro,” hi sugistit a’las.

“Na, na Mows.”

“Whabowt Fissh? Hi lifs innan streem na far fram heer.”

“Na Fissh neefr.”

“Then wha dust thu wan?” axd Cro.

“Let mi see,” murmrd Rudu. “Ah think wat ah wud maist liek ist bird.”

Cro tuk an involint hop bakwise. “Wel ther r pleny birds, bu ther hardr ta catch, evn fer thu. Thers Ren an Sparrer an Magpy—”

Rudu cut him shor wiv a waiv o hir paw. “Ah wast thinkin o havin Cro.”

Cro lafit nervus. “Donna jes. Thu canna et mi.”

“Ah think ah can, littl bird. Ah think ah wil.”

Rudu wast so clos tha Cro cud smel tha blud onnan hir breth. Is tha huntrs crais, hi thort. Or hungr. Thas al ist. Jus get owta way tilit passes.

Hi lawncht hisel inta tha air, maikin ta spred hist wings an fly owta claws reech. Bu na soonr had hi lept than hi caim a-tumbln bak down t’tha grownd, hist wings stil foltit firm b-hind hist bak. Hi struggilt ta rite hisel an straint despret at hist wings, bu na mattr wat hi did they wudna unfolt.

“Wha hav thu dun?” hi sobbit.

“Nuthin at al, littl bird,” sed Rudu, eyes agleem. “Bu thu did swair nata flyway wiv mah shado. Tha shado tha stil stains thur wings.”

An then Cro wast haf a-runnin acros tha grownd ta getway fram Rudu, an haf restlin ta seprayt hist wings bu witch rimaynt fuust tagetha.

Hi tripp-tan screemt.

Rudu pownst.

Ther was a bonecrak as strong teef snappt tagetha on Cros nek. Sharp claws slasht an fethrs scattrid inta tha sky. An wen Cro lay sylnt, Rudu ripp-tinta hist chest, opet hist hart an devourtit innan won byte.

Then shi likkit hir mussl cleen an stalk-towta tha Haf-Wuds, stoppin ony ta pik tha sinew fram hir teef wiv a jaggty edg o glas.

Laitr, wen tha birds discvrd wat had b-falln Cro, they gatherd hist remayns an plantit them in tha shallo erth.

“Heer lys Cro,” intond Pecok in a sho o’sadnss. “Who wast beutifl.”

“Heer lys Cro,” sed Owl. “Who wast stedfast.”

“Heer lys Cro,” attit Turtlduv. “Who gaiv hist hart t’anotha.”

An then Raven spok, al seeruswise. “Heer lys Cro an wi pay our tribeuts ta him.”

Then tha birds laid owt ther offrins; tha carcasses o longded fiar-snap flys an erthwurms, junk moths an katydids. An then they al laf-ta lo an disml laf an Ibis wepit salbitr teers.

Tha haflite fel an they flu bak ta tha nest, ther shados scattrin heer an ther onta tha grownd b-low, mixin an meldin inta won; a singl shado wiv tha shaip o a lang stalkn huntr wiv a swishflik tail.

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Issue 20 (Fall 2019)

Story copyright © 2019 by Natasha C. Calder

Artwork copyright © 2019 by Pear Nuallak

Natasha C. Calder is from Ely, UK. She has an M.Phil in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge and is a graduate of Clarion West 2018. Her work has also appeared in The Stinging Fly.

Pear Nuallak looks to their Thai heritage and the many faces of women to create words and images. They’ve contributed illustrations to The SEA Is Ours and The Future Fire.

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2020 by in Stories.
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